#40 | Spanish VR Class, Russian Space Movie, Dark, Deep Tech Trends Report
|Benjamin Joffe||Nov 5, 2019|
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Conference season is coming to an end. Let’s unpack a bit.
WORK: The Deep Tech Trends Report Is Live!
EXPERIENCES: Spanish VR, Bravery
CULTURE: Vasa, Dark, Salyut, And A Bunch Of Con-Men
Deep Tech Trends Tour & Report
I completed the 6-cities tour presenting our new ‘Deep Tech Trends’ report (NYC-Boston-London-Paris-Berlin-Munich) to about 800 RSVPs — mostly investors.
The full report is now online here.
A video presenting most of it here (thanks to FirstMark and its Hardwired Meetup in NYC).
One comment I really appreciated was from a VC in London who said ‘After your talk I feel much more optimistic about the future.’
Also, our new fund is closing before year end. So far so good!
Slush (Helsinki, Nov 21-22)
NYC + SF (Dec 12-19)
I did a Spanish lesson in VR on my Oculus Go thanks to Einstein Studios. Their target market is more ADD / dyslexic children, but I was quite impressed by the experience.
My avatar was in a street, then a grocery store with the avatar of my teacher, who asked me about the environment and corrected my many mistakes (I only speak high-school Spanish).
The experience was more entertaining than a sit-down class, and less intimidating than being outside, as there are no by-standers, and you don’t have to care about your appearance or reading people’s reactions. It was probably already possible 10 years ago in Second Life, but today’s VR is much easier to navigate. I’m getting my mom, (who’s been studying Spanish) to try it in a few days…
Bad Travel Day
I was in Paris on my way to the airport to fly to NYC. Then the combined forces of a bad low-cost airline website, a strike, Yellow Vest riots, an abandoned package, a 3x Uber surge price, the rain, a traffic accident that caused a jam, a record-breaking run, and passport control contractors decided that … I would not fly that day.
I missed the registration by 10 minutes and went back home, having wasted half a day.
I flew peacefully the next day but my ordeal wasn’t over: the Climate Summit was in town in NYC, and hotels were packed. The hotel I had booked for $250 turned out to be a budget hotel with shared bathrooms. One more climate change victim…
Recently was the first time I saw a direct connection between what happens on the mat in my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practice, and outside.
When sparring with much heavier guys (90kg+) , I sometimes get this feeling of ‘this is going to be tiring but it’s worth doing’.
I had the same feeling recently in a few social situations The discussions were ‘hot potatoes’: not going to be fun and much safer to avoid. Like on the mat, I still decided to engage. I left those exchanges tense and exhausted, but felt I had practiced some useful mental muscles, and built up more bravery.
I gave a try to a classical singing class at a neighborhood association. The class is mostly made up of retired women with singing experience; my background is the occasional karaoke. I’m just getting started and it’s more intimidating than physical or verbal sparring! But it’s been interesting so far.
An interesting visit. The Vasa is a large Swedish warship who sank on its first day at sea in 1628. The ship sat in the mud for centuries and was picked up almost intact, including various crew items. The building of the ship cost 5% of Sweden's entire GDP at the time. To compare, The Manhattan Project cost ‘only’ $23 billion in 2018 dollars, and the Apollo program $288 billion ($25 billion in 1973 — less than 2% of US GDP at the time). Maybe two bad omens were that the investor (the King) meddled with the design, and that the CTO (the architect) died prematurely.
Museum of Medical History**
A tiny and quaint museum in the med school in Paris, containing a number of ancient medical instruments, including metal picks for bladder stones (no anesthesia — trigger warning for the image here).
A surprising item was a coffee table decorated with preserved human parts including blood, brains, vertebras, 4 ears and a foot. Apparently offered to Napoleon the Third, maybe for his daily witchcraft?
I loved the Bauhaus Archive in Berlin. It depicts the incredibly creative environment of this odd school that was mixing design, architecture and art in a very collaborative way. It didn’t sit well with the nazi regime who called it degenerate art and closed it.
The Berlin center was under renovation during my visit, but a large new museum just opened in September in Dessau, the city where it all started. I made a stop there with high hopes. Unfortunately while the building itself is worth a mention, I was underwhelmed by the exhibits. I also arrived too late to visit the houses of the masters (which were a few km away), which might be worth a look.
MOVIES & TV
It’s not often that I get hooked by a show, but this one did the trick. It’s as if Twin Peaks and Back to the Future had a baby (with a bit of Stranger Things). In German. I watched the 2 seasons and 18 episodes in a weekend.
When was the last time you watched a Russian movie? Same as me.
This one is a 2017 movie about a space rescue operation that actually happened. Cosmonauts had to restart or trash the Salyut space station before the US might snag it with their shuttle.
Salyut — which I had never heard of — was the first generation of space stations, before MIR and the ISS. The movie is actually very cool, with some real space story and a cool geopolitical background.
As a side note, Russians dominated almost every space thing except sending humans to the Moon — which proved so useless (aside from its propaganda power) that no-one went back since 1972.
A pretty good movie on Chinese prostitution in Paris. It’s a movie because they couldn’t find people to speak on camera for it to be a documentary. It explains how some working-class hopeful get tricked into it by the lure of jobs (e.g. nanny).
A discussion followed the movie and the small group that came to watch was pretty colorful: doctors, journalists, activists, prostitutes, etc. — discussing topics such as choice, poverty, crime, regulation and morals. Sadly, nobody touched upon the core of the demand side: sexual needs. Still, it was quite educative.
BoJack Horseman (season 6)**
A season where BoJack is the adult in the room? Is that even possible? Not the best season (some were ****), but still ok. I hope the second part coming out in January will be better.
Always Be My Maybe**
A humorous rom-com with Ali Wong, an Asian-American female standup comic and Randall Park, of ‘Fresh of the boat’ fame.
I almost abandoned this movie half-way. I was expecting entertainment and was just bored. The odd thing is that the acting was good, and special effects on par with the course for Hollywood. Martin Scorcese broke the director’s heart by calling his movie (and all Marvel’s) a ‘theme park’. I’m not sure what I was hoping for, but it wasn’t there.
The Great Depresh**
Gary Gulman’s new special is out on HBO! He also had a cameo in Joker, so 2019 is really his year. While I love his personality and lots of his work, I didn’t relate to, nor laugh much for this one. It felt more like a documentary about him and ‘surviving depression’ that a standup show. Still worth a watch I think.
Who Am I**
After watching Dark, I researched movies by the same director and found this one. It’s a German hacker story — nothing supernatural — with a bit of Fight Club spirit. A few things didn’t add up, but I found it overall acceptable.
French movie where a woman meets her husband’s younger self, and gets to reflect on her life and many lovers. The premise sounded like a comedy, but I got quickly bored despite fairly good acting (Chiara Mastroiani received an award for it).
Senegalese ‘supernatural romantic drama’. I didn’t know anything about this movie except that it had won a Golden Palm in Cannes.
I am very wary of Golden Palms as half of them seem to be due to a political or social message, rather than the movie’s artistic quality (a bit like the Nobels for Peace and Literature).
Anyway, I had euros and time to spare so I gave it a shot. Lo and behold, it belonged to the bad half. I almost left mid-way but decided to see it through … to no avail. On the one hand I’m glad to support emerging markets and directors (this one was the first black woman to win the coveted prize) but it was well below my expectations. You win some, you lose some, I guess.
BOOKS, COMICS & MANGA
By Eddie Izzard, the '‘executive transvestite’. This was the audiobook of his biography, read by himself. It turned out to be quite entertaining, including a flurry of amusing spoken footnotes. It shows how much self-belief, work, stamina and patience goes into building a career such as his.
Kurosagi - The Black Swindler (as in ‘black hat’)***
A story about a young con-man who only cons con-men (white swindlers or ’shirosagi’ シロサギ, from the egret bird. Apparently there is also a ‘red swindler’ type). It’s quite educative.
For great movies on con artists (not the ‘Ocean’ series) I recommend Nueve Reinas (‘nine queens’) a very fun Spanish movie (with a poor Hollywood remake), and The Gentle Art of Japanese Extorsion by Juzo Itami (my favorite Japanese director). The latter is a very funny movie about real yakuza tricks. Itami got assaulted (and maybe murdered) because of it.
I bumped into this comic book series in a bookstore and read it cover to cover (6 volumes) in one sitting. It’s about a foreign young man working in finance in Hong Kong (where I lived for 2 years) who climbs up to become an aggressive Hedge Fund manager. The stories are tied to real people and facts (Greenspan, sub-primes, etc.). It feels like a recap of some recent major economic stories, with a few surprises.
Attack on Titan**
I’m not a fan of this manga series, but one YouTube channel I watch on occasion (a former aikido teacher who stopped believing in aikido’s as a martial art and got into MMA), found one episode where two titans fight with realistic jiu-jitsu techniques. He sat down with a BJJ instructor to comment on the moves. As a side note, in Japan I trained aikido for a few months in a dojo founded by a ‘living treasure’, who was also the technical director for Kurosawa’s samurai movie fight scenes. It was quite the experience.
INTERVIEWS & PODCASTS
The ‘enfant terrible’ of French literature, and likely the most famous living French novelist. I used to find him quite depressing, but now I find him realistic, thoughtful and humorous.
I watched several of his very rare interviews including this excellent one he gave recently in Denmark (with translation), that he said might be his last on stage. I really enjoyed it and found almost nothing to disagree with.
In ‘Staying Alive: A Method’, the movie inspired by Houellebecq’s book, we follow Iggy Pop and a few unknown artists as they explain how to keep creative in a world that mostly ignores or rejects you.
Houellebecq says a few interesting things there:
There are two types of artists: revolutionaries and decorators. (unattributed quote)
Unoriginal people do not exist.
When you provoke in others a mixture of horrified pity and contempt you will know you're on the right track. You can begin to write.
I am now re-watching ‘The Possibility of an Island’, a movie dealing with immortality, cloning, and inspired by a sect Houellebecq discussed with for a while. The movie production is not great but there are a few gems there. Alongside this, I am re-reading ‘City’ by Clifford Simak, who imagines a world where dogs rule, and evoke the past where humans might (or might not) have lived.
Joe Rogan Interviews John Carmack
You don’t know his name but you know his work: John Carmack created the pioneering video games Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Quake and is currently the CTO at Oculus. A very interesting podcast.
I received an email promoting a ‘luxury retreat’ including meditation and Ayahuasca ceremonies (using ‘teaching plants’). Is it the next Burning Man? It costs about $5,000 for a week.
My experience the one time I took Ayahuasca several years back it was nothing like this. The disgusting mixture of plants and smoke tasted like a stale herbal brew in which someone extinguished a cigarette, and my immune system battled its poison violently. I remember I was the first to throw up in my bucket. For this, I got no vision of crocodiles or feathered snakes, and no enlightenment.
For less money than the retreat, the movie director Jan Kounen spent a year vomiting and filming in the jungle and made a documentary called ‘Other Worlds’. He also wrote a guide book for beginners (in French). Have fun!