Hey, Tampa Bay! Did we learn nothing from Fast? Are we so desperate to compete against the Miami, Florida’s so-called “next tech hub,” that we’re willing to glom onto any grifter who comes along and promises to make us the next Silicon Valley?
As the one-person show behind the Tampa Bay Tech Events List, I will continue to list crypto events — people still want to attend them, and maybe “there’s a there there,” but I cannot in good conscience not stand by and not remind people that last year’s darlings costs some people dearly.
If you feel you must attend this year’s Florida Bitcoin and Blockchain Summit, remember last year’s hype and this year’s outcome.
“To sustain the United States’ technology leadership in the face of China’s formidable economic and military challenge,” write Graham Allison, a professor of government at the Harvard Kennedy School and Eric Schmidt, former CEO and executive chairman of Google in Foreign Policy,“U.S. President Joe Biden should launch an urgent drive to recruit and retain 1 million tech superstars from around the world by the end of his first term in office.”
For the want of a green card (or: How the 5G story could’ve been very different)
In 2009, Erdal Arikan, a Turkish graduate of the California Institute of Technology and MIT published a paper that solved a big information theory problem. He could’ve continued his work in the U.S., but he had to leave because he couldn’t get an academic appointment or sponsorship to stay. He returned to Turkey, turned to China, and Huawei — yes, that Huawei — used his work to create 5G solutions.
The article sums us the situation like so:
And while Huawei has produced one-third of the 5G infrastructure now operating around the world, the United States does not have a single major company competing in this race. Had the United States been able to retain Arikan—simply by allowing him to stay in the country instead of making his visa contingent on immediately finding a sponsor for his work—this history might well have been different.
China’s leader Xi Jinping said it himself: “technological innovation has become the main battleground of the global playing field, and competition for tech dominance will grow unprecedentedly fierce.”
In 2001, China was still behind technologically. But in the space of only a couple of decades, they’ve leapfrogged the West in communications, facial and voice recognition, other aspects of AI, and green technology, and their education system is producing four times the STEM bachelor’s degrees and twice as many graduate degrees.
Their insularity remains their Achilles’ heel. They naturalize fewer than 100 citizens a year, while the U.S. does so with 1 million a year. That’s a difference of four orders of magnitude.
And hey, if you’re in Tampa Bay and looking for an example of a highly-skilled green card holder who’s making a difference, let me point you to the handsome well-dressed gentleman in the photo below:
Don’t let my accent, grasp of the culture, or accordion skill fool you — I’m a first-generation green card holder from the Philippines, and I’m here to make a difference in the tech world, locally and nationally.
Here’s a screenshot from a video that YouTube is suggesting to people who like watching videos about cryptocurrency. Regular readers of this blog will find its format familiar:
Once again, it’s supposed to be a live video of an interview with Charles Hoskinson, founder of Cardano, co-founder of Ethereum, talking about Cardano, with an offer to double your ADA — send them n ADA, and they’ll send you 2n ADA back.
The scammers are playing the video on a loop and piping it to a live YouTube stream to give it the appearance of a live broadcast.
It promises to double your ADA in a way that seems too good to be true
Here’s their promise, take straight from their video:
There’s a reason that they take a lot of space explaining what “double your ADA” means with a lot of examples: it’s all about getting you to think of all that sweet ADA that could be sitting in your wallet — if you’d just point your browser at ADAIO.online and send them your ADA!
Think for a moment: What’s the business model in giving someone twice the ADA they just gave you, which nothing else exchanged?
The display of ADA transfers is randomly generated
If you go to ADAIO.online and scroll to the bottom of the page, you’ll see a constantly-updated table of transfers that purport to show people sending them some ADA and then getting double that amount in return.
That year-old video is embedded in coin-ether.net’s video to give it an air of legitimacy in the hopes that you’ll suspend your critical thinking and fall for their “giveaway” offer:
Here’s the “giveaway”: Send at least 0.5 ETH (US $4203.30 as I write this) to their wallet address, and they’ll immediately send double that amount to your wallet. And in case you don’t know what “times two” means, they explain it to you very clearly:
If you send 0.5+ ETH, you will get 1+ ETH back.
If you send 10+ ETH, you will get 20+ ETH back.
If you send 50+ ETH, you will get 100+ ETH back.
If you send 250+ ETH, you will get 500+ ETH back.
If you send 500+ ETH, you will get 1000+ ETH back.
This is a psychological trick: it’s all about getting you to think of all that sweet Ethereum that could be sitting in your wallet — if you’d just point your browser at coin-ether.net and send them your ETH!
The display of Ethereum transfers is randomly generated
If you go to coin-ether.net and scroll to the bottom of the page, you’ll see a constantly-updated table of transfers that purport to show people sending them some ETH and then getting double that amount in return.
If you view the source of table.js, you’ll find that its purpose is to repeatedly call a function named createTableItem(), which creates tables containing randomly-generated Ethereum addresses and amounts in exchanges that always happen “right now”:
I was the guest author of this week’s Startup Digest Tampa Bay newsletter, which was sent out on Monday. I was free to write about any topic that I thought subscribers to the newsletter might find interesting or useful, and I chose to write about reasons startup founders and members have to be optimistic even though we’re in a global pandemic and corresponding economic crisis.
I’d like to thank Techstars Tampa Bay, Startup Digest Tampa Bay curator Murewa Olubela, and Startup Digest Tampa Bay curator manager Alex Abell for inviting me to write for the newsletter!
Here’s “director’s cut” of my guest editorial, which has some additional information and ideas…
Reasons for startups to be optimistic
Rather than bore you with a long preamble, I’ll give your week a good start by getting straight to my point: The global pandemic comes with a global business crisis, and crises are where startups shine. Here are three reasons — each with a litany of sub-reasons — why startup founders and team members should be at least a little optimistic about the current situation.
1. Sometimes you don’t know that you’re living in a golden age
The first reason to be optimistic is that recessions have been known to hide golden ages. As far as the last recession is concerned, Thomas Friedman has a theory: That 2007 was “one of the single greatest technological inflection points since Gutenberg…and we all completely missed it.”
He made his point very compelling by listing what happened then in What the hell happened in 2007?, the second chapter of his 2016 book, Thank You for Being Late. I’ve compiled his list in the table below, expanded the scope to cover the years 2006 through 2008, and threw in some additional notes.
Looking at that time through the lens of the leaps in technology shown below, it seems like a golden age:
Originally started in 2003 and bought by Google in 2005, Android was at first a mobile operating system in the same spirit as Symbian or more importantly, Windows Mobile — Google was worried about competition from Microsoft. The original spec was for a more BlackBerry-like device with a keyboard, and did not account for a touchscreen. This all changed after the iPhone keynote.
In case you don’t remember, Steve Jobs’ original plan was to not allow third-party developers to create native apps for the iPhone. Developers were directed to create web apps. The backlash prompted Apple to allow developers to create apps, and in March 2008, the first iPhone SDK was released.
In September 2006, Facebook expanded beyond universities and became available to anyone over 13 with an email address, making it available to the general public and forever altering its course, along with the course of history.
Energy technologies: Fracking and solar
Growth in these two industries helped turn the US into a serious net energy provider, which would help drive the tech boom of the 2010s.
Originally founded as Logical Awesome in February 2008, GitHub’s website launched that April. It would grow to become an indispensable software development tool, and a key part of many developer resumes (mine included). It would first displace SourceForge, which used to be the place to go for open source code, and eventually become part of Microsoft’s apparent change of heart about open source when they purchased the company in 2018.
In 2006, developer Doug Cutting of Apache’s Nutch project, took used GFS (Google File System, written up by Google in 2003) and the MapReduce algorithm (written up by Google in 2004) and combined it with the dataset tech from Nutch to create the Hadoop project. He gave his project the name that his son gave to his yellow toy elephant, hence the logo.
By enabling applications and data to be run and stored on clusters of commodity hardware, Hadoop played a key role in creating today’s cloud computing world.
Intel introduces non-silicon materials into its chips
January 2007: Intel’s PR department called it “the biggest change to computer chips in 40 years,” and they may have had a point. The new materials that they introduced into the chip-making process allowed for smaller, faster circuits, which in turn led to smaller and faster chips, which are needed for mobile and IoT technologies.
On January 9, 2007, Steve Jobs said the following at this keynote: “Today, we’re introducing three revolutionary new products…an iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator…Are you getting it? These are not three separate devices. This is one device!”
The iPhone has changed everyone’s lives, including mine. Thanks to this device, I landed my (current until recently) job, and right now, I’m working on revising this book.
iTunes sells its billionth song
On February 22, 2006, Alex Ostrovsky from West Bloomfield, Michigan purchased ColdPlay’s Speed of Sound on iTunes, and it turned out to be the billionth song purchased on that platform. This milestone proves to the music industry that it was possible to actually sell music online, forever changing an industry that had been thrashing since the Napster era.
Before tablets or large smartphone came Amazon’s Kindle e-reader, which came out on November 19, 2007. It was dubbed “the iPod of reading” at the time.
You might not remember this, but the first version didn’t have a touch-sensitive screen. Instead, it had a full-size keyboard below its screen, in a manner similar to phones of that era.
Macs switch to Intel
The first Intel-based Macs were announced on January 10, 2006: The 15″ MacBook Pro and iMac Core Duo. Both were based on the Intel Core Duo.
Motorola’s consistent failure to produce chips with the kind of performance that Apple needed on schedule caused Apple to enact their secret “Plan B”: switch to Intel-based chips. At the 2005 WWDC, Steve Jobs revealed that every version of Mac OS X had been secretly developed and compiled for both Motorola and Intel processors — just in case.
In 2007, Netflix — then a company that mailed rental DVDs to you — started its streaming service. This would eventually give rise to binge-watching as well as one of my favorite technological innovations: Netflix and chill (and yes, there is a Wikipedia entry for it!), as well as Tiger King, which is keeping us entertained as we stay home.
The release of Python 3 — a.k.a. Python 3000 — in December 2008 was the beginning of the Second Beginning! While Python had been eclipsed by Ruby in the 2000s thanks to Rails and the rise of MVC web frameworks and the supermodel developer, it made its comeback in the 2010s as the language of choice for data science and machine learning thanks to a plethora of libraries (NumPy, SciPy, Pandas) and support applications (including Jupyter Notebooks).
I will always have an affection for Python. I cut my web development teeth in 1999 helping build Givex.com’s site in Python and PostgreSQL. I learned Python by reading O’Reilly’s Learning Python while at Burning Man 1999.
In 2004, frustrated with existing ecommerce platforms, programmer Tobias Lütke built his own platform to sell snowboards online. He and his partners realize that they should be selling ecommerce services instead, and in June 2006, launch Shopify.
The streaming service was founded in April 2006, launched in October 2008, and along with Apple and Amazon, changed the music industry.
Surface (as in Microsoft’s big-ass table computer)
Announced on May 29, 2007, the original Surface was a large coffee table-sized multitouch-sensitive computer aimed at commercial customers who wanted to provide next generation kiosk computer entertainment, information, or services to the public.
2007 was the year that networking switches jumped in speed and capacity dramatically, helping to pave the way for the modern internet.
In 2006, Twittr (it had no e then, which was the style at the time, thanks to Flickr) was formed. From then, it had a wild ride, including South by Southwest 2007, when its attendees — influential techies — used it as a means of catching up and finding each other at the conference. @replies appeared in May 2007, followers were added that July, hashtag support in September, and trending topics came a year later.
After performing poorly financially, the husband and wife cofounders of VMWare — Diane Greene, president and CEO, and Mendel Rosenbaum, Chief Scientist — left. Greene was fired by the board in July, and Rosenbaum resigned two months later. VMWare would go on to experience record growth, and its Hypervisors would become a key part of making cloud computing what it is today.
While the best real-life competitors buzzed in half the time and responded correctly to as many as 95% of clues, Watson’s first pass could get only about 15% correct. During 2007, the IBM team was given three to five years and a staff of 15 people to solve the problems. By 2008, the developers had advanced Watson such that it could compete with Jeopardy! champions.
You probably know this device better as the “One Laptop Per Child” computer — the laptop that was going to change the world, but didn’t quite do that. Still, its form factor lives on in today’s Chromebooks, which are powered by Chrome (which also debuted during this time), and the concept of open source hardware continues today in the form of Arduino and Raspberry Pi.
YouTube was purchased by Google in October 2006. In 2007, it exploded in popularity, consuming as much bandwidth as the entire internet did 7 years before. In the summer and fall of 2007, CNN and YouTube produced televised presidential debates, where Democratic and Republican US presidential hopefuls answered YouTube viewer questions.
How did most of us miss all this? Friedman says that it’s because our collective attention was directed toward the credit crunch of 2008, which he calls “the deepest recession since the crash of 1929.”
Back then, everybody compared the financial collapse of that time to the stock market crash of ’29. Now that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, 2008 has become the new benchmark for economic catastrophe. As founders, entrepreneurs, and technologists, there’s a good chance that you’re already asking this question: Is there a chance that the current situation is also hiding a golden age for technology and startups?
In case you think that the golden age of 2006 – 2008 was just an outlier, here are a few examples from previous crises:
Thomas Edison founded the company that would eventually become General Electric during an economic slump brought about by the Baring Crisis and “the world’s first bailout”, whose effects were felt worldwide, and it took an international consortium and a number of Rothschilds to prevent an economic catastrophe. In the 1960s, one of the few companies in the 1960s making computers and operating systems whose influence extends to this very day (GE, along with Bell Labs and MIT, made Multics, which would inspire the creation of Unix).
Apple and Microsoft came about in the mid-1970s, just after the 1973 – 1975 recession, the oil crisis of 1973, the Nixon shock, and the end of the gold standard and Bretton Woods, and the start of the U.S. dollar being a fiat currency (a term that you’re probably familiar with with you even just dabble in cryptocurrencies). You’re probably quite familiar with what these companies went on to do.
2. Startups that last get founded during downturns
Putting aside the chance that I might be a victim of survivorship bias, there are a number of reasons why a recession or economic downturn is the optimal time to create or join a startup:
New situations create new needs: Just look at Zoom’s fortunes right now. What other needs has the “New Normal” created, in both the short and long term?
Available brainpower: With an economic downturn comes increased unemployment, which means that the talent you need for your startup is more likely to be available (this pool of people includes myself). This brainpower can be key to a startup’s success.
Available startups: If you’re not looking to be a founder and are looking for a place to work, you may find a number of founders looking to create their own company, often because they can’t find employment themselves.
Recession pricing: The price of goods and services tends to drop during downturns, which is an advantage to a company that’s trying to operate “lean and mean.” There may also be some savings opportunities in other developments, including the drop in interest rates and other economic stimuli, as well as companies selling off assets that startups may find useful. You may even find it easier to get coverage, as the media will be looking for some “good news” stories to tell.
Chaos: Your likely competition — large, established players — are probably in disarray or too focused on survival or reorganizing to take notice of you. A business that’s lean and nimble is better-positioned to navigate the changes that a downturn brings about, and better able to take advantage of the eventual turn-around.
Pressure makes diamonds: There’s no comfort zone in a downturn! A company that starts during one has a culture of resilience and grit baked into its DNA, and the lessons that risk and non-terminal failure during difficult times teaches makes for a powerful team. The “war stories” that come about from shared challenges also make for a loyal team.
A downturn doesn’t guarantee success for a startup, but it’s a crucible that can strengthen one.
3. We’re in the middle of a number of natural experiments
The final item in this least of reasons to be optimistic is that we’re in a set of unprecedented natural experiments — that is, we’re witnessing “what if” scenarios that are no longer hypothetical. In these scenarios, there are object lessons, opportunities, and problems that the right startup idea could solve or ameliorate.
Internet bandwidth: One of the major arguments that telcos have given us for bandwidth caps was that without this sort of control (they never mention the associated cash-grab), the internet would become so congested as to be unusable. With the pandemic, telcos have lifted bandwidth caps, and the internet still works, even with the additional usage from being home-bound as well as Tiger King.
Remote work: In recent years, Yahoo! and IBM famously ended their remote work policies, which led other, smaller organizations to consider doing the same. With “safer at home” measures, we’re all global participants in a remote work experiment, and to the surprise of doubters, it seems to be working. Remote work is likely to be a fixtureofofficelifeeven after this crisis, and this change will create a need for new and expanded services and technologies.
Remote school: Just as working people are being subjected to a natural experiment, so are students and teachers, who are being thrown into the deep end with distance-learning tools and technologies. There are a number of challenges to overcome, such as usability, adjusting teaching and learning styles, bringing it to students who can’t afford internet access or the right technology at home, to the disruption that this brings to students’ and teachers’ lives, and to the school curriculum in general.
Unemployment: I’m in this category, as one of at least 10 million people in the U.S. who’ve suddenly found themselves without work. What happens when this many people are jobless, in a world with ubiquitous connectivity and computing? Remember, the smartphone as we know it was in the hands of a small number of people in 2008, while 4 out of 5 adults in the U.S. has a smartphone today. How can a startup help them get back to work?
Additional online learning: You may have seen the advice in news stories or online: If you’ve been laid off, this is the perfect time to take an online course and “upskill.” With record numbers of people applying for unemployment assistance, we’re seeing a strong uptick in online course enrollments.
Business and government systems under strain: While the internet seems to be handling the increase in use, other systems have been put under strain by the pandemic. The hospitality industry has largely been shut down. Supply chains are being stressed. Our pandemic response infrastructure was already gutted before the pandemic struck. Our governments are unprepared in all sorts of ways, from a piecemeal response to the pandemic, to aging, COBOL-powered systems unprepared (and in Florida’s case, unprepared by design) to process the massive influx of requests for unemployment assistance. This sounds like a job for a startup!
Healthcare: The United States remains the only industrialized nation without universal healthcare. To my Canadian-raised mind, this is baffling; to many Americans, universal healthcare is an unaffordable luxury. The U.S. government’s ability to “magic up” trillions of dollars to stimulate the economy (or at least Ruth’s Chris Steak House) on incredibly short notice proves that if the political will existed, it could choose to bankroll universal healthcare. With 1 in 4 Americans expected to be unemployed and healthcare insurance generally being tied to employment, universal healthcare is no longer as “unthinkable” an idea as it once was.
Media and communications: This is the first worldwide crisis where publishers, from the largest media empire to individual vloggers, have become much relied-on sources of both information and misinformation. We’re not done seeing the full extent of their effects yet.
Social systems put to the test: The disruption of normal life, including staying at home to social distancing, has resulted in widely different responses, from science-based to conspiracy theory-based. The major social media players have put in some measures to fight the spread of accidentally or deliberately incorrect information. I have no doubt that even nation-states are playing the misinformation game; after all, the saying is “never let a good crisis go to waste.”
New political movements: The economic downturn of 2008 left a lot of people dislocated and in dire situations from which they still haven’t recovered, giving birth to a new populism, a willingness to follow brutish, xenophobic, and nationalistic leaders, and movements like Brexit and MAGA. What will this new situation — one brought about at least partially by the movements that arose after 2008 — bring?
Emerging cultures of control: I’m going to end this list on a slightly darker note, in spite of my general optimism. We’re already seeing signs of an emerging hygiene culture and an awareness of the importance of hand-washing, which is good. Perhaps there are startup opportunities that might come about from people being more aware of the power of microorganisms and viruses (viruses are technically “not alive”, and exist in their own category). More worrisome are other cultures of control, namely those of surveillance and authoritarianism, which are also rearing their heads during this crisis. Let’s take care so that the things we create don’t turn the world into another Black Mirror episode.