All posts filed under “Tech

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Oculus VR, the Age of Makers and Growing a Business that’s Already Huge

Beyond the usual hoopla over the Facebook acquisition of Oculus VR hides a truly spectacular feat of individual Making (capital M) and a huge milestone in the history of (crowd)funding and selling a business. In my mind, it even eclipses the acquisition of WhatsApp just a month ago, as well as the acquisition of Instagram (all by the same acquirer, more on that in a bit).

Palmer Luckey, the founder and inventor of the Rift, began working on the product sometime around 2009 as a student at USC. He posted about his little project on August 21st, 2009:

I am making great progress on my HMD kit! All of the hardest stuff (Optics, display panels, and interface hardware) is done, right now I am working on how it actually fits together, and figuring out the best way to make a head mount. It is going to be be out of laser cut sheets of plastic that slide together and fasten with nuts and bolts. The display module is going to be detachable from the optics module, so you will be able to modify, replace, or upgrade your lenses in the future!

This is 3.5 years before selling the company for 2 billion dollars: one guy, hacking together a product. Inspiring.

After creating a prototype, Oculus Rift was launched as a Kickstarter campaign in August 2012, with a modest goal of $100,000:

We’re here raising money on Kickstarter to build development kits of the Rift, so we can get them into the hands of developers faster. Kickstarter has proven to be an amazing platform for accelerating big and small ideas alike. We hope you share our excitement about virtual reality, the Rift, and the future of gaming.

It became one of the most successful projects on Kickstarter, raising $2.4 million.
Let’s repeat that for a second: 18 months before being sold for $2 billion, the product received its first funding of $2.4 million on a crowdsourcing platform.

And a final thought goes to the company that acquired all three companies (Oculus VR, WhatsApp and Instagram) mentioned. Mark Zuckerberg and his team deserve more credit than they’re getting. It seems that the common analysis is that crazy money is being thrown all around by companies who fear competition and fear missing out on the next big thing.

But there’s more business savvy going on: most of the value exchanging hands in the acquisitions of WhatsApp and Oculus VR (16B and 1.6B respectively) is in Facebook stock. Facebook is using the fact it’s a publicly traded company and its currently very highly priced stock in just the right way: to generate new business way into the future.

Traditionally, a company would sell stock to the public to get cash required for its operation. Facebook is using stock, a piece of paper that only has its current value based on the expectation of future profits, to acquire the very future profits in question. No cash needed.

Assuming no major economical disasters, Facebook stock is expected to remain strong. This means more “insanely” priced acquisitions of nascent and/or massively growing businesses in the near future. Exciting times.

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Apple Will Lose

As more and more sad details surface about Apple’s legal crusade, I keep thinking why I’m using the iPhone and don’t just switch to an Android.

Yeah, it’s not as good still, and I always told myself I’ll get an Android phone eventually, when they’re good enough.

But then it hit me:

It doesn’t matter. Apple is not going to lose only because eventually its customers will switch to the competitors’ products. Apple is going to lose because eventually its own employees, the people that make it the greatest company in the world, will leave.

Apple is the personal creation of a great man. Perhaps the greatest man of our time. But as such, Apple also has in it the seed of its own destruction. In it’s insatiable desire to being the greatest there’s also the insatiable desire to be worshiped and acknowledged as the greatest.

It’s not enough to win, to sell the most phones, tablets and laptops. It’s not enough to be the most valuable company in the world. Apple also wanted its competitors to bow before it, admit that Apple invented and created everything that’s good in the world, and commit a elaborate suicide ritual at Apple’s feet.

And when I say “Apple”, I mean “Steve”.

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Any.Do

Yesterday I met with Omer Perchik who told me about his new startup Any.Do.
Honesty, I amazed with what he and his partner are doing. I am usually a critical person and I dismiss ideas very easily but I have to take my hat off for these guys. What is awesome about it is the combination of:

  • Great product idea
  • How smooth execution looks
  • Super solid business model
  • How crystal clear the vision is

Mark my words: Any.Do is going to be the best new product of 2011.
They’re looking, so if you are a developer based in Israel – I very strongly suggest you apply for a job right now.

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Cyber Warfare Is for Real

The story behind the Stuxnet worm that infected computers in Iran is pretty fascinating. From the Wikipedia article:

The complexity of the software is very unusual for malware. The attack requires knowledge of industrial processes and an interest in attacking industrial infrastructure.[1][3]  The number of used zero-day Windows exploits is also unusual, as zero-day Windows exploits are valued, and crackers do not normally waste the use of four different ones in the same worm.[6] Stuxnet is unusually large at half a megabyte in size,[20] and written in different programming languages (including C and C++) which is also irregular for malware.[1][3] It is digitally signed with two authentic certificates which were stolen[20] from two certification authorities (JMicron and Realtek) which helped it remain undetected for a relatively long period of time.[21] It also has the capability to upgrade via peer to peer, allowing it to be updated after the initial command and control server was disabled.[20][22]  These capabilities would have required a team of people to program, as well as check that the malware would not crash the PLCs. Eric Byres, who has years of experience maintaining and troubleshooting Siemens systems, told Wired that writing the code would have taken many man-months, if not years.

And some conspiracy theory as to its origin:

Israel, perhaps through Unit 8200,[27] has been speculated to be the country behind Stuxnet in many of the media reports[25][28][29] and by experts such as Richard Falkenrath, former Senior Director for Policy and Plans within the Office of Homeland Security.[30] This is also due to several clues in the code such as a directory called guava that probably refers to queen Esther (whose original name Hadassah means myrtle in Hebrew, and guavas are plants in the myrtus family) that saved the Jews in Persia (now Iran) by telling the king of a plot to massacre them,[31] and the number 19790509 that appears once in the code and might refer to 1979, May 9th, the day Habib Elghanian, a Persian Jew, was executed in Tehran.[32]

Sounds more like the stuff of a Dan Brown novel than real life, but who knows.

And as to the purpose of the worm:

Since the whole Stuxnet code has not yet been decrypted, its intent remains unknown. Among its peculiar capabilities is a fingerprinting technology which allows it to precisely identify the systems it infects. It appears to be looking for a particular system to destroy at a specific time and place. Once it has infected a system it performs a check every 5 seconds to determine if its parameters for launching an attack are met. The exact way through which Stuxnet destroys its target is still a mystery but it is thought[by whom?]  that it may be programmed to cause a catastrophic physical failure by, for example, overriding turbine RPM limits, shutting down lubrication or cooling systems, or sabotaging the high-speed spinning process of centrifuge arrays at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility.[35][42]  Since the complex code of Stuxnet looks for a very particular type of system and controller, it has been theorized that the target is of a high importance for the attacker.[43]

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Delver Blog

Over on the new Delver Blog:

In addition to chatting with your friend, you can share your browsing
with them by clicking the “start sharing” link at the bottom of the chat
room. This means that your friend will see what products, catalogs and
profiles you’re browsing on Delver. You can use this to show your
friends things you like and talk about them at the same time. It’s like
going shopping together.

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Hemingway Would Have Loved Twitter

I’ve been in love with Ernest Hemingway’s books since I was about 19 years old. The gripping, powerful and terse style was much better than anything I’ve ever read. Hemingway often cited his first job in journalism, still as a teenager, at the Kansas City Star, and the Star’s Style Guide, as the roots of his short and to-the-point style:

Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative.

This was one of the rules in the Guide.

Eliminate every superfluous word.

Was another.

Hemingway would relentlessly edit himself, removing every unneeded paragraph, then sentence, then word, until only the essential words remained on the paper. When stuck, stumbling to find the next thing to write, he used his own advice:

But sometimes when I was started on a new story and
I could not get going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze
the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch
the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over
the roofs of Paris and think,
“Do not worry. You have always
written before and you will write now
. All you
have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you
know.”
(A Moveable Feast)

That “One True Sentence”, bare-bones style of writing gained him great success and widespread imitation. He was the most influential writer of the 20th century.

I love Hemingway’s books, as much for their content as I do for this no-bullshit, only-say-what’s-needed form.

In the 1920s, following a bet, Hemingway wrote a six-word story:

For sale: baby shoes, never used.

At 33 characters, it could fit nicely in a tweet.

Fast forward a century

And it seems as if our whole culture, self expression and communication are being condensed into a standard 140 character long form – Twitter.
In his grave, Hemingway probably isn’t turning. He’s smiling ear-to-ear.

The Tweet is becoming the only form of both expression and consumption of an idea.
Instead of relying on style guides and self editing, this time around the “only what is necessary” limit is being enforced ruthlessly by API method signatures and some javascript validation code. O tempora

Everyone going through the learning curve of authoring her first few tens of tweets, experiences first hand this slightly painful yet rewarding process:
Stare at a tweet that’s too long. Take out some words, then replace a few others by fewer or shorter ones, until only the must-have letters delivering the thought remain.

Hemingway would have been delighted.

p.s. It seems only fitting that Mariel Hemingway, the actress turned Playboy model turned organic food guru is so popular on twitter. She is, after all, the great writer’s granddaughter.