Steve Jobs on problem solving

When you start looking at a problem and it seems really simple,  you don’t really understand the complexity of the problem.  Then you get into the problem,  and you see that it’s really complicated,  and you come up with all these convoluted solutions.  That’s sort of the middle,  and that’s where most people stop… But the really great person will keep on going and find the key, the underlying principle of the problem — and come up with an elegant,  really beautiful solution that works.

from Insanely Great (via gmc)

“Natural languages are adequate, but that doesn’t mean they’re optimal”

Languages are something of a mess. They evolve over centuries through an unplanned, democratic process that leaves them teeming with irregularities, quirks, and words like “knight.” No one who set out to design a form of communication would ever end up with anything like English, Mandarin, or any of the more than six thousand languages spoken today.

“Natural languages are adequate, but that doesn’t mean they’re optimal,” John Quijada, a fifty-three-year-old former employee of the California State Department of Motor Vehicles, told me. In 2004, he published a monograph on the Internet that was titled “Ithkuil: A Philosophical Design for a Hypothetical Language.” Written like a linguistics textbook, the fourteen-page Web site ran to almost a hundred and sixty thousand words. It documented the grammar, syntax, and lexicon of a language that Quijada had spent three decades inventing in his spare time. Ithkuil had never been spoken by anyone other than Quijada, and he assumed that it never would be.

From Utopian for Beginners, an excellent 2012 New Yorker article about constructed human languages.

“Bitcoin is the currency the internet deserves and needs”

George Gilder discusses the importance of Bitcoin in a very interesting interview:

To have a civilization you need more than just bits and bytes. You need contracts, transactions, provable facts, titles, notarization, identities etc. You need all these other factors that can’t be accommodated very well on the existing internet. So you have to banks and all these other outside channels to conduct transactions. You have this comedy of bogus contracts to you are supposed to sign to proceed – click the button to accept the contract etc.

The internet is full of junk. It pretends that a lot of that stuff is free which of course is a lie. So it’s full of lies. It’s a hustle. This is the result just having pure Shannon information. Shannon identifies information exclusively by its surprisal- the unexpected bits. That’s how you measure information and bandwidth across the internet. Shannon’s a great genius. He created to perfect theory for the network layer. But as you know you need more than three layers on the network. You need a whole apparatus on top of the network layer.

Bitcoin is a breakthrough in information theory that allows you – without reference to outside 3rd parties – to conduct provable, timestamped transactions that can’t be changed, can’t be faked, and can’t be duplicated. Bitcoin is the currency the internet deserves and needs.

BuzzFeed

Today, I’m excited to announce that Andreessen Horowitz is investing $50 million in BuzzFeed. As part of the investment, I’ll be joining the company’s board.

Many of today’s great media companies were built on top of emerging technologies. Examples include Time Inc. which was built on color printing, CBS which was built on radio, and Viacom which was built on cable TV. We’re presently in the midst of a major technological shift in which, increasingly, news and entertainment are being distributed on social networks and consumed on mobile devices. We believe BuzzFeed will emerge from this period as a preeminent media company.

BuzzFeed started out focusing on lightweight content like memes, lists, funny photos, etc. This led some industry observers to dismiss Buzzfeed as a “toy”. The company has since moved steadily up market, following the typical path of disruptive technologies. It now has an editorial staff of over 200 people covering a wide range of topics – politics, sports, business, entertainment, travel, etc – and plans to invest significantly more in high-quality content in the coming years.

We see BuzzFeed as a prime example of what we call a “full stack startup”. BuzzFeed is a media company in the same sense that Tesla is a car company, Uber is a taxi company, or Netflix is a streaming movie company. We believe we’re in the “deployment” phase of the internet. The foundation has been laid. Tech is now spreading through every industry and every part of the world. The most interesting tech companies aren’t trying to sell software to other companies. They are trying to reshape industries from top to bottom.

BuzzFeed has technology at its core. Its 100+ person tech team has created world-class systems for analytics, advertising, and content management. Engineers are 1st class citizens. Everything is built for mobile devices from the outset. Internet native formats like lists, tweets, pins, animated GIFs, etc. are treated as equals to older formats like photos, videos, and long form essays. BuzzFeed takes the internet and computer science seriously.

As a small, early investor in BuzzFeed, I got to observe firsthand how effectively Jonah and the team executed in recent years. The results speak for themselves: BuzzFeed now reaches over 150M people per month, is consistently profitable, and will generate triple digit millions in revenues this year. I believe the future of BuzzFeed – and the media industry more generally – will only get brighter as the number of people with internet-connected smartphones grows, and the internet solidifies its place as the central communication medium of our time.

 

As elegantly produced as movies and as engaging as great novels

MIT professor Woodie Flowers argues that higher education’s current approach to online learning is misguided:

We decided to assume that the world could hardly wait to see our huge pile of PDFs, PowerPoint presentations, classroom locations, teaching assistant lists, and other assorted bits of information about our courses.

Instead, universities should produce new learning materials specifically for the online world:

In their highly developed form, learning materials would be as elegantly produced as movies and video games and would be as engaging as a great novel. They would be ‘smart’ to both accommodate the learners’ varied styles and yield data to facilitate their continuous improvement.

Each year, 600,000 first-year college students take calculus; 250,000 fail. At $2000/failed-course, that is half-a-billion dollars. That happens to be the approximate cost of the movie Avatar, a movie that took a thousand people four years to make. Many of those involved in the movie were the best in their field. The present worth of losses of $500 million/year, especially at current discount rates, is an enormous number…. even a $100 million investment could cut the calculus failure rate in half.

Online courses are to offline courses as movies are to plays. The marginal cost of delivering online courses is minimal. The potential audience is everyone with a smartphones and an internet connection – about 1.5 billion people today and growing quickly. There is no reason we shouldn’t be investing as much to produce online courses as we do to produce Hollywood movies.