Review: Once You’re Lucky, Twice You’re Good

Lacy_book_webThe timing for Sarah Lacy’s book couldn’t have been luckier. It was published today, the same day that a host of acquisitions confirm the book’s central points: It’s better to sell out than IPO, and the ties between web 1.0 and web 2.0 run deep — in fact, they’re not all that different after all.

The book, which Wired magazine gave a rave review to, should be on the required reading list for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and wannabe entrepreneurs.

Once You’re Lucky, Twice You’re Good: The Rebirth of Silicon Valley and the Rise of Web 2.0 is part of that rare subset of business books that actually aim to tell interesting stories about people in business.

As a result, you’re likely to learn more about what it takes to start a company in Silicon Valley from Lacy’s book than any highfalutin’ business tome with a headscratching title like The Death of Money or Metanomics.

Lacy, a BusinessWeek columnist and Yahoo Finance video personality, spent many months with the Web 2.0 entrepreneurs she profiles: Max Levchin, Kevin Rose, Jay Adelson and Mark Zuckerberg. Her cozy, flirty interviewing style may not work well onstage, but in this book, it delivers. Lacy has details about these men’s lives (and they are nearly all men) that provide real insight into their personalities as well as the businesses they have founded. For example:

  • Max Levchin, Slide’s founder, was a sickly child who learned to speak fluent English by watching Diff’rent Strokes on a TV he salvaged from a Dumpster after his family emigrated to the U.S. His early life, Lacy writes, has contributed to Levchin’s fiercely analytical mind and his drive to succeed.
  • Digg CEO Jay Adelson felt burned by the venture capitalists who backed his first startup, Equinix, an experience that led him to adopt an anti-VC motto,"Fuck the sweater vests," when he joined Digg.
  • Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is an ambitious kid whose business instincts were shaped by a close association with Silicon Valley wunderkind/bad boy Sean Parker, whose history also gave him a deep mistrust of VCs.

Lacy also provides lots of detail on how these young, "web 2.0" upstarts have been helped out by successful members of the dot-com generation, especially PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel and Netscape cofounder Marc Andreessen.

The lesson: If you’re young, smart and ambitious, it pays to have a powerful friend.

Not that these guys had anything handed to them on a platter. Lacy’s stories make it clear just how much hard work, smarts and sometimes luck go into making a successful startup — and just how hard it is to make decisions like whether or not to sell your company for hundreds of millions of dollars.

Her writing style is light and unlikely to win many style points. But she gives her stories a vividness and an immediacy that makes this book a fast and rewarding read.

Link: Review: Once You’re Lucky, Twice You’re Good

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Review: Once You’re Lucky, Twice You’re Good

Nokia to Tackle Google, First in Mapping, Then Everywhere

Nokia doesn’t want you to think of its forthcoming mapping software for PCs as a Google Maps competitor. But press them, and Nokia executives will admit Google is the enemy. And with that particular enemy, there can be no compromise.

At the Where 2.0 conference in Burlingame, Calif. today, Nokia showed an early, alpha version of Maps on Ovi. Ovi is Nokia’s still-wet-around-the-ears social media site, where Nokia phone users will be able to share photos, video, music and other content from their phones. Gadget Lab caught a demo last night while watching the San Francisco Giants lose to the Houston Astros.

The demo is impressive. Unlike most web-based mapping applications, the screen refreshes rapidly, enabling you to pan, tilt, and spin your view of the map while the screen refreshes almost instantaneously. We zoomed around a yellow-and-blue map of San Francisco with an aerial abandon that felt like flying over the city an F-16 in comparison with Google Maps’ pokey dirigible. Nokia gets that speed by using vector-based maps and doing the redrawing computation on the user’s computer, rather than the servers.

Nokia vice president Michael Halbherr said that pushing image processing down to the PC, instead of doing it on web servers, reflects Nokia’s approach to "cloud computing." With this approach, Halbherr said, the company can scale to billions of users "without having to buy electric power plants" — a reference toGoogle’s energy-hungry server farms and its recent investment in eSolar, a company that makes solar power plants.

Maps on Ovi lets you look up points of interest and then calculates either driving or walking directions. (For the latter, the maps include pedestrian-only streets and alleys that other map services lack.) You can even select several points and create an itinerary that takes you to, say, all of the Irish pubs in downtown San Francisco, one after the other. We didn’t test that particular route; any preplanned route would have been moot after the third pub anyway.

Once you’ve created a route you can access it via a Symbian Series 60 phone using the Nokia Maps application, which is already available.

The goal is to extend the Nokia Maps experience to the PC, Nokia executives said, not to replace Google Maps.

But when I pressed them on the application’s ability to integrate with other web applications, the answers were telling.

Halbherr said the initial version of Maps on Ovi will not include links with other apps, but that the company is planning on publishing an API that will let web developers write applications that can interface with it, either on the PC or on Nokia handsets.

Those applications may include social-media services, reviews sites, mashups and more — but not Google Maps.

That’s because Google Maps has its own implementation of the map data from Navteq (the same service used by Nokia, by the way), and the routes it calculates won’t be the same as Nokia’s.

But more importantly, Google is Nokia’s competitor in the game of controlling the next-generation computing platform. And Nokia clearly wants to own the platform upon which other people’s applications will run.

"Yelp is just a mashup. Twitter is just a mashup. If they want to make their applications work with our APIs, great," said Halbherr. "But Google is our competitor."

In this vision, people don’t create content on PCs (blogs, maps) and then access it on their handsets (via mobile-friendly sites). In Nokia’s world, people create content on their phones (photos, videos, data about where in the world they are) and then access it on their PCs (via social media sites like Ovi).

The vision is compelling because it matches the way people actually use their phones, rather than the way engineers think about designing mobile apps. And if anyone can be a credible competitor to Google, Nokia certainly can, with its ability to deploy software and services to a vast army of Nokia phone users. After all, the company ships hundreds of millions of devices every year (and tens of millions of smartphones every quarter) and has an installed base that is probably well over a billion users.

But the claim also stretches the bounds of credulity, coming as it does from a company that so far has virtually no presence in the web world.

What do you think: Can Nokia deliver?

Link: Nokia to Tackle Google, First in Mapping, Then Everywhere

Link broken? Try the Wayback Machine.

Nokia to Tackle Google, First in Mapping, Then Everywhere

Where’s My Memex?

Living online, it’s easy to get overloaded. Tools designed to simplify communication, like Twitter and Facebook, somehow wind up turning into extra inboxes you have to keep an eye on lest you miss something. RSS feeds proliferate and multiply. Channels of communication that once seemed intimate (IM, SMS) turn into high-volume streams of data that need to be managed alongside email, news, notes and more.

It’s easy to lose track of the big picture in this flood of data. That’s why systems like Getting Things Done are so appealing to techies: We like the idea that if we take an algorithmic approach, and apply it systematically enough, we can get this flood of information under control.

I’ve been a lackadaisical user of GTD for about five years now, focusing on two basic processing principles: if you can do something in two minutes or less, just do it now; and store everything else in a single place so you always know where to turn for your action lists and notes.

That latter principle is what’s been causing me trouble lately. I use a paper notebook, partly because I relish the satisfaction of physically crossing things off my to-do lists (shouting “Victory!” while you do that is a good way to give yourself even more of a charge, though it will draw looks in the office) and partly because writing things down helps me encode them into my synapses better.

More importantly, I am often in meetings where I need to take notes, whether that’s the daily news budget meeting or an interview with a source. If you’re a technophile like me, I’m sorry to inform you that taking a laptop into situations like that is still generally considered rude, or at the very least odd. It’s also distracting. When interviewing people, in particular, you want your notetaking to be as unobtrusive as possible, and sliding a notebook or tablet PC out of your shoulder bag and tapping away at it is the exact opposite of unobtrusive.

So a paper notebook it is. The problem: My notebook is completely incapable of syncing with my computer. It’s a pain to move notes into a more usable electronic form, and sorting to-do lists requires recopying them from time to time. Worse, my notes aren’t particularly searchable. British scientist Michael Faraday used a complicated indexing and cross-referencing system to make his scientific notebooks more searchable, but I don’t have the time or the inclination to maintain such a system, especially when I believe that computers should be able to do this for me.

Some possible solutions: I could use a system that captures digital “ink” as I scrawl it on the paper, but that requires special paper and seems a little dorky for everyday use. I could photograph or scan every page of my notes, as Microsoft researcher Gordon Bell does, or as MIT professor Ed Boyden recommends doing in his provocative essay “How to Think.”

A new online tool, Evernote, promises to make it easier to keep track of those digital images as well as web clippings, notes, and even email messages. It even does OCR on images you upload, picking out bits of text in any image and turning them into searchable alphanumerics. I just started testing out Evernote, so it’s still too soon for me to say how it works, but I’m excited about its possibilities.

Still, the scanning/photographic part is still a bit awkward: I need to have a scanner on my desk, or somehow improve the lighting and use a better camera. My iPhone’s 2-megapixel sensor isn’t particularly well-suited to digitizing notebook pages, as I have discovered through experimentation.

What I need is a compact camera that takes good pictures of documents, in any light, and then automatically — ideally wirelessly — uploads them to my computer (or perhaps my Evernote account).

And after that, I need a dead-easy system for searching and retrieving those images, along with all my other emails, Word docs, RTF files, and more. I’m sure Google is working on this for a future version of Google Desktop, but in the meantime, any suggestions?

Where’s My Memex?

Review: Olympus E-420 is One Smokin’ SLR

Olympus_e420_028

Let’s get one thing out of the way: Even though it’s called the 420, Olympus’ latest camera has absolutely nothing to do with illicit drug use. We tried to find a secret compartment for storing your stash: No dice.

In fact, the Olympus Evolt E-420 doesn’t have much room for stashing anything. It’s the most diminutive digital SLR we’ve seen — and that’s a good thing. Most SLRs are bulky, heavyweight beasts tipping the scales at two pounds or more. The E-420 is more of a bantamweight, weighing in at just 1.4 pounds with the included kit lens.

Olympus_e420_009That included lens continues Olympus’ trend of bundling inexpensive, lightweight, versatile optics with its SLR kits. This piece of glass is a 14-42mm, F3.5-5.6 zoom lens that goes from an unusually wide-angle film equivalent of 28mm to a reasonably telephoto 84mm equivalent.

The camera’s 10-megapixel sensor holds its own against other entry-level SLRs, and offers the full complement of image quality, exposure, autofocus and other settings that photo geeks expect from an SLR. Like other recent Olympus cameras, it’s even got a "live view" feature so you can compose shots on the LCD instead of the viewfinder.

But while we like the E-420’s size, we’re a little disappointed that it isn’t even smaller. With Olympus’ forthcoming ultra-compact 25mm, f2.8 Zuiko Digital lens, the E-420 comes close to being the ideal weapon for a photojournalist — a compact, high-megapixel camera with a low profile and a fleet footed lens.

But it’s not quite there yet: At 3.5 inches from the front of the 25mm lens to the back of the viewfinder, the E-420 is still too bulky to fit unobtrusively in a jacket pocket. But it’s definitely a step in the right direction. We’re looking forward to the next next version in the series, even if it Olympus forgets to add that secret stash compartment.  –Dylan Tweney

WIRED Light weight and small size make it far more portable than most DSLRs. Live view lets you compose on-screen instead of peering through the viewfinder. Speedy autofocus. No discernible shutter lag. Paging all photo geeks: RAW format support.

TIRED Fewer buttons means it takes more menu-surfing to adjust basic settings like ISO and white balance. Face-detection feature can be slow. Four Thirds lens compatibility is largely moot, as no manufacturers beside Olympus and pricey Sigma support the standard. No pop-up bong attachment.

$600 with 14-42mm kit lens, olympusamerica.com

7 out of 10

For more on using the E-420, scroll down to see Dylan’s field notes.

(Photos by Jim Merithew for Wired.com)

Olympus_e420

Feature-wise, the E-420 holds its own against other low-cost SLRs. The10 megapixel sensor produces good quality images with little noise upto and including ISO 800 (it maxes out at ISO 1600).

The camera is fast, squeezing off shots with no shutter lag, just asyou’d expect from an SLR. Like other recent Olympus cameras, such asthe E-510, it has a "live view" mode, which lets you compose shots onthe LCD instead of peering through the viewfinder as you must do withmost SLRs.

The 2.7-inch LCD is bright and has a wider viewing angle than mostcamera displays, but images update more slowly in live view mode thanthey do on most point-and-shoot cameras, making this mode more suitableto slow-moving targets than fast-moving ones.

The E-420 sports a variety of autofocus modes including one thatautomatically detects faces in the frame and focuses on them. Thatfeature worked well in our tests but sometimes took as much as a secondto locate a face. It also only works when the camera’s live view modeis switched on.

In addition to the kit lens, we also tested the E-420 with a very trim$250 Zuiko Digital 25mm prime (fixed focal length) lens from Olympusthat drops the weight of the camera to a trim 1.2 pounds. The Zuikolens is just 1 inch from front to back — much smaller than almost anyother digital camera lens on the market. Its focal length correspondsto that of a 50mm lens on a standard 35mm film camera, which closelycorresponds to the viewing angle of the human eye, and is a popularfocal length for portraits and candid photography.

Unless you subscribe to the lens-size-correlates-with-penis-size theorytouted by many tourists, this compact lens’s miniscule dimensions makeit quite appealing. It’s especially good for unobtrusive "run and gun"photography: shooting street scenes, political demonstrations,footraces, or crime scenes. Or, if you’re less adventurous, it shouldwork pretty well at the family reunion picnic or the county fair.

The aperture of f2.8 is not as large as we’d like in a small prime lenslike this. One of the main reasons you’d use a fixed focal-length lensis to get the larger aperture it affords, so we’re disappointed thatthis doesn’t even offer f2.0, which would make it a true standout amonglow-cost lenses for digital cameras.

Link: Review: Olympus E-420 is One Smokin’ SLR

Link broken? Try the Wayback Machine.

Review: Olympus E-420 is One Smokin’ SLR

Yahoo is the hometown hero.

“Folks here were never that psyched about the idea of Microsoft buying one of the hometown heroes and I think they’re happy to see that the deal is off the table right now.” That’s me, talking on public radio station KQED this morning about Silicon Valley’s reaction to the now-suspended Microsoft-Yahoo merger. I talked for about five minutes about how people’s emotional reactions to Microsoft colored what otherwise would have been a smart financial decision (Sell my Yahoo stock at $34? Hell yes!) and turned it into a visceral one (Microsoft is the enemy).

Why’s that? “Yahoo is probably the greatest success story to come out of the dot com boom. It really embodies a lot of the optimism and the work culture that grew up during the dot com boom… it has this iconoclastic, consumer-friendly and low-key attitude. And I think people really regard it as an example of the best that Silicon Valley produced during that time.”

I’m not at my most eloquent in this segment, but it gets across my main points.

KQED Radio News: Taking Yahoo’s Pulse
Download the segment: MP3 file

Yahoo is the hometown hero.

Wired’s Gadget Lab podcast is #6 in iTunes.

A nice surprise over the weekend: the Gadget Lab podcast I produce has risen to the #6 spot among technology podcasts in iTunes’ podcast directory. That’s pretty remarkable, given that we produce this podcast in a borrowed closet with no budget and zero marketing.

If you haven’t listened to the podcast before, check it out. It’s short (10-12 minutes per episode), and usually includes some lively banter about the week’s top gadget topics plus short reviews of a couple interesting gadgets. We try to put some goodies in each episode that you can’t get on the blog, too, like previews of upcoming reviews or anecdotes about shenanigans in Wired’s product testing lab. My goal all along has been to make this a short, listenable overview of interesting and relevant hardware news.

Here’s the latest episode: Wired Gadget Lab Podcast #27: Psystar, T-Mobile 3-G, and AT&T TV. And here’s the Gadget Lab podcast RSS feed.

I’d love to hear what you think of the podcast — use the comments form below or email me directly.

Wired’s Gadget Lab podcast is #6 in iTunes.

Maker Faire and DIY culture.

O’Reilly’s annual Maker Faire is happening this weekend, May 3 and 4, 2008, in San Mateo. It’s a festival of do-it-yourself (DIY) culture, and is a chance to see just how creative people can get with soldering guns, welders, circuit boards, old bicycle parts and lots of propane.

That’s just for starters. The Faire is now in its third year. Since it’s in my home town of San Mateo, I’ve attended each of the past two years, and the panoply of displays was frankly stunning each year. The Faire attracts a lot of same on-the-fringe techies that you might find at Burning Man, and indeed many of the projects on display have been created for Burning Man. But San Mateo has none of the dust, chaos and expense of Black Rock City. So this is a good chance to see some of these kinetic, firebreathing sculptures without venturing out into the forbidding Nevada desert. (I’ve never been to Burning Man, but I’m a big fan of it from afar.)

More to the point, Maker Faire is designed to give you a chance to talk with the people who made these projects, so you can start learning how to do similar things yourself. Granted, 90 percent of the audience is not likely ever to build their own moving, music-pumping robotic giraffe, and they’re there just to admire the handiwork of others. Similarly, lots of subscribers to O’Reilly’s Make magazine will never actually build most of the projects in the mag’s pages. I don’t, and yet I’m an enthusiastic subscriber.

So what is it about D.I.Y. culture that attracts people who don’t actually do it themselves? I think it’s two things: One, it’s just fun to look at what people can accomplish on their own, from a backyard zipline to an electric car shaped like a giant tin muffin. It’s like admiring art: You don’t have to be a painter to enjoy a trip to an art gallery.

Two, D.I.Y. culture embodies a kind of optimism about human capability. In a world where almost everything is manufactured elsewhere, then packaged in several layers of plastic and sold to you as-is under the glaring fluorescent lights of a big-box retail store, it’s encouraging to know that people can still do things for themselves. It’s that inventive creativity (and the skill with metalworking tools) that impresses me, and gives me hope about the future.

So even though my own efforts at making things have been rather modest so far, I’m looking forward to Maker Faire as a chance for me — and my family — to soak in that optimism, that creativity, and that inspiration. See you there!

Wired.com will be covering the Maker Faire extensively, in words, photos and video. Most of our coverage will appear on Wired’s Gadget Lab blog. If you’re going to be showing a project at the Faire and want us to know about it, please get in touch with Wired.com reporters Alexis Madrigal (email, twitter) and Jenna Wortham — they’re looking for cool stuff!

UPDATE: Here’s a great preview of the Faire, with video, by Jenna and Alexis: From Welding to Weddings, DIY Rules at Maker Faire

And here’s the detailed schedule of Maker Faire events happening during the weekend.

Maker Faire and DIY culture.