#44 | Covid Info/Life/Startups And Less Consequential Things

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Welcome to lockdown time!

I dusted off the old VR+mask pic which seemed timely again. You surely have your own sources on Covid-19 so I’m only sharing some thoughts here. Incidentally, this is #44 and a very unlucky number. The less consequential updates are below.


MENU

0. COVID-19: Around The World, An Expert, Economic Impact
1. WORK: Looking for Covid Startups,The Last Event in Paris
2. EXPERIENCES: Last [Everything], Lockdown Life, Covid Stocks
3. CULTURE: Dark Water Eastwood, Moon Indigo; I Finished Netflix
4. THOUGHTS: Special Forces, O2 & CO2, New Words


0.
COVID-19

I am not a doctor, a statistician, nor in politics. The situation is hard to assess, and strategies like testing, confinement and herd immunity all have their advocates and merits. Even if Covid-19 is not as deadly as feared, there might be collateral damage among patients who can’t access an overwhelmed healthcare system. Time will tell who was less wrong!

Around The World

  • The US is catching up after Europe and Asia. One Shenzhen-based colleague shared the details on the ramp-up and gradual return to business (still not complete). The scale of tracking, testing, and disinfection efforts are impressive.

  • Things seem to be getting under control in China, South Korea, and not too bad in Japan and Hong Kong. I was surprised my old Jiu-jitsu gym in Hong Kong was still open (but no handshakes of course!).

  • Sweden and the Netherlands are shooting for herd immunity. In the current panic it might sound like a ‘tragedy of the commons’ endangering everyone, but after reading the Dutch announcement, looking at numbers and listening to a top expert (below) it doesn’t sound so absurd. Now, this works best using widespread testing, isolation and treatment of patients — which don’t look ready.

In France

  • We’re now in confinement. The government has escalated measures, but overall is way behind on what needs to be done. In particular, testing capacities are still very limited.

  • The biased media coverage and shortage of masks make wearing masks feel like you either hoarded or stole them. Personally, I had a few leftovers from a pollution peak in SF over a year ago. It’s not perfect but surely better than nothing to protect yourself and others.

  • A little anecdote: in February, the elections for Paris mayor were imminent. But on Feb 14 (Valentine Day!), the candidate from the President’s party dropped out due to an affair and sex tape. Guess who they picked as replacement? The Health Minister! On Feb 14 she had said she wasn’t interested (and France had its first death from Covid-19). Yet, on Feb 16 she announced she was running. The wheel of karma turned, as always, and a month later she finished third in the first voting round, and decided to drop out of the race (the second round was postponed). She gave an interview to share her shame, and started the blame game. Well done.

An Interesting Expert

  • I am following the video updates from (possibly) the world’s top expert in infectious diseases (and chloroquine / hydroxychloriquine / Plaquenil treatments).

  • He is based in France and his latest updates (in French except this one) advocate for broad testing (the logistics of collecting samples safely being the main effort), confinement and early treatment of contaminated patients (since once in ER it seems the main issue is not the virus but the immune response). In short, a 21st century response vs 19th century. I hope France ramps up testing soon and updates its approach.

Economic Impact

When I drafted this newsletter I was wondering about a big QE. It now looks unavoidable, and very likely to cause inflation (more money supply for the same or less assets).

The question is: which assets will be safe?

  • Most stocks are down. The first affected were airlines, hotels, then it spread to retail and now most other sectors. How low can they go? How quick might they recover? Both the evolution of the virus and Government intervention makes things quite unpredictable.

  • Are some ‘anti-fragile’? Zoom is a rare case, as might be some online education or telehealth resources.

  • Commercial real estate will probably struggle, as businesses close or renegotiate their rents.

  • Residential real estate could be a safe bet (except Airbnbs, which are ‘hospitality’), but new transactions are unlikely to occur… unless some can’t pay their mortgage? Most governments seem inclined to help avoid evictions.

  • Gold is often considered to wither crises, but after a peak the price is now below its January level.

1.
WORK

Looking for Covid Startups

  • We are looking for Covid-fighting startups to fund via our IndieBio program!

  • We highlighted a group of startups in our portfolio engaged in fighting the virus, via treatments, tests or prevention, ranging sanitizing robots to testing kits. I encourage every investor to support the visibility and finances of their relevant startups — information and innovation can outpace the virus!

Deep Tech Investors Night

The event took place almost as planned — I only had to change the entire line-up of speakers, and had a no-show rate of 75% instead of the industry-standard 50%. It was still a good discussion, and nice group of ~60 investors (out of 250 RSVPs — we expected 80~100). Things escalated quickly in France after that so it’s likely the last (offline) event for a while!

Deep Tech Interviews

It’s on the back burner for now.


Alright. Time for more light-hearted topics.

2.
EXPERIENCES

Last [Everything] In Paris

Three weeks ago I went for the first time to the Paris Agriculture Show, which had become a staple for French politicians. Pat a cow, marvel at a sheep, see chicks hatch, have a craft beer. It was a fun 2 hours going around and tasting some local specialties.

  • That evening, it was announced the show was closing, and all gatherings over 1,000 people canceled.

  • The week after, I had my last art class (almost all members are seniors) and the next day my last Jiu-jitsu class.

  • That weekend I went to watch my last movie and went to my last restaurant.

  • The next day the lockdown started.

Lockdown Life

I thought I’d be better prepared to confinement, having done a few meditation retreats and being generally quite a homebody, but:

Exercise

  • The lack of exercise is annoying — I ordered a 12kg kettlebell online last week (and paid extra to have it fast). It still hasn’t shipped.

  • My fitness/yoga studio is going online. The first live streaming class apparently had 100+ people (vs. the usual 10~20 in the studio). The class was free with a tip jar at the end. It reminded me of some celebrity English teachers or streamers in Korea, Hong Kong and Mainland China who make millions from online classes. Maybe we’ll see some new services emerge from this!

Entertainment

  • Online, only a weekly Better Call Saul and Curb Your Enthusiasm cheer me up a bit, though the quality went down. I started watching Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak. Nice timing, Netflix.

  • On the upside, it freed some time for drawing and painting. I’m exploring new styles, and trying to learn from James Gurney’s excellent channel. He’s often painting mundane things, and starts with a mess that gradually turns into a masterpiece. On my side, one portrait happened because I was watching some Eddie Izzard comedy online. I realized I missed his show/marathon fundraiser during his visit to Paris in February, and decided to paint him instead. The result was … interesting.

  • I played a game called Pandemic on mobile. It’s originally an award-winning board game, in which players have to collaborate to cure diseases spreading around the world. I found it quite educative about the different expert roles. It’s well designed and quite tricky to win. It’s a bit addictive (and repetitive) so I stopped after a week.

Supplies

  • In economic crises there is ‘bank rush’. In health crises it seems there are cultural differences.

  • Most places had toilet paper, meat, milk and canned food as targets of choice; the US experienced a ‘gun rush’.

  • In Paris, stock has now mostly resumed to normal. Keep in mind that instead of eating at least one meal out, now entire families need to eat at home 2 or 3 meals a day. It’s quite some supplies and some work!

Social Streaming

  • The online family reunions that looked so unlikely in the British near-future sci-fi show Years And Years sound quite real now.

  • Some friends have started doing drinks over Skype, and some companies offer ‘coffee breaks’ video rooms, where their staff can take a break and chat.

GEMS Diet

  • For some, confinement might be the path to devolution. Call it the GEMS diet (Games, Eat, Masturbate, Sleep or Sex, depending on living arrangements).

Theme Song

  • If we’re at war — like was said multiple times by the French President — then just like in the movie Wag the Dog (one of my all-time favorites), we need a theme song. I suggest to adapt Sweet Caroline into ‘Sweet Quarantine’: Touching hands, touching me, touching you~

Covid Stocks

I am not an active stock trader. I lost a fair amount in my early attempts 20 then 10 years ago, and stayed out for most of the bull market, investing in startups instead. But a few times I’ve had a hunch:

  • Years ago, I bought Yahoo as a proxy for Alibaba when I noticed it was trading below the value of its holdings. I held onto it until after the Marissa Mayer debacle and Yahoo became Altaba, and the value was finally recognized.

  • Last Fall, I was looking for under-hyped tech stocks and bought some Zoom in November (partly thanks to the company’s low-level of yogababble). Obviously it’s done very well. Now the question is whether to sell or buy more…

3.
CULTURE

MOVIES

Dark Waters***
One of those ‘insiders’ movies. This time about DuPont and the Teflon poisoning scandal. The company paid US$671 million to settle more than 3,500 lawsuits in 2017 — after dragging the case since 2001! Should we throw away all our old pans?

Richard Jewell***
The latest Clint Eastwood opus didn’t disappoint. It covers the story of a security guard who discovered a bomb at an Olympic site in 1996, and was later suspected of planting it to be cast as a hero. I wondered why Eastwood picked this topic today. I think it’s to remind us that public opinion can go overboard, and doesn’t replace the law (also check his excellent Grand Torino and Million Dollar Baby).

Welcome to the Sticks***
A heart-warming classic French comedy telling the story of a post office manager from the South who has to move to the North, and dreads it due to long-lasting stereotypes about Northerners. A South Korean equivalent is My Teacher Mr. Kim, where a corrupt Seoul teacher is transferred to a rural school to lay low for a while.

Mood Indigo***
A French ‘surrealistic romantic science fantasy’ film adapted from Boris Vian's 1947 novel Froth on the Daydream — a long favorite of mine. Vian was a trendy and creative poet, musician (and big fan of Jazz), singer and more. Maybe the Kanye West of his time? The movie is directed by Michel Gondry, whose visual style and sense of pace was polished by making many iconic music videos in his early years.

Voulez vous rire avec moi ce soir**
A documentary on global standup comedy featuring some celebs. Quite a low-key production with a star-struck interviewer. Having Eddie Izzard saved it.

De Gaulle*
Maybe I wasn’t in the mood due to the feeling of ‘the last movie before lockdown’, but I found this story about France’s legendary WWII general to be underwhelming.

SERIES

Sadly, most of my favorite shows ended!

  • Years And Years, BoJack Horseman, The New Pope …

  • Only Better Call Saul and Curb Your Enthusiasm are live weekly (but, as mentioned above, not as great as before).

  • Dark and Stranger Things have new seasons coming, but I think they are getting worse with each season too.

Also, Netflix shut down all productions due to Covid. I guess we’ll need to dive into the back catalog, or … do something else!

BOOKS

Journey to the End of the Night**** (Louis-Ferdinand Celine)
A 1932 semi-autobiographic picaresque novel starting during WWI. I’m still early in the novel (I’m reading the version illustrated by Tardi), but its colorful and vigorous style really took me by surprise as I knew very little about it. It influenced Charles Bukowski and many others.

Next: The Virus Trilogy

  • The Plague (Albert Camus)
    Camus researched epidemics that happened in 1944 and 1945 in Algeria to write this one. Camus was a 1957 Nobel Prize and his book is in the public domain in some countries.

  • The Scarlet Plague (Jack London)
    Post-apocalyptic fiction novel by Jack London taking place in 2073, sixty years after the Red Death killed most people. I am a big fan of London’s Martin Eden (an angry working-class laborer becomes a famous writer and social critic), The Iron Heel (a near-future dystopian novel against capitalism), The People of the Abyss (a gonzo journalism account of London’s East End working-class poor). All public domain.

  • The Horseman on the Roof (Jean Giono)
    An adventure novel by an award-winning author. A young colonel is caught up in the 1832 cholera epidemic in Provence.

  • I didn’t include the Stephen King novel The Stand, as it includes some kind of sorcerer. If you want more sci-fi, the movie Twelve Monkeys (Terry Gilliam, of Monty Python and Brazil fame)and its inspiration La Jetee (Chris Marker) are also good.

4.
THOUGHTS

Special Forces

A few weeks ago, the judo/jiu-jitsu coach invited a bunch of people to help him move house. A very muscular guy showed up and helped carry the old cast iron radiator on his own. He turned out to be a member of RAID, the elite tactical unit of the French National Police (the army unit equivalent, GIGN, was featured in the Counter-Strike game series). Their job is to go where regular police can’t, and generally involves armed suspects or criminals. He’s a sniper, but still trains for all aspects of intervention. He told me that three quarters of his time is training (he loves training). He found training more stressful than real situations. It felt good to see such professionals were on the job! (both for RAID and for moving heavy stuff).

O2 and CO2

What happens with too much of either? Not good things. Both can dissolve in your blood, and cause all sorts of nasty effects.

  • While not as immediately toxic as CO, CO2 poisoning starts quite early — anything above 5% is not great (one breath is at ~4%). Smokers have apparently better tolerance. I am wondering how wearing a mask might affect CO2.

  • As for oxygen, it’s possible to live weeks on 100% oxygen — astronauts and divers do it (though sustained high pressure O2 is not good).

New Words

  • Covid Baby: a possible consequence of social distancing.

  • Covidivorce: when social distancing becomes a necessity.

To another week of sweet quarantine,
— Ben

#43 | Covid Edition, Some Humor, Shows and McChoconuts

Irregular newsletter to personal contacts.
Sign up is here / Unsubscribe at the bottom
Find me: Twitter - LinkedIn - Medium - Website

2020 has been quite eventful so far — Covid-19 almost makes us forget Brexit.


MENU

  1. WORK: The Last Event In Paris, Upcoming Interviews, Covid Startups

  2. EXPERIENCES: Dance, Gaming

  3. CULTURE: Some Humor, One Great Movie and A Bunch of Shows

  4. THOUGHTS: Cause and Correlations, New Words


1.
WORK

Deep Tech Investors Night (Paris, March 12, 2020)

The Hello Tomorrow conference has been postponed but we are so far maintaining our Deep Tech Investors Night on Mar 12 in Paris during Deep Tech Week. About 20 other events are still planned that week, including half a dozen by France’s sovereign fund. We’ll see if things change by Thursday!

Deep Tech Interviews

The covid-19 situation helped kickstart this. The next newsletter should have more info.

Covid Startups

It’s great to see that several of our portfolio companies have technologies that can be part of the solution, like the lab robot OpenTrons, or Caspr Bio, who developed a testing kit. Science and technology to the rescue!

2.
EXPERIENCES

Contemporary Dance

I had taken a few classes of salsa and tango in the past but didn’t persist. This year, as an experiment, I gave a try to contemporary dance. The first two were not very fun, but while it got better, I did not get rid of the feeling that we looked a bit like the dancers in Fatboy Slim’s ‘Praise You’ (trivia: the lead dancer is Spike Jonze). Unfortunately, distance and schedule didn’t allow me to continue. Maybe some other time!

Gaming

I visited a friend who works in A.I. and plays Starcraft. I hadn’t played for 15 years (and on older versions), but it was fun. Unfortunately it reactivated my taste for Plants vs Zombies 2, which I ended up completing within a week. I improved my tactics but I’m happy it’s over!

3.
CULTURE

SHOWS

Mike Birbiglia — The New One (Netflix)****
I am not 100% sure who recommended it to me, but it was a fun discovery. Long-form and clean storytelling and humor. A nice change from the many angry, shouting, swearing standup comedians out there.

Bref**** (online)
If you want to brush up your French, or just watch an example of outstanding video editing skills, check this series of 2-minutes clips portraying the daily life of an average Frenchman. Each is like a 90 minutes movie in 2 minutes. I watched some ‘making of’ videos too — and while the show is not so recent, it’s very impressive (you might find them with subtitles, I didn’t look, but maybe you can infer most from the video anyway).

Alex Lutz*** (standup)
A French stand-up comedian (in French). Or rather, storyteller, as his most interesting sets were not on the humorous side. Oddly, he’s much better at capturing female than male characters (for instance, one elderly woman who sees the bright side of life despite a cascade of catastrophes).

Flowers for Algernon*** (theatre)
This one is more of a tragedy. A nice solo play based on the novel, describing the parallel fates of Algernon-the-lab-mouse and simple-minded Charlie Gordon, whose IQ skyrockets following an experimental surgery … until it doesn’t.

Feeding Paris**
An exhibit about the history of the food supply of Paris over the past centuries. There were fields near the Arc de Triomphe! The ‘guinguettes’ — countryside food & entertainment — have disappeared, and so have the slaughterhouses at La Villette.

MOVIES (Novelties)

Sorry we missed you****
This is the best movie I watched this year so far. As often (always?) with Ken Loach, it’s about the struggles of the UK working class, this time with a perspective on what ‘gig economy’ and ‘on-demand’ really mean. Note that I did not like his I, Daniel Blake who won the 2016 Palmes d’Or, but this new opus is a real gem.

What Did Jack Do*** (Netflix)
This Netflix short by David Lynch is pretty strange, which is exactly what I would expect from Lynch. I liked it, thanks to Lynch’s voice and charisma. Will Netflix be the future of shorts too? I read it’s already a game-changer in Hollywood since there is no theatrical release and ticket sales with Netflix, agents had to update their business model and contracts with stars.

The Story of a Gaze (Histoire d'un regard)**
A new documentary and research on a French war photographer and journalist named Gilles Caron who died in Cambodia in 1970. It explores some of his iconic reporting. The most interesting was how he was able to create opportunities for great shots by thinking ahead, and how the presence of a photographer can first change people’s behavior, then the perception of the event itself (this one of a student leader in Paris during the 1968 ‘revolution’ comes to mind). His final reporting was an assignment he didn’t really want, as he was now a father...

It also reminded me of a good movie about the Japanese war photographer Taizo Ichinose, who died at 26 in Cambodia. The movie is called One Step on a Mine, It's All Over (Jirai wo fundara sayônara). The lead was Tadanobu Asano, one of the coolest and most shibui actors (check also Twilight Samurai, Taboo, and the odd Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl for more of his acting).

The Farewell**
I liked Awkwafina in Crazy Rich Asians but here the scenario didn’t fly. I didn’t know much about her, but apparently she first shot to online fame with a vagina song.
Was it award-worthy? Not in my book. The best part for me was to be able to understand what she said in Chinese...

Ad Astra*
Watched that one on the plane as it looked somewhat sci-fi. Turned into a movie about father issues. The top voted tags on it on google were ‘slow’, ‘boring’, ‘overrated’, ‘forgettable’. Yet, 6.6/10 on IMDb, 84% on Rotten Tomatoes, 80% on Metacritic. Oh, well.

MOVIES (Re-runs)

Kiki Delivery Service***
A Studio Ghibli classic I re-watched on the plane. Story of a 13 yo witch who leaves home to become the city’s resident witch in another city, doing Prime deliveries. I realized I had forgotten a good chunk of it. It’s — as most of their works — a very charming tale with a strong and independent female protagonist.

The Dinner Game***
A group of rich friends invite ‘idiots’ with odd hobbies, to make fun of them without them noticing. This time, it backfires. This movie was a popular theatre play first, starring some of the most iconic French actors.

OSS 117: Cairo, Next of Spies** and Lost in Rio***
Two of the most beloved French comedies, centered on a very French 007 special agent. It’s based off a long-running series of books, which first novel was published in 1949, 4 years before the first 007.

Jefferson in Paris*
Movie director James Ivory was visiting Paris and presenting one of his older movies. Sadly, that movie wasn’t quite his best ... I would have gladly skipped it but it was mandatory to attend his later ‘Masterclass’. I am trying to remember what Ivory said but I can’t recall much anything, aside from the vibe of a creative and mellow older gentleman who had a quite productive and satisfying life with its share of failures and struggles, and encouraging people to do their own thing. This also reminded me I never saw the ending of ‘Call Me By Your Name’, as it got cut when the flight landed …

Anon*
By the writer of The Truman Show and Gattaca! Unfortunately, it ended up being a fairly weak movie related to the future of anonymity.

SERIES

The Young Pope****
It’s a few years old but this short series was a very fun show, about Jude Law becoming Pope, and the intrigues going at the Vatican and beyond. The Cardinal Secretary of State is outstanding — a kind of quiet Eli Gold (for The New Wife fans). So much so that I painted a portrait of him. Side note: Jude Law’s net worth is apparently about $45m. More and more celebrities turn to venture capital investment to multiply their wealth, and leverage their fame.

The New Pope***
It’s the sequel series, featuring John Malkovich as a reluctant new Pope while the other is out of order. Still a good show though it lost some of its pace and charm.

Curb Your Enthusiasm (Season 10)**
Not the best season of this iconic show, but still an interesting watch. Larry David’s character is the nagging voice in the head of many of us that we rarely let out, complaining about others. It might bring you a smile next time someone folds their laundry right inside the drier you’re waiting to use — or give you the boldness to voice your discontent, thinking ‘what’s the worse that can happen?’.

BoJack Horseman (Season 6)***
The show picked up a bit for the last season. Also includes the usual ‘experimental’ episode. Still, kudos to the creators for pushing the envelope in both form and themes.

Better Call Saul (Season 5)***
Not the best season so far, but I’m quite attached to this hustling, independent and ethically ambivalent working-class lawyer guy. Great acting, even if the story is not as fresh as it used to be.

The Mandalorian**
I was a game master for the Star Wars paper & dice RPG in my teenage years and generally enjoyed this universe. A friend of mine seemed obsessed with Baby Yoda, which lead me to trying out this series. The production value is pretty good for its budget, but I found the writing a bit weak. One episode was a weak remake of Yojimbo. As for the 50yo baby yoda, no wonder he’s a bit slow, when you see how under-stimulated he is all day. It’s aggravated neglect. I thought various scenes didn’t make much sense, from the hero not paying attention to his previous cargo and more. For fans only, I guess. Now, I also encourage you to check online how they managed to create their rich sets — it’s the future of cinema!

Cheers** (Netflix)
Not sure how I got there (Twitter, I recall), but I watched parts of this Netflix show that follows the life and training of an award-winning co-ed cheerleading team. I fast-forwarded a bunch, but the intensity of training was impressive. ‘We do it until we do it right; then until we can’t get it wrong!’.

BOOKS

The Way of the Bow***
A short book by Paulo Coelho telling the story of a famed Japanese archer. Can you still shoot a target when full of fear on a dandling rope bridge? Can focus and diligence permeates all your life? Despite my wanting to believe it, my jiu-jitsu coach wasn’t too supportive of the idea that skills translate so well from one field to the other…

Cities***
I finally finished this classic series of anticipation stories by Clifford Simak, which pictures a world where humans have left and dogs rule the Earth. If you’re thinking ‘Planet of the Apes with dogs’ — it’s very different. In POTA, apes are a bit like a primitive human society, while here the dogs are very intuitive, have a different value system, are vegan, and cooperative with all races, even helping other animals to change their diet and behavior too. The final twist in the book involves another emerging species (guess who?), which has a link to the book I read next:

Tomorrow, Cats**
While partly inspired by the book above, I had high hopes as Bernard Werber is a famous French ‘science novelist’ (his ‘Ants’ was great). Sadly, I found his attempt at anticipation where cats become intelligent quite unimpressive.

4.
THOUGHTS

Cause And Effect

Many are familiar with the ‘marshmallow test’: if a child can postpone the satisfaction of eating a marshmallow, he is offered two. And delaying gratification is seen as a strong predictor of success in life … until it isn’t: apparently scientists discovered they might be more variables, like — surprise, surprise! — the socio-economic background of the child.

In the same vein, I came across an article about whole milk vc reduced fat milk. Guess what? Those drinking whole milk are less likely to be overweight! (at least that’s what the editor wrote despite the warnings of the researcher). What to conclude? Probably that the science doesn’t easily separate cause and correlation and that there are, again, more important parameters at play. Not only fat has been wrongly accused by sugar for decades, but also one could think families with higher income are more on top of the latest dietary realities. Whole Foods shoppers are likely in better health, on average, than those shopping at Walmart.

Obsessions About The Future

I wrote a post about how Japan saw 2020 back in 1920. It looks like we’ve been obsessing with flying cars for a while. The flying hospital exists but hasn’t scaled. Maybe covid-19 will help?

today, obsession with the old myths (flying, etc.).

New Words

Begpacker: the often-Western hippies who beg as a way to keep vacationing.

Mysogynoir: intersectional discrimination directed towards black women.

Hard Seltzers: an alcoholic drink made up of carbonated water, alcohol, and often fruit flavoring. I was quite disappointed after reading more closely the label on the ‘cider’ sold at my local M&S, and seeing it was not a product of fermentation (yet still labeled ‘cider’ — you can’t trust words anymore!).

McChoconuts: the latest dietary supplement created by Mickey D’s. It’s a kind of nutella-filled burger. Will it cause more casualties than Covid-19?

That’s all for now. Let’s hope humanity is still around for the next newsletter!
— Ben

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

Irregular newsletter to personal contacts.
Sign up is here / Unsubscribe at the bottom
Find me: Twitter - LinkedIn - Medium - Website

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.

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  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

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