Category: Technology

May 5 2021

Password Insanity

My mom is extraordinarily patient.

Several weeks ago, I bought her a brand new Mac as a mother’s day present. She was using a 2010 Mac, and it was time for her to use one that didn’t have an endless spinning pinwheel of Mac slowness on it.

I had it sent to me, although there’s a whole story in just that. I set it up, downloaded and set up all the apps she used, installed all the new stuff she needed to manage her passwords from now on, connected iCloud, and tidied and buffed it. Then, I figured we could use Zoom’s remote control, so I thought all I’d need to do was ship it to her, spend a few hours with her walking her through everything, and she’d be in great shape.

I can be so naïve. And, since I’m no longer young, I don’t qualify as young and naïve.

She and my dad got it, set it up, and connected it to the new LG monitor I’d gotten her along with the Anker USB extender. Cables and connectors – lots of them. It’s kind of remarkable how hard Apple makes the transition from devices (iPad – different cable, 2010 Mac – different cable, 2020 Mac – different cable, connect old external hard drive – different cable.) So many cables.

Eventually, it worked and, after walking through giving Zoom access to the right things on the Mac (click on the little lock in the bottom left; now check the box next to Zoom; no, the one next to Zoom. Yes, Zoom in the window to the right of the lock…) I was able to connect remotely.

Day 1 was fine. We spent three hours Sunday afternoon going application by application. I copied all the files on her external hard drive (which she lovingly calls “her Toshiba”) to the new Mac. I enabled iCloud to upload all the files to the cloud, and we spent a bunch of time discussing why that would probably take a few days over their slow internet connection, but then everything would be on her computer and in the cloud. We tested all the apps to make sure they were pointed at her documents as a default so she could find them. We went through the approach with the new password manager, which means she has three different passwords, one for her Mac, one for iCloud, and one for the password manager. But, once she has these three memorized, she won’t have to keep the rest of her passwords for all her individual apps “somewhere.”

We had a short discussion Monday night to refresh a few things. Last night was the first day of working through the list she’d made during the day of issues and questions.

We spent three hours on issue #1. Passwords.

It should have been simple. I foolishly made the Mac and iCloud passwords the same, figuring that would be easier for her. But, after Apple let me do that, it eventually told her she couldn’t have them be the same (hours later) and prompted her to change the Mac password. She wanted the Mac password to be a different one, so I assumed all I needed to do was change the iCloud password, then the Mac password and all would be good.

Two-factor authentication slowed that down. She has an Android phone, and the authentication is on her iPad, but that took me a while to figure out. I think we entered a different TFA code a dozen times over the course of three hours on her iPad. Then, I thought we were all set, but suddenly the Mac password didn’t work. And just like that, we were logged out of the computer, and Zoom was disconnected.

150 minutes of misery ensued. At the two-hour mark, I said, “just ship the Mac back to me, and I’ll start again.” Mom really didn’t want to do this or have to start from scratch, so I pressed on with a full password reset using iCloud. But, of course, the iCloud password was now no longer working. I have a feeling that Apple, in the background, invalided both of them somehow, but what really happened is still a mystery to me. The big hint was the endless “You have been locked out of …” message on iCloud and the regular prompts on the Mac to use iCloud to reset your password. Um – ok.

And, you guessed it, Zoom wasn’t able to connect us while she was logged out of her Mac, so this ended up be me dictating what to type, with her taking screenshots of her Mac screen and texting them to me since she was an on Android phone and we couldn’t simply Facetime.

Eventually, I figured out that I could reset her iCloud password on her iPad, which was still logged into iCloud (thankfully, I didn’t say “log out all devices from iCloud” when prompted over and over again. So we did that (more screenshots), we then did a full password reset on the Mac using iCloud (I never knew that was possible) and re-entered a new Mac password.

Three hours later, she got back into her Mac. We were exactly back where we started. Except now she was getting a message that the Mac couldn’t log into iCloud. Launch Zoom. Connect. Grant remote access. System preferences. Apple ID. Log out of iCloud. Log back in. Reboot (oops – bye Zoom). The bad message was still there.

Well, at least she can get back into her computer.

I’ll take on that last error message again tonight. And try to get to item #2 on her list. Maybe.

We all know the current approach to passwords and security is completely busted, but I just lived three hours of how incredibly broken it is.

And, before you say “just use the Touch ID,” neither of our fingerprints work. It’s not just Apple, it’s Clear, Global Entry, and the fingerprint process for a money transmitter license, so there must be something genetically wrong with us. Plus, I’m pretty sure that would have just made it worse somehow.

Mom – thanks for not chucking the new computer out the window and going back to your old one.

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Apr 21 2021

I’m Glad Discord Isn’t Being Acquired

Dear Discord: Please go public and stay independent instead of being acquired. Love, Brad.

I’ve become a huge Discord fan and user of the past year. I’ve got many daily reference points from products that I use for real-time communication channels: Slack, Telegram, Signal, iMessage, Zoom, Voxer, Mighty, and of course, email.

An increasing number of my group communications is on Discord. There was a ramp-up on Slack several years ago across organizations, but I find it noisy, not terribly easy to navigate, and tiresome for various reasons.

In contrast, Discord is much easier and feels much more vibrant for dynamic communities. This then leads to lots of 1:1 comms across organizations, which until recently was really difficult with Slack, which is now sort of, but not completely, fixed since Slack rolled out Connect.

I stopped using Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, and LinkedIn for any real-time comm stuff a while ago. While my iMessage is noisy, it’s calmed down a lot given wiring up some other stuff to the right channels.

I continue to believe that Zoom has a massive disruptive opportunity to obliterate Slack. Still, it’s clearly not a priority for them, and all that might now be irrelevant given Salesforce + Slack along with the Salesforce / Zoom relationship.

That brings me back to Discord. While it would be a smart move for Microsoft to acquire Discord, it would likely pin Discord into a particular segment of Microsoft given Teams along with Microsoft’s functional separation between their gaming business and their corporate business. I know nothing specific about the Microsoft / Discord discussions, but I expect it was primarily, if not entirely, on the gaming side of Microsoft. This would eliminate what I expect is Discord’s most interesting current vector, which is cross-organization collaboration within either affinity groups (communities) or for corporations with their customers.

I fantasize about having one app that deals with all the different sub-apps. Right now, that’s called “my computer” since I have to deal with many different apps. If the promise of APIs really came true, or if XMPP had worked out, or if Trillian had become a thing, this might have happened. But, as with most things in tech, the walled garden takes over when the revenue and profit imperative takes over in the context of monetizing users.

Real-time everything is broken right now. Yeah, it works at an application and network-level (quite brilliantly, and much better than 20 years ago), but it sucks at a user level.

There is so much to do here. Ironically, at least from my perspective, we need more companies (e.g., Discord – stay independent) rather than fewer companies working on this right now.

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Jan 28 2021

The GameStop Phenomenon

I expect we’ll be exploring, unscrambling, pontificating, and dealing with what is happening with GameStop (GME) for a while.

If you are reading this in the future and want some historical context for the rest of this post, this chart from the last 30 days of trading is instructive. At the end of 2020, we start at $20 / share.

30 days later, it’s at $238 / share with a high of $482 / share.

I’m not going to analyze this. I know what I think GME is worth, and it’s not $238 / share.

This morning, Fred Wilson wrote a post titled The Revenge Of Retail. It’s got a lot of good stuff in it, but plenty of things that are very different than what I’m actually thinking about today.

He ends with a recommendation.

What we need to do is stop printing money to stabilize the economy. And start addressing the real economic issues that exist on main street, not wall street. Monetary policy is not the answer. Fiscal policy is. That won’t stop more Game Stops from happening. They are a by-product of markets. But it will get the money to where it is needed versus where it is just gameplay.

I’m more interested in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th order effects instead of the financial and market dynamics. For example, from Fred’s post.

The generational aspect of this is important. Boomer hedgies getting crushed by young folks self-organizing in social media. It feels like a moment where you realize that the power structure has shifted and things won’t be the same.

But hang on. Is that actually what is happening? Let’s go to something Fred says in his next paragraph.

The financial system in the US, and in other developed countries, is a rigged system and has been for a very long time. Only big institutions can get into hot IPOs. Only rich people can invest in startups. Many of these rules are designed to protect “widows and orphans” but all they really do is make the rich richer and keep those without money out of the game.

Rather than keep quoting Fred, I encourage you to go read The Revenge Of Retail post and then come back to the rest of what is on my mind this morning.

When I was an undergraduate in college (age 17 – 21; 1983-1987), I was interested in business and read three magazines: Forbes, Businessweek, and Fortune. I learned about the stock market by reading those magazines. That period was full of pump and dump schemes, especially on the pink sheets.

There have been periodic articles about the pump and dump activity in crypto. With the introduction of frictionless (e.g., free trading), a coordinated online crowd of millions of people, and low float stock (either highly shorted or not much supply in the first place), the setup for a classic pump and dump exists.

The regulatory environment has no capacity to keep up with something like this.

A combination of factors has created an environment where completely different behavior is possible. Today’s news is that it is happening in the financial markets. We may be talking about it here because we are now on the other side of 1/20/21; our prior President is no longer on Twitter and Facebook, so there’s a new sandbox to play in.

The dynamics are the same. Sentiment is manipulated. There have been endless discussions about this around politics over the past few years. Welcome to another part of our world (financial markets), where the unintended consequences of technology wreak havoc.

I expect we will see many more and many different examples emerge over the next few years. Governments trying to regulate it each time will be slow, and all will fail to do what they want to do while creating other unintended consequences.

We are living in a complex system. Technology has increased the velocity of change. It’s recursive, as the velocity of technology is changing faster than ever.

I have no idea what’s next. That’s the reality of a complex system. All I know is that it is going to get much wilder.

And, the best picture of the day is linked to a txt thread I’m on with Amy (we both love Capybaras) that includes the phrase “PhD in the madness of crowds.”

Minor change: I initially titled this “The Gamestop Phenomenon.” That’s a nice error on my part (freudian slip maybe)?

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Nov 2 2020

Roam: My New Favorite Software Product

Until six weeks ago, my favorite software product of all time was Lotus Agenda. We ran my first company (Feld Technologies) on Lotus Agenda from when the first version of Agenda came out sometime in 1990 to when we sold the company in 1993. If you aren’t familiar with Agenda and want a quick, readable description, take a look at AGENDA: A Personal Information Manager (Belove, Drake Kaplan, Kapor, Landsman).

Agenda was the brainchild of Mitch Kapor (and several others) and, after Lotus killed it off in the time of a transition to Windows (Lotus Organizer was not an adequate Windows replacement), there was an effort (again led by Mitch Kapor) to recreate it with an open-source project called Chandler that never came to fruition.

Agenda is the only product that augmented my brain and how I think until I started using Roam on 9/11/20.

Since then, as I got up the learning curve on how to use it, I’ve found it amazing. It’s evolving rapidly, so there are lots of neat new features that show up on a regular basis. There are many integrations with other stuff, and, while a bunch of them are rough, several of them (like Readwise) solved a fundamental “notetaking while reading” challenge that I’ve had since the Kindle first appeared.

I use a lot of different software.

Nothing has had as much impact on me since Agenda as Roam. I’m sure I’ll be writing about it more in the future.

And, a post like this wouldn’t be complete without a thank you to Mitch Kapor. I have several entrepreneurial heroes. Mitch is one of them. Lotus Agenda is only one thing among many that I’m thankful to him for.

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May 29 2020

Contact Tracing and Technology Conference – 6/3/20

On Wednesday, June 3rd, a team led by the COVID Tech Task Force is putting on the first of several free public conferences on the topic of Contact Tracing and Technology. Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center, NYU’s Alliance for Public Interest Technology, TechCrunch, Betaworks Studios, and Hangar are also part of organizing the effort.

I’ve gone extremely deep down the contact tracing and exposure notification rabbit hole. In February, I had never heard the phrase contact tracing. Today, I not only understand it well, I have a lot of perspective on the current state of contact tracing technology, along with emerging “new tech solutions” to contact tracing, and the incredible challenge of operationalizing these new technologies.

More importantly (and thankfully), several tech leaders motivated by Harper Reed recognized that the tech community that began talking about “contact tracing” in April was creating massive confusion given the long history of contact tracing. The tech folks (me included) tried to separate it from classical contact tracing by calling it “digital contact tracing.” But, this wasn’t really contact tracing at all and needed a different name. Harper labeled it Exposure Alerting which has finally found its true name as “Exposure Notification.”

Contact Tracing and Exposure Notification are different but related. And the way contact tracing is currently implemented is on a spectrum from legacy software systems to paper/whiteboard tracking. Not surprisingly, a number of tech companies and consulting firms have “contact tracing products” coming out. Some are excellent. Many either inadequate, not contact tracing, or mostly vaporware.

Two weeks ago, on the bi-monthly call that Fred Wilson and I do with several of the leaders of the Covid-19 Task Force, we suggested that they do a series of public events – as inclusive as they could – to help convene anyone who is interested around the issues of contact tracing, exposure alerting, health care, public policy, and technology. Fred wrote about this yesterday. We are both delighted that this has come together so quickly as the public forum on this is badly needed.

This event has several key speakers along with a bunch of demos of emerging products. It’ll be three hours long and live streamed on the web.

RSVP to attend. And, if you are working on a contact tracing or exposure notification application and want to be part of the demo mix, send me an email and I’ll get you connected.

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May 8 2020

Zoom Fatigue

Yup. I’ve got it. Zoom Fatigue.

But before I talk about that, thank you to everyone who emailed me about Brooks the Wonder Dog. He has a Canine Meningioma which we will treat with radiation therapy at CSU. He’s coming home from the doctor this morning (they kept him overnight for two nights for observation) and it sounds like he’s doing ok. So, thanks for all the kind emails, thoughts, and suggestions.

It’s been 58 days since March 11th, the day that I officially started sheltering in place. I’ve been doing around 40 hours of Zoom calls (with a few Google Meets and Webexes tossed in for good measure) between Monday and Friday each week.

A few days ago I thought I was just tired. I was super grumpy about a few things on Monday night. I felt better Tuesday morning but yesterday evening after my last call (at 5:30) I got up to go for a run but was just too tired to do it. So I went and watched a few episodes of Breaking Bad with Amy and then went to bed around 8:30.

I feel better this morning, but have little enthusiasm for the wall of Zoom calls that I have today.

On top of that, I’m feeling annoyed by the level of opportunism in the world around the Covid crisis. There seems to be an outbreak of it in Utah, as evidenced by a Utah-based startup says it has exclusive business rights to the use of smartphones and other electronic devices for tracing people who have come into contact with a person with Covid-19 and $67 million of State of Utah contracts for technology around the Covid crisis. As someone who personally has been shipping out a lot of money and time to help, it feels like private companies could be a little more generous about how they contract with State governments right now around the crisis, especially for things (like software) that have a marginal cost of almost zero.

Back to Zoom fatigue. I’m generally a good video conferencer. I rarely multitask, try to stay fully engaged, and have an excellent and comfortable setup. But the daily wall of video conferences has finally gotten to me. The zero latency transition (finish conference, start next conference, finish conference, start next conference, finish conference, start next conference, …) has eliminated any “catch my breath” time. Catching up on email and Slack is a huge batch process early in the day or at the end of the day (or both).

In the last week, I’ve found myself trying to scan email and Slack during video conferences when I’m not engaged. I know I’m not hearing much when I do that, which makes being on the video conference pointless.

I accept the reality that even though I’m 58 days into a wall of videoconferences, I’ve got a long stretch of this in front of me. So, it’s time to build more space into the day so that when I’m on a video conference, I’m on, and I don’t devolve into endless eight+ hour stretches of sitting on a couch wearing myself out.

Digital sabbath starts in about 12 hours. I’m ready.

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Feb 6 2020

The Coronavirus Impact on Hardware Startups

For the past week, I’ve been asked at least once a day (yesterday I was asked several times, with an R0 of 3) about what I think the coronavirus’ impact will be on the global supply chain.

I have a perspective that it’s too early to really know but there are starting to be guidelines about how to think about it, especially as Chinese new year + a week has passed (and we are almost at +2 weeks). Theoretically, factories in China are opening next week, but until they open, they aren’t open …

While there is starting to be some macro analysis on the web, it’s classic generic stuff with big company examples such as Charting the Global Economic Impact of the Coronavirus, Coronavirus shakes centre of world’s tech supply chain, and How China’s novel coronavirus outbreak is disrupting the global supply chain.

I find things like the Johns Hopkins CSSE data set and coronavirus map to be much more interesting than these articles so I sent an email out to our hardware companies last night to see what they were hearing and thinking to collect some quantitative data from startups.

John Hopkins CSSE snapshot 2/6/20 @ 7:33am ET

It seems like most people are expecting factories to open on 2/10 as planned. However, the expectation is being set that production will take two weeks to ramp back up to normal. And, there is some concern that larger companies will likely exert pressure to be at the front of the line.

Another problem at this point is movement into and out of China. The Chinese border with Hong Kong is only open at a few places and many are afraid to enter China right now for fear that they won’t be able to leave.

Everyone anticipates a big logistics clog once things start shipping, which will introduce delay and cost, although the magnitude of this is unknown.

Finally, the downstream (or upstream – I never get that right) impact of long lead time items will add another wrinkle once people understand the volume and timing constraints when things settle down.

Of course, the coronavirus is not yet contained and the actual shape of the infection and death curve is still evolving, but at this moment it is clearly worse than SARS, so that doesn’t feel very good.

If you have any additional qualitative data or perspective, I’d love to hear it.

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Jan 21 2020

Cynicism in Silicon Valley

As I was reading The Atlantic article Silicon Valley Abandons the Culture That Made It the Envy of the World I kept flashing to the end of Anna Wiener’s awesome memoir Uncanny Valley. And it was no surprise to see this article in the Boulder Daily Camera titled Big tech in hot seat at congressional hearing at CU Boulder.

Readers of this blog and my book Startup Communities know that I’m a huge fan of AnnaLee Saxenian. She has a great quote in The Atlantic article.

This is a full reversal of the language that tech promoters used to sell Silicon Valley–style innovation and competitiveness for decades. Saxenian has noticed the change in how the Valley describes itself, or at least in how the dominant firms do. “Advocacy of the small, innovative firm and entrepreneurial ecosystem is giving way to more and more justifications for bigness (scale economics, competitive advantage, etc.),” Saxenian wrote to me in an email. “The big is beautiful line is coming especially from the large companies (Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple) that are threatened by antitrust and need to justify their scale.”

Margaret O’Mara, who wrote The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America, also has a good reminder.

“The story the Valley told about itself has been very much a small-is-beautiful story since the 1970s,” O’Mara told me. “It has a politics—this Vietnam-era rejection of the military-industrial complex, rejection of the mainframe, Big Business, Big Government, big universities.” This led people to take risks and launch new projects and firms. Entrepreneurs from all over the world migrated to a place where people understood why they wanted to start companies. And the idea even embedded itself right near the heart of the Valley, at Google. The company’s slogan, “Don’t be evil”, had a particular meaning when it was adopted around the millennium. In the classic Valley mind-set, “evil is bigness of all kinds,” O’Mara said.

The techlash is in full bloom and Silicon Valley is in the center of it. Ironically, of the three public companies that have > $1 trillion market caps, one of them (Microsoft) is headquartered in Seattle, which is definitely not part of Silicon Valley. Oh, and Amazon … Nonetheless, it’s part of the pending mess that is going to hit all of society very hard in the next few years, as the collision between the various factors—and factions—around innovation are going to be profound.

I expect historians will look back on this time with curiosity. They will wonder why there is such a huge disconnect between what is said. what is wanted, and what is done. Here are a few recent artifacts to ponder.

And, in case you thought the government was the solution, here are a few more to read.

Every time someone tells me they are going to “change the world” or “put a dent in the universe”, I think to myself, “For better, or for worse?”

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Jan 8 2020

Building the Helium Mesh Network in the Mid-Atlantic

As you might have seen in an earlier post, Foundry Group is helping to bring the Helium Network to Boulder. Another Helium fan – James Fayal – reached out to me about his effort to do the same in his hometown of Baltimore, as well as DC and Philly.

I’m hopeful that some of the readers of this blog live in Baltimore, DC, or Philadelphia and are interested in participating in the Helium rollout. If you fit this description, fill out the Mid-Atlantic Application.

James wrote me a little more about his background and motivation for doing this, which follows.

While I’m a consumer product founder by trade, I’ve been involved in various crypto projects since 2013. I’m excited about Helium because it is one of the first projects with significant real-world use-cases and the community has grown exponentially since they started selling hotspots earlier this year. 

In short, Helium is building a ‘mesh’ network for LongFi data transmission, which can be used by IoT devices to transmit and receive data over long distances. You can see more about the technology here

We’re looking to work with 15 – 25 locations in or around the cities of Baltimore, DC, and Philadelphia to host hotspots. We’ll be covering the cost of the unit and work with you to optimize the hotspot’s reach in the area. In return, we’ll be providing hosts with a % of the network’s tokens ‘mined’ by the hotspots.  

If we’re successful, we could be one of the first regions of the United States with comprehensive coverage on the network!

To apply to be a host, fill out the Mid-Atlantic Application. Supply is limited and the Helium company is close to stocking out of their current batch of hotspots, but James will do his best to work with as many hosts in the area as possible. 

And, if you are curious about the Boulder rollout, I’ve got 47 unallocated Helium hotspots in my office that are going to be provisioned in the next week. We will then start deploying them around town in the second half of January. While we have more than 47 people interested, if you have an interest and haven’t signed up on the Boulder Helium Hotspot Application, go for it so we know about anyone who wants to participate.

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Dec 12 2019

Bringing The Helium Network to Boulder

My partners at Foundry Group have decided to bring the Helium Network to Boulder. We’ve ordered 50 hotspots and, with your help, will set up a LongFi network throughout Boulder.

If you are asking, “What’s Helium?” here’s a fun video to get you started along with a deeper explanation of the technology.

As an LP in USV, we are small indirect investors. But, as a way to engage with a particular blockchain-based application/technology that we think has meaningful real-world potential, we thought we’d help enable a network in Boulder and see how it works.

We are looking for about 40 locations throughout Boulder (not just downtown) to set up hotspots. All you have to do is connect the Helium hotspot to the Internet. We’ll handle the rest.

If this is interesting to you, please fill out the Boulder Helium Hotspot Application. We are only choosing 40 locations, and we are going to spread them out as best as we can, so if you aren’t chosen, and you still want to be part of this, you can always buy a Helium Hotspot directly.

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