Do More Faster

My partner Brad Feld and TechStars CEO David Cohen just wrote a book called Do More Faster, which will be released in a week or so, and is presently available for pre-order on Amazon. In keeping with the title of the book, they have put together a compelling book in record time; they did so by leveraging a network of contributing authors, including yours truly.

My chapter is entitled “Use Your Head, then Trust Your Gut”, and in it I reflect on the fact that founders of technology companies in particular have a huge amount of data at their disposal: real-time sales information, user behavior analytics and a huge amount of advice coming at them from board members, investors, advisors and countless other humans who have often strong opinions on how a start-up should be run.

One of the great balancing acts an entrepreneur must perform is synthesizing all of these inputs (many of which are conflicting) and then charting a decisive course of action. When done well, this involves a blend of art and science and qualitative and quantitative thinking.<

In addition to my small contribution to this book, Brad and David assembled dozens of chapters from mentors, company founders and others involved in TechStars into seven themes: Idea and Vision, People, Execution, Product, Fundraising, Legal and Structure, and Work and Life Balance.

This book is a must-read for anyone involved in the creation of early-stage technology startups, so head over to Amazon and order a copy now.

October 4th, 2010     Categories: Uncategorized    

Disk is the New Tape

I came across this gem at Data Center Knowledge, mentioning Twitter’s plans to move into their own data center, having outgrown the managed hosting services they use at NTT America. The article includes a great slide deck by Twitter’s John Adams entitled Scaling Twitter, and was presented at this week’s Chirp 2010 conference, which, sadly, I was unable to attend. There’s a ton of great stuff in here detailing some of the techniques, tools and technologies (including current darlings like Kestrel and Cassandra) that Twitter has used to scale their service in the face of 752% growth in 2008 followed by growth in 2009, a feat somewhat akin to upgrading a jet engine in flight.

But my favorite slide in the presentation is the one entitled “Disk is the new Tape”, which refers to the heavy I/O challenges that social graph applications face. Disk is just way too slow for most Web2.0 applications, which means apps need lots of RAM and must focus on techniques that minimize disk access at all costs in order to provide reasonable (sub 500ms) response times.

Clearly smart software like Kestrel and Cassandra, which are built from the ground up to run in highly distributed environments have enabled the building of apps at internet scale, but it does also suggest that server (and data center) architectures must evolve over time too — moving hard drives out of the critical path (perhaps transitioning to SSDs for non-volatile storage as costs fall?) and thereby relegating hard disks to offline archival storage, a fate met by tape drives years ago.

April 16th, 2010     Categories: Uncategorized    

An Audio Engineering Arthur C. Clarke Moment

Arthur C. Clarke famously wrote that, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Well, today I read about a new audio editing that performs magic: Melodyne Editor.

As readers of this blog know, I’m a guitarist and hobbyist recording engineer. I built out a ProTools HD recording studio in my converted garage in Portola Valley, CA back in the day, and my band Soul Patch recorded our two albums there, which we released on our label, Toothless Monkey Music, and numerous other albums were recorded there by my band-mate Nick Peters, who now runs his own label and studio (Bodydeep Music) out in Redwood City, CA.

Please pardon what follows – it is a bit of audio geekery, but anyone who is even superficially familiar with the capabilities of modern digital recording systems will likely be slack-jawed in disbelief when I explain what Melodyne Editor can do. (I have to give a tip of the hat to Thomas Dolby — I’ve been a long-time reader of his blog (and fan of his music), and it was his blog post that made me aware of this amazing tool.)

Anyway, all of this background is just to say that I know my way around digital audio and signal processing plugins. I’ve been a long-time fan and user of AutoTune (quite useful for cleaning up “almost right” vocal takes), which, amazingly, can put out-of-tune vocals back in tune. AutoTune is an example of pure technology magic, though some lament the effect it has had on musicianship and vocal performance.

Then, a couple years ago, I began experimenting with a new pitch processing audio editor called Melodyne. Not only did Melodyne offer the ability to correct out-of-tune instruments or vocals, but it broke the audio waveform down into discrete notes that could be slid around in pitch and time using a graphic editor. This took a step beyond AutoTune – not only could you tweak the pitch of a performance, you could actually move the notes around with your mouse in pitch and time. You could literally alter the melody and rhythm of a vocal or instrumental performance by dragging your mouse around. Pretty amazing, right?

Of course, as amazing as these pitch (and time) audio processing tools are, they have a big constraint: they only worked with monophonic material. You needed a track with a single singer on it, or an instrument that only plays one note at a time: this left out most parts performed by pianos, guitars, vocal choirs, a horn section or an entire symphony. Basically if any of the audio in which you wanted to fix pitch problems contained chords (more than one note played simultaneously) on the track, you were out of luck.

The newest version of Melodyne does something most in the audio world have considered impossible: it allows the editing of polyphonic material. You can literally reach inside a guitar track and retune an individual note within a chord. Or find an out-of-tune singer in a group of backup singers and fix just that singer’s out-of-tune note.

This, my friends, is magic. And one step closer to what I’ve long considered my ultimate fantasy audio engineering tool: software that could take a mono or stereo mixdown of a song, and break it out into a multitrack representation of each individual remix. This would allow anyone to take a favorite song, break it into its component parts and build a remix. There are many reasons why this is probably far more difficult than pitch shifting individual notes in harmonic material, but if anyone could pull this off, my bet is on the wizards at Celemony. Wow.

Note: check out this video on Celemony’s website (sorry no embed code) to see what some serious pros (like Herbie Hancock) think about Melodyne. If you watch long enough, you’ll find Living Color guitarist Vernon Reid refers to Arthur C. Clarke famous aphorism as well, which I didn’t discover until after I wrote this post!

April 9th, 2010     Categories: Uncategorized    

Droidmaker: George Lucas and the Digital Revolution

A few weeks ago, during my family’s Spring Break vacation, I had the pleasure of reading a great history of George Lucas and the massive impact he and the extended Lucasfilm family had on the technology behind filmmaking, and, ultimately on the broader technology ecosystem. This book is exhaustively researched and is almost textbook-like in its presentation of annotated photos and topic-specific sidebars. Unlike a text-book, however, it is a real page-turner. I devoured Droidmaker in a few days sitting poolside in Hawaii, Mai Tais firmly in hand.

What was most enjoyable about this book is it is not simply a George Lucas biography – while Lucas is (obviously) the main figure in the book, author Michael Rubin (full disclosure: he’s an old buddy of mine) does an excellent job placing Lucas and his mentor-colleague Francis Ford Coppala in the context of filmmaking history. Rubin deftly illuminates how their collaboration and competition served to move the filmmaking techniques and technology forward, way up in Northern California, far removed the ossified and technophobic power center of Hollywood. Rubin worked at Lucasfilm early in his career and enjoyed personal access to many of the seminal figures in this book, including Pixar founders Ed Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith as well as George Lucas himself.

There’s plenty of nerd-fodder in here too. Rubin is comfortable discussing the technological intricacies behind video vs. film, frame buffers, computer generated animation, stop-motion photography, 3D rendering and more. I happily geeked out on the discussions of frame rates of film vs. video and 3:2 pulldown techniques used to transfer film to video. The masterstroke in this vein is the discussion of how the guys in the computer division (which later became spun out as Pixar, when Steve Jobs bought the team and technology from Lucas) simultaneously solved the thorny problems of eliminating image jaggies and creating motion-blur in computer-generated graphics. In a single moment of insight (after working for years on both problems), they realized that temporal and spatial randomized sampling while rendering each frame of a computer animation were the key to making the final product look realistic. Or, more specifically, film-like.

The discussion of the technology are informative and approachable even for the non-technical reader (though I admit to having some exposure to the intricacies of digital media editing as a life-long musician and occasional digital audio engineer). These tech discussions reminded me of another great tech history book I read and reviewed recently: Racing the Beam, which is the history of the Atari 2600 game console.

Droidmaker is a great read and really made me appreciate the immense contribution Lucas made to filmmaking but also to digital media technology in general: his personal investment (to the tune of tens of millions of dollars) in fundamental R&D in computer animation and digital audio and video editing in the late ’70s and well through the 80′s led not only to seminal companies that were birthed at Lucasfilm, like Pixar and THX, but also deeply influenced the broader path of technology evolution that led to the emergence of independent companies like Avid (digital video editing) and Digidesign (digital audio recording and editing with the ProTools platform).

So go pick up a copy already!

April 8th, 2010     Categories: Uncategorized    

Pogoplug in the News

The fine folks at Cloud Engines, makers of my favorite consumer electronics gadget, the pogoplug, have been very busy in 2010. They launched at retail here in the US and Canada and followed quickly with announcing availability of the pogoplug in the UK and Europe. It has been fun to start seeing French and German showing up in the pogoplug twitter stream.

They’ve been receiving a flurry of great product reviews, including a 9/10 rating from The Inquirer in the UK and a five-star rating and an Editor’s Choice Award from Cnet-France.

Back here in the US, the pogoplug was just reviewed by Katherine Boehret in the WSJ in the Mossberg Solution. She also did a video review of the device, which you can watch below.

I’m also super-excited for a bunch of new features that will roll out for the pogoplug over the next couple months. Stay tuned…


February 24th, 2010     Categories: Uncategorized    

Apostrophes and Plurals Don’t Mix

Warning: grammar rant ahead…

FOR THE LOVE OF PETE, PEOPLE, NEVER EVER USE AN APOSTROPHE WHEN PLURALIZING A WORD!

Sorry, I had to get that off my chest. I don’t know what is so confusing about this, but I encounter this mistake many times a day. Because I had an excellent English teacher in high school who was a big influence on me (thank you, Mrs. Noland), I am known among my friends and colleagues as a bit of a grammar nazi. In fact, I am a proud member of the Facebook group I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar. I am comfortable with this.

If you are writing anything for public consumption, using bad grammar and misspelling words makes you look, at worst, unintelligent, and, at best, careless.

While I can overlook many grammatical errors that result from misunderstanding subtler nuances of the English language, this particular rule is so easy, I can’t understand where the source of confusion comes from. Apostrophes are for contractions and possessives. Never for plurals.

I understand that keeping it’s vs. its straight can be tricky, since its is the one case where there is no apostrophe in a possessive, but this still has nothing to do with pluralization.

So get it straight, people. Please.

Repeat after me: I will never use an apostrophe when pluralizing a word.

Ahh, I feel much better.

I should also mention that I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar has been turned into a very amusing book, which my friend Amy was nice enough to give to me a few days ago – she knows me well. I highly recommend the hard copy version.

February 23rd, 2010     Categories: Uncategorized    

Topspin and the Future of Music Marketing

I’ve had the pleasure of working with the fine folks at Topspin Media since I joined the board of the company when Foundry Group invested in Topspin’s Series B in 2008, and I’ve been fortunate to know Topspin’s co-founders, Peter Gotcher and Shamal Ranasinghe since the late ’90s.

Topspin was founded with the premise that the key to any artist’s success in the digital age will hinge on an artist’s ability to engage directly with their fans and build a meaningful and authentic artistic and commerical relationship with them. Topspin provides sophisticated artist-focused and data-driven tools to enable artists and their management to run their businesses online.

Now that Topspin has been working with hundreds of artists and has a couple years of real-world experience with their platform in production, they’ve built up enough data to start to share some of their findings about managing, measuring and marketing with data. Shamal gave an excellent presentation at the Midem Conference in Cannes last week, and the deck is packed full of Topspin’s learnings about best practices for running direct-to-fan campaigns.

Here’s the presentation, which is well worth a read for anyone interested in the latest thinking on music marketing in digital age. For a more in-depth discussion of these slides, check out Shamal’s post on the Topspin blog.

February 9th, 2010     Categories: Uncategorized    

Long Hiatus / Random News

It has been a while since I’ve written a blog post. I think some of it is twitter-induced. Instead of a blog post, I simply tweet a URL and feel that I’ve done my part. Ahh, the lazyweb. Actually, there is now an official description of this phenomenon: the Gresham/Morgan Internet Law. My friend Howard Morgan pointed out on his blog that cheap tweeting drives out dear blogging. Guilty as charged.

Rather than simply blog about my insufficient blogging, there are several things in my world (more specifically in the Foundry Group portfolio) today that merit a mention:

First, EmSense (one of standard bearers in our HCI theme) announced today that they’ve raised a $9m round, led by Technology Partners. EmSense has made a ton of progress this year establishing themselves as a serious player in the neuromarketing space, and I’m excited to have Technology Partner’s Roger Quy join the board. He’s probably one of the only VCs out there with a PhD in neuroscience, so his endorsement of EmSense is particularly meaningful.

Second, today Topspin Media announced that registration for Berkleemusic.com’s course “Online Music Marketing with Topspin” starts today. Berklee is one of the premier names in music schools, and this course represents a first step in Topspin expanding the reach of their software beyond the private beta they’ve been running over the past year.

Here’s a quick video preview describing more about the course:

Third, Oblong was featured last week in a Bloomberg TV series called Bloomberg Innovators. Oblong’s founders and technology are featured prominently in the show, as are I and my partner Jason Mendelson (and his Galaga machine). If you haven’t seen Oblong’s tech in action, now’s your change. Bloomberg doesn’t allow embeds of the video, so you’ll have to follow this link.

And, last but not least, I’d be remiss if I didn’t put in a plug for the Defrag Conference, happening next week in Denver on November 11-12. This is the third year of the Defrag Conference, and it gets better every year. Come join folks like my Foundry Group partners, Defrag founder Eric Norlin, Andy Kessler and Paul Kedrosky as we geek out in the mile high city.

November 3rd, 2009     Categories: Uncategorized    

Bay Area Food Log

My family just got back last week from spending a month in San Francisco. While we’ve lived (quite happily) in Boulder over the past three years, we spent 17 years in the Bay Area and like to get back there on a regular basis for an extended stay to reconnect with old friends and to reconnect with the great cuisine the Bay Area has to offer.

Any of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook probably saw me post status updates as we did our food tour, but I didn’t always remember to do it at each meal. So I looked back at my calendar (and my news feeds) to try to reconstruct a (mostly) comprehensive list of where we went out to eat during our month in the Bay Area. While we tried a couple new places (La Ciccia and Range), our destinations were more oriented towards old favorites, honed over many years of living in Northern California. Here goes:

7/18 – Yank Sing, San Francisco (lunch)

7/18 – Kokkari, San Francisco

7/19 – Pizzeria Picco, Larkspur (lunch)

7/19 – Taylor’s Refresher, San Francisco

7/20 – Sushi Ran, Sausalito

7/21 – Golden Flower, San Francisco (lunch)

7/21 – Slanted Door, San Francisco

7/30 – Tres Agaves, San Francisco (lunch)

7/30 – Mijita, San Francisco (dinner)

7/31 – La Ciccia, San Francisco

8/01 – The Village Pub, Woodside

8/02 – Tacubaya, Berkeley (lunch)

8/02 – Little Star Pizza, San Francisco

8/03 – 21st Amendment, San Francisco (lunch)

8/04 – Quadrus Cafe, Menlo Park

8/04 – Spruce, San Francisco

8/05 – Sancho’s Taqueria, Redwood City (lunch)

8/06 – Stern Dining Hall, Stanford University (lunch)

8/06 – Straits Cafe, Palo Alto

8/07 – Tres Agaves, San Francisco (lunch)

8/08 – Ame, San Francisco

8/12 – Yoshi’s SF, San Francisco

8/13 – Gialina Pizzeria, San Francisco

8/14 – Fish, Sausalito (lunch)

8/14 – Isa, San Francisco

8/15 – Yank Sing, San Francisco (lunch)

8/15 – Range, San Francisco

We also made numerous trips (in person and takeout) to Pizzeria Delfina (Pacific Heights location), Bittersweet Cafe and La Boulange (Fillmore & Union St. locations), but I can’t recall the precise days we visited those fine establishments. The careful reader no doubt noticed my pizzeria and taqueria fixation. What can I say, they are two of my favorite food groups.

We also hit the world’s best farmer’s market (the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market) numerous times during our stay. Late July and early August are prime season for heirloom tomatoes and peaches and nectarines. And the king of all purveyors of stone fruit is, of course, Frog Hollow Farm.

The stand-out dinners for me during the month were La Ciccia, Ame and Range. The restaurant I’m most disappointed we didn’t make it to was A16, which we really enjoy, but somehow never made it there.

I’m always looking for suggestions of new places to try when I’m in SF (which is often). Please mention your favorites in the comments!

August 26th, 2009     Categories: Foodie    

Kindle: My Next Notebook?

composition_book_business_card-p240049682448575295uffl_400.jpgkindle_dx_hands.jpg I’m a big fan of my Kindle 2, and I use it nearly every day. I like to read, and I like to read several books at the same time. I also travel frequently, and often I find myself reading new releases, which meant I’d find myself trying to cram multiple hardcover books into my shoulder bag, which was bad for my shoulder bag, not to mention my shoulder. I’m even contemplating acquired the new, larger-screen Kindle DX.

But, the feature I really want will have to wait for the Kindle 3: I want a touchscreen on the Kindle that responds to a stylus so I can write on my Kindle. This could mean allowing me to take notes on the margins of a book I’m reading, but the main reason I want it is so I can get rid of the last analog vestige of my day-to-day-life: the composition book. I simply want the ability to create blank pages on my Kindle and then scribble upon them.

I started using composition books back in 1995 to take notes, jot down ideas and generally manage my day-to-day life and have continued using them to this day. If memory serves, my inspiration for using the composition book came from Vinod Khosla, who at the time was at Kleiner Perkins and was an investor and board member at Excite. If the lowly composition book had any part in making Vinod so effective, I figured I couldn’t go wrong by trying to integrate habitual note-taking into my life. It turned out to be a remarkably effective tool for me, mainly because I find that (for me, your mileage may vary) the simple act of writing something down really helps organize and cement that thing in my mind. I still keep a stack of all my old composition books in my office drawer and sometimes refer back to a filled-up book months or even years later.

If I could simply take notes on my Kindle with a stylus, I’d be a happy man. I’d effectively have a composition book with an infinite number of pages, and, ideally, it would be backed up online and accessible on the web as well. I’d ditch my composition book, save a few trees and have a digital archive of my life available online. I don’t even need the Kindle to give me character recognition or anything like that. My handwriting is so bad anyway, I doubt any algorithm could ever be up to the task. But as long as I had the ability to tag pages, search and browse through them on my Kindle and online, possibly share individual pages with others, and perhaps even farm out some of the pages to be transcribed (no doubt via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk), I’d be even more enamored with my Kindle. Amazon, are you listening? This is my number one feature request for the next-generation Kindle. Whaddya think?

August 17th, 2009     Categories: Gadgets