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It’s 2020! I hope your year is starting well. What systems have you put in place to help you go past your goals? Willpower alone won’t cut it this year either! It has to be on the weekly agenda to ensure consistency. Let’s make it happen :)
WORK: Evolution, Deep Tech Week, IndieBio NYC, CES Meetup
EXPERIENCES: Dumplings, Boards Games, Addiction,
CULTURE: Lumiere in Lyon, Tolkien, Foreign Movies and Netflix Documentaries
THOUGHTS: On Art, Brexit and Genetic Counseling
After 6 years at SOSV focused mostly on HAX, I am transitioning to work with the broader SOSV portfolio — covering hardware (HAX), life sciences (IndieBio) and food (Food-X). If hardware was great, biology is mind-blowing (and has a steep learning curve).
My first steps in that direction in 2019 were the Deep Tech Trends report, and the series of events about Startup Exits and Investing in Deep Tech.
I’ll be working on increasing our deal flow, identifying and sharing industry trends and insights, and building up our investor network for future funding.
This also means I’m spending much less time in Asia and much more in Europe and US, where our startups are.
Deep Tech Week (Paris, 9-13 March 2020)
Launched by a non-profit named Hello Tomorrow, it has become the go-to place for deep tech startups. Check it out here. We’re supporting this year’s edition by organizing an investors-only ‘Deep Tech Investors Night’ on Mar 12 (Thursday).
IndieBio Expands To New York
If you’re at CES, join our happy hour today on Jan 7 (Tue), 5:30 PM – 7:30 PM, at Buddy V's Ristorante, 3327 South Las Vegas Boulevard. I won’t be there this year but you’ll meet my colleagues and many of our most exciting startups!
Dumplings From Scratch
After cooking Chinese dumplings using pre-made skins, I finally made some from scratch. It’s easier than you might think, and a fun group activity for an hour or so, including with kids.
Mix flour and water into a paste.
Roll a chunk of it flat, cut out palm-sized discs (use a metal tube or else).
Dust a good amount of flour to avoid them sticking too much.
For the filling, mix minced pork with some spring onions or else.
Put a spoonful in disc, close in half by pinching along the edge (or get a mold).
Fry or boil. You’re done!
I have been out of the loop for years but I got to play several over the Winter break.
Two fairly entertaining games were
Gang of Four, a kind of modified poker
Mixmo, a faster and more flexible Scrabble that solves the long wait and stiff board structure — there are other words games out there, though.
The challenge of games is balancing skill, luck, interactions and speed.
I didn’t play Catan but it has a huge following. The business story is a bit interesting: the rights for this best seller created in 1995 were bought by a publisher named Asmodee in 2016. Asmodee was itself owned by another private equity firm since 2014, and sold to another in 2018 for a whopping $1.4 billion as it grew internationally and digitally.
Stages of Game Addiction
During the break I stumbled upon an oldie mobile game: Plants vs Zombies 2. I had played the first edition years ago and it’s a nifty little game. Great design and balance — a good mix of strategy, skill and luck — a bit too much, in fact: I couldn’t stop playing and went through what I describe now as the 6 stages of game addition.
“One last game.” And keep playing. Sleep at 2am.
“I need tips.” Look online for info on stages and foes.
“Should I cheat?” and use free power-ups?
“Should I pay?” and buy power-ups?
“I need the answer.” And watch a walk-through on YouTube.
“Enough!”. Final uninstall.
When I ended up watching a walk-through for a stage I couldn’t complete after 2 hours of efforts, I realized I needed a near-perfect strategy (choice of weapons) and execution (which requires timing and dexterity) to win. The other choices were to use free or paid power-ups. I didn’t intend to become a pro player, cheat, nor pay my way (it’s a slippery slope). So I thought: ‘enough!’ and uninstalled the game.
It also reminded me of how weak our (my) mental immune system can be against ‘digital drugs’ (can it be more like alcohol or cigarettes? — it depends on their nature and your usage), and why I walked away from the pay-to-win game industry!
Making Children Cry
The coach asked me to spar in jiu-jitsu with some of his teenage judo students. He told me my job was to show them how bad they are at ground work. The following week I heard that one of them (about 14yo I think) shed some tears after training. His mother even emailed the coach to complain. I was quite surprised as I had been careful not to use strength and stop submissions early.
The coach told me this wasn’t a problem of physical pain but psychological: this kid had difficulties leveling up, his mom emailed to complain on other occasions, and that he took time to tell her that judo and jiu-jitsu involved some discomfort… I wish I had known that before!
Still, it reminded me of my first sparring in boxing, and how ‘crucible experiences’ can go better and become ‘teachable moments’ with better processes. Better check awareness and skills earlier next time!
I spent the New Year in the 2nd/3rd largest French city. Among the highlights were:
The Lumiere Museum. The Lumiere brothers were inventors and industrialists who built some of the first movie cameras, while selling film plates and rolls based on the chemical invention of the younger brother, Auguste. They even created a 360 image projector (but it didn’t meet commercial success), a prosthetic hand for WWI soldiers, a non-adhesive plaster that was used until 2007 (‘oily tulle’) and published about 800 scientific papers.
To promote their camera invention they trained operators and dispatched some around the world to create content. People would go to watch movies that barely had a title, which took them to places they would likely never see with their own eyes.
Across the ocean, Edison was not a big believer in public projections and worked on individual peep-show machines until he eventually bought some projection patents and had his lab develop a new system.
Later, Louis Lumiere was invited to be the president of the first Cannes film festival in 1939, itself created to compete against the Venice one as the Italian and German governments were becoming too hands-on in the selection. The US and UK were in, but as Germany invaded Poland on September 1st, the festival got canceled and only started for real in 1946.
Auguste Lumiere, like Mike Tyson, kept a big cat as a pet (a lion).
The Museum of Cinema and Miniature. It displays accessories, sets and special effect techniques from various movies. How did they make self-lacing shoes in Back To The Future? How do you have an arrow shoot Brad Pitt’s shield safely in Troy? You’d be surprised by some of the tricks!
The Zoo & Botanical Garden. Discovered the sand cat (who doesn’t need water because his preys hydrate him). Also answered questions such as how does a flamingo eat? How does a duck float? (note: it is not made of wood). The garden had a carnivorous plants section, with interesting explanations about their functioning. One type has a pouch of digestive juice into which trapped insects fall (videos for more here).
The Contemporary Art Museum. The building is great but it only displayed half a dozen artists, and their work wasn’t impressive: some with low technical skill, one sub-Louise Bourgeois, and pieces that looked like a concept built up by contractors. It reminded me of the Exit Through The Gift Shop Banksy-not-Banksy mock-documentary. However, one of them — a large tainted fabric — stood out by its size and delicate coloring and patterns. Another piece mentioned a centuries-old accidental poisoning by ergot, a fungus that grows on rye. Research on ergot is what lead Albert Hofmann to synthesize LSD as he tried to make a respiratory and circulatory stimulant.
Tolkien, Journey to Middle-Earth***
An exhibit with drawings and writings by Tolkien, alongside various pieces that inspired the creation of his saga. Passionate about languages since childhood, Tolkien also had skills as an illustrator. Though some of his drawings are pretty average, they are useful graphic references for his unfolding universes. The most impressive pieces in the show were the ones by Dürer and Gustave Doré.
1001 Nights (Arabian Nights)***
A revisited theatrical version of the folk tale was shown in Paris. It swayed between ancient and modern times, with some horror and surrealist touches that David Lynch might have approved. It also featured songs of Umm Kulthum, an iconic Egyptian singer.
Joshua vs Ruiz 2*
The first boxing match between the tall and ripped Joshua vs. the shorter and much fatter Ruiz was impressive, ending in a Ruiz victory. In this quite boring re-match, Ruiz controlled the center, while Joshua danced around him and kept his distance. Apparently Ruiz went a bit wild on the weight side: gaining 7kg to reach 128kg since his last match, for his 1m88. Joshua weights 107kg for 1m98. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee? There might be a third match. As a side note, it seems that gladiators used to carry a fair amount of body fat, maybe that was the Ruiz strategy?
Movies & TV
The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão****
This Brazilian movie was a very pleasant surprise. It follows the lives of two sisters living in Rio in the 50’s, one of which ends up in disgrace with her conservative father. The movie was touching, had solid acting, and a great ending.
Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains***
The first film by Gu Xiaogang: the biopic of a Chinese grandma, her four adult sons and their families, in the city of Fuyang (a fairly generic mid-sized city). It is not as dramatic as An Elephant Sitting Still, but it is an enjoyable watch and likely depicts well the life of lower-middle-class people in China. The dreamy electronic music by Dou Wei, a former pioneer of hard rock in the 80’s (and ex-husband of Faye Wong) matches the movie perfectly.
By/with Buster Keaton, from 1924 in B&W. The stunts, creativity, and some early special effects are quite outstanding. Hard to believe it was made almost 100 years ago. In the public domain and free on YouTube.
HBO Silicon Valley***
The final season of the close-to-reality show about a startup. I felt they gave a nice ending to most individual stories. The hero’s journey is now complete … or is it?
The Toys That Made Us***
An interesting series on Netflix about the making of some iconic toys, and the deep connection between toy makers and children shows. I recommend the episodes on Star Wars, He-Man, Transformers, Lego, TMNT and Power Rangers.
The Movies That Made Us***
An exploration of how some cult movies were made, often on a shoestring budget and against all odds. Check out Ghostbusters, Die Hard and Dirty Dancing.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker**
Not quite the best, nor the worst. But Chewbacca finally got his medal. Overall, the Disney treatment means everything feels very spelled out, losing lots of charm and mystery.
I came across this viral video on Facebook (11 million views), where a street artist made an amazing landscape with spray paint and tools in just 5 minutes. Comments were laudatory, praising ‘talent’.
While it looked impressive (and very fast), it made me pause and think:
The result felt somewhat generic and more of a gimmick than ‘art’: it was done with sunbursts, stencils and a few tricks, like someone folding a paper crane. It also made me think of how Hollywood can dress up a script with FX and pretty faces. The equivalent of visual or cultural junk food.
I went back to the comments: ‘amazing’, ‘masterpiece’, ‘great work’, ‘how can I purchase it’, ‘she should have a gallery’, ‘$20 is too cheap’ … and my favorite ‘she would have painted the 16th (sic.) Chapel in under 30 minutes. Michelangelo was lazy’. I had to go quite far down to find someone (another artist) who was not impressed, aside from the Michelangelo guy above (who turned out to be joking).
Of course, when looking at a large chunk of contemporary art, one can wonder what art is, what kind of skills are required to make it, and what determines its value. One could say it’s all in the eye of the beholder: it’s worth what you are ready to pay for it, or how much you enjoy it. Here at least I felt the artist was charging a fair price: $20 for a quick generic job.
It also made me recall Congo, the chimpanzee coached (trained?) in the 50’s by Desmond Morris (author of The Naked Ape, also a zoologist and surrealist painter). Congo’s works were being exhibited and sold in London this December (Congo is long gone and Morris is in his 90’s, and felt it was time to share). As it turns out, Congo now has competition with Pig-casso and his vigorous brushstrokes.
If you had to pick between (a) the spray paint (b) some random modern art (c) Congo’s or (d) Pigcasso’s, which would you rather have on your wall? As for me, I’d pick Congo’s, as a pioneer of the genre :)
This futuristic-sounding job has been around for decades. With the latest discoveries in genetic testing and gene therapies, we can probably expect it to grow into something more sophisticated. Will it become full GATTACA? Funny enough, the director of that movie also wrote The Truman Show, and a few others.
Brexit, Protests & More
Brexit now looks like a certainty, while France is paralyzed by strikes and protests against new legislations on retirement age and pension calculation. Both situations seem related to the excesses of our particular blend of capitalism, which leaves many living in poverty.
Can new governments change this or is it a systemic result? Empires have risen and fallen, people have remained. Greece has been a cautionary tale. The UK will be an interesting laboratory, despite the fact that it had always been on the fence with the EU and makes for a less dramatic ‘leave’ than if Greece or France had done it.
We can hope the UK regains some agility despite the downsides, and let’s judge the results in 5 to 10 years. We’ll also see then if France is — as often — a decade behind the times, or made the right choice.
Best wishes for the New Year!