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?

Startup2Startup Panel

Last night, I had the pleasure of being on a panel discussion with Dave McClure, Jeff Clavier and Howard Lindzon, moderated by David Cohen of TechStars. This was a Startup2Startup event, graciously imported to Boulder for a night by Señor McClure, that guy with all those hats. We started the evening off with margaritas and dinner at Tahona and then retreated to the TechStars bunker for the panel.

Entitled “The Ultimate Platform Hotness Smack Down”, the purpose of the panel was to compare and contrast the strengths and weaknesses of four platforms: Facebook, the iPhone, Twitter and the native web / search ecosystem. Each of us represented one of the platforms, and I was the one who championed the native web / search ecosystem, no doubt given my history as a founder of a now-defunct first-gen internet search engine and portal. It was a fun event and it was great to hang out and talk platforms with folks from the Boulder/Denver tech community as well as my fellow panelists. Dave put up the slides from the panel, so take a look:

New Gadget: Verizon MiFi

While I wait with eager anticipation to get my hands on the new iPhone 3GS, I’ve been enjoying a new gadget: the Verizon MiFi. The MiFi is a combination wireless 3G EVDO modem with an integrated router/hub and wifi, all delivered in a sleek black unit the size of a small stack of business cards.

I use a MacBook Air, and I had a Verizon EVDO USB modem, but the aesthetics of having the dongle hang off the side of my MBA bothered me, and then the unit stopped functioning, giving me an excuse to jettison it. The beauty of the MiFi is the ability to share the connection with up to 5 users — very handy (and a great way to make friends) while in the back of a car with colleagues, at a local coffee shop or anywhere that lacks free wifi. The connection is really zippy and Verizon’s coverage puts AT&T’s to shame.

Ironically, I sometimes even connect my iPhone to the MiFi because it enhances the performance and coverage I get over using AT&T’s 3G crappy network, which brings me to an opportunity to rant about just how bad AT&T is. AT&T is lucky the iPhone is a such a great device – the iPhone is so good it is succeeding in spite of the inferior network users are forced to subscribe to.

Apple’s iPhone 3GS announcement this week really put AT&T’s weakness in focus — they announced that iPhone software 3.0 would support MMS messaging and tethering functionality, two oft-requested features, yet Apple had to footnote their announcement to mention that both features were “coming soon” for those of us unlucky enough to be stuck with AT&T’s lame service.

I can imagine that Apple will be more than eager to jump to a new carrier when their exclusivity with AT&T ends. For shame, AT&T. You’ve got the most popular mobile computing device ever created tied to your infrastructure, yet you are squandering this opportunity with your lame network. I’m no network architect and I’m sure I don’t appreciate the complexities around build-out and capacity planning, but I’m guessing AT&T’s crappy network is not a result of unsolvable technical issues, but rather lack of will and general organizational inertia and incompetence. Or maybe a calculated decision to enhance profits in the short term by delaying capex. But neither scenario puts AT&T in a good light.

And yet, despite all this, I’ll be stuck with AT&T since I plan to upgrade to the new iPhone as soon as I can. I just wish I had a choice in carriers.

Bing Juice?

IMG_0415With all the hubbub surrounding the launch of Bing, I finally got around to spending some time with MSFT’s new search engine over the last few days. My behavior, along with millions of other search lookie-loos out there, likely single-handedly accounts for MSFT’s probably temporary increase in search market share since the launch of Bing.

I may analyze Bing more in-depth in a later post, but for now I’ll confine my reactions to the first act that many people engage in upon using a new search engine: the vanity search.

Let me say one thing: Ryan McIntyre won the lottery when Bing launched. Not, me, but rather one Ryan C. McIntyre, a financial representative with Northwestern Mutual in Caspar, Wyoming. That Ryan McIntyre is at the top of Bing’s search result page when someone searches for “Ryan McIntyre” on Bing, but he’s several pages deep in Google’s search results. If Ryan C. McIntyre is watching his web traffic, he’s probably seeing a sharp increase in the number visitors coming from Bing as well as a bump in traffic proportionate to Bing’s market share.

I’m the second Ryan McIntyre who shows up on Bing, and I am the second Ryan McIntyre who shows up on Google, so in that respect the results are similar, though on Bing I show up ahead of another Ryan McIntyre who tops the results on Google…

Despite my blogging, my ownership of the URL, the stories in the press and other blogs that mention me, my bio pages at Foundry Group, Mobius VC and the many portfolio companies where I sit on the board (all of which result in more links to my blog and presumably better page rank), I’ve never been able to unseat my Google nemesis, Ryan McIntyre, who sits atop the Google search results page for “Ryan McIntyre”.

Ryan is a singer-songwriter from Waukesha, Wisconsin, he gigs regularly and has an active MySpace page, which results in concert reviews and venues linking to him on a regular basis. His profession, even more than mine, ensures a steady stream of links to his website, giving him major Google juice.

It is easy for me to understand how both I and Ryan McIntyre the touring musician wind up near the top of the search result on both Google and Bing, but I have to say I’m downright confused how Ryan C. McIntyre the financial representative came to be so endowed with Bing juice such that he shot to the top of MSFT’s search results page. Go figure.

Minus this surprising anomaly around my vanity search results, Bing seems like it delivers reasonably good results, though not markedly different than Google’s, which is a problem for Microsoft since changing user behavior around search is going to be difficult without delivering qualitatively and quantitatively better results to the user — which is what Google delivered when they first came on the scene, something that was once difficult for me to admit back in my Excite days, yet was obviously (and painfully) true.

This lack of a stark difference between MSFT’s and Google’s search results is going to make it challenging for Bing to deliver on their (methinks quixotic) quest of becoming verbified. Besides the search results themselves, the actual word bing will also hinder MSFT’s desire for verbification. If I email someone and explain to them that yesterday I xeroxed a document or googled myself, they will know what I mean, but when I tell them that last night I binged on jelly donuts (true story), they’re just going to think I have self-control issues with food.

Memeo Share Gets Five Stars at Cnet’s


Congrats to Foundry Group portfolio company Memeo for receiving a five star rating from cnet’s for the new release of Memeo Share, version 2! just gave Memeo Share a five star editor’s rating, and they’ve got a nice more detailed blog post about the software here.

I’ve known Memeo’s founder, Hong Bui for several years and met him right when he was starting up Memeo. We hadn’t yet raised the Foundry Group fund at the time, but the stars aligned when Memeo decided to raise a venture round coincident with the close of Foundry’s fund, so Memeo was one of the first companies we invested in out of the new fund.

Memeo fits squarely into our digital life theme at Foundry Group and it has been great to work with the company as they’ve built on their vision to take a core technology for managing, copying, protecting, sharing and synchronizing files across multiple devices to deliver a suite of products that offers solutions for file backup, file sync and now, file sharing.

Version 2 of Memeo Share is a great leap forward in functionality and ease-of-use from their already-excellent version 1, and it makes sharing full-res photos and videos among friends and family incredibly simple and allows you to do it directly from your desktop, and gives you the option of avoiding sharing your photos on public photosharing and social networking sites, though it also provides tools that make it really easy to autopost photos on Facebook or to Memeo’s cloud-based backup service, if you want to socialize or protect your photos and videos.

Way to go, team memeo — the new version of share is looking really good!

Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System

I just finished reading one of the most nerdtastic books I’ve read in a long time, thanks to Kwin Kramer at Oblong, who generously gave me the book he had just acquired at the MIT Press bookstore while in Cambridge. Kwin hadn’t even read the book yet, but I think he saw me salivate (and therefore judged me more in need of the book than himself) as I thumbed through the pages and saw snippets of assembly code and discussions regarding the coding necessary to perform game calculations in the processor cycles available during the analog/CRT video horizontal and vertical sync intervals.

The book was a true pleasure to read and made for a nostalgic trip down memory lane since I was an avid Atari 2600 gamer as a kid. Guilty childhood confession: I once even made friends with a kid I probably wouldn’t have otherwise hung out with because he was the first one on the block to own Activision’s Pitfall!

Reading this history of this seminal home video game system and technical discussions of the constraints and idiosyncrasies of the platform gave me tremendous respect for early Atari game designers like Warren Robinett, David Crane and Howard Scott Warshaw. First, these guys did it all — graphics, sound, gameplay, design, etc. Each game was a one-man show. Even more impressive was how they were able to produce great games with technical constraints that today sound totally ridiculous — these guys had to confine themselves to 2K of ROM for games and graphics, no frame buffer for rendering a screen (they had to render each CRT scan line in real time in code) and a laughable 128 bytes of RAM.

Some of my favorite programming tricks covered in the book involved the arduous process of code-size optimization. 2K was not much to work with, so programmers often had to squeeze every last byte out of the code and graphic sprites in order to get them to fit in the highly constrained space. This often involved hand-optimizing of MOS 6507 assembly code, and economizing via clever hacks. For example, in Yar’s Revenge, Howard Scott Warshaw need to create a random-looking field of blocks on the screen, but he could not afford the space or computational time needed for a pseudo-random number generation algorithm, so instead he just used sections of the code itself to produce a string of seemingly random patterns on-screen. So cool.

In another game, a programmer was able to save a byte of space when the final byte of a subroutine happened to be identical to the first byte of a sprite bitmap, which happened to immediately follow the previous portion of code in the ROM. So the programmer cut one of the duplicate bytes out and pointed the sprite bitmap to an address one byte earlier in the code to enable both the code and the graphic asset to share a single byte. That is a hardcore level of optimization, possible only when programming so close to the hardware.

The architecture of the system was originally designed to enable games like Pong and Combat, so the system was given two controllers and assumed head-to-head-play, and a video rendering subsystem that included two moveable sprites, a cursor and a missle and hardware support for things like symmetrical playing fields, scaling and mirroring of sprites and collision detection of onscreen objects. The book does a excellent job tracking the evolution of the games developed for the system, with programmers taking the system to a level of sophistication and functionality likely unforeseen by the architects/designers of the platform, a remarkable feat given the simplicity and constraints of the system.

And perhaps most unforeseen by Atari was that their console sparked the rise of an ecosystem of developers and publishers around a game platform, presaging the modern videogame market. Atari hadn’t anticipated this, never published a spec for their proprietary system and assumed all games would be developed in house. In fact, they initially tried to prevent third-party developers from releasing titles for their system. Several early Atari programmers who felt under-compensated as a result of their $20k salaries and no participation in the multi-million dollar profits their games generated for Atari spun out to create Activision, the first third-party game developer. Parker Brothers even made games for the console and had to hire a team of programmers to reverse-engineer the system by disassembling the code in existing game cartridges, since Atari wasn’t interested in publishing a spec or providing tools to allow third parties to develop games for the platform. As a result, they lost out on lucrative licensing revenues from third-party publishers, an error Nintendo wisely learned from when they launched the NES in 1983.

If you are a gamer interested in the history of video games or have an interest in how software design and programmer interacts with hardware design, this book is for you. My only complaint is that this book is not available on the Kindle. C’mon MIT Press, get with the program! I understand the subject matter of this book is retro, but think of your audience here in the 21st century.

High Job Satisfaction Week: Gist, Glue, Medialets, Pogoplug, Cohen, Eminem and more…

When work is going particularly well, my partner Jason Mendelson and I like to say, “today is a high job satisfaction day”. Well, this past week has been a high job satisfaction week. (Of course, in general I feel like an insanely lucky guy to have the job that I do, so my job satisfaction stays at a pretty high level most of the time.) But this past week was a particularly good one for Foundry Group.

First off, I’m very excited about the three new investments we’ve announced in the past week: Gist, Medialets and Pogoplug. Second, we are in the final hours of the Glue Conference here in Denver, put on by the indefatigable Eric Norlin (who also runs the equally excellent Defrag Conference), with the help of my partner Seth Levine who also put a ton of work into making this conference a great one. Highlights of the conference for me including having the opportunity to have dinner with Mitch Kapor last night, followed by listening to him give a great keynote this morning that nicely outlined the history of innovation/disruption in the technology work from the mainframe era to the present date.

I’m also happy to say that David Cohen, founder of TechStars, has announced the close of a $2.5m seed fund today. Having worked with David and TechStars over the past several years, I’m excited to welcome another fund addressing the very early stage into the mix, and I’m delighted to be a personal investor in the fund as well.

Finally, in other news, Topspin Media, is now supporting the release of Eminem’s new album, Relapse. This is a big deal for Topspin, since Mr. Marshall Mathers is definitely the biggest star the company has worked with to date. You can buy it here, or listen to it below. Enjoy!

Feature Request: Compress My Tweets

OK, I’m only half joking here, but I’m surprised no one has wired up an app to Twitter that lets you pass compressed/zipped text messages via twitter so you can send messages longer than 140 characters. The community should agree on a convention, for example, let’s say whenever a tweet begins with #ZT: (for zipped tweet), this app would assume the remaining 136 characters were a compressed text string.

Then apps could automagically compress / decompress the characters following the #ZT: , which would then enable tweets much longer than 140 characters since text compresses pretty well. Sure, you’d see a bunch of garbage text strings passing through your twitter stream when folks you follow choose to use this convention, but that would part of the fun of it, since only insider geeks would know what they would need to do to follow those (literally) cryptic conversations.

Has anyone out there built this? Seems like it would be pretty simple to do…

Five Peace Band: Chick Corea & John McLaughlin

FivePeaceLast week I attended the annual NVCA conference, held this year in Boston. Boston obliged with some lovely springtime weather and, most importantly, Boston provided a once-in-my-lifetime musical event, in the form of the second-to-last show in the world tour of Chick Corea and John McLaughlin‘s Five Peace Band. My partner (and Soul Patch band-mate) Jason, who just joined the board of the NVCA (congrats!) noticed the tour, but we were both out of town when it came through Colorado. Luckily, he realized they were playing at the Berklee Performance Center on the final evening of the NVCA conference last week.

Thanks to the magic of StubHub (and our good fortune that we can both be relatively price-insensitive), we managed to score third-row center tickets to see an historic show. The last time Chick Corea and John McLaughlin played together was 40 years ago at the sessions for Miles Davis’ seminal jazz fusion albums Bitches Brew and In A Silent Way. IASW is easily one of my favorite albums of all time. And Chick Corea’s song Spain contains one of my all-time favorite chord progressions, one that still inspires and vexes me whenever I try to solo over it.

I’ve had the good fortune to see Chick Corea play once (in Berlin in 1992 with his Elektric Band) and I’ve seen John McLaughlin several times, once in a 1996 London date with fellow guitar virtuosos Paco de Lucía and Al Dimeola and once in California with tabla master Zakir Hussein. Needless to say, since I was born too late to see Chick and John play together back in the day, I was thrilled to discover they were touring and that I’d have an opportunity to see them.

The show did not disappoint. The rest of the band included Brian Blade on drums, Christian McBride on bass and Kenny Garrett on sax. I’ve seen Christian McBride play several times at SFJazz Fest dates with Joshua Redman and others, but only on upright bass. He played at least half this show on a fretless electric five string and I can say without hyperbole that he is quite likely the best bass player I’ve ever heard. And together with Brian Blade, they were an unstoppable force as a rhythm section. And Garret’s saxophone playing is truly stellar and he’s capable of being both incendiary and restrained.

Every single player in the band is a bona fide virtuoso and it was quite easily one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. A week later, I’m still blown away by what I heard. As a glowing review in the LA Times aptly put it, the band was led by and supported by “genius level musicians”.

A highlight of the show for me was Garrett’s solo in a new Corea composition entitled “Hymn to the Muse”. Finally, at the end of the evening during the encore, the band performed “In A Silent Way / It’s About That Time” in a way that was both faithful to the original performance of 40 years ago yet also incorporated evidence that modern jazz fusion has continued to evolve since Miles, Chick and John helped unleash it upon the world.

I feel incredibly fortunate that I was able to see this show, and it easily earned a spot in my top five shows of all time. Wow. As Zappa said, “music is the best”.

From the Archives: Rattlesnake

As many of my readers know, I’ve got a small record label, in partnership with my band-mates from Soul Patch. The genesis of Toothless Monkey Music (the name is another story entirely) starts when I set up my first “real” recording studio in a sound-proofed, detached two-car garage at my former home in Portola Valley, CA. It is on an idyllic creek-side spot, and many of the albums on the label were recorded and mixed in that studio.

One day, back around 1999 or 2000, when the studio was not-quite-fully operation, some friends dropped by, and a phenomenal luthier from the Santa Cruz area named Fred Carlson was with them. Fred builds some amazing instruments, starting with guitars, but ending with sympitars, harp guitars and other one-of-a-kind works that defy categorization. Check out his site at Beyond the Trees.

Anyway, Fred sat down and performed a song, which I am assuming is called Rattlesnake, but I don’t know for sure. We had one microphone set up hanging above him that captured the performance. My band-mate Nick Peters dug it up from his archives, and I did a little bit of mastering to add some stereo imaging, some gain and to bring out the vocals a bit, since the original recording wasn’t as good as it could have been — the performance was great, but I was a very green audio engineer at the time. It is a fun, quirky song, and well worth a listen. Enjoy!