Posts from NYC

The Brooklyn Queens Connector

As the NYC tech sector grows, it has been moving beyond Manhattan and into the outer boroughs. And the most popular destinations have been the Brooklyn and Queens waterfront neighborhoods like Dumbo, Williamsburg, Long Island City, The Navy Yard and Gowanus. But getting to and from these locations by mass transit has not been easy and has slowed down this movement of tech companies to embrace the outer boroughs.

Mayor de Blasio will announce a very important initiative in his State Of The City speech today called The Brooklyn Queens Connector (BQX) that will do a lot to solve this mass transit problem. It’s a light rail system that runs along existing streets from the Brooklyn waterfront neighborhoods to the Queens waterfront neighborhoods. It will look like this:

sreetcar

And here is the proposed route:

bqx

This is a big deal for NYC and a big deal for the NYC tech sector. Fixing the transportation problems into these developing neighborhoods will bring people and jobs and new vitality to these waterfront neighborhoods. This is such a good idea. I applaud Mayor de Blasio for his leadership on this issue and look forward to riding the BQX from a board meeting in Sunset Park to a board meeting on the Cornell Tech Campus in a few years.

Wifi In The Subways

I’ve been writing about wifi in the subways since 2005. Ten+ years later we still don’t have ubiquitous connectivity in the NYC subway system.

On Friday, NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo and Tom Prendergast, Chairman of the MTA, announced plans to accelerate the rollout of TransitWireless to all 278 underground subway stations so that all of them have wifi by the end of 2016.

They also announced the addition of USB charging ports on subways cars with 200 getting them this year and another 400 getting them next year. And they also announced plans to replace the MetroCard system with a mobile payments system that uses smartphones and smartcards.

It is great that the MTA is finally getting serious about joining the 21st century. If you live in other parts of the world or the US, or if you are a New Yorker who travels a lot and uses public transportation (like me), you know that none of this is particularly cutting edge. Many transit systems around the world have had this technology for years.

I would like to applaud Governor Cuomo’s focus on infrastructure in the past year. The investments in LaGuardia, Penn/Moynihan Station, the new rail tunnel under the Hudson, the local regional rail systems, and now, the subways, are all critical investments that NYC has needed to make, but has not made, in this century.

But if we can go back to wifi in the subways for a minute, I am pretty disappointed that we are not being more aggressive with the wifi rollout. Why stop at the subway stations? Why not put wifi in all of the tunnels throughout the city. When you ride the subways, you spend more time in the tunnels than the stations. If we want our kids to be able to do their homework and their reading (and their coding) on the way home and the way to school, wiring the stations will not be enough. We need to wire up the entire system.

And the TransitWireless system is too hard to log into all of the time. It should be wide open wifi that all phones can connect to immediately without having to log in. I never use TransitWireless because it’s a pain in the rear to log into and by the time you log in, the train has arrived and you are on your way. Why do these companies who build out supposedly free wifi systems always make them so damn hard to access. If its free, make it wide open and easy to use.

Finally, while I’m on a rant, why don’t we have a single SSID, NYCWIFI, that all of these free and open systems use. So once I connect in one place, I will automatically connect in every place. Then local shops and restaurants could also use that SSID and we’d slowly but surely build a single massive open and free wifi network around NYC.

So, while I am pleased about the accelerated rollout of TransitWireless and the other big infrastructure investments that the Governor is pushing, I don’t think we are thinking nearly big enough yet. Internet connectivity is a requirement to do business, to learn, and to stay connected to friends and family. We need way more of it in NYC and we aren’t getting it fast enough.

Etsy ASAP

If you live in NYC and are freaking out because you haven’t completed your Christmas shopping, I have the perfect solution for you, Etsy ASAP.

Through a partnership with Postmates, Etsy has offered sellers in NYC the opportunity to offer same day delivery. Thousands of sellers opted in and you can now buy from Etsy sellers in NYC and have the item delivered to you same day.

You can filter your search for items eligible for Etsy ASAP. Here I searched for a knit scarf and checked the Etsy ASAP filter:

knit scarf

When you check out, make sure to select Etsy ASAP as your delivery option.

If you are reading this on your mobile phone, you can also get Etsy ASAP there. If you have the Etsy app, click on this banner,

last minute gifts

and get this feed, and go shopping for last minute items.

2015-12-21 07.29.22

You can also do the filtered search thing on your phone if you prefer searching to browsing.

So with the help of same day delivery services, Etsy sellers are available in real time in NYC this week to solve your last minute shopping needs. If this pilot goes well, I hope Etsy will decide to roll this out to many more locations in the new year.

Happy holiday shopping!

Disclosure: USV and I are shareholders in Etsy and I am also on the board of Etsy.

CSNYC Presents Paul Ford At Silicon City

Next Thursday night, December 10th, our non-profit CSNYC is hosting a great event at the NY Historical Society. Here’s what’s happening:

TOUR: 6:00pm – 7:00pm
Experience the New-York Historical Society’s new exhibit “Silicon City: Computer History Made in New York.”

TALK: 7:00pm – 8:00pm
Listen to Paul Ford, author of popular Bloomberg Businessweek article What Is Code? discuss true nature of digital talent & how to create it

RECEPTION: 8:00pm – 9:30pm
Celebrate CSNYC’s Founding Partners + supporters and their contribution to bringing computer science education to every child in NYC

This event has been sponsored by Silicon Valley Bank and we are grateful to them for their support.

If you have an interest in the history of NYC’s tech sector and it’s future, please come. You can RSVP here.

Silicon City

The New York Historical Society’s Silicon City exhibit opened last week and I went yesterday with my daughters who are in their early/mid 20s now.

If you are a student of or have an appreciation for the history of technology, you will enjoy this exhibit. They have an early IBM computer which I’d never seen in person. There’s a ton on the history of IBM, the original NYC tech company, which I loved, including these manuals from the 1970s:

2015-11-14 15.11.04

My oldest daughter asked me if I knew Basic. I told her that Basic was the first language I learned and Fortran was the second.

There was a nice mention of Grace Hopper, one of the early computer scientists and one of the authors of the Cobol programming language. It was great to see my girls realize that women were at the forefront of computer science in the early days. That fact is lost on so many.

We also loved the videos on the early history of making art, music, and games on computers. If you came of age in this millennium, it’s mindblowing to see what a computer game looked like in the 60s and 70s. The videos on the early attempts to make art and music on computers are also particularly well done.

It ends with some videos about the re-emergence of the NYC tech sector in the 90s. I participated in the recording of oral histories along with some friends and colleagues from that era. It is fun to remember what the NYC tech scene was like in the mid 90s. It seems like yesterday but it was twenty years ago.

If you have kids who are into tech, they will enjoy this exhibit. And if you are a geek like me, you will too.

Code Brooklyn

If Brooklyn were its own city, which it was until 1898, it would be tied with Chicago as the third largest city in the US. It is the largest borough in New York City.

So I am excited that the Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is going to announce Code Brooklyn today at PS/MS 282 in Park Slope.

Code Brooklyn is Brooklyn’s effort to get every one of its elementary, middle, and high schools teaching computer science. It is highly complimentary to the City’s effort, announced by Mayor de Blasio earlier this fall, to get computer science into all of the city’s schools over the next ten years. Brooklyn is stepping up and getting out and leading the city in this effort and I’m really pleased to see that.

The signature element of Code Brooklyn is to get all 500 of its public schools to do the Hour Of Code this year during computer science week which is December 7-13th. For that to happen, they will need a ton of parent and community support.

CodeBrooklyn needs volunteers to help run “Hour of Code” activities in schools. This is your chance to inspire in students an interest in computer science. The commitment will take about 2-3 hours of prep time and then about 3-5 hours start-to-finish on the the day of the school’s Hour of Code. You can volunteer at volunteer.codebrooklyn.org – CodeBrooklyn partners NPower and #NYCEDU will match you to a school based on your interest and experience. I hope you’ll you’ll use this opportunity to start a long-term relationship with the school community with which you’re matched or be inspired to volunteer for a CSNYC supported program like TEALS or ScriptEd.

If you would like to get your child’s school involved in Code Brooklyn and the Hour of Code, you should  connect with CodeBrooklyn to find out how to make that happen.

I’d like to thank my friend and occasional AVC community member Rob Underwood for his leadership in the Brooklyn public school community and his passion for getting computer science into our schools. Code Brooklyn would not have happened without him. I’d also like to commend Eric Adams for understanding the power of computer science education to improve the lives of the students and families of Brooklyn and to change the trajectories of their lives and their neighborhoods.

Bring Telstar Back To NYC

Next month the New York Historical Society is launching Silicon City, a historical retrospective about NYC’s contribution to the electronic/digital era. I’m super excited to see the show and have been involved a bit on the research effort that the society has been doing on it.

As part of this exhibition, they want to bring Telstar, the first commercial satellite, back to NYC where it was exhibited at the 1964 World’s Fair.

So as part of the Silicon City effort, the New York Historical Society has launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring Telstar back to NYC. The cost to do it is roughly $10,000 and that’s what they are raising in this project. There are all sorts of fun rewards including admission to the exhibition or an invitation to attend the VIP opening party.

Here’s the project video.

I hope all you New Yorkers out there join me in backing this project and attending the show when it launches next month.

The NYU Tandon School Of Engineering

I’ve written about NYU and Poly here on AVC a few times, most recently when I gave a commencement speech earlier this year. Poly is one of the great successes in NYC over the past ten years. In 2005, it was a struggling engineering school in downtown Brooklyn and NYU hadn’t had an engineering school since the mid 1970s.

In 2008 NYU and Poly agreed to affiliate and put themselves on a path to eventually merge the schools. In 2012/2013 NYU and Poly officially merged and Poly became the NYU Poly School Of Engineering.

Over those ten years, Poly has risen from a middling engineering school to one of the top 50 engineering schools in the US. Applications have risen, as have test scores, and graduation rates. The faculty has stepped up and has been joined by a bunch of new dynamic educators and researchers. It has been a joy to watch this transformation which happened because a “jewel of a school” joined a juggernaut called NYU which brought it brand, capital, and leadership. I’ve had a front row seat to this transformation because I’ve been a Trustee of Poly and NYU and joined both boards because of the affiliation and planned merger.

But it gets better. Today, NYU and Poly are announcing that the school will now be called The NYU Tandon School Of Engineering because Chandrika and Ranjan Tandon have bestowed a $100mm gift on the school, to be matched by a $50mm capital campaign. These funds will be directed at faculty and academic programs which are the essence of a university.

For me, this feels like a company I seed funded just did a growth round. And that always feels good because it means that the plan worked.

Besides the phenomenal generosity of Chandrika and Ranjan Tandon, I think I would be remiss not to mention some of the other folks who made this happen; Jerry Hultin, who led Poly during the merger, Sreeni who leads the school now, Dave McLaughlin the Provost of NYU who championed the idea of the merger, and John Sexton and Marty Lipton, whose leadership of NYU over the past twenty years has transformed not just NYU, but also Poly and many other things. Of course there were many others who made this happen, but these people deserve mention for the courage of their leadership. Turnarounds don’t happen without courageous leadership.

The biggest winner in all of this is New York City. I got involved with Poly and NYU because I was acutely aware that the shortage of strong engineering schools in NYC was having a negative impact on the local tech sector. Poly’s engineering school has always been quite large, with almost 2,500 graduate students. But it was not thriving and it needed to. Now NYU Tandon, Columbia, and Cornell Technion are a “golden triangle” of high quality engineering schools in NYC. So much has changed on this front in the past ten years. Now we have the fertile ground for technology to match the entrepreneurial spirit and capital that NYC has always had. This is a big deal.

Taxis, Ubers, and Subways

Nate Silver published an interesting post on Taxis, Ubers, and Subways this past week.

This graphic is from that post:

uber-feature-demobreakdown-map-1

What you can see from this graphic is that most New Yorkers don’t use taxis or Uber. They use the subway, and to a lesser extent buses.

This is from Nate’s post:

How big is the for-hire car market in New York? Our data set includes 93 million taxi and Uber rides over a six-month period in 2014. Double that and round up,7 and you get to about 200 million rides per year. By contrast, the New York subway provided 1.75 billion rides in 2014, about nine times as many. There were also almost 800 million MTA bus rides8 in 2014.

If you add subways and buses together, mass transit is 12x larger than for-hire cars.

It is true that Uber and the other on demand car services have changed the game in the for-hire car market. Taxis will either respond (and be allowed to respond) to the competition from the new entrants or they will be replaced. But in a big city like NYC, the real transportation action is in mass transit. That has been the case for the past hundred years and will likely be the case for the next hundred years as well.