Occasionally I go back and read some of Paul Graham‘s past essays. I find them to be a source of enlightenment, mostly on issues surrounding startups. Some gems are consigned to the footnotes:
There are two very different types of startup: one kind that evolves naturally, and one kind that’s called into being to “commercialize” a scientific discovery. Most computer/software startups are now the first type, and most pharmaceutical startups the second. When I talk about startups in this essay, I mean type I startups. There is no difficulty making type II startups spread: all you have to do is fund medical research labs; commercializing whatever new discoveries the boffins throw off is as straightforward as building a new airport. Type II startups neither require nor produce startup culture. But that means having type II startups won’t get you type I startups. Philadelphia is a case in point: lots of type II startups, but hardly any type I.
Incidentally, Google may appear to be an instance of a type II startup, but it wasn’t. Google is not pagerank commercialized. They could have used another algorithm and everything would have turned out the same. What made Google Google is that they cared about doing search well at a critical point in the evolution of the web.
In this footnote alone there is a sizeable nugget of wisdom for any government or other innovation funding body outside of the Valley that cares to listen. Whether you see it as a good thing or a bad thing, it’s clear there is no startup culture in this country. I’d guess that a disproportionate number of ventures in Australia fall into Graham’s type II category: commercialising the results of academic research with no startup culture required and none produced. Notwithstanding the regulatory risk that often accompanies startups formed around a scientific breakthrough (think biotech and pharmaceuticals), the VCs that fund these sorts of ventures would typically shoulder less financial risk than their type I-loving Valley counterparts; there’s a surer trajectory for type II ventures because there are fewer unknowns. Another way of saying this is that series A funding for type II ventures (probably the most common kind of startup in Australia) is more like a series B or C round in the Valley.
The last part of the footnote above is perhaps most important. I hope that governments here don’t think that by allocating tax-payer funded block grants to pseudo-commercial technology “incubators” with an academic bent that a Google will pop out the other end. It could happen, but not by design. What these “investments” are more likely to produce is a steady trickle of good science resulting in the occasional type II startup. If that’s what’s intended, it’s all good, but let’s be clear about it! The creation of a Google by this means would be due more to luck than careful planning, and our current funding models certainly won’t trigger a self-sustaining chain reaction of startups.
I’ve previously documented my thinking on issues of surveillance, though I hadn’t specifically considered the situation where a member of the public films a police operation or an operation conducted by some other state agency. I think what I wrote in that article holds for this case, too. If anything, I’d expressly encourage this sort of surveillance. We still live in a free democracy, don’t we?
Believe it or not, some of the best commentary I’ve found on the financial crisis sweeping the globe has been on the Essential Baby forum. Twoposts by someone called LucyE, made in the week leading up to the approval of the bail out plan, are particularly good. The second post is the better of them. I just thought that this was an excellent, easy to understand high-level explanation of the current situation and what is likely to happen. LucyE’s posts were obviously appreciated by many of the members of that forum.
I also appreciated the below video explanation of collateralised debt obligations (CDOs), which are at the heart of the current problems. Worth a look. More in depth than LucyE’s analysis, but still understandable for the lay person. (Via Presentation Zen.)
What were the big ideas emerging from the 2020 Summit? In amongst the calls for reviews of this system and that (after all, calling for a review of something is a mindbogglingly novel idea) and the establishment of commissions here, there and everywhere, there were some interesting ideas, but very few novel ones.
The idea of a citizens’ cabinet online was broached, as was the idea of smart energy and water meters so that people can measure their personal environmental footprint. There were a number of other interesting ideas, but I’d say many of them belong in the private sector (including the smart meter idea). The Healthbook idea, for example, is one that might be useful, but should involve the government as little as possible (i.e., perhaps in a regulatory role only).
After the summit, Tim Costello and Kevin Rudd were accused of hijacking the outcomes document. Some of the delegates say that a few of the top ideas appearing in the outcomes document were barely, or never, discussed. Other delegates complain that they were railroaded by the facilitators.
Overall, I’m incredibly disappointed with the “top ideas” that made the summary document. I’m sure there were other, more novel ideas that were raised which haven’t been included.
The trouble with these sorts of exercises is that either certain people in positions of power get to assert their ideas at the expense of others, or the “top ideas” are actually a kind of lowest common denominator consensus, which means none of the truly great ideas make the cut.
Later today, Pim Verbeek will be announced as the coach of the Australian national football team. This comes after he was recommended to the FFA by former manager Guus Hiddink, and another Dutchman, Dick Advocaat reneged on his contract. So Australia is staying Dutch, so to speak. Verbeek has extensive experience in Asia, which was certainly a major factor in his selection. The other main contender was Phillippe Troussier, a Frenchman who also has experience in Asia, leading Japan to an Asian Cup win. Although Troussier is pretty highly regarded (he is more experienced than Verbeek at international level), I think the FFA’s decision to stay Dutch is a good one. We haven’t yet firmly established a particular style of play. But having come so far down the Dutch path, it might be counter-productive to try playing a different way. Keep in mind that the FFA’s technical director, Rob Baan, is also Dutch. With a Dutch national coach and technical director, at least we should be assured of continuity in the style and method adopted by our national teams, and hopefully the technical director has some success in embedding this style and method at the grass roots level of the game in this country.
Kevin Rudd and Labor have out-Liberaled the Liberals by saying they’ll spend $2.3 billion in their campaign launch compared to Howard’s whopping $8.5 billion. All I can say is good on them. Massive government spending in a time of real inflationary pressures is, as Kevin 2.0 puts it, reckless.
I’ve noticed the Greens have been taking out half page advertisements in mX. In Thursday’s edition (mX, page 11, 15/11/2007), their advertisement headed “Stop Climate Change” says “2° degrees of global warming is our limit” and “Scientists say if global warming passes 2° degrees there will be disastrous consequences for our planet and society.” I’m sure that in each case they meant to say “2° Celsius”. I know it’s not a huge blunder, but it still makes you wonder about the thoroughness of their party machine, and to screw up on a topic on which they’re supposed to be authoratative is a bit worrying. I don’t think it will hurt them, though. The 2007 election will probably be one of their best yet. For what it’s worth, I’m no longer a member of the Greens.
I did say “enough politics” in my last post, but I’d like to direct readers of my blog to Kerry’s response to my recent post on libertarianism, which is rather less emotion-filled than both her initial post and my response to it. :-)
On a more light-hearted note (depending on how you look at it), Kerry directs us (via the DSTC-Alumni mailing list) to this little quiz. But be warned: you either need to know about programming language design or serial killers to do well on this test. My score was 7/10. I wonder how many other computer scientists might be mistaken for serial killers?
Jim considers standing for the LDP at the next election (I take my hat off to you, sir), and Kerry gets all hot under the collar at the prospect. Libertarianism upholds the principle of individual conscience and responsibility in preference to the nannying state, an idea which I whole-heartedly support. Kerry is essentially saying that she doesn’t trust me or you to behave sensibly, and that the government is required to somehow force us all to behave sensibly. If you wonder why common sense is dying a slow death, look no further than this. Too many of us are inclined to delegate personal decision-making to the government, allowing our consciences, our common sense and our sense of ethics to atrophy. Too many of us, also, are wont to apply a jackhammer where a chisel would suffice.
So, Howard calls the election for November 24. It’s been a rarity in the past, but I think I’ll be voting the same way as the majority of Australians if the polls and betting are anything to go by, despite my many differences with Duplo man.