I just read Lizzie Widdicombe’s thoughtful New Yorker piece on Soylent. On the face of it, Soylent seems like a classic example of privileged people solving Valley problems. No-one wants to not need food but supertaster Aspies who think they’re too busy saving the world to eat, right? When the Kickstarter launched, I saw it primarily as another asshat lifehack from an engineer who lacks sensuality. And a possible solution for my hacker fiance’s dislike of eating.
But… I care about space travel as much as I care about heirloom tomatoes, and Soylent could be an important piece of making it viable. We know that the DNA of heritage turkey breeds could provide the genetic diversity from homogenized foodstock turkeys we need for a resilient new-planet ark. Slow food is part of the future of space travel for those reasons. So is DIY. The legion of unpaid researchers using their own backyards to develop greywater irrigation and raised bed planting innovations are working for space. Although they’re only trying to grow their own food to save this planet, and building these raised beds because their West Oakland soil is full of toxins, they’re advancing our sustenance palette.
NASA would have to pay people lots of money to live on beige post-food slurry and carefully monitor and record the results. Companies would spend fortunes on the R&D these Soylent formula obsessives are doing for free. If I get on the generation ship (as a resident artist, I hope!) I’ll be glad a bunch of vegans in a Santa Cruz dorm tested green sludge recipes for a year. So I withdraw my criticism of Soylent, and I say, drink all the sludge you want, narcissist ascetics. Just make to quantify everything you learn.
So Sunday night I had dinner with a friend who works for Google X. My friend can’t talk about what he’s working on, but he did say that there’s an announcementcoming up soon about one of the X projects. A quick visit to the internets confirmed this, with absolutely no more information than I had already.
Google has recently moved two of their top executives over to covert projects at X. Will they be working on Glass, or something entirely different? With all the Glass news at SXSW, it seems unlikely another announcement about Glass is in the offing. It’s also definitely not a space elevator. (Damn! I want to travel Friday-style!)
Digital comics store Comixology got into some hot water with the internet (see Charlie Jane on io9, below) for deciding to ban the latest issue of popular creator Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga from its iOS store.
Why? Because the gorgeous, crackerjack artwork by Canadian artist Fiona Staples contained two postage-stamp sized images of gay sex.
Looks like Apple wasn’t thrilled with the decision, and Comixology has backpedaled.
But as io9 commentors and Bleeding Cool point out, this situation highlights the issues with Apple’s historicallysometimesprudish walled garden. Digital comic distributor Izneo removed 40% of their content recently after receiving banning threats from Apple.
As a former comic artist who was once censored by DC myself, I kind of feel that the publisher has right to censor content according to their internal standards, since they’re publishing you- but a distributor, which is what Comixology is, doesn’t.
In 1987 physical comics distributor Diamond Comics Steve Geppi tried to censor a creator as popular then as Vaughan is now- Alan Moore.
His attempt to persuade retailers not to stock Miracleman #9 not only didn’t work (I know, because I bought it at Forbidden Planet in Manhattan), it cost Diamond customers.
In the 21st century, distribution censorship should be a dead issue- you can’t unring the bell of torrenting, and if you don’t have it, somebody else will.
Yet Apple has previously censored gay sex images- in a comic inspired by Oscar Wilde, which is like censoring polenta in a cookbook. Apple killed its “Explicit” app category almost immediately; Jobs’ position on “freedom from porn” is well known from his famous email exchange with Gawker blogger Ryan Tate.
What’s going on in the intersection of technology and fashion?
Right now, designer Anouk Wipprecht is in Los Angeles, working out of the LA Makerspace from March 19th until April 18th. Wipprecht is known for projects like Intimacy Black, a dress of smart e-foils whose transparency varies based on interpersonal encounters, and the gamified smart cocktail-dispensing DareDroid dress.
The fourth dimension in 4D printing refers to materials that are able to change and mutate when exposed to water, temperature changes and/or air to self assemble. 4D object formats have API’s (Application Programmers Interfaces) that enable designers to define the characteristics of the materials they are made from, which are then printed using sophisticated chemical calibrations to enable specific attributes and functionality.
This year, Friskies is bringing internet darling Grumpy Cat to SXSW, in a fairly civil attempt at meme-jacking.
Along with dozens of other brands that have nothing to do with music or film or interactive technology, Friskies will be putting their brand in front of influencers in hope of an endorsing tweet or Like.
Of course, the festival’s 27th iteration also features lots of hot bands, film screenings and talks by tech bigwigs.
The relentless schedule of events, shows, and parties means most attendees I know come back with the SXSW Flu, a combination of con crud and alcohol poisoning that requires a week of “working from home” recovery.
Despite the grueling nature of the event, SXSW attendance is mandatory for many people in the technology sphere.
SXSW’s Startup Village provides a huge population of technoscenti, neo-digerati, checkbooks (AKA investors) and baller SEO dudes at their most accessible, i.e. while they’re wandering hotel corridors on molly. Continue reading →
Back in 1999, you could order groceries delivered to your door from Webvan.
But most people just ordered a six-pack of soda and didn’t tip the free-delivery guy. We had friends who worked there; it was great. Then they lost a billion dollars. In 2000, my email tagline was “I can’t hear you over the sound of Nero fiddling”. We gave a Halloween party in the cannon-testing range at the Alameda Naval base in 2001, with tombstones for all the dotcoms that had failed.
San Francisco’s giant frat rager was over.
“and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”
Hunter S. Thompson
But living in the Bay Area these days feels a bit like those days, if you have friends at the high-flying companies and your partner works at a startup that might be a contender. And there are already casualties littering the field.
If a company that raised a 5M initial round and was founded by three ex-eBay execs couldn’t back the right horse (social local commerce and F-commerce are very young) then why is SF-based Instacart trying a business model that already drastically failed?
Especially in SF, where consumers have numerous online grocery delivery options? Safeway delivers groceries (using some of Webvan’s old trucks!) SPUD will bring you organic local etc. veggies, or you can Mechanical Turk it with Taskrabbit.
I learned about Instacart during a New Year’s Day conversation with a bright young thing from Dropbox, who told me the instant delivery (one-hour to same-day) arms race means the restless ghost of 90’s ecommerce delivery sites is roaming the streets of SF again. If you’re a young person who doesn’t work for Google (we know a Google employee who has turned his Mission kitchen into the litterbox room for his cats) but still makes tech money, your time is worth way more per hour than any delivery fees.
On-demand courier and personal assistant services like Postmates and Exec are a practical solution for young urban singles who don’t want to deal with things like picking up drycleaning (or may not get home from work before the drycleaner closes) and don’t have a homemaker spouse.
Is hiring out waiting in line at Tartine or Ike’s a douche move, a gratuitous flourish of privilege, or is it trickle-down economics at work?
And why does Instacart think they can deliver groceries to anybody besides the neo-digerati?
Founded in early June, Instacart is the brainchild of Apoorva Mehta, an ex-Amazon Supply Chain engineer, who is leveraging his experience building Amazon’s own complex backend logistical system in the hopes of creating a more efficient back and front-end grocery delivery experience at Instacart.
To begin with, Instacart CEO Apoorva Mehta said, the company is avoiding mistakes made by high-profile dot-com boom era failures like Webvan and Kozmo. Instead of offering unlimited free delivery with no minimum order, like Kozmo did, or building a billion dollars’ worth of grocery fulfillment infrastructure, Instacart simply takes customers’ $10 or larger orders, sends a staff shopper to a local merchant to load up on fruits, vegetables, meats, and the like, and then delivers them.
In this article by Rafe Needleman, he interviews Instacart CEO Apoorva Mehta and learns that Instacart isn’t a marketplace for food, it’s a marketplace for labor.
In other words, Instacart is selling a grocery-ordering interface paired with micro-contracting services in the vetted Taskrabbit model.
Needleman makes the point that Webvan was too early for this kind of service; Instacart is entirely mobile-dependent and the workforce of contractors with their own smartphones (“managed crowdsourcing“) who use Instacart’s proprietary store maps and shopping app are as important a piece as the customers.
Will it work? As a part-time homemaker-partner, I was immediately ready to outsource the grocery shopping to Instacart for the absurdly reasonable price of $9.99 for one-hour or $3.99 for three-hour delivery. I was crushed to learn that our Uptown Oakland neighborhood isn’t on their service yet- sensibly, they’re starting out with SF, Palo Alto and Mountainview.
And a little more investigation reveals something interesting – a markup on the groceries themselves that’s not mentioned anywhere on the Instacart site.
There’s a detailed price analysis on this blog, which is written by the co-founder of a competing business model, so grain of salt.