Posts from May 2014

Fun Friday: What Sports Team Would You Buy If You Could?

With the news that Steve Ballmer now gets to do to the Clips what he did to Microsoft, I thought we could talk about buying/owning sports teams.

My son Josh and I like to dream about owning the Knicks. That’s not likely to happen unless someone can get Jimmy Dolan on tape saying stupid shit. One can dream.

So if you could buy a sports team, what team would you buy?

Grading Colleges?

Yesterday I walked down the kitchen and the Gotham Gal was reading the paper and she looked up and said “Obama wants to rate colleges. I think that’s a bad idea”. I thought about it for a second and said “hmm. I need to think about that”. We are both on the boards of trustees of higher education institutions (strangely not ones we attended in both cases). So I think its important to state upfront that my thoughts on this topic are not in any way related to the schools we are affiliated with.

The New York Times has a debate on this topic on their website today. I read all the views and understand the pros and cons. Here is where I come out.

1) Colleges and Universities should be held accountable for the outcomes they produce, particularly for students whose tuition is paid by taxpayers in the forms of grants or below market loans. If the taxpayers are footing the bills, we deserve to know where we are getting a return and where we are not.

2) The Federal Government is the wrong entity to do this. The chances that they will mess this up are too high to put them in charge of this.

3) We should peer produce this data, wikipedia style. Something like ratemyprofessors.com. Students who get federal or state funding for some or all of their education should be required to submit information to such a service. Students whose educations are not funded by the government should be encouraged to opt in and report. The data should not include personally identifiable information (although I recognize that it would theoretically be possible to reverse engineer it if someone really wanted to do that). Most importantly, we should collect data on how the students do in their careers so we can measure real outcomes. Grades and graduations rates are nice. Earning power five and ten years out is even more important.

4) This would be a completely open database. All data would be available to be analyzed via open and public APIs, like the early days of the Twitter API. This would allow many third parties to analyze the data. There is no one truth, but if you triangulate, you can get closer to it.

Building this would not be hard. Making it the standard would be harder. It should be a non profit like Wikipedia is so everyone can and will trust it and work with it. And the federal and state governments should adopt it, support it, and require participation in it for those who are benefitting from taxpayer dollars.

If Obama really wants to rate Colleges and Universities, and I think we should be doing that, then this is the right way to do it.

The Internet Of Things

Nice intro by Benedict Evans in his most recent post:

My grandfather could probably have told you how many electric motors he owned. There was one in the car, one in the fridge, one in his drill and so on. 

My father, when I was a child, might have struggled to list all the motors he owned (how many, exactly, are in a car?) but could have told you how many devices were in the house that had a chip in. 

Today, I have no idea how many device I own with a chip, but I could tell you how many have a network connection. And I doubt my children will know that, in their turn.  

I woke up thinking about the Internet Of Things today. And I was thinking about something that Benedict talks about in his post – whether the brains of the “things” will be in the “things” or in the cloud or in the smartphone. Benedict thinks we will see all of those models co-existing. I am not so sure. There are tremendous cost benefits to using compute cycles and storage on smartphones or in the cloud. The old timesharing model lives again. And, as Benedict touches on, it will be easier to connect all the intelligence coming from these “things” in our lives if the data and the compute cycles are in the same place.

So my bet is that most “things” will be dumb and the smarts will be in the phone or in the cloud. At least that’s what I woke up thinking about today.

The Veterans Affair

I was down in Virginia visiting my parents this past week. We talked a bit about the latest VA scandal. My parents spent their adult life in the military. My dad as an army officer. My mom as an army wife. They know a bit about this topic.

My dad was saying that injured soldiers in recent wars survive a lot more frequently and as a result we have more injured and less deceased soldiers. But we have not, as a country, made the required investment to care for the increased volume of injured veterans.

There is an editorial in today’s New York Times from a veteran named Colby Buzzell. It is worth reading. Colby says:

Politicians and many hawkish Americans are quick to send our sons and daughters to go off to fight in wars on foreign soil, but reluctant to pay the cost.

On this memorial day, it is important to remember both the deceased and surviving veterans. Their sacrifices are the price of freedom and we should commit to support them to the utmost. That we do not is a national shame.

Passing It Down

Yesterday was a great day. I taught Jessica how to solder. And I taught Josh how to drive a stick shift. I enjoyed doing both very much.

Jessica is preparing for an art exhibition and wanted to make some light boxes she saw on the Internet. We went to the hardware store in town and bought a soldering iron and some electrical solder. It has been at least 20 years since I had soldered anything, but it came back to me like riding a bike. I soldered the first electrical connection. Then she soldered the second. It was a success. I gave her the soldering iron and solder to keep as a present. I hope she solders a lot in the coming years.

Josh has been driving for several years and got his drivers license a few months ago. He’s been driving our car and his sister’s car a bit. But he could not drive our 10 year old Jeep that we keep at our beach house. So yesterday afternoon, I took him out and showed him how to use the clutch and manually shift. He got it on the first try although we did stall out a few times as we drove around our block. The next step will be driving into town with either me or the Gotham Gal. I really enjoy driving a stick and that Jeep is my favorite car to drive out east. I am excited that Josh can experience the joy of driving a stick shift.

One of the many joys of parenting is passing down the things you know how to do to your kids. We do that from the minute they come out of the womb and for many years after. Our kids are all adults now, but the passing it down thing keeps going on. And that’s a really good thing for us and them.

Video Of The Week: Disqus Engagement Breakfast

Our portfolio company Disqus held a breakfast last week to talk about the subject of engagement. We kicked it off with an interview between Christina Warren and me.

The lights on stage were right in my eyes and so it was tough to look anywhere but down which makes watching this a bit tough.

The interview is about 30mins long. The Q&A, which I think is the best part, starts at 30mins and goes for another 20mins.

Feature Friday: Bitcoin Payments

A payment protocol was added to the core Bitcoin system recently. The details on the Bitcoin Payment Protocol are here.

From that link, the key attributes of this payment protocol are:

  1. Human-readable, secure payment destinations– customers will be asked to authorize payment to “example.com” instead of an inscrutable, 34-character bitcoin address.
  2. Secure proof of payment, which the customer can use in case of a dispute with the merchant.
  3. Resistance from man-in-the-middle attacks that replace a merchant’s bitcoin address with an attacker’s address before a transaction is authorized with a hardware wallet.
  4. Payment received messages, so the customer knows immediately that the merchant has received, and has processed (or is processing) their payment.
  5. Refund addresses, automatically given to the merchant by the customer’s wallet software, so merchants do not have to contact customers before refunding overpayments or orders that cannot be fulfilled for some reason.

In my view, this is an important addition to Bitcoin and addresses a number of limitations on using Bitcoin for payments.

Our portfolio company Coinbase, which offers the leading Bitcoin merchant payment solution in the market, has implemented the Bitcoin Payment Protocol. Their blog post about this is here.

So if you are a merchant and you want to accept Bitcoin from your customers and you want the advanced functionality that the Bitcoin Payment Protocol offers, you should check out what Coinbase offers. You can do that here.

A Sad Day For Patent Reform

I received this note in my inbox yesterday:

As you have possibly heard, earlier today, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, announced that he is tabling patent reform legislation that was supposed to come up for a vote tomorrow

This is a sad (hopefully temporary) end for the litigation reform efforts that had passed the House by an incredible, bipartisan margin and that the President mentioned in his most recent State of the Union Address.

In the last few days, we were seeing good compromise language coming out of negotiations between Republicans and Democrats, specifically Senators Cornyn and Schumer, and were optimistic the bill would come to a vote quickly. But the committee chair can unilaterally stop legislation and Leahy has opted to do so. For what it’s worth, we’re hearing that we was pressured to do so by Senator Reid.

This means we likely won’t be seeing fee shifting and other important measures that would have helped protect startups from patent trolls this year.

This pisses me off. And I am not the only one who is upset about this. Rackspace has a great post up on their blog today.

Here is the deal. Information technology startups are probably spending hundreds of millions of dollars collectively on an annual basis fighting off patent trolls. This is a tax on innovation and, I would argue, borderline theft. It must come to an end.