The Gong Show

Sep 25

“A krewe is a group of people who get together at carnival time and put on a parade and a ball… A group of Syrians from Algiers formed a krewe named Isis.” —

Walker Percy in The Moviegoer (P. 17), written in 1960.

This was my anachronism of the day.

Sep 24

I write code rarely these days. But when I do, I only do so for myself to scratch my own curiousities. This comic is why.

I write code rarely these days. But when I do, I only do so for myself to scratch my own curiousities. This comic is why.

Sep 19

Tech Specs of a Paper Book:

Readable with any form of light

Very high contrast display

Requires no battery power

Depending on model, lasts anywhere from five to five thousand years or more

Immersive and non-distracting user interface

Offers a spatial layout for immediate access to random information

Conforms to the standardized “page number” spec for easy reference

Supports direct interaction via pen or highlighter

DRM-free for easy lending and resale

Standards-based system not controlled by any single corporation or entity

Crash-proof and immune to viruses (though vulnerable to some worms)

Easy to learn user-interface consistent across most manufacturers

Supports very large number of colors and also black and white images

Compatible with a wide variety of note taking systems

” —

The tech specs of a paper book.

Technology that is new is not inherently better. Technology that is old and still widely used has by definition survived a healthy Darwinian process, to the benefit of all.

Sep 18

Secondary Technologies and “Why Now?”

After spending a good amount of time in VC, its only natural that you’ll hear the same idea pitched again years later.  Or, in its extreme, you’ll hear an idea pitched in a market that is littered with the cracked hulls of failed startups in the past.  When this happens, the skeptical mind asks “Why Now?” Why will this work today when so many others have failed in the past?

Sometimes the answer is as simple as “We are better.” Team matters… at the earliest stage of investing I’d argue it matters above all else.  And so as an investor you have to decide whether you think this is the team to crack the code in a historically difficult market.

But sometimes, you can come up with an answer to “Why Now?” that’s far more rational and intellectually satisfying. In one of my favorite startup talks ever, Jawad Karim (the third co-founder of YouTube that people usually forget to include in crediting YouTube’s genesis story) explains the “Why Now?” of YouTube quite rationally.  He uses an argument around secondary technology and how they were the necessary foundation for YouTube’s success where previously so many other companies had failed.  The talk is long, so I’ve cued it up in YouTube directly to the part where he explains “Why Now?” and secondary technologies.  If you have more time, I *highly* recommend you watch the whole video because it contains countless gems of internet lore and nostalgia, along with a good analysis of the commonalities of hypergrowth companies.

Also, Liz Gannes did a tl;dr of the video back in 2006, which is a nice summary… though her link to the video in her article is broken so use mine instead.

This talk is 8 years old so I consider this my #tbt for the day even if I wasn’t there.

Sep 16

“You have a gift… the willingness to entertain absurd ideas. It is a habit that is highly prized among my peers.” —

Paraphrased from Ajax Penumbra 1969.

I strive to build this habit regularly. It’s a real challenge, one well worth enduring.

Sep 12

“There are schemes that don’t respect and honor the payment networks,” said James Anderson, the senior vice president for mobile product development at MasterCard. “We want to invest in programs that respect our role in the ecosystem.” —

A quote from an NYT article on Apple Pay.

"Respect and Honor…" I will remember that phrase for a long time. It’s a death knell.

Sep 11

Q: So, unrelated question, but I’m just curious—- What was your reaction to THE SOCIAL NETWORK movie?

A:The zero-sum world it portrayed has nothing in common with the Silicon Valley I know, but I suspect it’s a pretty accurate portrayal of the dysfunctional relationships that dominate Hollywood.

” —

from Peter Thiel’s AMA on Reddit.

That’s the single most unintuitive thing about startups: they are almost never zero-sum. Which means you have to stop thinking about competition and instead focus internally on your own strengths and weaknesses. It’s unlike nearly all games, simulations, and learning lessons we all play growing up.

Why we build for students -


Technology in education has historically been a story of control and limited access.

The main sources of information for students were their textbooks and their teachers. Both were limited: either in content, or in time. Research happened in libraries, closed after school. Lab computers… [read more]

Socratic’s Shreyans Bhansali has a terrific post on the future of education technology.  Here’s my favorite paragraph:

[I]t makes little sense for any institution to push poor technology choices on students. The textbook’s website is clunky? Wikipedia and Google are clean and fast. YouTube is blocked in the lab? It works on their phones.

The phone as a subversive vector by which student will work around systems of control in schools is a major trend to watch in ed tech going forward.  Check out the rest of Shreyans’s post, it’s well worth the time.

Sep 09

"When Are We Gonna Have To Use This?"

Upworthy has a beautiful video featuring an algebra class working together to on a sticky math question. It’s inspiring to watch; it features the best aspects of problem solving and challenging yourself. My favorite part is the teacher’s refutation to the question: “When am I ever going to use this?”

Q: Why do you do this exercise with your students?

"Every year I get the question in class, ‘When are we gonna have to use this?’ And my answer to that question is, ‘You’re not.’ That’s not the point. By doing math, we are carving neural pathways that otherwise wouldn’t have been there. Grappling with problems like this makes us better problem solvers, and by extension, better human beings.

This response reminded me one of my favorite blogs post of the past few years, written by my friend Ben Stein. He wrote a refutation to Jeff Atwood plea to stop encouraging everyone to become programmers.

Jeff’s point was: very few people who learn to program become great programmers, and why does the world need more mediocre programmers? Just like not everyone needs to learn to be a plumber, not everyone needs to learn to program.

Ben’s response was terrific. It’s all great, but the money paragraph is:

Do I want my son to become a computer programmer? I don’t care. Up to him. Do I want him to understand how to think critically and logically and in a structured & methodical way when approaching problems? Absolutely. And computer programming teaches these skills better than anything else I’ve ever done.

Similarly, I recently finished a Coursera course on Cryptography. Outside of this class, I will never again implement a crypto cipher, or even use crypto library code in an app I write. No one will ever rely on me to handle their encryption/decryption matters. Like plumbing, it’s nearly always cleanly abstracted away from me. But it was so worth my time because of the way in which it challenged me an expanded my thinking.  Like after reading a good book, it changed the way I think about a set of problems, and by extension, makes me a better human being.

Aug 20

From YC company Helion, this is one gram of heavy water (D2O), which has the potential to generate as much energy as 10k tons of coal.

From YC company Helion, this is one gram of heavy water (D2O), which has the potential to generate as much energy as 10k tons of coal.