#24 | J-1 For HAX Demo Day In SF, Life Lessons From Bullying & Megabots, Puzzles, And Musings On Food And Children

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Work aside, August in France was sweet. Family, friends, nice food. And a personal research about children. Now it’s BUSINESS TIME. More below.


01/ Quick News | Demo Day! And a few bits and bulbs
02/ Speaking Gigs | SF, HK, Seoul, Paris, Shenzhen
03/ New Experiences | Japanese speech, VR, Puzzles, United (yes, like the airline - and yes, I'm fine)
04/ Cultural Corner | Mostly Desmond Morris and Twin Peaks
05/ Thoughts | Losing to Win, Bullying, Diversity, Food, Indie Science and Children


Quick News

+ 15 startups just flew to Shenzhen for HAX 11 a week ago.
+ I wrote my first piece for VentureBeat on Hardware Unicorns. It seemed popular.
+ I gave 3 speeches in Japanese in Tokyo. First time - that was rough! More details below.
+ I keynoted at the annual Fidelity Asia event (paid gig), and for a large MNC. Good feedback :)
+ Wrote a few blog posts, largely about "startup safety nets"
+ Our Hardware Trends report passed 50,000 views!
+ Our big HAX Demo Day is this Sep 13 in SF (tomorrow!). If you’re keen to see 30 amazing startups, and 2 great panels of luminarists, sign up here! (we have 700 VIPs and maybe a few spots lefts - we're filtering a bit).


Speaking Gigs

+ Sep 21, HK: Global Corporate Venturing event (20% off with code HAX20)
+ Sep 22, HK: Panel at HBS HK Association Startup Competition
+ Sep 25, HK: SuperReturn (a PE/VC event)
+ Sep 28, Seoul: K-Global Connect Pangyo Festival
+ Oct 26, Paris (tbc): Hello Tomorrow
+ Nov 1, SZ: Credit Suisse China annual conference (private)


New Experiences

Speech in Japanese***
It was almost as stressful as trying standup comedy. I did not take time to rehearse nor get it reviewed by a native speaker. I did 3 presentations about hardware startups and innovation ecosystems. The longest one was 40 minutes. People seemed satisfied and I’m probably harsher on myself than I need to be, but I’ll do better next time! A longer post here titled “The Pain Is The Way” with video.

If Lao-Tzu said it...

VR in HK**
Tried a bunch of the latest content & tech in a VR game center. Not bad but nothing I would really want to try again. h/t to Jon Russell @ TC for pointing me to this one.

Numbers Game
I came across this innocent-looking math puzzle. I was told it was the top level (level 5) in this series but I still had a go at it. Several hours (real hours), trials, and pages of calculations later, I had made some progress but was nowhere close to a solution. I looked for hints online and learned that the first person to solve it took years. Even with the main equations you still need to try a bunch of solutions. Of course with a computer it’s another story but where’s the fun then?

The wicked hexagon

You’re supposed to arrange number so that every line (of 3, 4 or 5) sums to 38. Good night, and good luck. If you hate someone, get it as a gift on Alibaba - get 200 for $3 a piece if you have lots of enemies. Schadenfreude guaranteed!

Now if you want something more achievable try puzzle #28. I solved it in about 1 minute. You can also try to write the equation, or approximate numerically ;) And one birthday riddle if you feel fit.

I <3 United****
I might be the only one left, but I do. I left the house late, taxis were scarce, I arrived too late for downtown check-in, missed the first express train to the airport, repacked all to fit 2 bags and avoid check-in, dashed to the counter who said “let’s try it”, got priority for security, bags double-scanned, frequent visitors lane at customs, train to gate - which was almost the farthest - and made it for the last call.

Eventually, the plane took off with some delay but I was in, ready to enjoy my Hindu meal (my judgment is less harsh on special meals and they get served first - I got puzzled looks from the crew member). Oh, the relief. I am now writing from the sanctity of the flight - all lights off though it’s 2pm HK time.

One little worry is the man couching loudly across the aisle, whom I was told is mentally challenged and would not accept to wear a mask…


Cultural Corner

+ Movies

Margin Call***
I watched again this financial catastrophe classic and it did not disappoint. What have we learned?

120 Beats Per Minute**
A recent hit movie inspired by the French arm of the ACT-UP movement, who pushed for AIDS awareness in the 80s. Won a prize at Cannes. This type of movie is difficult to criticize - as the social message is strong and you’d be called a hater. I found it somewhat interesting as a documentary but it did not trigger a whole lot of emotion, and the abrupt ending seemed designed to wait for a standing ovation... that maybe only happened in Cannes. I wonder if Cannes is not devolving to the level of some of the recent Nobel Peace and Literature Prizes - who have become obvious political tools.

The Stallion (L’etalon)**
An old movie by one of my favorite French filmmakers, Jean-Pierre Mocky. A veterinarian notices the wives of a small seaside town are sexually dissatisfied and recruits a kind-hearted troubadour to offer "medical assistance".

+ Books

The Artistic Ape***
I enjoyed this recent book by Desmond Morris, of “Naked Ape” fame. An original look at art through the ages (even animal art!), and an analysis of its purposes.

The Nature of Happiness***
Another Desmond Morris book. His definition: happiness is not when things are good, but when things “get better”. I guess this makes happiness a derivative function? The book explores it various flavours: achievement, competition, cooperation, sensory, cerebral, rhythmic, risk, selective, tranquility, devotion, suffering, chemical, fantasy, comic, accidental.

The political fiction book by Michel Houellebecq, arguably the best selling French novelist alive. He explores how France could elect its first Muslim president in 2022. His book was released before the “Charlie” attack and pulled out of shelves for a while after.

A graphic novel by a guy spent five years around Gerard Depardieu, likely the world’s most French famous actor. Gerard has a very unique and “free” personality. He also became a Russian citizen in 2013 (after first moving to Belgium) for tax and possibly comedic reasons. Moscow is beautiful. He can hang out with Snowden and pay only 13% tax - wait, 6% ! - instead of 75% on income above 1 million euros in France. That sounds capitalist to me! By now we know that words like socialism,

The introspective autobiography of philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, much derided by his better-born peers. I’m only in the first book and he’s fretting over lots of small things so far, and gradually understanding class society. If only he knew!

Foam of the Daze**
I went to see a play based on Foam of the Daze / Froth on the Daydream (L’Ecume des Jours). I love the novel and was curious about the play. Nice performance by a cast of 3 actors but it was very hot in the tiny theatre, and it’s a sad romantic story (it was called “the most poignant love story of our time” by another famous writer). I highly recommend the book (****), and if you can read it in French it’s a pure beauty.

+ Video

Steve Martin Teaches Comedy (Masterclass)***
My casual exploration of comedy continued with this series of videos. A methodical approach to crafting and delivering an act. It’s engaging and interesting information, and shows how much work goes into the craft. Steve was called out of retirement to do this, as he now focuses on playing the banjo (which he does very well).

Picasso is shit***
An interesting take (in French) by the unusual fitness expert / draughtsman / urban philosopher Frederic Delavier. He argues codes of higher social classes push people to pretend to call “art” even pieces devoid of skill and beauty, to belong to the group of aspire to. My take: if a piece doesn’t move you or doesn’t show skill - it's not art to me. See Desmond Morris's book above for more ideas.

Twin Peaks Season 3****
So I give it 4 stars because it’s a gift to have David Lynch given almost free rein over this. It’s not all great and polished - some of the SFX are cheesy. It doesn’t always make sense - usually we’re mostly fed narrative forms so anything out of the norm is unsettling. But it’s just another world full of strange characters and mysteries. Who else than David Lynch would give massive screen time over 15 episodes to a character who does almost nothing? And who else than his fans would tolerate it ;) ? Dougie, welcome back. Fan Trivia: which other Lynch movie character had a plastic glove?

Many thumbs up for Twin Peaks!



“Put things back where you found them” - My dad
Indeed, I should have set his trimmer back to its original setting. He ended up giving a very short shave to his prized beard.

Lose To Win
Some time ago I was at a Chinese tech event where they were planning a fight of giant robots. US and Japan have some, and China wanted to join. What’s interesting is that someone who knew more told me that the plan was to have the Chinese robot LOSE. When I asked why he said “because China wants to become a leader in robotics and A.I. and hurting their pride is a good way to motivate people to work hard.”

Lost Children
I met with a few friends and family members and spent some time with their kids too. I had forgotten how childhood is not all fun. One (mixed Asian/white) girl suffered a racial insult (which initially got her confused as she had never faced such situation) and bloody nose in middle school (she scratched back the face of her attacker - a boy). She switched school. Now a few years later she is about to get her black belt in karate (at 14! and I wouldn't have known).

Another friend’s son had skipped a grade and was being picked on for his small size (since he’s younger), and even kicked by some mean girls. In the second case, the parents were not fully aware of the situation. I had skipped a grade so asked a few questions to see if all was good and figured out it wasn't. I advocated physical training for self-defense (BJJ, karate, boxing or muay thai).

​It's a bit sad to explain to a 12 year old that being physically strong for a man helps with confidence, socializing and status - it feels a bit like the kid is losing some of the innocence of childhood - but it's the reality of the world and is likely to help in the long run. Let's see how long it takes him to get a black belt. I haven't told him yet that there's no speed limit ;)

You probably know those festival woven wristbands that you can’t take off? Well, I can. I found a way to take them out fairly quickly and without trace. I was pretty happy with that. Of course someone on the Internet had figured that out before me so here it is.

Diversity Debacle
The topic is still red-hot in the U.S. tech world, and spreading to other geographies and industries. Did you know that in some places you can get fined thousands of dollars for (knowingly) not calling people with the right genderized pronoun (like “ze” or “hir”)?

It becomes interesting when you realize (just look at Facebook options) that there are dozens of gender identities. I suggest using “shirz”. Incidentally, the series The Office had an episode on “Diversity Training” on the flight - I can’t recall if the British version had one but it might have been a lot funnier. We’ll see where this slippery slope takes us but it looks like we haven’t reached the bottom yet. It feels that the penalties might soon be more severe than the crimes - there is already a distinct mccarthyism flavor to it.

And to put thing into perspective, I had a discussion with a relative’s wife recently and noted that the progress made by women over the last 50 years is nothing short of astonishing. There are still some gaps but… my grandma wasn’t allowed to have her own checkbook and now we have women leading countries, CEOs of MNCs, etc. And to be all-inclusive, there are even rumors our very own French president and aspiring action figure might be an undercover homosexual… and who cares?

Food And Fitness
I’m looking into nutrition a bit more closely these days. The prevalent belief I found is “calories in / calories out”: exercise doesn’t matter that much compared to making sure you spend more calories than you take in - or “you build muscles at the gym, you stay lean in the kitchen” as the coach of my short-lived jiu-jitsu training in Germany used to say. And of course there is the problem of protein. Note that I’m not trying to lose weight, rather trim a bit and gain muscle. A few guys in Silicon Valley seem to enjoy days-long fasting, but I’m not sure of the benefits. I tried 24h and it wasn’t very hard so I might do 48 or 72 as an experiment.

Now the thing is that I listened to a Sam Harris podcast with the anti-sugar guy Gary Taubes who wrote “Why We Get Fat” , “Good Calories, Bad Calories” and “The Case Against Sugar”. He claims that the “calories in / calories out” belief comes from a very old and questionable study. And while it appeals to logic, the problem is differences in metabolism and absorption rates from person to person. He explains that a major problem is what happens from an endocrine perspective, especially with insulin. Sugar is a major suspect.

Sadly, the prevalent doxa is that it’s all about calories and nobody funds serious research looking into hormonal aspects despite growing evidence - just thinking of the difference in muscle and fat gains and distribution between men and women during puberty should at least raise the question.

But science is full of Dr. Zaius who would never risk their career and reputation exploring something that is against the trend. And industry is not very motivated to have us eat less and better. On top, if you’re slightly depressed and slightly aroused, you’re a much better consumer - but that's for another conversation.

“No budget for you”
Dr. Zaius, Minister of Science and Chief Defender of the Faith - a coincidence?

Rogue Two
As a side note, France gave birth to indie scientists that are ostracized despite their skills and the potential impact of them being onto something: for instance Jean-Pierre Petit, an astrophysicist currently promoting an alternative theory to “black holes” (his summary of a recent conference is depressing - in French), and Luc Montagnier, a Nobel-prize winner (no less! and for the discovery of HIV) who is continuing the work on “water memory” of Jacques Benveniste, who passed away. in 2004. Despite being a respected researcher, the topic is so radioactive that Montagnier had to move to China to find funding! Maybe “controversy” is where progress is truly made? If China welcomes such edgy topics, maybe the next breakthroughs will happen there…

Lost Children - Part Deux
Last - if you made it until here - I have been talking with friends, reading, thinking and observing the pros and cons of children. Genetic legacy to joy in the house, meaning… versus impact on your life, well-being, freedom, relationship and more important: the responsibility of bringing someone to a world that the first Noble Truth of Buddhism doesn’t make inviting. There are also the challenges of giving the best chances to a child (from words to horse-riding or else), the costs, and being a guide or role model. And all the “learned helplessness” taught by society. One guy advocated a “revolution against the industrial system”, arguing “progress” was more like “devolving”. Maybe I’ll stick to an uncle role. Anyway, food for thought!

Until next time!
- Ben