- More Snow Hits California’s Sierra, Setting Records – OnTheSnow (Source)
- Epistemic Complexity and the Journeyman-Expert Transition (Source)
- Mega-Banks and the Next Financial Crisis (Source)
- The Future of Nuclear Energy Around the World (Source)
- The Scale of Nature: Modeling the Mississippi River (Source)
- Amazing pic of Sun (Source)
- Swap, Borrow or Lend ebooks with e-book rental (Source)
Harvard’s MBA class of 2010 headed back to Wall Street in higher proportions. While we’re not yet back to peak levels in terms of the percentage of the HBS graduating class going off to create financial instruments of mass destruction, the uptick is a bit depressing.
I’ve been on a Kindle book binge lately, so here are a few I’ve read and can recommend:
Super and funny stuff on how a journalist became a star in the competitive remembering business.
Quirky, digressive and bleak wander through the backwoods of nuclear states.
Lovely and memorable travelogue through China during the biggest rural-urban migration in world history.
As the title suggests, chess grand master Bobby Fischer’s story. Remarkable, sad and penetrating.
Deep stuff from a biological polymath linking economics, biology and growth in unprecedented and important ways.
A self-help book disguised as a biography, or vice-versa, this is well-written, smart and compelling all the way through.
What we humans can learn from macaques relatives in our rise to global dominance.
Funny and culturally penetrating stuff in a quasi-memoir of entrepreneurship, writing and Korean culture.
People are all stirred up by my suggestion that the Valley is on “tilt”. Lest anyone think otherwise, I’m not convinced it’s entirely a bad thing. The Valley takes its biggest risks and does some of its wildest work when there is this “Everyone into the water” feeling about the place. More is more: More startups, more risk-taking, more experiments, more money — more of more.
One of the puzzles my Kauffman colleague Dane Stangler and I have worried over in a few papers is why we’re not seeing a significant increase in the rate of entrepreneurship in the U.S. Matter of fact, it has more or less flat-lined over the last few decades. Lowered barriers to company creation, more capital, and a broader understanding of the rewards — personal and financial — of starting companies has not led to a reset of the long-term rate at which such companies are created.
There are many reasons why this might be the case. It could be that the percentage of the working population interested in entrepreneurship and able to pursue it full-time is and will always be constrained. People have kids, families, mortgages, health issues, etc., and they aren’t unable to change course to a career that makes all of those things more challenging. There is also the argument, one that Dane and I pursue in an upcoming paper, that other sectors have sucked entrepreneurial talent out of science, technology, and engineering and put it in other sectors where the societal benefits are much smaller, and arguably even negative.
Entrepreneurship is and should be irrational. You are taking on huge risks, showing immense ego, and trying something with an absurdly high failure rate. But it at these moments when it feels like you’re nuts not to try being entrepreneurial — the Valley being on “tilt” — that we have an outside chance of resetting the base rate at which companies get created in this country. While I tease people about it on a regular basis, especially journalists-turned-entrepreneurs, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Other than maybe the Harvard MBAs. (I kid. Mostly )
From Harper’s, the All Souls Exam. Some call this the hardest exam ever, with fascinating questions. Some particularly good ones bolded, but first the preamble:
From general subject questions included in the All Souls College examinations between 2005 and 2010. Often described as the hardest exam in the world, the test is given over two days in September to recent graduates of Oxford, with winners receiving an Examination Fellowship of seven years. Applicants take four examinations of three hours each, and in the two general subject tests must answer three questions from a list. No more than three fellowships are awarded in any year, and in some years none are given. Last September approximately one hundred people took the exam, and three fellowships were awarded.
What is war good for?
From where does a sense of community come?
Are there too many accountants and auditors?
Is there anything to be said for astrology?
Why should I tolerate?
Is exile always a misfortune?
If there are millions of other planets capable of supporting advanced life-forms, why haven’t we seen or heard from them?
Is dark energy more interesting than dark matter?
What do extremes in dress and personal adornment signify?
Do historical novels harm historical study?
Has there ever been a period that was not an information age?
Why does truthfulness matter?
Should England declare independence?
Are universal human rights a form of cultural imperialism?
Have developments in electronic communications destroyed our personal space?
What can we learn from a century of sound recording?
Should we worry about the fate of the British red squirrel?
Is China overrated?
If modern politics is “managerial,” should politicians be better managers?
What has happened to epic poetry?
What can we learn from Las Vegas?
Is “women’s writing” a distinct category?
What difference should it make to feminism whether gender differences are natural or socially constructed?
Have any philosophical problems been finally solved?
Is it worse to be cruel to a fox than to a leaf?
Does business entertaining differ from bribery?
How many civilizations are there in today’s world?
Do we work too hard?
Can happiness be measured?
What are the deprivations of affluence?
It’s apparently that time again — the Valley has gone on tilt. Consider the following top ten signs.
10. Conferences are selling out
9. Venture capitalists are launching blogs
8. Everyone you know has a startup
7. Harvard MBAs are trekking to “hot” events, like SXSW
6. Harvard MBAs are fundable as CEOs
5. Private valuations are approaching public valuations
4. CNBC is fawning over the Valley
3. Hot upcoming tech IPOs are headlines
2. Hot VC-backed companies showing up in Wall Street Journal lists
And the number one sign the Valley is on tilt again …
1. Journalists are quitting journalism for startups.
As a long-time (terrible) amateur magician, I’m endlessly fascinated by magical techniques, especially misdirection. A new PLoS One study of the kinematics of misdirection caught my eye, so to speak:
Most of us are poor at faking actions. Kinematic studies have shown that when pretending to pick up imagined objects (pantomimed actions), we move and shape our hands quite differently from when grasping real ones. These differences between real and pantomimed actions have been linked to separate brain pathways specialized for different kinds of visuomotor guidance. Yet professional magicians regularly use pantomimed actions to deceive audiences.
Methodology and Principal Findings
In this study, we tested whether, despite their skill, magicians might still show kinematic differences between grasping actions made toward real versus imagined objects. We found that their pantomimed actions in fact closely resembled real grasps when the object was visible (but displaced) (Experiment 1), but failed to do so when the object was absent (Experiment 2).
Conclusions and Significance
We suggest that although the occipito-parietal visuomotor system in the dorsal stream is designed to guide goal-directed actions, prolonged practice may enable it to calibrate actions based on visual inputs displaced from the action.
Worthwhile musing about the effect of so much convertible debt in startup land:
Both startups and angels have recently favored convertible debt, particularly in the United States. Startups like debt deals because they are quick and cheap to close by avoiding price negotiations for equity. Angels like debt because it is the most senior security in a company. Estimates are that there are now 10,000 angel financings per year, and as much as 70% of these deals are now convertible debt. The majority of convertible debt deals have no mechanism to convert to equity without the occurrence of a Series A, and standard convertible debt deals come due in 12 to 18 months.
Here is the problem. The number of seed-stage Series A deals led by venture capitalists have fallen from 400 in 2007 to 241 in 2010, and it’s declining further. Series A deals for any type of early-stage company declined from a total of 961 to 741 first-time financings in the same time (NVCA). Billions of dollars of angel debt across thousands of investments is coming due in 2011 and 2012 without any ability to be repaid or any prospect of conversion. The numbers are hard to come by for angel deals, so a lot of this is based on macro-trends and conversations with attorneys and startups, but maybe 5% of convertible debt will experience a proper conversion event.
This is a serious *potential* problem for startups. First, startups with large debts on their balance sheet will have challenges securing loans, partnerships and vendor credit, impeding their growth. Second, it will be nearly impossible for a startup with outstanding senior debt to secure additional angel financing, which is the most likely source of capital today due to the decline in venture. Third, it only takes one or two jittery angels to call their note on maturity, rather than re-negotiate, and bankrupt the startup, even if the startup is doing fine. If one jittery angel pulls out of 10 deals at once, a chain reaction is possible, and there are many more angels than ever before with varying levels of sophistication.
Not sure how well this will translate outside the live evening audience at TED, but one of the biggest surprises to me at this year’s event was how much I enjoyed Sarah Kay’s spoken word poetry. Apropos of nothing, I sat beside Sarah for one of the early sessions at TED U and didn’t know who she was. In her favor, I hadn’t had breakfast and she offered food.