The Gong Show

Apr 23

“While FCC licenses are typically issued for a fixed period of time, renewals of FCC licenses are routine, with no legal, regulatory, competitive, or economic reasons that would limit the useful life of the asset. As a result, for financial reporting purposes, licensees generally treat FCC licenses as indefinitely-lived intangible assets under the provisions of Financial Accounting Standards Board (“FASB”) Accounting Standards Codification (“ASC”) Topic 820, Fair Value Measurements and Disclosures (“FASB ASC 820”).” —

As an addendum to my blog post today, this is an accounting journal’s analysis on how to value spectrum per FASB standards. It’s very dry, but brew a cup of coffee first and then read through if you care about the status quo on how spectrum is licensed and valued today because it’s the best resource I’ve found on this subject.

Spectrum Licenses: Valuation Intricacies | Stout Risius Ross

Aereo’s Day in Court

American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. v. Aereo, Inc. presented in front of the Supreme Court yesterday. Re/code has good summary coverage of the case, and I don’t want to be redundant to journalists’ good work summarizing. However, the crux of the case came from NYT coverage:

At risk are the billions of dollars broadcasters receive from cable and satellite companies in the form of retransmission fees, the money paid to networks and local stations for the right to retransmit their programming. The networks have said this revenue is so vital that they would consider removing their signals from the airwaves if the court ruled for Aereo.

This is why the Aereo case is so phenomenally interesting to me.  It has nothing to do with streaming TV over the internet for small fee without paying licensing to the broadcasters.  Frankly, the Aereo business model is rather uninteresting arbitrage.  The crux of the case is this painful and justified choice the public broadcasters should be forced to make.  They can either:

A) Keep their incredibly valuable, free public spectrum over which they broadcast their programming for free. In which case, Aereo is legal and free to continue to operate their business, and cable companies should stop paying retrans fees to public broadcasters immediately (which in theory, should lower the public’s cable bills).

OR

B) The broadcasters can give up their incredibly valuable, free public spectrum over which they broadcast, and then keep their cable retrans fees.  Aereo will be sunk unfortunately in this case, but the US people will get their spectrum back, which ideally would be used to the optimal public benefit.

Broadcasters don’t get to have their cake and eat it too.  If the SCOTUS rules that Aereo is illegal, then the broadcasters will not be forced to make this choice. As alternative recourse, I hope the FCC steps up and forces broadcaster to either A) pay a market rate for the spectrum they use or B) give up their retrans fees. The Aereo legal loophole is not the only way to force this decision, it’s just the most immediate one.

Apr 22

Looking Sideways in School

When I was in middle school, my Social Studies teacher gave us a long homework assignment that many students disliked. We received a sheet of 8 questions, each with 5 multi-choice answers (except the last question). Each question was a mapping quiz. An example question was something like:

- Start at Rome. Travel NNE 50 miles, then travel W 200 miles, then travel N 80 miles, then travel SSW 10 miles. What city do you arrive at?
A) Florence
B) Athens
C) Barcelona
D) Monaco
E) Venice

The quiz had one final question at the end after the 7 multi-choice questions. It said something like:

"Take the first letter of each city you answered in the last 7 questions and put them together to form one word. This word will be an important part of next week’s lesson."

We were given a week to complete the assignment. Many of my classmates struggled with the assignment for most of the week. We were taught how to use protractors on a world map in order to complete the assignment, but the directions often led students into fuzzy gaps between cities, and it was surprisingly difficult to figure out whether a possible answer was correct or not. It was enough of a slog that a few student simply turned in the assignment only partially finished.

At first I procrastinated. I was annoyed by what seemed like a tedious exercise that wasn’t going to teach me something new. The exercise did foster mapping practice, but I must have lacked the appetite for that skill.

Eventually, I thought to just read ahead in the textbook and look for any bolded 7 letter proper nouns. Ten pages after our last reading assignment ended, I saw the name Ptolemy and saw that each of those 7 letters mapped to the first letters of cities in the multi-choice options for each of the questions. I wasn’t certain I was right, but it seemed to fit well enough. I circled the 7 bubbles, wrote in Ptolemy, and turned in the worksheet after 10 minutes of work.

My answer turned out to be right and I received 100%, but I remember feeling guilty about what I had done. It felt like cheating because I wasn’t completing the assignment with the spirit in which it had been designed. If the last question hadn’t been a part of the assignment, I would have slogged my way though the work like everyone else, as I should have.

This happened to me a number of times during my education:

I think these situations are why nerds gravitate towards the Hacker Manifesto.

I really hope this post doesn’t ring as me being ungrateful for my education. I had AMAZING teachers and only the top-quality education my whole life. I’m deeply indebted to my parents for providing me this great opportunity.

I also hope this post doesn’t ring as, “Oh, look at me! Aren’t I so smart?” I got my ass handed to me in many classes that battered my intellectual ego plenty times over. In fact, much of the “boasting” in this post is about logic problems, yet I got a C- in my First Order Logic class. Had it not been for a curve, I would have failed. Go figure.

My point here is simple: looking at a problem from a sideways perspective shouldn’t be discouraged. It’s one of the most valuable skills I’ve learned in my life, and when I stumbled into these moments in real life (not school), it genuinely feels like having superpowers. This should be fostered. In fact, whole classes should be dedicated to trying to teach this skill. I’m rarely so lucky to achieve this state, but it’s wonderful when it happens.

Apr 19

HeartBleed in the Wild | Sucuri Blog -

Surprisingly there are still a bunch of in patched Heartbleed servers in the wild, 20k+ of the top 1MM sites on the Internet are still vulnerable.

I think the next version of Chrome should keep a cached copy of unpatched, popular servers and show me an interstitial warning before I attempt to login to any Heartbleed-exposed SSL server.

Traffic to unpatched sites would plummet, which would motivate webmasters to patch faster.

Apr 17

Plant Breeders Release First 'Open Source Seeds' : The Salt : NPR -

This is the most interesting thing I have read in months. Farmers are starting an open source seed movement in response to the Monsantos of the world turning plant line perpetuation into private property.

The open question in my mind is if phenotypes will be patentable or not. If so, the open source seed movement might hit headwinds against properties like Roundup resistance.

We live in the future!

Apr 16

Anachronistic Names

Inspired by 1800Contacts’s advertisement for their mobile ordering app, I find it funny when companies are anachronistically named after their outdated distribution channel… or when named for a product that’s no longer relevant to the company’s revenue.

1800Flowers
Dial7 Car Service
Teleflora (named for the telegram, not the telephone!)
RCA (Radio Corporation of America)
NBC, ABC, CBS (Broadcasting?… I feel like that implies OTA radio waves).
Even companies whose corporate names end in “.com” fall into this bucket in an increasingly mobile app driven world.

In a very short # of years, every book publisher that uses the word “Press” in their name will look antiquated, when pressing ink onto thin slices of dead trees fades as the popular distribution channel for text.

Got more?

Anachronistic Names

Inspired by 1800Contacts’s advertisement for their mobile ordering app, I find it funny when companies are anachronistically named after their outdated distribution channel… or when named for a product that’s no longer relevant to the company’s revenue.

Even companies whose corporate names end in “.com” fall into this bucket in an increasingly mobile app driven world.

In a very short # of years, every book publisher that uses the word “Press” in their name will look antiquated, when pressing ink onto thin slices of dead trees fades as the popular distribution channel for text.

Got more?

Apr 13

[video]

Apr 11

Thoughts on Fooled by Randomness

I finished Nassim Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness last night. Here’s some relatively unrelated thoughts:

1) Most of the anecdotal stories of trading failure in this book stem from people that thought they were making very safe, relatively small, repeatable profits… and doing so millions of times, unaware of the actual small probability of a catastrophic downside event. This was interesting food for thought in the context of my job. As a VC, the worst I can do in an investment is lose 100% of my investment, and unfortunately (with much emotional pain) this happens with reasonable frequency. In exchange for this risk, I am (hopefully) making investments with uncapped upside. In both upside and downside scenarios, my business of investing is contrary to many of Nassim’s fools.

However, I could still easily be fooled by randomness because I am only describing the possible end states of a given investment (1X loss, unlimited upside), and without a probability distribution to map against it. The distribution of these outcomes means *everything* to returns.

2) Nassim is a trader himself, analyzing his trading peers in a world of traders. He doesn’t believe in the value of technical innovation (he said something like (paraphrased) “for every innovation like the Automobile or Internet, there are thousands of failed technologies that waste our time.”) In trading Nassim is focused on reliably making money over the long run, without embracing underlying innovation or growth in production.

By contrast VC investing is different. VC is a much longer time horizon than most trading, and will only be successful if there is material growth in innovation and productivity in the startups being funded. 

I’d love to see Nassim take his (highly skeptical) probabilistic lens and apply it to the world of investing as opposed to trading… perhaps he has already done that in a subsequent book I have not read.

3) Every time you hear mention of an average or expected outcome, this should trigger your Spidy senses that there is an implied probability distribution around this average and the shape of that distribution is far more informative than the average itself. Often times, the shape of this distribution will be Normal (aka Gaussian)… But when it isn’t, your assumption can bite back.

4) Nassim regularly gets up in front of his boutique investment firm and states quite simply (paraphrased): “We are idiots and know nothing. But we are blessed with the self-awareness of our limited knowledge, which makes us better than most other investment shops out there.”

I love this approach of perpetual humility as a “first principle” foundation to intellectual curiosity. I strive to be this humble when speaking of my own positions and ideas (and would not be so brash as to assume I hit my goals of humility all the time… I’m sure overconfidence slips past me on occasion).

5) Lastly, I took the whole book with a grain of salt because it must be exhausting to be a perpetual skeptic. Here’s Nassim on his own weakness in the face of an emotional response to randomness: “My humanity will try to foil me; I have to stay on my guard. I was born to be fooled by randomness.”

Yelp just launched the ability to search via Emoji… this is crazy. I feel like this is the kind of thing I’d read in a sci-fi novel. Kinda like a not-so-dark version of Newspeak emerging as a popular form of communication.
littlebigdetails:

Yelp - Let’s you use emoji to search for businesses.
/via George
More info

Yelp just launched the ability to search via Emoji… this is crazy. I feel like this is the kind of thing I’d read in a sci-fi novel. Kinda like a not-so-dark version of Newspeak emerging as a popular form of communication.

littlebigdetails:

Yelp - Let’s you use emoji to search for businesses.

/via George

More info

Apr 10

Push Notification Activation Best Practices?

The #1 way iOS mobile applications reactivate their userbase is through push notifications. But not all users are willing to turn push notifications on. Does anyone have best practices or examples of applications that do a *great* job of getting their users to allow push notifications?

I’ve seen a few examples of apps that use a page during the sign up flow to justify to a user why accepting push notifications is a good idea, and only once this page is completed does the app launch the “accept push notif?” modal dialogue box.

Anyone have tips or tricks beyond this smart (but simple) low hanging fruit?

The hardest part of getting your users to accept push notifs is that you only get one shot. If the user declines notifs initially, you cannot reprint the user later. You need to use copy to beg them to go into iOS Settings and manually enable notifs. It’s an incredible high hurdle of activation energy to clear and I imagine once a user initially declines notifs it much be nearly impossible to get them to activate later.

So, best examples or best practices anyone?