April 2016 Articles

Many of us today, myself included, think of Silicon Valley software startups as fast, nimble organizations who ship code immediately and run like the wind. Jim makes the point that to be agile — to run like the wind — you can’t run blindly and without restraint. You have to write code with safety mechanisms built in.

Imagine it’s your job to get all the cars on a highway to drive faster. What would happen if you just told all the drivers to wildly jam down on their gas pedals?

Clearly, the result would be a disaster. And yet, this is exactly the kind of attitude many developers take with trying to build software faster…

For cars on a highway, high-speed driving requires safety. In order to drive a car faster, you need safety mechanisms such as brakes, seat belts, and airbags that ensure the driver will be unharmed in case something goes wrong.

For software, agility requires safety. There is a difference between making intelligent tradeoffs and throwing all caution to the wind and charging blindly ahead. You need safety mechanisms that ensure those changes cannot do too much damage in case something goes wrong. If you’re reckless, you will ultimately move slower, not faster

NPR had a few aspiring homeowners check out online calculators that help you understand at what monthly cost it makes more sense to to rent versus buy a home.

The calculators and resources they had them use were:

Great starting point resource for prospective buyers.


Apple · YouTube ·

Apple produced two videos highlighting a young man named Dillan who is autistic. The videos tell Dillan’s story and how iPad has changed the way he is able to communicate with others.

Growing up I knew someone like Dillan. I am consistently amazed at the ways technology is enabling those without a voice, and those who can’t communicate in traditional ways, to interact with other people; to give them a voice that they didn’t previously have. I hope we can continue to do more in this area.

Advice on how to start a company with best friends. Solid advice:

You need to divide responsibilities. You have to agree upfront which parts of the company you will be working on, and which your friend/co-founder will be working on. Most importantly, you have to be comfortable with that person getting the final say in those areas. Even harder, you have to be comfortable with that person deciding how those decisions will be implemented.

Once each of you feels like you have an area that you manage, you will feel more comfortable accepting feedback - and more careful in giving it. You will also work hard to make sure that the parts of the company you’re in charge of succeed, because it will be clear where the responsibility lies if they don’t.

Sam Altman continues to drive Y Combinator in new directions. I for one am impressed. This proposed acquisition of Sequoia Capital augments Y Combinator’s stream of potentially viable companies that they mentor through their bi-annual batches; it now also gives them a strong venture capital arm to invest in those same startups.

The acquisition will enable our firms to realize a number of operational synergies. We have a blog and Sequoia doesn’t. Sequoia’s day-long Monday partner meetings will be replaced with Tuesday night dinners. And now YC companies will automatically receive a Sequoia term sheet to negotiate better terms from other firms. Sequoia will become the new YCVC group*, where they will take a hands-on role of turning YC’s best companies into enduring franchises, which they have been doing anyway.

It’s interesting that Sam mentions the blog — marketing — and franchising as synergistic opportunities. I’m especially interested to see how those two change and evolve.

I’m always looking for a new “sticky” spot to work from. I don’t like working alone in my apartment, and at the same time I need a space to work from where other people are around but where I can focus without being engaged in constant conversation. It stems a bit from my introverted and extroverted tendencies. If a Meyers Briggs test is any insight; I score approximately right in the middle between introversion and extroversion every time I take it.

So what to do when I want to get work done.

Open a Coffee Shop and Art Gallery

This has always been more of a dream —- a great idea I’ve tossed around with a few good friends. We never really did anything about it.

Go to a Co-Working Space

Great idea but they cost money. And I already have a job with an office; I’m not looking for a second office. Just a place I can go for an hour or a whole evening. I like the idea of community and meeting other folks working on their own projects. But again, $20 a day to drop in is more than I’m looking to shell out. Though a nice desk, couch, fast internet and like-minded people might be well worth the expense. Some co-working spaces offer beer too…

Open a Co-Working Space

I did this thought experiment yesterday. Leasing retail and creative space in my city in a high foot-traffic area runs between $30 and $54 per square foot on a monthly basis. Here’s my quick back-of-the-envelope math:

  • 2,160 ft^2 at $54/ft^2 = $116,640/month
  • ($116,640/month)/(30 days/month) = $3,888/day

Business Model: Free with in-App Purchase

Sell something inside the co-working space

  • Starbucks Latte = $3.48 (Global Average Price)
  • Need to sell 1,118 Starbucks latte equivalents each day to cover the lease — that’s a lot of people buying latte’s or the like

Business Model: Subscriptions

Follow current industry standards and charge for entrance (Sampled from People Space and WeWork)

  • Daily: $20-$50/day
  • Open Seat: $175-$220/month
  • Dedicated Seat: $275-$325/month
  • Office: $450-$825/month

Solving for each independently:


  • 2,333 to 5,832 people per month
  • That’s 78-194 people per day
  • California State University, Long Beach — a local large university — has 37,430 students. That’s getting 15% of the student population to come
  • Or at University of San Diego with 8,251 students, getting 71% of the student body to come
  • I don’t know that we can get a small private university sized group of people to pay $20 a day to work in our space — so maybe the question is how to do this…

Open Seat

  • 530-667 monthly members
  • Might be do-able
  • Say a desk and chair occupy 16 ft^2 (4’ x 4’), we can fit 135 desks in our 2,160 ft^2 space. And this is going to be tight.
  • Trick is this monthly members could only show up every 4 or 5 days otherwise we wouldn’t have enough seats unless they staggered themselves out across the day.

Dedicated Seat

  • 359-424 monthly members
  • That’s a lot of dedicated desks — More than 2.5 times the available desks
  • Not gonna work


  • 141-259 monthly members
  • An office is more like 100 ft^2. We’ve got 2,160 ft^2.
  • So we can accommodate 216 offices…maybe this could work

Go to Starbucks / Coffee Shop

For $3+ I can buy a hot chocolate and a chunk of time in a seat at a coffee shop. Trick is Wifi Internet access isn’t always fast — though Google started partnering with Starbucks in 2013 to increase speeds at coffee shops. You are also stuck at a table that’s not likely near a power outlet so you can only stay as long as your battery can last unless you’re the lucky one by the power outlet. The seats also aren’t uber comfortable. But hey, for $3, it’s a place to sit and a place many people do just that.


It’s tough having a nearly free or free spot to drop in to work. Starbucks can do it because they can sell 1,118 latte’s a day (or 64 latte’s per hour — one per minute. They can decrease this number by also selling you a pastry). For now, I’ll continue going to Starbucks; at least until I figure out a business model that works when it comes to opening a co-working space. The real trick might be optimizing for the price per square foot (I picked the highest for my example).

Building on an investigation Kashmir Hill did in collaboration with Gimlet Media podcast Reply All in Episode 53: In the Desert, Kashmir dives into the story behind a property in Kansas that has over 600 million IP addresses geographically identified to its coordinates.

Ben Thompson writes a good piece recalling and working to revise the answer to “What is Facebook?”.

The part that resonated most with me:

It is increasingly clear that there are two types of social apps: one is the phone book, and one is the phone. The phone book is incredibly valuable: it connects you to anyone, whether they be a personal friend, an acquaintance, or a business. The social phone book, though, goes much further: it allows the creation of ad hoc groups for an event or network, it is continually updated with the status of anyone you may know or wish to know, and it even provides an unlimited supply of entertaining professionally produced content whenever you feel the slightest bit bored.

The phone, on the other hand, is personal: it is about communication between you and someone you purposely reach out to. True, telemarketing calls can happen, but they are annoying and often dismissed. The phone is simply about the conversation that is happening right now, one that will be gone the moment you hang up.

He goes on to relate the “phone” to apps like Snapchat, LINE, WhatsApp, and WeChat.

Well worth the read.


Randall Munroe · xkcd ·

Alt Text: “There was a schism in 2007, when a sect advocating OpenOffice created a fork of Sunday.xlsx and maintained it independently for several months. The efforts to reconcile the conflicting schedules led to the reinvention, within the cells of the spreadsheet, of modern version control.”

Where do we as a society draw the line for access to our personal information when the government asks for it?

This morning we filed a new lawsuit in federal court against the United States government to stand up for what we believe are our customers’ constitutional and fundamental rights — rights that help protect privacy and promote free expression. This is not a decision we made lightly, and hence we wanted to share information on this step and why we are taking it.

An issue of fundamental rights

We believe that with rare exceptions consumers and businesses have a right to know when the government accesses their emails or records. Yet it’s becoming routine for the U.S. government to issue orders that require email providers to keep these types of legal demands secret. We believe that this goes too far and we are asking the courts to address the situation.

To be clear, we appreciate that there are times when secrecy around a government warrant is needed. This is the case, for example, when disclosure of the government’s warrant would create a real risk of harm to another individual or when disclosure would allow people to destroy evidence and thwart an investigation. But based on the many secrecy orders we have received, we question whether these orders are grounded in specific facts that truly demand secrecy. To the contrary, it appears that the issuance of secrecy orders has become too routine.

What would it take to make Pittsburgh into a startup hub, like Silicon Valley?…

When I agreed to speak here, I didn’t think I’d be able to give a very optimistic talk. I thought I’d be talking about what Pittsburgh could do to become a startup hub, very much in the subjunctive. Instead I’m going to talk about what Pittsburgh can do.

What changed my mind was an article I read in of all places the New York Times food section. The title was “Pittsburgh’s Youth-Driven Food Boom.” To most people that might not even sound interesting, let alone something related to startups. But it was electrifying to me to read that title. I don’t think I could pick a more promising one if I tried. And when I read the article I got even more excited. It said “people ages 25 to 29 now make up 7.6 percent of all residents, up from 7 percent about a decade ago.” Wow, I thought, Pittsburgh could be the next Portland. It could become the cool place all the people in their twenties want to go live.

Advice from Sam Altman of Y-Combintor, posted about a year ago.

I turned 30 last week and a friend asked me if I’d figured out any life advice in the past decade worth passing on. I’m somewhat hesitant to publish this because I think these lists usually seem hollow, but here is a cleaned up version of my answer

A morning reminder about that big new project you’re working on starting.

At work recently I was asked to be a part of a video that would be played at the annual Space Symposium, held in Boulder, Colorado. Many of us — younger, excited, aerospace engineers — took part and were interviewed. My interview for the video was a wide ranging thirty minute interview, much of which was left on the cutting room floor. The story the producer put together for the opening of the symposium was inspirational and spoke to our passions for space.

I trace my passion for space back to a poster I picked up at my dad’s work — an engineer at TRW’s Space Park in Redondo Beach, California; now Northrop Grumman. Here’s the story I told in the video about that day:

NASA used to have poster days downstairs and they would bring inspirational posters in to get people excited. And on one of the bring your kids to work days I came and walked home with an 8.5 x 11 poster that talked about what Olympics on the moon might look like. So it was an artists concept of an enclosed glass dome and I looked at that and said I want to build that moon base and that arena.

After the video came out, I dug through a box of my stuff to find that poster; I’ve kept it after all these years. If the artist, Pat Rawlings, signature on the image is correct, I picked that poster up in 1995. The poster was titled “The Lunar Games” and to this day still inspires me with its lofty dream. On the front of the poster, NASA wrote the following:

In the 21st century, will the Moon become a place where people live, learn, work, and play? With only 1/6 Earth’s gravity, imagine pole vaulting to incredible heights or new events such as human flight!

NASA: The Lunar Games

I’ve always wanted to share this poster and am glad to have this posted. I’ve included the full text from the back of the poster below as well as links to download different versions of the poster.

Full Text

The Lunar Games

In the 21st century, the Moon will likely become one more place where people live, learn, work, and play.

As envisioned here, The Lunar Games could well reflect today’s athletic contests, but with only one-sixth the gravity of Earth, holders of “world records” would have to specify which world they mean! Imagine lunar pole vaulting records over 120 feet (37 meters), long jumps of 180 feet (55 meters), and weightlifting records of masses equivalent to 2,500 pounds (1,136 kg) on Earth.

New events, such as human flight depicted here, could very well be possible with the Moon’s reduced gravity, allowing athletes to propel themselves on a course within the pressurized dome of the stadium. Also, imagine the acrobatics when gymnasts remain “airborne” six times as long as they do now!

The stadium containing these events has a clear roof manufactured from lunar materials. The roof would keep out radiation while allowing an unobstructed view of the lunar landscape, quite a development challenge for future scientists and engineers.

Suspended from the top of the stadium, a holographic display shows highlights from the basketball game in the adjacent facility. Flags of participating countries line the stadium, and commercial advertisements cover the walls along the track. The event is broadcast to viewers on Earth through the large antennas outside.

Although many of the games’ attendees will be lunar inhabitants, spectators (and sports reporters!) will also travel from Earth. The terran visitors arrive on lunar shuttles (visible in the distance) and, after being transported to the terminal at the end of the stadium, can use underground shuttle tubes to reach subsurface hotels for check-in before attending the events.

Let the Games begin!

A Mathematics Exercise

Knowing that the Moon’s gravity is only one-sixth of the Earth’s gravity, how much would you weigh on the Moon? How far could you throw or kick a ball? How high could you jump? Follow the chart below .

Conversion Equations

To convert Into Multiply by
Earth weights Moon weights 1/6 or 0.17
Earth distances thrown/kicked Moon distances thrown/kicked 6
Earth height jumped Moon height jumped 6

Topics for Discussion

In the future, as people start to inhabit other worlds, there will be several physical and social changes and problems to consider. Humans are very much accustomed to the Earth’s environment as we know it. Scientists have not yet found another planetary body that, in its current state, will sustain human life. As you look at the stadium, what steps have been taken to ensure life support for the humans? From what environmental hazards would humans have to protect themselves?

How have humans adapted to inhospitable environments on the Earth? Compare and contrast measures humans will have to take to protect themselves on the Moon or on other bodies in our Solar System with what has been done here on Earth at the polar regions, in the deserts, and under the sea.

What would be the capability of athletes who actually grew up on the Moon? Without the life-long need to work against the greater pull of Earth’s gravity, how would muscles develop? Would an athlete who grew up on the Moon perform as well as an athlete who grew up on Earth? Perhaps there would have to be different classes of competition, depending on how long you’ve lived on the Moon!

About the Artist

Pat Rawlings produces space art reflecting robotic and human missions of planetary exploration, as well as visions of the eventual development of space.



Angélica Dass ·

In the simplest terms, Angélica Dass is matching average skintone to Pantone colors. It sounds simple but is an imense project. See also the Tumblr.

Humanæ is a “work in progress” by the Brazilian Angélica Dass, who intends to deploy a chromatic range of the different human skin colors. Those who pose are volunteers who have known the project and decide to participate. There is no previous selection of participants and there are no classifications relating to nationality, gender, age, race, social class or religion…

A photographic taxonomy of these proportions has been rarely undertaken; those who preceded Angélica Dass were characters of the 19th century that, for various reasons - legal, medical, administrative, or anthropological - used photographs to establish different types of social control of the power. The best-known is that of the portraits of identity, initiated by Alphonse Bertillon and now used universally. However, this taxonomy close to Borges´ world, adopts the format of the PANTONE ® guides, which gives the collection a degree of hierarchical horizontality that dilutes the false preeminence of some races over others based on skin color or social condition.

These guidelines have become one of the main systems of color classification, which are represented by means of an alphanumeric code, allowing to recreate them accurately in any medium: is a technical-industrial standard. The process followed in Humanæ also is rigorous and systematic: the background for each portrait is tinted with a color tone identical to a sample of 11 x 11 pixels taken from the face of the photographed. Aligned as in the famous samples, its horizontality is not only formal also is ethical.

I never knew Bill Campbell but what I read impresses me. From Ken Auletta at The New Yorker in his article “Postscript: Bill Campbell, 1940-2016”:

In the brief history of modern Silicon Valley, Bill Campbell, who died yesterday, at the age of seventy-five, is a giant. His various titles–Columbia football coach, Apple executive, co-founder of Go Corp., Intuit C.E.O., chairman of Apple, chairman of the Columbia University board–do not convey his influence. In the world capital of engineering, where per-capita income can seem inversely related to social skills, Campbell was the man who taught founders to look up from their computer screens. He was known throughout the Valley as “the Coach,” the experienced executive who added a touch of humanity as he quietly instructed Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Marc Andreessen, Ben Horowitz, the founders of Twitter, Sheryl Sandberg, and countless other entrepreneurs on the human dimensions of management, on the importance of listening to employees and customers, of partnering with others. His obituary was not featured on the front of most newspapers, or at the top of most technology news sites, but it should have been.

Ben Horowitz wrote his own remembrance on Medium simply titled “Bill”. Bill’s empathy appears unmatched. Ben’s wife Felicia Horowitz wrote back in February in “Somewhere In-Between” about her son’s transgender transition and mentions Bill in this story:

The weekend started with a wonderful gift from my friend Bill Campbell. Bill knew about Jules’ transition, but not just in a peripheral way. Bill had known Jules since he was a little kid and always took an interest in Jules’ well being. Bill knew that Jules loved football and gave us his luxury box at the new 49er stadium, because he thought that would be a great family event and wanted to create a safe environment. We were so excited that we arrived at the game two hours early and decided to take a tour of the new stadium. In doing so, we bumped into some old friends and it was great to see them as well, but I noticed that they noticed Jules’ appearance. They did not know that Jules was transgender, but they seemed awfully focused on him. As locked in as they were, they said nothing. We let them know that we were in Bill’s box and they said that they wanted to come by and see it. This was a little odd as they were in a box only a few yards away, so I imagine their box was much like ours. When they arrived in the box, the true mission became clear”Š – ”Šthey weren’t there to see the box, they were there for a closer look at Jules, the circus freak. It hurts my heart to type that.

The next day at my house, Bill asked me how it went at the game. I thanked him profusely for the wonderful box and experience and support, but felt compelled to relay the story. He listened carefully and slowly started to cry. When he finally spoke, his words were: “Unfortunately, this is only the beginning.”

To those who knew Bill, my condolences. What little I know about Bill impresses me and it’s clear that Silicon Valley has lost a trusted and valued friend, mentor and Coach.

I love the idea and promise of networked computers and software enabling people to collaborate and get their work done faster and with greater ease. Slack, the group chat client (to put it simply) has intrigued me since I heard about it over a year go.

AgileBits just stopped using Slack and the why is intriguing.

With Slack we were more connected than we ever were before. We had 81 channels where anyone could talk to anybody in the company, and if the person you needed wasn’t in that channel, no worries, you could simply @ mention them and they would be added instantly.

If it sounds like it would be hard to focus, it was. But we were willing to accept this in exchange for better communication.

The thing is, being connected doesn’t magically enable effective communication. If you’ve ever listened to an old married couple fight about how the other one never listens to them, you’ll instinctually know this already. If living together doesn’t help the old couple communicate, how can we expect a group chat tool to do it for us?

But for some reason most of us think that communication is simply a tooling problem and completely ignore the human aspect. In reality people are the most important piece of the puzzle, so we should simply teach them how to communicate better, right? If only it was that easy.

People are the key. A chat client, social media website or other online “collaboration” tool are just that, a tool. When we misuse tools or believe by using the tool we’re all set and have solved all problems, we are fooling ourselves. Use purpose made tools for their purpose and reach with them as necessary. But don’t substitute a single tool as the be-all-end-all. Email is my best example. Email is not a solution to your problems. It’s simply a digital message that increases a bold counter on my computer screen telling me that there are some electronic messages awaiting me.

Be conscious of your tools.

Big news for our paper currency:

Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew on Wednesday announced the most sweeping and historically symbolic makeover of American currency in a century, proposing to replace the slaveholding Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with Harriet Tubman, the former slave and abolitionist, and to add women and civil rights leaders to the $5 and $10 notes.

If you’re driving a car that was made post 2014, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has mandated that your vehicle have an event data recorder (EDR) installed. I didn’t realize such things existed until I read this morning’s Monday Note from Jean-Louis Gassée entited “Complicated, Hackable Computer Systems On Wheels”. Think of an EDR like a airplane’s “Black Box” but for your car. According to the NHTSA, an EDR collects “specific safety-related data”, collected “in the second before and during a motor vehicle crash”. From the NHTSA’s press release announcing the proposed new standard:

Examples of some of the information recorded include:

  • vehicle speed;
  • whether the brake was activated in the moments before a crash;
  • crash forces at the moment of impact;
  • information about the state of the engine throttle;
  • air bag deployment timing and air bag readiness prior to the crash; and
  • whether the vehicle occupant’s seat belt was buckled.

EDRs do not collect any personal identifying information or record conversations and do not run continuously.

“EDRs provide critical safety information that might not otherwise be available to NHTSA to evaluate what happened during a crash – and what future steps could be taken to save lives and prevent injuries,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “A broader EDR requirement would ensure the agency has the safety-related information it needs to determine what factors may contribute to crashes across all vehicle manufacturers.”

It’s not clear who has access to the EDR data after you’ve been in an accident. At a minimum the NHTSA and the car manufacturer can get that data. Who provides that data to those parties is unknown. It could be local law enforcement who respond to the scene of a motor vehicle accident or it could be a third party (car repair shop, tow truck, etc.).

I certainly don’t mind safety improvements that come from regulators and manufacturers better understanding the cause of accidents. If there are systemic issues that can be observed in this data set, that is advantageous to manufacturers and regulators alike.

My question is more along the lines of where do we, the public, draw the line about information we share with the government (NHTSA in this example) and third parties like major car companies? Isn’t my car crash my own private information? Perhaps I should be allowed to opt-in to that information sharing. My big question is this: Why is information about my car, and its configuration prior to and during a crash, automatically captured and available to others after I’ve been in an accident?