#36 | Deep Tech, VR Fun, Bahamas, Green Book & More
|Benjamin Joffe||Mar 30, 2019|
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It’s been more than a month. Time for an update!
WORK: Deep Tech Talks & Upcoming Events
NEW EXPERIENCES: More VR, Board Games, Feedback Loops
CULTURAL CORNER: Bahamas Trip, Struggle, Unimpressive Movies, Comedy, What Money Can’t Buy
THOUGHTS: The Use Of Martial Arts, Some Comments
PODCAST: 6 Episodes, Revamp Needed
I spoke at a few events for HAX (our deep tech hardware investment branch):
Investing in Deep Tech (slides). A talk given with my colleague Kate at the investor-focused event we organized in SF this month. It was sold out with 200 RSVPs. We discussed pre-pre-seed, pre-seed, seed and post-seed (it’s getting complicated). We are planning a follow-up event in a few months.
What Every Startup And Corporate Should Know About Exits (slides). Talk given at the Hello Tomorrow event in Paris, one of the few focused on deep tech. I also judged 2 startup pitches on Industry 4.0 and Wellbeing. This event is very well produced. My talk is a summary of the key ideas from the seven masterclasses we ran last year on startup exits (inviting ~50 experts including John Chambers of Cisco)
I was interviewed on France24 and BFM TV (on ‘Chine Eco’ — coming out soon) about China’s ‘Greater Bay Area’. My main points were that (1) it does not need to look like Silicon Valley to be powerful (2) Investors and startups are more in Beijing and Shanghai, but use Shenzhen for electronics (3) It’s part of a bigger plan with the Belt and Road Initiative.
April: Deep Tech Atelier in Riga (Apr 12-13)
May: Vivatech in Paris (May 16-18)
June: Our next Demo Day in SF (tbc)
Sept: I am working on our annual and popular “Trends” report and will do a roadshow with this content in various cities (tbc)
Sept: Our next Deep Tech Investing event in SF focused on growth stage (tbc).
Aside from that, the fundraising for the new SOSV fund of $250M is going very well (SOSV is the fund behind HAX, IndieBio, and our other operations). We’re doing a first close with about 90% of the total this month.
Also, recommendations for investment (pre-seed / prototype-stage) are always welcome — email me or go to www.hax.co.
It’s not something I have done myself but I kind of considered: this guy spent a week non-stop in VR.
His report is not very exciting but I think there is more to this, with ‘out of body experiences’. Maybe the European Space Agency could suggest that to their volunteers for their ‘60 days in bed’ study?
On this topic, a guy I met years ago told me about this experiment he did with a friend: they lived for a week in a warehouse, with head-mounted displays. Both HMDs were connected to the same fixed B&W security camera. Apparently it was very weird but they got used to it. In that vein, I am interested in experimenting with a video stream from a smartphone or webcam to my Oculus Go, for a ‘third person experience’ (I had a taste of it with a drone, but would be interesting with a regular camera). Pointers welcome.
For VR, I also tried the Sandbox VR arcade in San Mateo (they have locations in US and Asia). It was 30 minutes of immersive experience with a few friends, as a team of robots killing waves of alien monsters. Each of us hooked up with sensors on head, wrists and ankles, and strapped with a computer backpack. Some haptic feedback included. Overall fun. I would recommend it to experience where VR is going.
I hadn’t played any for a while, and a friend introduced Small World a few months ago. It’s a kind of fantasy variant of Risk. It seemed to involve limited luck, and a fair amount of strategy. It was quite fun.
After we played, I found a mobile version, bought it, and ended up playing hundreds of games against A.I. within a few weeks (it’s much faster than with people). I uninstalled it 4 times so far in an effort to eliminate the addiction as I found it quite relaxing to play … (it’s currently not my phone).
Yet, to test my new skills I played with friends again this month and lost the two games. As it turns out, A.I. helps to learn logical tactics, but human players are not that logical: they have emotions, get intimidated or compassionate (one friend is a great actor and can play low profile very well), and can seek revenge. I also suspect the seating arrangement worked against me as I was facing the two other players, who were both facing only me!
We also played another called Dominion, which has some similarities with card games like Magic The Gathering, but is self-contained. While Small World has a lot of direct conflicts, players in Dominion are mostly ‘running in their lane’, with a few actions that affect others indiscriminately. As a result, conflict in this game is much less personal. The pleasure comes from devising your own strategy and comparing it with others as you play, sometimes drawing ideas from them. I lost three times as my friends made sure we never played the same cards twice. My friend said later: ‘no mercy in pro league’ ;)
So two very different games. One focused on direct conflict, another on parallel strategies. I also realized I mostly enjoy figuring out new tactics (likely to feel and look smart), so I’m winning rounds but losing matches.
Closing The Loop (Choke)
In a spirit of improvement, I’ve been recording my sparring sessions in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, hoping to understand my (many) mistakes. It has been humbling, and helpful.
Yet, I don’t always see what I am doing wrong, so I am toying with the idea of a service where I could have someone more experienced to give me feedback. Does this already exist?
I went to a tech conference in Nassau, in the Bahamas. For work.
For those in the know, the conference was organized by a private bank run by the man who produced most of my childhood TV animation shows, and co-created the Inspector Gadget character. After a successful career in show-business he is now in finance. He’s very friendly, active and living a good life, it seems.
Aside from a sunburn on day one, I was also surprised by how expensive everything was, and by the incredibly luxurious resort in which the conference was held, called the Baha Mar (I was not staying there, sadly). At the breakfast brunch they had an ‘avocado toast station’, which is likely as hip as the omelette station was when it swept the nation. The staff thought the $50 I left on my table to pay for breakfast was the tip…
I tried the ‘fish fry’ — local fried seafood thing but wasn’t impressed, nor by the ‘sky juice’ cocktail. The whole Bahamas is over 700 islands and 400,000 people, many descending from slaves. My take was that if you don’t like beaches you’ll get bored quickly. The sun, sky and sea are, however, just like postcards.
MOVIES & TV
Ash Is Purest White***
I quite enjoyed this Chinese movie telling the story of a woman and her small-time gangster lover over more than a decade. Alongside ‘An Elephant Sitting Still’ I would consider it part of an interesting unofficial series on contemporary China.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m really hard to please: this movie had good reviews and won awards. I found it good but not outstanding. On the topic of racism I think the lower-budget Bamboozled by Spike Lee is much more subtle. Apparently Lee was unhappy to see his BlackKklansman movie lose to another road movie after ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ against his ‘Do The Right Thing’ in 1990.
Do The Right Thing*
Intrigued, I watched his 1990 movie. It’s cute but quite slow at times, and maybe sways too much between comedy and drama. I almost gave up half way.
I couldn’t find the link about it again, but it was quite interesting. In particular his early ambitions and training. I took away two ideas: (1) his father was a sporty policeman so being (very) sporty was ‘normal’ in the family (2) when asked about the source of his ambition, Arnold said that struggling as a kid was a frequent motivator for ambitious people.
Some time ago I was discussing with a very wealthy entrepreneur friend; he was complaining his kids spend too much time on video games. Too much comfort and not enough struggle to be motivated? The same issue probably happens to helicopter / lawnmower parents, while ‘tiger parents’ try the hard way to replace motivation with joyless discipline.
In French we talk about ‘fin de race’ = when the dynamic character of ancestors have run so thin it might be the last generation. I’ve been researching other drivers for motivation, and struggle seems to prevail so far. I hope to find more!
The Fall of the American Empire**
This was a cute heist story from Quebec centered around an upset philosophy PhD who works as a delivery guy. He chances upon bags of money and decides to mostly do the right thing. It is also a criticism of the power of money.
About Dick Cheney, the Vice-President under Bush, who apparently managed to control a whole lot of things and do very well financially too. Somewhat interesting but it lost steam half way, and is hard to believe (I felt the trailer was better than the movie). One of the producers is Brad Pitt, if that indicates any bias? I also probably can't relate as much as a local, since I didn't live through those events on the ground. My final thought was: "If that's all true, what a mess you have.”
Watched on a plane too. Was ok — the actors did a good job (including the lead). Maybe a documentary would have been better than a movie?
I liked the original Gunnm manga a lot. It is gritty, harsh, disturbing and humorous at the same time, with an interesting cyber-post-apocalyptic dystopian atmosphere. Sadly, it got dumbed down first in animation, then in movie. James Cameron (of Titanic fame) apparently had been hoping to make this film for over 15 years. Personally, I found his adaptation too Disney-fied. While the visuals are well done, the movie misses most of the subtlety of the characters, and rushes the story. Still decent entertainment, but not as good as it could have been.
Crazy Rich Asians**
I took a chance as it apparently has been quite a big deal for my Asian-American friends apparently. It’s an all-Asian cast — unheard of in America? — and fairly entertaining movie, however predictable.
A few things bothered me, though:
Putting all ‘Asians’ in one bag. I’ve lived in Japan, Korea, China, Singapore, Malaysia and visited more. ‘Asia’ is a legacy of a Western worldview, as cultures vary widely (economy, religion, food, geography, language … ). In fact, even the term ‘Western’ is questionable since it’s about North America, Western Europe, and likely Australia and NZ = more of a ‘diagonal’ ;)
Having Singapore represent of ‘Asia’ is a bit odd. It has the most ‘hybrid’ culture. Did the Singapore Tourism Board sponsor it? (including the promotion of local food at hawker centers).
The ABC (America-born Chinese) girl felt as American as Mrs. Maisel in the Amazon Prime series. Yet, however smart she is, she did not know anything about her boyfriend’s family and did not research cultural norms. Also, the ‘game theory’ tricks felt quite gimmicky.
The boyfriend is too careless. He should know bringing his girlfriend back home is a big deal, but gives her no warning and no advice. Anyway, the movie is not about him.
After watching it I thought it could be also read as a kind of cultural imperialism: Western individualism and integrity winning over ‘Asian conservatism’ (or rather: upper-class mindset). In a way, it’s the opposite message of The Last Samurai, where Tom Cruise gets to appreciate and embrace local values. As a result, I think this movie probably appeals much more to the Chinese diaspora (at large), as a validation of Western values over traditional filial duties. I’m not sure what the 3 billion ‘local Asians’ thought of it?
A Land Imagined*
An investigation about a missing Chinese construction worker in Singapore. Too many mixed styles and a sluggish pace end up disappointing. To quote a review “it won’t have much of a commercial life beyond festivals and specialized venues”. I left half way.
He’s a bit loud and aggressive for me, and an acquired taste, but if you pick right, he has quite thoughtful conversations with the guests on his podcast (I recommend the episodes with Sam Harris, and Mike Tyson). He had a good line about ‘recreational outrage’ in one of them. I also watched some of his specials on Netflix. He’s pumped up and very different from many of the depressed comedians out there.
After his very clever skit on state abbreviations and a few more on YouTube I tried his specials, but wasn’t as impressed. One thing I found very interesting, though, is Gulman’s interview on the James Altucher podcast, and the analysis of his humor (side stories, absurd humor, use of language…). Being funny is a craft!
An original performance by a Taiwanese circus group visiting Paris. A quite abstract and slow show. Mildly interesting. My favorite shows in that respect are still our good’ol Cirque du, and Slava’s (surrealist) Snowshow.
What Money Can’t Buy
It is a research on the moral and efficiency limits of markets, with plenty of real life examples, ranging from gifts to organs or degrees. I haven’t finished it yet, but the latest admissions scandal re-ignited my interest for this book, which in 2012 already made clear how things were going.
Two key issues are (1) Fairness (especially to the poor) (2) Integrity / corruption of values or morals (e.g. transforming a fine into a fee). It rightfully questions the concept of incentives, with ideas such as the ‘crowding out effect’ (e.g. pay enough or not at all), and whether to consider generosity/compassion/altruism as in limited supply, or like a muscle to train.
I pulled on the string of lies and everything came out***
In French (and likely won’t be translated): ‘J'ai tiré sur le fil du mensonge et tout est venu’, by Philippe de Villiers. A former politician, De Villiers has decided to spill the beans from his retirement, and conducts a detailed research on the ‘founding fathers of Europe’. What he documents would make any Russian influence look like child’s play.
It’s an important topic as the prevalent ‘EU is necessary for peace’ (or as a counterforce to US or China) narrative is not complete without knowing who promoted the project and how it was financed. It’s not new to people familiar with the lectures of Francois Asselineau, but dives much deeper into the individual portraits, and historical minutiae.
Michel Houellebecq is probably the most popular novelist in France today. After ‘Submission’, which described a future where a muslim president gets elected, I was expecting another political book. This one is back to his usual themes of loneliness and alienation. The main character gets tired of his life and decides to disappear. It is more introspective and less of an adventure than The Year of the Hare I wrote about in the last newsletter but still a fine read.
Foundations Of Founding
My colleague Alan just published this nifty manual based on the thousands of conversations and coaching sessions he had with high-tech startup founders, so they get organized, productive and solve conflicts productively.
I collected a few interesting terms:
IQ tax = For useless or over-marketed things (what’s the latest superfood again? Jackfruit?) … but also arguably tobacco, alcohol, lottery, late fees, etc. Am I paying the IQ tax for something? I probably do! I also have this nagging thought that the well-known cases are negligible compared to much bigger issues. Like negotiating your salary or house price is 100x more impactful than anything else, and thus should deserve 100x more effort. Yet of course…
Pink tax = When the women’s version of a product is more expensive than the identical men’s. Does a ‘Blue tax’ or ‘Man tax’ exist? I could only think of bars, buffets, and the smaller selection of fragrances for men (though not necessarily more expensive). Googling quickly I found this cafe in Melbourne charging men 18% more to make up for the gender pay gap (individual fairness seemed less important than the buzz generated…).
‘Black economy’ = Money circulating among black businesses and people (from Trigger Warning on Netflix, where Killer Mike tries hard for 3 days). It is interesting to consider the effects of keeping the money within a community. I guess the Amish have a stronger economy. It also reminded me of what I heard about why India prevented multi-brand retailers to go online: a journalist from the Economic Times explained to me that it would endanger the many millions depending on mom-and-pop stores.
Can Martial Arts Really Help?
After a year of training in a nearby karate dojo, I decided its emphasis on health wasn’t a fit. Too little sweat, and too little sparring. How to know if any of it works without a resisting opponent?
I mentioned that to my BJJ coach, who shared a story when he was doing a part-time job selling sports good in a store: a group of young troublemakers were often roaming the aisles, and walked out by the huge security guy. One day the security guy decided to intimidate them further outside, and walked to them. Next thing he knew he had been stabbed in the back and his side was open with his guts pouring out.
The attacker was about 13yo (and not Mike Tyson-size — who apparently was already 100kg then).
It made my coach ponder about the practical use of martial arts, when things can escalate so quickly without warning, and make your self-confidence work against you.
His advice: get away / in real life you can't get in combat stance / once it starts it's on / attackers are rarely alone / at best you’ll have some useful reflexes.
I also asked my former Shorinji Kempo training partner (he used to be a UN soldier and Royal guard in Denmark) who said something like ‘train if you like it’ (and don’t do it for real practical use?).
Another anecdote is about a friend’s 12yo son who had some issues at school with older kids. I had advised to train in something effective to be able to defend himself (and not being afraid of taking a punch). I thought the whole thing had gone away peacefully but apparently it still took him to kick back a guy once. It’s not much but it makes all the difference!
Courtney Love Does The Math
I stumbled upon this 2000 piece by Kurt Cobain’s widow and bona fide musician. It details how a band might not make a dime while selling millions of records. She really saw quite clearly how the internet would change everything (for some).
I had worked on it as an acoustics engineer back in 1999. It was then called the A3XX. Already at the time it was questionable whether a jumbo jet made sense with increasingly strict regulations around noise and pollution. Today, Airbus is working on flying cars. So long, A380.
Norway’s Sovereign Fund Owns 1% Of The World
Norway found oil. Then it wasn’t sure what to do with all this money so it decided to create a kind of index fund of the world, buying 1% or so of many, many stocks (excluding those with ethical concerns). Its assets add up to one trillion dollars. More details here.
Take A Punch
A revamp is needed. After editing 6 episodes out of the 20 recorded (see below), I found spending over 6 hours to edit 15 minutes down to 8 wasn’t a good use of my time. I am considering other approaches which would require less editing. Also, I finally realized that people don’t care too much if a podcast is long (including myself) as they listen while doing other things.
Until next time!