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Genius is Genius

I’m not talking about the Genius Bar at retail Apple stores (although I love that, too)… I’m referring to the new features in iTunes 8. My purchase rate has definitely shot up since the addition of the Genius Sidebar that appears alongside my song list – yet another testament to the value of good recommendation technology.

My favorite iTunes feature, however, is Genius’s dynamic playlist technology which uses a single song seed to create a playlist of my own music. I’m amazed by its ability to group together songs that are diverse across basic characteristics like artist, genre, and album but similar in “essence.” It seems like they’re basing this solely off of other users’ song/playlist data instead of “music genome” data like Pandora. Works great for me and, theoretically, this should improve over time. In the following playlist (seed = Our Swords) there are probably 2-3 songs max that seemed like audible outliers:

Our Swords – Band of Horses
Haiti – Arcade Fire
Fast As You Can – Fiona Apple
Kiss Them For Me – Siouxsie & The Banshees
Only You – Joshua Radin
Sunshowers – M.I.A.
Til Kingdom Come – Coldplay
No Myth – Michael Penn
Marry Song – Band of Horses
Keep the Car Running – Arcade Fire
Hold Me Now – Thompson Twins
Joey – Concrete Blonde
The Last Time – Gnarles Barkley
Babylon – David Gray
Maps – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
I Know – Fiona Apple
All I Want Is You – U2
Warning Sign – Coldplay
Lullaby – The Cure
Wicked Gil – Band of Horses
Amie – Damien Rice
Rebellion (Lies) – Arcade Fire
Run – Snow Patrol
Head On – The Jesus and Mary Chain

Aptly named feature. :-)


Bankers vs. Consultants from the Leveraged Sellout

This video is just too hysterical:
Damn It Feels Good To Be A Banker — A Wall Street Musical

Pay close attention to the lyrics, including the random synthesized background commentary.   One of my favorite lines: “… you get into the joint, but you still can’t buy bottles with Starwood points.”  AHHHH Hahahahahaaa!  I also highly recommend the blog and the book.

We’re not in Kheda anymore.

My virgin American eyes are bleeding…

A co-worker brought in a copy of Men’s Health and said I should take a look. At first I was like, “oh, an Indian dude on the cover of Men’s Health – awesome!” And then I realized that it was the May 2008 issue of Men’s Health India. Curiously, I proceeded to skim through the pages… Good photography, similar format to Men’s Health US (I have two male roommates)… Definitely more progressive than I would have expected from the country of my forebears… And then I saw it. A full page photo of a sexy brown (female) butt, with article, labeled “Hind Games.” Graphic. Detailed. And far more explicit than anything I’ve read in the American version. Here’s a clever little euphemism from the article: “Remember the Highway Code: never change lanes without indicating.”

And there you have it. Men’s Health magazine… from the creators of the Kama Sutra.

Cleantech vs. Green

I found the following in a Google Finance discussion and thought it was really helpful. I should disclose that I’m a PZD shareholder… in case anyone out there takes my blog seriously. :) Rafael, I hope you don’t mind me syndicating this here:

Actually, as the Manager of the Cleantech Index, there is a significant difference between ‘greentech’ or ‘envirotech’ and ‘cleantech’. The former were coined in the 80’s and tended to refer to ‘technologies’ that focused on regulatory-driven businesses such as hazardous waste remediation and pollution control or was we like to call them ‘end-of-pipe’ solutions.

The gist of Cleantech is intellectual property and/or know-how (usually in the form of patents) that makes products better, cleaner, safer, and lower cost, whilst (and that’s the key word) reducing their consumption of resources (materials, energy, water, soil, etc.) and other negative externalities such as pollution, soil erosion, threats to public health (e.g., toxins in toys or seafoods), deforestation, etc. Anyway, a wise man once asked “who the heck wants green water? I want clean water.”

As explained in greater detail at, clean technology businesses and products cut across a broad spectrum of industry sectors from energy generation & transmission, to water, to agriculture, to industrial process, to software.

Unfortunately, ‘green’ has often become associated with slick marketing campaigns frequently used to promote many undeserving companies and products such as grain- or oil-seed-based fuels, numerous so-called ‘clean coal’ technologies, and highly polluting waste-to-energy plants, or companies such as BP, Tate & Lyle, or Archer Daniels Midland. Cleantech companies also tend not to be regulated utilities or commodity product producers with little proprietary technology (low-end filters, activated carbon, ethanol).

‘Green’ also tends to connote things like organic foods, healthy lifestyles, and non-technology-driven products and services. Those are fine things, but not cleantech. Our investment thesis is that real long-term economic profits tend to be highly correlated with
intellectual property (typically patents) and its continued development. Moreover, the Cleantech Index (that underlies the PowerShares Cleantech ETF (ticker: PZD) seeks companies that have critical “game-changing” technology-driven products and services need address (and profit from) the massive and accelerating challenges mankind faces from climate change, pollution, water and resource scarcity, etc.

I hope that I have cleared things up for you.


Travel Log: New Orleans

A few of us went down to New Orleans earlier this month to help my brother and his wife kick off their last few months in the city… I realized that NOLA has easily become one of my favorite cities in the U.S. and decided to write a post. While it is bit quieter now than it was pre-Katrina, NOLA keeps the good times rolling with its uniquely vibrant culture, warm-hearted locals, great food, and soulful music. Here are some of my recs for the Big Easy…

Eating: New Orleans is known specifically for Cajun and Creole cuisine, as well as generally southern cuisine. However, there’s plenty beyond that if you feel the need. Here are some memorable places I’ve been to (no particular order):

  • Commander’s Palace – 5-star dining, local cuisine, historical restaurant, 25-cent martinis. Yes, martinis for $0.25. Our group of six went here for a friday lunch, ate lots, and got drunk on $5. Afterwards you can walk it off at the old cemetery across the street.
  • Sunday jazz brunch at Court of Two Sisters – make reservations in advance! Exquisite buffet, great atmosphere (eat outside in the courtyard), great service (old southern charm in a tux), and beautiful live music.
  • Sunday Jazz Brunch or Dinner at Muriel’s on Jackson Square – Great location, atmosphere, service, food, etc. The Sunday Jazz brunch offers very unique local cuisine (not buffet style), very tasty. The restaurant itself embodies the french quarter’s characteristic architecture and charm. Whether you dine here or not, you cannot leave NOLA without exploring the séance room above Muriel’s.
  • Café du Monde – Tourists and locals alike find the coffee and beignets here irresistible (and a great deal). They’re open all day & night and if you’re lucky some local musician(s) will set up out front for an impromptu performance. If not, the people-watching will do.
  • Surrey’s – My bro’s favorite brunch place and justifiably so… very fresh, very tasty, but tiny (so count on a wait). This is out on Magazine Street so it’s also less trafficked by tourists.
  • Bennachin – West African food in the French Quarter. Small restaurant, good food, colorful atmosphere.

Bars/Nightlife: One of the things I love about New Orleans is that the weather and the laid-back culture make jeans and t-shirts appropriate almost anywhere at any time. But I would advise against flipflops if you’re going to a bar with wobbly drunk girls in heels…

  • Bourbon Street – I hate Bourbon Street, but if you’ve never been you should stroll on through. Whether you’re there for Mardi Gras or Mother’s Day weekend, Bourbon will deliver on its promise of trash, tits, and vomit. Plenty of bars/clubs line the street, but the only rec I have is Pat O’Brien’s for their famous (and potent) Hurricanes. The open courtyard atmosphere also seems to raise its relative level of sophistication.
  • Columns Hotel – This is a beautiful and historical hotel in the Garden District, where they’ve converted the ground floor into a public bar/lounge. Genuine elegance of an old Victorian construction and great ambiance for a mellow night.
  • Lafitte’s Bar – Claims to be the oldest bar in the country by some qualified definition. It’s definitely the oldest bar I’ve been to and it’s worth checking out. Nothing fancy here… just another chill bar for some drinks… try the local beer Abita (Amber or Purple Haze).
  • Marigny – The Marigny is a part of NOLA that’s slightly outside of the French Quarter. I think this is where most of the locals hang out. There’s a cluster of laid-back bars and restaurants here, including some great places to check out local music. I’ve been to the Hookah Cafe a couple of times and really like the joint. Great atmosphere, great hookah, and awesome live music (usually no cover).

Other things:

  • Le Pavillon Hotel offers complimentary PBJ sandwiches at 10p.m. I’ve never had a chance to check that out and I’ve whined about it a fair bit.
  • The ghost tour was fun when I was down there for Halloween. It’s a cool story-telling experience and a fun way to learn about the history of some of the buildings in the french quarter. The fact that you can drink outdoors in NOLA also makes this an interesting tour.
  • Sports – It’s fun to attend a Saints or Hornets game just to see the showcase of New Orleans pride.
  • Magazine Street – while it’s still recovering from a post-Katrina recession, Magazine Street is full of quaint shops, restaurants, and ice creameries.
  • Harrah’s – If you gamble…

Travel Log: Argentina

I’ve been meaning to share some of my recent travel experiences on some site like RealTravel or Yahoo Travel, but out of laziness I’ve decided to just free-form it here. In the same vein, instead of doing a proper write-up on a trip to South America, I’m pasting an email rec I recently sent to a friend. I hope someone out there finds this helpful!

Where/When: Argentina, Rio de Janeiro, and technically Chile. December 2007

What we planned in advance: Not much, really. Booked flights from/to SFO, booked most in-country Argentina flights on Aerolinas Agentinas because we knew where we wanted to go and approximately how many days we’d want to stay in each place. Booked hotel for first two nights in Buenos Aires. Nothing else. I think you can get by with booking most stuff while you’re there if you want to play it that way.

The day-to-day itinerary below is to my best recollection… I may be confusing some of the details between El Calafate and Iguazu… it’s a bit of a blur.

  • Day 1: Flew from SFO to Buenos Aires, visited travel agency (Say Hueque) to map out rough itin in Patagonia
  • Day 2: City tour of B.A. and visit to agency to finalize the itinerary and pay for stuff. The agency booked all of our hotel, ground transport, and tour stuff for the two weeks in Patagonia. Tango class and show at night. The class was interesting b/c there were 5 women to every one man. Show was good… don’t remember the name.
  • Day 3: Flew from B.A. to Ushuaia and got there in the evening. Grabbed dinner.
  • Day 4: All day hike/canoe around Tierra Del Fuego
  • Day 5: Beagle Channel boat excursion. Flight to El Calafate.
  • Day 6: All day excursion to Perito Moreno glaciar
  • Day 7: Early bus to El Chalten. Hike 1, El Chalten (Fitz Roy peak). El Chalten overnight.
  • Day 8: Hike 2 in El Chalten, bus back to El Calafate. El Calafate overnight.
  • Day 9: Early morning bus to Torres del Paine (Chile). Hike in Torres, bus back to El Calafate that night. Calafate overnight.
  • Day 10: Day in Calafate. Flight that night to B.A. en route to Iguazu. We opted to spend the night at the domestic airport in B.A. b/c we only had 7 hours or so between flights. Deck of cards came in handy.
  • Day 11: Early flight to Iguazu Falls, slept, had a nice dinner, enjoyed some warm weather at our hotel
  • Day 12: All day at Iguazu Falls
  • Day 13: Ran around that morning in Puerto Iguazu to get visas and transport into Rio de Janeiro. We were supposed to fly back to B.A. this afternoon but decided last minute that we would rather spend a few days on the beach in Rio if we could swing it. Took about 4 hours to get into town, find the visa office, get photos for our visas, book flights, etc. Lots of running around involved. But by that evening we were in Rio…
  • Day 14-17: Rio de Janeiro. Did some site seeing, some beach bumming, etc. It rained for two of the four days we were there so that ruined some of the site seeing but we were mostly there for the beach. I loved Rio.
  • Day 17: Fly back to B.A.
  • Day 18-20: B.A. shopping, exploring B.A. neighborhoods, Recoleta cemetery visit. Fly back to SFO on the last night.

Other thoughts:

  • If you’re not much into the outdoorsy stuff and want to limit it, I would rank the Patagonia stuff as follows (strongest recs at the top of the list):
    • Perito Moreno – This was incredible and not too strenuous
    • Ushuaia Tierra del Fuego – loved this b/c it was our first outdoor excursion but also b/c our guides were awesome. We had one hiking guide and one canoe guide to our group of four. They also prepared a picnic for us that we had by the river. Other tour groups we saw that day were massive and didn’t seem to be getting the same quality of education and interaction that we did during ours.
    • El Chalten – lots of hikes in el chalten… the main attraction is Fitz Roy. You can choose the difficulty level based on the hikes available… hike on your own. The town of El Chalten is really tiny, but I can give you a great high-end restaurant rec.
    • Torres del Paine – if you’re in Chile and near this, I’d go. But we bussed four hours there and four hours back in the same day. Hiked only for an hour… it was the most breathtaking of all hikes (not including Perito Moreno), but it was freeeeezing and windy. I can’t imagine what this will be like during their winter.
    • Boat ride through Beagle Channel (Ushuaia) – skip this unless you’re obsessed with seals and birds. I was freezing and nauseous during most of this. Again, during their winter this will be brutal.
  • If you’re ARE really into outdoorsy, I can put you in touch w/ Leigh. He took the rugged path on all of the above. He did a much more strenuous trek of Perito Moreno which involved zip-lining across a glacier crack (i would’ve loved that!) and actually hiked through Torres del Paine solo for a few days and stayed at hostels within the park (you will freeze to death if you do this during their winter). Definitely not for beginners – unlike US national parks, these areas are left in their natural state (no railings, minimal signage etc) so you’re very much on your own.
  • Shopping in Rio was way pricier than expected. Save your dollars for B.A. shopping if you’re going to both. Galleria Pacifico has a lot of great stores – it’s their mall but has some local designer labels that I liked. I didn’t buy much but did find a kick-ass jacket that makes me feel like a badass.
  • We stayed at Hotel Tribeca during our last couple of nights in B.A. I really liked this place and we ended up getting a great deal on it b/c we booked through the hotel kiosk at the airport on our way in. I think our rate was 50% off the rate posted at the hotel. Probably cheaper to book online also.

Okay – thats a ton of stuff to get you started. :-) Let me know if you need any specific info.

You know you’re in Silicon Valley when…

Michael Arrington argued the merits of Silicon Valley’s tech scene in a recent post on TechCrunch, creating a silly “bring it,” “oh it’s been brung” duel with Seattle. I mention this post because Michael makes one really important point that frames a recent personal experience: “Having literally tens of thousands of bright minds around you to listen to and challenge those ideas, as you do in Silicon Valley, gives entrepreneurs a critical competitive advantage.”

Case and point… Last week I took my car into the dealership for it’s regularly scheduled maintenance service and was being shuttled back to my office with two other passengers. During this 20 minute journey, the following events transpired…

We exchanged names and where each of us was from. We all agreed that Chicago is one of the best cities in the world (totally unrelated except that I manage to give props to my hometown in any honest manner possible). We discussed our professions… the gentleman in the passenger seat was a leading cardiologist and founder of a think tank on heart disease prevention (and he plays golf with the governor). He had an idea for a new medical process/procedure that he felt could be very lucrative and he was looking for someone to “talk to” in confidence about how to proceed. Lo and behold, the gentleman to my left was a science adviser (with a famous lineage) at an early stage investment firm…

This would all seem like fate or an utter coincidence if it hadn’t gone down in San Jose. To Michael’s point, ideation is accelerated in the Valley because, good or bad, biz plans are the small-talk of the Bay.  But to his sentiment about the inability to have a “balanced” life in the Valley, I would say that balance is defined differently for each of us… plus, I know plenty of geeks/entrepreneurs who make time to surf, snowboard, hike, bike, sail, camp, climb, play poker, etc., out here.

Twitter feed

  • Regained access of my Twitter account. Spam deleted; back to semi-annual tweets. 5 years ago
  • RT @nprnews: 'Million Hoodie March' Planned In New York To Protest Killing Of Trayvon Martin 6 years ago
  • I haven't had a @Schmendricks bagel since the Super Bowl. I think you need to make more... and I'd like to request an 'everything' bagel. 6 years ago