Category culture shifting

Exploring the near past with a futuristic vehicle

car_mxHistory moves swiftly.

We tend to have our eyes focused on the future but what’s right behind us can sometimes be even more interesting.

Changes are thrust upon cultures with decisions that are well out of their control; strokes of a pen at the Federal level can change transportation routes and even shift societies.

To try and better understand this Mexican artists Ivan Puig and Andres Padilla Domene created what looks like a NASA-meets-Brooklyn-meets-Kickstarter vehicle.

The goal was simple… to explore railway lines that were end-of-lifed when the Mexican government privatized the rail system in the mid 90s.

These two are “Los Ferronautas, intrepid explorers of dead railway lines.”

How they explored the country is novel, innovative and even punk. What they found is even more interesting. Check out the film below of the project and their travels.

Keep in mind they are exploring a political decision that is less than 20 years old.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of lightning-fast broadband

babyASDFMy daughter was born a year before Netscape IPO’d; her entire life has taken place in a post-web era.

There has always been a fast internet connection in her home. Her first phone was essentially a small computer. And instead of an erupting volcano, her sixth grade science fair project was a paper titled “Why Netflix will put Blockbuster out of business.”

This brings me to the point of this post which is the intersection between childhood, meritocracy and modern toolsets (specifically high-speed internet access).

Older generations tend to push conversations like this, conversations about broadband and smart phones, towards a rant about entitlement. I believe this not only misses the point but sets kids up for a marginalized future. We should not compare what our kids have today with what we had when we were kids any more than we should compare the fuel efficiency of a Prius with that of a mule. Cultural norms of different eras are apples and oranges.

Think about what it was like to grow up (and compete) in a few different eras. Kids of the 40s competed with other kids they could see… kids in their town. Kids of the 70s competed with other kids in the nation…who they might meet at college one day. Kids today compete with kids from every hemisphere on the globe… who they’ll never meet and probably don’t speak the same language.

An illustration of this point can be found in the following story. It’s a simple story at it’s core; a large educational institution didn’t forecast how far the world had already shifted. Stanford offered a graduate-level Artificial Intelligence class online and were expecting 1,000 people to sign up. They were a bit surprised when more than 160,000 people signed up. The demand was so strong and from so many places on the globe that YouTube servers carrying the content had to be mirrored to get past restrictions in places like Iran. It’s a post-web story of learning, competing and access.

A large shift has already taken place. Information has become something approaching tradable currency and this shift is really just starting to gain momentum. Kids coming up need to understand the new building blocks: they must embrace the new toolsets as those things are becoming commonplace extensions of their pursuits.

To be a kid in this day an age you absolutely need water, food, freedom and love… but in order to really compete you’ll need more than that. You need access. You need lightning-fast broadband.


The phone becomes “the” tool to address global poverty

This photo encapsulates the next 18 – 24 months. Have cellphone will travel… out of poverty.

Photo by Noor Khamis / Reuters

I read yet another top ten tech trend list and while the prognostications were savvy… the photo above told the larger story. Let’s keep this simple.

The first definition in the Merriam-Wester dictionary for poverty is “the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions.”

My oversimplification of that is “without”… without access, without connection, without opportunities, without real-time (or perhaps otherwise) knowledge-building applications or institutions.

Mix the above definitions of what poverty means with the access and price point trends we’re seeing.

  • Twice as many mobile devices as PCs
  • Smartphones represented 44% of global phone sales in late 2012/early 2013
  • Price of entry-level smart phones is starting to dip below $100.

Great seeing yet more power attached to the device already in your pocket.



Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes

The title of this blog comes from Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden.” Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia’s founder, restates it in this video.

When it comes to vision, Yvon has it… and it’s a simple vision. Make clothes that work and that last.

Beautiful brand manifesto video. Kudos to the Malloys for their work on this.

If George Orwell worked at McDonalds

It’s always wonderful to see a norm challenged. In this case Chipotle is challenging the idea of food. While this isn’t a new idea they do offer a compelling, novel approach.

Gorgeous execution of an idea right in front of our eyes.

If George Orwell worked at McDonalds as a kid…

Many small bets are less risky than fewer large bets

betsWhen innovators talk about failure they are really talking about innovation. I.e. the road to ultimate traction with customers is the result of small iterations, constant evolution. They are talking about lots of small bets.

Larger, or more legacy-oriented organizations, sometimes hear “failure” and hear something “going out of business.” The simultaneous ironic and tragic point is that without constant, smaller risks a company is forced into a situation to make a single, company-betting decision.

Placing many small, early bets is less risky than fewer, later large bets.

A recent, pithy Jeff Bezos piece succinctly captured this point.

Bezos said “If you place enough of those (small) bets, and if you place them early enough, none of them are ever betting the company. If you invent frequently and are willing to fail, then you never get to that point where you really need to bet the whole company” (on any single initiative).

He’s building on one of my favorite thinkers, Peter Drucker is another. Peter also summarized this point with the following…

“The innovators I know are successful to the extent to which they define risks and confine them. Successful innovators are conservative. They have to be. They are not ‘risk-focused’; they are ‘opportunity-focused.’”

Of course there is nothing new here, this is a summary of how the venture capital industry lives every day. Still, there is wisdom here for all of us.



I grew up skateboarding and more than anything else it taught me self-empowerment.

When I wanted to play I didn’t need to find others to form a team, I could skate by myself. I didn’t need a court or a field… America’s love of concrete gave birth to an endless canvas to skate. I could also make use of empty pools or make my own ramps. When my board broke I could fix it easily.

Growing up my dad taught me a ton… so did my skateboard.

That is why I love this video.

The idea of exporting skateboarding to the middle east makes me smile. The idea of empowering girls to skate in places like Afganistan… makes my day.

With all the turmoil in the middle east… here is a flower.

The most modern transportation on the planet?

I don’t think the Leaf or the Tesla represent the most modern transportation options available to the public, I think this (electric assist) bike very well may be.


Here’s why this may be the best option out there.

1. It’s healthy. We all know the foods we eat are too fattening and the exercise opportunities we embrace are too limited. Skip the latte, bike to work… you’ll wake up soon enough.

2. It get’s you from point A to point B with a tiny amount of energy. It goes 30+ miles on a three hour charge (battery is in the top tube). Take the train most of the way and this puppy the rest of the way.

3. It doesn’t require massive amounts of energy to make. There is a dirty little secret with electric cars, they take a ton of energy to make. Yea, that also applies here… just less so.

4. It’s fun. Last time I was in D.C. I jumped on their new bikeshare program. It was the most fun I had the entire time I was there… ok, that’s not saying much. “Joy” and “DC” tend not to accompany one another in the same sentences. Still, grab a bike next time you’re there and I bet you’ll crack a smile.

5. It’s an option. D.C., Paris, New York… bike lanes are the new black. Or maybe urban composting is the new black… nevertheless it’s great that more and more cities are embracing bikes as an option for commuters and tourists alike. Of course US cities are followers here, lots of cities abroad have been bike friendly for decades.

6. This particular bike looks better than the next Tron-inspired alternative. Less is more. Look at this bike! It’s gorgeous. Leave it to the Dutch to come up with something this clean.

Spiffy video below. Their site is here.

America, 19% of the world’s gross domestic product


Don’t cry for me Argentina… on second thought maybe we should cry for Argentina.

America, on the other hand, is doing fine.

A few years ago there was a lot of chatter related to America’s decline. People were saying our glory days were behind us. Sure, it was election season… the season when every message acts a calculated lever. That’s why I’m posting this chart.

The chart delivers a nice, comprehensive picture of the US health as it pertains to gross domestic product over the past century.

It helps to keep in mind that the US, China and India’s percentages of the global population are 4.5%, 18.6% and 17% respectively.

Good chart.

Artificial intelligence bringing video games into the real world

I wrote about AI (artificial intelligence) becoming mainstream two years ago. We may have noticed Siri but AI has been around for a long time doing (mostly) pretty boring grunt work: getting our luggage on the right plane, routes our snail mail and email, helping us tune a Pandora station or pick equities and suggesting books for us to read.

But truthfully… it hasn’t been that fun.

One does not think of general tomfoolery when they think of machine learning or artificial intelligence. It feels like that’s about to change.

Check out this new robotics/AI company (Anki) who is taking the video game into the real world. They are being held up for breaking some new ground; positioning (knowing where you are and what’s around you), reasoning (using that knowledge to make intelligent decisions), and execution (making those things happen in the real world). More on them here.