A Collection of Thoughts & Discoveries

Technology, Business, Giving, Etc.

  • “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” Ernest Hemmingway
  • “Judge each day not by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.” Robert Louis Stevenson
  • “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” Gandhi
  • “Noble deeds that are concealed are most esteemed.” Blaise Pascal
  • “A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.” Ayn Rand
  • “If you want to succeed you should strike out on new paths, rather than travel the worn paths of accepted success.” John D. Rockefeller
  • “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” Thomas Jefferson
  • “Sense shines with a double luster when it is set in humility. An able yet humble man is a jewel worth a kingdom.” William Penn
  • “There is a great satisfaction in building good tools for other people to use.” Freeman Dyson
  • “You don't know what you can learn until you try to learn.” Ronald Coase
  • “Let us so live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.” Mark Twain
  • “Create more value than you capture.” Tim O'Reilly

Thomas Jefferson on Patents

Chris Dixon has posted to his blog an except from a letter by Thomas Jefferson on patents. It really strikes a chord with me in this time of so many patent infringement legal cases in the tech world. Here’s the excerpt as Chris posted:

If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.

That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.

Society may give an exclusive right to the profits arising from them, as an encouragement to men to pursue ideas which may produce utility, but this may or may not be done, according to the will and convenience of the society, without claim or complaint from anybody. Accordingly, it is a fact, as far as I am informed, that England was, until we copied her, the only country on earth which ever, by a general law, gave a legal right to the exclusive use of an idea. In some other countries it is sometimes done, in a great case, and by a special and personal act, but, generally speaking, other nations have thought that these monopolies produce more embarrassment than advantage to society; and it may be observed that the nations which refuse monopolies of invention, are as fruitful as England in new and useful devices.” Thomas Jefferson

I’m not posting this (or reposting) because I feel that all patents are wrong, but I do feel that there is such abuse that the system needs to be reworked. I’m not a fan of software patents because I believe they stifle innovation, as well as laying claim to usage of “language” (as in computer languages) and how a user communicates or interacts with information.

In fact, I do support patents in the context of tangible products (though I abhor patent trolls). If an inventor, whether an individual or a corporation, develops an idea and wishes to earn money from the effort and creativity, I’m all for it and feel s/he should be protected from those who would simply copy the product and not compensate the originator. A lot of work and expense goes into developing prototypes and finished products. Of course, if a creative inventor takes pleasure from sharing his or her inventions with others without the need to profit, that's wonderful.

Thomas Jefferson was the inventor of many things, which he freely shared with everyone. A commenter on Chris' post, Patrick Lee, reminds us the Thomas Jefferson died at age 83, deeply in debt, and had he patented some of his inventions he might have been financially better off for it. He could have joined with others to create businesses which grew from his ideas as well. Still, his humble generosity is something to appreciate I think.

Here' the letter from Thomas Jefferson to Isaac McPherson. Kudos to Chris for finding this and posting it. end of article icon

[via: Chris Dixon]

Posted on Sunday, July 17, 2011 in TechnologyStartup

FOMO and Social Media by Caterina Fake

Caterina Fake has published a thoughtful post to her blog addressing FOMO, or the “Fear of Missing Out”, and how it affects the way people interact with, and by means of, social media.

FOMO is a great motivator of human behavior, and I think a crucial key to understanding social software, and why it works the way it does… Social media has made us even more aware of the things we are missing out on.” Caterina Fake

One need only look around when in public to see so many eyes locked on to mobile devices, thumbs pounding away at texting and tweeting or checking their Facebook, rather than taking in the scenery or talking with a companion, to see her point.end of article icon

Posted on Tuesday, March 15, 2011 in Technology

Asian University for Women: A Triumph of Hope over Despair

Amit Chakma, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Western Ontario, has a post on The Globe and Mail opinion page regarding the Asian University for Women (AUW). In that post Dr. Chakma expresses his belief in the importance of education as a means of improving conditions in regions of the world which are suffering from abject poverty, discrimination and oppression.

In fact, it’s clearly evident that, for societies to be able to make progress, women must be given equal opportunity, and they must be allowed to play leadership roles.” Amit Chakma

In the article, Dr. Chakma shares that he was a boy from a tribe in the hills of southeastern Bangladesh, stating that neither he nor his parents would ever have dreamed that he would one day become the president of a 133 year-old university in Canada. The context is that opportunities provided by organizations like the AUW are essential to helping people break away from the cycle of poverty and despair through access to education. Check it out. end of article icon

Related Posts:
Cherie Blair Takes Position as Chancellor of A.U.W.
The Asian University for Women: A Special Cause

Posted on Saturday, March 12, 2011 in Giving

The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz

Jacqueline Novogratz is the founder and CEO of Acumen Fund, a nonprofit venture capital fund committed to investing in business models which help to empower the poor. The Blue Sweater is a chronicle of the events in the author’s life which led to her eventual establishment of Acumen Fund.

The dialogue begins by describing the sweater she received as a gift from her uncle when she was a young girl. Jacqueline loved the sweater, but after being harshly teased in school she donated it to Goodwill. Many years later, while trying to sort out what she would do with her life, she met a young boy on a street in Rwanda who was wearing her sweater. This was a seminal moment that would mark the beginning of an amazing journey.

After more than 20 years of working in Africa, India, and Pakistan, I’ve learned that solutions to poverty must be driven by discipline, accountability, and market strength, not easy sentimentality. I’ve learned that many of the answers to poverty lie in the space between the market and charity and that what is needed most of all is moral leadership willing to build solutions from the perspectives of poor people themselves rather than imposing grand theories and plans upon them.” Jacqueline Novogratz

In the book, Jacqueline humbly shares the events that would teach her so much about cultures in Africa which differ greatly from what she experienced growing up in the United States, as she learned how to cope with and grow beyond her naiveté. Though her college education and work on Wall Street prepared her for certain business challenges, she was not prepared for many of the challenges presented her while working for non-governmental organizations (N.G.O.) in some of the poorest regions of Africa. Her work centered mostly around teaching women how to engage in business in a land where women have little or no self-identity or personal rights. Respecting local customs and truly listening became as important as skillful business artistry in working to affect meaningful and lasting change in African women’s lives.

The author provides detailed descriptions of everything from scenery to the clothing people wore, giving the reader a sense of participation. As one who travels outside of my home-country often, I enjoyed the imagery provided by these descriptions.

The Blue Sweater is a wonderful and inspiring read, although there are parts which are difficult to read without emotional response. The almost unimaginable poverty and harshness of genocide are provoking, but they are juxtaposed with stories of strength, triumph and dignity.

I love how Jacqueline continuously fought with bureaucrats in defense of practical solutions to ensure lasting improvements in women’s circumstances, preferring micro-finance lending over handouts. She didn’t always win, but at least she tried–and sometimes she learned why some of her methods were ill-conceived and naive. The Blue Sweater should be required reading for all N.G.O.s and charities.

When Jacqueline Novogratz was a young girl she knew she wanted to change the world, and she has done so in a very positive way. The Blue Sweater allows us to join her on her inspiring journey.end of article icon

Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 in Giving

Copyright Troll: The New Bottom?

I have zero respect for patent trolls, and I am a firm supporter of copyright laws protecting content creators, but now there’s a new twist: a law firm named Righthaven is apparently engaging in “copyright trolling”. As described by Christopher Mims on the M.I.T. Technology Review blog, Righthaven is making a business of suing people and businesses for copyright infringement by waiting for an image to go viral and then buying the rights to it for the purpose of suing those who have posted it on the web.

As a photographer I value my copyrights, but I surely do not support this type of trolling abuse of an otherwise important method of protecting content creators. It’s actions such as these which may ultimately bring about changes in laws which weaken protection for artists, designers, writers, musicians, photographers and other makers of creative content. This kind of misuse of copyright law should not be rewarded and the actions should be penalized.

Mim’s post is here: Post a Copyrighted Picture, Face a $150,000 Lawsuit

If there is good to come from this, perhaps some exposure to this sort of thing will get more people to think before posting others’ images without permission and attribution. Still, I’ll be happy to see this “business model” practiced by any copyright trolls FAIL.end of article icon

Posted on Wednesday, February 9, 2011 in TechnologyPolitics

$150K to All YC Startups!

Yuri Milner (of DST, a large venture capitol firm in Russia) together with Ron Conway’s firm, SV Angel in Silicon Valley, have teamed up to offer ALL of the current crop of Y Combinator startups $150,000 each in convertible debt at very friendly terms. That’s friendly to the founders, not overly weighted in favor of the investors (although when it converts it essentially joins the series A). This is a big deal for founders of the 43 new startups enrolled. Milner and Conway are simply using Y Combinator’s vetting process to qualify the investment.

On one hand, this is very impressive and disruptive (it changes expectations of founders with regard to terms looking forward), yet on the other hand it’s not such a scary bet in that it’s a diversified play. It’ll be fun to watch.

The Milner/SV Angel team (called Start Fund) has said that they will do the same for the next Y Combinator group as well. Congrats to Paul Graham and all of the founders at YC. Here’s a post on TechCrunch that describes the deal.end of article icon

Posted on Saturday, January 29, 2011 in Startup

Internet Switched Off: How the Egyptian Gov’t Did It

Amid massive protests in Egypt this week, the Egyptian government took steps to sever communications with the outside world by switching off nearly all connections to the internet. This has the effect of stopping outgoing (and in-going) communications via applications such as Twitter as well as basic email, Facebook, and wireless telephones. Bobbie Johnson has posted an article on GigaOM that describes some of how such a severance would or could be done. According to the information in that article, Egyptian officials at least had the forethought to not stop through-traffic to other countries downstream of their position in the internet infrastructure.

As certain groups in the United States are trying to get approval for an “internet kill-switch” in the U.S., Egypt serves as a prime example of why the internet should remain a free and open channel of communication. Homeland security is important for every nation, but stifling the citizens within the nation is not and should not be an option available to governments.end of article icon

Posted on Friday, January 28, 2011 in TechnologyPolitics

Cherie Blair Takes Position as Chancellor of A.U.W.

This week, former United Kingdom first lady, Cherie Blair, has taken the role of chancellor of The Asian University for Women (A.U.W.) in Chittagong, Bangladesh. Mrs. Blair is widely recognized as a staunch supporter of, and advocate for, the advancement of women’s business, entrepreneurial and educational opportunities. Much of this support is provided through her foundation, and now will also continue through her leadership role at the A.U.W.

I fight, personally and professionally, for women’s equality because I passionately believe it is a fundamental matter of principle and justice. It is clear that AUW’s trail-blazing graduates will provide young women across the region with much-needed examples of leadership, raising ambitions to help unlock more potential.” Cherie Blair

Mrs. Blair is just one of many successful and influential women (and men) participating in the empowerment of women through education at the A.U.W. You can read more about the A.U.W. in an earlier post here.

I firmly believe that projects which empower women, especially those in the Middle East, Africa and Asia (such as the A.U.W. and The Cherie Blair Foundation for Women), as well as programs which help business-mined individuals in developing regions around the world (like Acumen Fund), are a major part of the solution to many global problems. Through education and opportunity, the leverage of strife and oppression is removed as a tool used by those exploiting people in troubled areas. Everyone benefits when good people are given opportunity to learn, work, and share their visions – contributing to the betterment of a global community.end of article icon

Posted on Saturday, January 22, 2011 in Giving

Stuxnet: Sophisticated Precision Cyber-Warfare

The New York Times has an interesting article discussing many details surrounding the cyber-worm known as “Stuxnet” and how it was unleashed against the Iranian nuclear program. There have been several articles written on the subject, but this one provides some connections and data points which read more like a movie plot than day-to-day geopolitics. In this case credit/blame is attributed to a joint Israeli-American project.

The biggest single factor in putting time on the nuclear clock appears to be Stuxnet, the most sophisticated cyberweapon ever deployed.”

The article describes the precision with which the attacks unfolded and what were the likely steps taken to prepare for that precision.

As infrastructure and services become more and more dependent upon network interaction it’s pretty easy to imagine how vulnerable these systems become as technology extends other efficiencies of operation. These situations underscore the importance of security as an integral part of system design rather than political rhetoric or as an afterthought which seems all too common in government.end of article icon

Posted on Tuesday, January 18, 2011 in TechnologyPolitics

Do Technology Patents Stifle Innovation?

There’s been a lot of discussion in the technology sector about patents, patent trolls, violations by one mega-company or another. My opinion is that patents in the tech sector are both necessary and stifle innovation. Innovators and inventors must be protected and rewarded for their efforts, visions and development costs. Hardware, bio-tech, and other physical innovations seem appropriate to patent, but some software patents seem as if they’re sure to slow development of exciting new methods. As one studies what is being approved by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office it’s obvious that there lacks a broad vision of what constitutes an appropriate patent in the space. Factor in patent trolls and one questions from where new innovations will come. Fear of being sued is always a concern as an entrepreneur launches a new idea.

Now there’s a new problem in the space: China. The Chinese company, Huawai, held just 152 patents three years ago, but now has over 45,000! Vivek Wadhwa does a good job of presenting the problem in his Bloomberg column and in a TechCruch post. I recommend reading both.

China could game the U.S. in intellectual property.” Vivek Wadhwa

Additional perspective is presented in this New York Times post.

As U.S. companies, as well as other non-Chinese companies, face steep licensing fees for marketing their own technologies in China, one must consider what will become of the process, as well as how manufacturing needs for tech products will be met in the future. Will businesses decide that it’s too expensive to do business in this manner? I doubt it, because I believe adjustments and pivots in policy will be made to preserve the upper-hand. However some will simply feel that the costs are “immoral” and take a stand against them. Does that mean to do business elsewhere? Or to put less effort into pushing innovation as the anticipation of being “duped” by a new “patent troll”, China, charging the innovator for his or her own products adds a layer of new concerns?

The patent trolls of Silicon Valley are a blight on the technology development environment. The global patent system, as an incomplete series of reciprocity agreements, needs to be remodeled, but it’s obvious by these developments in China, as well as numerous examples in recent years within the general tech sector, that the reformation must be carefully considered and designed with the intention of protecting innovation, not stifling it.end of article icon

Posted on Saturday, January 15, 2011 in Technology

Turn Number 2 Pencils into Diamonds?

Diamonds are nearly pure carbon, as is graphite. The two substances form in different crystal structure groups – diamonds in the cubic group, and graphite in the hexagonal group. Scientists have long dreamed of converting common graphite into diamond since the materials are so similar elementally as well as with regard to free energy and other factors. But alas, without the use of extreme heat and pressure (very costly and technically challenging), so far the task has proven unattainable.

This article in the M.I.T. Technology Review briefly explains some new research and why the task has been so difficult to achieve. It will likely be a while before you should forage through your drawers for all of your Dixon Ticonderogas and your new-found fortune.end of article icon

Posted on Tuesday, January 11, 2011 in Technology

Facebook’s Deal with Goldman Sachs

DealBook in the New York Times has posted a decent article describing some of the legal issues associated with the recent 1.5 billion dollar arrangement Goldman and Facebook have made. The story has received a lot of attention and speculation in the press and blogoshpere, so this sheds a bit of light on some of the Security and Exchange Commission rules for such deals. It’s always fascinating to watch how big players maneuver to achieve their goals while staying within the letter of the law.

The first comment after the article points out a bit of confusion over SEC terminology, so you might want to read that as well.end of article icon

Posted on Monday, January 10, 2011 in Everything Else

Skype Sued for Patent Infringement: Patent Troll?

TechCrunch posted a story this morning in which some details of a new lawsuit against Skype are revealed. The plaintiff is an obscure company called Gradient Enterprises.

I don’t know if this is an example of patent trolling, but if so, I hope they (the plaintiffs) lose their shirts. Patent trolling is an abomination in my view and needs to suffer a fiery death. Legitimate patent holders need protection, but those engaged in filing or hoarding patents for the sole purpose of launching lawsuits once an innovator pours his or her blood, sweat and tears into developing it, should receive no reward for such a parasitic “business model”, and should cease to exist.

Hopefully, the law will side with what is right and protect the appropriate parties in this case.end of article icon

Posted on Monday, December 27, 2010 in Technology

The Asian University for Women: A Special Cause

A friend of mine introduced me to The Asian University for Women (A.U.W.) recently and I was very moved by what I learned of the organization. It’s located in Chittagong, Bangladesh, south of Dhaka near the Bay of Bengal. The founder and acting vice chancellor is Kamal Ahmad, and from what I understand from my friend and further reading, he is quite a special guy. Mr. Ahmad and his team have assembled an impressive group of administrators, teaching faculty, advisors and supporters. You can check them out via the links at the bottom of this post.

The university is geared toward educating young women from throughout Asia, many of whom come from socioeconomic circumstances that would otherwise likely preclude them from accessing such quality education. This year (academic year of 2010-2011) students represent 13 Asian countries. Some of the background stories of the young women attending are quite moving. While the school is not free, a full 75% of students in the “Access Academy” (preparatory) are provided full-funding, and others are provided aid based on need. This assistance continues as the students continue their education through graduation.

Guest lecturers from Harvard, Stanford, and other respected institutions speak at the A.U.W., as do experts in various professional fields from around the world. The diversity of material covered and quality of the participants is impressive.

Here’s a brief video which provides an introductory overview of the university:

The school has been operating in rented facilities, but construction of a new campus designed by Moshe Safdie is to begin very soon. There is information and an artist's rendering on their website. (Edit: I linked to a video of Mr. Safdie explaining his vision of the new campus in the comments here.)

Offices for the A.U.W. Support Foundation are located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.A. The chairman of the foundation is Jack Meyer, who has a significant background in money management on a large scale—another example of the quality of the team behind the A.U.W.

Here are some links to pages on the A.U.W. website (one can read annual reports and other materials by drilling deeper on the site):

First, a link to a brief introduction to The Asian University for Women, in PDF form.

And here are the A.U.W.’s International Council of Advisors and Council of Patrons.

The purpose of posting this is that I hope it helps (in some small way) to expose the A.U.W. to more people. Perhaps you too will be moved by the cause and think of some way to have a positive influence on it—whether giving through direct donation, or presenting it to someone else who can make a donation or sponsor a scholarship. Supporting the university can be done in several ways, and depending on one’s location and circumstances, donations may be tax deductible. Here’s a link to information on their site about such support.end of article icon

UPDATE: The A.U.W. hosted an international symposium January 20th through 22nd, 2011, in Bangladesh. Ms. Marina Mahathir has published an article outlining many of the happenings from that event. There was also a groundbreaking ceremony at the new campus site at Chittagong. Check out Marina’s blog for her post about the progress she sees at the A.U.W.

Related Post: Cherie Blair Assumes Roll as Chancellor of A.U.W.

Posted on Saturday, December 25, 2010 in Giving

Net Neutrality: An Important, but Complicated Topic

Today, the FCC voted 3 to 2 to pass an order setting-up rules to prevent ISPs from blocking certain content dependent upon the type of device used to access it—in other words, to make it unlawful, for example, to discriminate against users of mobile telephones in comparison to those accessing content via different devices or connection types. It’s obvious that legal challenges remain, and rather than attempt to analyze this whole thing I’ll simply post some links that are worth a read as we all try to decipher this. More information will be forthcoming once the full order is available in a few days.

The fact that people on all sides are mostly quite concerned about this is cause to stay engaged. Silence on this issue, leaving it to the government to figure out, is likely not in the best interest of the internet.

FCC's Net Neutrality Vote Hit from Both Sides

A Net Neutrality Timeline: How We Got Here

FCC's Next Net Neutrality Proposal: What to Watch For

Why You Need to Care About Net Neutrality

Was it Google and Verizon, or the FCC?

Presumably, there will be meaningful analysis from various sources, and hopefully intelligent dialogue, once the ruling is fully exposed.end of article icon

UPDATE: I was going to post an update with some of the info that is surfacing regarding the ruling, but Fred Wilson has done a good job of summarizing some of the details. His article includes a link to a post by Barbara van Schewick, Director of Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, and a leading academic voice in the Net Neutrality debate. You can visit Fred’s blog post HERE.

There’s also a good breakdown on GigaOM today, by Stacey Higginbothem. View it here.

Posted on Tuesday, December 21, 2010 in TechnologyPolitics