Posts from December 2009

Thoughts On Buenos Aires

Our family spent the past week in Buenos Aires. I didn't do much in the way of travel blogging this trip but the Gotham Gal did. If you are planning to visit Buenos Aires anytime soon, you should click on that link and read her posts.

This is our second visit to Buenos Aires and we got to explore the city a lot more this time. It's a very big city and there is a lot of ground to cover. It's fun to walk around the various neighborhoods, but getting between them requires transportation. Fortunately Buenos Aires has a very good taxi cab system. We never had an issue getting a cab, be it early in the morning, mid day, or past midnight. We did stick to the "tourist neighborhoods" of La Boca, San Telmo, Puerto Madero, Recoleta, Retiro, Palermo, and downtown. I suspect getting cabs outside of these areas might be more problematic.

Buenos Aires feels like europe in many ways. The architecture and city planning reminds me of Paris, Madrid, and a few other european cities. However, it is a lot less expensive that europe these days. The US dollar gets you almost 4 pesos. Many things like dinner and taxi cabs can cost you the same amount of pesos that it would cost you in dollars in New York City.

We did not travel outside of the city during our visit but most people do. Common day trips include a boat to Uruguay and a visit to the northern suburbs. From what I've heard, both are worthwhile excursions.

We spent our days sightseeing, shopping, eating, drinking, working on our spanish, and soaking up the culture. Here are my top ten highlights of our visit:

1) San Telmo market on sunday. I wrote an entire post on this yesterday. The neighborhood fills up with people selling their wares and tourists and locals buying them. There's also singing, dancing, eating and drinking going on. It's a lot of fun.

2) Empanadas. We ate a lot of them. The best ones we had were at at La Cupertina in Palermo and El Sanjuanino in Recoleta.

3) Malbec. The red wine of choice in Argentina is Malbec and we drank a fair bit of it. We tried a number of different producers and enjoyed all of them.

4) Restaurants. We had some good dinners and some not so great ones. The Gotham Gal's blog has all the details. I loved the fish at Ovieda and the steak at La Cabrera. But the two hour wait at La Cabrera kind of ruined that dinner for us. We heard there are other steak places in Buenos Aires where the beef is just as good and the lines aren't an issue.

5) Ice cream. We hit up Freddo and Volta and slightly preferred Freddo. But both are great. We all found the Dulce De Leche a bit sweet and rich for our taste but you have to try it when you are here.

6) MALBA. This is the modern art museum of Buenos Aires. Kind of like the MOMA in NYC. It's great. I was not familiar with many of the artists in their permanent collection and enjoyed seeing their work. And the Warhol exhibit they have on right now is excellent.

7) Art shopping. There are galleries all over Buenos Aires. We visited galleries in Palermo, Retiro, and Recoleta. We've heard that the San Telmo and La Boca galleries are a bit more cutting edge but we didn't get there this trip. The art in Buenos Aires is excellent and very affordable. The galleries do a good job of curating, filtering, and representing their artists. If you like to collect art, you should visit Buenos Aires. I posted a few images I saw in galleries to my tumblog yesterday.

8) El Ateneo. This is an old theater converted into a bookstore. You can eat in the cafe which is where the stage used to be. It is beautiful and worth a visit.

9) Palermo. This is the northernmost neighborhood that tourists frequent. It's like Williamsburg in NYC or Marais in Paris in that it's been rediscovered in recent years and is full of fun and edgy stuff to do. We ate there most of the time and did most of our shopping and strolling there too. If our hotel was there (it was not), we might not have left.

10) The Park Hyatt. This is where we stayed. We had some issues with our room which put a somewhat negative taste in my mouth. But the hotel is spectacular, particularly the backyard between the old building (the former palace) and the new building. I would often spend my mornings sitting in the backyard reading while everyone else slept. The service is excellent and I would recommend it (just not our specific room).

11) I forgot about one highlight so I'm adding it after posting (and going over my allotted ten highlights). The cemetery in Recoleta is a must see. It like a tightly stitched together city full of above ground tombs. The Gotham Gal told me at one time the plots in this cemetery were the most expensive land in the world. It's hard to describe and pictures don't really do it justice. Go see it if you come to Buenos Aires.

If you've never been to Buenos Aires, I highly recommend it. It's big, bustling, full of culture and energy, and its very affordable as foreign travel goes for americans these days. And you get to work on your spanish which is always fun. My kids really impressed me with theirs. Mine, on the other hand, is awful.

Thinking About Etsy In The San Telmo Markets

San telmoThe streets of the San Telmo neighborhood of Buenos Aires turn into a big outdoor market on sundays. Our family spent sunday afternoon there this past weekend.

As I strolled around, I could not help but think of Etsy, what it has become and what more it needs to do to realize its potential.

But first a little backdrop. This decade we are now ending will be remembered as the time when the web became social. It took us almost a decade once the web became commercial, but we figured out how to make people the atomic element of the web. And now we get to build social gathering places on the web.

My friend Mark Pincus told me when he was first starting Zynga that social networks had to become like cocktail parties. You needed things for people to do in them so they would stick around and engage. Mark accomplished that goal with social gaming and experiences like Farmville show that people will indeed 'hang out' with their friends on the social web.

Now back to San Telmo. People do come to the markets on sunday to shop. The artists, entertainers, and merchants who set up shop there do make money. For some it is a hobby, for others it is supplemental income, and for some its their full time business. 

San telmo eating But the main thing that is going down in San Telmo on sundays is a social experience. It is seeing and being seen. It is bumping into friends and meeting new ones. It is getting out of the home and into the streets.

People stroll, they chit chat, they sing, they dance, they eat, and they buy and sell.

Etsy is the closest thing to San Telmo on the web. But it doesn't come close in terms of social experience today.

Etsy has done a good job of bringing people (real people) together to buy and sell. There are over 500,000 people who have opened a shop on Etsy and millions who have registered and bought something from a seller on Etsy. Over ten million people visit Etsy every month.

Etsy has mostly focused on handmade goods along with supplies for making things and vintage items. These are things that are made and sold by real people and so Etsy has created the largest marketplace on the web where real people buy and sell things with each other.

There is also a very lively community on Etsy. The chat rooms are full of people talking, listening, and learning all day and all night. There are over 50,000 forum posts on Etsy every day.

But Etsy is not yet as vibrant and diverse an experience as San Telmo. Most people don't go to Etsy to 'stroll" or 'hang out'. Some do and the things they like to do other than shop are favoriting items and curating lists and treasuries.

The people that do use Etsy in this way are starting to have a San Telmo like experience.

What Etsy needs to do next is make this kind of 'strolling' experience work for everyone. We need to bump into our friends on Etsy and we need to make new ones there.

It would be great if we could sing and dance and eat and drink on Etsy too. But somethings don't make it onto the web as easy as others. Etsy will have to find experiences, like Zynga did with Farmville and its other games, that can replace eating, drinking, singing, and dancing. And I am confident they will.

While the web will never replace the real world experience of strolling through a bustling marketplace on sunday afternoon, it offers something else: scale.

There are more tractors sold in Farmville every day than are sold in the US every year. And so the artists and merchants who camp out in San Telmo on sundays can set up a shop on Etsy and be in business 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  These artists and merchants can sell to tens of millions, maybe hundreds of millions of people someday.

And getting to that kind of scale, as Facebook has shown us, requires putting people front and center in the experience. Rob Kalin, founder and now CEO of Etsy, prefers the words 'social commerce' over e-commerce for a reason. The emphasis is on social. Commerce is the result. An afternoon in San Telmo makes that point crystal clear.

People First, Machines Second

The brilliance of Google' Page Rank algorithm is that it leverages the actions of real people to determine what pages are the best result for a given search term. The specific action I am thinking about is creating a hyperlink on a web page.

That human action of saying 'if you want to know more about fred wilson, here's his blog' tells google's machines that this blog is a good result for a search on 'fred wilson.'

Someday machines may be smart enough that they don't need humans to give them cues, but today I believe the state of the art in machine intelligence right now is 'humans first, machines second' as Google did it.

The particular event that got me thinking (and thus writing) about this today is the year end best of music listmania that has been going on the past few weeks.

You saw it in action the past three days on this blog and it is going on all over the blogs right now.

I took my 25 top songs of 2009 and created a playlist of them at 8tracks.com. I then embedded that playlist on this blog.

Well I wasn't the only one to do that. At this time, there are 141 "best of 2009" playlists on 8tracks. Click on that link and you can see all of them. But you'd be hardpressed to listen to all of them.

But 8tracks can now take the human intellligence that is contained in all of those playlists and do something interesting. They can have their machines go through all of them and create a 'best of best of' playlist. It could be just the most popular tracks across all of the best of 2009 playlists or it could be weighted by the times each playlist was played or it could be some other algorithm. My point is simple, if humans are doing the curation upfront, then you can turn the machines loose and get some interesting results.

On January 4th, the Hype Machine will unveil its second annual Music Blog Zeitgeist. I am very much looking forward to it. They scour the music blogs for all the "best of 2009" posts and then put them into their machines and crank out the results.


Last year's Music Zeitgeis
t was terrific and provided our family with weeks of listening pleasure and introduced us to dozens of new artists and records. I'm sure the same will be true this year.

As much as I enjoy reading everyone's best of lists this time of year, I can't get to all of them. Machines can and that's where they can add the most value. But you need humans first, then the machines can take over.

Top Records Of The Decade

My friend Rich Caccapolo egged me into doing this. So, Rich this one's for you.

I've spent the past couple weeks going back and reviewing all the music that I got into this decade. I looked at the last.fm data, my top ten posts each year, and re-listened to a lot of it. And here are ten records that define the decade for me, plus another 30ish that I considered for the top ten list. 

Aha shake heartbreak 1) Aha Shake Heartbreak – Kings Of Leon: A friend of mine who has been in the music business for thirty years said to me recently that KOL is the only rock act that broke big this decade. And if that is true, they did it on the strength of their two most recent records. But it is Aha Shake Heartbreak that is their greatest effort and without question in my mind the best rock and roll record of this decade. I penned a piece on this record on Newcritics back in 2007 that explains why I love it so much. Go give that a read and then buy the record if you don't already own it.

Yankee hotel foxtrot2) Yankee Hotel Foxtrot – Wilco: This record defines this decade for me. Let's start with how it was released. On the Internet because Wilco's label decided it wasn't good enough to put out. You all know that story. And the 9/11 references in songs written before 9/11. And the fact that Wilco is my generation's rock act. I can listen to this record anytime, anywhere. I can sing every word. And some songs still make me tear up or give me chills. 

Marshall mathers 3) Marshall Mathers LP – Eminem: At the end of the decade, it's easy to forget about how big Eminem was. His first three records were on all the time in our house. And this record was the biggest of them. The lyrics on this record are jarring and raw. The samples are creative. The record flows perfectly through the deranged mind of one of the greatest rappers of all time at the top of his game. I went back and listened to this record recently and it has not lost one ounce of its intensity and entertainment value.

A grand don't come for free4) A Grand Don't Come For Free – The Streets: I vividly remember the first time I heard this record. I was on the train out to the east end of long island. It was so packed there weren't any seats. So I sat in a stairwell and put on my iPod headphones and hit play. Roughly an hour later, it was like I was leaving a thoroughly engrossing movie. This is a "concept record", a story about a day in the life of rapper Mike Skinner that starts with him losing a bunch of money and trying to get it back. The songs are great, the imagery vivid, and it makes for one of the most original and best records of the decade.

Whatever people say i am5) Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I Am Not, Arctic Monkeys: If Wilco showed you could break a record on the Internet, the Arctic Monkeys showed you could break a band on it. And they did it with the songs that eventually came to be this record. For the better part of a year, these songs were available on MySpace, the music blogs, pretty much all over the web. And even so, when the record came out in January 2006, it became the fastest selling debut record in the UK. The Arctic Monkeys signature sound is blazing dual guitars and Alex Turner's blistering and acerbic lyrics. And as good as their subsequent records have been, it is still best experienced on this one.

Funeral6) Funeral – Arcade Fire: This decade brought us a few breakout rock bands and certainly one of them is the Arcade Fire. They've only put out two records in five years and both of them are fantastic. But their debut record, Funeral, is a masterpiece. It builds slowly, beautifully, to the epic Rebellion (Lies) and then ends hauntingly In The Backseat. I love how the vocals interact with all the different instruments being played. The result is, as one Amazon reviewer put it so well "wild, mad, and beautiful".

Is this it 7) Is This It – The Strokes:  You may wonder how I can put Kings Of Leon first and Arctic Monkeys fifth if neither would have happened without this band and this record. I don't have a good answer for that question. The Strokes took the signature NYC punk rock sound from the Ramones and the Velvets and upgraded it to the next millennium and that sound became the defining rock style of this decade. This record, the third debut record in a row on this list, showcases The Strokes at their best, young, cocky, full of talent and ambition, and showing the world how NYC rocks.

Takk 8) Takk.. – Sigur Ros: Some call this kind of music "post rock". I call it hauntingly beautiful. Some bands and records come and go and others stay with me. This one stays with me. I listen to it regularly, often when I want to write something important and need some inspiration. Although there are eleven songs on Takk.., I don't think of them as such. I can't imagine listening to this record any other way than start to finish. One of my great music regrets of this decade is not seeing the full blown Sigur Ros live show. I've heard it's mind blowingly spectacular and I can imagine why.

Yoshimi 9) Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots – The Flaming Lips: I love The Flaming Lips and I love this record. Nominally about a girl's fight against robots, it's actually about life, love, and death. Heavy topics for sure, but Wayne's goofy optimism pulls it off in classic Flaming Lips fashion. Like Wilco, the Lips made two classic records, one in the 90s (Soft Bulletin) and one in this decade. Yoshimi is a psychedelic pop at its best.

Blueprint 10) The Blueprint – Jay-Z: I love the cover of this record. Jay-Z smoking a cigar and taking claim to "moguldom". No top ten list of the decade would be right without Jay-Z on it. He is the king of hip-hop, and hip-hop is the music of the moment. I debated between The Blueprint, The Black Album, and Reasonable Doubt, and eventually decided The Blueprint best represents all that Jay-Z means to the music industry, hip-hop, and NYC. He is the next Sinatra.

In no particular order, here are roughly thirty other records that I considered for this list and all of them are excellent and worthy of picking up. You'll note that in the case of some artists, I have listed multiple records. I have not linked to them, but if I find some time later today, I'll try to do that.

Badly Drawn Boy – Born In The UK, Have You Fed The Fisher Catering

The National – Alligator

MGMT – Oracular Spectacular

Okkervil River – Stage Names, Stand Ins

Belle & Sebastian – Dear Catastrophe Waitress

Ben Kweller – Ben Kweller, Sha Sha

Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha

Jamie T – Panic Prevention

Jens Lekman – Oh You’re So Silent Jens, Night Falls Over
Kortadela

M Ward – Transistor Radio

Kooks – Inside In/Inside Out

Killers – Hot Fuss

Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Modest Mouse – Good News For People Who Love Bad News

Eels – Grace Kelly Blues, Shootenany

Sufjan Stevens – Illinoise

Shout Out Louds – Howl Howl Gaffe Gaffe

MMJ – It Still Moves

Bloc Party – Silent Alarm

White Stripes – Elephant

Jay-Z – The Black Album, Reasonable Doubt

Green Day – American Idiot

Gillian Welch  -
Soul Journey

Red Hot Chili Peppers – Stadium Arcadium

Eminem – The Eminem Show

Shins – Wincing The Night Away

Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning

Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

Broken Social Scene – You Forgot It In People

Radiohead – Kid A

Top 10 Records Of 2009

Merriweather1) Merriweather Post Pavilion – Animal Collective: This record came out in January and has been a staple the entire year. After getting completely into Merriweather, I went back into their catalog and also got deeply into Strawberry Jam, Feels, and Sung Tongs. And I also went to see them play live – an experience unlike anything else and not for everyone. Merriweather is probably their most accessible record to date and Animal Collective is making some of the most original and interesting music these days. It really wasn't even a contest for number one this year. Merriweather pretty much blew everything else away in my book.

Miike snow 2) Miike Snow – Miike Snow: Like the Shout Out Louds in 2005, Miike Snow came blasting out of Sweden this year with a record that got played non-stop in our home. Miike Snow is not a person and it is not a band, it is a group of three producers and writers who have worked with dozens of artists over the years. This is the first work they've put out under the Miike Snow name and I sure hope it is not the last. With Miike Snow, you get great beats, slick production, and indie pop perfection. That's a killer mix in my book.

Kid cudi 3) Man On The Moon – Kid Cudi: I heard Kid Cudi's song Up, Up, and Away on the hype machine as this record leaked over the summer and I was hooked on Kid's mix of indie and hip hop (a theme for me this year).  There are a half dozen great songs on this record that were all candidates for my top tracks of 2009. The whole record is a great listen end to end. I'm sure it is on many best of 2009 lists and may even be headed for a Grammy. I hope Kid Cudi gets one.

Arctic monkeys 4) Humbug – Arctic Monkeys: In 2005, as the Arctic Monkeys were breaking big with their first record, they wrote "In five years time, will it be "Who the fuck's Arctic Monkeys?" Well it's almost five year's later, and they are still putting out great records. I've always liked Alex Turner's crooner side myself and we are getting more and more of it on each successive record. They still rock out, as Crying Lightning shows, but songs like Cornerstone and Secret Door are the tracks that really got me on this record. I saw them live twice this summer and they still have that hyperactive sonic soud.

Dirty projectors 5) Bitte Orca – Dirty Projectors: Man did I fall hard for this record. From early June to the middle of July, I listened to hardly anything else.  I tried to get my friends and family into it but not many bit. The Dirty Projectors are an acquired taste it seems. I love the idiosyncratic nature of Dave Longstreth's music, the quirky guitar riffs, and the harmonies between him and Amber and Angel (pictured on the cover of the record). I hadn't listened to this record in a while as I moved on to other things, but in relistening as I was putting this post together, I was sucked right back into the magic of Bitte Orca. It's certainly one of the best records made this year.

The xx 6) XX – XX: Indie bands/records break in the blogs these days and this was the indie debut of the year in the music blogs. The signature sound is the back and forth male and female vocals with a heavy bass beat in the background. This is the kind of record you can put on and listen to it over and over. The XX's sound comes out of London's "dubstep" electronic dance scene but this is not a dance record. It is moody and reminiscent of bands like the Cure and the Smiths. It's the perfect record for a slow weekend morning.

Girls7) Album – Girls: In the opening track, Lust For Life, singer/songwriter Christopher Owens sings "Oh I Wish I Had A Sun Tan. I Wish I Had A Pizza And A Bottle Of Wine, I Wish I Had A Beach House. Then We Could Make A Big Fire Every Night" And that's what this entire record sounds like. You want to go to a beach house, kick back with friends, and sing these songs. This record reminds me of the Rural Alberta Advantage's Hometowns record last year. It is a terrific record start to finish.

Neko case 8) Middle Cyclone – Neko Case: I've been a fan of Neko's since seeing her sing with the New Pornographers a few years ago. Her voice and striking red hair leaves an indelible impression. But until this record, I'd never gotten into her solo work. Middle Cyclone is a very fine piece of work. I particularly like Magie To The Morning, People Got A Lot of Nerve, and I'm An Animal. When Neko really goes for it with her voice, it's a sound of beauty.

Swelly 9)  The Swelly Express – Chiddy Bang: I'm a sucker for concept records like The Street's A Grand Don't Come For Free and Green Day's American Idiot. Following the story is as much fun as listening to the songs. And that is what The Swelly Express is. If you click on that link, you'll see that The Swelly Express is not available as a commercial release yet. It's a free downloadable mixtape showcasing the talents of Chidera Anamege (Chiddy) who does the raps and Xaphoon Jones who does the beats. Watch out for these guys. I think they have got some serious talent.

Monsters of folk 10) Monsters Of Folk – Monsters of Folk: When I heard that three of my favorite musicians, Conor Oberst, M Ward, and Jim James were working on a record together, I was super excited. And the result lived up to my expectations. Monsters Of Folk is a collection of wonderful songs sung together by these amazing musicians (including Mike Mogis). The Gotham Gal and I saw them perform live recently at the Beacon Theater in  NYC and the live show was just as strong as the record. If you like folk music, you have to get this record.

Honorable Mention:

Hold Time – M Ward: Every record he has made has been excellent and this one is no exception.

Changing Horses – Ben Kweller: Not sure how this didn't make my top ten. It was a tough one.

Three Rounds And A Sound – Blind Pilot: This is an outstanding record.

A few more things:

The Gotham Gal's top ten list is a bit different than mine but since we listen to a lot of music together, it has a bunch of great stuff on it that I enjoyed very much this year.

Bijan's top ten list is also a bit different than mine, but I highly recommend everything on his list. He has the Rural Alberta Advantage record on his 2009 list. It was on my 2008 list so I did not put it on my list this year. It is a great record.

I am going to post my top 25 tracks of 2009 tomorrow (in a streamable playlist) and my top records of the decade on Monday (the list is about 40 long right now, I might cut it down to 25 or increase it to 50).

So lot's of music on AVC right now. I hope you enjoy it.

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Merry Christmas Everyone

Avc santa I'm taking the day off from blogging. I'll be back tomorrow and for the next few days with my top music picks of 2009 and the decade. 

Tech/venture/startup posts should return early next week.

Merry christmas to everyone!

For those who want to know where the santa-ized avatar came from, I logged into Tumblr today and there it was. Thanks Tumblr team. I love it.

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Buenos Aires


OBELISCO- AV.9 DE JULIO
Originally uploaded by Tres Monedas.

I’m in Buenos Aires for the week on a family vacation.

The Gotham Gal and I came down here a decade ago while I was doing a lot of latin american internet investing (Starmedia, Patagon, MercadoLibre, and a bunch more). We loved this city and promised ourselves we’d be back with our whole family.

And so we are. We’ll be relaxing, walking around, eating, drinking, and enjoying ourselves.

I’ll post a bit on the trip as well as tech stuff and year end music. I plan on having something here every day.

But if you want a good travelblog of this trip, make sure to visit http://gothamgal.com . She’s the best travelblogger in the family by far.

Thoughts on Blackberry Fail

As most Blackberry users know, there was a large failure of the Blackberry network yesterday. I experienced it although it wasn't clear to me at first what was happening. The first sign was that my wife and kids were not responding to my messages on Blackberry messenger (we use it as our family's "batphone"). Then I stopped getting email on my phone. At dinner last night I could not checkin on Foursquare through the mobile web or socialscope. I couldn't get any access to the mobile web on my blackberry.

What this points out, and what this blog post is about, is that Blackberry took down all my data services, not just BBM and email. And I think that is nuts.

Somehow Blackberry took down mobile web access on T-Mobile, ATT, and other networks. I guess that means that Blackberry has some kind of overlay network on these carrier's data networks. I am sure that is well known to mobile phone geeks and has been true for a long while. I just never wrapped my head around it.

I don't think that is smart. In the perfect world, Blackberry makes hardware and software apps like their mail, calendar, contacts, BBM, browser (if only they could make a good one). T-Mobile, ATT, Sprint, Verizon, etc provide the voice and data service. And the two don't impact each other.

During this outage, I took the SIM card out of my Blackberry and put it into a phone I recently got as a gift under the condition that I can't blog about it. So I won't. But I will say that my T-Mobile SIM card with the Blackberry data plan wasn't working in this new phone. I couldn't even place calls on it.

Now the outage is over and the Blackberry network is back up and running, the T-Mobile SIM card works fine in my new phone. I'm not sure what that means or why it happened, but it did.

The point of all of this is the Blackberry approach to providing services via the carrier networks is not ideal. They are playing carrier, software provider, and hardware provider all in one. That's not good.

Readers of this blog know how much I love my Blackberry, but this new phone I can't blog about is very nice and can take a plain vanilla GSM sim card with data services on it. I started thinking a bit harder about that configuration last night.

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