Google Boulder recently did a phenomenal thing. They recently gave a gift of over $2 million to CU Boulder, which included free office space for NCWIT for the next six years (valued at $1.3 million.) As of a few weeks ago, NCWIT now has a great long-term home in an older Google office on 26th Street in Boulder off of the CU Campus.
The head of Google Boulder (I think his official title in Googlespeak is “Engineering Site Director”) is Scott Green. I’ve known Scott since shortly after I moved to Boulder in 1995. He was an early employee at Email Publishing (which became MessageMedia), my very first Boulder-based angel investment. After MessageMedia, he spent some time working at Return Path (where I’ve been an investors since 2000) early in its life before moving to @Last (which we were not investors in, but were fans of since some of our friends, including Brian Makare (the co-founder of Email Publishing) and Mark Solon (then of Highway 12, now at Techstars) were investors.) While Scott and I don’t spend a lot of time together, we’ve both been part of the evolution of the Boulder startup community going back to the late 1990s.
In 2006, Google bought @Last (makers of SketchUp). That was the beginning of Google’s presence in Boulder, which is now around 1,000 people on a new, very nice, and well-integrated campus in the middle of town. Scott and the Google team have always been great corporate citizens of the startup community, offering up their larger event space on a regular basis, participating in, and sponsoring, many of the local startup events over the years, and generally just being a constructive and healthy part of the mix. Google’s continued expanded presence in Boulder is a positive reflection on the overall startup community and their new campus is a really nice addition to our little city in the mountains.
NCWIT (National Center for Women & Information Technology) has long been a hidden gem of Boulder. I got involved shortly after it was founded in 2004 and became the board chair in 2005 (which I served as until I resigned all my non-profit board positions at the end of last year.) I’m still deeply involved and it is a major initiative of the Anchor Point Foundation (the foundation that Amy and I run.)
Physical office space at CU Boulder has always been a struggle for NCWIT. When the organization was small, it fit nicely in a corner of the CU Roser ATLAS Center on the second floor. Amy and I were appreciative of this and sponsored the bathrooms on this floor of ATLAS. As NCWIT grew, they crammed into a small space, then overflowed it, expanded a little, but then lost it in a mysterious space shuffle that I’ve never really understood. Eventually, NCWIT moved over to some old space in the engineering building, but the space was poorly configured, had no cell signal, and wasn’t secure.
At the beginning of 2017, Lucy Sanders (NCWIT CEO) and I started looking for other space in Boulder. We tried to get different space on CU’s campus but were unsuccessful. We had a few near misses with commercial space, but either the economics didn’t work out or the space wasn’t right. Last summer, Google Boulder engaged as their new campus was opening up. A few weeks ago, NCWIT moved into their new, long-term home.
I’m incredibly appreciative for what Google Boulder has done here for NCWIT. It makes me extremely happy to see a #GiveFirst approach from Google in our startup community, along with the extensive support for NCWIT. It’s always nice to be part of an organization that is on the receiving end of this kind of generosity, especially one as deserving as NCWIT.
Scott, Google, and the rest of your team at Google Boulder – THANK YOU!
A few weeks ago I read Jaron Lanier’s Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. It helped consolidate some thinking on my part and I sent a few copies out to friends who I knew would have thoughtful and interesting responses. One that came back is very worth reading as it has a healthy critique as well as some personal reflections. The note from my friend after reading Lanier’s book follows.
He makes a reasonable case (obviously with a lot of room to dispute individual points) that social media is “bad” in general and a source of concern. Some of it is old hat but the way he puts it together is certainly helpful. It seems like it would be good if a lot of people read it.
I had two major concerns with it structurally. First, he positions the book as making arguments as to why *the reader* should delete his or her accounts. But as is common these days, it conflates reasons that are self-interested with reasons that might justify a “boycott.” Many of the arguments are not about how the use of social media affects the reader directly as an individual, but rather its systemic effects. Even the economic argument doesn’t work individually – even if I’m a gig economy person, it does not hurt my prospects to use social media, it’s that the BUMMER business model exists at all that causes the problem. It’s all the rage of course to talk about boycotting anything that has any secondary effects we don’t like, but it rarely works, especially as we realize everything affects everything else, which is why people in Boulder who are concerned about CO2 still drive up to the mountains constantly just for fun. So I thought this really weakened the argument that he does not separate the two things. It’s really Three Arguments why you should delete your social media accounts and Seven Arguments why you should Boycott them.
The second concern is that he conflates Google with social media. Last I checked, no one uses Google Plus. Yes, Google has an advertising and manipulation-oriented business model, but it’s extremely different from Facebook and Twitter. I find the ads Google gives me generally useful, and I don’t see Google making me more of an asshole than I already am. It certainly does not make me sad. Yes, search does have the effect of causing SEO and content-poaching and all that stuff, so this distinction connects to my first point. I think the book would have been better if he had made a more clear compare/contrast with Facebook. I do worry that he is a Microsoft employee and he has a Google-is-the-enemy bias. I’d be very open to hearing how Google is bad for me because I have thought about this and I don’t see it (other than the same things that happen when I pass a billboard on the highway or whatever). I also like Chrome Mobile’s news feed – it’s very much tuned to things I find interesting (cosmology, AI, poetry, etc.) in a way that a news site like the NY Times, which thinks that POLITICS is what is important (just like the MSM) – he talks about religion but does not connect the dots that the MSM have elevated politics-is-the-most-important-thing into a form of religion.
From a personal perspective, in the past year, I went through a couple of transformations regarding Facebook (I don’t use Facebook and never really have). The first was after the election I realized I had gotten caught up in the politics-is-important cycle and was posting frequently on it. At some point, I realized I had been sucked in, and mostly stopped posting on current politics. That took a month or two. Then I had a run-in with a particular individual on something controversial I had posted, and it made me realize I too had been sucked into making controversy and drama there. My approach now is only to post things I think my friends will find funny (NOT political satire) or that offer an update on my life. Yes, I mostly post positive things, but generally not competitively. Instead of commenting I just Like posts, or just read them and move on. I mostly ignore the politics or I just smirk at how absorbed and overconfident everyone is. I probably waste a little more time on Facebook than I would like, but I do find that scrolling through stupid dog and cat and political posts and all that sometimes leads me to a post I am really glad I saw. So, noise to signal is high but really what isn’t?
Ahhhh. The new Gmail client for the web is finally here. And a lot of things are fixed. The two things I like the best are really simple but dramatically increase my email throughput.
+name: When I add someone to an email thread, I use the shortcut “+name” to indicate to everyone on the thread that I’ve added them. I started doing this around 2008 (I can’t remember where I picked it up from, but I think it might have been Mark Pincus at Zynga.) It started appearing in some Google apps a few years ago (Docs and Inbox) and it is now in the main email client. For example, if I want to copy Amy on something, instead of having to put her email address in the To: field, I now merely need to say +Amy Batchelor in the body of the email and Gmail does the rest. Yay – finally.
Send threading: If you are on a fast internet connection, this won’t matter to you. But, if you do email on a plane or a house in Longmont, Colorado (where I regularly have internet performance that is < 5 MB) you will love this feature. The only annoying thing is the endless (and unnecessary) popup that informs you that Gmail has sent your message (it’s no big deal on a desktop, but bothersome on a laptop.) Either way, I no longer have to sit and wait while Gmail is trying to complete the send process.
My guess is that the combination of these two features increases my email throughput by 25%. And, for someone who processes hundreds of inbound emails a day, this helps a lot.
There are a lot of other fun things under the hood and a nice new paint job on the surface. Nothing is dramatic, but overall it’s definitely an update. If you haven’t gotten it yet, tell your Google administrator to turn it on for your domain. Then click Settings in Gmail (the little gear icon on the top right and select the first option “Try the new Company Name Mail”.
Update: In my ongoing love affair with Canada, it turns out that Google’s new version of Gmail made in Kitchener.
Oh – and happy Pi Day. And MIT Admission Notification Day. And Einstein’s birthday. And Amy’s half birthday. And the day that Stephen Hawking transitioned to the next quantum energy level.
I never understood why ICO advertising has been allowed. I’ve heard the phrase “wild west” applied to ICOs for the past few years and it’s clear the regulatory regimes are finally hustling to catch up with the phenomenon. Up to this point, the phrase “consumer protection” hasn’t really been in my head around ICOs, but it is today.
When I was in college and my early 20s, I read Forbes Magazine religiously. Dave Jilk turned me on to it when I was a freshman (he was a senior) and from 1983 to 1995 I read almost every issue cover to cover. The pink sheet and penny stock phenomenon crested in the 1980s with intricate pump and dump schemes, boiler rooms, and an entire layer of the investment banking industry that promoted worthless public companies. Forbes covered this extensively and by the time firms collapsed and people went to jail I had a healthy skepticism about broad-based advertising and promotion scheme around any financial instrument.
When I first heard the phrase “ICO” three or four years ago, my immediate thought was something like “that’s just an invitation to the SEC to regulate that. Why do a play off the acronym IPO – call them something innocuous like “Papayas” instead. Knowing the SEC would move very slowly, I didn’t pay much attention. Last year, the SEC finally started putting out some vague statements that are now starting to get crisper and more precise.
From where I sit, it seems like similar rules to selling private equity should apply to ICOs. In addition, there are some rules associated with selling public equity that should apply. In both cases, the idea of advertising an ICO is ludicrous to me.
When a company we are investors in is raising a new round of financing, I’m not allowed to even write a blog post about the financing, let alone run an advertisement about it. Tweeting isn’t allowed. Neither is giving a speech in a public forum. Promoting it on Youtube would bring down the wrath of Jason Mendelson on my head.
Now that we are a “registered investment advisor” (since we also invest in other venture funds), we have an entire compliance infrastructure that I have to go through to even get blog posts approved (like the one about Glowforge yesterday) when I simply mention a company of ours on the web. While I can argue that the regulations around what I can write and/or promote are over-reaching, they are the rules that I, and our companies, have to live with.
The idea that a company can do an ICO, raise money, and ignore this set of rules makes no sense to me. I can imagine a category (currently being called “utility tokens”) that look more like frequent flyer miles or tokens at a video arcade than equity, but the boundaries around this are very blurry to me right now.
Anyone that is paying attention to cryptocurrencies and ICOs knows that there is a huge amount of fraud going on. A Google search on ICO Pump and Dump turns up a bunch of current stuff that is fascinating to read. Telegram, which is home to a huge ICO that is ongoing, is a popular platform for organizing ICO pump and dump schemes. If you think this kind of action is healthy long term, just go watch The Big Short.
I learned the phrase “buyer beware” in my early 20s while reading all those Forbes Magazines. Today, we have John Oliver to help us out.
An adapted essay from Noam Cohen new book The Know-It-Alls: The Rise of Silicon Valley as a Political Powerhouse and Social Wrecking Ball showed up several weeks in the New York Times in the article Silicon Valley Is Not Your Friend. It’s an important one to read slowly and carefully as there are several key points in it.
In the last week, two early Facebook execs made remarkably critical statements about what they were involved in helping create. It started when Sean Parker talked with Axios about how Facebook exploits human psychology.
“I don’t know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying, because [of] the unintended consequences of a network when it grows to a billion or 2 billion people and … it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other … It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”
Then, the other day, Chamath Palihapitiya gave a talk at Stanford Graduate School of Business where he said:
“I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works”
A decade ago at my MIT Sloan 20th Reunion, I gave a lecture where I said that “privacy was dead, we just don’t know it yet.” I had no idea how prescient that statement would be, but even in 2008, I had a deep unease that we had no real idea what the next decade would bring.
It’s here. When Web 2.0 began in the mid-2000s, there was incredible enthusiasm about how technology was going to change everything. Google’s “Do No Evil” mantra was on everyone’s lips as a rallying cry for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to “change the world” and “make a dent in the universe.” Twitter was becoming the world’s town hall and helping facilitate revolutions like the Arab Spring.
Amy and I were sitting in front of our computers on Sunday working on some stuff. During a pause, we started talking about how different things are from when we first started dating 28 years ago.
I woke up thinking about that this morning. Now that the five most valuable companies in the world are tech companies (Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook with Tencent and Alibaba coming on strong) and the total market cap of cryptocurrencies also being in that league, it’s hard to deny the extreme influence of these companies on our society. As I sit at my desk, typing on my Apple Computer into WordPress in a Chrome browser, listening to music I asked Amazon to play throughout my house, well, you get the idea.
The blog post title is a rhetorical question, so I’ll let you answer it in the comments if you want …
Before I get into my rant of the morning, if you have a gluten intolerance, or just want less gluten in your life, we just invested in a company called Nima that can help you.
Today, as I was going through my daily reading, I read Fred Wilson’s Feature Friday: GBoard about Google’s new third-party keyboard app for iOS. I clicked on the link to download and try it and, as it was doing its thing, though to myself “why does Apple iOS Mail suck?” And then I thought “why does Apple iOS Calendar suck?”
When I’m using my iPhone, I spend a lot of time in Mail and Calendar. I’ve always been unhappy with Apple’s Mail and Calendar. I’ve gone through using lots of other ones, but in most cases, once the Mail or Calendar app is acquired by another, bigger company, it eventually stales out and vanishes. About a year about I started using Outlook on My iPhone and used it for a long time. I can’t remember what happened, but at some point I abandoned it and switched back to Apple Mail and Calendar.
As Gboard was downloading, I decided to try Gmail and Google Calendar on iOS for a while. I used them when they first came out and they were inferior to Apple’s Mail and Calendar. I tried them again about a year ago and they were good, but for some reason I didn’t stay with them.
I know that if I don’t use something for at least some extended period of time it won’t stick. Some I’m going to try having Google World on my iPhone until at least June 1st. At that point I’ll re-evaluate.
If you have any hints or suggestions, I’m all ears.
I was at dinner a few weeks ago with my long time friend and first business partner Dave Jilk. We ended up talking about how difficult it is to determine signal from noise, fact from fiction, truth from bullshit, and bullshit from complete-and-total-bullshit.
I recently hit the wall with all the political stuff that was popping up everywhere. I think the thing that flipped my switch from on to off was a satirical article about Hillary Clinton and all the horrible things she had done that was being passed around by people who I think considered it to be factual. As I read through it, I imagined all the derivative articles building on the sarcasm embedded in the article and then making arguments which would be cited by others as truth because they showed up credibly somewhere.
I probably would have recovered from this in a few days if I wasn’t then confronted yesterday by a Wall Street Journal article that was sent to me with a clear set of assertions built around a statement that I knew to be factually incorrect, but I’ve seen written exactly the same way in other articles to make a specious argument.
Software should be able to solve this for us. It appears that whenever Google talks about working on ranking based on trustworthiness anti-science advocates freak out about it. If you are interested in seeing the math (and some concepts) behind this, the paper by some Google folks titled Knowledge-Based Trust: Estimating the Trustworthiness of Web Sources – while chewy – is very interesting (at least the parts I understood.)
Dave sent me a presentation he’d done on this topic for a Defrag Conference several years ago. I tossed it up on SlideShare and embedded it below.
We went back and forth on it a little more and Dave ended with a strong statement around skepticism.
“It seems like a consequence of a few drivers has caused there to be more awareness of the notion and techniques of skepticism. However, people are using it indiscriminately, i.e., just to attack the other side. It’s another form of bullshit, actually – they don’t care whether the skeptical criticism is valid, but it has some additional polemical value because it has an aura of aiming for truth. Some of the drivers of the new Skepticism are all the problems with media, climate change, and probably some other things I’m not thinking of.”
When I ponder the notion of peak oil, I pine away for the concept of peak bullshit. But, like peak oil, I suspect it is an elusive construct.
I’m three days into trying to figure out the best way to deal with our large collection of digital photos that have accumulated since 2000.
When I started (on Christmas Day – I figured it was a one day project) Picasa said we had around 35,000 photos. After several different clean up approaches, we now have about 15,000. That’s the power of Duplicate Photos Fixer Pro which has been probably the cleanest and most straightforward part of this whole exercise.
But – let’s start from the beginning. Several years ago I created a shared Dropbox folder for me and Amy and moved all of our many folders of photos into one folder in Dropbox. I didn’t try to organize anything then – just get them all in one place. I then installed Picasa on each computer, spent a little while with Amy figuring it out, and let time pass from there.
Amy spent a lot of time over the past few years cleaning up photos, arranging them in folders, and copying things from place to place from within Picasa. We had various applications, like Dropbox and iTunes, set up iPhone sync directories. We avoided iPhoto, but every now and then it opened up somewhere and did something. Amy would sync her digital SLR photos with Picasa and then move them around. A bunch of other stuff probably happened in the background as we connected Picasa to the web, installed various Google apps on our machines, and I had a brief foray into using an Android phone.
However, I mostly ignored the problem. Every few months Amy would get frustrated looking for a photo and ask if I was ever going to clean everything up. We constantly talked about getting our iPhones set up to share stuff in a useful way. I bought Amy a new camera (the Sony A7) and decided as part of it I was going to clean up the mess that I’d help create over the years.
I vaguely remembered installing a Google Photo uploader thing on my desktop at work several months ago and letting it run for a few days while it uploaded the mess of photos we had. I looked at https://photos.google.com/ and scrolled through a huge photo collection. Yup – it uploaded them, although preserved none of the folder hierarchy Amy had painstakingly created. And then I started noticing lots and lots of duplicates. That’s weird – I wonder how that happened. After poking around for a way to have Google just automatically eliminate them, I discovered no such feature existed. Ok – I can delete a bunch of duplicates – let’s just share all with Amy. Oops – no way to do that.
Well, that would have been too easy. So, I spent most of Christmas Day afternoon using Picasa to clean up all the folder hierarchies, move photos from the hundreds of randomly named (usually with a date) folders, or the folders named “Move These Later 7.” I started as a Picasa novice and now have mastered it, with all of its quirks.
And then I realized there we had nested folders of duplicates spread out all over the place. Aha – now I knew why Google had duplicates everywhere. After a few searches, I found Duplicate Photos Fixer Pro and, after making a backup of the gigantic photo folder (via the web – so there was no web to desktop to web traffic), I quickly reduced our photo collection by over 50%.
I went to bed and let Dropbox and Picasa do their thing as everything synchronized on my painfully slow home Internet connection (there’s nothing like seeing a “10 hours left” message to decide to call it quits for the night.)
When I woke up yesterday, Dropbox looked fine but Picasa wasn’t synchronized. After messing around with Picasa for a while, I decided to just unlink the scanned folder (which was just the high level photos folder) and let it reindex. That worked. I messed around with the Dropbox hierarchy some more to try to clean things up. I noticed that Picasa again got out of sync. After doing this a few times, I started reading about Picasa on the web and my soul was crushed. I had a fantasy that the long term solution for everything could be something that lived on top of Dropbox, but as I realized that Picasa was getting old and stale (it shows in the UI) and there was a pretty clear path for Google toward everything being entirely web, Android, and Google+ (or – well – Google Photos) based. In other words, Picasa isn’t likely a long term solution.
Deep breath. At this point I checked with my partner Ryan who has 10 zillion photos and he quickly responded Apple Photo plus iCloud Photo Library (iPL) with a backup on Google Photos.
So I spent the rest of yesterday getting my mind around Apple Photos including a multi-machine and user struggle to understand the implications of what Apple thinks a family is and what can be shared between family members. Of course, the relic of the Apple iPhoto library didn’t help, as it introduced a new wave of duplicates which Duplicate Photos Fixer Pro figured out. Eventually I realized I had about 20 remnant Picasa temp files, each which were getting indexed in Apple Photos, so I hunted down and expunged them all. I started a bunch of folders uploading (I was trying to create some semblance of an Album structure). I was getting the hang out it, but it was dinner time so I was done until the morning.
When I woke up this morning, iPL told me that it has 11,781 files left to upload. Amy and I went out to breakfast. When I got back 90 minutes later, iPL now only had 11,721 files left to upload. Well – that’s not going to work.
I gave up, deleted all the photos from my instance of Apple Photos that was uploading, and read a draft of Eliot Peper‘s newest book Cumulus, which was awesome. I did a few other things, had dinner, and am still waiting for Photos/iCloud to figure out what it’s doing several hours later.
For now, I’m taking a break as I ponder my next move. Suggestions welcome.
A few days ago, I noticed that my MacBook Air fully charged battery life had suddenly gone from around seven hours to under two hours and the fan was going full speed.
This has happened in the past and I couldn’t remember what I did to fix it. I blew it off for a few days until I got tired of having to plug my computer in every few hours. A quick look at Mac Activity Monitor showed me that Google Chrome Helper was eating up all my CPU (often at 100%) and subsequently crushing the battery life.
A search on Google didn’t turn up anything terribly satisfying. I found lots of complaints, a few suggestions to turn of automatic plug-in loading, and lots of “hey Google, fix this” dating back to 2011. Buried somewhere in one of the threads was a note to try clearing my browser cache.
Of course, there is no “clear browser cache” option any more, but there is now a “hamburger menu: More Tools: Clear Browsing Data” option.
That solved it. I saw over seven hours of battery life today. No fan. Simple, but buried.
Some day all this shit will just work. Well – maybe not.
Here’s a perplexing thing to ponder.
After trying virtually every email configuration on iPhone and Android devices, the best experience that I have had so far is using Microsoft Outlook on my Apple iPhone to access Google Gmail.
I’ve been using Outlook on my iPhone for the past few months. I’ve tried several times to go back to Apple Mail, but it is impossibly bad when compared to Outlook. I’ve also tried using the Google iOS Gmail client, which – while better than Apple Mail – is still very klutzy at certain things.
I know that Microsoft Outlook is really Acompli rebranded at Outlook, but in the eight months since the acquisition the product has continued to get better and better.