Googling For Gold

Sunday, November 27th, 2005

Entrepreneurs are now Googling For Gold:

The Google effect is already changing the delicate balance in Silicon Valley between venture capitalists and startup companies. Instead of nurturing the most promising startups with an eye toward taking the fledgling businesses public, a growing number of VCs now scour the landscape for anyone with a technology or service that might fill a gap in Google’s portfolio. Google itself and not the larger market has become the exit strategy as VCs plan for the day they can take their money out of their startups.


Friday, November 25th, 2005

Escherization has been reduced to an algorithm:

Escher was able to discover such tilings through a combination of natural ability and sheer determination. Can we automate the discovery of tilings by recognizable motifs? More formally, we pose the Escherization problem:
Given a shape S, find a new shape T such that:
  1. T is as close as possible to S; and
  2. Copies of T fit together to form a tiling of the plane.

Theory of Anything? Physicist Lawrence Krauss turns on his own

Friday, November 25th, 2005

“Lawrence Krauss, a professor of physics and astronomy at Case Western Reserve University, has a reputation for shooting down pseudoscience,” and now he’s shooting down String Theory. From Theory of Anything? Physicist Lawrence Krauss turns on his own:

String theory, he explains, has a catch: Unlike relativity and quantum mechanics, it can’t be tested. That is, no one has been able to devise a feasible experiment for which string theory predicts measurable results any different from what the current wisdom already says would happen. Scientific Method 101 says that if you can’t run a test that might disprove your theory, you can’t claim it as fact. When I asked physicists like Nobel Prize-winner Frank Wilczek and string theory superstar Edward Witten for ideas about how to prove string theory, they typically began with scenarios like, ‘Let’s say we had a particle accelerator the size of the Milky Way …’ Wilczek said strings aren’t a theory, but rather a search for a theory. Witten bluntly added, ‘We don’t yet understand the core idea.’

Hung Up on Tentpoles, Studios Think Too Big

Friday, November 25th, 2005

Anne Thompson analyzes the economics of filmmaking in Hung Up on Tentpoles, Studios Think Too Big:

In Hollywood, there’s a studio price and an indie price. There’s a two-tiered system in place. On the studio side, the top movie stars cost $20 million against a share of the gross, and the top directors command $10 million (unless you’re Peter Jackson coming off ‘The Lord of the Rings’).

Movie stars know the rules today: Sucker the studios into paying your price and go to the indies for the quality parts that will sustain your career. If you’re George Clooney, you recognize the value of putting yourself in quality work that will stand the test of time.

No studio is going to admit the obvious: They can’t afford to make all their movies at top-tier prices. And if they only make a few tentpoles a year, what are they going to do with the rest of their slate? None of the studios is willing to slash the fat from their motion picture divisions.

Baudrillard on Tour

Friday, November 25th, 2005

Larissa MacFarquhar summarizes Baudrillard on Tour:

Baudrillard, the French philosopher, is best known for his theory that consumer society forms a kind of code that gives individuals the illusion of choice while in fact entrapping them in a vast web of simulated reality. In 1999, the movie “The Matrix,” which was based on this theory, transformed him from a cult figure into an extremely famous cult figure. But Baudrillard was ambivalent about the film — he declined an invitation to participate in the writing of its sequels — and these days he is still going about his usual French-philosopher business, scandalizing audiences with the grandiloquent sweep of his gnomic pronouncements and his post-Marxian pessimism.

How to Fund a Startup

Friday, November 25th, 2005

Paul Graham’s How to Fund a Startup is “a complete summary of funding options for startup founders”:

  • Friends and Family
  • Consulting
  • Angel Investors
  • Seed Funding Firms
  • Venture Capital Funds

Even out of context his footnotes are interesting:

[1] The aim of such regulations is to protect widows and orphans from crooked investment schemes; people with a million dollars in liquid assets are assumed to be able to protect themselves. The unintended consequence is that the investments that generate the highest returns, like hedge funds, are available only to the rich.

[2] Consulting is where product companies go to die. IBM is the most famous example. So starting as a consulting company is like starting out in the grave and trying to work your way up into the world of the living.

[3] If “near you” doesn’t mean the Bay Area, Boston, or Seattle, consider moving. It’s not a coincidence you haven’t heard of many startups from Philadelphia.

[4] Investors are often compared to sheep. And they are like sheep, but that’s a rational response to their situation. Sheep act the way they do for a reason. If all the other sheep head for a certain field, it’s probably good grazing. And when a wolf appears, is he going to eat a sheep in the middle of the flock, or one near the edge?

[5] This was partly confidence, and partly simple ignorance. We didn’t know ourselves which VC firms were the impressive ones. We thought software was all that mattered. But that turned out to be the right direction to be naive in: it’s much better to overestimate than underestimate the importance of making a good product.

[6] I’ve omitted one source: government grants. I don’t think these are even worth thinking about for the average startup. Governments may mean well when they set up grant programs to encourage startups, but what they give with one hand they take away with the other: the process of applying is inevitably so arduous, and the restrictions on what you can do with the money so burdensome, that it would be easier to take a job to get the money.

You should be especially suspicious of grants whose purpose is some kind of social engineering– e.g. to encourage more startups to be started in Mississippi. Free money to start a startup in a place where few succeed is hardly free.

Some government agencies run venture funding groups, which make investments rather than giving grants. For example, the CIA runs a venture fund called In-Q-Tel that is modelled on private sector funds and apparently generates good returns. They would probably be worth approaching– if you don’t mind taking money from the CIA.

[7] Options have largely been replaced with restricted stock, which amounts to the same thing. Instead of earning the right to buy stock, the employee gets the stock up front, and earns the right not to have to give it back. The shares set aside for this purpose are still called the “option pool.”

[8] First-rate technical people do not generally hire themselves out to do technical due diligence for VCs. So the most difficult part for startup founders is often responding politely to the inane questions of the “expert” they send to look you over.

[9] VCs regularly wipe out angels by issuing arbitrary amounts of new stock. They seem to have a standard piece of casuistry for this situation: that the angels are no longer working to help the company, and so don’t deserve to keep their stock. This of course reflects a willful misunderstanding of what investment means; like any investor, the angel is being compensated for risks he took earlier. By a similar logic, one could argue that the VCs should be deprived of their shares when the company goes public.

[10] One new thing the company might encounter is a down round, or a funding round at valuation lower than the previous round. Down rounds are bad news; it is generally the common stock holders who take the hit. Some of the most fearsome provisions in VC deal terms have to do with down rounds– like “full ratchet anti-dilution,” which is as frightening as it sounds.

Founders are tempted to ignore these clauses, because they think the company will either be a big success or a complete bust. VCs know otherwise: it’s not uncommon for startups to have moments of adversity before they ultimately succeed. So it’s worth negotiating anti-dilution provisions, even though you don’t think you need to, and VCs will try to make you feel that you’re being gratuitously troublesome.

Unbelieveable 3D Pavement Drawings!

Thursday, November 24th, 2005

I have to agree that these are Unbelieveable 3D Pavement Drawings!.

Of course, they’re only unbelievably 3D from just the right angle. Viewed from the wrong angle, they’re wildly distorted and not-at-all 3D.

Arcadia’s Furnishings

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2005

Derek Lowe explores the terrible state of academic labs in Arcadia’s Furnishings:

I haven’t worked in a US academic chemistry lab since 1988, so you’ll have to take that into account as you read today’s post. But I don’t think that things have changed enough to invalidate this observation: many grad-school science labs are so depressing as to defy belief. This isn’t universal, but I’ve seen enough examples to convince me. The atmosphere doesn’t correlate well with the amount of money around, either, because I’ve seen some lower-level departments that weren’t so bad, and a couple of Ivy League lab corridors that would pull the serotonin right out of your brain just to walk down them.

Many of the students and post-docs working at these places don’t realize this, though, which is surely to their benefit. It’s only after you’ve gone out into the Real World for a while and come back for a visit that it hits you. That’s certainly how it dawned on me.

Five Men in a Limo

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2005

As Michael Blowhard says, “You know these men and their work, believe me”: Five Men in a Limo.

Web 2.0

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2005

Paul Graham finally finds a common thread amongst the disparate elements of Web 2.0:

Ajax, democracy, and not dissing users. What do they all have in common? I didn’t realize they had anything in common till recently, which is one of the reasons I disliked the term ‘Web 2.0′ so much. It seemed that it was being used as a label for whatever happened to be new — that it didn’t predict anything.

But there is a common thread. Web 2.0 means using the web the way it’s meant to be used. The ‘trends’ we’re seeing now are simply the inherent nature of the web emerging from under the broken models that got imposed on it during the Bubble.

Evolution vs. Intelligent Design

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2005

A VC explains Evolution vs. Intelligent Design — when it comes to startups:

For years, I have been fascinated by the fact that many of the very best startup companies come out of ‘side projects’. They are accidents really. eBay, Google, and Yahoo! are all examples of this mode of starting companies. Delicious was born this way. One of my favorite web services, Sitemeter, started this way. So did Vimeo. I could go on and on, but like a Oscar speech, I need to stop. Sorry to all the ‘side project’ startups I left off this list.

Brad and I have been seeing a lot of ‘one man bands’ as well lately. Companies that have been single handedly started by one person with some outsourced development. These people see something they’d like to have and they build it. And all of a sudden, they are in our office with a pitch deck and the need for money to turn the thing they’ve built into a company.

So I was at breakfast a couple weeks ago with Nick Denton and we got to talking about this phenomenon. So Nick says, ‘it’s the evolution vs intelligent design debate’. And I about choked on my really great full english breakfast (which is not dead and is alive and well at the Coffee Shop in Union Square in NYC).

Nick is right, there are two ways to build a company.

You can design it from scratch, figuring out exactly what you want to build, getting it all down on paper, raising some money, and then building it. And there are plenty of success stories for that way of building a company.

Or you can just find yourself doing a startup because something you started as a hobby, or to serve your own needs, just took on a life of its own and you have no choice but to evolve it into a business.

Choking Krazy Kulo

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2005

Actor and UFC commentator Joe Rogan demonstrated a choke hold on a cooperative radio personality called Krazy Kulo on the Ramiro & Pebbles show on JAMN 94.5 in Boston — and it worked a little too well. Watch the video.

Why $5 Gas Is Good for America

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2005

Why $5 Gas Is Good for America looks on the bright side:

So rising oil prices are more than just an irritant or even an ominous nick out of the GDP. They’re an invitation to corn and coal and hydrogen. For anyone with a fresh idea, expensive oil is as good as a subsidy — with no political strings attached. Indeed, every extra penny you pay at the pump is an incentive for some aspiring energy mogul to find another fuel.

Google’s Growth Helps Ignite Silicon Valley Hiring Frenzy

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2005

From Google’s Growth Helps Ignite Silicon Valley Hiring Frenzy:

One top-notch engineer is worth ’300 times or more than the average,’ explains Alan Eustace, a Google vice president of engineering. He says he would rather lose an entire incoming class of engineering graduates than one exceptional technologist. Many Google services, such as Gmail and Google News, were started by a single person, he says.

One for ‘The Birds’: Wild Turkeys Attack Humans in Suburbia

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2005

The wild turkey bears little resemblance to its domesticated cousin. From One for ‘The Birds’: Wild Turkeys Attack Humans in Suburbia:

In April, Will Millington was riding his dirt bike down a narrow trail in Norman, Okla., when he stopped before a flock of wild turkeys. The hens scattered, but two toms flared their feathers and stalked toward him. Then they suddenly leapt in the air, beat Mr. Millington with their wings and tried to scratch him with the sharp spurs on the backs of their legs.

Mr. Millington frantically revved his bike’s motor. Thirty yards down the trail he looked back. ‘They were running after me,’ says the 46-year-old property manager. ‘That was kind of spooky.’

As Americans prepare to eat some 46 million domestic turkeys slaughtered for Thanksgiving, their wild cousins are fighting back. The explosion of the wild turkey population to nearly seven million from just 30,000 in the 1930s has put a growing number of humans in the face of angry gobblers.