Friday, May 17, 2013

The meaning of words

spa1Why is it that…

“Spa” has evolved from it’s Roman (later German) association with baths and massage to an Eastern focus on stones and oils?

When I look into a spa at hotels and resorts, there is bamboo in place of marble, calligraphy instead of statuary.  Only the restful silence and towels remain.

Backed by oboes, wind chimes, and eucalyptus.

conqistadorA British or Dutch invasion and displacement of indigenous peoples is called a “colonization” while a similar Spanish or Portuguese event is called a “conquest”.

There’s a similar twist of language in Chinese views of history, reciprocal with European accounts.  The Economist recently wrote

“The National Museum’s “Road to Revival” exhibit is a propaganda romp through China’s history since the mid-19th century. Its aim is to show China’s suffering at the hands of colonial powers in the “century of humiliation” and its eventual glorious recovery under party rule. (The millions of deaths from starvation and political strife under Mao, and the bloody crushing of anti-government unrest under Deng, go unremarked.) “

analyst“Analysts” are, increasingly, being replaced by “Commentators”.  I rely on my primary News sources to give  in-depth, verified facts about people and events.  But time gives perspective and I look to weekly summaries, both magazines and podcasts, to put these fact into context and perspective.  A news analyst used to have that long view, understanding the history and the personalities  and able to say “why”,  not just “how”, something is happening, and chat it means for the future.

I listen to several tech podcast networks, TWIT and 5By5, to understand trends in devices, applications, business and social media.  During a discussion of journalistic perspectives on In Beta, Gina Trapani said that she really sees her role is as a commentator.  To me , that implies that she simply reacts to news, gives her opinion, and endorses.

I know that she is a software developer herself, an insider for many years, and well connected with the people and trends that are moving the industry.  Her analysis I one that I would trust.  But, described as a commentator, I’m less inclined to give weight to her view than to her journalistic co-host.

More generally, the world seems to be filling with commentators, ‘talking heads’ that gather audience rather than insight.  It takes work to reflect on events, dig into background, and deliver thoughtful perspectives, the stories that make sense of the news.  Fewer and fewer seem willing to do it.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Entrepreneurial labor and capital

Our shareholder letter went out on Thursday, a shadow of what started to convey but then  emasculated through reflective prudence and committee review.  Replies trickled in, Very disappointing , no progress…and backward steps preceding…much more positive and definite progress needs to be made…Its been nothing but treading water.

My first reaction was that we have to do a better job telling our story. 

The second was “What is he *thinking*?”  He must realize that we have good people working very hard on the problems, and that nobody is ‘treading water’ when time and cash are short and the stakes are so high.

Separately, I’m locked in a negotiation over a new Operating Agreement for another project.  Share value may have been overestimated…recommend dropping the price…consider transferring shares from the founders… make current investors whole … incentive to sign the new agreement.

If we were to make a limited gesture, what would the limit be?  In the extreme, share transfers lead not only to a loss in value, but an involuntary loss of control.  I raised the issue: risk, fairness, balance between interests.

No, it should not be capped.

The New York Times ran an essay last fall that spoke to the balance that needs to be struck between entrepreneurs and investors.

“In the early 14th century, Venice was one of the richest cities in Europe. At the heart of its economy was the colleganza, a basic form of joint-stock company created to finance a single trade expedition. The brilliance of the colleganza was that it opened the economy to new entrants, allowing risk-taking entrepreneurs to share in the financial upside with the established businessmen who financed their merchant voyages.”

This is very much in line with my view: innovative ideas cannot be commercialized without capital, but capital similarly cannot generate returns without innovators who organize and do the work.   At the risk of sounding like a flaming socialist, passive investors have to realize that they need, and need to respect and accommodate, labor.  They can’t simply berate from afar or dictate terms up close without raising the risk that they lose everything.  Capital is, until the product is finished, the more replaceable component.

A million dollars has been invested in development of our new diagnostic device: 18 months of labor among a half-dozen contactors.   If, today, investors pushed the point and the innovators quit as a result, the financial people could take all the shares but be left with a literal box of circuit boards, wires, and documentation in Dutch.  Without labor, they would lose everything.

A million pounds has been invested in development of our new catheter products; 2 years of labor in a company of half a dozen people.  If, today, the innovative people cannot get back on track and resume development, they will be left without jobs and damaged reputations  Without capital, they would lose everything.

Thee is a mutual dependence that has to be understood and respected by both sides.  Especially at the midpoint of development, pre-revenue,  there is a strong and balanced interdependence on one another.

People doing the work absolutely understand this.

People financing the work absolutely don’t.

Many of the investors that I’ve met worked their way up, earned their money, and stood in my shoes at one time.  They bring more than just capital:  they bring experience, networks, gravitas.  So it’s doubly surprising that they would miss this symbiosis.

I think that there is an arrogance to finance these days.   It’s partly a result of failing to distinguish between a transaction and an investment, one with a guarantee of goods and services, the other not.  And it’s partly a legacy of gilded times, the go-go days of soaring valuations and easy returns, and the easy terms and generous loans of the bailouts that followed.

It is OUR Company, commented one of my investors to emphasize capital’s interest.  I wish he’d listen to his own words more closely.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

St. Pancreas sculptures

I linger at St Pancreas station, the terminus for the Eurostar and a jumping-off point into London from Cambridge.  It has good restaurants, a first-class bookshop, free wifi, (free toilets), and a dozen Ingress hotspots.  It also has a first-class set of sculptures, especially upstairs towards the end of the platforms.

Centered beneath the station clock is Paul Day’s gigantic (9m high) “The Meeting Place”,   Beyond is the perpetually distracted poet, now mirrored by ethereal figure floating on overhead on fluffy clouds (Martin Jennings “John  Betjeman” and Lucy and Jorge Ortega’s”Cloud I Meteoros” , respectively)


My favorites are a series of modernist bas-reliefs around the base of The Meeting.  Depicting Dante-esque scenes of commuters and refugees, they are tiny tableaus that are each filled with feeling and detail.


More pictures,as always, at my Flickr site.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Easing through the weekend

I’m back in the UK for the week – alternating days in Cambridge, Sheffield, and London. The annual carnival (small ‘c’) came to the Green as well, a blue space rocket outside the window in the morning.  ‘kind of a cheerful blue-on-green-on-blue as warm spring Weather finally arrives.

Summer fairs, with whirling rides and barker’s games, junk food and neon lights, were always events that I enjoyed growing up.  It was grass underfoot, twilight overhead, a group of friends from work or school, easy banter and relaxed laughter,  There was never a sense of stress or hurry, just easy drift from game to ride, long into the warm evening buzzing with insects.

And speaking of buzz, let’s turn to coffee.


I’m using an AeroPress to craft my morning brew.  It’s a press device that extrudes a single shot: a scoop of coffee in the cylinder, boiling water and stir, and press through the filter.  Simple, yet the results can be very different depending on how much coffee, time, and water are used.

I’m no good at science projects pre- coffee, so I went looking for the ideal mix of factors. It turns out that there is an AeroPress World Championship, with winning recipes recommending pre-wet filters, 85C water, and  double-fine ground coffee.

And the Inverse AeroShot.  Flip the cylinder to hold  the coffee while it brews,  then shoot the shot.  Mornings became even more complex after looking for  advice – I’ll converge on a single recipe soon.

Fairport Convention came to the Junction on Saturday evening, a venerable folk band that sound like Gordon Lightfoot and attracts a crowd of ex-DeadHeads.  Great fun.

The older folk / jazz / blue artists in small venues really do put on a superior show.  They are comfortable with one another, they know their material, and their one-liners are well-honed.  The shows tend to be relaxed and interactive, with a familiar audience and self- depreciating references to their 60’s gigs and 70’s tours.

I like to be challenged when I go to see art; but I prefer to be warmed when I go to listen to it.

Usual disclaimer;  I have neither been asked nor incented to give my opinions.