Posts from September 2004

Are You A TV Trivia Fan?

My daughter Jessica showed me something that really amazed me today. I know it shouldn’t considering the considerable powers of information technology and “artificial intelligence” in today’s world. But sometimes its the little things that showcase how far we’ve come in so little time.

What does this have to do with TV trivia? If you are a fan of TV sitcoms, particularly old obscure ones, go give this fun game a try. Pick a character in a TV sitcom that you know well and then just answer the questions (20 questions style).

In no time the computer will figure out who you are. I was sure I had the computer fooled with Radar O’Reilly from MASH. The questions had nothing to do with him. But then out of nowhere was the guess. Wow. I was amazed.

#Random Posts

Issues 2004 - Energy

If you take all the Issues 2004 posts that I’ve done, none of them matter as much to me as this one.

I believe that our dependence on foriegn oil is the biggest threat to our economy, security, and way of life. And we need to do something about it.

Jeff’s post was OK, but the comments had some gems. I’d like to repost parts of some of them here:

From Karl

Known alternative forms of energy are not displacing oil because they are not competitive.

In some cases, they are not competitive for technical reasons. For example, hydrogen is not an alternative source of energy as much as it is an alternate way of storing energy, and the energy consumed in the process of storing it (generally from fossil fuels) is not economical.

Other alternate sources are not competitive because they simply do not carry the same bang for the buck as fossil fuels. Perhaps some method will be discovered to make those sources (e.g., biodiesel) more competitive, but there is no reason to believe that government funding of such research will produce that method, as opposed to private funding by businesses which would stand to profit greatly by such a discovery.

Other sources are feasible technically, but not politically or legally. Nuclear power is such a case in the U.S., as environmental activists and their lawyers have esssentially shut down new construction. I agree with Jeff that we should take steps to improve the nuke picture here, but I wonder which candidate in the current contest is more likely to work in that direction.

From Tim Worstall:

Just about every person on the planet who can usefully contribute to the development of alternative energy sources is already doing so. There are hundreds of companies and thousands of research groups beavering away. Whatever it is that we needed to do to start the ball rolling, we’ve already done it. Within two decades (and I hope to be around to crow about this prediction) we’ll have solar power competetive with fossil fuel. At that point the greater energy efficiency of fuel cells will make the hydrogen cycle for cars work.
Don’t get excited about it, don’t start any “Manhattan Projects”, above all don’t waste hundreds of billions of dollars trying to change the world before the appropriate technologies are ready. They’re being worked on and there is little one can do to make the engineering cycle move faster.
I won’t bore you with masses of detail (or rather, might save it for a Techcentralstation piece) but I have seen at least 4 major breakthroughs in the last 18 months on the long road to getting free of our dependence upon fossil fuels. Ranging from making solid oxide fuel cells massively cheaper, to solar cells at 35-40% efficiency (at reasonable prices), a catalyst to use sunlight to manufacture hydrogen from water to a safe method of storing nuclear waste for 100,00 years.

From Keith:

Oil is not yet scarce in the world and yet because of geo-political reality, it is nearing $50/bbl. What do we see at the same time? Hybrid cars are the new big thing. They will only get more popular and oil will only get more expensive.

Big Oil is already figuring this out too. Most notably, BP is spamming the TV world with their ads about how BP stands for “Beyond Petroleum.” Between Big Oil and Big Car, they are figuring out their own migration path to the new world. I am sure there will be major fallout along the way, but that migration is happening already.

These posts give me hope that the dramatic rise in oil prices in the past year is not a blip like we had in the 70’s but a permanent rise which will lead to, and in some ways finance, the next wave of energy solutions.

I wish I knew enough about this topic to be able to profit from the coming changes. I believe that investment capital is needed to move alternative energy from the labratory into the marketplace. Finding the sources of this investment capital and the people talented enough to allocate it well among all the potential opportunities is going to be a challenge.

I’ll end with a link to one of my favorite blogs, the Alternative Energy Blog. There’s great stuff on this site every day.


MP3 of the Week

My brother Ted, aka Jackson, dropped off the CD he and his buddy Chris have been working on.

We’ve listened to it a few times and we like the disc. I think, like all records these days, that it has 4-5 songs too many on it. The vinyl album was a better medium because it forced artists to put out fewer songs and the result was a higher standard of excellence.

But back to the record, called Brain Shivers. There are a bunch of tracks we like, but our favorite is called Self Control.

As Emily put it, the music on Self Control is really good, but the song gets too repetitive at the end. “Tell Ted to add another verse or two at the end and it will be better”. So I am doing that with this post and also making it my MP3 of the Week.

#My Music


As you all know, I’ve been very interested in how the voice business changes once Voice over IP (VOIP) takes hold as the primary method of making and recieving phone calls.

I’ve stated that I think voice turns out to be a lot like email and other open Internet-based messaging technologies and there will be a lot of opportunities to start new businesses as a result.

Well, it appears that the bad parts of the Internet are also going to impact VOIP. I heard a new term today, SPIT, Spam over Internet Telephony.

SPIT is where a marketer uses VOIP technology to send massive amounts of marketing messages to VOIP mailboxes. This technology has good uses, like emergency notifications and the like, but mostly its a bad thing.

Apparently a venture backed company in Maryland called Quovia has filed for a patent on SPIT blocking technologies.

I’ll have to learn more about this stuff. It’s interesting.

#VC & Technology

Issues 2004 - Education

Jeff posted his take on the education debate last thursday and I am only now getting around to replying. I took my “no child left behind due to blogging act” seriously this weekend.

Education is a huge deal. We have a great education system in this country. Our K-12 education system has its challenges, but our college and university system in this country is outstanding.

I think that one of our great strengths versus other countries and other societies is that we have not turned eduction into some kind of rote learning experience. Our kids come out of our education systems, both K-12 and collegiate level, with a better ability to create, innovate, and respond to the changing dynamics of the work place.

I am not a fan of the No Child Left Behind Act and the reliance on testing that our country is turning to in an effort to improve our schools. This will take us in the direction of other countries who treat education like mass production and we’ll be a weaker world competitor as a result.

I posted last week on progressive education and although it was not meant to be a reply to Jeff’s Eduction post, it serves that purpose pretty well. It outlines what I think is the best way to educate a kid.

I would like to see these techniques encouraged in our public schools. And I would like to increase the compensation levels for public school teachers. I ran into a guy running for Congress the other morning on the way to my kids school. He was campaigning by the West 4th Street Subway stop. I forget his name but I took his flyer. Most of his positions were forgettable, but one was not. He proposed making public school teachers’ salaries tax free at the federal, state, and local levels. That would instantly produce a 30-40% increase in teacher compensation. I like that idea a lot.

Another thing we must do in our public schools is reduce class sizes. You can not teach to each kid as an individual with 30-40 kids per class. We need to reduce public school class sizes to below 30 and ideally below 25. That will require an investment in additional teachers and school facilities. But its a must if we really intend to improve our public schools.

There are those who would eliminate our public school system and rely instead on a for-profit system. I think that would be a terrible mistake. Our public school system has served our country incredibly well for a very long time. It’s not time to scrap it. It’s time to improve it and invest in it for the next century.


Manhattan Waterfront Greenway

About once a month, I get the chance to do one of my favorite bike rides. We ride around the edge of Manhattan. There’s a bike path that’s been set up to do this. It’s a 32 mile route.

Here’s some information on the ride. And here’s a map you can print out if you want to do the ride yourself.

I started out on the west side highway in the Village and rode up to the boat basin to meet my friend Jimmy.

From there, we did our normal ride to the GW Bridge, but instead of stopping there, we kept going up to the Dykman Street exit on the Henry Hudson Parkway. Hpim0495
You have to get off your bike and walk down some stairs at this spot. I was tempted to do the stairs on my mountain bike, but decided not to this time

Then we headed across Dykman through Washington Heights. Hpim0496My favorite parts of this ride are the parts where you get to ride through neighborhoods I don’t normally get to visit.

We turned south once we’d crossed the upper tip of Manhattan and past the old Harlem River Speedway where they used to race carriages at the turn of the 19th Century.

Then we rode up this big hill into upper Harlem. Hpim0499
At the top of the hill, you get a great view of Yankee Stadium.

The next half hour is a great tour of Harlem. First we rode down St. Nicholas from 155th Street to 120th Street. Hpim0503
We passed 125th Street which is becoming a major commercial center

Then we rode across 120th Street from the west side of Manhattan to the east river. This street is really getting gentrified. There’s a high end Italian bakery at the corner of 120th and either Adam Clayton Powell or Malcom X Blvd. I can’t recall which. Hpim0504The next couple blocks east of there are beautiful streets lined with brownstones that look like they are all being redone. You get a real sense of the Harlem renassaince on this part of the ride.

Then we crossed the east side drive and headed south to Carl Schurz Park. Hpim0511 This is where Gracie Mansion is, where the mayor is supposed to live, but he doesn’t because he’s got an even nicer place. Carl Schurz Park is a great spot.

At the end of Carl Schurz Park, we crossed the highway again and headed south to the 59th Street Bridge. At this point, you have to head into the city, up to Sutton Place, and then across to Second Avenue and down past 42nd Street. Hpim0515
The irony of getting from upper Harlem to Sutton Place in about 20 minutes wasn’t lost on me this morning.

Then we crossed the east side highway again right before the midtown tunnel and headed south to South Street Seaport. Hpim0517It was quiet at 9am in the morning. The only people who were out were the fishermen.

Then it was around the battery, which is beautiful sight, and back uptown.Hpim0522

The entire ride takes us about 2 1/2 hours. I am sure there are plenty of people who could do it faster than we do it, but we stop and enjoy the scenery along the way.

As we were riding today, Jimmy and I compared this ride to the ones we take out on the east end of Long Island. The natural beauty out there is fantastic, but for some reason, we love this ride a lot more. It’s like a tour of all the neighborhoods of Manhattan in less than 3 hours. You can’t beat that.

#Blogging On The Road#Photo of the Day#Random Posts

Kid's Blogs

Technorati is tracking over 4 million weblogs. I wonder how many of them are kids blogs. I would bet its way more than 50%.

As I’ve starting navigating the world of Xanga and Live Journal, its been eye opening. Many more kids are blogging than their parents.

It turns out my niece has been blogging for as long as I have. I didn’t know that. But I’ve been reading her blog since I found out last week and its great to be able to keep track of her life that way.

And my girls are blogging now. Emily seems more committed than Jessica, but we’ll see if it continues that way. I read their blogs too.

I also comment on all of these blogs.

My brother told me he wonders if its a good idea to do that. Does it hold the kids back when they know their parents are reading? He’s got a really good point there. The last thing I want to do is hold my kids back.

Jerry’s daugther won’t let him read her blog any more. She moved over to Live Journal and put up a password. I think that’s her perogative and if my girls want to do that, it would be OK with me.

But I’d miss the ability to find out what they are thinking. Take Emily’s trip to Greenkill this week. When I asked how it was, I got back “it was OK”. I asked a few more questions, but that was all I was going to get.

Then she blogged the whole trip and I got to find out what she did and what she liked and what she didn’t. That’s what I wanted and through her blog I got it.

Then there’s the issue of linking to the blogs. Jerry linked to Emma’s but then she moved. Jeff links to his son’s. Given all the nuts who read Jeff’s blog and slam him daily in the comments section, I’d have a tough time doing that. I’ve chosen to avoid linking to Julia, Emily, and Jessica’s blogs. I think that’s best for now.

I suspect there are lot of parents out there in a similar situation, so if you have any ideas, comments, or thoughts about this issue, I’d love to hear them.

#Random Posts#VC & Technology

The Replacements

It’s been a while since I put on a Replacements album. And that’s gonna change because my friend Steve sent me a Wilco cover of the brilliant Color Me Impressed off of the Hootenanny album. And its got me in the mood to listen to The Replacements again.

There are three albums recorded in the mid 80s that belong in every rock music collection. They are, in chronilogical order, Let It Be, Tim, and Pleased To Meet Me.

The stuff they did before these records was garange punk and the stuff they put out after these records was missing the essential edge of the band. But even that stuff is pretty good.

The genius behind The Replacements is Paul Westerberg. He is among the best rock and roll songwriters of all time. His songs have this amazing way of combining the driving energy that defines great rock with an emotional side that makes the music mean something more.

Paul is still making music as a solo act. His solo records aren’t nearly as great as the best of The Replacements, but I did really like Stereo, and a few others aren’t bad either.

But I am going back to the 80s and listen to the great ones.

#My Music

Progressive Education

Last night, The Gotham Gal and I went to a speech made by Phil Kassen, Director of our kids’ school, Little Red and Elizabeth Irwin. Because that’s a mouthful, we call the school LREI, but may people still know it as Little Red.

Little Red is a historical place as it was a public school started in 1921 as an experiment to see if the emerging ideas around “progressive education” would work in a public school. It was run by an amazing woman named Elizabeth Irwin, who in addition to being an educator, was also a psychologist and a journalist.

The Little Red experiment exceeded it’s expectations and in 1932, Little Red became a private school and has remained that until today.

Now that we are through that mini-history lesson, let me get back to Phil’s speech. It was your standard “state of the school” speech that many executive directors give around the start of the school year, but it ended with some inspiring comments and lively discussion that prompted this post.

Phil talked about the fact that many of his peers are exhausted by their jobs and stuck in a rut. They want to do better, but are hamstrung by the constraints of their jobs. He talked about the trend toward highly structured education, as embodied by the No Child Left Behind Act, that causes educators to do things very programmatically.

Then he talked about taking the subway home last night and meeting a young adult who was studying to be a teacher. This young man had an energy that was incredible and he was going to go do great things with children with enormous creativity. Phil was energized by meeting that man and it inspired him as he talked about Progressive Education.

Progressive Education is the opposite of standardized, structured education. It starts with the premise that every kid is unique and that what works for one kid will not work for another. Elizabeth Irwin said it best with the following:

“Sometimes we forget,” she wrote, “that the child is not comparable to any factory product whatsoever.”

The bottom line is that you can’t mass produce an educated child.

I am the product of a public education. I moved a lot as a kid because I was an Army Brat. I’d say my education experiences were middle of the road at best. For the most part, they were fairly traditional structured education.

But then I went to MIT. That place changed everything for me. MIT doesn’t call its curriculum “progressive”, but I didn’t learn science at MIT. I learned how to learn science. I didn’t learn Math at MIT, I learned how to learn math.

My favorite educational experience at MIT (i am not going to talk about the other experiences in this post) was my sophomore year in a class on sytems engineering. It’s in this huge lecture hall. In walks this african american professor with a certain dramatic flair to his entrance. He looks up at all of us and just stares at us for what seemed like five minutes but was surely less, and then finally uttered the word “Socrates”. He then proceeded to lecture us for an hour and a half on the evolution of critical thinking and the search for truth from the days of Socrates to modern times.

It had nothing to do with system engineering. But it was mesmerizing. I never missed that class from that day on. And I didn’t really learn system engineering that semester either. But I learned something more fundamental which was how to learn system engineering. It taught itself to me after that class.

That’s progressive education. I see it in my kids every day. They are constantly curious, always seeking more knowledge. They love to learn and are not burned out by the rote learning that goes on in so many places today.

This is not an advertisement for LREI, but if you live in NYC and understand what I am talking about and want that kind of education for your kids, send me an email and I’ll hook you up with the admissions office. The fact of the matter is that more and more schools that are unecumbured with the regulatory burdens of pre-programmed education are experimenting with progressive education. They may not call it that, but that’s what it is. So if you are able to send your kids to really great schools, then there’s a high chance they are getting a good dose of progressive education there too.

#Random Posts