#35 | VR Chat, PT, Barcelona, Asian Movies, Podcast is Live!

Personal news & opinions - did we meet offline or on LinkedIn?
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Find me: Twitter - LinkedIn - Website
Writings: Medium - TechCrunch - VentureBeat - Forbes
Podcast (new!):
soundcloud.com/takeapunch/

It’s 2019 and the Year of the Pig!

(Some time ago, I confirmed that I am a Dragon (of fire!) and not a Snake: I was born in January, hence before Chinese New Year. Check yours at MyBirthdayNinja. Apparently I’m most compatible with Rat, Tiger and Snake — all friendly characters. And least compatible with Ox, Goat and Dog.)

MENU

  1. WORK: Some writing and Upcoming events

  2. NEW EXPERIENCES: VR Chat, Crossfit, Tendinitis, etc.

  3. CULTURAL CORNER: Barcelona, Asian movies, Pinocchio, Black Mirror Disappoints

  4. THOUGHTS: Yellow Vests and Peak Coaching

  5. PODCAST: We’re live!

1.
WORK

Working on projects with limited travels at the moment.

I published a 10-points summary of the interview I did with Cisco’s John Chambers on TechCrunch, as well as a beautiful transcript (a free complement to his book).

Do read both if you’re with a large company that you hope will stay relevant!

I also wrote an article sharing the experience of our startups at CES, and a commentary on Bloomberg’s recent video series about Shenzhen “The People’s Republic Of The Future” (>500,000 views).

Conferences coming up:

  • Hello Tomorrow (Mar 14-15) and Vivatech (May 16-18) in Paris

  • HAX event in SF focused on hardware investment (likely on March 21, live soon)

As usual, you’re welcome to send me/us your recommendations for prototype-stage hardware startups (consumer / industry / enterprise / health) or direct them to www.hax.co!

2.
NEW EXPERIENCES

VR Chat

I came across this news about a concert in Fortnite with (allegedly) millions of viewers. When looking at the footage it seemed like Second Life was back. It is back in two forms, in fact: in online games and in VR. I signed off from games a while back, but a friend suggested to try VR chat, so I dusted off my Oculus Go.

As I was waiting for him in the 3D chat room, I received chat requests from 2 strangers. I accepted the invitation but felt awkward talking and kept silent.

They had female-sounding voices despite their male avatars.

I thought ‘maybe some women use male avatars?’. I felt creepy being silent while they started talking. Anyhow, both quickly turned out to be … kids! And I mean children : one was 16 and the other 11 (one was using Google cardboard and his phone).

So watch your kids, folks!

Anyway, I left that room quickly, it was just too weird. Then I got contacted by another person, who had a deep voice. I found that reassuring, at least in terms of age. He was a civil servant from Oregon and had used the service for a month. He gave me some tips.

Eventually my friend arrived and we started talking. He had the higher-spec Rift ($350 at the moment vs. the $200 Go I have) and the his hand gestures and head movements were above the ‘uncanny valley’ and felt quite natural. Going back to ‘meat space’ felt strange after hanging out at a nice Japanese temple, a beach (with pelican and sand crab), and a space station. By then it was 4am — we had talked for 3 hours.

Smart-ish Home

On the topic of gadgets: I’ve been quite happy with Amazon’s Alexa for a while (though she sometimes butts in on conversations). To bring her some company I recently added a smart LED from Xiaomi (20 euros - it’s actually made by one of HAX portfolio companies, Yeelink). Alexa, turn on the light in red! Alexa, turn off the light! Sadly, most of my other smart devices are now sleeping in a drawer.

Smarter Headphones

My headphones just got better. I have two pairs: the bluetooth Bose with noise cancelling, and the Nura (a HAX startup) with personalized sound. Each offered a firmware update. Nura added noise cancelling (for free), and Bose added Alexa (a limited version but still ok). It is interesting to have products that improve after you bought them (at least as long as they still work offline as regular headphones!). Not quite the usual ‘planned obsolescence’. Check this smart home parody for reference.

Update on Hacking Scam

I have now heard similar stories of hacking scams with a Bitcoin ransom from multiple people. The one I received had an actual (old) password in it so it was more convincing, but nothing happened after I ignored it. Probably the same for everyone!

Crossfit

I had been considering trying for some time. It was quite a workout. I consider myself quite fit, but not as much ‘cardio’. Still, I prefer martial arts :)

Physical Therapy

My first ever physical therapy session! Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu continues to provide small injuries. After a fractured rib and many bruises, this time it is some kind of tendinitis in the left thumb. Likely the ‘adductor pollicis longus’ (the therapist showed me a 3D model on his phone). Quite annoying (especially for BJJ practice of course). Two lessons: (1) Don’t use you hand to prevent a heavy person crashing onto you when you’re on the ground (2) ‘If you stop training every time you’re in pain, you will never train’. Massage, ice and rest … when you can ;)

3.
CULTURAL CORNER

TRAVELS

Barcelona***

I visited Barcelona for the first time! Highlights were:

  • The house of Dali in Figueres (a train ride away). The man was very creative, and very productive! His house is … extravagant. there’s nothing much in Figueres so it’s worth stopping by Girona on the way back. Very pretty city.

  • Pata negra ham. It is delicious indeed, and 10 times more expensive than your standard serrano. If I remember correctly there are 8 kinds of black pigs, and the pricey ones are fed acorns when it’s in season (then called ‘de bellota’). Is it worth 10x the price? You decide!

  • The Sagrada Familia and Casa Batllo. Two projects by the architect Antoni Gaudí. Spectacular. I think I liked the Casa Batllo even more than the church. It’s a bit crazy to think the church started in 1882 and is still not completed. Better book in advance for both, especially if you want to go up the church tower.

  • A performance of a the ‘Song of Sybil’ at the Barcelona Cathedral for Christmas Eve. ‘Sybil is a female character in ancient dress with rich cloths who, sword in hand, announces the Apocalypse.’ Yep. The setting reminded me of the movies The Wicker Man and The Wicker Tree. Here is a version on YouTube. It’s quite special. There is a Dead Can Dance version I heard 20 years ago, but I didn’t hear the similarity.

  • Visit to the Montserrat monastery up in the mountains (go early!). The boys choir is very famous but … they were on vacation. There is a quite good art museum there too.

  • Not a highlight, but tapas (except anchovies) were a bit disappointing: all fried, repetitive, and often 'tourist-quality' (with few exceptions).

MOVIES & TV

An Elephant Sitting Still ****

Ok this grim and almost 4 hours-long Chinese movie is not for everyone, but I really enjoyed it. In short: it’s a movie on contemporary life in China, following several people living in a non-descript 4th-tier city (still >1M people), with great acting and nice camera work.

Part of my enjoyment was due to the fact that I could catch some of the dialogues, but it remains a powerful and educative document beyond the usual stereotypes of the communist / authoritarian / high-tech China. The director, Hu Bo, had published two successful novels, and committed suicide in October last year, shortly after finishing this first movie, at age 29. If you’re watching one Chinese movie this year, make it this one.

Tampopo****

Re-watched this excellent Japanese movie (on YouTube). It’s the story of a fledgling female ramen shop owner, with side plots about people's relationship to food. If you want to learn how to eat ramen right, this is for you! The movie is by Juzo Itami, my favorite Japanese director. Another director with a tragic end: he 'jumped off a building' -- likely assassinated by the local mafia (after offending them with his movie 'The Gentle Art Of Extortion').

Memories of murder****

Sloppy rural Korean policemen try to solve the case of a serial killer. This was a hit in South Korea and it was a great find. Apparently the director, Bong Joon-ho, likes to portray regular people put in situation way above their pay grade and skill level. It's inspired by a true story, and the cultural context of the time in Korea is also relevant. Read on Wikipedia for more.

From the same director I had watched the dystopian Snowpiercer but it wasn’t as good. I also tried Okja but didn’t enjoy it despite its success at Cannes. For other Korean hits, I recommend JSA, Old Boy and Friends.

Cyrano **** and Edmond ***

Edmond is the first name of playwright Edmond Rostand, author of Cyrano (1897), one of the most popular French plays of all time. It’s the bittersweet love story of a long-nosed, proud, romantic musketeer and poet. It is sometimes compared in importance with Hamlet or Don Quixote. The Cyrano play — in verses —was a bit of a UFO in its time, but is among the most romantic texts you can conceive (and my favorite play).

I re-watched the movie version of the play with famed French actor Gerard Depardieu (in my top 3 French movies) to have it fresh in mind. Then I watched the new movie named Edmond, about the playwright (it is about the creation of the play — the #1 theatre actress at the time, Sarah Bernhardt, helped make it happen).

I also learned that after the night of the premiere of the original play, a French government minister was so impressed that he presented a ‘Legion d’Honneur’ to Rostand (a high distinction) right away. More amazing: Rostand was only 29! A better fortune that Hu Bo above.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs ***

It’s a series of short stories in the Wild West by the Coen brothers, released almost straight on Netflix. I’m impressed, Netflix! Very entertaining, though beware of the twisted endings!

Movement *** (music video)

Music & dance collaboration between Hozier and genius Ukrainian dancer Sergei Polunin. Enjoy.

The Wicker Man (Director's Cut)***

Despite its outdated style, this is truly a remarkable and disturbing detective (?) movie. You will consider Burning Man differently after that.

Brexit Movie ***

Solid acting and interesting information -- though difficult to judge the bias ... It raises the question of the influence of various media forms on current events -- from ads to 'documentaries' like this one.

Pinocchio ***

I decided to re-watch it after hearing Jordan Peterson mention it several times as a model of ‘hero journey’ to adulthood (‘letting go of instant gratification’, ‘rescuing your father from the belly of the whale’ … ). I didn't remember it much from my childhood except the long nose part (that makes two with Cyrano — though it’s a very short scene in Pinocchio).

For a movie made in 1940 it’s holding up very nicely but I found the story quite disturbing for a Disney movie. Kids below 10 may have nightmares. For more odd animation, I recommend Mind Games by Studio4c (includes a whale too), and Paprika by the late (and sorely missed) Satoshi Kon.

Adam ruins everything**

A reasonably entertaining series that made the jump from YouTube to Netflix. Episodes on Security and Restaurants bring a depressing dose of reality.

The Handmaiden **

It’s a South Korean erotic psychological thriller film directed by Park Chan-wook (of JSA and Old Boy fame — Tarantino is a fan, and so am I). Unfortunately I had watched recently In the Realm of the Senses which I think is far superior. Park knows his camera work, and the images are beautiful, but somehow the movie lacked authenticity to me, and the weird mix of Japanese and Korean didn’t feel credible.

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch**

On Netflix. I felt I was in the right target demographic with 80's video games and 'chose your own adventure', but the end result felt pretty weak. Nice try, still.

The Mule *

I’ll save you some money here. I really like Clint Eastwood — I found his ‘Gran Torino’ amazing — but this one … I almost left the theatre half way. It was just entertaining enough, but not by much. One takeaway is the song ‘Don’t let the old man in’. It was inspired by what the 88 y.o. Eastwood told the songwriter when asked about how he kept going at his age.

Long Day's Journey Into Night *

A Chinese experimental movie, fairly uncommon in movie theaters. The acting is good, the images are pretty, but I found it really confusing and slow. Despite my efforts, I could not get into it, and left after an hour. Even the positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes feel somewhat negative. Try at your own risk.

SHOWS

Alfons Mucha***

A Czech illustrator with a unique illustrative style, during the early 20th century. Like Edmond Rostand, the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt played a key role in his career. I found some distant similarities with the symbolist Gustave Moreau.

Joan Miró***

I didn’t see his works in Barcelona but in Paris. Quite an interesting research he did on colors and shapes. It feels much more thoughtful than the work of Basquiat.

Grayson Perry**

The self-proclaimed ‘transvestite potter from Essex’. A creative chap. Sculptures, potteries, tapestries telling stories.

Standup Comedy***

Went for another show in English in Paris. The first two (French) comedians were not great, but a Dutch, a Cameroonian and an Indian saved the day. A good reminder that material has to be tight. The average pro packs in five ‘bits’ per minute! For better stuff, I recently stumbled upon that guy Gary Gulman and enjoyed his abbreviating the U.S. state capitals and finding $20 in an old coat. Have fun!

Never On The First Night (Theatre)**

This Parisian show has been on for 5 years so I had high hopes. It’s about a girl unlucky in love who decides to try online dating and just YOLO. Things don’t turn out as planned when a sexy-yet-romantic Italian shows up. It’s quite low brow but the acting was good … until an odd ending partly ruined it.

Paris Circus School Graduation Show**

A good effort with some gender-fluid parts and social messages (President Macron is trying to reform the status of show-business workers, some of whom are said to abuse unemployment benefits). I realized I’m not easy to please with circus, even when it’s somewhat experimental.

BOOKS

The Year of the Hare

I rarely read fiction these days but I received this one was a gift. A strange novel about a Finnish journalist who leaves his previous life behind to go into the wild and across Finland with a hare. It was adapted into two movies and is part of a UNESCO list. It somehow reminded me of The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, which was meant to teach geography to Swedish schoolchildren (here is a solid animation version made in 1955 in USSR).

Insane Mode: How Elon Musk's Tesla Sparked an Electric Revolution to End the Age of Oil

My friend Hamish, co-founder of Substack (which powers this newsletter), just published a book about Tesla and the electric age! He’s an independent journalist who covered tech, interviewed Sting, John Cleese and many others, and was the lead writer for Tesla for several years.

4.
THOUGHTS

Yellow Vests (Gilets Jaunes, or GJ)

France has had almost 3 months of weekend protests. Most of them seem to belong to the working class who can't make ends meet. One of the major demands that surfaced is to create a mechanism to allow citizens to trigger referendums on key topics. Modern democracies almost always depend on electoral votes (and campaigning, and financing the campaign … ), and end up generally electing members of the same social class (the top 10% or even top 1% — you ‘only’ need a net income of about $10,000/month to be in the top 1% in France). As the gap is widening, no wonder something is breaking, and the silent-yet-struggling majority (?) wants to be heard.

Peak Coaching?

I think we have reached peak coaching. I came across a video ad for a ‘traveling handstand coach’ on Facebook, and just saw a poster in the subway for ‘the number one meditation book for kids’. There are also a flurry of popular ‘change your life’ podcasts in France these days. Well, mine is coming — in English first ;p (likely an even more crowded market but who cares?). See right below for more!

5.
PODCAST PROJECT

Take A Punch

This is a limited release on Soundcloud of this personal project. The initial idea was sharing heard-earned ‘life lessons’ to help my nephews grow up. Thanks to this newsletter, Michael Waitze reached out to help with this project.

You might or might not be the target audience … Each episode is less than 10 minutes. It’s called ‘take a punch’ because … just listen to the episode :)

What I learned so far:

  • Podcasting, public speaking (of which I’ve done a lot of) and standup comedy (which I’ve tried a few times) are very different.

  • It’s a bit uneasy to hear my own voice in such monologues. I had the same feeling watching videos of my BJJ practice. One blue belt guy with 5-6 years of practice I trained with watched himself and said“I am much less of a ninja than I thought. I should never have asked to watch it!” . Needless to say I was worse! The transition from ‘unconscious incompetence’ to ‘conscious incompetence’ is the most painful. Then comes the long road to conscious competence and mastery!

  • Editing takes a loooong time at first (how about 4 hours for 10 minutes?). The audio files on GarageBand looked like mille-feuilles. Maybe I’m too OCD?

  • Editing really tightens the material (like a ‘tight five’ in standup)

  • I realized that recently: since I edit, I can repeat myself safely.

  • Deep fake with audio is not hard ;)

PS: I’m not a big listener of Joe Rogan but that guys takes punches: standup, BJJ and podcasting. That’s a lot of mental and physical punches!

To a punchy 2019!
—Ben