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February 27 2014


February 22 2014


February 15 2014


February 14 2014

Tom Perkins, A Man From A Bygone Era
tom-perkinsDid men like this used to sit atop the technology industry? Atop our country? Tom Perkins, once an icon in the venture industry and now a spectacle, gave yet another talk last night at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. A few weeks ago, he thrust himself into the nation’s inequality debate through a letter to the editor at the Wall Street Journal that compared criticism of the wealthy to a “Kristallnacht.” (Yes, really.) He says this will be his last two cents on the issue. There was the classism: “If you’ve paid 75 percent of your lifetime earnings to the government, you’ve been persecuted.” The vague sexism: “When [Hilary Clinton] walks into a room, the temperature drops 20 degrees.” The vague racism: “[Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty] unknowingly created the destruction of lower-class families in America. Back in the early 1960s and 70s, the divorce rates between white and black marriages were about equal. But the War on Poverty made it possible for single mothers to live without a working man in the household and divorce rates have skyrocketed.” Then the absurd: “If Germany had America’s gun laws, we would have never had Hitler.” And maybe even more absurdly, his ex-wife and novelist Danielle Steele sat supportively in the audience. “I think he’s wonderful and he did a great job,” she said to me before she briskly left. But then there was also self-awareness. “I intended to be outrageous and I was,” he said, after suggesting that people should only be given the right to vote if they’ve paid taxes. And some painful truth about the United States: “We’re on a knife’s edge with this incredible debt, which can’t be paid back. It’s supported by faith in the dollar.” And San Francisco: “San Francisco doesn’t like the experience of becoming a suburb of Silicon Valley.” He added, “I don’t think there’s much you can do about that. It’s inevitable. As Silicon Valley thrives, more and more people will want to live in San Francisco.” And then went on, “San Francisco has been a very complex, busy, and interesting city since Day 1. I love it. But rents will go up if more people want to live here, and while housing is being built, it’s not being built fast enough.” And this generation of technology entrepreneurs: “They’re not starting companies. They’re writing software applications, which are products. There’s a huge difference between a product

February 10 2014

Make It Sing
blacksmiths2Between you and many of the things you use every day, there is a complicated but elegant feedback loop, a physical dialogue, the topic of which is harmony of operation. The relationship that you build with a device is a self-optimizing relationship. First you make it speak, then you make it sing. Why does this matter? Because so few of the devices we are adopting today will ever sing like that.

February 08 2014

Confessions Of A Flappy Bird Addict
Flappy Bird Addiction DoneJust a quick game. It only takes a second. I, I need to beat my high score. That stupid bird. DAMMIT! Ok this time I'll do better. DAMMIT! Alright the ad distracted me. F*CKKKK! I was doing so good. NOOOooo!
In 3.5 Years, Most Africans Will Have Smartphones
ideosI reckon it's time to check in on one of my bolder predictions. Some 18 months ago, I wrote "In Five Years, Most Africans Will Have Smartphones." Let's get this out of the way: most of the smart money thinks I'm wrong by at least three years. Worldwide, according to Gartner, smartphone sales exceeded feature phone sales in 2013, for the first time -- but Africa remains a different story.

February 05 2014

My Not-On-Facebook Life
coffee-shop3I wake up with Northern Europe's low winter light filtering through the blinds in my bedroom. The silence is near perfect. It's too early to hear the week-day procession of parents ferrying their kids to the neighbourhood school. The slamming concert of car doors and tearful wails of protest at another day wrenched from comforts of home and bed will filter through the single-glazed window panes into my office in a few hours.
Bootcamp Regulators? Why A “Code Of Conduct” For Coding Academies In California Could Be A Good Thing
Screen Shot 2014-02-04 at 2.21.00 AMThe explosion in both online and offline programming platforms over the last year has made one thing clear: Learning to code is hot. (With two “t’s.”) Well, that and the fact that our traditional education system doesn’t seem to be pulling its weight as far as computer science education is concerned. (See here.) Literally, hundreds of hacker academies and “learn to code” schools have emerged, each promising to teach aspiring developers and engineers to speak the language of programming, and even to get a job. Furthermore, there’s no better indication of the fact that a potentially disruptive model has entered the world — or that these new hacker schools are more than just passing fancy — than when the government steps in with regulation. Last week, that’s exactly what happened in California, as VentureBeat reported that the BPPE, a division within the California Department of Consumer Affairs, had sent cease and desist letters to seven of these hacker academies. The Shock As the story went, these C&D letters essentially threatened the seven schools with $50,000 fines and imminent closure were they not to comply with the BPPE’s list of demands. Naturally, this ignited an uproar within the tech industry (case in point), with that reaction essentially taking the shape of, “How dare the government hinder these fledgling platforms?” It’s not an unfamiliar response from a community focused on tearing down walls, on pushing boundaries, and it wouldn’t be the first time a government body were found acting as a hindrance rather than a help. Confusion and enmity would also be an understandable reaction from the coding schools themselves. For these platforms, there’s a lot at stake in the apparent laundry list of expected compliances: There’s the threat of closure, the $50K fine, and then there are the months it could potentially take for the platforms to meet those regulatory demands, and the implicit possibility of bankruptcy as they wait for government approval. What’s more, the list of expected compliances has been mostly hazy up to this point. Given that the thrust of these regulations stem from the California Private Postsecondary Education Act of 2009 — and that the BPPE itself owes its origins to both that legislation and its perceived reputation as a “diploma mill” in the ’80s — one can understand that the headlines up to this point have mostly focused on the impending doom of these platforms and

February 04 2014

A Facebook Life
facebook-life3On Facebook, life begins at conception. "We're expecting!", your parents post. You don't have fingers but you're already accruing likes. A shared sonogram means hundreds have seen you before you've even opened your eyes. You have a Facebook presence despite lacking a physical one. Think about that for a second. Like it or not, in 10 years Facebook has changed everything.
The Future Is Transcendent: A Review Of HER
her-movie-posterFor more than an hour Her seems little more than metaphor meets Manic Pixie Dream Girl: charming, yes, but insubstantial. And then— Los Angeles, mid-21st-century: techno-utopia. The city is a forest of sleek skyscrapers; a vast subway network connects downtown to the beaches; citizens mingle in public spaces that resemble art galleries, connected by broad pedestrian walkways that soar high above anything as vulgar as an automobile; computers are subtle, ubiquitous, and voice-controlled.

February 01 2014

BuzzFeed Is The Future (Whether It Lives Or Dies)
buzzfeed-videoIt's time for a little inside baseball! Be still your beating hearts. But admit it: secretly you want to know about the success/failure of the myriad news sources whose stories flit disconnectedly across your Facebook and Twitter feeds from time to time, if only so you can tell your friends that you already knew who was doomed, on the day that long-fabled Great Shakeout finally comes and half of the world's journalists find themselves surplus to needs.

January 29 2014

Welcome To The French Tech Ecosystem
ParisWhen I first decided that I wanted to move to Paris, I was anxious and excited at the same time. I used to write for TechCrunch in New York, in a perpetually effervescent ecosystem. But I wanted to try something new. Many things got me excited about France — TheFamily created a good-looking accelerator, LeWeb remained an unmissable event, and Europe as a whole was getting more exciting. Even more importantly, annoyingly good French entrepreneurs kept creating amazing stuff. I didn’t get it. Then, probably due to FOMO, I chose to get involved. And I don’t regret doing this at all. I recently talked with a VC-turned-entrepreneur about the seismic changes in the tech scene. According to him, France has the potential to become a new startup nation. You can receive up to 70 percent of your salary for up to two years when you create a company. Moreover, a lot of public money has been injected into VC firms or directly into VC-like public institutions over the past few years. As a business angel, when you invest in a startup, you will pay less tax. As an entrepreneur, when you create a company and hire people, you will pay less corporate tax for the first few years. All of this is mostly unknown when you aren’t French, but it’s about to change. Building An Ecosystem An ecosystem is a four-sided network — you need entrepreneurs, VC firms, schools, and journalists. France is lucky enough to have some of the best schools in the world. That’s why many great engineers and smart investors come out of France’s school system. Many have been working in the Silicon Valley for decades. But many choose to work in Paris now. What about entrepreneurs? While French people are historically risk averse, it is starting to change. Cass Phillipps and Roxanne Varza have hosted a few FailCon editions in Paris, it’s an encouraging sign. And there is a broader shift happening in tech — startups are increasingly becoming a mainstream cultural element. It’s not as obvious as in the U.S., but huge exits (like Google buying Nest) now make the front page of Les Échos, and a good part of business coverage is now focused on startups and innovation. In other words, people are interested in startups. Every day, I’m surprised to find out that a friend of mine is listing “startup” as one of

January 25 2014

Failure Modes
llewynThis was a rich month for the deadpool. Prim shut down. So did CarWoo. And much-hyped Outbox. And even moot's Canvas/DrawQuest, which had 1.4 million app downloads and 400,000 monthly users. All part of the game, right? The circle of startup life, or something. It's a truism that most startups fail. But in fact most startups don't even get to fail, in the way the word is most commonly used in Silicon Valley.

January 22 2014

Jelly’s Novelty Wears Off, But Long-Term Potential For A Mobile #Lazyweb Remains
jelly-greenLet's get this out of the way up front: I was prepared to dislike Jelly after its reveal. After all, when Twitter co-founder Biz Stone described the new startup as experiment designed to "make the world a more empathetic place," - yes, a mobile Q&A service - it's hard not to roll your eyes. And if you look at some of the usage in Jelly's first days, it's at least equal parts enlightening and ridiculous.

January 18 2014

The Tablet Is The New General Purpose Computer
Screen Shot 2014-01-17 at 6.24.20 AMApple’s latest iPad spot demonstrates that tablets have general purpose computing strengths that have never been exhibited by laptops. Laptops have had decades in the spotlight as our portable computers of choice and were on their way to eradicating desktop machines before tablets came along. But they’ve never managed to exhibit the flexibility of purpose that tablets can. Apple’s spot presents examples of people using iPads in various real world situations, which is a note they’ve struck before. But this particular spot focuses not just on the things that people are doing with iPads, but specifically things that would be cumbersome, irritating or impossible with a laptop. It’s a brilliant rotation of the argument that tablets can’t be ‘seriously’ used to create. In many ways this is the realization of the dream for the original ‘tablet computers’ of Microsoft — something you can view with more or less irony depending on what chances you give the company of succeeding in a crowded space.   It’s not that you can’t use a laptop to do any of these things. I’ve used a laptop as a tethered shooting companion for photography for years now. Seeing instant feedback as I shoot speeds up the process and makes editing faster, it’s great. But I’ve never wanted to use a laptop. They’re bulky, they’re not the right form factor and they’re not optimized for easy one-handed operation (not counting the one you hold them with, thank you). And some of these cases, like diving, present an impossible challenge for laptops. They’re simply not the right tool for a lot of jobs. And I think that more of the jobs laptops aren’t any good at are becoming part of our lives every day. It’s not as if laptops (or desktops) are going to go away over night, but they’re definitely going to fade in importance as new general purpose computers like the tablet and smartphone grow bolder. And they’ll work in concert to allow us to do stuff better — I wrote this piece on a combination of phone, tablet and computer as I’ve been traveling. There will always be things that will be accomplished more efficiently with a dedicated keyboard and a device that allows us to perform several tasks ‘simultaneously’. But neither of those are sacred cows limited to laptops. If you pull the thread a bit technology-wise it’s not hard to see machines
The Techno-Militarization Of America
robocop-botRemember last year? Edward Snowden! NSA! Shock! Horror! Dismay! Looking back I'm amazed we all seemed so surprised. Over the last decade, pretty much every arm of American authority invoked "homeland security" as an excuse to acquire boatloads of new technology, and used it to help expand their power and authority to unprecedented levels. There is nothing at all exceptional about the NSA's massive overreach. It was only keeping up with the Joneses -- FBI, DEA, Border Patrol, police forces everywhere -- who have all been busy doing exactly the same thing.

January 11 2014

Such DFW. Very Orwell. So Doge. Wow.
dfwLet's talk about doge, but first let's talk about the late great David Foster Wallace, who thirteen years ago wrote a classic essay about modern English* entitled "Tense Present," which, realistically, is better than anything I will ever write, so I should maybe just point you at it and end this post here. But I won't. Not least because I strongly suspect that if DFW had not taken his own life five years ago, he would already have updated "Tense Present" for the modern era. He almost would have had to. It is instructive that his essay includes the phrase You don't (despite withering cultural pressure), have to use a computer, but you can't escape language. That may have been true, just, in 2001, but it is not true today. You cannot escape computers any more -- and that fact has affected language in a way which is, if you ask me, nothing short of revolutionary.

January 05 2014

Parlor Tricks
legerdemainCES looms, as it frequently does, and soon we will all be awash in the deluge; the annual international carnival of gadgetry shows no sign of slowing. But beyond this yearly cycle, a longer pattern is about to reach an inflection point.
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