26 August 2007

Like Jeopardy!, but for MBAs

Quick! MRK! Did you catch Fast Money MBA Challenge on CNBC? They pitted some top business schools against each other to answer business trivia questions in competition for $200k. J-Fav and I caught the Yale SOM / Texas finals... I never thought I'd see a TV show with a lightning round of "name that stock ticker!". (show link)

iPhone Hacked by George Hotz, the NJ high school senior (actually, he's starting college now) and team. With 2 hours of hardware mods, you can use the iPhone with any carrier. Previously, he hacked the TI DMD and built a volumetric 3-D display for the ISEF science fair. Here's the WikiPedia page.

Posting's light today, as we've spent the last few weeks visiting with many friends from near and far. This eventually brought me to the Foxwoods casino, and - well - long story short, I leave you with this analysis of betting systems and the Martingale.


22 August 2007

Summertime Low-Brow Humor

Sure, I could regale you with questions about stuff I'm reading in optical engineering textbooks, but I'm certain the real reason you're here is to find some easy-viewing humor.

Finnish Cover of "YMCA" (1979)
I don't know what I like more: that the band's name is Gregorius, or the groovy analog synth action during the first seven seconds of this clip. (I can picture others of you laughing around 00:49...) Here you go, as found through BoingBoing.

Certainly NSFW
I clicked on this around 9am at work today and laughed so hard I cried. I had to finally quit 2 minutes into it. (a difficult Super Mario Bros. level, with much profanity)

There, you are now complete with intellectual fodder to impress and bewilder your friends.

You know what? I just can't leave you like this. Here's some more.

Google Adds Star Charts to Google Earth
New Scientist article.

Extropy Institute: Closed!
Now J-Fav can stop worrying. I guess I'm a few years behind on this news, but they "dissolved" in late 2005 and now have a new mission. (What am I talking about? Actually, the dynamic optimism section sounds pretty good to me...)

The software awards scam (re: Successful Software blog)
Well, it was an eye-opener for me. Ever download free software apps based on whether or not they have a multitude of little award logos? Think twice.

Presentation Zen: Where can you find good images?

Hey, Product Designers
Did you know that Don Norman is working on several new books?

Sigh. That's better.


19 August 2007

Quiet indie music; other stuff

Hello -

It's the comfortable, breezy, warm time of summer. Friends are in town for several weeks. Toby's climbing around the town playgrounds. New England business feels like it's in a cocoon, as "out of office" messages arrive and auto e-mails suggest that all of Europe is on vacation.

Here are a few things for you that might resonate with this naturally introspective time.

What's the gentle musical equivalent of chicken soup? (or a latte?)
Enya or Peter Gabriel's soundtrack, Passion, perhaps. But here are a few modern folk songs of the is-the-singer-whispering variety; you know, Elliot Smith type stuff. A few I've mentioned before, though they'd stood the test of time on personal mixes.

Hyperlinks should open your iTunes for previews.

  • Alexi Murdoch: "All My Days" on Time Without Consequence
  • Eliza Gilkyson: "Requiem" on Paradise Hotel
  • Hem: "Half Acre" on Rabbit Songs (yes, the Liberty Mutual commercial track)
  • Iron and Wine: "Such Great Heights" on Such Great Heights - EP (a slow, acoustic cover of the frenetic Postal Service song featured in Garden State)
  • Jose Gonzales: "Heartbeats" on Veneer. (I cannot get enough of this cover of one of The Knife's hits, several years after I first recommended it. Poor J-Fav, though, is probably quite tired of it.)
  • Alanis Morissette: "Thank U" on Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie.
I wonder if my vitamin supplement just isn't strong enough. :-)

The Usual Nonacoustic Links
  • "An alternate reality game (ARG) is an interactive narrative that uses the real world as a platform, often involving multiple media and game elements, to tell a story that may be affected [sic] by participants' ideas or actions." (Wikipedia. Holy cow, I apologize for using them as a source.)
  • Seth Godin: "Weird stuff happens at trade shows," which links to a movie with Bill Gates and Napoleon Dynamite (!).
  • A colleague at work pointed me to a (Japanese?) video short regarding crowds...

16 August 2007

Max Roach dies at 83 (update)

I don't know what to say, other than that even CNN.com's glowing obituary is a vast understatement. Max Roach was a complete genius of a jazz pioneer.

[Edit: See the NY Times and the AP/San Jose Mercury News instead.]

Goodness do I feel lucky to have seen him perform not once, but twice! Even from my seat in the audience, he seemed like a warm, approachable person, playing his kit for melody as well as rhythm.

If you're unfamiliar with his work, I recommend the CD Clifford Brown & Max Roach, which was recorded in 1954.



15 August 2007

What are your top five "signature strengths"?

Hi -

Are you curious what a bunch of scientists think your strongest characteristics are?

J-Fav pointed me to a series of questionnaires developed by UPenn researchers of "authentic happiness."

One asks you a series of questions - okay, a whole lot of questions, 240 of them - analyzes them and provides you with its impression of your top five "signature strengths" out of a collection of 25. You can also click a button to see their ranking. For instance, it confirmed my suspicion that I really do hold grudges and therefore have a low ranking of Forgiveness and Mercy. (Yes, we Italians don't do favors, we accumulate debts!)

Conversely, although computerized questionnaires don't really impact my self-image, it was nice to see that it picked up on my love of learning, the extent to which I enjoy thinking of new ways to do things, and my omnipresent "caution, prudence, and discretion," a trait which J-Fav rightfully teases me about.

It's fun, try it before the whole web bogs it down.

The process:
  1. Log in & register (Free, quick, blah blah)
  2. Choose "VIA Signature Strengths."
There are other ones that assess your happiness, your work/life mix, etc.

Would you mind leaving a comment if you try it out?


13 August 2007

Postsecret, Finances, and...

Hi -

In my bookmark "heavy rotation list," you'll find Postsecret, the Sunday-updated site of anonymous and creatively-presented confessions. This week, the artist/curator set them to music.

You're now in the proper frame of mind to spent some time with the photography of Kevin Bewersdorf. Remember to pay attention to his photo-titles, as well. For some reason, I bookmarked "The Most Beautiful Suburban Phenomenon" and "Every Tier of Development." Kevin was part of the indie film LOL, whose musical score you might want to browse - such as "My Heart Still Beats." Of course, there's also his essay, "Art School Made Me an Asshole."

Here is the original video for the Postsecret video -- Sia's "Breathe Me."


09 August 2007

The East-Coast VC Post

Hi -

I just returned home, energized, from a wonderful entrepreneurs-only event hosted by a really great tech journalist and a serial entrepreneur... somewhere in Cambridge. One topic of discussion explored the differences between East Coast and West Coast entrepreneurship. Like NYC vs. Compton rap music, there really are differences. I think. Well, really, people weren't sure.

The usual mantra is that it's significantly harder to get much of anything funded up here in Boston, and that the West Coast guys (and gals) will take greater risks. Also, the entrepreneurial energy is more palpable out there in Menlo Park and Palo Alto than here in Cambridge and Waltham and...

If you care about this stuff, check out these posts and sites:

Alright, it wouldn't be the g-fav blog without a random assortment of:

  • The kick-yourself-in-the-pants "ABC: Always Be Closing" scene from Glengarry Glen Ross.
  • A few photos of last weekend's SciFoo 2007 through the eyes of the Brockman / edge.org posse.
  • Freeman Dyson's "Heretical thoughts about science and society," which begins: "My first heresy says that all the fuss about global warming is grossly exaggerated. Here I am opposing the holy brotherhood of climate model experts and the crowd of deluded citizens who believe the numbers predicted by the computer models."
  • Go on, apply to show your stuff at O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference (ETech)
  • Typewriter art? Or is it just Courier? I don't know. Acid Head War.
  • Looking for a book in some library, but you don't know which library? WorldCat.org. (Thanks RH.)
  • I can't remember why I bookmarked this, but maybe you'll learn something: "Phase Invariance and the Laws of Electromagnetism."
  • Clothing store "butt camera." [gizmodo]
  • J-Fav is crazy about Wesabe.com, a sort of Quicken web app, with community suggestions for saving money.
  • The world's top computer graphics conference, SIGGRAPH, just finished up this year's proceedings. One of the coolest papers is one about letting you stretch your photos as much as you want, and the software kind of fills out the gaps. It's hard to explain. You know how usually you need to resize photos such that the aspect ratio is unchanged? Well, this algorithm gets around that. Click here and then browse the paper about "seam carving." Yeah yeah, a lot of math. Look at those pictures.

06 August 2007

When the Startup You Co-Founded Turns 10

Actuality Systems turns ten this Tuesday.

Yeah, this story is for me, really, and also to honor the engineers I've been working with. But if you're thinking of starting a company I hope you get a kick out of it, too.

Ten years before the ten-years-ago of this story, I was an eighth grader trying to coax three-dimensional images out of laser light controlled by an Amiga 500 and a few surplus mirror galvanometers. I still remember downing cans of Pepsi to stay awake through the science fair I entered in 9th grade:

Fast forward to 1997, when I was pursuing a Ph.D. in engineering sciences at Harvard. A very-connected friend who loves to study the cycles of innovation, Joost Bonsen, suggested I listen to a talk at MIT by the fantastically-successful founder of a networking hardware company that would later be acquired in what was termed "the largest tech acquisition of all time."

At that talk, I started meeting folks who would form an entrepreneurially-young but dilligently practiced business plan writing team in a major competition, the MIT $50k. We pitched the business concept of building hologram-like computer displays for mechanical engineers to see "virtual prototypes" of their products, so that it would be cheaper and easier to modify their designs. We borrowed the name of my grandfather's company, Eastern Delta, that had been a producer of something significantly lower-tech: selenium rectifiers. We figured we'd license some 3-D display technology that was the basis for my undergrad design project at Yale. We won $10,000.

We went our separate ways after that adrenaline-fueled evening in Kresge Auditorium; I later used the prize to start up and incorporate Actuality Systems with co-founders from Harvard and the networking hardware entrepreneur above, whose name is Rob Ryan. My grades started to tank; I left the Ph.D. track, took a leave of absence, and embarked on a three-year effort to raise a meager $1.5 million for a 3-D display startup in the midst of the dot-com craze. (In an attempt to reach out to other young entrepreneurs, I described those three unfunded years in a Cambridge basement in the essay, "Guerilla Survival Tactics: A Top-10 List - How to Survive While Searching for Cash.")

In 1999, we went to the bank and deposited the first part of the seed money. We moved to our first tiny office in Reading, MA, and kicked off development of what would become Perspecta.

I won't try to condense into this note any of the excitement, the struggle, the long (long!) hours, the time spent on mysterious loading docks before customer demos, or any of the usual ups-and-downs that go with any new venture. But I'd like to look back a bit at some lessons learned, and to celebrate a few of the things that our engineers managed to pull off since then.

First, few early stage companies actually end up doing what they initially set out to do. Within months of our founding, we identified a much more promising way to make 3-D displays than my college work. This became the Perspecta Display, the world's highest-resolution volumetric display. Due to a significant amount of behind-the-scenes magic from the software, optics, mechanical engineering, electronics, and manufacturing teams, Perspecta has swept best-new-product awards from major industry groups and magazines. I would consider myself extremely lucky if I ever find myself in the middle of a team with a skillset and comraderie anywhere close to that. And I'm glad we looked beyond the initial ideas.

Good thing we moved beyond this design!

Second, I read somewhere that our Chairman's motto at his startup was "If you don't control your destiny, someone else will." That rings in my head frequently, and has been very useful advice for me.

As I approach sharing a third lesson, I realize that this might all be useful for an anonymous piece on advice-to-the-new-entrepreneur. I still run the risk of burning many bridges! I'll leave my stuffy advice for another day.

Over the years, my colleagues have made images float in the air, painted screens with 20 million pixels, tested software for treating disease, and looked at images of wrecked oil wells that were toppled by Katrina. I feel lucky to have been alongside them; usually as a squeaky-wheel, often as a public voice for their diligent efforts, and on a good day, as a collaborator.

Are You Thinking of Taking the Plunge?
If you decide to start a company, I guarantee you'll find yourself learning and experiencing things that you wouldn't have guessed at the outset. You might find yourself driving up the West Coast from San Diego to Seattle in a van stuffed with technology and progressively emptier beer bottles, in a dark laboratory at midnight inspecting flashes of light dance on the wall to figure out which of 30 steps went wrong, receiving calls during a blizzard along the lines of, "it works! it freaking works!", spending many hours on trade-show floors giving words to the brochures your team made, and seeing how many other people do their daily work, be they doctors, chemists, military officials, geophysicists, or artists. You'll get handwritten letters with questions from 9 year-olds in Australia, and you'll get good-luck emails from 80 year olds wondering if you've gone public. Yes, once you've stepped foot into the land of the startup, you can never go back.

Anthony Daniels with C-3PO in Perspecta.

Well, here's to the next ten years. Here's to finishing the hush-hush new product and getting it into the hands of customers. Here's to weird people, like us - entrepreneurs - and the engineers who make our dreams tangible.

Actuality in 2005.
Happy Birthday!


01 August 2007

Synthetic Biology

Or, "The Day they Wheeled Test Tubes and Various Chemicals into an Electronics Lab"
The famous Knight Lab at MIT/CSAIL. Even if you aren't into the notion of engineering systems out of biological substances, you might enjoy the video tour of this MIT lab. I happened to be visiting back in 1998 (or thereabouts) when his EECS lab was quietly but quickly being transformed into a biotech hack-zone. I was checking out a tiled projector system when, in the background, I could hear a cart loaded with test tubes rolling by. (For you non-engineers, that's like dining at a quiet French restaurant and being interrupted by a battalion of Brazilian BBQ servers presenting meat on swords. The two just don't co-exist.)

"Meditation: Beat Insomnia with Blue Energy" [Lifehacker.com]

Like People magazine for the Silicon Valley / Web 2.0 Crowd
Valleywag, Silicon Valley's Tech Gossip Rag.

Google Keeps Track of Scholarly Works
Yeah, you knew this already, but it's fun: www.google.com/scholar. (Say, Prof. B., you are oft-cited!)

Yikes, I just polished off an entire box of "Nerds" (the box says "View in 3-D", with the little cartoon Nerds wearing anaglyph 3-D glasses???) and half a bag of Haribo Raspberries. I fear I'll see 3am.

Wish me luck.