Sep 12 2019

Book: The Bookish Life of Nina Hill

The view from my living room in Homer, Alaska

Amy and I arrived in Homer this evening for some time in a different place. We are TV-free up here, so that means, well, books.

She fell asleep early so I finished off The Bookish Life of Nina Hill which I had started several weeks ago but got distracted and read a few other things. The distraction was more a function of being in Boulder, surrounded by physical books which I read, in contrast to being in Homer with my Kindle, where I simply picked up on the last thing I had been reading.

This was a fun book. The protagonist, Nina, loves books, schedules “nothing” for Thursday nights so she can go home and read, and works in a bookstore. While she gets along with people, her favorite thing in the world is to be home alone reading a book. Sound like someone you know?

It covers Los Angeles, books, romance, endless book and movie references, trivia quiz competitions, books, a cat named Phil, a recently discovered family, and David Hasselhoff. Like good contemporary fiction, it moves quickly, the protagonist (Nina) is super-awesome-hilarious-complicated, and time disappears for a while and then suddenly the book ends.

But the backstory of the book is even more entertaining. The author, Abbi Waxman, shares the last name with David Waxman, who is a partner at TenOneTen Ventures. Oh, and they are married. While I’ve never met Abbi, I’ve known David since the late 1990s when I was on the board of PeoplePC and he was a co-founder. Foundry is an LP in TenOneTen and it’s been fun to work with David again after a long hiatus.

I knew, somewhere in the back of my mind, that David’s wife, like my wife Amy, was a writer. It popped up a few times over the years, but it never stuck in my brain. Over the summer, when Amy and I were having dinner with Nick Grouf (David’s co-founder at PeoplePC) and Shana Eddy, it came up again when one of Nick or Shana (I can’t remember which) recommended The Bookish Life of Nina Hill. Dots were again connected, and the circle now included Amy.

On the plane today, as Amy was reading my Kindle over my shoulder, she said “didn’t someone recommend that book to us?” which then prompted a fun conversation about Nick, Shawn, David, and the mysterious Abbi who I hope to someday meet.

While that backstory was merely a lame approximation of the fun tangling of characters in Abbi’s book, it seemed fitting to unroll it that way.

If you like fiction, books, Los Angeles, stories about interesting characters, and a few plot twists, go grab The Bookish Life of Nina Hill.

And, just like that, I’m off to bed …

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Sep 12 2019

The Passing of Two of My Childhood Business Heroes

Two of my childhood business heroes, T. Boone Pickens and H. Ross Perot, died this year. Perot passed away this summer at age 89 and Pickens passed away yesterday at age 91.

As I was typing this, I thought maybe I’d call them T and H. But, growing up they were referred to as “T Boone” and “Perot.” I didn’t know either of them personally, but they loomed large over the business community in Dallas where I grew up (from 1969 – 1983.) Over time, I had a number of second-degree connections to each of them, but I never ended up directly in either of their orbits.

I was giving a talk about entrepreneurship recently and alluded to the amount of information there is today about the topic. I riffed off a few current examples of famous entrepreneurs and reflected that when I was a kid, the only books available were biographies about guys with names like Iaccoca and Walton.

All of the rest of my childhood (and early college) business education came from three places: (1) word of mouth from my dad, my uncle Charlie, and a few of their friends, (2) magazines – specifically Business Week, Forbes, and Fortune, and (3) newspapers – specifically the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the business section of the Dallas Morning News (and eventually the business section of the Boston Globe.)

Occasionally, a book like On Wings of Eagles by Ken Follett would come out and would captivate me, but that was atypical. More often, I was just gobbling down books on T Boone, Perot, and others when someone got around to writing a biography.

While the information available today is much more diverse and accessible, I fondly remember being curled up on a couch learning more about the day by day (and month by month) actions of some of my early business heroes.

With their passing, I’m reminded that in the end, we all die. It’s a good reminder to spend one’s time today on what you want since it’s all finite.

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Sep 11 2019

Authors and Innovators Business Ideas Festival

I’m keynoting the Authors and Innovators Business Ideas Festival on 10/24/19 at the UMASS campus in Newton, MA.

As a writer, I’m excited to see events like this happening. When I got the invite from Larry Gennari, I was delighted that it overlapped with a Wellesley College board meeting that Amy was attending. So, while we won’t be together (she’ll be in Wellesley and I’ll be in Newton), we’ll be near each other.

The event is free so if it’s interesting to you, register here.

The other authors presenting are:

I just bought all the books on Amazon so my Kindle is extra loaded up for my trip to Alaska at the end of the week.

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Sep 10 2019

AI is the Big Data of 2019

I attended a Silicon Flatirons Artificial Intelligence Roundtable last week. Over the years Amy and I have sponsored a number of these and I always find the collection of people, the topics, and the conversation to be stimulating and provocative.

At the end of the two hours, I was very agitated by the discussion. The Silicon Flatirons roundtable approach is that there are several short topics presented, each followed by a longer discussion.

The topics at the AI roundtable were:

  • Safety aspects of artificial general intelligence
  • AI-related opportunities on the horizon
  • Ethical considerations involving AI-related products and services

One powerful thing about the roundtable approach is that the topic presentation is merely a seed for a broader discussion. The topics were good ones, but the broader discussion made me bounce uncomfortably in my chair as I bit my tongue through most of the discussions.

In 2012, at the peak moment of the big data hype cycle, I gave a keynote at an Xconomy event on big data titled something like Big Data is Bullshit. My favorite quote from my rant was:

“Twenty years from now, the thing we call ‘big data’ will be tiny data. It’ll be microscopic data. The volume that we’re talking about today, in 20 years, is a speck.”

I feel that way about how the word AI is currently being used. As I listened to participants at the roundtable talk about what they were doing with AI and machine learning, I kept thinking “that has nothing to do with AI.” Then, I realized that everyone was defining AI as “narrow AI” (or, “weak AI”) which has a marvelous definition that is something like:

Narrow artificial intelligence (narrow AI) is a specific type of artificial intelligence in which a technology outperforms humans in some very narrowly defined task. Unlike general artificial intelligence, narrow artificial intelligence focuses on a single subset of cognitive abilities and advances in that spectrum.

The deep snarky cynic inside my brain, which I keep locked in a cage just next to my hypothalamus, was banging on the bars. Things like “So, is calculating 81! defined as narrow AI? How about calculating n!? Isn’t machine learning just throwing a giant data set at a procedure that then figures out how to use future inputs more accurately? Why aren’t people using the phase neural network more? Do you need big data to do machine learning? Bwahahahahahahaha.”

That part of my brain was distracting me a lot so I did some deep breathing exercises. Yes, I know that there is real stuff going on around narrow AI and machine learning, but many of the descriptions that people were using, and the inferences they were making, were extremely limited.

This isn’t a criticism of the attendees or anything they are doing. Rather, it’s a warning of the endless (or maybe recursive) buzzword labeling problem that we have in tech. In the case of a Silicon Flatirons roundtable, we have entrepreneurs, academics, and public policymakers in the room. The vagueness of the definitions and weak examples create lots of unintended consequences. And that’s what had me agitated.

At an annual Silicon Flatirons Conference many years ago, Phil Weiser (now the Attorney General of Colorado, then a CU Law Professor and Executive Director of Silicon Flatirons) said:

“The law doesn’t keep up with technology. Discuss …”

The discussion that ensued was awesome. And it reinforced my view that technology is evolving at an ever-increasing rate that our society and existing legal, corporate, and social structures have no idea how to deal with.

Having said that, I feel less agitated because it’s just additional reinforcement to me that the machines have already taken over.

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Sep 9 2019

Do More Faster Book Signing – Fort Collins, CO – 9/10/19

David Cohen and I will be at the Fort Collins Barnes and Noble from 6pm – 8pm on Tuesday 9/10/19 to sign copies of the 2nd Edition of Do More Faster: Techstars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup.

Over the next few months, we’ll be doing a handful of public appearances around the book. It’s the first book I wrote and – with David – really learned how to write a book almost a decade ago.

We freshened up the 1st Edition with some new stories, lots of context and history around the evolution of Techstars, updates on where the entrepreneurs highlighted are today, and some other nuggets throughout the update.

When Do More Faster originally came out in 2010, there were three Techstars accelerators (Boulder, Boston, and Seattle) with a fourth about to launch (New York). Today, there are 50 active Techstars accelerators happening each year, located in 13 different countries. In addition to funding 500 companies per year (10 per accelerator), Techstars also runs a number of other activities, including Startup Weekend, Startup Week, a number of corporate innovation initiatives, and a set of Ecosystem Development programs based on work surrounding my book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City.

Whenever I ponder it, I get great joy from reflecting on how much progress Techstars has made from 2010 and, more importantly, the amount I’ve learned about entrepreneurship through my involvement with Techstars.

If you are near Fort Collins, Colorado on Tuesday night (9/10/19), come hang out with me and David at Barnes & Noble, 4045 S College Ave, Fort Collins, CO 80525.

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Sep 8 2019

Book: Buddhism 101

Over the summer, I’ve been exploring Buddhism. I’m focused on it as a philosophy, not as a religion, but decided that reading a broad survey book that covered the history of Buddhism from multiple angles – historical, philosophical, and religious, might be interesting.

I stumbled up Buddhism 101: From Karma to the Four Noble Truths, Your Guide to Understanding the Principles of Buddhism at Explore Booksellers in Aspen. I grabbed it along with a few other books (something I do every time I enter a bookstore) and observed it sitting on my living room book table over the summer.

When we came back to Boulder, I carried a few books back with me including Buddhism 101. I’d started it and read bits of it but took a few hours on the couch this afternoon after my run and polished it off.

It’s a great survey guide to Buddhism. The chapters are short, very accessible, and remarkably clear. I’m sure some of the historical stuff will drift away from my memory, but the broad arc of the evolution of Buddhism and a reinforcement of the principles against this historical backdrop is now a solid base that I can build on.

If you have a meditation practice, a friend who is a Buddhist, or are just interested in having more than a millimeter deep understanding of Buddhism, this book will get you to two millimeters. And you’ll understand, after reading it, why there’s no value in getting attached to the number of millimeters.

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Sep 5 2019

Reid Hoffman on Bitcoin

I got the following email from Reid Hoffman this morning.

Inspired by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, I produced a battle rap music video about centralized and decentralized currencies, pitting Alexander Hamilton against Satoshi Nakamoto. I hope the video gets more people talking about crypto and its evolving role in global commerce. 

It seemed oddly coincidental with Fred Wilson’s post from yesterday titled Some Thoughts on Crypto.

I’m waiting patiently for someone to start talking about Crypto AI.

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Sep 4 2019

Misty II is Shipping

I’m a proud investor (and crowdfunding backer) in Misty Robotics. As of today, Misty Robotics has started shipping Misty II to its crowdfunding backers.

The team at Misty Robotics has been hard at working getting Misty in shape to ship. The backers now have a key role in the next step of Misty’s journey, as they get the first crack at Misty II and her SDK in advance of Misty’s general availability in the market later this year.

There have been numerous approaches to a personal robot in the past few years. Most have failed. The team at Misty has taken a different approach, emulating the one that the Apple ][ took around the launch of the personal computer, which is to build a platform that anyone can extend with hardware and software.

Misty has been purpose-built as a developer’s platform, with the tools and docs developers need to easily build robot applications which we refer to as “skills”. Misty is a bundle of serious tech that includes:

  • Facial detection and recognition
  • Expansive field of view
  • Mobile sound localization
  • Image and graphic display
  • Audio playback
  • Voice integration
  • Capacitive touch
  • Obstacle avoidance
  • Photo capture
  • Hardware extensibility including Arduino and Raspberry Pi
  • Audio recording
  • Wake word (hint: it’s “hey Misty”)
  • Robust Locomotion
  • Raw sensor access. 
  • Programmable personality

While all the hardware is done, some of the software is still in an alpha form, including spatial awareness, video capture, and 3D mapping/SLAM integration. The neat thing is that Misty is “software on treads” so all of this will rapidly iterate as well as be extended by the developer community.

Misty is still available at a pre-order discount, so if you are a developer who wants to explore robotics and become part of the Misty community, jump on board!

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Sep 3 2019

Book: Turning the Flywheel

I’m an enormous Jim Collins fan. It’s a special bonus that he lives in Boulder.

He just came out with a short monograph called Turning the Flywheel. It’s only 40 pages but stunningly good. In it, he dissects the concept of the flywheel, which he first described in his seminal book Good to Great.

Every CEO in our portfolio will be receiving a copy in the next month as part of our “book of the almost every month club.”

If you are a CEO trying to build an enduring company, get Turning the Flywheel now and read it this upcoming weekend.

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Sep 2 2019

Bears Are Clever

We had our share of wildlife in Aspen. By mid-summer, this sign was on the road near our house. And, below is the mama bear that came and visited me almost every day in August.

It took all of my self-discipline to stay inside the house as every instinct I had was to go outside and play with it. Bears are my friend.

Rhinos, on the other hand, scare the shit out of me.

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