MediaFile

Video Transcript: Cory Booker on Tech Tonic Interface

Below is an unedited transcript of the video interview I conducted with Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, NJ, in April.

Paul Smalera: Earlier today I had a great conversation with Cory Booker, the Mayor of Newark, New Jersey. Let’s have a look. Mayor Booker, thank you so much for being here with me.

Cory Booker: It’s great to be here with a Jersey boy. A fellow Jersey boy.

Smalera: I wanted to ask you first of all, you have this reputation as the social media mayor, the tweeting mayor. What made you get onto Twitter in the first place?

Booker: It happened in 2009 where now co-founder with me of WayWire but really an extraordinary visionary woman who saw social media and was a social media maven before…she actually thought up the idea of a Twitter race to the top between Ashton Kutcher and CNN. For some reason she felt the platform would benefit from having indigenous, grassroots authentic leadership on it not just a place for triviality or celebrity but really a mission driven platform and to get more people like that on the platform would be better. She had seen a lot of the other things I was doing in Newark and finally decided to reach out to me. It was a great conversation but I really felt was too busy. I still didn’t understand the concept at all. She pulled a powerful persuader out on me which was Ashton Kutcher. I had this surreal moment where I thought my staff was punking me because Ashton Kutcher’s calling city hall in Newark? I can’t believe that.

from Paul Smalera:

Video Transcript: Fred Wilson on Tech Tonic Interface

Below is an unedited transcript of the video interview I conducted with Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures:

PAUL SMALERA, Technology Editor Reuters.com: Today I had a great chat with Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures. Check it out.

Let’s start with Bitcoin. It’s captured the imagination of tech blogs, there’s been a big price spike, dozens of posts all over the internet. And your own blog is full of savvy readers; I was reading through the comments on it. One of them said, ‘I haven’t even followed Bitcoin because I don’t really understand it quite frankly.’ Can we start there? Can you just tell us from your point of view what Bitcoin is?

from Paul Smalera:

Fred Wilson on Bitcoin, Airbnb and immigration

This week Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures sat down with me for a video interview (part of Reuters' Tech Tonic: Interface series) to talk about a wide variety of topics: Bitcoin, wireless spectrum auctions, Airbnb, immigration, the New York City mayor's race, even his wife Joanne (the Gotham Gal), and a few others. Why so many topics? Fred’s simply one of the most thoughtful technology investors working today, and peppering him with as many different questions as possible can help us learn how he thinks.

Fred often cites “pattern recognition” as the main job of a venture capitalist, and I think I got a pretty good sense of Fred’s pattern: he understands the mechanism behind a company or technology, and figures out whether his firm can help that company grow. In this interview, he's an insightful and persuasive defender of the interests of the tech industry, because he very sincerely believes in its ability to do good for people.

Do you think Fred's take on technology's promise is accurate? Watch and share the interview and let me know in the comments.

Would you like a P.O. Box with that frappuccino?

(Archival photo, circa 2013.)

THE FUTURE – Has it been only 30 years since the U.S. Postal Service, bowing to a hostile Congress, sought to stay alive by ending Saturday delivery of first-class mail — and setting in motion one of the most remarkable and rapid cultural and infrastructure revolutions in history?

To mark the anniversary of the post-Post Office epoch, let’s relive its history. The announcement in February 2013 that regular Saturday mail delivery would be ending became a touchstone moment. The Economist reported that America was doomed. Liberals decried the “decimation” of an institution they insisted bound us together as a nation. Conservatives, who had applauded a Republican-led Congress’s insistence on forcing the Post Office to make enormous pension plan pre-payments, reveled in the prospect they’d transformed the institution.

The fight was never far from the surface. When it became a 2016 presidential campaign issue, it ensured that the next president would have to do … something. But no candidate committed to anything more than “reform.”

After Aaron Swartz

Brilliant young hackers, striving to build tools to change the world, are killing themselves. Just last week: Aaron Swartz, co-founder of Reddit and fierce open access activist, took his life at 26. There have been other high-profile suicides in the tech world in recent years: Ilya Zhitomirskiy, co-founder of the distributed social network Diaspora, dead at 22. Len Sassaman, a highly-regarded cypherpunk who believed in cryptography and privacy as tools of freedom, dead at 31. Dan Haubert, co-founder of the Y-Combinator funded startup Ticketstumbler, dead at 25. If these young men were like the 100 people who kill themselves in this country every day, the biggest factor contributing to their deaths was likely under-treated depression.

We can readily come up with hypotheses as to why depression is a problem in the tech world. It’s a culture defined by ruthless pressure, high stakes, and risky gambles. Often hiding behind pseudo-anonymity, lightning fast criticisms are released online with bullet speed. Then there’s the “thrashing duck” syndrome: to survive in the startup ecosystem you have to puff up your chest and show only how smoothly you’re gliding through the water; you don’t show how furiously your legs are kicking and struggling underneath. There’s also the hero archetype of the lone hacker: he’s coding through the night, living on red bulls, sleeping on a couch at AOL to save money, not thinking about short-term wealth, and surely not thinking about health, be it physical or mental.

As a clinical psychologist married to a hacker, I do not find this to be okay. On a human level, there is widespread pain and suffering lying silent and unaddressed. On a societal level, we are losing brilliant young minds, activists and role models with so much left to contribute to the world.

In search of Google’s dark side

The Federal Trade Commission Thursday dropped a two-year investigation into allegations that Google was gaming search results to drive traffic to its own sites. In a press conference, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz allowed that the charges came from a staggering number of Google’s competitors, and at face value they are plausible: Google essentially controls search with something like 70 percent of the market share and, like any company with near monopoly power, might be tempted to use that advantage to slyly divert traffic away from competitors. But in a unanimous vote all five FTC commissioners agreed there was nothing to see here.

Allegations of search bias strike at the heart of what Google purports to be: an honest curator of what’s available on the web. If the FTC ruled that Google was even a little dishonest, it could have altered the public perception of the company. It might have even been something akin to an Arthur Andersen moment.

The ruling could conceivably embolden Google to push the envelope. And it certainly makes it tougher for competitors to weaken the search giant on penalties rather than fight on what the FTC has now declared is a level playing field.

Three tech predictions for 2013

Sometimes the most important ideas in tech are hiding in plain sight. In that spirit, here are three predictions for 2013 that are just waiting to happen. No 3D TVs, wearable computer or jet packs for me — at least not this year.

The Kindle Offer You Can’t Refuse

Demand is rapidly shrinking for e-ink e-book readers. IHS iSuppli predicts that when the books close on 2012 some 15 million will have been sold — down 36 percent from 2011.

And why not? Tablets are getting cheaper. Sure, you can pick up an ad-supported Kindle for as little as $70. But why shell out even that when $200 gets you an e-reader, and a media player, and a gaming machine, and everything else?

The new iPhone is a people’s evolution

Revolutions can be exciting, but sometimes evolution can be even more powerful. With the curtain drawn back today on what exactly the new iPhone will do (and will be called), Apple is entering a period of consolidating its lead. Its next trick is to outflank smartphone competitors as deftly as it has in the tablet wars.

The news on iPhone 5 Day began with some some telling iPad statistics: The tablet’s market share has grown from 62% to 68% year-over-year through June, despite strong (relatively speaking) competition from Amazon’s Kindle Fire. And the iPad accounts for a borderline inconceivable 91% of all web surfing with tablets.

Why did CEO Tim Cook drop these little tidbits before the main event? To force the audience, as only the great magicians can, to look “over there” at the shiny stats instead of “over here,” where the devices generating those stats aren’t much changed. And to telegraph his master plan.

Apple and the burden of being a behemoth

In the annals of meaningless milestones, Apple’s latest achievement — surpassing Microsoft, circa 1999, as the largest U.S. company ever — is right up there. I mean, how high is up? How big is BIG? What does Apple win, Johnny!?

But it did get me to thinking again about the lifespan of successful tech and Internet companies. There seems to be a trajectory that grants them life in the fast lane for 10 to 20 years before they are overtaken, made obsolete or dismissed as boring. The general public is a punishing grader that deifies promising, charismatic kids with hoodies and burn rates (at least for a while) but dismisses massive companies — like Microsoft, Oracle, Silicon Graphics and IBM — that print money and arguably control the world but aren’t sexy.

Microsoft is, of course, more IBM than Palm or even Sony on my spectrum. It was one of the original Harvard dropout startups and among the first of them to mint wealthy employees (called Microsoft Millionaires). And in December 1999, at the height of the dot-com boom, Microsoft became worth $616.34 billion — more than any U.S. company had ever been. (By one metric it still holds the record: Apple would have to reach a market cap of $842.5 billion, Microsoft’s inflation-adjusted market cap, to be the clear winner of this meaningless milestone sweepstakes.)

from Paul Smalera:

Startups are big in Boulder, but where are the tech billionaires?

"I'm not interested in working on this unless it's going to be a multi-billion dollar idea. If I thought this would be a hundred million dollar company -- what's the point?" - Anonymous entreprerneur discussing his startup. Overheard in front of Ozo Coffee, Boulder, CO.

I'm in Boulder, Colorado for a few days this week to attend Big Boulder, a conference devoted to the social side of "big data." Gnip, the company hosting the conference, is one I've written about before. They're doing the plumber's work of connecting all the firehoses of raw, public user data from social media companies like Twitter and Tumblr up to clients that want to derive insights from the wisdom of these online crowds.

A quick note on the definition of "big data." Generally speaking, it's the sort of data set that's so huge, even running a simple report on it won't tell you anything interesting. For example, if you could ask the IRS for a list of all the 25-30 year olds in the U.S. that paid taxes last year, you'd get back a list, alright. But what would be useful about it? On the other hand, if you could filter that list by several other factors: did they pay capital gains, did they owe over six figures in taxes, what is their self-reported job title, and so on, you might end up with a list highly correlated to young, dot-com millionaires and billionaires, like Mark Zuckerberg. And you might cross reference that list against all the other data sets you can find on them: where they live, where they shop, where they travel, what they watch, eat and listen to. It's all out there.