#38 | Deep Tech, Scams & Mountain Stories

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Find me: Twitter - LinkedIn - Website
Writings: Medium - TechCrunch - VentureBeat - Forbes

2 months passed, here is what’s new.

MENU

  1. WORK: Deep Tech Seminars, HAX Demo Day in HK

  2. EXPERIENCES: Scams Galore, Standup in NYC, Etiquette Training

  3. CULTURE: Chernobyl, The Good Fight, Mountain Stories

  4. THOUGHTS: Two Private Jets, Faster than Bolt.

1.
WORK

Deep Tech Seminars

I completed last month the last of our five seminars on ‘Investing In Deep Tech’. We hosted them in SF, NYC, Boston, London and Paris, inviting 19 experts (mostly deep tech VCs) and over 750 participants (mostly VCs, deep tech and generalists). I wrote a summary here. I am now trying to turn those ideas into a media article.

HAX Demo Day in HK on July 10

After the SF demo day in June for pre-A startups, HAX is having a joint demo day with Entrepreneur First in Hong Kong on July 10 (6pm-9pm). It is mainly for investors, with a dozen of our pre-seed and seed stage startups. If you wish to attend email your name / job title / company / linkedin at haxdemoday@hax.co for an invite.

New Fund

The new SOSV fund keeps adding investors. We are now at about $230M. Our ‘soft’ target has been cleared, and we’re on track for our $250M goal. More details on Medium & TechCrunch.

2.
EXPERIENCES

For some reason, two scams (or three? or four?) are in there.

Chinese Police

My Mandarin teacher in Paris got a call from DHL saying a package with passport and bank card had been stopped at the China border. She hadn’t sent and wasn’t expecting anything so she was surprised. DHL said someone might have stolen her identity and connected her to the police.

The police asked for a video call to confirm her identity. She duly completed a QQ video call with an officer in his office. The officer told her someone had opened an account with her ID in China, and did money laundering, and that there was an arrest warrant to her name. He pointed her to a website where it was displayed (the URL was an IP address rather than a domain name).

The officer said they were already investigating several identity thefts and advised to not use any electronic communication and not tell anyone as she might be spied on via her mobile and computer, and might end up extradited if she talked due to the warrant.

They also mentioned her bank credentials might be compromised and they could provide a secure account to store her money until the situation is solved with the bank. My teacher freaked out and canceled the class on short notice, not sure what to do.

Quickly after she received a call from her parents in China (and picked it up): the police had called them because they had found her name on a website pretending to be a government one and used for scams.

Yes, as it turns out, both the DHL call and the first police call (including the video call in uniform) were scammers. They had likely found my teacher’s French mobile number on a website where Chinese people living in France buy and sell things. Those scammers definitely deserve more than an E for their effort!

London Cup Shuffle Scam

We have all seen the 3-cup shuffle some street scammers use. I was walking across a bridge in London when I saw one and decided to look closely. It’s a well-oiled machine with a diverse group of accomplices to make the ‘game’ more believable (with fake wins and losses from that crowd).

Of course you have ZERO chance of winning as the ball you’re supposed to find is nowhere under the cups when you put your money down. And they pack it all away quickly saying ‘police’ before you can say a thing after you lose. How do I know? I saw no cup had a ball below it when they packed it all! More details here.

Comedy in NYC

After reaching NYC and completing on of the ‘deep tech seminars’, I had noticed one of my favorite comedians, Gary Gulman, was on the line-up at the Comedy Cellar (likely the most famous standup club in NYC). It was too late to book and I just hopped on a taxi to get there at the last minute. The waiting list was already closed.

As they were getting the last happy few on the list who could get in, they asked ‘is anyone alone’? I was standing right there so I said yes and I got the very last ticket. One new thing was that they asked each of us to turn off our phone and put it in a sealed envelope. Never saw that before. I think it’s because comedians don’t want their act to leak online, especially those planning to release ‘specials’ (like Gulman).

I didn’t have the best seat but Gulman did the job. The level of others was a bit below what I had seen there before. Also, many comedians only join for their set (then likely rush to another club to practice & earn more), so they don’t know what kind of ‘crowd work’ happened before it, so the next comedian kept asking the same people the same questions instead of building on previous interactions. It’s also not cheap ($17 + 2 drinks minimum I think) — quite the business it has become!

I learned later listening to an interview on NPR that Gulman was drafted to play football but didn’t like the violence and competition, and quit. He has been fighting depression since then, it seems.

Waltz & Etiquette in Vienna

Pioneers, a tech conference in Vienna, had an interesting program for their speakers including some Waltz lessons in a 100-year-old school, and etiquette lessons. Waltz is harder than it looks! Thinking about what etiquette stands for was also interesting — from politeness to status to competence.

I asked the senior Viennese etiquette coach about my airplane seat-switcher conundrum, which he will think about. I think he said he had no problem turning down people who try and take advantage of his manners. I was asked again on a recent flight and politely declined the opportunity to exchange my window seat for a middle seat in the middle row!

System Error at US Border

I landed in Newark from Paris late in the evening and as I was in line at the border, everything stopped to a halt. The system was offline… for 2 hours! After about an hour officers started to distribute some water. They wanted to go home as badly as we did!

3.
CULTURE

ART & SHOWS

Enemy of The People (theatre)***
A doctor wants to reveal the contamination of the water at a small city’s thriving spa. But who is the true enemy? The spa managers? The corrupt mayor? The local newspaper? Or the doctor who might jeopardize the city’s thriving spa business?

Mind-Reading Show in Paris**
Not my usual fare but it was somewhat interesting. How could he read the little papers people had written when they stayed the entire time in a glass bowl lit from underneath? Then write past entry journals mentioning events that happened to audience members? We found some leads…

Picasso Museum***
After visiting his house near Barcelona, the Paris museum was a nice stop.

Chicago Outsider Art**
Another ‘Art Brut’ exhibition in Paris by self-taught artists, often inmates in lunatic asylums. Some interesting pieces.

Polunin in London?
During my last London visit I noticed the Ukrainian ballet dancer Sergei Polunin on a poster. He was to give a show shortly after my visit! For memory, he’s probably the best ballet dancer alive.

He is also known for some outspoken views, which got him canceled after he was invited to dance in Paris last year. Apparently the UK didn’t get the memo. I was about to book a seat and plan another London visit when… they stopped taking bookings for the show! They didn’t cancel it entirely (it was probably too late and costly) but I didn’t take chances and didn’t go. Will I get the chance to ever see him on stage?

SERIES

Chernobyl****
Now that was a good show. Well researched with just a bit of gender-washing (not sure if this is the right term?) as they made up a whistleblowing female scientist where there was none. A Ukrainian friend who grew up there in the 80’s said he was quite impressed by the effort they put in getting the details right. He said his hometown looked just like it. He also mentioned that as a child he was not aware of all the politics and of the rest of the world and life was quite happy. Last, he remembered the kids in school were told not to go out during the rain. Apparently Russia is planning to produce its own version highlighting the role of the CIA in the accident. Who knows?

The good fight***
I binged-watched this show about a black-owned law firm’s trials and tribulations. Lots of great actors in there, and interesting storylines for most of the episodes.

Game of Thrones**
I had watched only the first season. Now I also watched the last. I wasn’t too impressed by the storyline, the terrible battle tactics, the quick killing of the bad guy, and the overall ending. Jon Snow really knows nothing. I liked much better the alternate ending this guy imagined.

Strangers Things**
I had enjoyed the first season, less the second, and was quite disappointed by this third one. I found it quite tedious — from the storyline to the dialogues — but it was well suited to a long flight.

Tuca & Bertie**
Bojack Horseman really has something special. I had hopes for this new series by the same artist, with a character voiced by Ali Wong. Sadly, I just found it too scattered and the writing too weak despite some creative ideas.

Love, Death and Robots*
I had to check this on Netflix just because, but it didn’t work for me...

MOVIES

Pain and Glory****
A truly wonderful movie by Pedro Almodovar about an aging successful film director reuniting with an actor friend he quarreled with decades ago. You still got it, Pedro!

King of Comedy***
Here is an interesting movie in the ‘movies about standup comedy’ series. It features Robert de Niro as an actor who wants to break into standup. I thought the movie was a bit stupid until…

Mountain Film Festival***
I went to watch a series of short movies about mountain sports. They were all quite interesting but the most interesting part might have been the one called ‘Age of Ondra’ about a rock climber named Adam Ondra, the first to conquer a ‘9c’ route. This documentary is about his attempt to ‘flash’ a 9a route. That means climbing it on the first attempt. To prep, he simulates key moves blindfolded on the floor with his trainer (among other things). Here is the trailer. If you’ve watched ‘Free Solo’ you might like this too.

The Dead Don’t Die*
I really like Jim Jarmusch. I watched Down by Law (****), Night on Earth (***), Dead Man (****), Ghost Dog (***), Broken Flowers (***), Paterson (***). This one was his first horror movie and I found it god-awful. I almost walked out (I should have but was too lazy to do it — have you walked out on movies? I did several times).

PODCASTS & LECTURES

An evening with Ray Bradbury****
A wonderful 2001 lecture by the famed Fahrenheit 451 author about how to get good at things, and be happy with what you do. Among key ideas: if you want to write a novel, start by writing lots of short stories!

Joe Rogan interview by Jordan Peterson***
After Rogan interviewed Peterson, the latter interviewed the former. Joe Rogan is really an interesting character: standup comedian, TV host (Fear Factor), martial artist (BJJ + more), MMA commentator and ultra-successful podcaster (200M listens / month?). He’s also a crazy hard-worker.

Sam Harris on Culture***
This was a really good episode where he discussed with Nicholas Christakis, a sociologist and physician known for his research in the areas of social networks and biosocial science, about the ‘social suite’: eight qualities of humans that give us tremendous advantages (though not all unique to humans). It’s worth listening to.
1. Capacity to have and recognize individual identities
2. Love for partners and offspring
3. Friendship. Long-term non-reproductive bonds (elephants too! some more)
4. Social network
5. Cooperation
6. Preference for one's own group
7. Mild hierarchy (nor egalitarian nor autocratic)
8. Capacity for social learning & teaching

BOOKS

The Other Annapurna Story**** (not the actual title)
In 1950, right after the war, France needed heroes. It was decided climbing the Annapurna, the first summit above 8,000m, would provide one.

The climb was successful and hero engineering ensued: Maurice Herzog reaped the glory with his victory photo, his bestselling book, speeches and official appointments. His team-mate, the mountain guide Louis Lachanal is a blurry shadow, and his unedited version of the climb (Les Carnets du Vertige, or ‘Vertigo Notes’) was only published in 2000, long after he passed away. I managed to find this out-of-print collector item (it’s worth about $400) in a public library and read it.

Both men lost many fingers and toes, because Herzog would not give up despite the danger due to their delay and the monsoon season. Lachenal knew they might die, or at least lose body parts, and might never climb again. Lachenal was a professional guide and wasn’t suicidal. But Herzog would not give up and Lachenal would not abandon his climbing partner.

To me, Herzog clearly sacrificed himself (that’s his choice) and his companion (who wasn’t quite happy with it) to the mission, knowing his companion would get very little of the riches (all members were prevented by contract with Herzog from writing their own story for 5 years, and later coerced into keeping quiet or lose their job or reputation). My takeaway is also that we’ll never know if they really reached the summit. Lachenal looks trustworthy, but Herzog doesn’t and could have convinced Lachenal to lie.

If you want to watch some amazing footage from the real climb in 1950, their movie is on YouTube. In 1953, the New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay were the first on top of the Everest.

The Summit of the Gods****
To stay on the topic on mountain, this graphic novel is an adaptation of a bestselling Japanese novel about a rogue mountain climber who wants to attempt a solo climb of mount Everest, and a mysterious old camera who might belong to the British George Mallory, who went missing when attempting to climb the Everest in 1924. His body was found in 1999. Did he reach the summit?

Barbara, by Osamu Tezuka***
My exploration of the Tezuka universe continues after I read his ‘bio in manga’. In addition to erotic animation he also wrote a strange adult story about an artist and a hobo girl who becomes his muse. It’s worth a look.

Shop Talk****
This book is a series of interviews of comic book artists of the ‘golden age’. Among them are the people who created the superhero characters we see in movies today. If you thought Stan Lee invented everything, look into Jack Kirby and others. Did you know Superman (from DC Comics, 1938) didn’t fly at first? His competitor Captain Marvel (from Whiz Comics, 1939) did. The latter was even more popular than Superman for a while. One long lawsuit later, all is well. It was surprising to read about the great respect those artists had for French cartoonists like Moebius, Gotlib, and Bretecher. The French scene offered better distribution, higher status and more freedom to artists, and the results followed.

4.
THOUGHTS & MORE

Two Private Jets
I was attending Vivatech, a big tech festival in Paris and was awaiting the keynote of the CEO of a big Japanese company. His turn came and went. Nothing. I went to ask the organizers in the speakers’s room and was told his private jet had a problem and he couldn’t come. Three things came to mind: (1) There should be an app for that (2) Always have 2 private jets in case the first breaks down (3) If I had a private jet, I would probably have friends who do too. Maybe this CEO doesn’t have many friends? Eventually, I bumped into Gary Kasparov, who was around while I was investigating the case of the missing CEO. He’s quite into A.I.

Ghostbusters Song
As it turns out, it seems it was a rush job and rip-off of a Huey Lewis song.

Faster than Bolt
It is discussed that most athletic improvement these days is due to changes in equipment rather than human ability. Still, there is a high chance that a human running on all four will be faster than Bolt before 2050. Think of it as the sprinting equivalent to the the V-shape ski jump, or the Fosbury flop. The current record is 15.71s.

Well, that’s it for now!
— Ben