Archive for November, 2005

Language Games

Saturday, November 26th, 2005

An article in a recent Economist talks about some interesting language research that involves requiring two people to cooperate in a virtual world through a computer interface that prevents them from using known symbols to communicate. They end up inventing their own “language” over the course of the game. The game is not well explained, but it was apparently invented by Bruno Galantucci.

A couple of interesting points:

Having observed winning pairs at play, Dr. Galantucci says that communication is established as soon as one player decides to copy the symbols proposed by his co-player, rather than impose his own. At that point, the pair’s chances of finding each other jump. As soon as there is imitation, he says, there is common currency.

And the best one, in my opinion:

One strength of Dr. Galantucci’s experiment that does not exist in the real world, however, is that he is able to interview his subjects afterwards. What is striking, he says, is that a pair can be successful even if a symbol represents something quite different in the virtual world to each player – as long as they agree on what they should do when confronted by it. In other words, people only need to convey a small amount of information to communicate effectively, and they can do so while holding fundamentally different ideas about how their language describes the world.

Economist article (pay required)

Fun with bikes.

Thursday, November 24th, 2005

A great site with custom-built bikes of incredible creativity. And a couple of awesome trip reports. The bike/canoe one is one I’d like to try sometime. The couchbike story had me laughing out loud…

The Bicycle Forest

Aligning Risk Profiles

Monday, November 14th, 2005

Peter Rip wrote a very good analysis about aligning risk profiles between investors. We have now had two experiences with this. I both cases, the entrepreneur had an offer for acquisition, and also had an offer from at least one investor for a buyout. In both cases, the entrepreneur opted for the acquisition. And, in both cases, it’s not at all clear to me that we (as investors) should have tried to balance their decision more by offering a bigger buyout – that changes our risk, too. There many not be a good solution to this, which then gets back to the question of the VC Squeeze.

Interestingly, I was quoted in the New York Times back on August 5, on this very topic. You can buy the article, but here’s my quote:

At least one venture capitalist, Thomas A. Shields, a partner at the Woodside Fund in Redwood Shores, Calif., sees merit in this argument. To Mr. Shields, a company founder who is “stock rich but cash poor” just might be overly conservative in his or her business decisions for fear of losing everything.

“If you can give these guys a little bit of liquidity so they’re comfortable taking more risk, but not so much that they’re not hungry anymore, then it can be a very good thing,” Mr. Shields said. “You let them take a little bit off the table so they’re playing with house money.”

EarlyStageVC: Getting a Line on Alignment

Self-serving Press

Monday, November 14th, 2005

I have been working with Munjal for a couple of years now, and have tremendous respect for him. I am excited about his new venture Riya, and an honored to be even peripherally associated with him and his company.

Munjal is also incredibly good at recognizing people for their contributions. Below he recognizes a few VCs he has worked with.

Recognizing Deven: Top up & coming VCs

ABC Primetime negative episode on adoption

Friday, November 11th, 2005

My cousins are in Kazakhstan right now, in the middle of 5-6 week adoption process. Their emails about their new boy are incredibly heartwarming. Last night I got the email below:

Dear Friends and Family,

We are sending this out to alert everyone about an upcoming Primetime on ABC broadcast on December 1. It is about a girl who was adopted by a single father and was abused by him for years. Pornographic pictures of her were placed on the internet. She was removed from the man several years ago, but the story received new attention this spring when her picture was again seen on the internet and they launched a search for her, not knowing she had been removed years previously.

The information we have is that the show is going to be very negative, equating international adoption with human trafficking. The National Council for Adoption has insisted that they be interviewed to show the positive side of international adoption. After all that has happened these past 8 months, this story could have a very negative impact. (The story did receive publicity in Russia when it surfaced again this spring). The Russian duma is meeting again and this is ammunition for those opposed to international adoption. Russian adoption programs place over a thousand children a year in loving homes and their programs are not the only ones that hang in the balance here.

We need to have ABC news bombarded with emails from the adoption community letting them know the detrimental effect a one-sided story can have and the thousands of families and children that they can harm with an unbalanced story. This child represents only one out of thousands upon thousands of children who have been given a chance at a good life through adoption.

Many pre and post adoptions steps have been taken to address the risk to children(including the prohibition of adoption by single men – unfortunately for those with good intent). Many of you have been aware of the process that we have gone through and know that adopted children have a much greater likelihood of well-screened and supported parents than countless biological and domestically fostered children. This provocative program, if onesided as planned, would not be beneficial- but it is likely to ensure that thousands more children will remain in orphanages every year until they are 16 or 17 years old, then to be cast out into the world after an early life with far too little attention, education or love. Life rarely gets better then. Adoption is their chance at a stable and happy life and we would appreciate your help in defending that chance and speaking out for balanced, responsible reporting.

Please take a moment to write to ABC Primetime by clicking on the following link

Please tell everyone you think might be concerned about this upcoming story and encourage them to take action as well.

Here is the letter that I wrote:

Dear sir/madam:

I am writing with regard to an upcoming Primetime episode due to be aired on Dec 1 about an abusive father who adopted a girl. As I understand it, this is a story that is several years old, and although horrific, most likely an isolated incident.

International adoption agencies have many controls in place to prevent such atrocities. I urge you to present this side of the story completely, starting with an interview with the National Council for Adoption. Better yet, pull the story completely, as publicizing such abuse may actually encourage other criminals to try similar acts.

Thousands of orphaned and homeless children deserve good homes with loving parents who want them in the USA and other countries. Please do not put a damper on this by focusing on one specific failure of the system.

Thank you.

Tom Shields

I have been unable to confirm this information through Google searching, but I did find a couple of other blogs that mention this.

GwenBlog: Need Your Help

To Russia (And Back) With Love: More Help Needed

Colin Powell speaks

Thursday, November 10th, 2005

Louisa and I went to hear Colin Powell speak tonight, and we were pretty impressed. He was witty, articulate, and down to earth. Clearly he hasn’t been a career politician – he doesn’t pull his punches enough.

Going in, we were a little surprised that there were some protesters carrying signs, chanting, and even one with a megaphone. We didn’t realize that his speaking would be controversial, especially since he’s no longer in the administration. Probably 20-40 people carried signs like “2000 Americans dead – for what?”

We had forgotten our tickets, but Louisa sweet-talked our way in based on our season ticket membership. Since we had swapped nights, we didn’t know what seats we were supposed to have, but we got hold of our babysitter, and she eventually found them in the stack of papers that used to be our desk, so we even got the reserved seats near the front.

Colin started out with some very funny stories, and had us laughing early. He talked about his early career, and many of the political figures he worked with. We enjoyed the stories, but wondered when he would get around to the meat of his talk.

About a half hour in, a couple folks stood up in the back, wearing sheets covered with red writing or faux blood, and paper masks, and started chanting “Powell lied, Iraqis died”. Folks tried to ignore them, but they were pretty insistent. Powell handled them well, acknowledging their message, and asking them to respect the fact that he would talk about Iraq later in his talk. They kept chanting, and one yelled “Why did you lie?” at him. He replied directly: “I did not lie. You have no idea what we went through at the State Department during that time.” He then mentioned that he had answered their question, and would they please sit back down. Eventually they made their way to the aisle, still chanting, and were escorted out of the building. Powell asked, “Anybody else?” to get a laugh, then continued. He handled it very well.

Finally he talked about the challenges and opportunities he sees. He thinks Europe and what used to be the Soviet bloc are on the right track to good relations and trade. He thinks China is a great trading partner, and is making rapid strides in all areas. He thinks we are falling down in Africa, not giving enough aid, and failing to address the HIV/AIDS problem.

He finally talked about Iraq. He acknowledged that they were wrong in their assessment of WMD, but insisted that they acted on the information they had. He also thinks we should have finished the job right away, maintaining tight security and putting in place the new government before the insurgents had a chance to take hold. He does not support pulling out, as chaos would reign, and all our effort would be for nothing.

If he had one wish, though, he would wish for an independent Palestinian state living in peace with Israel. He thinks there is an opportunity now, with Arafat gone, and Sharon moving in the right direction.

He concluded his remarks with some comments about America. He thinks we as a people naturally help others, and welcome others into our country, and that we need to keep that up. He thinks our position of power obligates us to help other countries through tough times. And he implored us to teach our children the respect, humility, and “sense of shame” they need to succeed in the world.

I was surprised by his candor – for example, he mentioned that Bush 43 (“W”) could take a strong position and stick with it long after another person might revisit in light of new information. I was delighted by his humor, and his stories were great. We gave him a well-deserved standing ovation. The world needs more people like him – I don’t always agree with him, but I trust him.

Colin Powell – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia