#42 | Deep Tech Week, Dumplings, Game Addiction, and Thoughts on Art

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It’s 2020! I hope your year is starting well. What systems have you put in place to help you go past your goals? Willpower alone won’t cut it this year either! It has to be on the weekly agenda to ensure consistency. Let’s make it happen :)


MENU

  1. WORK: Evolution, Deep Tech Week, IndieBio NYC, CES Meetup

  2. EXPERIENCES: Dumplings, Boards Games, Addiction,

  3. CULTURE: Lumiere in Lyon, Tolkien, Foreign Movies and Netflix Documentaries

  4. THOUGHTS: On Art, Brexit and Genetic Counseling


1.
WORK

Evolution

After 6 years at SOSV focused mostly on HAX, I am transitioning to work with the broader SOSV portfolio — covering hardware (HAX), life sciences (IndieBio) and food (Food-X). If hardware was great, biology is mind-blowing (and has a steep learning curve).

  • My first steps in that direction in 2019 were the Deep Tech Trends report, and the series of events about Startup Exits and Investing in Deep Tech.

  • I’ll be working on increasing our deal flow, identifying and sharing industry trends and insights, and building up our investor network for future funding.

  • This also means I’m spending much less time in Asia and much more in Europe and US, where our startups are.

Deep Tech Week (Paris, 9-13 March 2020)

Launched by a non-profit named Hello Tomorrow, it has become the go-to place for deep tech startups. Check it out here. We’re supporting this year’s edition by organizing an investors-only ‘Deep Tech Investors Night’ on Mar 12 (Thursday).

IndieBio Expands To New York

Our biotech accelerator IndieBio is expanding to NYC with $25 million in support from New York State’s Life Science Initiative. It will fund about 100 startups over 5 years.

CES

If you’re at CES, join our happy hour today on Jan 7 (Tue), 5:30 PM – 7:30 PM, at Buddy V's Ristorante, 3327 South Las Vegas Boulevard. I won’t be there this year but you’ll meet my colleagues and many of our most exciting startups!

2.
EXPERIENCES

Dumplings From Scratch

After cooking Chinese dumplings using pre-made skins, I finally made some from scratch. It’s easier than you might think, and a fun group activity for an hour or so, including with kids.

  1. Mix flour and water into a paste.

  2. Roll a chunk of it flat, cut out palm-sized discs (use a metal tube or else).

  3. Dust a good amount of flour to avoid them sticking too much.

  4. For the filling, mix minced pork with some spring onions or else.

  5. Put a spoonful in disc, close in half by pinching along the edge (or get a mold).

  6. Fry or boil. You’re done!

Board Games

I have been out of the loop for years but I got to play several over the Winter break.

Two fairly entertaining games were

  • Gang of Four, a kind of modified poker

  • Mixmo, a faster and more flexible Scrabble that solves the long wait and stiff board structure — there are other words games out there, though.

  • The challenge of games is balancing skill, luck, interactions and speed.

I didn’t play Catan but it has a huge following. The business story is a bit interesting: the rights for this best seller created in 1995 were bought by a publisher named Asmodee in 2016. Asmodee was itself owned by another private equity firm since 2014, and sold to another in 2018 for a whopping $1.4 billion as it grew internationally and digitally.

Stages of Game Addiction

During the break I stumbled upon an oldie mobile game: Plants vs Zombies 2. I had played the first edition years ago and it’s a nifty little game. Great design and balance — a good mix of strategy, skill and luck — a bit too much, in fact: I couldn’t stop playing and went through what I describe now as the 6 stages of game addition.

  1. “One last game.” And keep playing. Sleep at 2am.

  2. “I need tips.” Look online for info on stages and foes.

  3. “Should I cheat?” and use free power-ups?

  4. “Should I pay?” and buy power-ups?

  5. “I need the answer.” And watch a walk-through on YouTube.

  6. “Enough!”. Final uninstall.

When I ended up watching a walk-through for a stage I couldn’t complete after 2 hours of efforts, I realized I needed a near-perfect strategy (choice of weapons) and execution (which requires timing and dexterity) to win. The other choices were to use free or paid power-ups. I didn’t intend to become a pro player, cheat, nor pay my way (it’s a slippery slope). So I thought: ‘enough!’ and uninstalled the game.

It also reminded me of how weak our (my) mental immune system can be against ‘digital drugs’ (can it be more like alcohol or cigarettes? — it depends on their nature and your usage), and why I walked away from the pay-to-win game industry!

Making Children Cry

The coach asked me to spar in jiu-jitsu with some of his teenage judo students. He told me my job was to show them how bad they are at ground work. The following week I heard that one of them (about 14yo I think) shed some tears after training. His mother even emailed the coach to complain. I was quite surprised as I had been careful not to use strength and stop submissions early.

The coach told me this wasn’t a problem of physical pain but psychological: this kid had difficulties leveling up, his mom emailed to complain on other occasions, and that he took time to tell her that judo and jiu-jitsu involved some discomfort… I wish I had known that before!

Still, it reminded me of my first sparring in boxing, and how ‘crucible experiences’ can go better and become ‘teachable moments’ with better processes. Better check awareness and skills earlier next time!

3.
CULTURE

Visits

Lyon
I spent the New Year in the 2nd/3rd largest French city. Among the highlights were:

  • The Lumiere Museum. The Lumiere brothers were inventors and industrialists who built some of the first movie cameras, while selling film plates and rolls based on the chemical invention of the younger brother, Auguste. They even created a 360 image projector (but it didn’t meet commercial success), a prosthetic hand for WWI soldiers, a non-adhesive plaster that was used until 2007 (‘oily tulle’) and published about 800 scientific papers.
    To promote their camera invention they trained operators and dispatched some around the world to create content. People would go to watch movies that barely had a title, which took them to places they would likely never see with their own eyes.
    Across the ocean, Edison was not a big believer in public projections and worked on individual peep-show machines until he eventually bought some projection patents and had his lab develop a new system.
    Later, Louis Lumiere was invited to be the president of the first Cannes film festival in 1939, itself created to compete against the Venice one as the Italian and German governments were becoming too hands-on in the selection. The US and UK were in, but as Germany invaded Poland on September 1st, the festival got canceled and only started for real in 1946.
    Auguste Lumiere, like Mike Tyson, kept a big cat as a pet (a lion).

  • The Museum of Cinema and Miniature. It displays accessories, sets and special effect techniques from various movies. How did they make self-lacing shoes in Back To The Future? How do you have an arrow shoot Brad Pitt’s shield safely in Troy? You’d be surprised by some of the tricks!

  • The Zoo & Botanical Garden. Discovered the sand cat (who doesn’t need water because his preys hydrate him). Also answered questions such as how does a flamingo eat? How does a duck float? (note: it is not made of wood). The garden had a carnivorous plants section, with interesting explanations about their functioning. One type has a pouch of digestive juice into which trapped insects fall (videos for more here).

  • The Contemporary Art Museum. The building is great but it only displayed half a dozen artists, and their work wasn’t impressive: some with low technical skill, one sub-Louise Bourgeois, and pieces that looked like a concept built up by contractors. It reminded me of the Exit Through The Gift Shop Banksy-not-Banksy mock-documentary. However, one of them — a large tainted fabric — stood out by its size and delicate coloring and patterns. Another piece mentioned a centuries-old accidental poisoning by ergot, a fungus that grows on rye. Research on ergot is what lead Albert Hofmann to synthesize LSD as he tried to make a respiratory and circulatory stimulant.

Exhibits

Tolkien, Journey to Middle-Earth***
An exhibit with drawings and writings by Tolkien, alongside various pieces that inspired the creation of his saga. Passionate about languages since childhood, Tolkien also had skills as an illustrator. Though some of his drawings are pretty average, they are useful graphic references for his unfolding universes. The most impressive pieces in the show were the ones by Dürer and Gustave Doré.

1001 Nights (Arabian Nights)***
A revisited theatrical version of the folk tale was shown in Paris. It swayed between ancient and modern times, with some horror and surrealist touches that David Lynch might have approved. It also featured songs of Umm Kulthum, an iconic Egyptian singer.

Joshua vs Ruiz 2*

The first boxing match between the tall and ripped Joshua vs. the shorter and much fatter Ruiz was impressive, ending in a Ruiz victory. In this quite boring re-match, Ruiz controlled the center, while Joshua danced around him and kept his distance. Apparently Ruiz went a bit wild on the weight side: gaining 7kg to reach 128kg since his last match, for his 1m88. Joshua weights 107kg for 1m98. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee? There might be a third match. As a side note, it seems that gladiators used to carry a fair amount of body fat, maybe that was the Ruiz strategy?

Movies & TV

The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão****
This Brazilian movie was a very pleasant surprise. It follows the lives of two sisters living in Rio in the 50’s, one of which ends up in disgrace with her conservative father. The movie was touching, had solid acting, and a great ending.

Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains***
The first film by Gu Xiaogang: the biopic of a Chinese grandma, her four adult sons and their families, in the city of Fuyang (a fairly generic mid-sized city). It is not as dramatic as An Elephant Sitting Still, but it is an enjoyable watch and likely depicts well the life of lower-middle-class people in China. The dreamy electronic music by Dou Wei, a former pioneer of hard rock in the 80’s (and ex-husband of Faye Wong) matches the movie perfectly.

Sherlock Jr.***
By/with Buster Keaton, from 1924 in B&W. The stunts, creativity, and some early special effects are quite outstanding. Hard to believe it was made almost 100 years ago. In the public domain and free on YouTube.

HBO Silicon Valley***
The final season of the close-to-reality show about a startup. I felt they gave a nice ending to most individual stories. The hero’s journey is now complete … or is it?

The Toys That Made Us***
An interesting series on Netflix about the making of some iconic toys, and the deep connection between toy makers and children shows. I recommend the episodes on Star Wars, He-Man, Transformers, Lego, TMNT and Power Rangers.

The Movies That Made Us***
An exploration of how some cult movies were made, often on a shoestring budget and against all odds. Check out Ghostbusters, Die Hard and Dirty Dancing.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker**
Not quite the best, nor the worst. But Chewbacca finally got his medal. Overall, the Disney treatment means everything feels very spelled out, losing lots of charm and mystery.

4.
THOUGHTS

On Art

I came across this viral video on Facebook (11 million views), where a street artist made an amazing landscape with spray paint and tools in just 5 minutes. Comments were laudatory, praising ‘talent’.

While it looked impressive (and very fast), it made me pause and think:

  • The result felt somewhat generic and more of a gimmick than ‘art’: it was done with sunbursts, stencils and a few tricks, like someone folding a paper crane. It also made me think of how Hollywood can dress up a script with FX and pretty faces. The equivalent of visual or cultural junk food.

  • I went back to the comments: ‘amazing’, ‘masterpiece’, ‘great work’, ‘how can I purchase it’, ‘she should have a gallery’, ‘$20 is too cheap’ … and my favorite ‘she would have painted the 16th (sic.) Chapel in under 30 minutes. Michelangelo was lazy’. I had to go quite far down to find someone (another artist) who was not impressed, aside from the Michelangelo guy above (who turned out to be joking).

Of course, when looking at a large chunk of contemporary art, one can wonder what art is, what kind of skills are required to make it, and what determines its value. One could say it’s all in the eye of the beholder: it’s worth what you are ready to pay for it, or how much you enjoy it. Here at least I felt the artist was charging a fair price: $20 for a quick generic job.

It also made me recall Congo, the chimpanzee coached (trained?) in the 50’s by Desmond Morris (author of The Naked Ape, also a zoologist and surrealist painter). Congo’s works were being exhibited and sold in London this December (Congo is long gone and Morris is in his 90’s, and felt it was time to share). As it turns out, Congo now has competition with Pig-casso and his vigorous brushstrokes.

If you had to pick between (a) the spray paint (b) some random modern art (c) Congo’s or (d) Pigcasso’s, which would you rather have on your wall? As for me, I’d pick Congo’s, as a pioneer of the genre :)

Genetic Counseling

This futuristic-sounding job has been around for decades. With the latest discoveries in genetic testing and gene therapies, we can probably expect it to grow into something more sophisticated. Will it become full GATTACA? Funny enough, the director of that movie also wrote The Truman Show, and a few others.

Brexit, Protests & More

Brexit now looks like a certainty, while France is paralyzed by strikes and protests against new legislations on retirement age and pension calculation. Both situations seem related to the excesses of our particular blend of capitalism, which leaves many living in poverty.

Can new governments change this or is it a systemic result? Empires have risen and fallen, people have remained. Greece has been a cautionary tale. The UK will be an interesting laboratory, despite the fact that it had always been on the fence with the EU and makes for a less dramatic ‘leave’ than if Greece or France had done it.

We can hope the UK regains some agility despite the downsides, and let’s judge the results in 5 to 10 years. We’ll also see then if France is — as often — a decade behind the times, or made the right choice.

Best wishes for the New Year!
—Ben

#41 | 30,000 Deep Tech Views, Alsace Tips, New Gadgets and Yogababble

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Trivia: Black Day is a special day in South Korea. Is it a combination of Black Friday and China’s Singles Day? Not quite! It is a month after White Day, itself a month after Valentine Day. On Black Day, those still single eat noodles with black sauce to celebrate their solitude.

MENU

  1. WORK: Report Stats, New Articles, Upcoming NYC talks

  2. EXPERIENCES: Visa-less, Stoked by Storks, Jodo Stories, Gadgets

  3. CULTURE: London Revival, Netflix Tips, Being a Bat, Yogababble

1.
WORK

Last Deep Tech Trends Talks + Report Stats

The report has passed 30,000 views! You can read it here.

I will be giving 2 more talks in NYC on Dec 12. The first at Plum Alley in Manhattan, the second at NewLab in Brooklyn. They are mostly for investors. Lmk if interested.

Recent Articles

I wrote a long piece on ‘Funding Deep Tech Startups’ based on a recent talk I gave. I cover things like Science Risk, Team Risk and several biases investors need to overcome (I gave them colorful names like ‘Star Wars Bias’, ‘Ugly Duckling Bias’ and ‘Darwin Bias’).

A yet-to-write article based on my talk on The Future Of Food (slides), where I go over several innovations that will transform the way we produce, distribute and prepare food. Among key ideas:

  • The Food Hierarchy of Needs (at the top: we’re buying virtue),

  • The Second Domestication of Animals (h/t RethinkX report).

  • The Twilight of the Cow (h/t RethinkX report & Nietzsche for the wording)

2.
EXPERIENCES

21st Century Cashless Travel

I went on a business trip and forgot to bring cash AND any credit card. Here were the friction points during the trip:

  • Hotels ask you for a credit card when you check in.

  • Uber does not work in every country — such as Luxembourg. I tried to use a local taxi app by registering my card number (I had it saved) but it didn’t go through.

  • In shops I thought I could use NFC (for small purchases) but my Xiaomi phone does not have it enabled.

Fortunately, Uber, friends and strangers helped me along the trip and it all worked out ok, but it definitely feels better with at least one card with me!

Alsace

I went to Alsace for a weekend. It’s a French region bordering Germany. Fairly scenic, with old houses and pointy roofs. Tried the local Flammekueche (a kind of local pizza with cream and onion — no tomato), then dodged the Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage with various pork specialties), and their unholy progeny the Sauerkraut Flammekueche.

I also saw some storks and copyu (French: ragondin) in an animal rehabilitation center. The latter is half-way between a rat and a beaver (it was also great to finally be able put a face on the pâté I ate a few months ago in another region…). As for storks — an Alsacian celebrity said to delivery human babies — there are only a few thousand migrating to the region these days: many die from eating insects with pesticides, or stopped migrating as they found hospitable garbage dumps to feed on (less charming). Apparently storks are big in Poland (30,000 couples) — maybe even a pest? I wonder if they make pâté.

Reims

On the way to Alsace I stopped by Reims, famous for its Champagne producers (I visited Taittinger). Some of them own castles or art deco mansions reminiscent of the Gaudi-designed ones in Barcelona. Of course Reims also has its Monet cathedral (also of Joan of Arc fame) — indeed quite a sight.

In a local automotive museum it was interesting to see old cars from many little-known brands. At the time, enterprising mechanics could just buy an engine here, a chassis there, add a body design and off they went: they had a car brand!

It reminded me of the heydays of shanzhai phones in China, where you could just take a Mediatek chipset, some cheap memory and screen, and add whatever function you wanted, from loudspeakers to an electric shaver (I had one—an average phone, an average shaver, but the only shaver phone!).

Serious Equality

To open the cocktail at a recent conference in Stockholm, a female breakdancer was invited to perform. The setting was the Nobel Prize Hall, with the outside entrance lit up quite spectacularly by torches. The dancer did a great job with slow-motion movements, going down the indoor stairs. It was somewhat reminiscent of Japanese butoh dance.

Shortly after, I saw the girl lining up at the end of the queue for the buffet. After praising her performance, I thought that as the opening ‘star’, she was probably hungry and tired, and could maybe get food faster. I went to ask the event organizers who said ‘this is a nice thought but this is Sweden, nobody skips the queue’ — I went back to tell the dancer who, in fact, thought the same!

Meeting Jodo

A few weeks ago a local cinema was showing a retrospective of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s movies. While his Holy Mountain movie remains pretty strange (I’m actually surprised it was shown considering what it contains), the 80+ year-old playwright-actor-director-tarot-reader-healer was in good spirits presenting them and answering some questions. He sounded uncompromising with his movies, not wanting to sell out. With comics he allowed himself to be more commercial, while retaining a fair amount of freedom, as comics are much cheaper to produce.

After the show I gave his wife a set of H.R. Giger-designed tarot cards in mint condition I had purchased 20 years ago on a whim. Giger was hired by Jodo alongside French graphic novel genius Moebius for Jodo’s Dune attempt (the documentary is worth watching). This was years before David Lynch picked up the project. If you’re new to Jodorowsky, I recommend starting with The Dance of Reality and Endless Poetry before El Topo or other old classics.

Wikipedia Guy

At a recent conference I heard Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, tell his story. There were quite a few surprises:

  • What he did before Wikipedia and how it lead to it,

  • How Wikipedia is doing ($100m in the bank, but always need to plan for the future),

  • What other ventures he is working on. One of them is Fandom (fka Wikia), which raised close to $150m (it started many years back, leveraging the same tech stack as Wikipedia, but for pop culture fans)

  • Another new project is WT.social, a subscription-based ad-free social network.

VR Immersive Game

I tried a new room-size multiplayer game called Toyland, where you’re a kind of plastic robot soldier in a Toy Story world.

  • The game uses HTV Vive Pro linked to PCs in backpacks.

  • It has several action sequences between which we sat on vibrating chairs as we transitioned from a train to an airplane or else.

  • It lasted about 30min and was quite fun, even more so than the Skybox VR I tried in the Bay Area before.

  • It’s still quite pricey as it takes a large room (with vibrating floor!), but it’s trending well and a bit of a workout as you move about to chase or avoid enemies.

Eating More Insects

I am not new to insect eating but I was recently treated to insect burgers (only 5% insects - for flavor?) and crickets. How can you tell if someone is a seasoned insect eater? Check if, and how, they rip the wings off the crickets!

Tracking Digestion

I bought the digestion tracker from FoodMarble, one of our portfolio startups.

Before you imagine things wrong: it is a kind of breathalyzer you use a bit after eating. It will tell you if your food is fermenting in your guts.

While it is not simple to derive insights, it does help to establish correlation between what I ate and my level of energy and comfort. I hope to discover more shortly (sadly, I did not use it when I ate insects, nor during a Sichuan food experiment). The startup sold over 10,000 units already and won numerous prizes. It seems to be particularly useful to IBS sufferers.

Sleep Cool

Another product I bought from one of our portfolio startups is Moona.

It is a thermostat for your pillow, which uses a Peltier module to circulate water at the desired temperature in a custom pillow pad. I wish I had it during this Summer’s heat wave! While it doesn’t do everything I want it to, I found it useful to ‘cool down’ when I feel too awake or agitated to sleep. The cost of bad sleep is quite high!

Black Friday

It was a tiring day on the suburban train back from the airport, and I leisurely rested my feet on the edge of the opposite seat. Two train staff passed me by silently… then stopped and explained that I had the choice of paying a fine right away or having it increase later. The fine — 50 euros — was more expensive than the shoes I was wearing that day… I later learned that the regulation on ‘incivilities’ on trains cover throwing any trash on the ground, spitting, and listening to music too loudly (I didn’t figure out if it is counted per item or per person). To prevent this from happening again I took advantage of Black Friday and bought more expensive shoes ;)

3.
CULTURE

Movies

Martin Eden***

An Italian and modernized take on the great novel by Jack London, telling the rags-to-riches story of a working-class free thinker who educates himself out of poverty and to a higher social conscience… only to realize the upper-class isn’t what it seemed to be.

Being quite a fan of London’s social commentary from The Iron Heel (a capitalist dystopian anticipation novel from 1908, later prefaced by Leon Trotsky, which strangely resonates with our times) to The People of the Abyss (gonzo journalism in the London East End), I had some hope in this adaptation. The movie uses clips of old film archives to anchor the period and environment. While not entirely faithful to the original text, it still delivered.

Adults in the room***

A movie based on the book by Yanis Varoufakis, who served as Greece’s Minister of Finance from January to July 2015 under Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. It covers the 2015 Greek bailout by the ‘troika’ of European Commission, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund, which went against the Greek referendum (who had rejected it).

This movie is one of the rare dissenting pieces in the EU media landscape about the Greek situation, where the country is often portrayed as acting in bad faith, having ‘cheated’, and overall deserving their decades of economic slavery (their GDP has been halved and set back 15 years to 2003 levels, while the US almost doubled).

A relative of mine who lived for 3 years in Greece during this time told me how betrayed the people felt by their government and the EU, and how harsh the daily reality had become. Adding insult to injury, the FMI people not only forced Greece to sell many of its state assets in a fire sale, but apparently also bought personally many properties in Greece. Who knows what would have happened if Greece had defaulted like Iceland?

Psychomagic: An Art To Heal***

This is a new documentary about Jodorowsky’s healing practice, which uses the performing of symbolic acts by the ‘patient’ to get rid of mental blocks or trauma.

I had backed its Kickstarter campaign (and received some ‘poetic money’ featuring the master himself), it’s great it got completed!

The practice sits somewhere between exorcism and psychoanalysis, with the goal of speaking directly to the unconscious. It might be an enhanced form of ‘placebo’, but if it works…?

Drawn knives**

Daniel Craig pretends to be Poirot in an Agatha Christie wannabe movie. Nice set and images, good acting (the classic Hollywood flavor enhancers), but quite forgettable.

Joker**

A follow-up to my previous writing: the movie strongly reminded me of The King Of Comedy. An oldie featuring Dustin Hoffman as an aspiring stand-up comic, with a clever twist. The chaos in the city also had a 12 Monkeys / Fight Club vibe. Despite the high quality acting and production, I think those older movies did a better job. One critic also looked at Joker from the angle of whiteness—maybe something interesting between the lines?

The Ploy**

This is a movie about the final hours of Pier-Paolo Pasolini and his assassination. Pasolini had gotten in trouble for his movies and was just finishing off the shocking Salo or the 120 days of Sodom, a movie based on the book by Marquis de Sade (but set during World War II), when the rolls got stolen… This movie on his death is not that great, unfortunately. For amateurs, Pasolini’s Teorema is a particularly interesting reflexion on passion.

SHOWS & TV

Rick & Morty****

The first few episodes are out, and did not disappoint. The pace of this show is so fast it is likely intentionally designed for re-watching. The meta-episode about heists definitely gave a different perspective on the movie Drawn Knives.

BoJack Horseman***

The new season is here, unfortunately the vibe has changed: BoJack is going clean and now seems to be the only adult in the house. I lowered my expectations for the second half of the season.

Oh My God She’s Parisian*

Let’s go watch a standup show with a French lady making fun of being a Parisian? A previous show by a guy was actually quite good. Sadly, this one was rather new (2 years experience?) and, well, lacked material, polish, setups and punchlines. Maybe in a few years?

Seth Meyers: Lobby Baby****

Let’s end on a high: after the above Parisian fiasco, I browsed Netflix in the hope of a brain-wash. The guy’s name rang a bell and I gave it a shot. It turned out to be a rare act: a comic who’s not angry, not shouting, and genuinely seems to be be comfortable in his own skin and having fun while laughing at himself. Highly recommend!

Reading

What is it like to be a bat?***

I finally got around to read this 1974 article on the irreducibility of the subjective experience and the mind-body problem.

Can we experience mental states if our bodies don’t have the capacity for the experiences? Can we grasp the difference in consciousness that would come from being, for instance, a creature that not only flies but eats insects (with joy), perceives the world with echolocation, and hangs upside down? Can we experience the world of a dog, where nose > eyes > ears? Even Batman wouldn’t know. Maybe with enough VR immersion can we get close?

I found some interesting parallels in the 1952 scifi book City by Clifford Simak, where dogs rule the world and humans are a legend. The dog world and values are very different from those of humans, which leads to unexpected developments when faced with a new threat from… ants.

New Words

We need new words to describe our reality. Some identified or anonymous creators save us the trouble:

Yogababble. A mystical jargon used in lieu of a business model. Coined by NYU Professor Scott Galloway (he has a bunch of entertaining videos commenting on various tech companies, including #WeWork).

Wokesplain. Mansplaining is so 2018 (kudos to Seth Meyers for his joke on the latter). 2019 was about woke. How woke is woke? Can you be too woke? What will 2020’s word-of-the-year be?

See you in 2020!
—Ben

#40 | Spanish VR Class, Russian Space Movie, Dark, Deep Tech Trends Report

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Conference season is coming to an end. Let’s unpack a bit.

MENU

  1. WORK: The Deep Tech Trends Report Is Live!

  2. EXPERIENCES: Spanish VR, Bravery

  3. CULTURE: Vasa, Dark, Salyut, And A Bunch Of Con-Men

1.
WORK

Deep Tech Trends Tour & Report

I completed the 6-cities tour presenting our new ‘Deep Tech Trends’ report (NYC-Boston-London-Paris-Berlin-Munich) to about 800 RSVPs — mostly investors.

  • The full report is now online here.

  • A video presenting most of it here (thanks to FirstMark and its Hardwired Meetup in NYC).

One comment I really appreciated was from a VC in London who said ‘After your talk I feel much more optimistic about the future.’

Also, our new fund is closing before year end. So far so good!

Next Stops

  • Slush (Helsinki, Nov 21-22)

  • NYC + SF (Dec 12-19)

2.
EXPERIENCES

Realidad Virtual

I did a Spanish lesson in VR on my Oculus Go thanks to Einstein Studios. Their target market is more ADD / dyslexic children, but I was quite impressed by the experience.

My avatar was in a street, then a grocery store with the avatar of my teacher, who asked me about the environment and corrected my many mistakes (I only speak high-school Spanish).

The experience was more entertaining than a sit-down class, and less intimidating than being outside, as there are no by-standers, and you don’t have to care about your appearance or reading people’s reactions. It was probably already possible 10 years ago in Second Life, but today’s VR is much easier to navigate. I’m getting my mom, (who’s been studying Spanish) to try it in a few days…

Bad Travel Day

I was in Paris on my way to the airport to fly to NYC. Then the combined forces of a bad low-cost airline website, a strike, Yellow Vest riots, an abandoned package, a 3x Uber surge price, the rain, a traffic accident that caused a jam, a record-breaking run, and passport control contractors decided that … I would not fly that day.

I missed the registration by 10 minutes and went back home, having wasted half a day.

I flew peacefully the next day but my ordeal wasn’t over: the Climate Summit was in town in NYC, and hotels were packed. The hotel I had booked for $250 turned out to be a budget hotel with shared bathrooms. One more climate change victim…

Bravery

Recently was the first time I saw a direct connection between what happens on the mat in my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practice, and outside.

When sparring with much heavier guys (90kg+) , I sometimes get this feeling of ‘this is going to be tiring but it’s worth doing’.

I had the same feeling recently in a few social situations The discussions were ‘hot potatoes’: not going to be fun and much safer to avoid. Like on the mat, I still decided to engage. I left those exchanges tense and exhausted, but felt I had practiced some useful mental muscles, and built up more bravery.

Senior Singing

I gave a try to a classical singing class at a neighborhood association. The class is mostly made up of retired women with singing experience; my background is the occasional karaoke. I’m just getting started and it’s more intimidating than physical or verbal sparring! But it’s been interesting so far.

3.
CULTURE

VISITS

Vasa Museum***

An interesting visit. The Vasa is a large Swedish warship who sank on its first day at sea in 1628. The ship sat in the mud for centuries and was picked up almost intact, including various crew items. The building of the ship cost 5% of Sweden's entire GDP at the time. To compare, The Manhattan Project cost ‘only’ $23 billion in 2018 dollars, and the Apollo program $288 billion ($25 billion in 1973 — less than 2% of US GDP at the time). Maybe two bad omens were that the investor (the King) meddled with the design, and that the CTO (the architect) died prematurely.

Museum of Medical History**

A tiny and quaint museum in the med school in Paris, containing a number of ancient medical instruments, including metal picks for bladder stones (no anesthesia — trigger warning for the image here).

A surprising item was a coffee table decorated with preserved human parts including blood, brains, vertebras, 4 ears and a foot. Apparently offered to Napoleon the Third, maybe for his daily witchcraft?

Bauhaus Museum*

I loved the Bauhaus Archive in Berlin. It depicts the incredibly creative environment of this odd school that was mixing design, architecture and art in a very collaborative way. It didn’t sit well with the nazi regime who called it degenerate art and closed it.

The Berlin center was under renovation during my visit, but a large new museum just opened in September in Dessau, the city where it all started. I made a stop there with high hopes. Unfortunately while the building itself is worth a mention, I was underwhelmed by the exhibits. I also arrived too late to visit the houses of the masters (which were a few km away), which might be worth a look.

MOVIES & TV

Dark****

It’s not often that I get hooked by a show, but this one did the trick. It’s as if Twin Peaks and Back to the Future had a baby (with a bit of Stranger Things). In German. I watched the 2 seasons and 18 episodes in a weekend.

Salyut***

When was the last time you watched a Russian movie? Same as me.

This one is a 2017 movie about a space rescue operation that actually happened. Cosmonauts had to restart or trash the Salyut space station before the US might snag it with their shuttle.

Salyut — which I had never heard of — was the first generation of space stations, before MIR and the ISS. The movie is actually very cool, with some real space story and a cool geopolitical background.

As a side note, Russians dominated almost every space thing except sending humans to the Moon — which proved so useless (aside from its propaganda power) that no-one went back since 1972.

Bitter Flowers***

A pretty good movie on Chinese prostitution in Paris. It’s a movie because they couldn’t find people to speak on camera for it to be a documentary. It explains how some working-class hopeful get tricked into it by the lure of jobs (e.g. nanny).

A discussion followed the movie and the small group that came to watch was pretty colorful: doctors, journalists, activists, prostitutes, etc. — discussing topics such as choice, poverty, crime, regulation and morals. Sadly, nobody touched upon the core of the demand side: sexual needs. Still, it was quite educative.

BoJack Horseman (season 6)**

A season where BoJack is the adult in the room? Is that even possible? Not the best season (some were ****), but still ok. I hope the second part coming out in January will be better.

Always Be My Maybe**

A humorous rom-com with Ali Wong, an Asian-American female standup comic and Randall Park, of ‘Fresh of the boat’ fame.

Joker**

I almost abandoned this movie half-way. I was expecting entertainment and was just bored. The odd thing is that the acting was good, and special effects on par with the course for Hollywood. Martin Scorcese broke the director’s heart by calling his movie (and all Marvel’s) a ‘theme park’. I’m not sure what I was hoping for, but it wasn’t there.

The Great Depresh**

Gary Gulman’s new special is out on HBO! He also had a cameo in Joker, so 2019 is really his year. While I love his personality and lots of his work, I didn’t relate to, nor laugh much for this one. It felt more like a documentary about him and ‘surviving depression’ that a standup show. Still worth a watch I think.

Who Am I**

After watching Dark, I researched movies by the same director and found this one. It’s a German hacker story — nothing supernatural — with a bit of Fight Club spirit. A few things didn’t add up, but I found it overall acceptable.

Room 212*

French movie where a woman meets her husband’s younger self, and gets to reflect on her life and many lovers. The premise sounded like a comedy, but I got quickly bored despite fairly good acting (Chiara Mastroiani received an award for it).

Atlantics*

Senegalese ‘supernatural romantic drama’. I didn’t know anything about this movie except that it had won a Golden Palm in Cannes.

I am very wary of Golden Palms as half of them seem to be due to a political or social message, rather than the movie’s artistic quality (a bit like the Nobels for Peace and Literature).

Anyway, I had euros and time to spare so I gave it a shot. Lo and behold, it belonged to the bad half. I almost left mid-way but decided to see it through … to no avail. On the one hand I’m glad to support emerging markets and directors (this one was the first black woman to win the coveted prize) but it was well below my expectations. You win some, you lose some, I guess.

BOOKS, COMICS & MANGA

Believe***

By Eddie Izzard, the '‘executive transvestite’. This was the audiobook of his biography, read by himself. It turned out to be quite entertaining, including a flurry of amusing spoken footnotes. It shows how much self-belief, work, stamina and patience goes into building a career such as his.

Kurosagi - The Black Swindler (as in ‘black hat’)***

A story about a young con-man who only cons con-men (white swindlers or ’shirosagi’ シロサギ, from the egret bird. Apparently there is also a ‘red swindler’ type). It’s quite educative.

For great movies on con artists (not the ‘Ocean’ series) I recommend Nueve Reinas (‘nine queens’) a very fun Spanish movie (with a poor Hollywood remake), and The Gentle Art of Japanese Extorsion by Juzo Itami (my favorite Japanese director). The latter is a very funny movie about real yakuza tricks. Itami got assaulted (and maybe murdered) because of it.

Hedge Fund***

I bumped into this comic book series in a bookstore and read it cover to cover (6 volumes) in one sitting. It’s about a foreign young man working in finance in Hong Kong (where I lived for 2 years) who climbs up to become an aggressive Hedge Fund manager. The stories are tied to real people and facts (Greenspan, sub-primes, etc.). It feels like a recap of some recent major economic stories, with a few surprises.

Attack on Titan**

I’m not a fan of this manga series, but one YouTube channel I watch on occasion (a former aikido teacher who stopped believing in aikido’s as a martial art and got into MMA), found one episode where two titans fight with realistic jiu-jitsu techniques. He sat down with a BJJ instructor to comment on the moves. As a side note, in Japan I trained aikido for a few months in a dojo founded by a ‘living treasure’, who was also the technical director for Kurosawa’s samurai movie fight scenes. It was quite the experience.

INTERVIEWS & PODCASTS

Michel Houellebecq

The ‘enfant terrible’ of French literature, and likely the most famous living French novelist. I used to find him quite depressing, but now I find him realistic, thoughtful and humorous.

I watched several of his very rare interviews including this excellent one he gave recently in Denmark (with translation), that he said might be his last on stage. I really enjoyed it and found almost nothing to disagree with.

In ‘Staying Alive: A Method’, the movie inspired by Houellebecq’s book, we follow Iggy Pop and a few unknown artists as they explain how to keep creative in a world that mostly ignores or rejects you.

Houellebecq says a few interesting things there:

There are two types of artists: revolutionaries and decorators. (unattributed quote)

Unoriginal people do not exist.

When you provoke in others a mixture of horrified pity and contempt you will know you're on the right track. You can begin to write.

I am now re-watching ‘The Possibility of an Island’, a movie dealing with immortality, cloning, and inspired by a sect Houellebecq discussed with for a while. The movie production is not great but there are a few gems there. Alongside this, I am re-reading ‘City’ by Clifford Simak, who imagines a world where dogs rule, and evoke the past where humans might (or might not) have lived.

Joe Rogan Interviews John Carmack

You don’t know his name but you know his work: John Carmack created the pioneering video games Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Quake and is currently the CTO at Oculus. A very interesting podcast.

Enlightenment, Now!

I received an email promoting a ‘luxury retreat’ including meditation and Ayahuasca ceremonies (using ‘teaching plants’). Is it the next Burning Man? It costs about $5,000 for a week.

My experience the one time I took Ayahuasca several years back it was nothing like this. The disgusting mixture of plants and smoke tasted like a stale herbal brew in which someone extinguished a cigarette, and my immune system battled its poison violently. I remember I was the first to throw up in my bucket. For this, I got no vision of crocodiles or feathered snakes, and no enlightenment.

For less money than the retreat, the movie director Jan Kounen spent a year vomiting and filming in the jungle and made a documentary called ‘Other Worlds’. He also wrote a guide book for beginners (in French). Have fun!

—Ben

#39 | Deep Tech Tour, Amateur Art, 156 Episodes And A Dead Dodo

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The September scramble has started, I’m off to NYC tomorrow. Let’s make this quick!

MENU

  1. WORK: Deep Tech Trends Tour, Fund Update

  2. EXPERIENCES: Phone Karma, Artistic Attempts

  3. CULTURE: Dead Dodo, Comedy Specials, The Good Wife, Some Movies

  4. THOUGHTS: Basic Magic Typology, China’s Social & Tech Rise

1.
WORK

Deep Tech Trends Tour

A quick note about the ‘Deep Tech Trends Tour’ starting next week.

SOSV invests in 150 pre-seed startups per year, with a majority in deep tech (robotics, medtech, life sciences, etc.). I’ll present our research on long-term and emerging trends in the following cities:

Those are invite-only events for investors but the report will be online shortly after. Thanks to our main host Goodwin, as well as MotionLab in Berlin and 1E9 in Munich!

Fund Update

The new SOSV fund is cruising along and we might end up over our $250M goal. More details on Medium & TechCrunch.

Kickstarter

Our focus is mostly B2B / health tech these days so our startups now rarely use Kickstarter, but if you’re a ‘creative pro’ (photo, video, sound … PowerPoint?) here is a tool you might like.

2.
EXPERIENCES

Instant Karma

Once again, I found someone sitting in my seat when I boarded a plane.

It was a friendly lady but the trade she offered was poor so I declined. As I was tip-tapping on my phone during take-off, I dropped my phone. It then slid and disappeared under my seat as the plane tilted upward.

Was it some karmic payback? I waited anxiously for the long minutes it took the plane to level off — playing various rescue or lost scenarios in my head. Eventually I called the staff, who proceeded to ask every row behind me to search under their seat, but they found nothing. Eventually, I contorsioned to check under my own seat, and my phone was stuck at the row just behind mine, where a child was sitting and hadn’t looked. Karmic relief?

No Paint No Gain

I was walking around PMQ in Hong Kong, a former apartment complex for the police force (not including Jackie Chan), now converted into designer shops, and stumbled upon a painting workshop. For $25 they gave you a canvas, acrylic paint and brushes for up to 4 hours. It ended up being a pretty intense session and I carried the canvas all the way back to Paris :)

I had been very hesitant to paint because I found watercolor so hard to control, and this gave me new confidence. In Paris I went to several life drawing sessions at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere and experimented with charcoal and watercolor in addition to my usual pencil (I also bought an acrylic set). Progress awaits.

Tailor-Made Shoes

A friend was looking for size 45 shoes (US: 11+) in Hong Kong (he couldn’t find his size easily in Shenzhen). Walking again around PMQ we found a custom shoemaker! During the next 90 minutes my friend was measured, scanned (with lasers) and interviewed to design his new shoes. The price was almost $800 — but the story alone might be worth it!

Lost in Translation

I tried to translate Gary Gulman’s standup comedy piece about the state abbreviations into French. I think it turned out pretty good, though the final puns resisted my efforts — maybe simply impossible to translate?

Heat Wave

Paris had two serious heat waves over the Summer. It means peaks above 33°C, which is very rare in Europe, where most homes don’t have AC. I had ordered a fan online, but Amazon screwed up and the package went missing … I ended up with bad sleep during the first wave. I eventually got TWO fans and fended off the second wave. Now I understand why I heard in Singapore that the AC was among the best things that came to the country!

3.
CULTURE

LONDON & OXFORD

A quick visit that wasn’t a business trip for once!

I hit six museums: British Museum, V&A, Tate Gallery, Natural History Museums (in both cities), and the quirky Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford (well worth a visit).

Highlights:

  • The Oxford dodo, often depicted as fat, likely due to an unsuitable diet once in England,

  • A mummified cat in his X-rayed sarcophagus,

  • A shelf showing examples of ‘Treatment of Dead Enemies’, including shrunken heads and a nice Bakongo Nkondi nail fetish (it looked very powerful!),

  • My favorite sculpture at the V&A: a gladiator fighting a gorilla.

I wasn’t too psyched by the Tate — I’ve become quite non-plussed by most modern art — but some classics were there. I also saw two comedy shows but, sadly, Eddie Izzard wasn’t in town.

ART & SHOWS

I watched a handful of Netflix comedy specials.

Dave Chapelle***
Three shows: Sticks & Stones, Equanimity, The Bird Revelation. Covers many topics including the recent scandals affecting celebs, from digging into things they said or did, sometimes decades ago. More of a social commentary than comedy, still worth watching.

Bill Burr***
Three shows: I’m Sorry You Feel That Way, Paper Tiger and Walk Your Way Out. His angry character is entertaining, and allows him to get away with a lot.

Aziz Ansari: Right Now*
It’s easy to understand the humility induced by his #metoo-induced professional NDE. Still, I wasn’t sold.

Note that making a 1-hour special is no small feat: a professional comic needs to average about five laughs per minute, that means 300 funny bits in one hour. Each of those has been patiently refined, and is among the best of the many more that were tried on stage. No wonder only the hardest working can put out one new show per year!

SERIES

The Good Wife****
I first watched its sequel ‘The Good Fight’ on Netflix about a black-owned Chicago law-firm and enjoyed it. Then I started to watch this one, also about lawyers in Chicago.

Little did I know it would take me through 156 episodes over the summer… the show deals with all kinds of stories (some in tech — Bitcoin, Anonymous, search, non-poaching, etc.).

The acting is top-notch, which made the summer’s cinema offering pale in comparison (kudos to Christine Baranski — no wonder she was in the sequel — to Alan Cumming and to a surprising Michael J. Fox). I feel like I earned a law degree now, or at least the theatrics of it — Objection! (then pick among: argumentative / asked and answered / badgering the witness / hearsay / irrelevant / leading the witness / narrating / counsel is testifying / not in evidence / speculation).

The Office (UK)****
Re-watched this old classic. Still great. It made me think that #MoralHarassment is still awaiting its #metoo moment. I have endured some over my working years — including at a time when it didn’t have a name — and know many who did too. Not enough celebs working in offices to trigger a movement?

MOVIES

Brazil****
Re-watched this timeless 1984-inspired dystopian comedy, and noticed more details. Nothing beats a freelance heating engineer!

Bamboozled****
Third time watching this superbly twisted movie by Spike Lee, starring an African-American media executive who decides to produce a show to rub people’s covert racism to their face. Don’t be fooled by the lower production value, the story is great.

Once Upon a time in Hollywood***
The latest Tarantino movie. Pretty entertaining. With, as you would expect, numerous references to Hollywood nostalgia. I didn’t quite understand the historical re-write around Charles Manson though... Manson’s music can be found online, excepted the tapes edited while in jail by Henry Rollins, which apparently were never published. Manson died in prison 2 years ago, maybe those will come out one day? I might watch this movie again soon.

A Rainy Day in New York***
The latest Woody Allen — featuring several actors that seem like they play younger or idealized versions of himself, as usual :) I had a pleasant time with this modernized version of his timeless topics.

Crimes and Misdemeanors***
First time to watch this Woody Allen classic starring a philandering eye doctor. Quite enjoyable.

Never Look Away***
A German movie about a budding artist in East Germany during the worse time possible, inspired by a real story and made by the director of The Lives of Others. It mixes art, love and war with solid acting despite being over 3 hours long. The French title was ‘the work without author’, as some of the art is based on seemingly random family photographs (side note: it reminded me of the controversy about the copyright for the ‘monkey selfie’).

Thalasso***
A low-budget but fun movie starring Michel Houellebecq, the most popular French novelist alive, and Gerard Depardieu, France’s most famous actor, playing themselves as they meet at a spa where they are supposed to take a rest. The contrast between the brash style of Depardieu and Michel’s introverted style makes for great laughter, as they ponder on their predicament while smoking and drinking in hiding.

Parasite**
Widely-acclaimed Korean movie about a family of thieves who live off an upper-class family. I found it too forced and unrealistic past the first half. Better watch Memories of Murder from the same director (with the same lead actor too).

Life of Brian**
Another re-watch: the Monthy Python classic talking about Brian, the other messiah born in the stable next to the more mainstream one. Some good lines but I found it funnier the first time.

BOOKS

The Waltz of The Trees And The Sky***
Van Gogh died from a bullet in the stomach, and after walking for miles back to his hotel — not the typical suicide. This novel dives into the mystery of Van Gogh’s, looking into a possible murder or accident.

Amazing Decisions**
By Dan Ariely. If you are a reader of his previous works or WSJ column, or simply into social psychology and persuasion, you will not learn that much from this comic book version. The challenge is always the practice!

4.
THOUGHTS & MORE

Thoughts about Magic

I’ve been watching YouTube channels analyzing magic tricks. Also it’s good fun — and an uncle’s job — to know a few cheap tricks. I tried to come up with a simple classification.

  1. Cheats. It makes uses of custom props (trick cards, other apparatus). It’s interesting but hard to re-do. A classic one would be the fake thumb.

  2. Misdirection. Here I mean tricks that directing your attention. For instance, the trick used for guessing a word someone just read in a book.

  3. Angles. It’s not about making you focus on the wrong thing, here the trick is to hide what’s happening because you don’t see it from the right angle. For instance vanishing a card by holding it between your fingers.

  4. Faster than the eye. This one is fun because everything is right in front of you, only just too fast.

Tank (Top) Man vs. USA

China’s summers can be hot and humid and many men like to air their stomach to cool down. Well, that won’t be possible soon, at least in the city of Jinan (a second-tier city with a population of only 7 million). It has been labeled “uncivilized behavior” “seriously affecting the image of the city.”

Meanwhile, 6 states in America (Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma) allow all genders to go topless.

Copy Cat

You can clone your pet in China (there are places abroad too) for about $50k.

Best,
— Ben

#38 | Deep Tech, Scams & Mountain Stories

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2 months passed, here is what’s new.

MENU

  1. WORK: Deep Tech Seminars, HAX Demo Day in HK

  2. EXPERIENCES: Scams Galore, Standup in NYC, Etiquette Training

  3. CULTURE: Chernobyl, The Good Fight, Mountain Stories

  4. THOUGHTS: Two Private Jets, Faster than Bolt.

1.
WORK

Deep Tech Seminars

I completed last month the last of our five seminars on ‘Investing In Deep Tech’. We hosted them in SF, NYC, Boston, London and Paris, inviting 19 experts (mostly deep tech VCs) and over 750 participants (mostly VCs, deep tech and generalists). I wrote a summary here. I am now trying to turn those ideas into a media article.

HAX Demo Day in HK on July 10

After the SF demo day in June for pre-A startups, HAX is having a joint demo day with Entrepreneur First in Hong Kong on July 10 (6pm-9pm). It is mainly for investors, with a dozen of our pre-seed and seed stage startups. If you wish to attend email your name / job title / company / linkedin at haxdemoday@hax.co for an invite.

New Fund

The new SOSV fund keeps adding investors. We are now at about $230M. Our ‘soft’ target has been cleared, and we’re on track for our $250M goal. More details on Medium & TechCrunch.

2.
EXPERIENCES

For some reason, two scams (or three? or four?) are in there.

Chinese Police

My Mandarin teacher in Paris got a call from DHL saying a package with passport and bank card had been stopped at the China border. She hadn’t sent and wasn’t expecting anything so she was surprised. DHL said someone might have stolen her identity and connected her to the police.

The police asked for a video call to confirm her identity. She duly completed a QQ video call with an officer in his office. The officer told her someone had opened an account with her ID in China, and did money laundering, and that there was an arrest warrant to her name. He pointed her to a website where it was displayed (the URL was an IP address rather than a domain name).

The officer said they were already investigating several identity thefts and advised to not use any electronic communication and not tell anyone as she might be spied on via her mobile and computer, and might end up extradited if she talked due to the warrant.

They also mentioned her bank credentials might be compromised and they could provide a secure account to store her money until the situation is solved with the bank. My teacher freaked out and canceled the class on short notice, not sure what to do.

Quickly after she received a call from her parents in China (and picked it up): the police had called them because they had found her name on a website pretending to be a government one and used for scams.

Yes, as it turns out, both the DHL call and the first police call (including the video call in uniform) were scammers. They had likely found my teacher’s French mobile number on a website where Chinese people living in France buy and sell things. Those scammers definitely deserve more than an E for their effort!

London Cup Shuffle Scam

We have all seen the 3-cup shuffle some street scammers use. I was walking across a bridge in London when I saw one and decided to look closely. It’s a well-oiled machine with a diverse group of accomplices to make the ‘game’ more believable (with fake wins and losses from that crowd).

Of course you have ZERO chance of winning as the ball you’re supposed to find is nowhere under the cups when you put your money down. And they pack it all away quickly saying ‘police’ before you can say a thing after you lose. How do I know? I saw no cup had a ball below it when they packed it all! More details here.

Comedy in NYC

After reaching NYC and completing on of the ‘deep tech seminars’, I had noticed one of my favorite comedians, Gary Gulman, was on the line-up at the Comedy Cellar (likely the most famous standup club in NYC). It was too late to book and I just hopped on a taxi to get there at the last minute. The waiting list was already closed.

As they were getting the last happy few on the list who could get in, they asked ‘is anyone alone’? I was standing right there so I said yes and I got the very last ticket. One new thing was that they asked each of us to turn off our phone and put it in a sealed envelope. Never saw that before. I think it’s because comedians don’t want their act to leak online, especially those planning to release ‘specials’ (like Gulman).

I didn’t have the best seat but Gulman did the job. The level of others was a bit below what I had seen there before. Also, many comedians only join for their set (then likely rush to another club to practice & earn more), so they don’t know what kind of ‘crowd work’ happened before it, so the next comedian kept asking the same people the same questions instead of building on previous interactions. It’s also not cheap ($17 + 2 drinks minimum I think) — quite the business it has become!

I learned later listening to an interview on NPR that Gulman was drafted to play football but didn’t like the violence and competition, and quit. He has been fighting depression since then, it seems.

Waltz & Etiquette in Vienna

Pioneers, a tech conference in Vienna, had an interesting program for their speakers including some Waltz lessons in a 100-year-old school, and etiquette lessons. Waltz is harder than it looks! Thinking about what etiquette stands for was also interesting — from politeness to status to competence.

I asked the senior Viennese etiquette coach about my airplane seat-switcher conundrum, which he will think about. I think he said he had no problem turning down people who try and take advantage of his manners. I was asked again on a recent flight and politely declined the opportunity to exchange my window seat for a middle seat in the middle row!

System Error at US Border

I landed in Newark from Paris late in the evening and as I was in line at the border, everything stopped to a halt. The system was offline… for 2 hours! After about an hour officers started to distribute some water. They wanted to go home as badly as we did!

3.
CULTURE

ART & SHOWS

Enemy of The People (theatre)***
A doctor wants to reveal the contamination of the water at a small city’s thriving spa. But who is the true enemy? The spa managers? The corrupt mayor? The local newspaper? Or the doctor who might jeopardize the city’s thriving spa business?

Mind-Reading Show in Paris**
Not my usual fare but it was somewhat interesting. How could he read the little papers people had written when they stayed the entire time in a glass bowl lit from underneath? Then write past entry journals mentioning events that happened to audience members? We found some leads…

Picasso Museum***
After visiting his house near Barcelona, the Paris museum was a nice stop.

Chicago Outsider Art**
Another ‘Art Brut’ exhibition in Paris by self-taught artists, often inmates in lunatic asylums. Some interesting pieces.

Polunin in London?
During my last London visit I noticed the Ukrainian ballet dancer Sergei Polunin on a poster. He was to give a show shortly after my visit! For memory, he’s probably the best ballet dancer alive.

He is also known for some outspoken views, which got him canceled after he was invited to dance in Paris last year. Apparently the UK didn’t get the memo. I was about to book a seat and plan another London visit when… they stopped taking bookings for the show! They didn’t cancel it entirely (it was probably too late and costly) but I didn’t take chances and didn’t go. Will I get the chance to ever see him on stage?

SERIES

Chernobyl****
Now that was a good show. Well researched with just a bit of gender-washing (not sure if this is the right term?) as they made up a whistleblowing female scientist where there was none. A Ukrainian friend who grew up there in the 80’s said he was quite impressed by the effort they put in getting the details right. He said his hometown looked just like it. He also mentioned that as a child he was not aware of all the politics and of the rest of the world and life was quite happy. Last, he remembered the kids in school were told not to go out during the rain. Apparently Russia is planning to produce its own version highlighting the role of the CIA in the accident. Who knows?

The good fight***
I binged-watched this show about a black-owned law firm’s trials and tribulations. Lots of great actors in there, and interesting storylines for most of the episodes.

Game of Thrones**
I had watched only the first season. Now I also watched the last. I wasn’t too impressed by the storyline, the terrible battle tactics, the quick killing of the bad guy, and the overall ending. Jon Snow really knows nothing. I liked much better the alternate ending this guy imagined.

Strangers Things**
I had enjoyed the first season, less the second, and was quite disappointed by this third one. I found it quite tedious — from the storyline to the dialogues — but it was well suited to a long flight.

Tuca & Bertie**
Bojack Horseman really has something special. I had hopes for this new series by the same artist, with a character voiced by Ali Wong. Sadly, I just found it too scattered and the writing too weak despite some creative ideas.

Love, Death and Robots*
I had to check this on Netflix just because, but it didn’t work for me...

MOVIES

Pain and Glory****
A truly wonderful movie by Pedro Almodovar about an aging successful film director reuniting with an actor friend he quarreled with decades ago. You still got it, Pedro!

King of Comedy***
Here is an interesting movie in the ‘movies about standup comedy’ series. It features Robert de Niro as an actor who wants to break into standup. I thought the movie was a bit stupid until…

Mountain Film Festival***
I went to watch a series of short movies about mountain sports. They were all quite interesting but the most interesting part might have been the one called ‘Age of Ondra’ about a rock climber named Adam Ondra, the first to conquer a ‘9c’ route. This documentary is about his attempt to ‘flash’ a 9a route. That means climbing it on the first attempt. To prep, he simulates key moves blindfolded on the floor with his trainer (among other things). Here is the trailer. If you’ve watched ‘Free Solo’ you might like this too.

The Dead Don’t Die*
I really like Jim Jarmusch. I watched Down by Law (****), Night on Earth (***), Dead Man (****), Ghost Dog (***), Broken Flowers (***), Paterson (***). This one was his first horror movie and I found it god-awful. I almost walked out (I should have but was too lazy to do it — have you walked out on movies? I did several times).

PODCASTS & LECTURES

An evening with Ray Bradbury****
A wonderful 2001 lecture by the famed Fahrenheit 451 author about how to get good at things, and be happy with what you do. Among key ideas: if you want to write a novel, start by writing lots of short stories!

Joe Rogan interview by Jordan Peterson***
After Rogan interviewed Peterson, the latter interviewed the former. Joe Rogan is really an interesting character: standup comedian, TV host (Fear Factor), martial artist (BJJ + more), MMA commentator and ultra-successful podcaster (200M listens / month?). He’s also a crazy hard-worker.

Sam Harris on Culture***
This was a really good episode where he discussed with Nicholas Christakis, a sociologist and physician known for his research in the areas of social networks and biosocial science, about the ‘social suite’: eight qualities of humans that give us tremendous advantages (though not all unique to humans). It’s worth listening to.
1. Capacity to have and recognize individual identities
2. Love for partners and offspring
3. Friendship. Long-term non-reproductive bonds (elephants too! some more)
4. Social network
5. Cooperation
6. Preference for one's own group
7. Mild hierarchy (nor egalitarian nor autocratic)
8. Capacity for social learning & teaching

BOOKS

The Other Annapurna Story**** (not the actual title)
In 1950, right after the war, France needed heroes. It was decided climbing the Annapurna, the first summit above 8,000m, would provide one.

The climb was successful and hero engineering ensued: Maurice Herzog reaped the glory with his victory photo, his bestselling book, speeches and official appointments. His team-mate, the mountain guide Louis Lachanal is a blurry shadow, and his unedited version of the climb (Les Carnets du Vertige, or ‘Vertigo Notes’) was only published in 2000, long after he passed away. I managed to find this out-of-print collector item (it’s worth about $400) in a public library and read it.

Both men lost many fingers and toes, because Herzog would not give up despite the danger due to their delay and the monsoon season. Lachenal knew they might die, or at least lose body parts, and might never climb again. Lachenal was a professional guide and wasn’t suicidal. But Herzog would not give up and Lachenal would not abandon his climbing partner.

To me, Herzog clearly sacrificed himself (that’s his choice) and his companion (who wasn’t quite happy with it) to the mission, knowing his companion would get very little of the riches (all members were prevented by contract with Herzog from writing their own story for 5 years, and later coerced into keeping quiet or lose their job or reputation). My takeaway is also that we’ll never know if they really reached the summit. Lachenal looks trustworthy, but Herzog doesn’t and could have convinced Lachenal to lie.

If you want to watch some amazing footage from the real climb in 1950, their movie is on YouTube. In 1953, the New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay were the first on top of the Everest.

The Summit of the Gods****
To stay on the topic on mountain, this graphic novel is an adaptation of a bestselling Japanese novel about a rogue mountain climber who wants to attempt a solo climb of mount Everest, and a mysterious old camera who might belong to the British George Mallory, who went missing when attempting to climb the Everest in 1924. His body was found in 1999. Did he reach the summit?

Barbara, by Osamu Tezuka***
My exploration of the Tezuka universe continues after I read his ‘bio in manga’. In addition to erotic animation he also wrote a strange adult story about an artist and a hobo girl who becomes his muse. It’s worth a look.

Shop Talk****
This book is a series of interviews of comic book artists of the ‘golden age’. Among them are the people who created the superhero characters we see in movies today. If you thought Stan Lee invented everything, look into Jack Kirby and others. Did you know Superman (from DC Comics, 1938) didn’t fly at first? His competitor Captain Marvel (from Whiz Comics, 1939) did. The latter was even more popular than Superman for a while. One long lawsuit later, all is well. It was surprising to read about the great respect those artists had for French cartoonists like Moebius, Gotlib, and Bretecher. The French scene offered better distribution, higher status and more freedom to artists, and the results followed.

4.
THOUGHTS & MORE

Two Private Jets
I was attending Vivatech, a big tech festival in Paris and was awaiting the keynote of the CEO of a big Japanese company. His turn came and went. Nothing. I went to ask the organizers in the speakers’s room and was told his private jet had a problem and he couldn’t come. Three things came to mind: (1) There should be an app for that (2) Always have 2 private jets in case the first breaks down (3) If I had a private jet, I would probably have friends who do too. Maybe this CEO doesn’t have many friends? Eventually, I bumped into Gary Kasparov, who was around while I was investigating the case of the missing CEO. He’s quite into A.I.

Ghostbusters Song
As it turns out, it seems it was a rush job and rip-off of a Huey Lewis song.

Faster than Bolt
It is discussed that most athletic improvement these days is due to changes in equipment rather than human ability. Still, there is a high chance that a human running on all four will be faster than Bolt before 2050. Think of it as the sprinting equivalent to the the V-shape ski jump, or the Fosbury flop. The current record is 15.71s.

Well, that’s it for now!
— Ben

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