#46 | Podcast, Covid Event, Last Dance, 3 Types of Training and Yoyoka

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Are you deconfining? Here are some news from the past month.


MENU

1. WORK: Podcast, Covid Event
2. COVID LIFE: Covid Theatre, Raoult, Stocks, Deconfining
3. CULTURE: The Last Dance, Baldwin, Jane, Willie 1er
4. THOUGHTS: Covid Justice, 3 Types of Training, Yoyoka


1.
WORK

Podcast

Things have been cruising past the initial learning curve. Seven episodes of the Deep Tech: From Lab to Market podcast are now online. I particularly recommend the recent ones with Different (who published a great report on investment in deep tech) and Fifty Years (a mission-driven early stage deep tech VC). One anecdote: during one of the recordings, a nephew bumped into a heavy glass table which shattered on the floor (nobody was hurt). If anyone needs such sound effect, I have edited it out.

Deep Tech Startups Against Covid

I am producing and co-hosting an online event on May 28 (9am PST) featuring VCs who each backed a handful of startups fighting Covid-19, including innovations for prevention, testing and treatment. RSVP is free here.

2.
COVID LIFE

Around The World

  • At this point, caution with at-risk population (mostly >60yo), early testing and treatment, and selective isolation make the most sense to me.

  • I have a nagging feeling that many governments are stuck with performing ‘Covid Theatre’ (like ‘security theatre’ in airports), which I would also call the ‘goalkeeper effect’: it is statistically more effective not to dive, but the optics are bad if you don’t, and nobody gets blamed for diving the wrong way vs. not making a move. Meanwhile, millions are stuck at home, the economy is wrecked and taxpayers will foot the bill directly and indirectly via government debt and inflation.

  • I translated another of Dr. Didier Raoult’s videos (turn on English subtitles), where he’s looking at various country data, and concludes Covid-19 is likely on its tail end in many countries, and that a ‘second wave’ is very unlikely (notably as the Spanish Flu — the only major one reported with such characteristic — had its first wave in the summer, while Covid-19 started in the winter).

  • The hydroxychloroquine (+ Zinc?) debate — tainted for many by Trump’s endorsement — raises questions about the duty of care of doctors and governments, and the lack of economic interest of industry in repurposing known drugs vs. developing new treatments. If Raoult (and Trump) are right, there won’t be much money to make.

  • The New York Times published what I see as a hit piece on Raoult: He Was a Science Star. Then He Promoted a Questionable Cure for Covid-19. Despite the title, photo and overall character assassination, I think most of what is written about him portrays a free thinker of the kind that makes useful discoveries. You’ll make your own judgement.

(Somewhat) Confined life

  • We can now go around freely in France up to 100km away from home.

  • Restaurants are limited to takeaway. Cinemas and other public venus are still closed.

  • The main highlight is that I restarted sports with a few friends in a ‘home dojo’, which boosted both morale and fitness. Some forests also re-opened so I went to do some light rock climbing. I won’t take trees for granted anymore!

Covid Finance

  • Overall, I think the most interesting public companies are (1) Those that were overly punished (2) Those benefitting from Covid-19. I focused on the first type and generally didn’t built enough conviction to buy the second type as they seemed already ‘recovered’ a month ago … In retrospect, they were quite safe bet and unlikely to go down (thanks to high demand). Hindsight is always 100%!

  • Among the stocks I mentioned last time and kept going up (maybe too much? Shopify, JD, Peloton, Upwork and Fiverr. The latter two have been going gangbusters over the past month, but while I was quite sure about the offer side skyrocketing, I doubted the demand side, and didn’t like that both are still unprofitable.

  • I can’t explain to myself how so many stocks and the S&P 500 are back where they were 6 months ago considering the economic slowdown and massive wave of unemployment (e.g. How is Facebook at $230, its highest ever?). It looks like a lot of money doesn’t know where to go … Unless it’s an anticipation of the inflationary effect of an unprecedented QE?

3.
CULTURE

MOVIES

My Uncle from America (Mon oncle d'Amérique)****
The inheritance or help of an ‘uncle in America’ is an archetype representing an unexpected fortune coming your way. This trope was already found in a Balzac novel back in 1844.

  • In this movie, it’s a distant echo, as we follow the connecting destinies of a working class girl who wants to do theatre, a farmer’s son, and a middle-upper class civil servant.

  • In parallel, a scientist gives short insights into the behavior of lab rats and their response to basic needs, rewards, and punishment (leading to fight, flight or apathy) as a reading of human behaviors and trajectories. The editing of the movie is quite interesting, mixing various sources.

Overall, it rang quite true, and the performances of a young Gerard Depardieu and others are great. Apparently the director initially wanted to title it ‘The Sleepwalkers’, a more befitting title to this illustration of a form of social determinism.

Whiplash***
I re-watched this movie about a student drummer pushed at wits end by an abusive teacher. A Chinese friend said the teacher is a tiger parent. I had new thoughts about this: this approach can work on some, but it crushes many more and destroys joy. Yet, excellence seems to come consistently from people who decide to take their craft seriously to rise above. The question is thus: what makes someone take a path seriously?

The Last Dance****
I never followed TV sports but a sporty friend recommended this Netflix show on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls as ‘the best sports documentary of the last decade’, and I have to agree it’s the best I’ve seen (though my sample size is pretty small). Especially understanding what caused guys like Jordan, Pippen and Rodman to do what I wrote above: take their craft seriously.

  • For Jordan I believe it was a combination of brother rivalry, a need for love and recognition within his family, combined with a mother who challenged him to train to improve over a summer after he got rejected from a youth team draft. That instilled a growth mindset and a focus on the craft rather than ‘talent’. Also, it seemed what he initially wanted was to play baseball! (and he tried during his first retirement). Is Jordan a failed baseball player? ;)

  • For Pippen, poverty in a large family seemed to be a strong motivator (and also why he signed a 7-year contract that turned out undervalued).

  • It’s less clear to me for Rodman, but it sounded like he was pretty much drifting homeless until he decided to try basketball. Later on, dating Madonna helped him focus, and take things seriously on the court, while continuing some of his off-court antics.

I took note of some quotes:

(his mom recalling MJ’s failure to make the team) “My words to him were ‘if you really want it, you work hard over the summer’.”

This sounds like a great way to show not only support, but also to foster a growth mindset.

(about his gambling hobby) “[I don’t have a gambling problem], I have a competition problem.”

MJ was obsessively competitive and even his gambling looked skill-based. This might come from his craving to be acknowledged by his parents and among his siblings.

(about his team mates) “I’m gonna ridicule you until you get on the same level as me.”

Not necessarily the best way to motivate everyone to excel (see ‘Whiplash’), but MJ might not have known many other ways. Fortunately coaches Doug Collins and Phil Jackson seemed to have.

(about some supposed taunt from an opposing player) "Smith never put his arm around Mike and said, ‘Nice game, Mike.’”“He’s always finding some place to find something to get him all fired up”

An odd but effective way to motivate himself!

  • What is also interesting is how MJ would make up such insult in his on mind to fuel his motivation. It sounds a bit like the guy in Memento.

  • What decides a person to maintain this distorsion bubble, and — in the case of MJ — a competitive spirit way past what was needed to impress his family?

  • What decides someone to keep upping the ante toward the next difficult goal way past its initial ‘usefulness’? And is this a satisfying way to live?

Some manager and investors say they like ‘PHDs’ = Poor, Hungry, Driven people coming from a place they never want to go back to.

  • I first heard it from Josh Wolfe (founder of Lux Capital).

  • Then I found prior uses by Mario Gabelli (founder of Gabelli Asset Management Company, late 90’s?) Rick Pitino (basketball coach, 1997).

(about a player from another team they were trying to beat) “He played on the front of his toes. Give him a head-and-shoulder fake, go one way, he can’t stop.”

This, to me, showed the level of mastery Jordan had reached.

“Michael didn’t allow what he couldn’t control to get inside his head” and (from memory) “Why worry about shots I haven’t taken yet”

MJ has all the Zens!

“Start with hope”

Or in the words of Antoine de Saint Exupery: “If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

SPOILER ALERT (though I guess I was among the last ones to know it)
The ending of season 1 is quite anti-climactic:

  • We hear the management couldn’t afford to overpay for its players, and MJ regrets not having one more year.

  • I read up on Wikipedia what he was up to afterward and found golfing, charity work, consumer products and being a team owner but nothing seemed to stand out.

  • MJ is now 57 and could surely do more great things — but what is he interested in proving to the world now?

I Am Not Your Negro*** (Netflix)
A documentary on the life of James Baldwin, an African-American novelist, playwright, essayist, poet, and activist. A piece of America’s social history and struggle with race, from the point of view of an acute observer, writer and activist.

The Lives Of Albert Camus***
A documentary on the author of The Plague, who grew up in poverty in Alger and died in his forties in a car accident 2 years after receiving his Nobel Prize. I couldn’t help but see parallels with Jack London, one of my favorite authors — in the way he was doing ‘gonzo journalism’, and the protagonist of his ‘Martin Eden’ — as well as the main character in Kim by Kipling, a foreigner born in India and in love with the country and its people (despite the prevalent colonial views of the time).

Jane*** (Netflix)
A documentary on Jane Goodall, an English primatologist and anthropologist (now 86yo) and one of the 3 famous Trimates women who were sent by anthropologist Louis Leakey to study hominids in their natural environments. They studied chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans respectively. Jane was the chimp girl. It certainly wasn’t an easy job—a single white woman in the wild with little training for extended periods of time—but even more impressive was how her mom had raised her to be this risk-taking, and even came along!

Willie 1er (Netflix)***
After his twin brother's death, a 50-year-old (simple) man finally decides to move out of his parents' house and to the neighboring village. A first film by young grads from Luc Besson’s film school. I enjoyed it and found it quite endearing. The guy’s credo is: “An apartment, I’ll have one. A scooter, I’ll have one. Friends, I’ll have some. And you can piss off!”

99 Francs**
I gave a second try to this French movie, a satire on the modern advertisement business after watching the two OSS 117 with actor Jean Dujardin. I was also encouraged by the fact it was directed by Jan Kounen, whose documentary and experience with shamanism and Ayahuasca were very interesting. I felt the movie was ok and a bit outdated.

Russian Dolls (Les Poupees Russes)**
The second movie of the Spanish Apartment trilogy by Cedric Klapisch. It’s an entertaining romantic comedy but I liked better the last one, Chinese Puzzle.

Roll: Jiu-Jitsu in South California**
A documentary on the early years of BJJ in the US, with Brazilians coming over to the welcoming shores of SoCal for fame and fortune. I didn’t find it as interesting as Choke but noted that competitions made the style more cooperative (fight another club vs. each other) yet possibly less effective due to more rules.

Planet of the Humans*
I thought Michael Moore might have brought some new light on the environment and the flaws of the green movement, but it turned out to be a poorly researched and biased documentary that he only produced. I found it a waste of time.

4.
THOUGHTS

Covid Scam?

I came across this UK website selling test kits and PPE and couldn’t tell if it was a scam or not. It this an official site? Is this pretending to be? The fact that the domain was registered on March 31, 2020 does not give a lot of confidence.

Covid Justice Warriors

Has someone told you aggressively to wear a mask in a place where it’s not mandatory yet? (e.g. walking in the street). Justice awaits!

The New Horseman

The ‘Four Horsemen of the Internet (and Civil Liberties) Apocalypse’ used to be Terrorists, Drug Dealers, Pornographers and Pedophiles.

  • It looks like viruses/pandemics will be the D’Artagnan to those Four Musketeers in the latest assault on privacy and freedom.

  • Here is a black-mirroresque illustration with the charming spot robot dog from Boston Dynamics / Softbank helping enforce social distancing in parks. Add some flying drones to that it’s going to be a lot of fun.

The Three Types of Training

I was discussing with the BJJ coach about the difficulty in keeping morale high when consistently training with stronger opponents: in a way, I have been losing almost all sparrings for about 2 years, as my training partners were more experienced, often heavier, and kept training too! The coach reassured me that I was now taking out people who started later, as well as many of the judo guys who don’t train specifically ground work. He also clarified the three types of training:

  • TO WIN: The first type is when you try to win. You are also careful not to lose, and will keep distance, defend, protect yourself, disengage. Such bouts tend to have much less action and as a result, less technical learning.

  • TO PRACTICE: This is when you are trying new things and follow your instinct. It will often fail and you will end up in bad situations or losing. But if you don’t try new things you will get stuck always doing the same thing, and will not improve your instinct and ‘decision speed’.

  • FOR FUN: Winning is ego-boosting, testing is intellectually interesting, but if you forget to have fun in practice, it can become a drag. I think this is the major flaw of ‘Tiger Parenting’: it strips out the joy of practice and winning.

Finding the mix that works for your goals is tricky, but the idea is to be clear about what you’re doing — and ideally making it clear to your partners too.

Jungle Survival

For some reason, the guys at Jungle Survival carved a nice little niche for themselves building elaborate pools and structures from scratch in the jungle. Some called it ‘real life Minecraft’. It is certainly a time-consuming gig, I hope the millions of views bring good income! (I heard a ballpark figure that 1,000 views = $1-$10 so they should be ok, even after paying their video editor if they don’t DIY).

Yoyoka

If you’re still reading here is a little reward for you: it seems that John Bonham, drummer for Led Zeppelin, came back to Earth as a ten-year-old Japanese girl. If it doesn’t put a smile on your face, I don’t know what will!

Good Times Bad Times (Led Zeppelin)
Can’t Stop (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
Virtual Insanity (Jamiroquai)
Rosanna (Toto)

Bonus: Smooth criminal by Michael Jackson’s drummer

To deconfinement and beyond!
—Ben

#45 | New Podcast on Deep Tech, Covid Life: Infestation, Finance, Workouts, and a few Bits and Bulbs

Irregular newsletter to personal contacts.
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After 4 weeks of lock down in Paris, we just got … a 4 weeks extension. Meanwhile, here is what matters.


MENU

1. WORK: Going Remote, COVID Startups, New Podcast!
2. COVID Life: Worldwide, Dr. Raoult in English, Infestation, Finance, and Swans
3. CULTURE: Jean de Florette, Saul, Curb, Devs
4. THOUGHTS: Villain, COVID neologisms


1.
WORK

All Remote

Our accelerator programs have largely moved online, and we keep investing more or less at pace. Note that our Shenzhen office has partly reopened for business, but coming in and out is not simple, with borders closing and quarantine.

Startups Fighting COVID-19

  • Our fund is looking for more startups to invest in — here is the statement from IndieBio (our life sciences program) and HAX (our hardware program). The initial investment is $250k per company.

  • I’m also working on a larger selection to share and put a slidedeckhere in a hidden link. Let me know if you have comments or see important things missing!

Deep Tech Podcast

Finally! It was quite some work but it’s there. It’s titled ‘Deep Tech: From Lab to Market and the first 3 episodes are out.

  • Feedback welcome — the various tools I used made me sweat a bit (never move or rename a source file you edited in Audacity!).

  • I wanted to use a sample from Soylent Green’s OST but did not find a simple way to get the rights. If you haven’t seen it, the opening montage is a masterpiece and, of course, I love its soundtrack. The movie style is a bit dated, but still a great story.

  • Follow @labtomarket on Twitter for future episodes!

2.
COVID Life

I am (still) not a doctor, a statistician, nor in politics. But here are some thoughts.

Around The World

  • South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong continue to surprise. I heard that Bali was mostly spared too. In the case of the first three, the experience with previous outbreaks surely paid off. Korea’s playbook came out this week and The Guardian covered Hong Kong’s approach. Both are worth a read. Interestingly, even regular flu is down in Hong Kong as a result of measures. In Taiwan, people wear masks and disinfectant is ubiquitous. It seems to work. They also test and quarantine selectively. Taiwan and Bali might have been my favorite options to wait it out...

  • In France, the government and media said — until recently — that masks were not useful for the general public, and still hasn’t grown much capacity for testing.

  • The counting method for deaths attributed to the virus seems to be varying widely depending on the geography: some cities or countries count pretty much ‘anyone dying with a fever’ (thus over-estimating), others only those that tested positive and that died in hospitals (thus under-estimating, as some die at home or in senior homes).

  • The ‘fatality rate’ is also a tricky number: if you only test those in critical condition, your death rate will be about 100%. If you test widely, including asymptomatic people, then it might be less than 1% (see Dr. Raoult’s video below for more on that).

  • In Wikipedia’s ranking of countries by their hospital beds, the top 4 are Japan, Korea, Russia and Germany. The US ranks #32.

  • Our guy Dr. Didier Raoult got some recognition abroad for his approach with chloroquine (President Macron even visited him last week). More importantly he’s seeing the number of deaths is below seasonal averages in Marseille where he’s based, and the number of reported cases going down, which is great news. He’s a prominent global expert on infectious diseases, and one of the points he’s also making is that antiviral treatments might only work early on. By the time you’re in ICU, the virus might already be receding, but your immune response is killing you. So a different treatment is required there. Unfortunately, his videos are all in French - the one from last week already clocked 1.4 million views. I made a rough subtitled version here (you might need to turn on manually the English subtitles).

  • Trump announced he’s canceling WHO payments, saying they failed at their basic mission and many people, including Bill Gates, are very unhappy. The US contribution is about $120 million per year. China contributes about half of that and France 1/6th. Tuvalu, of the ‘.tv’ domain fame pays about $5k. Sounds about right. Oddly, the Guardian article mentions that Hong Kong followed the WHO guidelines — but their experience with SARS and others, and the proximity of Wuhan helped act faster.

Confined Life

What’s worse than confinement?

Many things, surely. But an outbreak of mice while you’re confined is probably one of them. When it became clear that my apartment had become a destination of choice after nearby restaurants closed and neighbors took off to houses in the country, I had to learn how to deal with the unexpected rodents. For the record, I never saw more than two at any one time, but that was enough to take action.

  • So do you go for slap traps, sticky pads, poison, or traps keeping them alive? If you’ve ever seen how the sticky pads work, and how the poor thing tries to rip itself off it, you might have gone, like I did, for the classic ones (1.2 euros each).

  • But how to bait? Should you use Emmental, Brie or Parmesan? I learned later that meat was also good. Anyway, Emmental won hands down.

  • After catching two with the traps, plus one that fell on its own into an empty trash can (not the smartest one for sure), and reading that mice can have up to one litter of 6 to 8 young per month, I realized I had to take another approach. I looked for holes and cracks, and ended up doing some improvised woodwork and masonry. So far — no new mouse — so good.

Another fun thing when you’re locked down is plumbing issues. An unnamed relative had a major issue, whose solving involved calling a plumber with an electric drain snake, who removed the blockage 7 meters into the pipe, and ended up charging 800 euros. A friend whose dad was a plumber said anyone could DIY this with a mechanical snake and a bit of patience for less than 100 bucks (and keep the tool). Get yours early, and better do some maintenance before pipes get stuck!

France limited outings to one hour, and to the vicinity. It is now only possible to exercise outside between 7pm and 9pm (I was reminded once by a policeman, who fortunately didn’t fine me — it’s 200 euros, I think). After trying online workouts (I got bored with those—and yes, I received my kettlebell), I am now practicing jianzi. I also received notice of drawing classes with live models from two studios and might give it a try. If you’re curious to know what people do in confinement, here is a chart of the most and least sold items on e-commerce.

Covid Finance

Overall, the stock market is very interesting to look at, as the continuous updates on lockdowns and government bailouts introduce much variability, and some stocks can go up or down by 10% in a single day.

Of course, some sectors have a much better outlook than others:

  • Some are logically up: Amazon, eBay, Chewy, Shopify, JD.com (e-commerce), Slack, Zoom (remote work tools), Teladoc (remote consultations), Peloton (home sports), Nintendo (gaming), Delivery Hero (food delivery).

  • Some kinda logically: Upwork and Fiverr (freelancers platforms), though not sure who’s buying from the influx of freelancers.

  • Some are down: anything retail, cinema and senior care.

I haven’t been very active with stocks for years, but I had bought Zoom stock in November. I sold all of it a week ago, when it seemed that it was all ‘priced in’ at around $150. Days later, security issues and a lawsuit sent the stock down to $110. It’s now back to $150 … but I sleep great.

Now, I was also eyeing Luckin Coffee, the ‘Chinese Starbucks’, for a while, waiting for the stock lockdown period after IPO to end to observe what would happen. Imagine the potential of a Chinese Starbucks! Great pitch to Wall Street indeed. It reminded me of the no less great pitch of Renren, the ‘Facebook of China’ — which, with a closer look, had little to do with Facebook in terms of business model ... Anyhow, Luckin had deployed thousands of stores in just 2 years, and seemed like it could be something. Now, I’m glad I waited: a massive fraud was revealed, the stock plunged and is now suspended. The guys at Muddy Waters (a short seller specialized in China stock) had announced their short based on a leaked report back in January. Maybe they are retired by now? Citron Research announced other shorts too. Chinese listed companies definitely have some transparency issues … And remember: as some bankers say, a long is a short that failed! ;)

B&W Swan

Funny enough, Nassim Taleb, the ‘Black Swan’ guy who’s a very strong finance expert, wrote a piece saying that this outbreak is NOT a black swan (sorry, Sequoia) but a white swan (here on Bloomberg too), as:

  1. We knew something like that would happen at some point. Among others, Taleb wrote about it in 2007 and Bill Gates gave a talk at TED in 2015.

  2. It was - with preparation - largely preventable.

He’s also very critical of bailouts of the companies (rather than the people) that were not cautious, saying ‘If it’s bailed out, it’s a utility’ and that ‘You don’t try to time insurance’.

A friend commented that while real estate (especially commercial) might tank, if you consider how much they made over the past decade, you need to average things…

Taleb is one of the few economists that is actually strong at maths and statistics, and loves to use his skills to humiliate the less numerically-armed economists and sociologists. Here he is destroying IQ.

Putting now everything together:

  • If there is a low, but not negligible, chance for either total destruction or wild success, insuring yourself or buying an option seems - if well calculated - quite sensible (to simplify: a 1 in 5 chance of a 20x return?). That’s the point of insurance for houses, cars, health and more. So why didn’t governments plan better than Wimbledon?

  • Do ‘active pessimists’ (or realists?) survive better than optimists? And are maybe also more successful? In Man’s Search For Meaning, the author recounts that people who had found meaning for their life survived better in concentration camps. I would argue that the active pessimists did even better by packing away and living abroad since the 1930’s.

  • As an example, one NYC-based friend sensed, back in February, that if the virus spread it would send airlines, retail and others tanking. He bought put options that went straight up when the virus spread. A few weeks in, looking at Europe and its connection to NYC, he thought things might worsen quickly there too, he bought plane tickets and left (the same or next day) with his family to a safer country. Worse case scenario would have been a slightly expensive trip abroad. As it turned out, it was the right call.

3.
CULTURE

MOVIES

Nothing very new as all theaters are closed, but the catalog has gems!

Jean de Florette****
An oldie based on a novel by Marcel Pagnol. This was a fortunate find. A city man inherits a countryside land that a greedy neighbor wants to buy. The neighbor and village know the land has a spring but will anyone tell? The acting is top-notch with Depardieu, Auteuil, Montand and more.

Manon des Sources***
The sequel to Jean de Florette, some years after the events. Good acting and storyline though Depardieu is not in it.

Gone girl***
A woman disappears from a unhappy marriage. What happened to the model for her parents’s popular children books? Quite good.

Marriage story**
This one was promoted by Netflix with good reviews. Sure, this one is more modern, but I think on the topic of divorce Kramer vs. Kramer has my preference.

THEATRE

The School for Wives***
Some theaters are sharing their stage plays online for free. This one is a Moliere play by the Comedy Francaise. An aging middle-class bachelor afraid of being cheated on has sheltered a young girl for a decade in the hope of making her the most naive and faithful wife the world has seen. Unfortunately, as she gets to marrying age and before any wedding, a handsome young man sees her at her window… Not the most beautiful verses (I’m a Cyrano fan), but still an entertaining classic.

TV

Better Call Saul****
The new season is ending soon. It’s still very good. For memory, this show focuses on a good-hearted lawyer that cuts corners. It might last longer than the Breaking Bad series it spun out of!

Curb Your Enthusiasm***
This last season was pretty, pretty good. Sadly it came to an end. I am re-watching some bits of older episodes. If you’re not familiar, Larry David is an old and rich TV writer. In each episode he breaks some social convention (e.g. complain about the quality of the lemonade at a kid’s stall) and is ready to defend his views and face the consequences (which often ends in him getting shouted at, or banned of some place).

Devs**
The — quite promising — story pits a super A.I. in a battle of determinism vs. free will. I don’t mind contemplative movies — I loved 2001 when I watched it again as a grown-up — but here I couldn’t resist the urge to watch the show at 1.7x speed. The main characters seem to be able of only two facial expressions each, and the whole plot was, to me, too weak. A friend who works for NASA was raving about it, but I failed to be ravished. This show is by the same director who made Ex Machina, which I also didn’t like much, and that my NASA friend — again — loved. We generally have similar tastes, but here we’ll have to agree to disagree!

BOOKS

The Plague***
By Nobel-prize winning Albert Camus.

  • The story of a (fictitious) plague outbreak in a city of Northern Algeria, from the perspective of various French citizens and visitors — a priest, a journalist, a doctor, a smuggler, a civil servant, a criminal in hiding, a judge and a wealthy dilettante.

  • I didn’t realize it when reading, but the story is also an echo to people’s behaviors during WWII (the book was written in 1947): the unsung heroes who fight daily without shine, the ones answering the call early or later, those in denial, those taking advantage of others, those who flee for various reasons, the great unifier of a common threat and the equalizer of death — taking young and old alike—, and the reality that the battle will never be over, lurking underneath, waiting to reappear.

  • As a side note, Camus was born in Algeria in 1913 (a French colony from 1830 to 1962), raised by a deaf and illiterate single mom. He was likely headed to a bad place, but a teacher noticed his potential and everything changed. Long story short, he gets the Nobel at age 44, then dies in a car crash two years later.

4.
THOUGHTS

VILLAIN

After reading up on the birth of spy characters OSS 117 and 007, I came across the real-life inspiration for the arch-villain Blofeld. It is a Russian-Greek fellow named Basil Zaharoff who became a successful arms dealers during the Spanish War, WWI, then ventured into oil, casinos, financed a Greek war, and even funded a few early aviation projects and various philanthropic donations (including monkey house of the Paris zoo). When Zaharoff died, Georges Soros was 6.

NEW WORDS

Some new Covid-related words.

  • Coviolent: when confinement becomes too much.

  • Covid pop: stocks that benefit from the pandemic.

  • Zoom bombing: trolling a Zoom call uninvited.

  • Coronorphans: a bit dark… but I saw a Curb episode where one of Larry’s friends (likely in his sixties) announces that he’s now an orphan because he just lost his last parent (Larry mocks him).

  • Covidepressed: it could be from confinement, or PTSD of frontline workers.

  • Virus/Mask Diplomacy: donating medical equipment as a form of ‘soft power’

That’s about all for now. Wear a mask, wash your hands, and I hope your government and mine build testing capacity, look into repositioned meds, and does selective confinement, otherwise we might be in this for a while!

Confined in Paris,
—Ben

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

Irregular newsletter to personal contacts.
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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

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