TED 2013 – Pope Benedict Moves to San Francisco – Viper Stormchasers -Vesta Restaurant Review – The Secrets of Silicon Valley a new book – Jamis’s classifieds

When I first wrote about TED 10 years ago the conference was like an energetic teenager full of bright ideas. Today it reminds me of a seasoned 30-something – experienced, respected and wise and cutting a wide path through the intellectual wheat fields.TED.com

Chris Anderson is the curator of this museum of thought. I was that when he first took over he looked calm enough but I think he might have been a little nervous about how it was all going to work out. It was terrific then but over time it has grown in self-recognition and the emergent world of TED eclipses all the other events I participate in. In fact TED has made Burning Man look somewhat dull. It certainly is less dusty and with the move to Canada next year less dusty still. I know, Canada? Who would have though that they would turn out to be cultural and economic heroes. We used to joke about Canada, now we want to be Canada.

TED consists of dozens of talks over five days. Short or long it doesn’t matter. You can tell a compelling story in 30 seconds though most are 18 minutes. My aim with this article is to drive you to the TED website, so I’ll hit a few highlights. I’ll dive right in with Open ROV, David Lang’s company making open source underwater Remote Operating Vehicles submarine kits. These ROVs can take your eyes to 300-foot depths and you get to build the ship yourself.

This was followed by a talk by Skylar Tibbit on self-assembling mechanical devices. Taking a page from Mother Nature, Skylar is exploring the step beyond 3d printing.  A few years ago we had memory foam, but now visualize solar powered factory pipelines that squeeze their fluid contents to their destination.


Kevin Kelly, Stewart Brand, Carl Page and Felix Kramer

A video that really rocked me was follow the frog. Stop reading this drivel, look it up, now! I’m just sain’.

Edith Widder finally discovered the long rumored 30-foot plus giant squid. But squid cheat being 2/3rds tentacle and all. Still I wouldn’t want to meet one on a lonely highway.  She discovered that the ROV’s being used in the hunt were always too noisy and once she sent a quiet one down the squid were all over the place. Ahh, the power of common sense.

Tony Hsieh (Zappos) is a regular a TED and is one of the real trendsetters in clothing and business philosophy. Who’s Tony wearing now? He wears Betabrand a mutual friend Chris Lindland’s company. Betabrand is hip but not tooo hip. Heretofore exclusively sold online Chris has just opened a new very unusual store at 780 Valencia in The Mission. I love the word heretofore, yes? Uptop!

Jennifer Grandville, the ex-governor of Michigan, had some electrifying ideas about the nation’s energy needs. I saw a strong Presidential possibility in her but discovered she was born in Canada. How hard would it be to the change the Constitution or maybe get annexed by Canada?

Robert Gordon came out from behind the curtain and told us the sky was falling. He is a well-respected economist who says that growth, innovation and prosperity are coming to an end (get that man a chair and nice cup of cocoa).  He was in the distinct minority at TED. I feel that too many economists equate growth with prosperity. I am campaigning for increased prosperity but reducing the rate of growth.

Rodney Brooks brought Baxter, the workplace robot. It performed badly (but Rodney was cool throughout) because the lighting was a bit too dim so it needed some effort to cajole a few reluctant movements out of the little fella. Later Julia Sweeney quipped that it only took three people to try to coax the robot to move a single item from a table to a box in about 10 minutes. A real job creator this. Ha ha. Well, not so fast. The first aeronauts were a rooster, a sheep and a duck in a hot air balloon (still a crew that has never been bested) and with this strange beginning we are now looking at travel to Mars. Queue the Strauss score from 2001.

Speaking of Mars, Elon Musk materialized from the future to give us an update on his many mandates. Space travel plans are littered with crackpots. There is a team trying to fund an inflatable space hotel for tourists. Another wants to sell you a one-way ticket to the Red Planet. Elon is as far from crackpot as Edison is from Gyro Gearloose (of course Gyro’s stuff did work, more or less)

Richard Turere came to see us from Nairobi. Now 13 he crafted a way to keep the lions from eating the family cows in the city limits of Nairobi back when he was a kid of 11. After several false starts he hooked a solar panel to an old car battery to run blinking led lights that keep the lions out of the pasture. Lion Lights are being used all over Africa now. His invention was real and would have been just as effective if he had been a 30-year old.

There were other young inventors with more complicated tales. Taylor Wilson created a fusion reaction in his garage at 15 and now at 18 told us he could make a real dent in global warming and help foster world peace by feeding nuclear warheads to his pollution-free fission reactor. Well, maybe, but if he wasn’t so young would anyone listen? Bill Gates proposed a similar reactor a few years ago but Fukashima back-burnered that one.

Even younger is Jack Andraka who at 15 has had the boldness to say that he invented a $3 test that can detect pancreatic cancer and, because of early detection, yield a 90% cure rate. This is audacious and the crowd loved it. I loved it, but I spoke with a notable research scientist from Stanford who had his doubts because the kid is unpublished so his data is hard to review. He might be a Pasteur or Lister but remove his age as a consideration and his story is less compelling. Still, he was a magnificent and provocative presenter.

Bono came out to tell us about his charitable intentions. I have always been a little unconvinced by his rock star/poverty warrior bravado and the glasses make me suspicious. Bono took off his glasses, mocked his celebrity and made me believe. He is promoting ‘factivist’ thinking to counter demagoguery on his fight against poverty. Bono is a good man and a damn fine rock and roller.

Bono is old school But Amanda Palmer sure isn’t. She says she’s a mix of punk and cabaret. Amanda has the heart of Janis without the pain; the punch of Patty Smith without the attitude and a voice very much like Bowie. A little while back she decided to ask her fans to pay her through Kickstarter instead of buying her album. She hoped to raise a hundred grand to support her and the band. Her fans sent her 1.2 million because that’s what they thought she was worth it.

Amanda and fan

At one performance she crowd-surfed across the Weston lobby. No one wanted to offend by touching them ladyparts so she nearly ended up being baloney-sliced face-first in the piano. See her talk and her TED musical performance but I advise against looking at her overproduced MTV like videos online. Just because you and the band can dress all in white is not reason to actually do it, Amanda… unless you’re from Sikkim.

The staging at TED is a brilliant. This year it was a tree house theme and on one limb we found Ben Affleck. He said that TED felt like the Academy Awards for smart people but that he was going to be neither funny nor smart. He then became both, especially when imitating Al Gore. As we all laughed he said, “I hope Al’s not here”. He was. Ben brought the Congolese String Orchestra. These men were in formal tails playing western strings and made us all embrace this tragic place.

Alastair Parvin open sources punch-out-of-plywood wiki buildings; much like kid’s models but giving you the ability to print your own house. He needs to team up with Tibbits so it self-assembles and maybe Baxter can live there.

Danny Hillis says we’re at a point with the internet analogous to when singled celled organisms turned into multi-celled organisms. He warned us that there is no backup system for the internet and that it’s fragile and vulnerable. Just sayin’.

We saw some art from the forthcoming film called The World’s Largest Jumping Fish. It Looks like Life of Pi on LSD. It will be blowing minds at theaters near us soon. Bring Tupperware for your brain.

Meg Jay is a clinical psychologist who pointed out that a good many 20 somethings without a life plan had better get with it. She says some young folks are lazy maybe but some simply need some tools for success. She has a book.

Mitra Siugrat was this year’s TED Prize winner (a cool million). For some time he has been mounting computers literally in holes-in-walls in poor areas all over the world and then walks away. In one poor village in a Tamil-speaking region of India he returned a month after going live and talked to the children who were playing on the computer. He asked them what they were doing. These ten and twelve year olds said they were investigating the structure of DNA. Their one comment was that all the programs were in English, which they did not speak. He said, “Oh sorry.” They said, “No problem we learned English.” They are not being coached by professionals, but there is a team helping them. Retired grandmothers in northern England come aboard with video chat to encourage the kids. Not to tutor or test they just say “Good job, keep going.” This remarkable morphology has spread to other places. Get thee to the internet to see more.

Jamis with inventor of Glass Babak Parviz

The geeks from Google were wearing their Google Glass heads-up hyper reality project on their faces. This is the sort of thing that got you beat up for on the playground years ago but now it gets you a G5 jet. Geek respect happened gradually as this is a world were we didn’t even notice that our biggest celebrities had names like Arnold and Sylvester.

Mary Lou Jepson (cofounded One Laptop Per Child) is the Head of Digital Display for Google Glass. She proposed that it might soon be possible to bypass our verbal categorization of data and interact directly with images in our brains. Basically a new way to think.

De-extentiction. You heard it here first. Steward Brand and his wife Ryan Phelin believe that their new program called Revive and Restore can literally bring back extinct animals. This is not ivory tower conjecture. They say the science is close to bringing back recently departed animals. You’ve heard of the passenger pigeon?  A boy with a bb gun killed the last wild one in 1900.  But did you know that it was the most populous bird on earth and that it was hunted to extinction. It was also the biggest source of meat for the poor in America the early 19th century. Flocks were reported to be a mile wide and 300 miles long. In a few decades we ate every last one. It has been reported to taste better than chicken and I intend to find out if it’s true.

The very last one died in a zoo

Liu Bolin is truly the invisible man (run to your computer and look him up[wait no running you are already on your computer, right]) by making himself (nearly) invisible. Really he can do this. He speaks convincingly about political and social issues in a manner completely original and memorable. He can actually make himself invisible. I saw him do it.

Larry Lessig talked to us about how to equitably fund political races. It makes perfect sense so it will go nowhere. His work dovetails with Steven Johnson who just released a penetrating book about the new networked landscape in Future Perfect. Steven is a social scientist and he believes we are witnessing the old vertical power systems being pushed aside by social networks. Occupy and other movements represent what he calls peer progressive cooperation, an emerging model for the very structure of society. Occupy didn’t work you say? Not so far but the future isn’t done with us yet.

Again with the kids. Dong Woo Jang is a kid who picked up sticks at 14 in his Korean neighborhood and began crafting bows and arrows to examine the intersection of mathematics, wood, flight and craft. His many bows allowed him to see the metaphor and the reality of this most ancient tool. It is now overlooked but is indeed a member of the top-ten most important human contrivances of all time.

One presenter showed us new evidence that the alphabet might not have been invented in Biblos, present day Lebanon, but in upper Egypt considerably earlier. I’m an alphabet aficionado and so if this is true it’s BIG news.

Kees Moeliker of the Natural History Museum Rotterdam won the Ignobel Prize for being the first to document a case of homosexual necrophilia in ducks, he brought the a duck. It was dead. He’s kidding…or is he?

N. Korean activist Hyeonseo Lee came from privilege and as a child was told that the starving people in her country were diseased and there was nothing that could be done for them. Her family fell into disfavor and they escaped through China to Vietnam and finally to S. Korea which was only a few miles, but a universe, away. A moving tale of despair and triumph.

Eleanor Longden moved us too. She has schizophrenic tendencies and has a talkative team in her head that first tried to kill her and then helped get her through school as she finished her PhD. Mostly folks with this diagnosis fail at life but she is making those voices work for her.

Neil Gershenfelt is examining the boundary between bits and atoms in the Fab Lab at MIT.  He says the digital revolution is over and we won!

There is so much more. Much, much more online.

 Pope Benedict Relocating to California

The long lonely highway

It’s official. The recently retired Pope Benedict (or is it back to Ratzinger once again) is moving to a nice three story Victorian in the Twin Peaks neighborhood of San Francisco. I’m told he has joined the Powerhouse Gym on Market to keep those abs buff. I am not making this up. The ex-pontificate is driving the Popemobile from Miami to San Francisco because he wants to see America up close.

He called me in March from the Holiday Inn along Alligator Alley in Florida. He told me that the alligators were very nice if a bit snappy.  He said he was disappointed to discover that his car would only do 9 miles an hour but he said he was looking forward to cruising into Nashville and eating fried grizlin’ and possum pie at Minnie Pearl’s Gud Eats.

Expect the ex-pontifcate to be pulling into Buck’s sometime in the fall.

Restaurant Review

Why are you eating here when you could be eating at Vesta? Oh right, you can’t get in because it’s too busy. This is the first restaurant review I’ve ever done for the competition. Well they aren’t really competition. As with the restaurants in Woodside, we’re all friends.

Peter Barone and his wife Courtney opened Vesta at Broadway and Main in Redwood City last year. It is his parents and my old pals Roy and Rose Barone’s old location, which they ran in the 70s and 80s across from Margaret and my construction office.

Now all our kids are the biz and let me tell you, these kids are schooling us parents.

Vesta is truly amazing. First, they close Sunday and Monday and make less money so have conquered one of the biggest limitation of the business, burnout. The staff is convivial as heck but the big news is that the food is simply spectacular. I’ve eaten at Noma in Denmark, called “the best restaurant in the world” I’ve uncovered insider places from Toulouse to Tokyo but in this great big world I’ve never eaten at a place (that my kids didn’t own) with better food than Vesta. It’s pizza, salad and veggies. But with such flair and love that has forced me to recalibrated my understanding of this cuisine. Do-not-miss the sausage, honey, green chili and mascarpone pizza. Oh I had my doubts about the honey but trust me; this is the best single food anywhere. It is.

This isn’t just me playing nice. Check out their well-earned ratings online.

I can tell you this, though. The art collection is pretty weak. Thank goodness.

MacNiven Boys in San Francisco

Dylan continues to captain the restaurant group in SF with his brothers, Tyler and Rowan. The Woodhouse Fish Co. brand is growing and West Of Pecos, in the Mission, is already a year old. Overseeing the kitchens is corporate chef August Schuchman. August is on fire (in a good way) and I predict that he will be a name in years to come. That is a single name like Gordon or Wolfgang. He’s that good.


By Jeff Shardell (Buck’s first guest author ever)

Dustin and Jeff

Two years ago, I was perched on a knoll top just outside of Philadelphia, Mississippi with video camera in hand.  No, I wasn’t filming butterflies or bird migrations, I was filming a tornado.  This wasn’t just any tornado, it was a behemoth – an EF-5 tornado (picture Tornado7) barreling directly towards me at 60 miles per hour.  With self-preservation kicking in, every fiber of my being was telling me to run as fast as I could in the opposite direction.  I remember thinking to myself “Why in the %#^%$! am I putting myself in this situation, yet AGAIN?”  The path that lead me here was a bit circuitous but as Steve Jobs is famously quoted as saying, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.”

Jumping back in time, I was your typical tech guy, holding a number of senior business positions at a variety of Bay Area companies.  My most recent was running business development at Google from the early 2000s until 2009.  Even though technology is what put food on my table, I always had a latent passion for weather.  I spent my early years growing up in Florida and was that crazy kid (every neighborhood has one) who ran outside to watch the thunderstorms roll in while others were taking shelter. In undergrad, I studied meteorology and even though I transitioned to business, my excitement for extreme weather never left me.


Fast forward a bit after leaving Google when I convinced a friend of mine to come storm chasing with me.  Landing in Denver with nothing more than a rental car (full insurance policy of course!), laptop and data card in hand, we embarked on a week of chasing.  After days of crisscrossing a multitude of flyover states in search of storms, we finally captured the full lifecycle of a beautiful tornado in the Comanche Grasslands in southeastern Colorado (picture DSC_0139) and I knew I was hooked.  When I got back, I started trying to convince everyone who would listen and who was adventurous enough to come storm chasing with me.  When I exhausted my friends and family, I got connected with the guys on the Discovery Channel’s Storm Chaser show and started chasing with them.

Now, me and my good friend and chase partner Dustin Feldman decided to double down and create the only high-end VIP storm chasing business in the world – Viper Tours LLC.

We chase in a specially designed Ford Raptor and our goal is to get our guests as up-close and personal to a tornado as possible – without actually getting sucked in! We’ve even signed on with a TV production company and will be filming a pilot for a reality TV show about our business and our adventures during the chase season.  If you are interested in experiencing the thrill of a lifetime, visit vipertours.com for more information – or just reach out and say hi.  Oh, and in case you are wondering what ever happened with that EF-5 tornado – well, it veered off it’s track in the last few minutes and thundered harmlessly by.

I have seen nearly 50 tornadoes over the past few years.  What keeps me coming back? Well, there is nothing like experiencing this powerful but beautiful force of nature.  Once you feel the wind blowing through your hair, the rain and hail on your skin and the smell of wet summer wheat fields, all the while a funnel is being born in front of you, you know you are witnessing one of the miracles of life.  As Haruki Murakami said, “When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in.  That’s what this storm’s all about.”

The Secrets Of Silicon Valley

Now on sale at Buck’s bookstore (The Smallest Bookstore In The World) right here.

I’ve read all the books about The Valley. This one is by far the best and not just because of the couple of flattering pages about me. It is a solid work with insights from 100 years ago up to 2013 of the Valley’s tech industry. If there is one book you should read about our little Valley of Surprises it is Deborah Perry Piscione’s new book.

Classified Ads

I’ve decided to get rid of much of my stuff. I’m not talking about the stuff at Buck’s but the junk I have at home so if you know anyone interested in the following let Jamis know.

1929 Springfield Phantom Rolls Royce. This is has had just two owners, just me and the countess. It has 7,000 original miles but need an alignment. $975,000

Jivaro shrunken head collection. These are pretty rare. Six heads including the “Spaniard” Juan Calderon. Perfect if, somewhat shrunken, condition. $67,000 each or 300k takes them all.

Henry VIII suit if armor. This is probably technically the property of the British Crown but we’ll just keep it between us. This from his fat period. 12 million or will trade for Florida real estate.

Set of golf clubs. $75.