November 2014 Articles

Internet Freedom

Fred Wilson · AVC ·

It is about making sure that the Internet remains open and free for innovation. It is about recognizing that the last mile of the wired and wireless internet is a natural monopoly/duopoly where scale creates massive advantages, just like the electrical grid and the water system. It is about making sure that the massive companies that operate these last mile monopolies don’t use their market power to extract rents from the entrepreneurs, developers, and companies that must go through those networks to reach their customers.

This is about keeping the Internet the way it has been operating for the past twenty years. This is a conservative idea. Don’t change something that has worked so well for so long. Don’t allow the telcos to start inspecting each packet and prioritizing some over others.

I love the sound of the word Innovation. It gets associated with companies like Apple and represents a paramount achievement of businesses today. You can find it in advertising and job titles. But what does it really mean?

Innovation is the combination of multiple inventions or technologies into a unique new product that is successfully introduced to the marketplace.

By that definition, innovations are rare. However today we talk about innovation more as its tied to creativity and business acumen. By thinking outside the box, coming up with fresh ideas or lowering costs by improving processes, we have innovated. And it’s here that we loose the meaning behind “innovation” and it becomes just a buzz word, more common in marketing materials than everyday language. However it’s something we are culturally motivated to pursue. Innovation has perceived economic value.

Take as an example Roermond Papier, a paper mill in Roermond, The Netherlands. The company lowered their cost of materials by purchasing phosphate from a local baby-food company that generated it as a waste byproduct. Instead of buying phosphate on the market, they now have an agreement to purchase the waste phosphate from the baby-food plant at a lower price than they would have paid on the open market, and the baby-food company no longer has to pay to dispose of it. Roermond Papier would likely assert that this business decision, no doubt a good idea for both Roermond and the baby food company, is innovative. But it doesn’t get at the heart of innovation, that core idea that innovators bring the world new and amazingly magical products.[1]

When innovation isn’t associated with unique new products, unparalleled in the market, it can manifest itself in a more dreary fashion as leveraging patent portfolios in new ways or encouraging fresh ideas from your team about how to improve your products and processes. Why does that qualify as innovation? Because companies have stopped dedicating resources to leveraging their intellectual property and the creative ideas and obvious process improvements proposed by their employees.[2] In the fight to win business, cost cutting and a drive for “affordability”, companies have downsized and focused on getting the job done right, and on time over delivering creative new solutions.

If your job is to design and build a part, or the interfaces between parts, your job is not to reimagine those things but to get them on paper and built quickly and efficiently. That’s not to say you don’t solve problems along the way and think about how you’re solving the problem, but generally once the solution has been proposed, your job is to build the solution.

Take the example of a contractor, a company whose sole job is to do what the customer asks. These companies struggle to innovate because it’s not part of what makes the business a success. In general, contractors employ a lot of bright people who can build the amazing thing the client wants, but they started with a solution proposed by the client. For example, “I’d like a 10’ pool in my backyard in this kind of shape and with an attached jacuzzi”. Or “please build us a satellite with these capabilities and sensors”.

The end product will be unique but it doesn’t represent an innovation. Now if an engineer was to say, “you know what our customer could really use would be this new thing that we can make if we take one of these, attach it to that and then connect five of those”, that would be innovative. Innovation requires thinking like MacGyver. You see what tools are around you, and you take those things and create the tool you need to solve that problem. You create something that didn’t exist before.

Innovation is not the Swiss Army knife with 50 different functions. It’s knowing that you have 50 different tools and you combine them in a way that a user will look at what you’ve made and intuitively understand and marvel at its unique, powerful simplicity. In the business world, fiber optic networks connecting cities, countries and individual homes is an example of an innovation that makes good business sense. Scientists and engineers long understood the properties of fiber optics and lasers. Combining the two technologies to transmit data at the speed of light straight to a box in your house fundamentally changed the way those homes consumed data. You could now consume data faster, orders of magnitude faster, than ever before. This in turn enabled high definition video streaming (Netflix), seamless networked gaming, and killed the CD, thumb drive and every other portable digital media technology. That’s not to mention how high speed networking has revolutionized the financial industry (high speed trading) or the way we store and share data (Dropbox).

Innovation isn’t just creating a cool new thing, it’s getting people to buy that cool new thing. This distinction is important because it shows that the new thing you’ve imagined and now built is something people want. The US Patent Office is overflowing with ideas, concepts and designs for unique inventions. However only a small percentage of those inventions become innovative new products in the marketplace. Innovations change the world.

That said, innovation as we talk about it today should not be discouraged because, as an idea, it represents so much more than revolutionary new products. Innovation represents fresh thinking, creativity and collaborative problem solving. It is embodied in the sharing of ideas and renaissance of imaginative thinking, tinkering and exploration in everyday life and throughout business cultures. So with that in mind, why not go innovate today? Take a walk, get some fresh air and think about your work. How could you improve how you do your work every day or the product you’re responsible for. And take a leap, what is your business going to look like in five years or even two? Figure it out and sell it to your management and you will be an innovator. Whatever you do, think different.


  1. Schuetze, Christopher F. “The Circular Economy of Recycled Paper.” New York Times 18 November 2014
  2. Companies like Toyota have implemented processes within their organization such that feedback from first-line employees gets acted on which directly correlates to improved manufacturing. See The Toyota Way and the Toyota Production System

Grab Things on the iOS App Store. Both apps for iPhone and iPad were named the “App of the Week” and are free until November 28th.

Ian Urbina for the New York Times Magazine:

Several years ago I began asking my friends and family to tell me their passwords. I had come to believe that these tiny personalized codes get a bum rap. Yes, I understand why passwords are universally despised: the strains they put on our memory, the endless demand to update them, their sheer number. I hate them, too. But there is more to passwords than their annoyance. In our authorship of them, in the fact that we construct them so that we (and only we) will remember them, they take on secret lives. Many of our passwords are suffused with pathos, mischief, sometimes even poetry. Often they have rich back stories. A motivational mantra, a swipe at the boss, a hidden shrine to a lost love, an inside joke with ourselves, a defining emotional scar – these keepsake passwords, as I came to call them, are like tchotchkes of our inner lives.

A year old article by Paul Graham at Y Combinator on how new businesses get off the ground.

One of the most common types of advice we give at Y Combinator is to do things that don’t scale. A lot of would-be founders believe that startups either take off or don’t. You build something, make it available, and if you’ve made a better mousetrap, people beat a path to your door as promised. Or they don’t, in which case the market must not exist.

Actually startups take off because the founders make them take off. There may be a handful that just grew by themselves, but usually it takes some sort of push to get them going. A good metaphor would be the cranks that car engines had before they got electric starters. Once the engine was going, it would keep going, but there was a separate and laborious process to get it going.

Call it Rape

Margot Singer · Longreads ·

Originally posted to The Normal School (paywall) in 2012 and then reposted by Longreads, Margot Singer — an Associate Professor of English and the Director of Creative Writing at Denison University in Granville, Ohio — writes about the cultural and real life meaning of rape.

What is it about ‘no means no’ that you all don’t understand?

The word “rape” comes from the Latin verb rapere: to seize, to take by force, to carry off…

Other words come from the same Latin root as “rape”: rapture, ravage, rapt, ravenous, rapacious, ravishing. Ovid’s Metamorphoses is filled with stories of ravishing nymphs seized and carried off by rapacious gods: Io, Daphne, Callisto, Europa, Andromeda, Leda, Persephone. (There are more than fifty sexual attacks in Ovid, by one scholar’s count.) Correggio paints Io in an erotic swoon, her head tipped back, her lips parted, her body one long, sensuous curve of flesh. You might be forgiven for forgetting that Jupiter has just chased her into the woods, whereupon, in Ovid’s words, “he hid the wide earth in a covering of fog, caught the fleeing girl, and raped her.” Titian pictures Europa in a similar state of rapture, sprawled blowsily across the back of a muscular white bull (Jupiter), her fleshy thighs parted, her translucent gown in disarray, a milky breast exposed. Inspired by Titian, Rubens depicts the abduction of the daughters of Leucippus by the twins Castor and Pollux as a Baroque spiral of rearing horses, gleaming armor, flowing golden hair, creamy female skin. The daughters, languidly reaching out for help, do not look exactly happy, but neither do they seem especially distressed.

Another item sourced from Longreads

Meaghan O’Connell had a perfect pregnancy and the perfect birth plan–and then she went into labor.


Marco Arment · ·

I’ve now known three people, two personally and one via the Internet, who have struggled either getting pregnant and keeping the pregnancy or just with the later. This is the brief story of one of those people.

From Quartz, Kabir Chibber writes about “What yellow slime–yes, slime–can teach your organization”

  1. Explore
  2. Remove hierarchies
  3. Remember what you did wrong and tell someone

Paul Ford for The New Yorker:

You might have read that, on October 28th, W3C officially recommended HTML5. And you might know that this has something to do with apps and the Web. The question is: Does this concern you?

The answer, at least for citizens of the Internet, is yes: it is worth understanding both what HTML5 is and who controls the W3C. And it is worth knowing a little bit about the mysterious, conflict-driven cultural process whereby HTML5 became a “recommendation.” Billions of humans will use the Web over the next decade, yet not many of those people are in a position to define what is “the Web” and what isn’t. The W3C is in that position. So who is in this cabal? What is it up to? Who writes the checks?

In a corporate environment, your job is less about what you know and your unique skill set and as much about working successfully with your coworkers and navigating office politics through the art of persuasion:

“If you’ve ever worked in a large company, you realize that your day to day isn’t spent in product development or even coding (if you’re a coder). Your day to day is spent trying to work out how to work with other people…to put it politely. The impolite way would be it’s spent in office politics.”

Elsie’s Hope is a fantastic new charity based out of San Francisco that is focused on providing clean drinking water to the people of Haiti. Founded by Kenzie Haygood, Elsie’s Hope plans to visit Haiti annually to install filters in local communities. The beauty is that these water filters are cheap, only $150. And filters will last Haitian families ten years before requiring replacement. Named in honor of Kenzie’s grandmother, Elsie L. Haygood Cooper, Elsie’s Hope will continue her devotion to philanthropy and public service and specifically to the effort of bringing clean water to communities in need.

A donation of $20 a month will buy about two filters per year or you can give in a non-recurring manor, both via their website. Elsie’s Hope is a newly recognized 501(c)3 tax-exempt non-profit corporation here in California.

For more, visit Elsie’s Hope online. And for the more adventurous, consider joining Elsie’s Hope for their first trip to Haiti coming up in early 2015.

When you think of an innovation space, by that I mean a space in which people can be creative and explore ideas, what kind of space do you think of? For the lone creatives and the artsy types, picture a hipster bar and nightclub. There’s a cafe downstairs with a patio and a place for intimate chats or for sitting quietly and writing while sipping espresso. The decor is distinctly bold, with colors asserting defiance against the beige walls and ultra-modern furniture of nearby establishments. Music is playing a little louder than usual but it blends well with the atheistic of the cafe; it’s more instrumental than rock vocals. There are couches to sit in and plenty of wifi to be shared by all. It’s a place to exchange idea, a salon of sorts. And it’s here that people will write research papers, read novels, and chat over beer, wine and coffee about all manner of subjects. It’s a place for cultural exchange and a place that’s very accessible. Food and drink are relatively cheap and the space isn’t so pristine as to say “don’t touch anything”. Instead, the space says “welcome, come in and have something to drink. Grab a table — bring a friend if you like — spend some time here, and most of all, don’t feel in a rush. There’s time to enjoy the company of others and to think here.” It’s what some would call a “sticky” place, somewhere you will go and spend a couple hours doing whatever it is you need to do. The space is comfortable and the atmosphere is relaxed. Don’t forget the electrical outlets complete with USB charging stations for everyone’s mobile phones.

Next door is a space for all the people who want to make things. There are large tables where people can spread out their supplies, build and assemble. A supply cabinet plays host to all those office supplies that you know you need but can easily share. And your $10 a month membership covers all the consumable Post-It notes, butcher paper and big markers that you use in the process of making your thing. Of course we can’t forget the computer lab over against the wall and laptop desks nearby for all the computer creative types who are writing, programming and tinkering with their digital devices on the local network that has blazing fast internet access and a “feel-free-to-break-it” policy when it comes to trying new things in the digital world. Opposite are all the various “printers” one uses to convert digital files to physical things. You’ve got traditional paper printers and copiers, additive manufacturing (3D Printers), laser cutter and simple computer controlled routers. In the back, the big machines and construction oriented tools can be found. It’s a big workshop of benches and tables and tools galore. Every type of tool from Home Depot can be found in addition to big tools like mills, lathes (both manual and CNC) along with a welding station, saws, punches, sand blasters and more. There are mobile cranes and lifts to help out with the heavy stuff and an overhead crane, just because.

If the makers don’t feel like going to the hipster cafe next door, they can go to the traditional coffee shop or bar across the street for a bite or drink. There’s also a 24-hour restaurant around the corner that serves good food with a fun alternative vibe. It’s a community of creative types and the necessary resources they need all around them. For the bookworms and those who need a quieter environment, there’s a big library upstairs with lots of books, common areas, beanbag chairs for reading or chatting and quiet areas to work hard in. And there are windows everywhere. That’s not to say there aren’t dark corners and places of recluse, but the spaces all interact with and are shaped by the environment around them. They let in the outside world through those windows and coexist with it. Everything works together.