It took me 7 minutes to break my Syma S107c helicopter

I’m playing around with nano copters, the first I picked up was the “Syma S107c”: Cheap and has a camera.

So super simple to set up, it comes assembled, you just need to connect the camera up, charge the copter, load batteries in the controller, and go. First run was indoors, and the copter was pretty uncontrollable due to body rotation. In theory you can use bias wheels on the controller to fix this but didn’t seem to work that well.

The camera was easy to use in theory but all my movies were blank, and then the camera USB connection wouldn’t work.

So then an outside flight. Still uncontrollable and then I had a hard landing from 8 feet onto pavement and boom, parts everywhere. I may be able to get it back together.

If this thing had a sensor/fb mechanism to control rotation, and a height sensor to prevent damaging drops, it would be infinitely more fun…

UPDATE: Ok reassembly successful. The camera payload is super fragile and pops apart easily. And when that happens, the copter decides not to fly. But reassembled, and i got a little better at using the bias wheel to control the rotation. Successfully took my first movies.

Recent Books — Going Clear, The Big Truck That Went By


* “Going Clear”:amazon by Lawrence Wright. A tough look at Scientology. The author does a nice job of letting the evidence speak for itself. If even a fraction of the accounts of abuse are true, the church has some serious issues to face. The public figures who are adherents probably should step up and make sure their church practices are reformed.
* “The Big Truck That Went By”:amazon by Jonathan M. Katz. Recent history of Haiti and recovery efforts after the devastating earthquake there. Much damning evidence about the effectiveness of charities, about the US’s role, about the UN’s role. The author makes a compelling case that we should give much more aid directly to Haitian institutions and much less to outside institutions (including any US government or UN institution). Sobering.

Quick gadget reviews — sphero, twine

The “sphero” is nicely done and drives dogs crazy. Solid packaging and works. But it is crazy expensive for a little gadget. I appreciate everything that has gone into it, but it just costs too much. Because I really want a fleet of them so that I can do things like “this video”: But at $100+ my fleet is going to be small.

The “Twine” is also slick. Super easy setup, nice directive packaging. Not as polished as the sphero but of course a different target. Also too expensive because I want $20 of these. Not so clear why the twine is so expensive, the bom has to be less than the sphero.

But both are inspiring — nicely executed and they meet their promise. Really fun to see products like this exist. How cool would it be if they could work together! I want my sphero to flash red and go into panic motion if my twine detects too much heat.

Books I’m Reading — Haskell, Viruses

I am pushing myself a little this month.


* “Real World Haskell”:amazon by O’Sullivan, Goerzen, Stewart. Functional languages have always seemed like a research toy to me. But some of the smartest guys I know are using the concepts at least in commercial products, and “this post from John Carmack last year”: has stuck with me. So I pretty randomly grabbed this book, I could have just as well grabbed a book on Clojure or Erlang. Makes my head hurt but that is probably a good sign. UPDATE: well, Haskell is interesting, but we really need a functional language with great readability. Some of the decisions the Haskell designers made create nearly unreadable code; maintenance seems like it would be a disaster.
* “Vaccines”:amazon by Plotkin and Orenstein.This one is a total brain buster for me. But I am trying to get smarter about one of our portfolio companies, “Paxvax”:, and they tell me this is the text. I am pretty much lost three chapters in. Again probably a good sign.

Recent books — Machinery of Life, Half-life of Facts, Moonwalking with Einstein


* “The Machinery of Life”:amazon by David Goodsell. I have a reasonable understanding of atoms and electrons and electron-based chemistry, particularly for semiconductor materials. I have never really understood biochemistry — protein chemistry, DNA, etc. I love this book because it builds up from atoms to proteins and other biochem molecules, and has tons of great pictures. It does gloss over some steps and I’d love understand the electronics of protein folding, transcription, and other processes, but still this is a great book. Buy the physical edition, the pictures are absolutely critical.
* “The Half-life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date”:amazon by Samuel Arbesman. An engaging discussion about the rate of change in the things we think we know. Not prescriptive, but an important paradigm to keep in mind.
* “Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything”:amazon by Joshua Foer. I found this book to be unbelievable and strangely depressing. I don’t doubt that these extreme memory techniques work or that these memory athletes exist. But the characters seemed almost farcical, and the use to which they put their memories seem such a waste. I gave up on the book, I wouldn’t be shocked to find out some parts of it were exaggerated.

Board games this holiday season — 7 Wonders, K2, Kingdom Builder

We always get some board games over the holiday season and have some gamefests. Settlers, Ticket to Ride, Survive have been winners in past years. This year we tried 3:


* “Seven Wonders”: This was the real winner of the holiday season. It seemed crazy complex at first, but the game play is swift, there are many ways to win, and everyone is in the game until the last turn. Excellent game. And there are a bunch of expansion backs for it I see. This might be my new metric for judging games — if it has expansion packs, then it has probably found a good audience.
* “K2”: This one seemed promising, and it is not a complete disaster, but there are some problems in the end game that left us all feeling a little deflated. The bottlenecks at the top of the mountain really stymie play at the end.
* “Kingdom Builder”: Good reviews on Amazon and on some game sites, but this one is a dog. As one player described it, “This game is what I could come up with in 10 minutes”. We may have to go into the game design business.

iPad mini rippling thru my hardware setup

Ok I got an iPad mini for Christmas — thanks family! The lack of retina display does bother me, it is super noticeable. I will certainly upgrade to an iPad mini retina when it exists.

But it is interesting to see the impact on the rest of the gear in my bag.

* obviously the big iPad will not be in my bag much anymore, the mini is just so light and convenient. I need to figure out what to do with old iPads. Can I use them as monitors for raspberry Pi’s?
* do I need to carry an eInk kindle anymore? On the one hand, the mini fits nicely in a hand and so can supplant the kindle. On the other, the mini is so light, there is really no problem carrying both, and the kindle still has that great battery life.
* needless to say the Surface is rarely in my bag — and it now seems really obese in light of the iPad mini.
* I used to carry a 17″ laptop. Now I’m at 15″. Really wondering if 13″ would work just as well .. And for the first time considering the 11″ Air. I pretty much run every app full screen at this point, is the larger screen buying me that much?

Too many bowls? More likely a short term demand problem

Per @CFTalkThrough, through 14 bowl games, attendance is down more than 11 percent from a year ago. 574,095 in 2011, 508,969 in 2012.

tresselToo many bowls? Maybe. But “looking at fan bases countrywide”:, when you take 5.8M fans out of the market for bowl tickets because of OSU (#1 fan base nationwide) and PSU (#3 fan base nationwide) suspensions, well, sales are going to drop. Replacing these schools with NIUs and Minnesotas and the like simply is not going to move the same volume of tickets.

It probably doesn’t help that some of the other top programs — Texas, Auburn — had off years, and USC is in El Paso.

The market needs the top teams to have good seasons to make the postseason compelling.

Recent books – Black List, Quantum Thief, Stone Arabia, and Antifragile


* “Black List”:amazon by Brad Thor. Eh. A treasonous cabal plans an apocalyptic cyber-attack on the US. Pretty standard suspense tale, some interesting characters left completely undeveloped, pretty standard plotting.
* “The Quantum Thief”:amazon by Hannu Rajamiemi. Very nice tale of distant future with terribly advanced nano/cyber systems. Difficult to tell where humanity leaves off and technology begins.
* “Stone Arabia”:amazon by Dana Spiotta. Odd tale of a grown woman and her brother struggling with mortality, relevance, and their own identities. Can’t say I loved it but there was some draw.

and some nonfiction:

* “Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder”:amazon by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Black Swan was better structured, but this is an interesting follow-on and has kept the material fresh. If you haven’t read one of Taleb’s books, you must. You may not buy it all but it is a very valuable point of view.

Software I’m dorking around with, waiting for the Seahawks kickoff

* Great list of tools from Patrick Rhone at “MinimalMac”: Installed doublepane right away.
* “Infoxicate” seems like it could be IFTTT only really useful. Tho seems to be just a concept so far.
* Powerpoint is so dull. I love “Haiku Deck”: And “Timeline”: seems interesting. Both seem to really highlight the story and emotions of a story, unlike powerpoint which creates seas of dot points.
* I want an “Eve Alpha”: Not sure why.
* I should have followed @randfish’s guidance and made some “minted photo calendars”: this year.
* If someone starts challenging your database knowledge, whip “this chart”: out. And hit them with it.
* “Tinybasic for raspberrypi”: Historically this was an important inflection point.

Programmable behavior everywhere, in everything.

“A nice article”: from @mikeloukides that extends on the “software is eating the world” idea, and talks about how the world is eating software. Programmable behaviour is getting stuffed into everything, and the trend is just going to accelerate.

I’ve got a pile of computers on my desk right now — Arduinos, Raspberry Pis, Beaglebones. They just keep getting cheaper. And faster. And lower power. And re-imagined in new form factors — go look at the number of Arduino variants you can buy. And I’ve got a pile of super cheap sensors on my desk — cameras, audio, pressure, temperature, humidity, IR, you name it. Computing and sensing is getting so cheap, it is going to be embedded everywhere — and not just in the obvious places, but in objects made of “fabric or paper or wood”:, or in “plastics”: This last one is really fascinating, combining 3d prototyping and electronic behavior, I can’t wait to play around with this.

And the world is getting more capability to build these devices. Prototyping with 3d printers. Funding bootstrapping by Kickstarter and its ilk (for example “”: Easy sourcing via services like “Maker’s Row”:

Exciting times. I got involved with personal computers because I was excited about bringing computing power to everyone. This next wave of bringing computing power into everything seems even more exciting.

low end computing grab bag — arduino, sensors, fritzing, LEDs, coin batteries, etc

A random collection of links I’ve noticed in the past month or so, need to follow up on most of these.

* “”: Standard software for managing an arduino fully populated with sensors. Feel like arduino hw and sw ought to evolve to include more sensor capability by default
* “Understanding coin cell limitations”: Great stuff. Batteries are behaviourly way more complex than you would like.
* “Voice modifier shield for arduino”: I have a “Boss VT-1”: which is ridiculously pricey, I would love to have a bunch of cheaper alternatives
* “ARM-powered Arduinos coming”:
* “GPS for power tools”: Interesting. In not too long we will just describe to our power tools what we want done, and let the tool do all the decision making.
* “Kickstarter sensor projects”: I’m tempted to buy one of each
* “USB analog gauge”: I have a ton of old gauges, they are beautiful, this is exactly why I bought them.
* “Fritzing”: I need to understand Fritzing more deeply.
* “Reactive LED light panels”: I love these things tho I have no practical use for them.
* “PureVLC”: Making every LED light a router.

Books — a bunch of airplane fiction, Makers, MLK Jr.

A handful of airplane reads:

* “Up Against It”:amazon by M. J. Locke. YA SF, set in the asteroid belt. Nice technical treatment of asteroid belt life and some interesting political plotting, but tissue paper thin characters for the most part.
* “Red Hook Road”:amazon by Ayelet Waldman. In a Maine coastal town, a wedding day turns to tragedy, and the families involved wrestle with that tragedy through the years. For a book that features a horrific tragedy in the first chapter, I found it a little hard to engage, but eventually a couple of the characters hooked me.
* “A Very Simple Crime”:amazon by Grant Jerkins. Very quick tale of murder, and since damn near every character is a psychopath or insane or otherwise deeply disturbed, it is hard to sort out who is really guilty.
* “Spiral”:amazon by Paul McEuen. Teeny robot drones combined with fungal-based bioweapons! Some fun concepts but the story devolves into the classic madman-taking-over-the-world pattern. Not bad but pretty forgetful.
* “Swordspoint”:amazon by Ellen Kushner. An evocative fantasy about a master swordsman and assassin. Nice language but the story itself kind of bored me and I gave up.
* “Before I Go To Sleep”:amazon by S. J. Watson. An amnesiac struggles to regain her memories and her life, and slowly realizes that those closest to her may have been using her amnesia for their own ends. Very compelling mystery tale.

And then some meatier choices:

* “Makers: The New Industrial Revolution”:amazon by Chris Anderson. Very nice quick walk through of the maker revolution — personalities, tools, markets, business models, applications, etc. Enjoyable tho at times a bit overstated.
* “Hellhound On His Trail”:amazon by Hampton Sides. The story of last days of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the chase after his assassin. Very good telling of a piece of critical American history. Despite having lived during the time, and having been in DC during some of the riots, my knowledge of the details of the event (and the emotional impact it had on the nation) was very slim.

I watched episode 1 of Bravo’s “Start-Ups: Silicon Valley” this weekend.

Hey, Ohio State had a bye, I had to watch something. 3 observations after watching “the show”:

* I am now embarrassed to say I work in the tech industry.
* Apparently there are just as many venal, shallow people in the tech industry as there are in Orange County, the Jersey Shore, or any other reality show setting
* If someone ever shows up with a camera and says they want to put you on a reality show, why would you ever do anything besides run away? They are not there to burnish your image.

Hal Berenson defends Office on Windows RT

Hal presents “a reasoned and rational defense of the current state of Office on Windows RT machines”: I am almost half convinced. But I do differ with Hal on some points.

* The Office and Windows businesses have always been intertwined, they owe big parts of their individual successes to each other, they are all part of the same ecosystem bet. And for the Office team to deliver such a tepid solution for the premier effort of the Windows team, well that seems like a missed opportunity.
* And it is not just that the Office team bet against Windows RT. They have continuously bet against mobile devices across the board — there is no great mobile Office solution from Microsoft for any tablet or phone You can perhaps understand the waffling on Windows RT, but to completely ignore the trend towards mobile?
* An argument is made that no one at Microsoft could have predicted how thinly supported the desktop mode would be in Windows RT. That shows a real lack of foresight, since it only took about 12 nanoseconds for speculation to start on this outside the company once Windows RT was announced.
* Office, the richest and biggest group at Microsoft, couldn’t find a way to squeeze out mobile versions of their apps? Somehow Apple has done it for Keynote and Numbers and Pages, and they have a fraction of the revenues and profits in those groups.

Obviously I am unhappy with the Office experience on my Surface, and expected Microsoft to do better. Overlaying a touch interface on an existing mouse interface simply doesn’t work very well — and it was completely knowable and should have been addressed more deeply in Microsoft’s strategy.

UPDATE: “Hal articulately explains how the Microsoft culture has changed since my tenure there in the Paleozoic era, and how the Office team had limited/no information about Windows RT”: Hat tip to Hal, this is very edifying. Based on that, I withdraw some of my criticism of the Office team, particularly wrt Office on Windows RT — you can’t bet on something if you don’t know anything about it. I will redirect that criticism to Windows management and Microsoft management — if you are going to ship a device whose hallmark feature is Office, then you better damn well make sure you have created the environment for it to have a great version of Office.

I will still blame the Office group in part tho — they may have had no insight into Windows RT, but they certainly knew that touch devices (Win8 on Intel, iPad) were going to be important in the future, and that running “classic Office” with its mouse/kb interface on these devices was going to be a bad experience.

Two thoughts spurred by FiveThirtyEight

* “FiveThirtyEight”: and other election watchers have made it crystal clear that candidate attention has moved entirely to swing states — and increasingly swing counties and swing demographics within those states. You have to believe this trend will continue, and we will see ever finer-grained focus on counties, on precincts, on finer and finer demographic cuts. By the time of the 2040 election, every political ad and pollster will be focused on dental technicians aged 24-32 in Hilliard, Ohio. Heck, one poor voter in Delaware, Ohio may be the swing voter for the entire election, the campaign buses will just park in front of his/her house. OK maybe not quite that bad, but I have no reason to believe we will ever see much of a presidential candidate in Washington ever again (save for primaries). Seems unfortunate.

* Traffic at FiveThirtyEight has probably been off the charts in the last several weeks, leaving me to wonder — is this the future of journalism? In-depth numerical analysis and modelling using big data tools, to back up insights and observations? Any blogger can spew opinions, so it does seem like “professional” journalists may have to move in new directions and embrace a new generation of analytic tools if they want to separate from the pack of bloggers. Journalism training becomes very different in this world, the standard toolset on a journalist’s desktop becomes very different.

At least the Surface has forced me to think about what devices I carry

Overall the Surface is, well, a turd. It is a crappy cheap laptop. Or maybe an ok-but-expensive tablet, although completely lacking the tablet apps I want.

But it has forced me to think about the gear I carry. Right now my bag contains a laptop (MacBook pro or ASUS ultra book depending on the day), an iPad 3, and a Kindle Touch. And now the Surface is trying to push its way in there. Oh and my phone is always in my pocket. What do I really need?

The principles I think are this:

* All data is going to synced with the cloud all the time, and will be available with native clients on every relevant platform, so using multiple devices is a fine experience
* All devices are going to get lighter, cheaper, with greater power and battery life. Carrying around a couple won’t be a problem weight-wise or economically.
* Device design will be optimized for the way it is used — consumption, creation, etc.

I’m always going to have a phone. Pocket sized, 1 day battery, great voice/text, decent apps and web. No need for it to bloat up in size, I’ve got other bigger devices with me, and I want it in my pocket, and it just has to be great at texting and talking.

I also need a great content creation device. A 13-15″ screen with a great keyboard (the Surface keyboard is too compromised), in a stiff shell so that the keyboard works well (the Surface has taught me the value of a stiff shell). Today this is a MacBook Air or Ultrabook, these will just get better and lighter.

And then I need a great browsing and consumption device for web, video, games, etc. The current iPad is great but is just a little too big. I’m betting the market moves to the 7″ tablet form factor, the iPad Mini/Kindle/Nexus. Fits in a hand, great for reading or video or web or games, great battery life. Smarter people than me are betting on this move as well — see for instance the “Daring Fireball”: view on the iPad mini. This knocks the current iPad and Kindle out of my bag (though I do love the passive display on the Kindle, so maybe I still carry the smallest Kindle around).

This set of gadgets would be substantially lighter and more compact than what I carry today, and would hit all my needs, and isn’t that much to carry around. An implication: Tweener devices make no sense. Phablets? Surface? Eh. You’ll just carry a best of breed 7″ tablet and a laptop. The tweeners are economic compromises — cheaper than carrying two devices — but over time, the prices on all these gadgets continue to drop, the economic argument is a loser long run. And tweener devices are always design compromises — never great at either scenario, no matter how much work engineering goes into the transforming bridge work.

I wouldn’t rush out to buy a Surface.

I have the attention span of a gnat, and too large a hardware budget, so of course I ordered a “Surface”: day one. I got my Surface on Friday. 64G, black, both the touch and the type covers. My motto — “Buying first release technology since 1979 so you don’t have to!”

There are a million reviews to read of the Surface. I’ll be using it over the course of the next several months and will share my thoughts, including these initial views. “Hal Berenson”: is a thoughtful guy and I’d read his notes, he is more positive than I am at this point. So some good balance.

The hardware is solid. A little heavy but feels robust, and I like the width a lot. Having a kb is nice. When you are sitting at a table or desk, the type cover is probably superior. When sitting on the couch with the Surface on your lap, I think the touch cover is a little more functional. As others have said tho, your fingers can easily drift on the touch cover and occasionally you start hitting the wrong keys entirely. It is odd that the kbs have a Fn key, and I have no idea what the Device and Share buttons are for. But good kbs, the Surface delivers on the tablet+keyboard promise.

The Win8 touch interface is fine. Different than iOS but not in a bad way, just different. And some things are very nice — the live tiles are definitely an improvement over iOS as is the ability to pin objects to the home screen. But…Win8 has oh so many fit and finish issues. Copy and paste is tricky to use. Edit focus jumps around randomly on some screens. Moving the text insertion point is painful. Too many clicks to do common operations. Laggy at times. Config options buried and hard to find — it took me a long time to figure out how to selectively show a calendar. Dragging to rearrange the home screen is a hit or miss proposition. The whole legacy desktop thing which is particularly useless on an ARM device.

The marketplace is very weak. Lots of brandname apps missing. No Dropbox. No Spotify. No ESPN Scorecenter. No Twitter, Tweetbot, Tweetdeck. There are some offbrand replacements for some of these but many of them are crap, of the two twitter clients I tried, only 1 actually worked, and I have to terminate and restart it regularly. WordPress app won’t work. Feed reader won’t work. In MSFT’s attempt to fill the store, they have obviously lowered the quality bar. Will this get better? One can hope. It probably depends on how committed MSFT really is to the Surface, and their orphaning of my Nokia Lumia doesn’t bode well. This is one reason why I say “wait”, MSFT needs to prove they are committed to fixing the marketplace issues (particularly for the ARM devices, I am sure this will be less an issue for Intel-based devices).

The other big selling point of the Surface is Office. Office is just a direct port of the desktop app, with only modest concessions for touch. And the touch support is simply not sufficient — mapping fat-fingered touches onto a fine resolution mouse interface is not a good experience. Sure you can type, but try creating a slide in PPT with a simple architecture diagram — some boxes with text and connecting lines. Now do it in Keynote on an iPad. The PPT experience is very trying, the Keynote experience is pretty slick. There are limited changes in Office to embrace the touch screen experience — you have to touch your way thru a myriad of teeny menu choices, in many cases choosing blind since your finger obscures the choice. Turning on Touch Mode (why is this not on by default?) doesn’t help much. Fine movements of the text edit point, fine selections — all super painful via touch. You find yourself jumping back to the arrow keys on the KB or wishing you had bought a little portable mouse.

As one smart observer said to me, “the Office team bet against Win8” by not doing a native Win8 version. Yes it works but compared to what it could have been, it is completely inadequate. Somehow Apple found the time and engineers to do versions of their productivity apps optimized for OSX and for iOS; Microsoft needs to dig deep and do the same. The current Office apps are adequate viewers of content, but I will never use these for any intensive content creation — and they drag along the whole confusing legacy desktop mode, which is pointless on an ARM-based device. Office delivers limited value on these devices, I would wait until MSFT delivers real Win8 versions of the apps. (BTW, I’ve heard some complaints that MSFT didn’t port Outlook. Well I say thank goodness, the Surface Mail and Calendar apps are native Win8 apps and are usable. If I had to use desktop Outlook, that would be bad.)

So: keyboards good, Windows8 looks nice but needs polish, office pointless, marketplace weak. I’d wait to buy, and I’d look hard at other Win8 options.

Different views?