How do you add value to a rubber band?

Rubber Bands

Tonight there are thousands of college students around the world trying to add value to a rubber band, thanks to a contest kicked off last night at Stanford University, so I thought I’d help.

Next week I’ll be helping to judge their efforts. It’s Entrepreneurship Week and Stanford’s page on the week has the details.

I was at the kickoff, where they showed a movie, done by these guys (Qik video), about last year’s contest, which asked students to add value to a PostIt note.

Some of them last year came up with amazing ideas for PostIt Notes — one team raised thousands of dollars (Qik video). Remember, they had/have less than a week to come up with an idea, implement it, and document it for the contest.

The contest is really designed to get you over your fears of being creative. IE, don’t worry about showing up on Valleywag for coming up with some stupid ideas.

How many ideas can you come up with for using rubber bands? Here’s some I’ve come up with.

1. Hard drive holder/shock absorber. OK, OK, I stole this one from Ajay, a friend of mine who used rubber bands to dampen his hard drive because the road bumps were causing him problems.
2. Slingshot. Too easy and every kid has done it.
3. Cut them up in little pieces, find a way to glue them down, and you have a new road or track surface. Again, I stole this idea cause several high schools in the area have surfaces that are pretty similar to this.
4. Create a cause based on the color. OK, I stole this one from Lance Armstrong, who used rubber bands to raise millions of dollars for his charity.
5. Make “Smart Rubber Bands” by putting RFID tags into them. You can then put them around things which you’d like to keep track of. Not to mention you probably will be able to charge $50 a box, instead of only $2.

See how hard it is to come up with a good idea for a household item? It’ll be interesting to see what the students come up with. Their entries will be public by the end of next week and will be submitted via YouTube.

Got any ideas? Post them here, I’m sure some students will appreciate that.

Silicon Valley headed for political trouble?

Andrew Feinberg, Editor, Capitol Valley Media

Talking with Andrew Feinberg, editor of Capitol Valley Media, I was challenged several times about why I, other tech bloggers, and why Silicon Valley itself doesn’t get involved more in what’s happening in Washington D.C.

Politics and geeks rarely mix. Geeks want to build stuff. Politicians want to serve their constituencies and, often, that means regulating what the geeks are trying to do.

A child gets harmed due to meeting someone unsavory on MySpace or Facebook? Andrew sees regulation ahead and he says it doesn’t have to be that way, if Silicon Valley gets involved in politics.

Feinberg tells a nightmarish story where we lose access to an open Internet thanks to the corrupting influence of money from big companies like Comcast. Already companies like Comcast and Verizon are starting to put limits on how you can use the Internet from their services.

Why did that happen? Because we don’t care.

Andrew started down this path by watching what tech bloggers were reporting on. He very rarely saw us talk about politics. Most bloggers he meets, he tells me, don’t know who the FCC Chairman is. Or, have ever had a conversation with him or his staffs.

And bloggers here are just a reflection of the tech world itself. When we get together at BarCamps or FOOCamps we would rather talk about robotics, brain research, genetics, algorithms, or other geeky topics.

Politics? Ugh.

I’m planning a trip to Washington with Andrew to fill in my own gaps on these topics. Anyone want to come along? Probably will happen in June or July. Anyone want to help get us access to key decision makers?

There’s another guy who is changing my thinking on these topics and focusing my attention: Larry Lessig. It’s pretty clear that he’s going to run for Congress. His blog is a must-read, it’s an interesting look at politics from one of Silicon Valley’s leading thinkers.

But back to Andrew. He thinks there’s a ton of trouble coming, especially for social networking companies like Facebook because they simply aren’t focusing on defusing political pressure from concerns around privacy and security of our kids.

He also told me that he doesn’t see a single lobbying organization that speaks for the tech industry as a whole. Who is looking out for, say, Twitter or Facebook’s interests in Washington? Or, our interests? He doesn’t see anyone and he sees that we’re going to get screwed over the next few years as big companies are going to come after our ability to have access to a free and largely unregulated Internet.


Attention thieves; keeping you from living a "FOOCamp life?"

Last week when I was talking with Linda Stone I told her that I tried to live a “FooCamp Life.”

What’s FOOCamp? That’s Tim O’Reilly’s annual campout where he invites about 300 “Friends Of O’Reilly” to O’Reilly’s headquarters in Sebastapol, CA, for a campout. I was invited for the first two years, then haven’t been invited ever since.

Not getting invited back was the greatest gift that Tim O’Reilly could have given to me. Why? Because he had shown me a way to live, then by pulling it away he forced me to do it on my own. Interesting too, that the same effect caused the creation of BarCamp.

How did FOOCamp create that need? I remember one night at the first FOOCamp when I arrived with my son, Patrick, and we were hungry. There were a few people setting up tents and stuff and they pointed us to the kitchen. When we got there it was empty, but found a box of apples (the eating kind, not the computing kind) and started munching away. Soon an executive from AT&T walked in. Then Yossi Vardi did (his kids started ICQ). Then Linda Stone walked in (she gave me some heck for working for Microsoft which struck me as odd at the time since she was a former executive at both Apple and Microsoft). Then the two guys who started Google walked in. Then Tim O’Reilly himself walked in. That was the beginning of my FOOCamp experience and it only got better from there.

So, when Tim stopped inviting me I told myself I’d have the ultimate revenge: I’d live a FOOCamp Life and have an interesting conversation every day, just like the one I had at FOOCamp that Friday evening at about midnight with my son and a bunch of interesting technologists.

When I told Linda this story she was taken aback. She’s been tracking how people manage attention and she said that my “do an interview every day” was attention management done right. It does keep my life on track and keeps me from being distracted by Twitter, Google Reader, Facebook, and all the other stuff. It’s my #2 priority after hanging out with Milan, Patrick, and Maryam. All else, including important emails, gets dropped on the ground.

Anyway, the FOOCamp Life was in high gear yesterday with an interview by NHK’s brightest in the morning, a meeting with Brad Mays, who does PR for AT&T, then onto an interesting conversation with Andrew Feinberg and Alex Tcherkassky of, a blog that tracks the intersection of politics and technology. More on that conversation in the next post.

Then onto a party where there were tons of interesting people from across the tech industry.

Today I’m going to a film screening at Stanford. More on that when I get permission to talk about the movie.

So, who else is living a FOOCamp Life? How are you managing attention?

Anyway, that gets to the point of this post: attention thieves.

What gets your attention off of your life goals? Or, in my case, keeping me from living a FOOCamp Life? For me, this post was conceived because I started up MSN Messenger and instantly got distracted by several conversations with my friends.

So, what is distracting you from your goals?

Twitter? Facebook? Email? An RSS Reader? World of Warcraft? Flickr? Phone calls? TV?

How do you manage attention? Er, how do you manage your attention thieves?

NHK here interviewing me

A team from Japan’s NHK (top TV network sponsored by the government) is here interviewing me about Digg and Facebook and their impact on society. Lots of interesting questions and the translator, Keiko Mori, does an awesome job. She’s amazingly fast. Interviewing me is Daigo Shimode. I’ll see if I can do a Qik video with them and turn the tables. Unfortunately their videos aren’t online.

UPDATE: they are looking for people to interview about Digg. Anyone in San Francisco area want to talk about how they use Digg?

Obsolete skills

Francine Hardaway is here and we’re talking about obsolete skills. Things we used to know that no longer are very useful to us. Here’s some we came up with. How many can you come up with?

1. Dialing a rotary phone.
2. Putting a needle on a vinyl record.
3. Changing tracks on an eight-track tape.
4. Shorthand.
5. Using a slide rule.
6. Using carbon paper to make copies.
7. Developing film/photos.
8. Changing the ball or ribbon on your Selectric Typewriter.
9. Getting off the couch to change channels on your TV set.
10. Adjusting the rabbit ears on your TV set.
11. Changing the gas mixture on your car’s carburetor.

By the way, the domain “” is still available. I almost registered it, but how about if one of you does that and put a wiki there so we can keep track of all of the things we know that are pretty much useless now?

UPDATE: somebody put up a Wiki which is really cool.

Cool face detection software

Really cool face detection software

Gavin Longhurst, Vice President of Business Development for BigWorld Technology, showed me some cool new face detection software, called “Seeing Machines,” yesterday at the Stanford University Metaverse Summit, which I got onto my Qik channel via my cell phone. They are preparing to show this technology off at the Game Developer Conference which is in San Francisco next week. He explains in the video why this is significant. It’s the coolest thing I saw at the summit yesterday.

Revision 3's hot new studio

You’ve heard of Diggnation or the GigaOm show, right? Well, my friend Jim Louderback, CEO of Revision 3, the folks who do a range of Internet video shows, including Diggnation, invited me over for their 4 p.m. Friday video afternoon.

Revision 3's Friday afternoon staff meeting

On the screen? Gary Vaynerchuk’s daily wine video blog. They watch video (here’s my own really short video that gives you a sneak peak into the room) from around the Internet together as a team. Really smart to do. Jim gets lots of interesting ideas from his team this way and they can see their reactions — as a group — to new stuff. Then they showed off some pilots of things they are working on which were pretty cool too, to gauge whether or not they were ready to share with you all.

On the table? A $9 bottle of wine that Gary was talking about on screen. It was damn good and that guy Gary is damn crazy. Fun video blog to watch.

Jim Louderback, CEO of Revision 3, shows me around the studio

Anyway, after the videos were done Jim gave me a tour of the studio. He noted that cameras are much cheaper now (Jim was one of the guys who started ZDTV, which became TechTV, which is where Kevin Rose, founder of Digg, got his popularity), less than $10,000 when they used to cost $100,000. He also noted that the tripods the cameras sat on haven’t changed much in price.

They have several sets, one for each show, and a workshop where they can build new stuff for the sets. A separate control room looks in. He showed me how much lower cost that each of those are now that they are powered by a Mac Pro, which, while still expensive, are an order of magnitude less expensive than the computers that older studios are built with.

Fun to see inside one of the new media businesses that’s doing interesting stuff.

What do you think about Revision 3’s shows?