January 22, 2004

Joi Ito Invests in 3Dsolve

A year and a half ago, I started this blog, sucked into blogging by Joi Ito. This entry will be my 996th, representing hundreds of hours spent writing, editing, commenting, wrestling with blogging tools, and engaged in other blogging-related activities.

At last, I've finally turned the tables on Joi -- he's now an investor in the company I co-founded, 3Dsolve. As noted before, I don't often write about 3Dsolve here, hoping to preserve as much as possible my ability to say whatever I want without affecting my company and co-workers. But I'll take this opportunity to talk a bit about us and what we're doing.

3Dsolve offers products and services to enable simulation learning -- using interactive simulations to enhance the e-learning process by making it possible for people to learn by doing. If a subject involves a complex physical facility, device, or process, then it's a candidate for simulation learning. We've announced our first win, and already have been named by Military Training Technology magazine as one of its Top 100, "the companies that have made a significant impact in the military training industry." We hope to announce more wins in the coming weeks and months -- all signs seem to be that 2004 is going to be a great year for us.

Of course, we're all tremendously grateful to Joi for his investment -- the money is nice, but even more important is the continuing ability to work together and to receive the benefit of his wisdom. And on a personal note, Joi, thanks for the vote of confidence in the team -- it means a lot to all of us, especially me.

April 06, 2003

Two Degrees of Joi Ito

I'm becoming convinced that Joi Ito violates the normal laws of social networking and is connected to virtually anyone by just two hops and not the typical six.

A few months ago, an old friend of mine, Eve Blossom, met Joi while both of them were visiting the Bay Area. More recently, Eve returned from a three-week trip to Southeast Asia. While in Vientiane, Laos, Eve happened to meet two women who were visiting from Japan. As they were discussing a book Eve had been reading, one of the women, Yoko Albert (married, as Eve recalled, to an American involved in computer animation), asked if the book was by Scott Fisher. Eve replied no, but that led to a mention of Scott's wife and Joi's sister Mimi, and it turned out that Yoko knew Joi, at least in passing.

As Eve was telling me this story, her husband Jon chimed in with his own. A few years ago, while working at Lucas Learning, Jon received an e-mail from a woman researching a report on the children's software industry, Mizuko Ito. He did a phone interview and then didn't think about it again. About a year ago, he received an e-mail from Mizuko, who was checking quotes. When Eve came back from Laos and mentioned her encounter there, and the name of Joi's sister Mimi came up, Jon wondered, "Mizuko?" and they put it all together.

So here's the new challenge: find someone to whom Joi isn't connected within two hops.

April 02, 2003

Just Read This

A female friend of mine who isn't into blogging recently wrote to me:

where are the COOL people's blogs?

is anyone writing about literature, etc, etc...or is everyone writing about technostuff?

I responded with pointers to a variety of blogs not focused on technology (or at least mostly not): the usual suspects (Lisa Rein, Susannah Breslin, Heather Havrilesky, etc.) as well as a few blogs that aren't so well-known (Shaun Benchi, Beth Cherry, etc.). Mission accomplished.

To once and for all answer this question, though, if a non-blogger asks me, "Why blogs," "What are blogs good for," "Are all bloggers geeks," or even "Where are the cool people's blogs," I'll just point them to this blog entry and be done with it.

March 24, 2003

"Sort of an Obituary"

Kathy LaMotte is married to a recently made friend of mine, Eric Jackson. I haven't met Kathy yet, but from knowing Eric and from her blog, I have a high opinion of her sight unseen.

Kathy's aunt passed away recently, aged 94, and Kathy wrote a "sort of an obituary for Aunt Evelyn". It's worth reading:

Aunt Evelyn loved to sing. One of the aides had heard her singing the Hokey-Pokey in the middle of the night not long ago. (What if we get to the end of our lives and discover that the hokey-pokey really IS what itís all about?).

March 15, 2003

Rest in Peace, Mr. Merton

For those among you who are marketers, a moment of silence is in order. Robert King Merton, inventor of the focus group, died last month aged 92:

In 1941 Paul Lazarsfeld, a statistician at Columbia University in New York, got together a group of people representing a typical radio audience and gave them some buttons to press as they listened to various programmes. He was then able to work out which programmes had the most appeal. Helping him at these sessions was Robert Merton, who had recently joined Columbia. At the end of each session Mr Merton asked any in the group who did not need to dash away to stay behind and discuss the radio shows in some detail: they should focus on why they had liked this bit of the show, and not that.

Although it is risky to claim that anyone invented anything, it is generally accepted by sociologists that Mr Merton's were the world's first focus groups, a research tool now used widely in commerce and increasingly in politics.

Focus groups have been much abused over the years. As a tool for developing innovative new products, they can be disastrous -- people will simply say, in so many words, that they want more of what they have now for less money. But as a tool to refine a product concept, or to decrease the chances of shipping a flop, focus groups can be quite useful. (And yet, with this in mind, I look at the Pontiac Aztek and shake my head.)

So rest in peace, Mr. Merton, and thanks for your contribution to the world of marketing.

March 03, 2003

Joi Ito's New New Party

For his last party, Joi Ito had perhaps 30 or 40 people in attendance. This time the number grew to 140-150, and was held at Zibibbo in Palo Alto. It was a wonderful event. I wish the mingling cocktail party segment had lasted even longer -- there were scores of people I didn't get the chance to meet. I didn't meet Ben and Mena. I stood next to Justin, but he seemed preoccupied and I didn't have the heart to interrupt him. I didn't meet Evan, or Doc, or, or... but I was able to catch up with some old friends and make some new ones.

Above are Barak Berkowitz and Michael Morrissey. Barak is... um... he's working with Joi on some interesting things. How does that sound? Michael is an ex-colleague of mine from my Be days. He's now at Danger, which has a strong Be contingent. (Be takes over Danger and PalmSource... Jean-Louis' secret plan for dominating mobile wireless becomes clear at last.)

Speaking of Be, here's the ex-Be crowd at the party. From left to right, me, Michael Morrissey, Andrew Kimpton, and Hiroshi Lockheimer. Andrew worked for me as an evangelist before moving into full-time engineering; he's now leading development at BIAS. Hiroshi was either an engineer who kept getting sucked into product and sales management for Japan, or a product and sales manager for Japan who kept getting sucked into engineering. I'm not sure which. He's now at Good. Hiroshi is the official owner of the most embarrassing story about me from the last five years, so I keep a close watch on him. (Thanks to Michael's lovely wife Jennifer for taking the photo.)

Cory Doctorow is angry. Well, actually, no. (He's Canadian. Canadians never get angry -- just very disappointed in the rest of us.) He just looked that way in this photograph. I have a good Cory story ("Hey! I made a funny!" -- F. Leghorn) that I'll use in a future post.

Here I am talking with Lisa Rein, with whom I spent far too little time, to my regret, and Reid Hoffman. In one minute of conversation, I thought Lisa seemed cool. I'm sure she seems even cooler after two minutes. Reid is still in stealth mode. Presumably he'll come out soon, check for his shadow, and let us all know whether we're going to be using PayPal for the next 20 years. (Thanks to Kazuya Minami for the photograph.)

Ellen Levy's hands were cold. But Ellen was great! Sincerely, Ellen, if I meet many more VCs like you, I'm going to have to revise upward my opinion of the VC community.

Reid Hoffman and Marc Canter. Nope, sorry, Reid's still in stealth mode. Check again later. As for Marc, I'm trying to construct a grammatically and factually correct English sentence containing the phrases "Marc Canter" and "stealth mode," but it just won't come out. I'll keep working on it.

Joi and Dave Winer. Dave and I had an interesting discussion about privacy for weblogs. I think I can summarize his position as being that people don't really care about it. I know I can summarize my position as being that they do. We agreed to disagree.

Robert Scoble showing off his new baby. I want a tablet like this with a RIM-style keyboard -- say, about one-third to one-half up the device from the bottom, with half the keyboard on each side of the screen.

Thanks, Joi, for hosting such a great party. You were right: it was worth flying out for.

February 27, 2003

Juan Benito on Iraq

Following up on my blog entry in which I invited blog-less friends to publish their views on Iraq, here's a message I received from Juan Benito:

OK. Here's the Deal with Iraq

First, we should recognize that there are no good guys in the current situation; there are only bad guys and worse guys. The US was instrumental in bringing Saddam Hussein to power in the late 70's. We know the reason why: Iraq has a lot of oil, and Hussein was ready to serve US interests in the region (back when Iran was Public Enemy No. 1). In short, although he was nasty, he wasn't as nasty as the Iranians and, more importantly, he Played Ball.

I'm not saying that Hussein is a victim here. He deserves all he gets. He is a horrible little man and his time has come. However, we should fully realize that we helped make him a horrible little man with an awful lot of power. The US has done this on numerous occasions in South America (Pinochet, anyone?), Africa, and Southeast Asia. We're pretty good at installing dictators when it suits our economic plans. Democracies in little, piddly, yet resource-rich countries tend to make up their own minds about American business, and often times don't want to Play Ball. We don't like that -- political self-determination is a right reserved only for very powerful countries like ourselves. And maybe Europe. Maybe.

Luckily, nasty little dictators don't mind us pillaging their lands as long as we make sure they get all the limos and palaces they could want. Keep this in mind the next time an American president extols the virtues of spreading democracy around the world. When you look at the record, it's clear that expedient economic considerations, not lofty political philosophies, determine US foreign policy. After the event of war in Iraq, watch carefully if the Bush Administration fosters a democracy in the country. Even money says they won't.

In the late 80's however, the situation changed and it became clear that Hussein no longer went along with the wishes of the US. He became unpredictable. He invaded Kuwait. The little pipsqueak had gotten too big for his britches, so the US decided to get rid of him. He gets kicked out of Kuwait, but allowed to stay in charge of Iraq. This was done so as not to ruffle the feathers of the bigger boys in the region, and in particular the Saudis.

In the present time, Bush II decides it's time to take Hussein, a Frankenstein of his father's making (back from when he was Director of the CIA), out of the game, all in the name of "War on Terror." The Bush Administration thinks it's in a pretty good position -- they can safely claim Hussein has WMDs (for how, exactly, does someone positively prove the non-existence of a thing?). If he has them, the inspections help disarm Iraq before the troops move in. If he claims he doesn't have them, but then uses them in response to a US-led invasion, the US will be vindicated. And if he doesn't in fact have any WMDs, well, we'll just have to forget about all that.

The transparent incoherence of this policy may be better appreciated when one considers the problem of North Korea. Kim Jong Il not only possesses WMDs, the means to deliver them to the California coastline, and the announced willingness to use them if pushed, but he is also a dictator who oppresses his own people by atrocious means. However, one doesn't see Bush II assemble any "coalition of the willing" to take him out. Why? Two main reasons: 1) doing so would piss off China, Russia, and quite probably Japan, and, 2) more importantly, North Korea has no natural resources to speak of (read: oil). Thus, a "diplomatic approach" will be employed toward Kim Jong Il. Which means paying him off with oil and food until he shuts up.

At this point, I must a take a brief moment to point out what a monumental travesty the War on Terror and the Department of Homeland Security have become. Bush II has performed an amazing act of legerdemain -- according to a study by the Council on Foreign Relations, two-thirds of Americans believe Saddam Hussein, not Osama Bin Laden, was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Although the Bush Administration has never overtly stated this view, it is clear that they benefit from such a confusion, and do not make any attempt to clear it up. In fact, they hardly mention Bin Laden anymore, but rest assurred they'll find him -- yeah, right.

To my eye, Tom Ridge has already proven his own incompetence with this whole Terror Alert System debacle. How many times can one claim a credible threat without citing specifics? Specifics are precisely what make threats credible. Specifics would in fact be most helpful to people who wish to avoid terrorist attacks. And what, exactly, does it mean to be at Orange, as opposed to Yellow, Alert? The system is nonsense. Ridge and John Ashcroft would have to be mentally disabled not to foresee that these unhelpful, imprecise, and hollow warnings would inspire fear and anxiety in the population at large. As I don't think that either one is actually mentally disabled (however grudgingly), I can only conclude that the effect was exactly what they intended. In short, I'm led to believe that one of the chief aims of the Department of Homeland Security and it's Terror Alert System is to manipulate public opinion towards the goal of maintaining support for war in Iraq and to legitimize the positions of our current, inept administration. They are using fear to shape public opinion during very troubled times, and I think that is absolutely despicable.

I could go on and on. Don't even get me started on NATO, the UN, and Euro-American relations. However, I must wrap things up:

Is Hussein a bad guy? Undoubtedly.

Should we go in and use military force to take him out? Actually, yes. Sure. As long as it is with full UN support and Iraq us allowed to determine their own system of governance, under UN aegis.

Should we also remove our current US administration, and forge a foreign policy that is sane, humane, and coherent, instead of allowing a cabal of military-industrial interests to wreak havoc upon developing nations the world over, in turn giving rise to problems the American people are then expected to pay for, not only with dollars, but with their very lives? I don't think I need to answer that one.

Juan is currently attending Columbia University. We've been friends since he worked for me when I was running Virtus Studios. Juan was just out of high school, but clearly had tremendous game design instincts, so he became the game designer for Tom Clancy SSN. Later, Juan was a founding member of Red Storm Entertainment.

February 15, 2003

JoI Ito on Iraq

Joi Ito has posted an entry on warblogging. He has decided not to get involved at this time, with good reasons:

The War with Iraq is very important, but I have many things that are important to me and committing to taking a strong position and defending it would undermind my ability to cause a revolution in Japan, think about North Korea, run my business and try to understand democracy.
While Joi understandably lacks the time to fully engage in an Iraq debate -- which, on account of his position, would be a far more consuming task than it was for me to post my thoughts on the subject -- he does briefly summarize his position:
I have decided to be against the war after listening to a variety of people who I trust and who have thought about this a lot... My feeling after hearing all of the arguments is that there is no obvious position. So, when in doubt, my position is, don't kill people. Also, I believe that the US one of the best democracies in the world and that we should all push the US to hold the link and maintain its integrity. Judges face cases where they KNOW the defendant is guilty, but throw it out due to technicalities. Rules are rules. First-strike, torture are bad no matter what the reason. Due process should be protected no matter what the reason. If you let these principles slip, you're losing what you're fighting for. I'm not going to go into any more specifics in this entry because for every argument, there is a counter-argument.

So my fear in taking the anti-war position is that we may be allowing another Hitler to happen. Having said that, Sadaam does not have nearly the support or the power the Hitler had so we still have time. We are allowing the bin Laden to unite the Arab/Islam world against the US with this war and strange bedfellows are united. This is dangerous. We are also pushing Sadaam to strike first. The cost of a long war on the global economy and the difficulty of "running Iraq" is immense and I dread the thought of a drawn out US occupation of Iraq. That's what's on my mind.

So my humble position is to let the inspectors continue, work through the UN, get the rest of the world on board with a "smoking gun" and talk to the rest of the Arab nations more for ideas about hot to unseat Sadaam.

As I said in a comment on Joi's entry, while we have agreed to disagree, I have the utmost respect for his position, and for that of others opposed to the war. Let no one again suggest that anti-war protesters are anything other than patriots expressing their legitimate and heartfelt opinions on a matter of the utmost gravity.

February 14, 2003

Paul Gustafson on Iraq

From Paul Gustafson:

I agree with your analysis regarding Iraq. To me, this is a very simple issue:

There are bad guys in the world who are trying to kill us and our friends. We cannot, and will not, allow it. Period.

That said, we cannot overlook, forget, or deny the history of events that has led us to this point. Over the past hundred years or so, the countries in this region of the world have been subjected to a tragic series of world events. To think that we haven't had a hand in creating the dire situation we face is, I believe, naive. Let's pay attention to our past missteps, take responsibility for our errors, and move on.

As we disarm Saddam with force, and in the aftermath, we must truly reform our attitudes and actions toward this region of the world. We cannot continue to tolerate oppressive governments in the name of security and self interest. We must, as the United States of America, continue to be the world's beacon for justice, freedom, and the peaceful pursuit of happiness. These "unalienable rights" are not unique to us or our people -- they belong to mankind. Upholding them is our purpose, our duty, and our destiny.

Thanks for leading this discussion.

Paul is the founder of Market Pioneering, a technology marketing consultancy based in Silicon Valley. We've been friends ever since working together at Adobe Systems in the early 1990s, where I was the original product manager for Adobe Acrobat and Paul ran developer programs in the systems division.

Anonymous on Iraq

A friend who wishes to remain anonymous had the following to say on Iraq:

I think the points you make are very good and the course of action as well. But the only thing I would add is the following for me personally. It is to look at this situation in world context. After 12 years of Iraq not complying, we choose now to make Iraq comply. It could be because Iraq's activities are advancing dangerously or it could be because we have shifted from one threatening group, Al Qaeda to another one at a time that could not be worse. What is our hurry all of a sudden? Timing for us to go to war could not be worse with giving al qaeda and others reason to unite and attack. What is the plan after attacking Iraq? Who will be in power then? What is the long-term plan to stablize Iraq? Most countries we have fought or toppled the leader have been replaced with similar or worse regimes. We have no historical success in long-term stabilization. And finally and a little off-topic, we cannot fight terrorism long-term due to financial constraints. If we continue to throw money around like we are, we will go bankrupt. The hatred toward America comes after 60 years of inconsistent, imperialistic, self-interest foreign policy. This is a situation which will be around for a while. And we cannot afford to spend our money on war, rebuilding countries, security and military for the next 60 years while terrorism will still be around and they are in no hurry to achieve their goals. They will slowly and consistently threaten and attack. In regards to long-term change, we need a whole new outlook and new consistent inclusive foreign policy.
To this friend, I wish I could have credited you, but I respect your desire for privacy.

Jon Blossom on Iraq

From Jon Blossom:

I have been thinking a lot about this topic, as have most of us, and I have come to similar conclusions. Saddam is quite obviously developing WMD, in clear breach of Resolution 1441. But the resolution seems poorly written, particularly vague on two key points. First, it draws no line in the sand regarding the amount and type of proof required to declare Iraq in material breach -- so the UN is split, with France and others arguing to give the inspectors more time. Second, it does not specifically describe the threatened "serious consequences," especially whether those consequences should be military or diplomatic. It seems clear to me (as a special envoy to the Security Council, of course) that Iraq IS in material breach and that the "serious consequences" were intended to mean "military action." I would much prefer not to go to war, especially not without the full and unanimous support of our allies, yet it looks like we have no choice but to continue in that direction.

What troubles me most, however, is the position in which we find the UN. They must back up 1441 or else why should anyone listen to them again? If the US moves without UN support, it effectively renders them irrelevant... but if the UN decides now to back a military action, they more or less look like US lapdogs.

Add that to the NATO trouble surrounding Turkey, and you find the Bush Administration in a position to invalidate these two (arguably most important) major international bodies with a single stroke. Further add in our recent withdrawal from our long-standing non-proliferation treaty with Russia/USSR, our furious attack on Afghanistan (and subsequent total disinterest in Bali), and our withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, and you'll see a disturbing trend of unilateral action on the part of our current president.

Can you remind me exactly which country is the rogue state we should be worrying about?

Jon is the founder of Bopscotch, a developer of physical and computer-based toys. We've been friends since he began dating Eve Helfman (now Blossom), whom I've been fortunate enough to count as a good friend for over 15 years now.

Reid Hoffman on Iraq

From Reid Hoffman:

Here's my highlines on these issues.
  1. Iraq is bad, there is no question. And, the only use for weapons of mass destruction is threatening or using them on other nations. (Now, we should all remember, the U.S. also has weapons of mass destruction; Iraq has merely showed an inclination to be an aggressor using them. We'll ignore Hiroshima for the moment.)
  2. On the Iraqi side, I am very worried about what Hussein intends to do with the weapons. He doesn't need them to consolidate his internal power. Furthermore, he's probably exploiting our unfortunate position that we'd rather than him there as a secular government rather than fundamentalist alternative. (E.g. preparing for external aggression.) There really shouldn't be a fear of external aggression, since look at what this costs the U.S. already.
  3. There's a set of conflicting interests. France owns significant rights to Iraqi oil. U.S. is concerned about oil flow due to it's large consumption. It makes it hard to identify just, fair positions. It's one of the reasons why I tend to feel that there should be a U.N. coalition, with at least UK and Germany in favor. (Maybe Australia too.)
  4. The PR of this war is bad. It's after the Hajj, thereby easily positionable as anti-muslim -- the last thing in the world we need.
  5. Bush is mishandling this, in my opinion, due to ego issues. Why do we need this war now on this clock? (I'm a big man; I'm the president of the U.S.; when I talk, others should listen; ???)
  6. For example, I don't think that Iraqi security is organizing anti-war protests as recently leaked by the land of homeland security. It's not credible, and it's an attempt to use slander to limit democracy. I honor the war protestors.
  7. I guess my view comes down to this. I strongly hope that this is a negotiation / bluffing game. This, I would endorse. If it isn't, I wonder why there aren't more intermediate steps before war; e.g. an escalation of stronger sanctions and coalitions. The rush to war, ignoring consensus building on the allies, bothers me.
Reid is in stealth mode at the moment (and requests that he be contacted through me). Previously, he was EVP Business Development for PayPal. We've been friends since meeting a couple of years ago through our mutual friend Eve Helfman.

February 03, 2003

David Smith in Japan

My long-time friend, colleague, and co-founder David Smith is with Alan Kay in Japan, and they dined with Joi Ito the other night:

It's a bit difficult to talk about the past, present and future of computing surrounded by geisha in a tea house, but we tried. Alan talked about how so much of great computer science was invited in the 60's and 70's and we're just getting around to re-discovering some of it...

It's great that Japan really respects Alan Kay and gives him a great deal of credit for his discoveries. I think Ted Nelson also gets much more credit for his discoveries in Japan than he does in the US. Maybe foreigners aren't as threatening. ;-)

Alan and David are working on Squeak and are also developing a completely object oriented, cross-platform, networked, collaborative environment called Croquet which sounds very exciting. David's supposed to give me a demo tomorrow.

Joi's entry on the dinner can be found here.