This Parasite Alters Mice Brains To Crave Cat Urine

I was talking microbiome science the other day with an industry expert. One of his interest-areas involves what aspects of our personalities, needs, desires are potentially controlled by microbiomes. As part of this investigation he told me about a 2007 study identifying a parasite that “brainwashes” mice to crave cat urine. This would seem to be disadvantageous to the mice. Why would this parasite seek the death (and consumption of its host)? Because the parasite can only reproduce in feline guts!

Further investigation of the phenomena displayed “surgical precision” in how the parasite altered the mice behavior while *not* impacting any other aspect of its senses. How devious and incredible!

I’m sure I could connect this fact to some observation about startups or competitive strategies or whatever, but nah.

Et Tu Delta? Don’t Count On Corporations to Protect Public Art

Shakespeare in Central Park. Sounds harmless enough. Like a good, safe institution that Delta and other companies can sponsor as part of their community outreach. And they did, for many years, but this weekend two sponsors pulled their affiliation because the Julius Caesar being performed was a modernized version. A version which apparently depicted a Trump-like character in the role of Caesar. And we know what happened to Caesar.

In response to public – err, conservative pundit – outcry (folks were largely silent when Obama was depicted as Caesar in similar productions), some brands fled.

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You know, so what. You want to get mad at Delta or Bank of America and threaten to boycott them? Instead adjust your expectations of corporations. Instead don’t rely on companies to support the arts. Reach into your pocket and give MONEY. Give more than you’ve ever given before to support the organizations you care about – whether they be arts, education, health, or political in nature.

Yes, continue to let brands know that you’d like them to exhibit a consistent set of values and as best you can, focus on spending your dollars with those who mirror your own sense of justice. But understand that these companies cannot be counted on to support the institutions you care about. I’m not even 100% sure we can trust our government to do this either. To a greater extent than ever, it’s going to be expensive and inconvenient but it’s going to be about us. As individuals and as a community.

So yeah, tweet at Delta all you want, but also, if you have the ability, write a check to Shakespeare in the Park. The best way to ensure artistic self-expression is preserved is to keep it unencumbered from corporate entanglement.

You Can Watch CNN, I’m Going to See Paramore

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I watched the One Love Manchester benefit concert last night. Ariana Grande and her manager Scooter Braun did a great job pulling together an impressive roster so quickly. Per the NYTimes:

“Everyone put their head down and said, ‘We’re doing it for these families,’” said Mr. Braun, who booked the entire bill — Katy Perry, Pharrell Williams, Robbie Williams and Liam Gallagher of Oasis also performed — in less than 24 hours.

It was good to see people getting together to dance and sing. Terrorists attack the normalcy of our lives, trying to sow fear and distrust into society. Drawing strength by pitting tribes against one another.

In that sense, Donald Trump is a domestic terrorist and we need to continue to spend time together, in open spaces, resisting AND celebrating. Looking back to 2016, I realized I’ve been going to a lot more concerts, comedy shows, lectures and other public events since 45 was elected. Why? Partly the desire to find a few hour respite from the cacophony of whatever egregious act the administration has perpetrated and normalized. But I don’t think it’s just that, it’s not just about the distraction.

It’s about the celebration. People being brought together by an affinity – for the Warriors, for the Lore podcast, for 90s era alterna-rockers Bush (to summarize my last week and next week). To be able to look at each other and say “yeah, this is good. We’re here together.”

I wonder how mass entertainment – especially live events – have fared during periods of societal instability and friction. Do we seek comfort – not just escapism but comfort – in the shared experience of a concert or a movie? Are any of you finding your entertainment/leisure patters different post-election?

Death Race 2000: How Safe Will Autonomous Vehicles Need To Be?

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The technology behind autonomous navigation is developing quite rapidly. From our early investment in Cruise, we’ve gotten a vantage point on just how much progress has been made in the past three years alone. But if I’m confident about the tech, I’m less sure about the target. That is, how “safe” do autonomous vehicles need to be? And what is today’s reality? 35,092 automotive deaths in the US in the year 2015 (on a per capita basis, down significantly from the 1970s).

So is the target number for autonomous vehicles 35,091 deaths per year? That seems rational but would require us *not* overreacting to headlines which blame errors by the technology for deaths.

Or is the number some smaller percentage of current fatalities – say 10,000 deaths per year – owing to the emotional reaction that the benefits will need to be quantitatively significant in order to make drivers (and regulators) comfortable with giving up control to the machines?

Maybe controversially we should be able to tolerate more deaths per year in the move to autonomy. Certainly if you look at the deaths per capita average over the past 100 years, there were eras nearly 3x today! And if autonomous vehicles add value in aggregate because they support faster, more efficient, more relaxed shipping and travel, shouldn’t we tolerate more danger in return?

Besides wondering generally about the psychology of safety and autonomy, where we end up on this “how safe” spectrum will also influence two important factors: how quickly we attempt to move from 0% to 100% autonomous, and the role of insurance.

In terms of rollout velocity, it’s fairly noncontroversial to suggest that if every car was autonomous (and “talked” to each other continuously while all maintaining a shared or similar “safety” ruleset), the road would be safer than a 50/50 mix. Has anyone seen a graph that takes autonomous vehicles as a percentage of active vehicles and correlates against projected automotive accident rate? These forecasts will certainly be influencers to the regulatory and financial incentives that accelerate to autonomous density once the technology crosses mainstream viability. It’s a classic “it’ll happen slowly, then very quickly” dynamic.

The second question I have is about the role of insurance. As distasteful as it may seem, we do today have ways to value a life based on number of factors including age, race, vocation, geography and so on. The “how safe” question might be moot (excluding corporate negligence) if we’re comfortable with allowing insurance to fill the gap between desired safety and actual safety. That is, let’s say autonomous vehicles were twice as unsafe relative to today. Do we need as a society to wait until safety improves or can we use financial compensation as a mechanism to bridge the gap. And whose insurance? The driver, as it sits today. Or will the manufacturers (Tesla, GM, etc) need to carry liability insurance as a passthrough if it’s decided the driver wasn’t at fault in an accident but instead the algorithm was?

Sometimes The Secret Is To Just Show Up & Do Your Job

This is definitely the only blog post I’ve written from a Milan airport lounge, returning from my first trip abroad since we started Homebrew. So what got me out of my San Francisco routine? The chance to work with a group of global mayors to help push thinking forward on how cities and technology companies can work together productively. Cities are my DNA and where I feel happiest – raised in New York and now for the past 20 years in San Francisco. They are the hubs of population and of innovation. I’ll write more about the CityXChange event once it’s settled in my mind a bit more, but this post is about how I got invited.

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There were six VCs attending from US and global funds. All of those funds are substantially bigger than ours – as much as 25x larger! While obviously bigger isn’t always better, I did want our hosts to understand the difference in resources that those sorts of funds have compared to a seed firm like ours, so as the attendee list was solidifying, I checked in with the organizers just to make sure they wanted to use an attendance slot on lil’ ole me.

“Hey, I’m totally honored to be invited but you know we don’t quite have the team or dollars that some of these other partners have at their access,” I told my friend who had invited me to the summit.

“Yeah I get that,” he replied, “but you sometimes have good ideas and you follow through on what you commit to doing. You’d be surprised how much that matters.” [note: *sometimes* ?!? 🙂 ]

So that’s what stuck with him. And I think it’s a reminder that sometimes nailing the basics of being someone people want on their team opens doors wider and broader than putting endless energy into window dressing.

While there’s a lifetime of good fortune, work and, yes, some privilege, that I benefit from, if you show up, have good ideas, and do the work, you might end up with opportunities you didn’t expect. Some may even be in Italy!

 

Why Trump’s Victory Caused Alec Ross To Run for Governor of Maryland – Five Question Interview

My friend Alec Ross is running to be Governor of Maryland. I support him and hope you’ll join me, just go to his website to learn more. I’ve known Alec since early in Obama’s presidency. He was working for Secretary Clinton on an initiative on “21st Century Statecraft.” This project focused on ensuring America was sending more than just “guns and butter” abroad (ie military intervention or economic aid). The currency of the modern world was ideas; how could the US add that export to its foreign policy toolset? One effort under that umbrella  was their Tech Delegation trips, which sent groups of technology executives to foreign countries for week-long working sessions. In April 2009 I was invited to visit Iraq as part of the first delegation. It was an amazing experience for me and I’ve been close with Alec since that point. Thought the best way to share my enthusiasm would be a Five Question interview. Here you go:

Hunter Walk: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in” — was it the 2016 Presidential election outcome which started you towards running for Governor of Maryland or had you been considering it prior?

Alec Ross: I had no plans to run for office any time soon. It was Trump’s election that drew me in. I grew up in coal country, the white hot center of Trump support and I spend a lot of time with millennials who “care” but don’t vote. I decided to run because I think America needs a new wave of leaders with new ideas.

HW: Technology startups tend to work from outside the system before, ironically, if they’re successfully then becoming the establishment they were trying to disrupt. Why do you personally believe that government is still the best system to catalyze change, versus working from the private sector?

AR: I think the private sector can be a powerful driver of change, but the power of government to impact peoples’ lives for the better or the worse remains unrivaled. The budget for the State of Maryland is $41 billion, with a $17 billion operating budget. Those resources impact peoples’ health, education and transportation in a way that exceeds what the private sector does in these fields.

HW: Did you give your family a “go or no go” vote before declaring your candidacy? How did your kids react?

AR: My wife is a 6th grade math teacher in Baltimore’s public schools so she sees jarring examples of inequality and lack of opportunity everyday. She was excited for me to run because she knew I would be a champion for our public schools.

The kids’ only sort of get it. They’re 14, 12 and 10 years old. They’ve seen the spotlight of public attention before because of my time in the Obama Administration, but it’s a little different with their Daddy being the one out there under his own banner. I think they’re excited about it if a little weirded out at times.

HW: Silicon Valley isn’t demographically or economically representative of the “average American.” Do you Mark Zuckerberg’s “50 State Listening Tour” is an example of the tech industry breaking out of the echo chamber? How can the average startup employee get a sense of what America is going through right now.

AR: I’m usually a defender of Silicon Valley but I have to agree that it is isolated from what most of America is going through. The economic recovery was really a recovery along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Much of middle America is still stagnating. I think it’s all for the good that Mark went out on a listening tour and I would only encourage others to do the same. And here’s the thing — I think it will actually help make people better investors and businesspeople. Reconnecting with middle America can’t help but open your eyes to problems that need solving, and entrepreneurs are inherently problem-solvers.

HW: No Fake News! Which journalists and pundits are worth reading, watching, listening to?

AR: I’m really cranky about most journalism these days. Most of the reporting of the U.S. presidential election made me want to puke. The media needs to take responsibility for the monster they helped create in Donald Trump and some of what they over-reported and some of what they under-reported still makes me red-faced angry.

Okay — now that I’ve gotten that off my chest — here are some folks worth following IMHO:

David Ignatius from The Washington Post

Jon Lovett from Pod Save America

Gideon Rachman  and Edward Luce from the Financial Times

Matthew Bishop and everybody else at the Economist

Fareed Zakaria

Julia Ioffe and James Fallows from The Atlantic

Susan Glasser from Politico

Why You Shouldn’t Loan Money to Someone Who Thanks God

Crunching data from Prosper, the peer to peer lending site, researchers correlated default rates with words most likely to appear in a loan application. From an article in New York magazine:

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Somewhat intuitive when you look at the types of words (the former suggest a degree of financial planning; the latter hopes and prayers) but still fascinating. And what about using data like this to reverse-engineer “better” loan applications? Of course at scale that would start to skew the data overall, but done selectively you could create “false positive” loan applications by mimicking the language from “good” loans. Sorta how I’ve always wondered if successfully-funded Kickstarter projects have project descriptions that are substantially different than those which fail.