5ish Links

Virtual Insanity

(First published on 5/19/17 on 5ish Links, my newsletter)

Long time, no talk. Another busy couple weeks of travel. Hello from New York City, where it’s roughly 100 degrees with 100% humidity. Enough weather, on to a Friday night newsletter.

A few weeks ago, I was at the Collision Conference where they host a smaller subset of folks afterwards for an event called “Creators”. I was asked to lead a discussion there about the current state of VR. Unfortunately, it was off-the-record, but I was thinking back on it after reading this great post by Clay Bavor, Google’s VP of VR.

Basically, it’s still early days. Extremely early days. Which is frustrating because it has now been three years since Facebook bought Oculus, and kickstarted the current hype cycle. In this day and age, we’re not used to waiting so long for a payoff. But the wait continues…

The good news is that many of the powers that be: Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, etc continue to pour billions into the space. It may not be too big to fail, but it’s getting too big for all the capex not to produce something interesting.

More importantly, these are the two keys to the post by Bavor:

Over the past several decades, every time people made computers work more like we do — every time we removed a layer of abstraction between us and them — computers became more broadly accessible, useful, and valuable to us. We, in turn, became more capable and productive.


With immersive computing, instead of staring at screens or constantly checking our phones, we’ll hold our heads up to the real and virtual worlds around us. We’ll be able to move things directly using our hands, or simply look at them to take action. Immersive computing will remove more of the abstractions between us and our computers. You’ll have access to information in context, with computing woven seamlessly into your environment. It’s the inevitable next step in the arc of computing interfaces.

Note his use of “immersive computing”. In recent months there has been this weird VR vs. AR thing going on. They’re not the exact same thing, of course. But the basic goal is the same: to move computing forward. They are two points on a spectrum, As Bavor notes. One doesn’t have to “lose” for the other to “win” — and, in fact, it’s more likely that both “win” (or “lose”, for that matter).

Anyway, this all still seems inevitable. It’s just a matter of what timetable we’re looking at and looking for. Long is the answer.

5ish Links


China Is Building a Disney World for Wine

Mark Ellwood:

The faux-historic halls of the castle are also home to an interactive exhibition that walks visitors through the history and making of wine. Mirrors encourage visitors to stick out their tongues to examine their taste buds; there’s a statue of Bacchus, plus a wall that showcases the various strata of soil, or terroir. Inexplicably, a giant, smiling face resembling a cartoon grape beams out from one corner. An oversized globe spotlights the world’s other wine regions, while a table covered in Perspex tubes and buttons asks users to see if they can match a region to a scent. There’s even a room dedicated to former Chinese leaders (none of whom seem to be enjoying a glass of wine).

Sounds… weird. Also reminds me a bit of… “Dino DNA!

One conundrum that even the Italians can’t crack, though, is the dominance of red wine. Redolent of such renowned regions as Burgundy and Bordeaux, red wine shares a color with both the Communist Party and good luck. Unfortunately for lovers of Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, white is the color of mourning and is mostly worn at funerals, which stigmatizes blanc plonk long before it’s opened.

Crazy — and yet not — that the popularity is linked simply to color. Guessing that Crystal Clear Pepsi also didn’t go over well in China.

Can Changyu’s deep-pocketed attempts under Reina’s tutelage really create a new winemaking hotspot? “It’s definitely one of the recognizable big brands, along with Great Wall and Dynasty. Thus, it has instant brand recognition for many Chinese consumers, ”explains Edward Ragg, of (Dragon Phoenix Wine Consulting) in Beijing by email. He is cautious about the Italians’ impact on what goes into the bottle. Euromonitor International Ltd. analyst Spiros Malandrakis is more bullish, drawing parallels with the surging British sparkling wine industry, which has been buoyed by climate change and a few canny blind tastings in which it beat Champagne. “Considering the amount of money being in, and the people involved, we will soon be seeing not just award-winning sparkling wine from England, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see super-premium red wines from China, too,” he tells Bloomberg.

Weird to think that in 20 years, some of the best wines in the world could be from China. But also buried in here: China is now the second-largest wine grower in terms of vineyard area (behind only France) — their vine landscape is roughly equivalent to the size of Puerto Rico. Wild. 🍷🇨🇳

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14blumehouse1 facebookjumbo v4

The Scarily Profitable Hits of Jason Blum

Ryan Bradley:

Horror movies occupy a special place in the hearts of producers. They are cheap, their fans don’t demand well-known actors and the ratio of risk to reward can be astonishing. “Night of the Living Dead” cost $114,000 to produce in 1968 and has since grossed at least $30 million; “The Blair Witch Project” cost $60,000 to produce in 1999 and has since grossed $249 million. Blumhouse’s own “Paranormal Activity,” shot in one house with two unknown actors and almost no crew, cost just $15,000, yet its box-office return since its 2009 release has been $193 million, a return on investment of about 1.3 million percent.

One. Point. Three. Million. Percent.

Blum’s approach represents a particularly enterprising way out of the dilemma in which Hollywood finds itself in the age of endless “Transformers” sequels and “Spider-Man” reboots. A typical blockbuster can cost around $200 million, with another $100 million for marketing. At that rate, the studios can’t afford to make a lot of movies, which means the ones they do make can’t fail. This year Disney will release just seven movies, and all but one of them will be a sequel or a reboot. Blum, by contrast, makes a lot of movies on small budgets, and many of them never even go into wide release. Because the production cost is low, he can consider other options for movies that don’t seem likely to break big — ones that don’t require an additional multimillion-dollar marketing commitment but could still recoup the initial investment with maybe a little extra as well. Some Blumhouse productions appear on a few hundred screens, often targeted at narrow fan niches. Others might appear in a festival or two then get sold to a streaming service like Netflix.

When they zig, we zag. Brilliant maneuver to fill the niches traditional Hollywood not only overlooks, but just doesn’t even care to see.


A Conversation with President Obama on Political Courage

You could almost quote all of President Obama’s remarks in his chat with Jack Schlossberg (grandson of President Kennedy). Instead, I’ll pick a few (and you should read the rest):

I think by the time I had gone through a big crisis in the world economy and had disabled the auto industry and had been subject to a lot of criticism and had lost the majority in Congress and been subject to more criticism, there’s something about experience that oftentimes helps you have some political courage because you realize that the sun will come up the next day, and you’re going to over the long term feel better about the work that you did if you focus on being true to yourself and your values and your principles.

And what I found was the longer I was in the presidency, the more certain I was, not about outcomes, but about what should drive the decisions that I make.

It’s almost impossible to believe that we went from this President to the current clown. Meanwhile, on the topic of fake news.

Before I got to law school, though, when I think about my education, the parts that have been most valuable have been training your mind to think critically about problems, teaching yourself that if I don’t know about a subject, how do I get reliable information? How do I value facts? How do I recognize when an argument is slick but not necessarily true? How do you distinguish between points of view that are superficially appealing but may not actually meet the test of time? And so you get in those habits.


The challenge is that the curation, the sorting, the filters that might have helped us distinguish between what’s true and what’s false, have all broken down, and it puts a greater responsibility on each of us I think to be able to be good consumers of information.

For me, the most important thing is to be able to test what we read. And that means not just assuming because something is — looks nicely typed, because it’s on a screen, that we take it as gospel. And that process of asking questions I think is critical.

This is obvious. And yet a huge percentage of our country does not seem to do this. It’s maddening.


When every moment of childhood can be recorded and shared, what happens to childhood?

This isn’t “new” (it’s from December), but this story by Jessica Contrera is worthy of your time.

For the youngest members of the next generation, sometimes called Generation Z, the distinction between the online world and real life is fading. Parents are having to explain to their toddlers that the children whose whole lives they see on the screen aren’t actually their friends. They’re finding their kids methodically “unboxing” their toys, as if they’ve been paid to review them for an audience.

“Who are you talking to?” a parent will ask. “The viewers,” their children reply.

“For them it’s just normal,” Max’s mom, Shona Cole, says. “It wouldn’t even make sense to him not to film.”

To some, the ramifications of all of this are terrifying. But I’m not sure it’s that different from older generations looking at newer tools of younger generations through the same lens. And I’m also still not convinced there won’t be some “backlash against the screens” by the younger generations at some point. Anyway, all of this is good to think about and debate.


Michael Vick to play in trial game for American Flag Football League

I don’t give a shit about Michael Vick. What I do care about is the NFL setting up a flag football league. Darren Rovell:

The test next month also will include significant innovation to the sport. The league’s flags, which are patent pending, are attached via magnets instead of the typical Velcro. When a flag is detached, a sensor detects it and an official will be able to see the exact point on the field when the flag came off, thus ceding the guesswork to science.

Not only does Lewis see former NFL players, who did well financially, extending their football careers by trying the flag game, but he also sees college stars who didn’t make it to the bigger stage showing their talents on his fields.

Left unsaid: at some point, football as we know it is going to collapse. Probably not due to a lack of popularity, but rather because it will be come to be seen for what it is: a barbaric sport where people may not often die on the field, but often die as a result of what happened on the field. This could be a hedge against such a collapse. Also interesting:

The only fans who can see the game live will be the ones who buy tickets, though the game will be streamed later that day. Perhaps learning from the XFL, Lewis said he prefers having more of a soft launch in front of industry executives so that the kinks can be worked out and that a more polished product can be displayed when it is ready.

I also believe attendance at football games will (and already is) become a problem, because it’s so much better to watch on TV. This would be one way to mitigate that issue. What if the only way to see all the action live is to go? You could see follow along via social media and what not, so the buzz wouldn’t stop. But to see it live, you had to be there, live.

Of course, this doesn’t work for the Olympics, at all.

Quickish Hits

The worst frost in decades knocks British winemakers off course

Speaking of winemaking (above), a bad frost this year has slightly derailed British wine, but only slightly. The UK sparking wines are coming. 🥂🇬🇧

James Patterson and Bill Clinton Team Up to Write a Novel

Clinton writing novels. Bush painting. Obama to become a sommelier? These young presidents with way too much time

How MG Siegler became one of the most prolific readers on Pocket

Allow me to introduce an interview with myself about myself.

Keith Olbermann Was Once Cable News’s Liberal Standard-Bearer. Now He’s Missing Its Boom Times.

Few people have burned more bridges — napalmed them, even — but the longer Trump is President, the more likely Olbermann is back on TV.

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Image for post
I have some weird fascination with statues. These are the big ones.

500ish Words


AMC’s Kabuki Theater

AMC bought Carmike which bought Sundance — this is why we can’t have nice cinemas…

Written by

General Partner @ GV (née Google Ventures). In past lives I wrote at TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and ParisLemon. A man of few words. Except when writing. 🍻

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