February Interview

Ben Tao from MyTreat interviewed me about Santa Monica New Tech Meetup group:

Santa_Monica_New_TechTell us more about your Meetup group, Santa Monica New Tech. Why did you decide to start it? How is it different from other tech related Meetup groups?

When I relocated to LA from the East Coast one year ago I was looking for a group with monthly pitch events similar to Boston New Tech.  I didn’t find it, so I started one in Santa Monica.  I wanted to be a part of the LA Tech community to network and find a technical co-founder for my startup, which I did shortly after. Today our group hosts the most frequent and well attended pitch/demo events for tech startups in LA area! And they are free of charge.

What are the backgrounds of your members? What are they looking to get out of the group?

It is a high energy group of people passionate about innovation in web and mobile technology. Our members come from various backgrounds with different goals: founders of startups to promote their creation, technical and business people who have corporate jobs to get inspired and possibly launch a startup of their own in the future, people who already have ideas and look for co-founders, service providers to help startups grow, investors to find their next investment and media to cover this tech entrepreneurial movement.

What have been some of your most popular events? Why do you think they were popular?

So far we’ve had mainly pitch events with 5-7 tech startups giving 5 min presentation (demo/slides) and 5 min Q&A. I think this format is easy to digest, as 5 min is long enough to explain the gist of the idea. We also have different industries represented. This way it never gets boring. Presenters are full of passion about what they do and it charges the audience with great positive energy. It is especially fascinating to hear about solutions to problems that you experience yourself. We usually have an open mike session at the end to help people better connect with each other. There is an opportunity to approach presenters after the event, converse more and exchange ideas.

Besides pitch/demo events, we invite some interesting speakers and hold social events. We plan to create other events, like Technology Pay It Forward and tech panels.

What do you think of the Los Angeles Tech Community? What excites you about it?Gold Rush

It is the Wild West and the California gold rush all over again with numerous opportunities, if only you are brave enough and willing to take risks. Vast pool of entrepreneurs and tech pros who are going solo or with a buddy trying to find “gold” but in reality are gold themselves.

They just need to be persistent, connect to the similar minded people and get feedback. Los Angeles has a lot of newcomers, and migration constantly brings new waves of talent. This talent should be plugged into the community and that is what our group is for.

What do you think it takes to run a successful tech Meetup group?

Positive attitude and perseverance. In the past I had difficulties with venues, unreliable presenters and low attendance, but it was all temporary and I had to go through it to get to where we are now. I always knew that our events inspire Los Angelenos to pursue their dreams, and if that doesn’t work try again and again. As one of our members said, this Meetup group is a tree and members are the birds that come and make it live. Only together they make a prosperous living ecosystem, neither one can do without another. It is a community of people passionate about tech innovation, helping each other and creating a better quality of life. In the end life is not that much enjoyable without passion and people to share it with.

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What Is Coming Up

Since our Happiness Formula launch in June, we have been working hard.

First of all we applied to Startup Chile, which is an international incubator program in Santiago, Chile.  We submitted our application for the fifth round of the program (second this year) by July 10, 2012. 1509 startups from 61 countries are competing for 100 spots. So wish us good luck and if all goes well, we will be in Chile from Oct 2012 – April 2013.

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=415iM8rr1X8

We have been actively gathering feedback from people who created their formulas. One way to give us feedback is via our 5 Question Survey. So far we learned that participants want to know the world happiness ratio. When asked whether they would share their formulas, they said they would share any data if it was anonymous. One person said he still needs clarification on what the happiness formula is. One user’s answers to questions 4 and 5:

What do you like the most about this site and formula? “Chance to break down and think about various aspects of my happiness”.

What do you like the least about the site? How can we improve it? “Formula seems a little simplistic, ranking life aspects and then ranking their importance – I feel like I do that already in my own head. Also, site didn’t explain what the % was at the end.”

Besides the survey, we received other feedback from participants via live testing or email. They told us that after the test they want to be told what their biggest gaps are and to be directed to generated solutions or worksheets on what to do for specific categories. They want to be able to ask their own questions and to have more stats on The Ultimate Answer community, their highs and lows and how they change day to day.

What we are going to do: Add world happiness ratio and user count and three highest gaps from the world happiness formula to the front page. We will create a Facebook app to make it easier to share your happiness stats with friends.

We will be showing our demo on Aug 22, 2012 at 7PM at Santa Monica New Tech Meetup in Coloft on 920 Santa Monica Blvd. Come to see our presentation!

Alone Together (Part Four)

The computer scientist says, that we will evolve to love our tools, our tools will evolve to be lovable. Tools will allow us to do things that we’ve never done before. John Lester sees a future in which something like an AIBO will develop into a prosthetic device, extending human reach and vision. It will allow people to interact with real physical space in new ways. We will see “through its eyes”, says Lester, and interact “through its body… There could be some parts of it that are part of you, the blending of the tools and the body in a permanent physical way.” This is how Brooks talks about the merging of flesh and machine. There will be no robotic “them” and human “us”. We will either merge with robotic creatures or will become so close to them that we will integrate their powers into our sense of self. A robot will still be other, but the one that completes you (extension of us, meaning that we are not powerful today and have limits, but not in the future). We will know love which is a reflection of our love.

When the brain in your phone marries the body of your robot, document preparation meets therapeutic massage. Here is a happy fantasy of security, intellectual companionship, and nurturing connection.

Tools will be an extension of us and more – love, power, together we will never be alone. We will begin to embed them in our rooms. They will collaborate with us. They will have a sense of humor. They will sense our needs and offer comfort. They will play Binguez with us. Our rooms will be our friends and companions.

Robots will not be incompetent, they are introduced to make up for human flaws like laziness; safe, they will be specialized and personalized.

The Japanese believe in a future, in which robots will babysit and do housework and women will be freed up to having more babies, also restoring sociability to a population increasingly isolated through the networked life.

The Japanese take as given that cell phones, texting, instant messaging, email, and online gaming have created social isolation. They see people turning away from family to focus attention on their screens. People do not meet face to face, they do not join organizations. In Japan, robots are presented as facilitators of the human contact that the network has taken away. Technology has corrupted us, robots will heal our wounds. Robots, the Japanese hope, will pull us back toward the physical real and thus each other.

Robotic companions can become mentors. My real baby was marketed as a robot that could teach your child socialization. Sherry is skeptical as believes that sociable technology will always disappoint because it promises what it cannot deliver. It promises friendship but can only deliver performances. As if we will be manufacturing friends that will never be friends.

Roboticists argue that there is no harm in people engaging in conversations with robots, the conversations may be interesting, fun, educational or comforting. But Sherry finds no comfort here. She feels in a shadow of an experiment, in which humans are the subjects.

Another example of a sociable robot is a diet coach; the user provides some baseline information and the robot charts out what it will take to lose weight. With daily information about food and exercise, the robot offers encouragement if people slip up and suggestions for how to better stay on track. Things happen that elude measurement. You begin with an idea about curing difficulties with dieting. But then the robot and person go to a place where the robot is imagined as a cure of souls.

When we make job rote, we are more open to having machines to do it. But even when people do it, they and the people they serve feel like machines. People are always performing for other people. Now the robots too will perform. The world will be richer for having a new cast of performers and a new set of possible performances.

Finally Sherry says, if robots are designed to complement humans and not replace them, then I’m all for it!

What Do We Owe To Future Generations? (Part Three)

As we continued our discussion three main questions were at its core:

Where is the golden mean? How much to consume vs conserve? Someone mentioned Jeremy Bentham, an advocate of utilitarianism, who argued that we need “to form laws in order to create the greatest good for the greatest number, and that the concept of the individual pursuing his or her own happiness cannot be necessarily declared “right”, because often these individual pursuits can lead to greater pain and less pleasure for the society as a whole. Therefore, the legislation of a society is vital to maintaining a society with optimum pleasure and the minimum degree of pain for the greatest amount of people”.

How do you know what to do? My personal opinion is that we need to raise awareness of what we know and make best decisions now in order to create the best possible society and environment today, no matter what happens tomorrow. So we don’t really owe to future generations but to ourselves and to current generation.

The concept of time is an illusion, everything is happening now. So we should learn about different perspectives to form a realistic opinion of the situation and do the best we can now. No one owns air but we are all responsible for keeping it clean. . That is why NGO s and Intergovernmental policies are important. If one part of the world suffers from pollution other parts of the world need to know that problem and do what they can to help and solve.

How to motivate people to act responsibly? In my group I was told that even when people know what to do, they often will not do it, as no one really wants to sacrifice their privileges and give up their comfort for someone else (whether existing or non-existing). My response is that we need to create incentives and rewards for good behavior and penalties for opposite (on individual, corporate and government levels). They could be monetary or not. One of the example, carbon tax. Beyond extrinsic incentives there are intrinsic ones, like feeling good that you do the right thing (example, recycling) because you live according to your beliefs…

There is an overlap between personal good and common good. Awareness of problems and solutions should help with motivation and building incremental changes in our lives. We should find the balance between being content with what we’ve got and setting goals for what we want to improve. Deep inside we all want inner peace and be a part of this big ecosystem where we reside together with other species whether present, past or future.

We finally got back to our big group of four dozen people and shared our ideas. We voted on whether we think we, humans, are doing well collectively in preserving the Earth for future generation, and the answer was unanimous no.

Someone interjected saying that we should not worry about humans as they are adaptable; they will adjust to new conditions (no matter how dramatic they are). If we run out of natural oil, humans will invent something else. There is no other way to motivate but educate vs hard lessons. Say, if the US goes bankrupt due to its international debt, then it will have to review and restricts its consumerism and credit policy.

Another good point was on religions. Some go on saying that nature is a gift and we can use it up; others warn us to be reasonable and leave resources for other creatures. Several people were against procreating: “If only 1 billion humans could live sustainably on the planet, we should stop multiplying”.

At the very end someone concluded that the question should really be about what motivates us and what we are willing to do not what we owe. And what we should be focusing on and pass on to future generations is not technology, but knowledge of wellness and humanity. Speaking of love for humanity Eric invited all to the theatrical production of “The things we do for love and presidents” at Warszawa Restaurant in Santa Monica today, Feb 16th at 7:30PM.

The most surprising closure came via email I received from one of the attendees several days later:

“My name is Mitch. Just one thought I didn’t share this Sunday, which you reminded me of with your mention of Kabbalah…

Rabbi Hillel famously tried to summarize ethics like this: “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?”

There are three parts, but I have almost always over focused on the middle bit, with the occasional admonishment to myself to remember the last part.

Well, Hillel went to the trouble of putting that first part in there. He even put it, you know, first.

It’s occurred to me that I, and many people I know and like, are inadequately selfish. If life is meant to be good, it’s not just meant to be good for people we don’t know, we’re responsible for making life work for the people we can help most – ourselves.

Which is how I think this ties back in to “What do we owe future generations?” I heard people say, almost apologetically, that it’s okay for us to use some natural resources today … but I never heard anyone say that one of our main jobs is to live well, ourselves, here and now. (Hillel listed it first, and I suppose third too!)

The entire discussion seemed to be variations on “how do we restrict our inherent selfishness,”rather than “what do we owe ourselves, and what do we owe future generations.”

Resources: What a Way to Go Movie, I am Movie, Free Speech Blog Post, Creating a world that works for allBook, Home Free Movie, Intergenerational Justice Article, Is It Wrong To Wreck The Earth Radio Talk.

What Do We Owe To Future Generations? (Part Two)

Brian distributed handouts with basic rules of conversational decency. We split into 5 smaller groups and had very controversial conversations about who owes who and what.

Among 8 people in our group we had a range of opinions – some thought that we owe nothing and are on the path of destruction; others – that we do owe something to future generations and our ecosystem, and should be consuming and polluting less but conserving and cleaning up more. There were also those who thought that our generation is mainly working on building technology and that is good enough to pass on future generations. But is that so? Is it really good to develop technology at odds with the surroundings? Check this out The Power of Technology.

I want to quote Sharif Abdullah again and give you two more analogies from his book “Creating the world that works for all”. Besides the rabbits story, I also like the story about The Keepers, The Breakers and The Menders.

“The Keeper story is the original story of humans. Keepers are people who live interconnected with their local ecologies and all other beings. They keep the ancient ways of living, perfected over eons of coexistence. Their story is based on a thought, “Living in harmony with all I encounter”, and an assumption, “The land is abundant”.

Keepers do not have a concept of the Earth as a whole; they are identified with their local ecologies. Within those ecologies, they have, over the course of a million years or more, achieved a dynamic equilibrium with all beings, including human and non-material beings.

We are Breakers: The Earth and everything in it were created for Man, we have the right and the responsibility to place all of it under our control. Because there is not enough for all, the world must be conquered in order for us to exist. We do not live in the Web of Life; we live on top of it. Our story is simple wilderness is bad, human control is good.

We call ourselves by many names, most of them positive or benign; civilizers, settlers, pioneers, missionaries, explorers, industrialists. We will continue to control and dominate all life forms, including humans who are not like us, because control is good.

We are Menders: We believe the Earth and our fellow humans need to be healed from the excesses of exclusivity and we live our daily lives in accordance with this belief. We used to be Breakers, but are consciously turning away from that dead-end path, away from the glitter and allure of the Breaker society. Our goal is to live as a consciously integral part of a living, conscious and sacred planet, to catalyze a new era, the Mender era.

Our task is simple and profound: to heal the damage caused by the Breakers, those who act as though the Earth and all of her inhabitants were their property. We vow to stop Breaker destruction and begin to restore the balance between the Earth and humanity within this generation.

We Menders are Breakers in recovery. Breaker history is our history. We are not arrogant enough to think that our problems are someone else’s fault. We consciously reject all privileges that have come to us at the expenses of other’s lives, freedom or comfort.

The Mender story is in harmony with an ancient story, one as old as the Earth itself. We honor the Keepers, who show us the way of wisdom. We honor the Breakers, who show us the way of technology. We heal the damage. We are Menders.

Lester Milbrath speaks eloquently about the nature of this change in his book, “Envisioning a Sustainable Society”. He compares the story of our planet to a yearlong movie. If the movie starts in January and ends (at the present) in December, life itself shows up in March. He goes on to state:

“Compared to most other species, humans have lived on planet earth for a very brief time, (only 11 minutes of our year-long movie). During most of that time humans have lived in harmony with nature; their home was that environment in which they evolved. It is only very recently that our species created an unnatural home for itself as it set out to dominate nature. In that brief period (only 2 seconds of our year-long movie), we have built a civilization that cannot sustain itself”. Or can it?

Quantified Self Boston

I already wrote about Quantified Self Community that was started in the Bay area by Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly several years ago. QS Boston chapter appeared on Meetup two years ago under the leadership of Michael Nagle. This past year I attended two QS events in Boston:

Aug 3, at Sprout: #6 Data of Our Lives — novel solutions to chronic problems.

The event featured speakers who are working on novel approaches to chronic health problems. They gave short presentations followed up by a panel.

1.Dr. Joseph Kvedar, Director of the Center for Connected Health at Partners Healthcare (http://www.connected-health.org)

2.Rick Lee, CEO of Healthrageous, using biometric data to create personalized care (http://www.healthrageous.com/)

3.Jackie Thong, CEO of Ubiqi Health, using mobile tools for migraine management (http://ubiqihealth.com)

Dec 6, at WorkBar: #8 Measurements, Big and Small

This event was hosted by UbiqiHealth at their coworking facility WorkBar in Boston. This meetup focused on different ways of making measurements and analyzing data. It was a mix of a few personal stories about collecting biometrics, as well as a few bigger picture approaches.

1.Max Little (http://www.maxlittle….) from the MIT Media Lab presented some of his work in researching Parkinson’s disease. One of his interests is coming up with new mathematical tools for doing studies that reflect the individual variation in different cases of Parkinson’s. He’s looked at the tools of weather forecasting (!) as a way to find statistical measures that capture more information about variation.

2.Jake Hoppe (http://www.eidosearch…) demoed his work at EidoSearch. EidoSearch is a tool which lets users identify visual patterns in data, and search the dataset for that same pattern. EidoSearch is being used, naturally, in the financial sector, but they’re now reaching out and looking for health data sets to apply their algorithms to.

3.And Gil Blander of InsideTracker (http://www.insidetrac…) talked about his company’s blood analysis system. InsideTracker lets its users do a basic blood panel and get nutritional recommendations based on that analysis.

I was especially impressed by Healthrageous and InsideTracker, as they help create healthy ways of life in more fun and interactrive way. Another observation I made is that people are interested in learning more about themselves and about how to be healthy without struggle but with social support. I spoke with “quantifiers” from the audience and many of them collect their personal data without even knowing what for, but are very inclined to monitor their activities, behavior patterns and share results… That is something new and very inspiring. People want to improve not only their lives but the lives of others… Simply by sharing. Revolutionary. Truly New Age.

Social Good 2.0

On Friday, Dec 2, at 8:30AM the room of Space with a Soul was full. About 200 people consumed all coffee before the presentations started. All were interested in what is happening in the local social good start-up scene. I was told about this event by a friend, the event’s description said:

“The past few years have seen a surge of activity around technology and the nonprofit world. Boston is a hotbed of innovative ideas that might really be interesting to cause-related organizations – but it seems like new ones emerge daily. Who has time to keep track – let alone hear what they might be able to offer you?

Join us for a morning breakfast highlighting the latest additions to the cause-related technology startup scene in Boston:

SPONSORED BY

Accounting Management Solutions, BiddingForGood, Cauzoom, CharityAlly, ConstantContact,
Mass Innovation Nights, NorthEast Sponsorship Network

AGENDA

8:30-8:45 Coffee and breakfast

8:45 Opening remarks, comments from hosts and sponsors

9:00-10:00 Rocket Introductions from Boston Startups (8 minutes each)

PRESENTERS:

AltruHelp. The world’s largest online altruistic social experiment.

BoardProspects. The link between boards, prospects, and possibilities.

Cauzoom. Making it fun and easy to raise money for worthy projects.

CharityAlly. Give today. Change tomorrow.

Invup. Community involvement made fun and simple.

10:00-10:30 Facilitated networking by the Northeast Sponsorship Network”

In short: Altruhelp is a Universal Online Platform For Social Impact, was presented by Mathew Paisner.

Mark Rogers from BoardProspects told us how to fill the need for board members for non-profits.

Michael Sattler from Cauzoom, who also started the Social Good 2.0 group, gave his vision of how to help people and organizations, “because we are all in this together”.

Jonah Lupton and Nicholas Walton told about their organization CharityAlly that we can participate: “give today, change tomorrow”. And finally, instead of Invup, DailyFeats was presented by Vinay Gidwaney as “Do feats for your health and happiness”.

It was great to hear about new and old ideas of social good ventures, and hear about their progress, but even more so to witness how much interest this event generated and how much support it received from all kinds of people: from non-profits, social media, environmental organizations and technologists. It felt that every person in the audience has a story to tell and those stories are as important as the ones that were presented that day. Which ones of those 200 stories will be known 20 years from now and making a big impact on our lives? We are so lucky to get a sneak peek at what may be part of our future.

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