#41 | 30,000 Deep Tech Views, Alsace Tips, New Gadgets and Yogababble
|Benjamin Joffe||Dec 2, 2019|
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Trivia: Black Day is a special day in South Korea. Is it a combination of Black Friday and China’s Singles Day? Not quite! It is a month after White Day, itself a month after Valentine Day. On Black Day, those still single eat noodles with black sauce to celebrate their solitude.
WORK: Report Stats, New Articles, Upcoming NYC talks
EXPERIENCES: Visa-less, Stoked by Storks, Jodo Stories, Gadgets
CULTURE: London Revival, Netflix Tips, Being a Bat, Yogababble
Last Deep Tech Trends Talks + Report Stats
The report has passed 30,000 views! You can read it here.
I wrote a long piece on ‘Funding Deep Tech Startups’ based on a recent talk I gave. I cover things like Science Risk, Team Risk and several biases investors need to overcome (I gave them colorful names like ‘Star Wars Bias’, ‘Ugly Duckling Bias’ and ‘Darwin Bias’).
A yet-to-write article based on my talk on The Future Of Food (slides), where I go over several innovations that will transform the way we produce, distribute and prepare food. Among key ideas:
The Food Hierarchy of Needs (at the top: we’re buying virtue),
The Second Domestication of Animals (h/t RethinkX report).
The Twilight of the Cow (h/t RethinkX report & Nietzsche for the wording)
21st Century Cashless Travel
I went on a business trip and forgot to bring cash AND any credit card. Here were the friction points during the trip:
Hotels ask you for a credit card when you check in.
Uber does not work in every country — such as Luxembourg. I tried to use a local taxi app by registering my card number (I had it saved) but it didn’t go through.
In shops I thought I could use NFC (for small purchases) but my Xiaomi phone does not have it enabled.
Fortunately, Uber, friends and strangers helped me along the trip and it all worked out ok, but it definitely feels better with at least one card with me!
I went to Alsace for a weekend. It’s a French region bordering Germany. Fairly scenic, with old houses and pointy roofs. Tried the local Flammekueche (a kind of local pizza with cream and onion — no tomato), then dodged the Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage with various pork specialties), and their unholy progeny the Sauerkraut Flammekueche.
I also saw some storks and copyu (French: ragondin) in an animal rehabilitation center. The latter is half-way between a rat and a beaver (it was also great to finally be able put a face on the pâté I ate a few months ago in another region…). As for storks — an Alsacian celebrity said to delivery human babies — there are only a few thousand migrating to the region these days: many die from eating insects with pesticides, or stopped migrating as they found hospitable garbage dumps to feed on (less charming). Apparently storks are big in Poland (30,000 couples) — maybe even a pest? I wonder if they make pâté.
On the way to Alsace I stopped by Reims, famous for its Champagne producers (I visited Taittinger). Some of them own castles or art deco mansions reminiscent of the Gaudi-designed ones in Barcelona. Of course Reims also has its Monet cathedral (also of Joan of Arc fame) — indeed quite a sight.
In a local automotive museum it was interesting to see old cars from many little-known brands. At the time, enterprising mechanics could just buy an engine here, a chassis there, add a body design and off they went: they had a car brand!
It reminded me of the heydays of shanzhai phones in China, where you could just take a Mediatek chipset, some cheap memory and screen, and add whatever function you wanted, from loudspeakers to an electric shaver (I had one—an average phone, an average shaver, but the only shaver phone!).
To open the cocktail at a recent conference in Stockholm, a female breakdancer was invited to perform. The setting was the Nobel Prize Hall, with the outside entrance lit up quite spectacularly by torches. The dancer did a great job with slow-motion movements, going down the indoor stairs. It was somewhat reminiscent of Japanese butoh dance.
Shortly after, I saw the girl lining up at the end of the queue for the buffet. After praising her performance, I thought that as the opening ‘star’, she was probably hungry and tired, and could maybe get food faster. I went to ask the event organizers who said ‘this is a nice thought but this is Sweden, nobody skips the queue’ — I went back to tell the dancer who, in fact, thought the same!
A few weeks ago a local cinema was showing a retrospective of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s movies. While his Holy Mountain movie remains pretty strange (I’m actually surprised it was shown considering what it contains), the 80+ year-old playwright-actor-director-tarot-reader-healer was in good spirits presenting them and answering some questions. He sounded uncompromising with his movies, not wanting to sell out. With comics he allowed himself to be more commercial, while retaining a fair amount of freedom, as comics are much cheaper to produce.
After the show I gave his wife a set of H.R. Giger-designed tarot cards in mint condition I had purchased 20 years ago on a whim. Giger was hired by Jodo alongside French graphic novel genius Moebius for Jodo’s Dune attempt (the documentary is worth watching). This was years before David Lynch picked up the project. If you’re new to Jodorowsky, I recommend starting with The Dance of Reality and Endless Poetry before El Topo or other old classics.
At a recent conference I heard Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, tell his story. There were quite a few surprises:
What he did before Wikipedia and how it lead to it,
How Wikipedia is doing ($100m in the bank, but always need to plan for the future),
What other ventures he is working on. One of them is Fandom (fka Wikia), which raised close to $150m (it started many years back, leveraging the same tech stack as Wikipedia, but for pop culture fans)
VR Immersive Game
I tried a new room-size multiplayer game called Toyland, where you’re a kind of plastic robot soldier in a Toy Story world.
The game uses HTV Vive Pro linked to PCs in backpacks.
It has several action sequences between which we sat on vibrating chairs as we transitioned from a train to an airplane or else.
It lasted about 30min and was quite fun, even more so than the Skybox VR I tried in the Bay Area before.
It’s still quite pricey as it takes a large room (with vibrating floor!), but it’s trending well and a bit of a workout as you move about to chase or avoid enemies.
Eating More Insects
I am not new to insect eating but I was recently treated to insect burgers (only 5% insects - for flavor?) and crickets. How can you tell if someone is a seasoned insect eater? Check if, and how, they rip the wings off the crickets!
I bought the digestion tracker from FoodMarble, one of our portfolio startups.
Before you imagine things wrong: it is a kind of breathalyzer you use a bit after eating. It will tell you if your food is fermenting in your guts.
While it is not simple to derive insights, it does help to establish correlation between what I ate and my level of energy and comfort. I hope to discover more shortly (sadly, I did not use it when I ate insects, nor during a Sichuan food experiment). The startup sold over 10,000 units already and won numerous prizes. It seems to be particularly useful to IBS sufferers.
Another product I bought from one of our portfolio startups is Moona.
It is a thermostat for your pillow, which uses a Peltier module to circulate water at the desired temperature in a custom pillow pad. I wish I had it during this Summer’s heat wave! While it doesn’t do everything I want it to, I found it useful to ‘cool down’ when I feel too awake or agitated to sleep. The cost of bad sleep is quite high!
It was a tiring day on the suburban train back from the airport, and I leisurely rested my feet on the edge of the opposite seat. Two train staff passed me by silently… then stopped and explained that I had the choice of paying a fine right away or having it increase later. The fine — 50 euros — was more expensive than the shoes I was wearing that day… I later learned that the regulation on ‘incivilities’ on trains cover throwing any trash on the ground, spitting, and listening to music too loudly (I didn’t figure out if it is counted per item or per person). To prevent this from happening again I took advantage of Black Friday and bought more expensive shoes ;)
An Italian and modernized take on the great novel by Jack London, telling the rags-to-riches story of a working-class free thinker who educates himself out of poverty and to a higher social conscience… only to realize the upper-class isn’t what it seemed to be.
Being quite a fan of London’s social commentary from The Iron Heel (a capitalist dystopian anticipation novel from 1908, later prefaced by Leon Trotsky, which strangely resonates with our times) to The People of the Abyss (gonzo journalism in the London East End), I had some hope in this adaptation. The movie uses clips of old film archives to anchor the period and environment. While not entirely faithful to the original text, it still delivered.
Adults in the room***
A movie based on the book by Yanis Varoufakis, who served as Greece’s Minister of Finance from January to July 2015 under Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. It covers the 2015 Greek bailout by the ‘troika’ of European Commission, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund, which went against the Greek referendum (who had rejected it).
This movie is one of the rare dissenting pieces in the EU media landscape about the Greek situation, where the country is often portrayed as acting in bad faith, having ‘cheated’, and overall deserving their decades of economic slavery (their GDP has been halved and set back 15 years to 2003 levels, while the US almost doubled).
A relative of mine who lived for 3 years in Greece during this time told me how betrayed the people felt by their government and the EU, and how harsh the daily reality had become. Adding insult to injury, the FMI people not only forced Greece to sell many of its state assets in a fire sale, but apparently also bought personally many properties in Greece. Who knows what would have happened if Greece had defaulted like Iceland?
Psychomagic: An Art To Heal***
This is a new documentary about Jodorowsky’s healing practice, which uses the performing of symbolic acts by the ‘patient’ to get rid of mental blocks or trauma.
I had backed its Kickstarter campaign (and received some ‘poetic money’ featuring the master himself), it’s great it got completed!
The practice sits somewhere between exorcism and psychoanalysis, with the goal of speaking directly to the unconscious. It might be an enhanced form of ‘placebo’, but if it works…?
Daniel Craig pretends to be Poirot in an Agatha Christie wannabe movie. Nice set and images, good acting (the classic Hollywood flavor enhancers), but quite forgettable.
A follow-up to my previous writing: the movie strongly reminded me of The King Of Comedy. An oldie featuring Dustin Hoffman as an aspiring stand-up comic, with a clever twist. The chaos in the city also had a 12 Monkeys / Fight Club vibe. Despite the high quality acting and production, I think those older movies did a better job. One critic also looked at Joker from the angle of whiteness—maybe something interesting between the lines?
This is a movie about the final hours of Pier-Paolo Pasolini and his assassination. Pasolini had gotten in trouble for his movies and was just finishing off the shocking Salo or the 120 days of Sodom, a movie based on the book by Marquis de Sade (but set during World War II), when the rolls got stolen… This movie on his death is not that great, unfortunately. For amateurs, Pasolini’s Teorema is a particularly interesting reflexion on passion.
SHOWS & TV
Rick & Morty****
The first few episodes are out, and did not disappoint. The pace of this show is so fast it is likely intentionally designed for re-watching. The meta-episode about heists definitely gave a different perspective on the movie Drawn Knives.
The new season is here, unfortunately the vibe has changed: BoJack is going clean and now seems to be the only adult in the house. I lowered my expectations for the second half of the season.
Oh My God She’s Parisian*
Let’s go watch a standup show with a French lady making fun of being a Parisian? A previous show by a guy was actually quite good. Sadly, this one was rather new (2 years experience?) and, well, lacked material, polish, setups and punchlines. Maybe in a few years?
Seth Meyers: Lobby Baby****
Let’s end on a high: after the above Parisian fiasco, I browsed Netflix in the hope of a brain-wash. The guy’s name rang a bell and I gave it a shot. It turned out to be a rare act: a comic who’s not angry, not shouting, and genuinely seems to be be comfortable in his own skin and having fun while laughing at himself. Highly recommend!
What is it like to be a bat?***
I finally got around to read this 1974 article on the irreducibility of the subjective experience and the mind-body problem.
Can we experience mental states if our bodies don’t have the capacity for the experiences? Can we grasp the difference in consciousness that would come from being, for instance, a creature that not only flies but eats insects (with joy), perceives the world with echolocation, and hangs upside down? Can we experience the world of a dog, where nose > eyes > ears? Even Batman wouldn’t know. Maybe with enough VR immersion can we get close?
I found some interesting parallels in the 1952 scifi book City by Clifford Simak, where dogs rule the world and humans are a legend. The dog world and values are very different from those of humans, which leads to unexpected developments when faced with a new threat from… ants.
We need new words to describe our reality. Some identified or anonymous creators save us the trouble:
Yogababble. A mystical jargon used in lieu of a business model. Coined by NYU Professor Scott Galloway (he has a bunch of entertaining videos commenting on various tech companies, including #WeWork).
Wokesplain. Mansplaining is so 2018 (kudos to Seth Meyers for his joke on the latter). 2019 was about woke. How woke is woke? Can you be too woke? What will 2020’s word-of-the-year be?
See you in 2020!