#33 | Euro Tour, Watercolors, Mashups and Cheddar Sauce

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I just concluded a long European conferences tour. Some new things.

MENU

  1. WORK: Euro Tour, M&A Masterclass, Robot Unicorns

  2. NEW EXPERIENCES: Sake, Standup, Watercolors, Staph

  3. CULTURE CORNER: Taiwan, Istanbul, BoJack & Saul = Lovable losers?

  4. THOUGHTS: Artists as Startups, Fake burgers (not vegan)

  5. PROJECTS: Podcasts (soon)

1.
WORK

Euro Tour

Busy few weeks. Went to Denmark (twice), Germany (twice), Turkey, Spain and UK for events and meetings. Not much direct impact yet, unfortunately. Time will tell!

Video of my talks:

Which one had 20 people? Which one was paid for?

Next, I’m in Paris for the InvestEurope conference, in London on Oct 30-31 for NOAH and in SF for our M&A Masterclass on Nov 16 (see below).

M&A Masterclass

After the four Startup Exit Masterclasses in June (see material here, and summary on TechCrunch here), we are back in SF in November with a tech M&A Masterclass (mostly for corp dev executives). We will hear from the master himself: John Chambers (and a few more). The former CEO & Chairman of Cisco completed 180 M&As (!) during his tenure. I’m pretty stoked to have him — it should be good. Let me know if you’re interested as we might have spots left (90 RSVPs for max 100 seats so far). I also recommend his book that just came out: Connecting the Dots: Lessons for Leadership in a Startup World — $20 well invested, especially the M&A chapter!

Studio Audience

I traveled to Odense (a city in Denmark) for a robotics conference. Sadly, only about 20 people showed up to my keynote (video is here) — everyone was next door listening to startup pitches. Making lemonade, I turned my talk about robots into an article (The Hunt For Robot Unicorns) that got accepted by IEEE Spectrum, who tweeted to their 100,000+ followers. Always a good reminder that the largest audience is online (where information also lives forever). Offline is mostly an opportunity to create and try new content!

2.
NEW EXPERIENCES

DoubleSpeak

I’ve been enjoying recently the speed-up functions for audiobooks and talks on Audible, Blinklist (more about it below) and YouTube. Double speed is often manageable (or 1.5x), and saves you heaps of time. I wish it worked with people too!
Ask your favorite neuroscientist whether or not it impairs recollection (I suspect it does — when doing public speaking the pace and pauses as sometimes as important as the content, or let it ‘sink in’).

Sake Show

Paris had its annual “Salon du Sake”. A friend of mine is in the trade and invited me to check it out (I went last year too). I’m not much of a drinker but some explanations were interesting, such as the ‘polishing rate’. It removes the bran of the special rice used to sake. A 50% ratio means half the rice mass is left. 20% would be a very high grade. It makes the taste more ‘in focus’. Thinking of how much is discarded out of sight is interesting. Here is a quick NHK video to know more. Maybe every craft is like sake: you need lots of raw material and hard work to get to the crisp essence. It’s not called the grind for nothing ;)

More Standup

My previous newsletter stopped in Taipei. There, I noticed they had standup comedy open mics and decided to try my luck again (it is my 4th time). Among other things, I told the story of my health check in Manila (see previous newsletter). I had a better mindset, but little time to prepare, so I ended up reading partly from notes (I am making excuses…). It lasted 6-7 minutes and got a few sparse laughs. I discovered a lot of things that didn’t work :)

The audience drinks to forget my set in real time

Jordan Peterson quote:
“The fool is a precursor to the hero/savior. If you’re not ready to be a fool you’ll never start anything new.”
Definitely applies to standup. My best result is probably that a few months ago I motivated a girl to try it. She has now been part of a first paying show! For more, this NYT profile of Jerry Seinfeld gives a good glimpse of the craft. Finally, I saw a show in London this month — free but pretty average. You get what you pay for?

Watercolors

I have been doing life drawing casually for a few years, but never dared to do watercolor. The reason is that with watercolor, you can’t erase stuff, or cover it up. It’s there it’s there (or it’s complicated). Finally, after meeting another casual painter in Taipei (much more skilled), I bought a small set and completed so far a grand total of six small paintings (each takes about 1 hour — I’m pretty slow).

First 3 with too large brushes and no instruction. I’m not excited by painting architecture and landscapes but I tried… Still, it’s ‘watercolor-y’. Can you figure out the 742 differences? Or see some of the basic technical mistakes I made?

Then I got better brushes and read up a bit online about technique. The first I did below had an ukiyo-e vibe and I decided to explore this style. Also it’s much easier to paint a character with a VR headset and a monochrome background (which took some research to figure out how to paint- finally getting closer on the last one).

La Nouvelle Ukiyo-e: The Floating World of VR. Signed in 汉子

Staph!

If you know what it means, you’re cringing already. For others, welcome to the wonderful world of the staphylococcus bacteria. “It is commonly found on human skin and causes no adverse reactions at all” — except when it does: “They can also cause skin irritations, and be life-threatening if the infection reaches the heart, lungs, or joints.” An infection can look like a benign bug bite, then turns into a hard and bulbous swell. I found a bearable drawing and photo online so you get an idea (mine was on the neck under my hair).

It’s painful!

Ironically, it wasn’t from sports: it was in the Philippines. I found out in Taipei and went to the hospital ((葡萄球菌感染 - pútáo qiújùn gǎnrǎn). It healed with a week of antibiotics — 733 NTD (about $20) for consultation and medicine.

Tank Man

I had my second ‘floatation tank’ experience in Phuket, after a first in HK. This time I went ‘all in’ for 90 minutes. Strangely, I started to feel restless after 45 min while the 60 min in HK were fine. A bit too much in one go? The owner tried to sell me magnesium salts — but I wasn’t there to rebalance my pH, minerals or for skin treatment. I think Richard Feynman (an avid floater) probably built up gradually toward his regular hour of floating.

HAMMAM MIA

I forgot to mention last time that I tried a popular hammam in Budapest. I wasn’t impressed. The place had interesting decoration but was nowhere as clean or pleasant as a Japanese sento, onsen or rotemburo, or fun like a Korean jimjilbang.

3.
CULTURE CORNER

Taiwan

I had a bit of leisure time to visit rather than the usual business trip. The place is really nice. I wish I spent more time there earlier — I’m sure my mandarin would be much better for it too… I went for a cool hike (the view on the painting above), tried bodyboard and visited a town called Jiufen, which is supposed to have inspired Spirited Away. It’s believable (Miyazaki denied).

Shanghaied in Jiufen. Well played, Taiwan.

Istanbul

First visit there - not much time outside the conference. Rather unmoved by the Blue Mosque, but the old stones of Hagia Sophia are pretty nice. There are impressive thousand-year old mosaics. One is of emperor Constantine and his wife Zoe giving gifts to Jesus. It was uncovered after the islamic period. I thought the emperor was the same one who made Christianity the official religion (starting by decriminalizing it in 313 by the Edict of Milan) but numbers didn’t add up: he’s not Constantine I but Constantine XI.

Will the real Constantine please stand up?

Not sure whether the gazes above convey it (Christ seems concerned by Zoe), but C11 was the third guy of the Empress. She even photoshopped his head on the second husband’s body (who was her husband when the mosaic was made). Overall, this church probably did a good job at making an impression on people. Still, over time — as my mom suggested — it’s possible that “If there is anyone who owes everything to Bach, it is certainly God.” (Emil Cioran) — would the Christian religion be half as popular without the soundtrack? Does it need an EDM update? Oh, and I didn’t plan early enough to see dervishes in Istanbul. Next time!

Movies & TV

BoJack Horseman****
The 5th season is out! I watched it in 3 days. I think some narrative and art forms are really underestimated. BoJack in particular manages to say things by using animals that would be very hard with other forms: a modern-day La Fontaine! Among the underrated: Rick & Morty (particularly the later seasons), some comics/manga, and watercolors by Hugo Pratt.

Better Call Saul***
I truly like this show better than Breaking Bad (once he became a drug lord, Walter White seemed to only have two facial expressions left). Great story and acting by both leads, and sometimes interesting secondary characters.

Mama Mia 2***
Pretty cute movie, with some happy vibes. The first one was ****

Maya Angelou Documentary***
I finally watched the documentary on this writer/dancer/poet/actress I had backed on Kickstarter (they were supposed to allow download but still haven’t). I enjoyed it. A classy quote: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style.”

Don quixote**
The latest Terry Gilliam opus. I had high expectations coz Brazil, the Baron of Munchausen, 12 Monkeys (inspired by La Jetee), and some old Monty Python are so good. Sadly, the movie is just o-kay. Quirky still.

Burning**
This Korean movie came highly recommended, and I walked in knowing close to nothing about the plot. I walked out feeling it was a kind of mashup of Shallow Grave and American Psycho, set in Gangnam. I enjoyed listening to the Korean though - I understood more than I expected!

This is It**
Documentary about Michael Jackson. Made with the footage they could cobble together. His professionalism shines through but there is not much to really see in terms of song and dance.

Ready Player One**
Quite disappointed with this one. VR and drone bombs were so … current. Is that the best of 2045? The secret password was just lying around, and the bad guy is too cookie cutter. It’s like Spielberg heard about Minecraft and Fortnite from his grandkids, then had his first VR with Oculus, and is trying to re-explain that to the rest of us. The most interesting was the vertical trailer park for poor people. If you want future AR/VR stuff, Japan’s Denno Coil has much more depth.

The Next Gen*
Another mashup. There was a pajama party following a karate a camp at a Danish dojo I visited. We played some movies for the kids, including this animated movie. It’s made in China and while I didn’t enjoy it at all, I had some thoughts:

  • First, kids didn’t seem to mind as much (I’m trying to train my nephews’s taste, and I won’t expose them to this one).

  • Second, it’s hard to notice it’s Chinese (which is both good and bad). Especially if you don’t know anything about Chinese culture, past and current.

  • Third, the animation quality is not great but it is not completely awful either.

  • Fourth, it’s a blend of common SciFi tropes, with noticeable lifts from Big Hero 6 and obvious observations of today’s society. Not much originality I’m afraid.

  • This type of ‘platypus product’ was found in Chinese cars years ago: the front of a BMW with the rear of an Audi. Fantastic beasts — with no consistency and identity of their own. Yet, while the plot was pretty mundane and I found many scenes made no sense, it is trending toward better things (like this one).

Mashups in need of art direction

  • I am not sure why Netflix paid $30M for it as I think quality is just not there. Maybe the original Chinese comic was better? Maybe it helps Netflix politics by supporting China’s ‘soft power’ and a future China entry? I’ll quote the Indonesian design philosopher Amelia Hendra: “Before [you’re good enough to] copyright, you have to copy right”. I’m pretty sure that Italian renaissance painters would have agreed!

The Empty Hands*
Watched on a plane out of curiosity (and hoping for karate moves). The daughter of a karate master begrudgingly decides to train again to win the other half of her dad’s dojo. Low budget HK comedy. Forgettable.

Books

Perennial Seller***
By Ryan Holiday. Quite an interesting read on what makes a book or other works into timeless classics.

Blinklist (app)
I signed up for a trial of Blinklist, an app that gives you summaries of non-fiction books in audio and text form. I often feel that authors stretch simple ideas on the mandatory 200+ pages to justify the price of a book, but that the core could be said in 10 to 20 pages. So 5-10 minutes instead of many hours. Very convenient on the go. It doesn’t work for all books, but I’ve enjoyed quite a few this way, saved heaps of time, and dodged a few bullets.

Help an artist?

Help me help Alejandro Jodorowsky finish his documentary on ‘psychomagic’ by backing him on Indiegogo!

Jodo is a unique creator, director, artist, tarot reader, and more. He made spiritual movies such as The Sacred Mountain****, El Topo*** and recently the biographical (and magical) Dance of Reality**** and Endless Poetry***. He even was the first to attempt to shoot the scifi classic Dune, with Dali as the Mad Emperor of the Galaxy! The concept art helped reveal H.R. Giger who gave Alien its unique look. The project failed due to lack of funding (see this incredible documentary), but the concept of a warrior-type messiah archetype took hold of Jodo and he expanded on it in comic book form with the Meta Baron series (a cosmic warriors dynasty in which every father has to mutilate, then challenge to death his first-born).

Jodo also staged theatre, studied mime and wrote shows for Marcel Marceau

Now, what is psychomagic? The art of healing people through symbolic acts that speak directly to their subconscious. This documentary is a gift to the world and should exist. Check it out, and donate if you think so too!

Note that several indie guys have used crowdfunding to make interesting movies, including Spike Lee or one of my French favs Jean-Pierre Mocky. If you haven’t seen Bamboozled by Spike Lee (and older one), do take a look, it’s more subtle than it seems.

4.
THOUGHTS

Artists as Startups (and Galleries as Investors)

I exchanged some ideas with a prominent art gallery owner in Denmark. Galleries bet on artists, then double down (or not — like VCs who follow-on). The artist does the work (product, ideally with good strategic positioning), but also has to talk about it and do shows to raise his profile (marketing/PR).

I also learned that galleries never discount the price (at least publicly) to avoid alienating their customers, so unpopular artists simply fade into oblivion. The owner also said that the biggest changes in the art world in Europe have been due to Easyjet — it allowed buyers to just hop on a plane and visit — and internet: once people know an artist, they just buy online. How does this relate to the latest Bansky stunt? I don’t know.

More Fake

We knew all is now photoshop and fake news. Turns out: sound too! Those footsteps, nature, animal sounds (etc.) in documentaries or movies? It’s called “foley” (from its originator) and it’s all made up. And well made! I saw a few videos about it online (here is a cool one and another).

More concerning was a documentary about hamburgers (in France!) researching with hidden camera and a food critic the origin and quality of the meat, bun, and cheese. How much fat and tendon in your meat? It depends … The bread: often factory-made, with lots of sugar and oil. The worse is the cheddar: you only need 50% actual cheddar cheese to call it so. The worse is the cheddar sauce: 5% cheddar (!). The rest? You’d rather not know.

Two lies. Foley artist, and Cheddar from Amazon. $71 for 40 pounds of sauce.

What is it like to be a [your pick]

VR as out-of-body experience, qualia (unreductable subjectivity of an experience), and for psychological or sensory therapy. This video has an interesting take on it (h/t Steve). For fun, check this short VR game Roy: A Live Well Lived in Rick & Morty, or the one-button indie game 30 Seconds Life (it takes 30sec to play) — note that the older version was more charming. For a longer and deeper meditation on life, the 5-minutes long indie game Passage is a good option.

Call-out Culture

After on-demand, there is call-out. As in labeling people with ‘-isms’. An interesting comment on the Jordan Peterson podcast explained that a way to distinguish an actual good reason for outrage from moral posturing was “follow the prestige” (the liberal equivalent of “follow the money” or “cherchez la femme”).

Lawnmower Parents

I heard that one for the first time — after ‘helicopter parents’ or ‘tiger parents’. The next generation might be quite unprepared for the real world where it’s not all safe spaces and cuddly feelings. Break a leg!

A.I. Ethics

- You’re driving fast and there is an old lady, a kid and a dog on the road. What do you hit? 
- The brakes.
Haha.
With A.I. around the corner, who will decide whom to hit? (driver included)

Suitcase Up

I generally buy cheap suitcases with vivid colors to find them easily (orange or yellow — but not just any hue). Recently my cabin baggage got three of its wheels ripped off and I was offered a replacement. Unsure what to pick, the sales guy showed me one model that looked like a backpack on wheels.
The pitch escalated quickly: “It is is unbreakable”, “It has 2 wheels similar to rollerskates”, “It has 10% more space than a rigid one with 4 wheels”, “The airline staff uses it”, “I use it myself!”
What could I say? I took it. It’s okay.

Final Straw

If you read the previous newsletter, you know about my newfound interest in straws or lack thereof (straws? interest? I’ll keep the grammar unclear). Anyway, e’re reaching peak straw! A collapsible straw raised $1.9 million on Kickstarter. Is it ‘sustainability theatre’ and ‘virtue signaling’? Is there a real impact? I also hear Bali moved to metal straws, raising hygiene questions. Stop killing dolphins!

Queen Bee

One the topic of animals… I learned a bit about bees and the Queen is faaaaar from living the life! She’s basically a slave laying eggs all day, and doesn’t rule anything. If she gets too old, the workers groom a new one and kill her. So much for the queen bee.

5.
PROJECTS

Podcast

It’s taking longer than I thought — with plenty of ‘cold feet’ — but it’s making progress. A few quotes I found appropriate:

“Once the decision has been made, close your ear even to the best counter argument: sign of a strong character. Thus an occasional will to stupidity.” — Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

I wrote about 30 topic drafts (~60 pages) and the first recording attempt just took place. The first episode might come out in a week or so.

Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public. — Churchill

and finally, another Nobelized quote by Pablo Neruda:

There is no insurmountable solitude. All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. And we must pass through solitude and difficulty, isolation and silence in order to reach forth to the enchanted place where we can dance our clumsy dance and sing our sorrowful song - but in this dance or in this song there are fulfilled the most ancient rites of our conscience in the awareness of being human and of believing in a common destiny. — Neruda

To more clumsy dances!

Cheers from Europe,
—Ben