Archive for December, 2010
The law firm Orrick LLP puts on an outstanding free event series it calls Total Access. The events are organized by Chad Lynch, Orrick’s Director of Corporate Business Development. I met Chad around six years ago when I was working really hard on my startup gOffice.com, then the world’s only true online office suite. I haven’t seen Chad in years, but I reintroduced myself today, and he remembered meeting me and remembered the year. He knows thousands of people I’m certain, so he sure has a good memory for faces.
Chad Lynch used to have the comparable job at the law firm Pillsbury Wintrop, an Orrick competitor. That’s when I met him. I’ve stayed in touch via his emails, and today I went to my first Total Access event in years. They begin at 7:15am in Menlo Park, California, and I live in San Francisco, so I have to wake up really early to get down there on time, particularly since the direct route is Highway 101, which is particularly congested during rush hour compared to the other major North/South route, Interstate 280.
I’m glad I braved the traffic this morning, as the event was worth my while. The subect matter was ‘Cleantech Opportunities and Outlook: The Investors’ Perspective.’ There was a panel of four venture capitalists, including one I know from my days raising venture capital for my first Internet startup Hotpaper.com, which I later sold at a profit to Purple Communications (then GoAmerica, Inc. – NASDAQ GOAM).
The panel answered about three dozen questions over an hour. The consensus is that Cleantech is now past its baby steps, but still a toddler. The group was upbeat about the prospects for starting and funding cleantech companies in 2011. Interestingly, the panel did not see any new solar panel companies getting funded unless the panel efficiency is to be over 20% and the cost per watt is to be under a dollar! These requirements represent a very high bar, from the little I know about that industry. I sure wouldn’t want to be trying to get a solar panel company funded today.
What made the event so worthwhile is I gave my elevator pitch for the ‘green homes’ idea I’m kicking around in my head as a possible venture to work on. The VC panelist I know actually seemed interested and asked me to email him an executive summary. I wasn’t even planning on telling him about green homes, but he saw my new green homes business card and asked me about it, even though there was a line of people twenty minutes deep waiting to shake his hand. We had a nice chat about it, and he was familiar with California AB1866, the law that gives ‘green homes’ potential legs to stand on.
As soon as I finished talking with this VC, a cleantech attorney pitched his boutique cleantech law firm to me, and said he had experience with land use issues I would be sure to encounter. While I’m very loyal to Eric Jensen, my corporate attorney since the mid 1990s, I might schedule a lunch with this guy to hear what he has to say, since I don’t think Eric knows much about land use issues and real estate in general. Eric’s an amazing attorney though, and for high tech ventures it’s unlikely you could do better. I’ve known Eric since 1989 when he was a brand new associate at Cooley LLP. Now he heads their business department.
As you can see from the above Apple iPhone 3GS photos (sorry for the low quality) I took at the event, there is a lot of interest in Cleantech. There were people standing in the aisle to my left out of camera view. Remember, this was early in the morning, so I found the turnout to be amazing. Chad told the audience that Orrick has signed up 90 new clients from these events, which, again, are free to attend, and all you need is an invitation which you can get by signing up online at Orrick’s website.
The panelists were from well known and well respected firms. Erik Strasser is General Partner at Mohr Davidaw Ventures. Ravi Viswanathan is General Partner at New Enterprise Associates. Warren Hogarth is Partner at Sequoia Capital. Don Wood is Managing Director at Draper Fisher Jurvetson. Jeffrey Adams is Managing Director at Goldman Sachs. The moderator was Mitch Zuklie, Partner at Orrick LLP. I introduced myself to all the panelists except Mitch, who ducked out before I had a chance to say hello.
Note that while Orrick is staging these events to market themselves, they soft pedal that aspect, and I think only about 60 seconds of the event was spent on asking for business.
The subject matter covered by these events is broad, and it’s certainly much broader than cleantech. I recommend Total Access events without reservation.
Yesterday, December 9, 2010, I was attending a new member mixer at the Commonwealth Club at 595 Market Street in San Francisco. In the lobby there was a display of artwork by particularly young artists. The above drawing by Vanessa Chow, age 7, caught my eye as being particularly good. I would be thrilled if I could create such a good drawing. I snapped this photo with my Apple iPhone 3GS, so the quality is lower than you usually see here. Sorry about that.
I enjoyed the Commonwealth Club mixer very much. I met one of their volunteers, Angie Adler, who patiently and with great enthusiasm explained what to expect should I join as a member.
I plan to attend three upcoming events:
The first is a talk by Timothy Ferriss on January 6, 2011 at 6:30pm. He’s the very busy author of The 4 Hour Workweek, a book that advocates freeing up time for pursuits that really matter to you by working smarter and dramatically more effectively so fewer hours are required. I’ve read this book at the suggestion of my friend Gleb Budman, who works much more than four hours a week at his very cool company BackBlaze.com.
The second talk, on January 13th, 2011, is by Michael Milken, the infamous junk bond king of the 1980s. Milken invested in my first company Hotpaper.com, Inc. (now part of Purple Communications, Inc.) via his participation as a limited partner in Angel Investors LP, the also infamous Ron Conway led startup fund of the late 1990s. I’ve never met Milken, but I did read of his life in a book published soon after his famous legal troubles. I am eager to see him in person, as when I’ve read his recent work, he appears to be quite thoughtful and interesting.
The third talk, on January 25, 2011, is by Novella Carpenter and Joan Gussow. I don’t know of Joan, but I did read earlier this year Novella’s fascinating book Farm City. In Farm City, Novella describes how she and her boyfriend raised two full size pigs in their apartment backyard in a dangerous part of Oakland, California. The book is riveting as she describes how they dumpster dove behind fancy restaurants for food for the pigs. Full size pigs eat LOTS of food, and she could not have afforded to purchase food for them. One of the craziest stories she related is when a homeless person walked up to her while she was scooping up discarded fish parts into buckets behind a seafood restaurant. As she was scooping the slop from black plastic garbage bags, the homeless man tried to give Noella a crumpled dollar bill, to relieve what he saw as her sad plight of being reduced to scavenging for such unappealing food for herself to eat. She declined the extraordinary offer.
She’s a really funny writer, and the book still warms my heart months after I finished it.
When I was a student in 6th grade at Laboratory Schools in Chicago, we went on a field trip to a printing company. One of the machine operators there made each student a lead impression of their full name using a machine similar to the one pictured above. I don’t think these are used anymore because of the lead fumes, and because a computer can do a much better job, generally. I am particularly fond of this LinoType typesetter since I have devoted a fair part of my life to electronic typesetting, through my work with TeX, LaTeX and ConTeXT at my startup gOffice.com. I saw this machine December 6, 2010 in the lobby of the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper on 5th Street in San Francisco.
Back in the 1980s I was a big fan of hardcore punk rock music. My friend Willy Lipat was in a couple of punk bands – The Jungle Studs and The Sluglords.
I took the photograph for the back cover of The Sluglords’ 1986 debut release ‘Trails of Slime’. The subject matter was a fan wearing the black leather jacket she had hand painted with the band’s logo.
I also took a few shots of the band members, but they were not used for the Trails of Slime album.
Earlier this year in 2010, the band contacted me and asked if I still had the negatives from that long ago shoot. I save all my negatives, and I had the original 4 x 5″ black and white negative, and it was in perfect condition. The band had the negatives scanned and they used the original leather jacket photo and one of the band photos in their 2010 CD Sluglords Forever. Trails of Slime was never released on CD, and my record player is in a box in the attic, so I haven’t heard the recording in years. It brought back memories to hear the music in all its newly digitized glory.
I have photographed other bands, and I really like such projects, so if you have an interesting band, feel free to get in touch with me.
I invent lots of things.
One of the things I’m most proud of is online document creation. I started this work in 2002, founded the first true online office suite company, Silveroffice, Inc., in 2003, and launched the first true online office suite in 2004. The suite continues operating to this day, although it’s not ‘a success’ like I hoped for when I began. But I continue to have high hopes for the site, and I still devote energy to it. I haven’t done much with the site for years now, but just recently I’ve started working on it again, in the last few weeks. Great things are happening again.
I own a patent for online typesetting, and I thought my readers might like to actually read the patent, so I’ve loaded it on my blog here: US20040073708. While this appears to be just an application, the patent has been issued.
I’m writing this from the brand new branch of the do-it-yourself TechShop membership workshop. It opened less than two hours ago. There are people here working. Someone is already cutting what appear to be Christmas tree decorations on the laser cutter. There are people working on the powerful Hewlett Packard workstations. Only the top floor is open to members, and only part of the upstairs is really complete. But still, TechShop is open, and it’s really cool. The location is great – Howard Street at 5th Street. The building has high ceilings. It does look like it could be freezing here in the winter, as I don’t see any evidence of heat. That plagued NoiseBridge last winter. I suspect TechShop will install heaters since they sure appear to be well funded. All the equipment here is brand new. The Ikea couch I am sitting on right now is brand new. Yes, that’s a new floor standing Jet mill in the front left of the picture below on the first floor. I’ve always wanted one of those for my garage!
I am a photographer.
I started taking pictures seriously when I was in 7th grade. In college, I switched my attention to the view camera, an Omega 45F which used sheets of film four inches by five inches in size.
I like to photograph people, but people move around a lot. This makes it difficult to focus precisely, especially using a view camera, since there is a lag from when you focus to when you can take the picture, since the film has to be inserted a sheet at a time, which takes a few seconds. As a result, it’s safer to use a small lens aperture, which increases the depth of field. But a small aperture requires more light, which requires larger flash equipment which costs more money. A small aperture also makes more parts of the picture sharp, not just the main subject. But with photographs of people, it’s often an advantage for the background to be out of focus, to direct the eye of the viewer towards the person.
As a result, for the best effect, it’s ideal to not use a small aperture to assure the person is in focus. But it’s really difficult to focus accurately at a large aperture. The famed late photographer Richard Avedon for many years did the cover shots for Vogue Magazine. He used a view camera that held sheets of film eight by ten inches in size. These cameras have a very shallow depth of field, and precise focusing is called for. His focusing was so precise that the tip of the nose and the ears of the model would be out of focus. Not enough to be objectionable, but enough to enhance.
I now shoot with a modern digital SLR camera, the Canon 5D Mark II. This is the best camera I have ever used. It shoots stills and video. Most of the shots and videos on this blog were taken with this camera.
What I wish is that Canon would update the firmware of the 5D Mark II so that when I press the shutter, the camera takes 3 or 5 pictures in quick succession, adjusting the lens focus automatically between exposures, starting with what the camera’s best guess is for the best focus. Then I would have the camera take 1 or 2 shots on either side of the camera’s best guess. Ideally, the degree of focus shift should be adjustable by the photographer, depending on the situation. When taking portraits with a telephoto lens wide open, perhaps a 3% and 6% shift fore and aft of the camera’s best guess would make it more likely one of the 5 shots would be perfectly sharp. When this camera is focussed perfectly, you can make 20 x 30″ enlargements that just shine.
Since Canon has not offered this feature, to my knowledge, I manually bracket my shots by hand, in manual focus mode. This is tedious, and not really that repeatable, as while I try to rotate the focus knob perhaps a milimeter between shots, who knows how well I do this from picture to picture. But even with the uncertainty of bracketing focus by hand, the results are worth the trouble. I can now confidently fully blur the background but have a tack sharp subject. This has improved the quality of my photographs of people dramatically.
Modern DSLR lenses contain swift motors, and modern DSLR cameras contain swift shutter cocking mechanisms. Combined, I am confident a camera could shoot a 5 frame focus bracket set in under 1 second. Yes, the subject may move or blink during this flurry of exposures. But the rewards of getting really tack sharp pictures shot wide open are worth the occasional missed frame. I find I often shoot over 1,000 shots per session due to my manual focus bracketing, and even then I can’t fill up my 32 gigabyte memory card once.
The incentive for camera manufacturers is selling more cameras, since if every shot takes 5 shutter releases, cameras will wear out sooner and need to be replaced. I believe Olympus already offers focus bracketing on a consumer level camera . But, to my knowledge, no camera on the quality level of the Canon 5D Mark II from any manufacturer offers the feature I propose here. I hope this feature becomes available on all autofocus cameras.
There exist products to do focus bracketing for macro photography, including software that will combine many photographs into one super sharp photo that would not be possible to take in one exposure. Here are two links to such products: Stack Shot electronically controlled focus rail, Helicon Focus imaging combining software. These products don’t appear to address my wants for wide aperture people photographs, but while doing research for this blog post I discovered these technologies and I think they are very important for macro photographers, so I am linking to them here. Here is a picture of the control panel for the Stack Shot electronic focus rail system linked to above.
While reading Digg or Reddit this morning, I came across the most persuasive video I’ve yet seen on YouTube. This apparently is a television commercial urging viewers not to drink or use drugs and then drive. The production values are astonishingly great, and this video must have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce… it’s that good.
I think this video should be shown in schools and where alcohol is served or sold. It brought tears to my eyes and I thought about it several times throughout the day. This is a difficult, even gruesome video to watch, but it’s just so well done it’s really a must see.