Opportunity And Death In Singapore

Article in the SF Chronicle today talking about Singapore’s attempts to foster entrepreneurism. Fails to mention what happened recently to one American who ventured there to work in tech.

Shane had died a week before he was to return to the US. The police said he had drilled holes into his bathroom wall, bolted in a pulley, then slipped a black strap through the pulley and wrapped it around the toilet several times. He then tethered the strap to his neck and jumped from a chair. Shane, 6ft 1in and nearly 200lb, hanged himself from the bathroom door, the autopsy report said.

So the Todds, along with two of Shane’s younger brothers, John and Dylan, were unnerved by what they didn’t see as they crossed the threshold. The front door was unlocked and there was no sign of an investigation – no crime-scene tape, no smudges from fingerprint searches. “The first thing I did was make a beeline for the bathroom,” Mrs Todd recalled. She wanted to see exactly how Shane had died – and she saw nothing that fitted the police description. The marble bathroom walls had no holes in them. Nor were there any bolts or screws. The toilet was not where the police had said.

If you start a company in Singapore, good luck. Just don’t, under any circumstances, rock the boat.

Tangflation

tang

A couple of months ago I bought a large size Tang at Costco. This last week I bought another one. It has a good shelf life and, why not.

I didn’t notice anything until I put the new one next to the old one.

It’s quite a bit smaller. I noticed both said “Makes 22 Quarts.”

But the old one has 72 ounces of Tang and the new one has just 60 oz.

Is the new Tang more concentrated? Is that how less Tang powder makes the same volume of liquid Tang?

No. The nutritional information shows both with 88 servings (22 quarts). The new one is 70 calories per serving. The old one is 90 calories per serving.

tanglabel

Clearly, Kraft wants you to think you’re getting the same amount of Tang for the price (22 quarts), but the only way they make that happen is by having the customer dilute it about 20% more than before.

They even made the scoop smaller (a serving is half a scoop).

I’ve been reading about food inflation, particularly how some companies are selling packages with slightly less in them at the same price. A few ounces here, a few ounces there. Apparently we just tend to grab the same thing as before, and are more likely to notice a price change than a slight decrease in volume. Particularly if the packaging size stays the same.

But this is the first time I’ve seen a company actually try to pass off less product as not less.

I don’t see how this would differ from a milk producer only filling up 80% of a gallon container with milk, and adding water to make it a full gallon.

Anyway, nothing I’m going to get upset about, but it’s clear that companies are trying just about anything to hide inflation.

Only “We” Can Use Children In Our Political Messaging

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Yeah I agree with the President, it’s “repugnant and cowardly” to use children in political messages.

Sarcasm aside, as far as I can tell from reading between the lines, both sides of the debate are in favor of more police in schools. This is something the Democrats used to love (even Senator Chuck Schumer), so there doesn’t seem to be anyone to oppose it. I thought it was hypocritical of David Gregory to trash the idea since his own kids are guarded by armed security. Perhaps now he’ll be in favor of it via President Obama’s executive order.

I’d love to see any data on violent crime incidents in schools with and without police being present. I think that’s far more important than listening to the Democrats and Republicans bitch at each other.

Why Howard Kurtz Is Dangerously Wrong

Howard Kurtz, among others, are being very vocal in their defense of Meet The Press host David Gregory. I understand his arguments that Gregory didn’t intend to commit a violent crime while showing a 30 round AR-15 magazine on television. But he (or the show) did apparently ask for permission to show it and that request was denied by Washington D.C. police.

The facts are pretty straightforward. Gregory (or the show) knew that it was a crime in Washington D.C. to be in possession of a high capacity magazine, they ignored the law and they showed the crime being committed on television.

Is the particular law ridiculous? I don’t know. But it was enough to put this wounded veteran in jail earlier this year. And Lieutenant Kim wasn’t aware, like Gregory was, that he was committing a crime.

Whatever the gun laws are, they need to apply to everyone. If a wounded vet can be jailed for inadvertently violating them, so should Mr. Gregory. For journalists to hold themselves to a different standard than everyone else is absurd and hypocritical.

Many of the existing and proposed gun laws do little to deter crime. A few years ago I received death threats from a man who was clearly deranged and had previously been convicted of a felony. Yet he still possessed multiple guns and other weapons.

He was never charged with a crime.

If Gregory walks away from this without being charged, this can easily become a rallying cry for gun rights advocates. Many of these people are already on the edge of paranoia, convinced the government wants to strip them of their weapons as a prelude to tyranny. Giving special treatment to those who are in favor of gun control and allowing them to flout laws will only increase that paranoia.

If people (like me) really want tighter gun control they need to show that even their own are not exempt from prosecution. That’s the only way for them to logically defend their arguments.

If I was Gregory I would proudly turn myself in to the police and plead guilty to violating the law. It would be a powerful message that he truly believes in the laws he’s supporting and is willing to make a personal sacrifice to make this country safer. The fact that he isn’t doing that shows little more than hypocrisy.

Giving Up On Google Voice + Sprint + iPhone

Over a year ago I tried to get Google Voice working natively on the iPhone via Sprint. The whole system has been plagued with problems and I finally gave up today. See my post on TechCrunch for details.

They Screwed Us. Right Before They Screwed Us Again. #poohead

We just got screwed. More on this below.

Nobody says “Web 2.0” anymore. The term just didn’t stand the test of time, long ago it became cliched.

But a handful of years ago it had real meaning to a lot of us. It encompassed a lot of ideas, but chief among them was the notion of mashed up web services, all collaborating via APIs.

Whether a service had robust APIs to allow it to collide in unexpected ways with other services was very important. Services that left out APIs, for whatever reason, were flawed.

And, importantly, services at least paid lip service to the idea that data was “ours,” not “theirs,” and would be treated accordingly.

So that was a really nice fantasy that lasted for a long while. But what happens in the real world is companies grow up, hire grown ups and they sit in board meetings and they fret about barriers to entry in their respective markets.

And they forget about users.

They all do it. Facebook screwed us (disclosure, CrunchFund owns Facebook stock). Twitter screwed us repeatedly, and comes back regularly for more (see Dave Winer’s wild ramblings over the years that all seem to come true) (disclosure, CrunchFund owns Twitter stock).

And now Instagram (owned by Facebook, so see disclosure above) is screwing us.

pooheadCase in point, this piece of art that I created, called Poohead, will no longer display properly on Twitter. I have to live with a flawed reproduction of the original artwork, cropped incompetently and the magic is just lost.

Mostly people are saying it’s ok that Instagram is screwing us by removing our ability to properly share our pictures on Twitter. Because Twitter screwed Instagram multiple times in the recent past.

Twitter, of course, only screwed Instagram because Instagram screwed Twitter right before Twitter screwed them. Because Instagram decided that they’d rather be acquired by Facebook instead of Twitter.

Screw that, thought Twitter. We used to love Instagram, particularly during the time while we were trying to buy Instagram. But then we didn’t buy them and so, obviously, we now hate Instagram. We’re gonna screw them and bad.

So that’s all clear now.

But there are lots of civilian casualties in all this screwing. Those civilians being us users, the dopes that keep feeding these companies content in the vain hope that this time we won’t get screwed.

Because these companies we love do treat our data as sacred, right? They don’t sit around the office calling our data their data and occasionally slip up in public, too, right? Except,

“This is an evolution of just where we are and where we want links from our content to go.”

That was Instagram founder Kevin Systrom earlier today at the Le Web conference talking to my CrunchFund partner MG Siegler (disclosure, MG is my partner, at CrunchFund).

Yep, Instagram is now officially in the “it’s our data” club. Pretty much everyone joins that club as soon as they can. One day they love users and talk about how much they owe their users. The next day it’s “users who? This is our data.”

And of course it goes without saying that the best way to run a business is to treat users with respect and make sure that your product does everything it can to delight and amaze. Except,

“This [screwing users, because Twitter screwed them before right after they screwed Twitter] is a consequence of us doing the best thing for our business at this time.”

Systrom again. Taking care of business by doing the opposite of delighting and amazing them.

Someday one of these companies is going to grow up from a fledgling, user-loving baby startup and get lots of traction and then…and then…wait…think hard…No! We will not screw over the users. Even though we totally have the morale high ground here because somebody else screwed somebody before and now it’s all just a blood feud that nobody can figure out who started and QUICK grab all that money over there before those other guys do.

See that? They thought about doing the right thing, which may have even gathered so much long term user loyalty that they could be sitting on a hundred year brand. And in the middle of thinking all those noble thoughts about doing right by users they just slapped themselves back down to earth and did what they always do.

Seize all assets within reach, and tell the sheeple users that they were sadly forced to do this to protect the data, which is their data now, and PS thank you very much for transferring all that data you made to us. High five! Then go home and pour yourself a double Macallan, neat, and tell yourself again how much you are helping the world become a better place.

Disclosure – I just broke a rule where I said I wouldn’t be talking much here on TechCrunch about companies we’ve invested in at CrunchFund. In this post I have a financial interest in every single company mentioned, who are all acting like children all hopped up on sugar and playing with too many legos.

Legos made of solid gold, lovingly crafted by us. The screwed sheeples. We sheeples get no legos. None at all.

This post was originally published on TechCrunch.

Oprah Uses iPad To Plug Microsoft Surface

Funny post up at TNW showing Oprah plugging the Microsoft Surface with a Tweet sent from an iPad.

Last month I wrote about how all the cool actors and actresses in those Surface commercials probably wouldn’t be caught dead in real life with anything but an Apple device.

The iPad has some real competition now. But it ain’t this thing.

It’s not just that Microsoft’s money isn’t green enough to get Oprah to give up her iPad. MG gave the device a thorough review (before throwing it in his trash can). The Surface, at least for now, is a dud.

Too Legit To Gangnam Style: How The Amazing Hammer/PSY Duo Was Born At Google Zeitgeist

The question isn’t really whether you’ll watch the amazing Gangnam Style video with MC Hammer from the American Music Awards last night. It’s how many times you’ll hit “replay.” I’ve now watched it half a dozen times.

How does something like this get organized? We’d imagine months of negotiations between lawyers and various rights holders ending in some sort of complicated contract. In reality, it all came together one evening at a late night revelry at Google Zeitgeist last month.

Scooter Braun, who’s PSY’s agent (as well as Justin Beibers’s), was apparently hanging out with super angel Ron Conway, MC Hammer and others at the Google event. Braun mentioned to Hammer that PSY was a huge fan of Hammer’s and had expressed an interest in bringing Hammer on stage at the AMA to perform with him.

Hammer agreed. Scooter then handed Hammer his cell phone, which was ringing to an outbound phone. PSY picked up and the details were arranged.

One month later, we get to see PSY in parachute pants dancing with Hammer on stage, including cuts to the audience where celebrities are doing the ridiculous Gangnam Style dance.

No one can ever take that away from us.

This was originally published on TechCrunch.

Livestar 2.0: Reviews Done Right (Also, Get A $30 Amazon Gift Card)

This post was originally published at TechCrunch.

Livestar first launched at TechCrunch Disrupt a few months ago. It’s a mobile app that lets you see (and write) reviews for the things you generally want reviews for – restaurants, movies, music and other apps. The company was founded by former Microsoft M&A exec Fritz Lanman.

The reason you want Livestar on your phone and use it every day – It combines normal user reviews (like we’ve grown accustomed to on Yelp) with professional critics.

You don’t have to scour the internet for those professional restaurant reviews. Use Livestar to pull up local restaurants and present those reviews for you. Same with music and movies. You can do it all with one app.

Livestar was pretty useful when it launched, but a lot of key features were left out. Those features are in there now.

There are now 200,000 professional critic reviews. 875,000 total reviews. And when you find what you want, Livestar helps you get it. Click to reserve a table at the restaurant with OpenTable. Or add songs to your Spotify and rdio playlists. Get theater movie tickets from Fandango.

And best of all, add older movies directly to your netflix queue.

All of these service integrations are new with the new version. And soon third party developers will be able to access Livestar data for their own apps.

If you’re constantly opening Yelp, IMDB and other apps on your phone like I am, try this out. You may like it.

About That $30 Amazon Gift Card

You can also easily get a $30 Amazon Gift Card for trying out Livestar. If at you can get at least 15 friends to accept invites and try the app, you’ll get the card.

Directly paying users to invite their friends is a time honored way to (a) spend a lot of money fast, and (b) if the service is good, get very fast and sticky distribution. Paypal famously did this over a decade ago, paying users $10 for every new user they referred. Suddenly, ever single person I knew in Silicon Valley was beaming money back and forth on their Palm Vs. Since PayPal was actually really useful, the crazy scheme worked.

Livestar is doing something similar, although a little less crazy. Instead of a flat cash payment they’re giving away Amazon gift cards. And instead of $10 per new user, it’s $2 per new user, with a $30 cap.

Why are they doing this?

“Buying downloads and getting to the iOS leaderboards costs around $10,000 a day on Tapjoy and other services,” Lanman told me. “It’s expensive, the users bail immediately and it’s slimy. What we’re doing is actually much cheaper and gets us better users.”

“How do your investors feel about this?” I asked.

“They say if it works they’re going to get their other portfolio companies to try it out, too.”

Disclosure: I have no direct or indirect financial interest in Livestar. See here for my full disclosure policy.

Why Doesn’t MTV Play Music Videos Anymore?

Amazing.

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