Monday, March 31, 2008

no april fools on the hill

Tomorrow, Linden Lab's Philip Rosedale, along with New Media Consortium's Larry Johnson and IBM's Colin Paris, will be testifying before the House Telecom and Internet Subcommittee, chaired by Representative Ed Markey (D-MA). Both James Au and Adam Reuters have coverage and additional details.

It's exciting to see these hearings finally happening after spending a week in DC last fall laying the groundwork. That trip including an extensive visit with Representative Markey and his staff, plus a separate two hour briefing I gave to multiple House and Senate staffers. Apparently nobody could remember so many staffers sitting in one place for that long, so the interest in virtual worlds was clearly there.

Like my previous trips to the Hill, it was an interesting week of wearing a tie, hurrying up and waiting, and answering a staggeringly wide range of questions. I came away impressed by how intelligent and prepared both Representative Markey and his staffers were. I expect Philip, Larry, and Colin will face challenging and important questions relevant to all of us thinking and working in this space.

On a "the world is a terrifyingly small place"-tangent, my coteacher at APOC, Karen North, used to work in Representative Markey's office and has an endless set of stories backing my impression that he and his team are among the most inquisitive and thoughtful on the Hill. Virtual worlds are fortunate to have their first major Congressional discussion with his committee.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

whirled open beta

Whirled, Three Ring's latest project, is now in open beta! Whirled is a mix of flash games, flash 2.5D virtual worlds, user generated content, social networking, social media, and a marketplace. Although my poor Macbook Air can't play all the games, the less CPU-traumatizing were fun. Whirled integrates well with the web, although sometimes you wish you had more screen realestate.

Definitely go check it out!

Congratulations to Daniel and the rest of the Whirled team. I think this is a great example of where you can go if you bet on the Web as the platform. It will also be loads of fun to watch how the experience of Whirled shapes Raph's Metaplace. Both Raph and Daniel would likely be quick to point out that Metaplace and Whirled are different, which they are, but they do rhyme. They will also share both audience and creators, so we'll get to watch how great ideas are expressed on both platforms.

Friday, March 28, 2008

hot (macbook) air

So, after a month of MBA bliss, found a problem. Despite the early adventures I wrote about, various OS X updates have eliminated the click wonkiness, making me very happy with the Air. It is easy to travel with, its battery life has been more than sufficient, and I've been able to run everything I wanted on it.

Until last night.

I was testing a friend's Flash-based game project and discovered that Flash pushes the MBA's CPU enough to trigger self-protection, turning on the fan and limiting performance. Other people have written about the MBA's aggressive thermal settings, so it isn't clear if the Flash performance problems are because the CPU isn't up to it or if its performance is being clamped.

Either way, it means the MBA may end up not being my only computer.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

moore and complexity

Sometimes the impact of Moore's Law can surprise you, even if you work on cutting edge technology and should know better. Take the Rubik's Cube.
First, a confession. I bought the book in order to solve the Rubik's Cube. I had several friends who solved it without the book, including one artist who solved it the first time she picked it up -- bloody savants -- but I bought the book. Fine, sue me. Anyway, for many in my generation, the Rubik's Cube will forever be imprinted as an incredibly complex artifact.

But now Moore has caught up. First, mathematicians at Northeastern used 7 terrabytes of storage to prove it could always be solved in less than 26 or fewer moves. Next, a Stanford mathematician has knocked it down to 25 with only 1500 hours of CPU time.

And these kind of attacks are nothing compared to what has accomplished.

But what I found useful about the Rubik's Cube is that it helps demolish some incorrect assumptions about scale and complexity. As inexorable, exponential progress moves more computing and connectivity into everything around us, the set of what is "solvable" is going to expand with it.

And expand in ways that we often won't think to look.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

apoc week 10 (part 1)

So, Apoc Week 9 (part 2) is still waiting on some slide issues, so time to skip ahead to week 10. This week focused on regulatory issues around virtual worlds:

We also had Todd Rosenberg from Userplane give a talk on user acquisition and retention. Userplane provides flash chat and video to community sites and currently is used in over 200,000. His talk very much reinforced topics we've been hitting all year:
  • start with niche communities
  • usability trumps everything else
  • make barriers to entry low
Time to run for my plane home!

Monday, March 24, 2008

two travel notes, one good, one not

Oakland Airport was a zoo this morning as people returned home after the holiday weekend. Despite a spectacularly long security line, the ID checker from TSA took my ticket and driver's license and almost immediately asked:

So what are you doing for your birthday?
My birthday isn't for a few days, but having a TSA screener demonstrate that he was actually reading the documents in front of him was a pleasant surprise. It might be an interesting experiment to give screeners a requirement to ask one question based on the IDs they examine -- "What day is your birthday?", "Do you prefer James or Jim?", "Have you lived in Oakland long?", etc -- both to signal to passengers that they really are comparing the documents rather than holding them for 20 seconds and handing them back, and to make it easy to spot when screeners are getting tired or distracted. Not to mention that having to verbally engage with the screener gives security another set of signals -- a technique used extensively at European airports despite the language challenges this presents.

On the not-so-good side, this was the fourth arrival where getting the jetway lined up with the plane took more than 5 minutes. The OAK<->LAX United flight is on one of the itsy bitsy Canadair Regional Jets, so the jetway needs to come extra close and be lowered before the little walkway is inserted. Finding the right spot is often challenging. However, given that the geometry of this is fixed -- the aircraft is parked at the same spot, it's hatch always at the same height -- why not provide some cuing for the jetway operator? They'd be able to pick back up an average of 2 or more minutes per aircraft arrival, which would add up quickly. More broadly, going back to yesterday's post on mental models, how much ill will do you generate among passengers and employees by constantly having this problem?

Sunday, March 23, 2008


On Friday I spent the day at a workshop sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation surfacing ideas on how to raise public consciousness around the United States’ financial future. With 10,000 baby boomers a day about to become eligible for Social Security, it is easy to understand the urgency policy experts feel around the issue. MacArthur brought together an amazing and eclectic group, even prying Ze loose from Color War, and generated a lively discussion around our perception of government, changing mental models, and what has been done so far.

Patrick Bresette, from the Demos Center for the Public Sector, reported finding from their 18-month study on how people talk about government. Their videos were striking – if you ask people “What do you think about government?” nearly everyone responded in the same way: cynical laughter followed by comments indicating lack of trust. Further interviews demonstrated that opinions about government are overwhelmingly driven by two factors. First, recent news dominates perception, so whatever politician did this week tends to be interpreted as what government is. Second, most people look at government from a “consumer stance” focusing on what “I want” and on government as “them”, a bureaucratic blob of exaggerated waste and bloat.

Researches surmised that reframing the discussion from a “citizen stance”, where government is a tool of the electorate -- government is “us” -- should enable a more productive discussion. They primed later surveys and focus groups with a brief paragraph that described the idea and benefits of common goods. They gave concrete examples of enduring systems and structures that help and protect people, although they didn’t actually mention government. The result was a dramatic change in discourse, where participants would bring up government and regulation in positive ways, reinforcing beneficial impacts in discussions with each other. When researchers tested how durable these new mental models were – through the social science equivalent of an extended game of telephone – the new, positive framing would survive through 7 or 8 generations.

This is, of course, a result you would expect from Communication 101. Moreover, this need to change mental models shows up repeatedly when attempting to address science education, where misapplied models end up reinforcing mistaken beliefs. It is important to investigate where mental models are dysfunctional, demonstrate their failure, cause people to practice with working models, and then to drive discussion that integrate these new, functioning models. In the case of how American’s think about our government, the Demos work suggests our tendency towards incorrect models hurt our ability to effectively think about problems, talk about government, and maintain an effective civil society.

I bring all this up not just because those findings are interesting, but because the lessons learned around interactions between governments and the electorate seem to apply quite well around two topics of great interest to me: building online communities and building companies.

Note that I’m not just talking about misapplying models to communities and organizations. Misapplications like using Dunbar’s research into primate social structure to determine organizational size or thinking about the corporations operating online communities as governments are interesting and likely deserve a separate post, but what about the consumer and citizen stances. How do they apply to communities and organizations? At their core, the consumer stance is about “me” and the citizen stance is about “us”, so consider how being stuck in a consumer stance can be damaging.

For a company, employees in a consumer stance are likely to respond to the question “how’s management doing?” with the government survey reaction of cynical laughter and lack of trust. Do I have to ask how most virtual world residents talk about the companies that run them?

In both cases, power disparities make finding workable models challenging, but the opportunity is there. Employees want to work for companies they are shaping. Community members want to improve their community. As executives, as community managers, it is critical to remember the need to provide constituents with working models to maximize effective communication and to work tirelessly to detect when we misapply our own models.

rockets are cool

Do you read Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy website? You should. He recently linked to this movie from Universe Today. It's amazing, especially a view at about 2:30 from one of the separated SRBs. I challenge anyone to watch this and to then complain that science is boring.

Friday, March 21, 2008

cooking development

I've already posted that Gordon Ramsay's "Kitchen Nightmares" has lessons for community and project development. Apparently, I'm not the only one to realize that it has lessons beyond cooking. Matt and David over on the 37 Signals blog both point out that Gordon's common lessons for restaurants of "local foods, cooked simply and well" support 37 Signal's software development philosophy/methodology of simple, small, and fast.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

"dictated a letter"?

There was a story on NPR this morning where Norman Gant, the executive director the Ob/Gyn certifying board, noted that he had "dictated a letter."


I know that living and working in Bay Area/Silicon Valley means that my world is a technology infused bubble, but dictating?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

to quote jon stewart

At 11:00 on a Tuesday, a prominent politician spoke to Americans about race, as though they were adults - Jon Stewart
This was an amazing speech.

spore bumper sticker

Saw a "Spore 09 2008" bumper sticker driving home. Guess that means the release date is now solid. Here's hoping the Mac release comes at the same time!

y? y not!

Attended Y Combinator's demo day yesterday. It was a hoot, tons of bright, energetic kids doing their first real pitches to a pretty supportive crowd. I had to leave before the end, so I only got to see some of the pitches and missed some I wanted to see. A few broad trends:

  • Do anything to capture usage data. Several different groups were using different hooks to get you to install tool bars, applications, or use bookmarklets to better track web browsing. As next generations search heats up, building large corpora of browsing, buying, and social habits will become increasingly regular parts of business plans. Alas, not one of the projects I saw made privacy a serious part of the pitch, which will lead to the kind of problems Ed Felten has been writing about.
  • An unfortunate meme is propagating that "productivity" can be determined by looking at how many hours you spend using various applications. This is bunk on so many levels. Certainly, a 10 hour-a-day habit of browsing is unlikely to make you a workplace star, claiming that we know it won't is foolish. Richard Feynman worked on problems that stumped him at strip clubs. 8 hours of email use in one day could either result in zero productivity (you were coordinating timing with the Emperors Club), massive global increases in productivity (you are program managing three critical, distributed projects), or anything in between. Now, much like counting calories, getting more information is good, but perpetuating silly ideas -- and worse, trying to monetize those ideas by selling it to managers to "monitor" their teams -- is a very pointy haired choice.
  • Many of the Y Combinator companies look more like features than companies, but I'm OK with this for a couple of reasons. First, I'd take a good collection of features looking for business and product people to partner with over the reverse any day. Second, if you look at Y as a talent scout, it suddenly seems incredibly valuable. These teams proved they could execute on good ideas under pressure, which is incredibly valuable, especially when combined with the networks they're getting exposed to. Not sure what this does to Y's business model if a high percentage of teams get scarfed into other companies, but as someone hiring in the Bay Area, I love the fact that these teams are moving out here.
  • Although it had nothing to do with demo day, I had a chance to talk to Trevor Blackwell and see what Anybots is up to. Very exciting stuff! The science fiction convergence of augmented reality, telepresence, and virtual worlds is not as far away as you think.
So, on to the projects (in the order they presented):
  • Omnisio. I am torn. Omnisio is almost exactly a small side project I was spinning up my flash knowledge to write for fun. Video markup, sharing, and annotation done right. Cool features like being able to sync a powerpoint presentation to the video, tag sections of video, share video with social comments, and compilation clips. All of this adds searchable data to videos, which is interested. Not a business yet, but a great collection of features. I love this idea and think we'll see more uses they haven't thought of.
  • AddHer. Hot or Not with automatic link exchange and easy publishing to social networking sites. This is all about trying to drive more profile traffic and time will tell how valuable that will be. Good statistics interface, although user experience -- even in the demo -- was rough and had many extra clicks.
  • Snaptalent. Google meets Monster. A targeted ad network for job postings, using all kinds of neat tricks to achieve better targeting -- "Oh, you're coming from Google's IP range? Want to work at Facebook?" -- and a better user experience. Ads expand -- go DOM manipulation -- into a picture and movie covered page that allows a candidate to submit a resume, visit your site, or just learn more. All three options are instrumented, so tons of user data is generated and collected. Easy tools for building the ad, too. Snaptalent has the distinction of being the first Y company to be profitable before demo day!
  • Rescuetime. First of two "productivity == more time focused on visual studio" plays. Nice UI, cool graphs, and if lots of people use it I suspect they'll generate very valuable collections of user data, but marketing this is managers bugs me. I love the idea of bringing social networking news feeds to team collaboration, but showing programmers that they are below average for the week in terms of time spend with an editor open is not going to make your team more productive. First off, half your team will be below average for hours. Second, measuring time typing is like judging code by the number of lines produced. Third, I already talked about the dangers of too long a work week, so positively reinforcing what is already a destructive trend is a mistake.
  • MightyQuiz. Just go click on it. Come back in a few hours. User-generated trivia game with very nice social networking tools for tuning questions, easy question generation, easy syndication, and done by Harvard classmates of the Windward Mark team I acquired when at Linden. Cool folks who presented lots of compelling user data. 94% of people hitting the site answer at least one question, average is 19 and 8 minutes per day. Tons of metadata being generated.

  • TipJoy. I've already written about them, but TipJoy seems to have improved quite a bit in the last few months. I love their argument -- that micropayment attempts in the past failed by focusing on the payment part -- although if they get traction fraud may destroy some of their secondary positives (such as the Digg-like ranking on the home page). Good points about usability -- PayPal takes 8 steps, Amazon 7, to pay someone. 200,000 impressions per day at this point. Not at all sure there is a business here, but their usability lessons are worth remembering.
  • Mixwit. Slide plus iTunes. Collect online resources of photos, music, and movies and build widgets to share those collections on social networking sites. Widgets for Very early, but the widget they did for a mix tape looks very polished. 47% of people who start a mix tape publish it.
  • Wundrbar. ZOMG, it's a COMMAND LINE for the Intraweb! Yeah, you think I'm joking. It's a command line. The URI to list commands is "" Command. Line. Google could add these features in, oh, about 8 seconds. Now, to be fair, it's an interesting use of javascript and one that could probably be taken further, plus the referral business could be decent if they get a lot of use. But it's still a command line. I'm waiting for the GUI interface to create text for wundrbar. Then we'll have Windows for the Intraweb!
  • 8aweek. Another "if we just know where you surf you'll be more productive" product. I know, I shouldn't be harshing. A bunch of very heavy handed tools -- like "no, you can't go back to Digg, biatch! (click here to be lame and go anyway)" Polished, earnest presentation. If they collect data, the search implications will be very interesting, but again no mention of privacy issues. Plus, they generate great web analytics, which will also be valuable.
So, an interesting collection of bright people generating cool ideas and features. I don't know if Y is the right way to convert that energy into companies, products, and profits, but I'm glad they're doing it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

starbucks dangers

I'm at my Menlo Park office -- the Sandhill Road Starbucks -- working before a few VC meetings and then popping over to Y Combinator's demo day. This Starbucks makes a particularly good dopio espresso, so it's been a happy morning. It almost wasn't, however.

My laptop was sitting on a low table next to my chair while I finished Bill Buford's excellent book, Heat and made some phone calls. I had just gotten on the phone when a rather elderly gentleman tottered my way with a very full cup of coffee, a muffin, an unlit cigar in his mouth, before dropping heavily into a chair and setting his coffee down right next to my closed laptop, despite their being room on the table to keep some liquid-MacBook distance.

I knew what was going to happen next. I reached over and picked up my laptop, moving it back onto my lap. I had just finished when my new neighbor dropped his nearly whole muffin straight down into his cup of coffee, creating a spectacular coffee eruption that covered the table in coffee, drenched the space my laptop had occupied, and narrowly missed drenching my legs.

That would have made for a sucktastic day of meetings.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

red light! green light! red light!

One aspect of my post-Linden career that is obvious but I hadn't fully grokked (note: how cool is it that Blogger's spell checker recognizes "grokked"?) is how often everything changes and how unexpected events shape my days and thoughts. I get off the phone and think I'm flying somewhere to do a week of work, then the next day get a call asking to put it off for a month. I take a meeting at Starbucks because someone kept pestering me only to discover a project that would be a blast to work on. I answer an unknown number on my cell phone and it's a recruiter with an intriguing CEO position. I'm walking to get water from the fridge at Catamount and Jed pulls me into a meeting that blows my mind.

And that's just the last week.

I do pretty well with multitasking, chaos, and lack of structure, but the mental shifts are striking. Part of why I only pick projects and companies that excite me is that I think about what I'm working on all the time. As anyone who met me knows, there wasn't much time over the last 7 years when I wasn't thinking about, talking about, or working on Second Life. It was -- and continues to be -- a project and company I love, so of course it always gets cycles.

Thus, it's a new skill for me to get spun up about something only to then put it on hold. Obviously, when working a normal, full-time job you do this all the time, but generally within the context of an overall context or direction. The new skill is also perform a context shift on the context itself.

I suspect this will make me a more effective multitasker in the future, but today it is still very much a learning experience.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

entrepreneurs and bloggers

There has been a recent spate of posts about startups, hiring, spending, and how you must -- or shouldn’t ever -- hire workaholics. Comment sections have been ablaze and everybody has an opinion. There is a great deal of certainty, although many opinions seem to be extrapolated from a sample size of 1 (and we all know how many lines can be drawn through a single point.)

Much of the advice is of the “buy low, sell hi”-variety. Obvious, known, and tautological:

  • “Startups must hire the right people.”
  • “Working with more interesting people is more interesting than just working.”
History is replete with examples of startups that were formed by whacky creative types, by armies following specific procedures, brilliant kids riffing off great ideas, mad geniuses, and everything in between. There are, in face, enough different and mutually contradictory ways of succeeding that selection bias allows one to defend almost any approach. Nearly every argument in all the blog posts can be supported or negated by examples.

Even though I’m a little late to the discussion, I do have some thoughts on this topic.

Rule #0: Have a Vision Driving Both Product and Company

Know what you are trying to do and why it's worth doing. Make sure the user experience flows from this vision. Duh.

But, remember Conway's Law.

Your organization's structure and culture will be reflected in your products. More than that, how your company operates will shape the possibility space for products you can create, will determine what you can create. So it is critical that Conway be extended. Vision must drive organizational structures capable of realizing the vision.

Rule #1: Don't Be Dogmatic

You won't always be right. Shocking, I know. So, be ready to change. Particularly when you deal with scaling -- whether in company size, code size, product complexity, number of customers, etc -- you need to assume you're wrong about something. After all, very few systems are scale free.

This rule may be the easiest to say but the hardest to follow. It is an example where how your startup is organized, how you work and collaborate, will define what you are capable of.

Rule #2: Tired (and Stressed) Employees Are Stupid Employees

The various posters spent a ton of time arguing back and forth on workaholics while ignoring a great deal of research and evidence that long work hours hurt productivity and efficiency. Studies going back to Henry Ford’s production lines demonstrate again and again that excessive hours reduce productivity and increase turnover. Since nobody was arguing that lowering productivity would contribute to success, how can anyone argue in favor of extended sleep deprivation?

Worse, for programming – especially in the knuckle dragging languages that I’ve spent my life using – the most subtle and difficult bugs to track down are usually memory related. Fatigue mirrors the impact of alcohol consumption and reduces peoples’ ability to assess their own competence. So, tired programmers are like having drunk, overconfident programmers. How much time do you lose to the memory leaks they introduce?

That’s before the costs related to increased turnover.

Now, there are qualifiers. There are lots of times when an all-nighter – whether alone or with the whole gang – can be a productive, bonding, or necessary event. A few weeks of intense effort or a weekend may be what gets you over the hump, but months or years of a culture that demands 60, 70, or 80-hour work weeks will destroy your productivity.

And cause other problems - just ask EA.

Rule #3: Know How to Do Math

This applies to a lot of areas.

Consider financing. At every startup I’ve been involved with, salaries have been the primary cost driver. Burdened programmer salaries in the Bay Area can easily hit $150,000 per year, so almost any discretionary spending will be less than 5% of the salary cost. Sure, it is possible to buy hand-stitched, gold plated toilet tissue and to burn $20 bills in a woodstove to heat your office, but my experience is that you really have to work to waste enough money to notice, especially if spending is transparent so everyone knows about your payments to Emperors Club VIP. The risk of an early employee abusing the company Visa card is way less than the lost time to someone not being able to buy something they really need when they need it.

Worse, refusing to buy a second monitor, laptop, extra computer, comfortable chair, free soda, beef jerky, or whatever it is that is keeping your key employees happy can easily reduce their efficiency by more than 5%. So be smart and do the math.

Again there are caveats. If you are scraping to get a better demo before a funding round, in a dry spell, or whatever, then change the rules. Just be honest about what’s going on.

Math also helps refute correlation-causation errors, which can be incredibly useful when trying to balance vision and change. Demand data and then analyze it honestly.

Rule #4: Have Fun

You’re going to spend a ton of time and energy on your startup, no matter how carefully you plan your time, how much jerky you buy, and how carefully you plan. So make sure the time in the office is fun for you, your coworkers, and your employees. Every company – everyone – is going to define fun differently, but figure out what it is for your vision and culture, then work to hold on to it. If growth means that the old definition no longer applies, spend the cycles to find a new one.

If you find yourself not wanting to come into work on Monday, you aren’t having fun. Figure out the problem and fix it.

But, remember that nothing is more fun than succeeding, so make sure your definition starts there.

apoc week 9 (part 1)

This week was my fourth faculty seminar. Dmitri Williams tag teamed with me and I'll get the slides up with commentary early next week.

Class was exceptionally interesting this week because Janice Rohn of was our guest speaker. Now, I have to be honest. I had never been to and approached the class with a pretty negative opinion of the Yellow Pages because I haven't used one in a decade yet they keep tossing these huge, useless books on my front door.

Janice changed my opinion. Completely.

Janice is a usability expert who has worked at Stanford, Apple, Sun, World Savings Bank, and She has a spectacularly clear view of the process of usability and ability to convey its importance. She is also a great spokesman for Did you know they were the number one local search site and are owned by AT&T? Me neither. Their site has a very polished iPhone interface that works very well. Who knew?

More generally, she spent about 90 minutes laying out her approach to usability design and answering questions. I can't hope to do it justice -- try to hear her give it sometime -- but among the many interesting points:

  • User experience, like all interesting fields, traces its methodological roots back to IBM and Xerox. It has only become a basic part of most businesses since the Web emerged.
  • User experience is a mix of the usefulness, learnability, memorability, and efficiency of the activities a user takes part in, all trumped by the satisfaction they feel upon completing a task. For example, the satisfaction at the end of a search task is more important than the time it takes to find information. (I find that balance of particular interest in regards to Second Life)
  • She recommended Danny Meyer's "Setting the Table" as a great discussion of user experience. Interesting that I'm not the only one using restaurants as an example.
  • In the balance between product presentation and structure, user are more aware of the presentation, but in the long run usability is actually driven by the structure. Again, very salient to virtual world discussions.
  • Companies never publish their data, but user experience has the highest impact on retention, sales, and support costs of any product factor.
  • In product development, lack of user involvement is the number one driver of missed deadlines and canceled projects. What does this say about game development, generally viewed as the latest and riskiest software projects?
  • During user testing, it is critical to remember that people think in terms of solutions, but you are trying to tease out requirements instead.
  • For every 100 people who have a bad user experience, 50 will tell 8 to 16 others. Bad experiences are incredibly viral!
  • When trying to assess user experience on small projects, decide on target market -- so niche is easier! -- and create user profiles. Find out what is important to those profiles, understand their top requirements and stick to them. Don't try to solve everything! Use your competition to held define the profiles and understand what makes your project unique.
So, lots of good bits of information. Thank you, Janice!

The rest of class was taken up by presentations on our second module, which included viral marketing, legal issues, and investing which I will get to in my next post.

the heroic choice

A couple days ago on NPR, Daniel Shore made the comment:

The democrats never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity
I'm starting to wonder if it is the democratic party or Hillary Clinton this best applies to.

Senator Clinton is an intelligent and capable person with an enviable lifetime of accomplishments, but what exactly is she hoping to gain by staying in the race? If we assume she is staying in the race for the best of reasons -- that she honestly believes she is the right person to lead the United States out of the quagmire President Bush has created -- it still requires her to have some hope of being elected President.

Is that at all likely at this point?

Mainstream reporting aside, Barack Obama continues to extend his delegate lead. Even in his supposedly disastrous week, he still ended up winning Texas and only lost 4 delegates, which he more than made up yesterday. While neither candidate is likely to reach the Democratic National Convention with enough delegates to secure the nomination, Obama is certain to have a lead.

So, Clinton’s only chance to be the nominee is to wage a scorched earth campaign to minimize Obama’s lead and cut enough back room deals to get the super delegates to defy the electorate and go her way. To do this she would have to use her considerable resources to convince the super delegates that Obama would lose to McCain by assaulting his experience, his leadership, and his readiness to be President.

But if this works, the results would be destroy to her chances in the general election. First, it would have alienated the broad base of Democratic support that Obama has generated. Even though he would support Clinton, is it so hard to imagine the traditionally disenfranchised, non-voting groups he mobilized returning to form and not turning out? Moreover, how many of us would choose not to support someone who spent every last penny destroying a candidate we feel is one of us?

As Bush-Gore-Nader proved in 2000, people are quite capable of cutting off their nose to spite their face.

Second, the angle Clinton has chosen to attack Obama – experience – is one where she looks pathetic compared to McCain. If Washington knowledge, foreign policy expertise, and military experience are the determining factors, McCain trounces Clinton. Her anti-Obama playbook becomes McCain’s anti-Clinton playbook.

Unfortunately, what is even more likely is that Obama will be the nominee despite everything Clinton does, but that he will face a far more difficult race against McCain because Clinton will have handed McCain attack add after attack add, Obama will have to continue to campaign against Clinton rather than McCain, voters will have been alienated by a bitter primary, and McCain will have had a long head start on the general campaign.

The tragic punch line is that if Clinton were to take the high road, to drop out on her own terms and to throw her considerable support behind Obama, she would be a hero. Moreover, she would be in the position of having nearly infinite soft power within the Democratic party and Washington. Rather than squandering the tremendous capital both she and Bill Clinton posses trying to block the future, she could be helping to drive the transition, focus on the many Congressional races the Democratic Party could win, and know that she made the right choice. The brave choice.

The heroic choice.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

ian mini-rant

Ian Bogost posts his thoughts on the iPhone SDK and games over at Water Cooler Games. He is being a little harsh, but it would suck if Apple delays too much longer on the developer registrations.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

forks in the road

Some travel, APOC, and the flu all conspired to interrupt my studying process, so as I carve out some time this week I find myself at a major fork in the road. On the one hand, I could return to my original plan of building a simple LAMP + AJAX web application, probably then rebuilding it with some different back end options. On the other hand, I'm itching to play with Flash and Action Script 3, and have a an application or two in mind that would be fun to build. Finally, on the third hand you humans are missing, the Apple iPhone SDK came out with a great development environment and simulator.

Decisions, decisions.

Friday, March 07, 2008

sad panda mac day

I'm an Apple geek. I can admit it. I've been primarily using Apple laptops for 5 years, own an iPhone and several iPods, Mac Mini's are connected to every television in the house, and I've generally pushed Macs on anyone I knew who was buying a computer and didn't need to play games.

Thus, I am saddened by three distinct Mac problems that tumbled together today.

First, the MacBook Air. Using an Air is a little like having an iPhone several months ago. People who would normally never talk to a stranger in public come up to you and ask about it. With the iPhone, it was easy to respond with a big smile and a loud "I love it!" With the Air, it's a little trickier. For the most part, I do love it. Even discounting the adventure of the my first one arriving broken, it has proven to have enough power to run Second Life, takes up no space in my bag, has a great keyboard, bright screen, enough battery life, stays nice and cool, and -- when everything is working -- has been an absolute joy to use.

Unfortunately, everything doesn't always work. Ironically, it is again an intermittent problem with the trackpad. Unlike the first time, this one is easier to reproduce. If I spend a lot of time with Gmail open in a tab while clicking around in other apps, eventually the trackpad button stops taking clicks. Tapping the trackpad still works and -- here's the spooky part -- reloading Gmail generally restores the click functionality. Alternately, shutting down and restarting Firefox fixes the problem. Oh, yeah, reloading it in Safari generally fixes it, too, so it isn't just Firefox.

Weird, eh? I don't quite have it reproducible enough to add into the Apple bug database, but I'm close.

So, I want to tell people I love the Air, but instead I tend to waffle a bit. Too bad, because it really has recalibrated what I expect from a laptop. I may never go back to a larger, heavier machine.

Second, my Airport Extreme wireless routers at home have been randomly dying. Turns out, there is a lot of unanswered discussion on the Apple boards about this, although several different problems seem to be overlapping. I have two wireless networks set up at home, one for 802.11g/n for guests and the Mac Minis and a separate 802.11n for our laptops. Both are on Mac Airport Extreme N routers. The .11g/n network started randomly failing the other day in a very weird way. The green light would stay on, but both wired and wireless connections would fail, the wireless network would vanish (even iStumbler couldn't find it), and if you tried to ping the router via a wired connection, the host would be down. Cycling power would fix the problem. Eventually it started happening continuously.

I figured the equipment had failed, so swapped routers and temporarily ditched the .11n network. Then it started failing. Since both were next to each other on a high shelf in the corner of the room, I thought maybe I had cooked both routers, so I went and got a new one and installed it in a better ventilated spot.

The new router began failing immediately.

Now I was really intrigued -- where "intrigued" is a synonym for "angry and frustrated." I turned on max logging and started streaming the logs to a wired host, looking for patterns. What emerged was that every failure was preceded by bittorrent using NAT-PNP to setup a route it would lock up the router. That hint gave me the clue that led me, via Google, to the linked discussion. I've tried the voodoo solution of turning off IPv6 support (Manual Setup -> Advanced -> IPv6 -> Local-link only) and so far haven't seen a lockup, but we'll see. Very annoying, as my home network had been rock solid for years.

Third, remember the comment about games? Well, just saw the Instant Action announcement and I want to check out there technology! Sadly, despite being a web plugin, they don't have a Mac version yet, which is too bad.

I'm sure tomorrow will be a better Mac day -- maybe I'll download the iPhone SDK to make myself feel better.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

apoc week 8

David Pollock, a managing director at Bear Stearns and member of the Southern California angel investment group Tech Coast Angels, visited the APOC class this week. Interesting guy, thoughtful, and provided a nice overview for the class on the various steps of funding, the differences between friends and family, angels, and VCs, as well as being very open to answering questions about what he looks for and thinks about. I've been fortunate to meet a lot of investors during Second Life's development, as well as a larger group in the time since, but more information is always useful.

He had a few interesting data points and comments:

  • He did a study at the Milken Institute that determined that 75% of the value in the US economy is the human capital
  • 7 out of 10 venture investments fail completely
  • LA area angels and VCs don't want seed funding to be spent on patent protection
More generally, he gave the impression that LA VC scene is a bit more of a sellers market -- ie, more money looking at fewer entrepreneurs -- compared to the Bay Area. Maybe he was just being nice to the students.

As I explore the funding landscape, a couple of trends are jumping out.

First, Y Combinator (and its many copies) will generate a much broader exploration of Web 2.0 consumer services. As the number of available services becomes large, matching users to services will become a very interesting problem. What will take us beyond marketing, search engine optimization, and viral approaches? Will the news sites targeting this space, such as Tech Crunch, Mashable, Paid Content et al, take on a more of an aggregation role? Specialized search to help consumers find the services they want? Or, will service businesses emerge to build custom mashups, maybe using Yahoo Pipes?

Second, there may be a funding gap around the $200 - 400k level. Angels and some VCs, such as Charles River Ventures, are focused on this amount, but both face the challenge of being time consuming at a time in product development where a lost month or two to close funding is a significant percentage of total development time. Especially if the visionary founder is the one most distracted by the funding effort. A funder who really streamlined the process would meaningfully change the performance of their investments, since an extra month or two of progress 9 to 12 months into an idea could be the difference between having launched or not.

What I like about both trends is that solving them well requires a mix of search and reputation, both interesting problems to work on.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


Chris Anderson, Wired’s Editor-in-Chief, just posted the main arguments from his new book, “Free.” Chris is well known thanks to his last book, “The Long Tail,” which explored the interaction of consumption patterns and distribution. “Free” is the logical next step. Just as decreased search and distribution costs enable niche demand to generate as much aggregate consumption as the more popular part of the curve, decreased hosting, processing, and bandwidth costs are driving the cost of web services to zero.

To free.

Chris is a very sharp guy. However, what inspired me about “The Long Tail” was not the story he told about long-tail consumption. Instead, it was how long-tail thinking could be applied to community, innovation, and learning. I wrote about this in the “Collapsing Geography” paper, but to sum up:

This same power law distribution is a suitable approximation for other aspects of innovation and collaboration, beyond the Long Tail of consumption Anderson describes. Consider the potential entrepreneur: how many factors act to prevent someone from even attempting to build a business? Remember, this is not just the investment of dollars, but also includes time, social risk, and other elements. Even a basic requirement for a lawyer or license is a substantial hurdle.

In cultures or nations that generate many of these impediments, only a few entrepreneurs even try. While they may be the best funded, most determined, or most risk-tolerant entrepreneurs, innovation — as a random walk through design space — is dampened by significant reductions in participants. Inventory and shelf space pressures will tend to constrain a market to the top of the power law, reducing the variety and ignoring a lucrative customer base. In the same way, regulatory, legal, or social pressures also prevent entrepreneurial activities.
Given that innovation occurs at the intersections between information and social networks, yet another Long Tail exists, that of long-tail communities. New York city supports an unparalleled number of differing, overlapping communities, thanks to the density and diversity of its population. When communication technologies allow similar numbers of communities to form and intersect at a distance, the opportunities for innovation expand tremendously.

Long-tail communities aid long-tail innovation.

In a similar way, what excites me about “Free” is less the insight that any web-based service is going to face enormous pressure to be free, but the increased relative cost of what is left. After all, if duplication, storage, and distribution are free, then the percentage of your product or service costs associated with design, development, and support increase proportionally.

Not to mention the cost of your customers’ time.

Intel and AMD are fighting it out to ensure that computing power is free. Where is the competition to make it free to develop a great user interface? A compelling experience? To support millions of users?

To create something worth spending your increasingly fragmented and limited time using?

Certainly, open source development, Creative Commons, and other crowd sourcing models are creating additional tools for reducing design and development costs. Moreover, Y Combinator, 37 Signals, and others are demonstrating that certain forms of software development are much cheaper than they used to be.

But the iPhone’s interface wasn’t created by two people over a weekend. World of Warcraft was an enormously expensive endeavor.

Tools and technology to attack the not-free portions of development are one my favorite topics when I think about what’s next. They could make for some really fun projects.

Monday, March 03, 2008

bring on the science

Tamin Pechet, who's an EIR here at , pointed me at this Boston Globe article about Second Life. The gist is that a Mass General doctor is going to attempt to reproduce real-world stress reduction therapy sessions via Second Life. As John Lester points out:

This is one of the first attempts to see if Second Life can help people in a scientific, quantifiable way.
Patients are already reaching out to each other through virtual worlds, so understanding the impact is an incredibly important area for research. If virtual worlds allow distance therapy to be effective -- and remember, it need not be as effective as in the real world, just effective enough -- it could open up entirely new connections between doctors and patients.

more customer service goodness

I almost never check bags and tend to travel with the smallest, 20" roller bag possible to ensure that it always fits into the overhead storage on flights. As a result, my trusty Victorinox bag would sometimes get stuffed to nearly cold fusion levels. Eventually, the bag paid the price of my jumping up and down on it to cram things in. It lost several structural screws and one of the internal loops ripped out. I bought a newer version of the bag, but on a lark decided to take the old one in to Edwards Luggage to see how much a repair would cost. The gentleman at the counter counted up all the missing pieces and bits of damage, handed me a claim slip, and announced that all the fixes were easy so there would be no charge.


Wow. I can say with certainty whenever I need new luggage or wallets that I'll be returning to Edwards.