New Yorker article: Sergey Brin’s case for driverless cars

Great piece from the New Yorker this week: AUTO CORRECT: Has the self-driving car at last arrived?

Most of the coverage I’ve seen on driverless cars has been focused on the convenience factor and the safety ramifications given how super distracted drivers are today – which are important. But it’s interesting to see Sergey Brin quoted in this article talking about the cost to our infrastructure that cars have today, impact on the environment given some estimates showing 30-50% of gas wasted on people looking for parking, and how that might all change:

“As you look outside, and walk through parking lots and past multilane roads, the transportation infrastructure dominates,” Brin said. “It’s a huge tax on the land.” Most cars are used only for an hour or two a day, he said. The rest of the time, they’re parked on the street or in driveways and garages. But if cars could drive themselves, there would be no need for most people to own them. A fleet of vehicles could operate as a personalized public-transportation system, picking people up and dropping them off independently, waiting at parking lots between calls. They’d be cheaper and more efficient than taxis—by some calculations, they’d use half the fuel and a fifth the road space of ordinary cars—and far more flexible than buses or subways. Streets would clear, highways shrink, parking lots turn to parkland. “We’re not trying to fit into an existing business model,” Brin said. “We are just on such a different planet.”

It’s a great overall read and touches on the early DARPA competitions, and what massive leaps were made from year 1 to year 2 – and how those people are now at Google:

It was a triumph of the underdog, of brain over brawn. But less for Stanford than for the field as a whole. Five cars finished the hundred-and-thirty-two-mile course; more than twenty cars went farther than the winner had in 2004. In one year, they’d made more progress than darpa’s contractors had in twenty. “You had these crazy people who didn’t know how hard it was,” Thrun told me. “They said, ‘Look, I have a car, I have a computer, and I need a million bucks.’ So they were doing things in their home shops, putting something together that had never been done in robotics before, and some were insanely impressive.” A team of students from Palos Verdes High School in California, led by a seventeen-year-old named Chris Seide, built a self-driving “Doom Buggy” that, Thrun recalls, could change lanes and stop at stop signs. A Ford S.U.V. programmed by some insurance-company employees from Louisiana finished just thirty-seven minutes behind Stanley. Their lead programmer had lifted his preliminary algorithms from textbooks on video-game design.


MacBook Pro 13″ Retina > MacBook Air


If you are deciding between these two new machines, highly recommend you walk into an Apple store and literally hold each laptop in your hand — you’ll be amazed that there is nearly no difference in weight, and the MacBook Pro is actually narrower.

And I was a bit of a skeptic on the whole Retina thing, but the high resolution display does in fact makes a huge difference, to the point of making non Retina screens pretty tough to look at. Battery life has a slight edge on the Air, but still solid overall (12 hours for Air VS 9 hours for the MacBook Pro 13″).

Mashable literally just weighed-in with the same conclusion:

The 13-inch rMBP weighs just 3.46 pounds.

While that weight is north of many Ultrabooks, it’s still plenty light (which I acknowledge is an oxymoron). I had no issues with taking it to meetings, throwing it in my bag to take home every night, and flipping it open for some comfy computing on the couch when I got there. The 13-inch MacBook Air, at 2.96 pounds, may be lighter, but its overall footprint is actually larger than the 13-inch Pro’s by about a centimeter in width. The Pro’s thickness is just 0.71 inch, almost the same as the Air at its thickest point (0.69 inch).


Broadband in big US cities costs 100% more than overseas

On the topic of broadband – a piece of data that won’t shock anyone here in the U.S. From Ars Technica :

The annoying trend holds true in both wired and wireless service. In the Cost of Connectivity 2013 report being released today by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, researchers note that “in larger US cities, we continue to observe higher prices for slower speeds… In the US for example, the best deal for a 150Mbps home broadband connection from cable and phone companies is $130/month, offered by Verizon FiOS in limited parts of New York City. By contrast, the international cities we surveyed offer comparable speeds for $77 or less per month, with most coming in at about $50/month. When it comes to mobile broadband, the cheapest price for around 2GB of data in the US ($30/month from T-Mobile) is twice as much as what users in London pay ($15/month from T-Mobile). It costs more to purchase 2GB of data in a US city than it does in any of the cities surveyed in Europe.” The analysis compares costs across countries by using purchasing power parity exchange rates.

Cheapest 150Mbps broadband in big US cities costs 100% more than overseas

A Must Read: The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon

I just finished reading a fantastic book about Jeff Bezos and Amazon written by Brad Stone called The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon.

A really great deep dive on how the company has grown over the past 20 years (!) and how it embodies the qualities and vision of its founder.

Here’s a solid bit:

“I understand what you’re saying, but you are completely wrong,” he (Jeff Bezons) said. “Communication is a sign of dysfunction. It means people aren’t working together in a close, organic way. We should be trying to figure out a way for teams to communicate less with each other, not more.” That confrontation was
Bezos’s counterintuitive point was that coordination among employees wasted time, and that the people closest to problems were usually in the best position to solve them.”

And curious about my own Amazon usage, I went and looked at my Amazon account, and found what I think is one of my first orders back in late 1999 (no orders previous to that are shown) – and it’s a Sega Dreamcast game, NFL 2K 🙂

What was also very meta for me was to be reading this book on my Kindle app on my phablet Android Galaxy note 2 – which has proven to be an excellent reading device. And the reason I found out about the book was from highlights posted by Naveen on Twitter:

After seeing the highlight, it lead me to instantly buy the book from the Kindle app on Android. I can’t imagine a better customer experience than that.

Alec Baldwin and Jerry Seinfield Give Startup Advise

Well, not exactly.

But that’s how I interpretted this awesome interview from Baldwin’s Here’s the Thing podcast (h/t to Peter Slutsky for clueing me in to this awesome podcast many months ago, but that is now sadly being ended).

A couple of choice exchanges.

Here’s one on owning your craft and being involved with every detail:

Jerry Seinfeld: You want to be on the water? How do you want to be on the water? You want to be on a yacht? You want to be on a surfboard? I want to be on a surfboard. I don’t want to deal with a yacht. That’s a yacht.

Alec Baldwin: And you just also thought –

Jerry Seinfeld: Some people want a yacht to say, ‘See my yacht.’

And another exchange on focusing on the work, not the other stuff:

Jerry Seinfeld: Whatever it is. Yeah. Whatever it is. Let me tell you why my TV series in the ’90s was so good besides an inordinate amount of just pure good fortune. In most TV series, 50 percent of the time is spent working on the show, 50 percent of the time is spent dealing with personality, political, and hierarchical issues of making something.

Alec Baldwin: Mm-hmm.

Jerry Seinfeld: We spent 99 percent of our time writing, me and Larry. The door was closed. Somebody calls, we’re not taking the call.

Alec Baldwin: Right.

Jerry Seinfeld: We’re gonna make this thing funny. That’s why the show was good. I didn’t want to go from that to some H.G. Wells contraption machine –

Alec Baldwin: Right.

Jerry Seinfeld: – of trying to control the weather. That’s what these deals are. That’s what making a movie is. What’s a movie? It’s this giant machine. It’s this giant ship and everybody gets on it and they shove off, and nobody knows where it’s going.

Alec Baldwin: No. They don’t.

Jerry Seinfeld: And the captain is doing – where’s the captain?

Alec Baldwin: Yeah.

Jerry Seinfeld: He’s getting high and sleeping with the first mate.

Alec Baldwin: Yeah. He’s asleep, period.

Jerry Seinfeld: Yeah. So it’s too much time and energy spent on that is not the juice, the really good stuff is a great line.

I highly recommend you listen to the podcast or read the full transcript over on

Put Your Phone Away: The Live Concert Hypocrisy

I was at a fantastic concert last night in San Francisco for the Idan Raichel Project:

I think this was my 4th time seeing him in the Bay Area, and this was by far his best show.

So those blurry photos taken by yours truly were apparently against the rules. At seemingly random intervals throughout the night, a security person would ask one of the 50% of concert goers to please stop taking photos w/ their phones (they never asked me). It was very disrupting and everyone seemed confused. All this was happening while the front row attendees were taking live video and Idan Raichel himself would sometimes grab their phones and take the footage himself to the delight of everyone.

I don’t remember ever seeing it this aggressive at previous concerts. I recall in Oakland a couple of summers ago someone was shooting video footage non-stop and got asked to stop.

So what’s going on ? Is taking a bunch of blurry photos and low quality quick video really a threat ? Isn’t it exactly the definition of personal use and not for rebroadcast or resell ?

In a world of Spotify and YouTube, the music and often the music video is readily available. What exactly is the harm of capturing a few moments to share with your friends and family ? For me, it’s mostly a moment to capture to remember years later.

I do get the argument that someone holding up their phone for 2 hours is a distraction to the other concert goers – so I think some common sense rules would be good. Like only take photos at the beginning or end of a song, and step into the aisle to take a longer video clip.

But I’d go even further. Why don’t live concerts have a professional photographer walking around who can take great shots for sale later. And why not offer a live audio or video recording of the concert ?

After the concert all I saw for sale were CDs (!) and t-shirts. What if they had for sale a USB with raw HD video of the show plus high quality MP3s and online access too ? I would be tempted to drop $40-$60 for that.

Cloudup Joins Automattic

So excited to be able to share the news today that we’ve acquired Cloudup, an amazing startup that makes it super easy to share “streams” of images, videos, audio, links and more — instantly!

I’ve gotten to know the founders Thianh Lu and Guillermo Rauch quite well during this process, and couldn’t be happier to have them now as colleagues.

Like Automattic, Cloudup is also distributed (1/3 of the employees are outside the US), uses IRC a ton, and are involved in some massive open source projects including, mongoosejs, and expressjs.

Cloudup screenshot

Check out our announcement post on and the Cloudup post for more details and get ready for some seriously exciting stuff coming soon to your WordPress dashboard.

A book about The Year Without Pants

Scott Berkun, a former colleague of mine, has published a very interesting book about his time at Automattic / – and how we work in our flat and distributed way.

The book is called The Year Without Pants (an inside joke related to being able to work from anywhere in the world, including from home ), and is focused on Scott’s time at Automattic, and what it’s like to work at a company, that among other things, has no central office and doesn’t use email internally.

As Eric Ries mentions:

“Most talk of the future of work is just speculation, but Berkun has actually worked there. The Year Without Pants is a brilliant, honest, and funny insider’s story of life at a great company.” —Eric Ries, author, New York Times bestseller The Lean Startup

Scott has a few bits about yours truly, and my sleep deprived startup life:

The first striking thing about Raanan was that he never seemed to sleep. I didn’t understand if there were two or more of him who worked in shifts or if his genetics allowed him to work at twice normal speed, but he seemed to know what was going on everywhere, all the time … Raanan loved what he was doing. He’d joined in part because of the mission to democratize publishing.

A bit surreal to read about your own work, and I’ve found over the years that all my colleagues have a great work ethic.

What I like is that Scott hits on a point that I find very true — which is that companies that have big audacious goals such as ours, and give employees freedom to define the methods of achieving them – tend to attract people who are passionate and love what they do. And that combo tends to result in amazing outcomes and companies that have a culture that attracts fantastic talent.

So definitely a fun read, and if you want to check it out, it’s available on Amazon in both print and Kindle edition:

Dave Pell’s NextDraft on

My favorite daily newsletter, NextDraft, from the amazing Dave Pell, is now on

So here’s what this WordPress sponsorship means for NextDraft:

– You can now read NextDraft wherever you want, including on a blog that utilizes responsive design so it looks great on any device. It will be free. And it won’t include any intrusive ads.

– I’ve merged my blog Tweetage Wasteland into the NextDraft brand and those posts are now called NextDraft Originals. Expect some great guest contributors and a new series of interviews called NextUp.

– Each of the blurbs in each edition now has its own permalink and unique spot on the web. This has dramatically improved NextDraft’s sharing functionality. Each blurb can easily be shared with a click or two.

– NextDraft is now hosted and supported by Raanan Bar-Cohen and the excellent team at WordPressVIP, so it will be fast, scalable, and generally awesome.

Full announcement post here.

And if you never read it, go do it now, you’ll be forever more informed and amused: