Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Saturday, August 27, 2021

Plenty of people have climbed Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro. But not many of them were blind. Sam Atwood and Craig Kiser are, and are setting out next week to climb the African peak, their latest climbing escapade.

It’s interesting how you approach climbing without the benefit of sight:

For sighted climbers, going down a mountain is usually easier than going up. The opposite is true for blind climbers, Kiser says. “When you’re going up, you can put your foot up and try several rocks. When you’re going down, you put your foot down and you’re committed.”

I also liked this anecdote:

Dealing with bias and misconceptions is part of their job. “It’s less about prejudice than about people loving us to death, thinking we can’t do anything for ourselves,” Kiser says.

“I was having dinner in a restaurant once with my wife, and the waiter says to her, “Is he b-l-i-n-d?’

“And my wife says, “Yes, but he’s not s-t-u-p-i-d.’ “

Atwood and Kiser plan to chronicle their trek, via podcasts (I’d rather they type it out, but I’m sure conditions may call for different means), on a State of Florida Department of Blind Services-hosted webpage.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 08/27/2005 04:32pm
Category: Other Sports
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Feel like you missed out on the late-90s orgy of venture capital-fueled tech startups? You have a chance for a second go-round, and you don’t even need to dream up that can’t-miss idea yourself. Business 2.0 coralled 11 VC chiefs to present their ideal technology business concepts, and are fronting anywhere from $2 million to $8 million for the right team with the right plan.

Let the pitching begin!

Maybe it’s the jaded cynic in me, but what struck me most was just how retreaded half these ideas are. Consider:

Mobile ID for Credit Card Purchases
Concept: Fraudproof credit card authorization via cell phones and PDAs; also designed to thwart identity theft.
Advanced by: John Occhipinti of Woodside Fund
Another attempt to jumpstart the broad non-interest in utilizing mobile devices for purposes well outside their core functions. As neat an idea as it seems to be able to use your cellphone as an ID verifier (or to make retail purchases, further down this list), the American market has proven to be resistant to all come-ons in this area. And really, digital attempts at solid verification just never work long-term — dedicated hackers crack the code within months, leaving institutions scrambling.

Subscription PCs For Seniors
Concept: Stripped-down, basic-function PCs tailored for senior citizens, who would rent the machines on a monthly basis.
Advanced by: John Zagula, Ignition Partners
Hello, yet again, NetPC. And iToaster, and every other foolhardy attempt at thinking less is more in computer functionality. No matter which demographic is being targeted for these so-simple systems, the pitch has always fallen flat. It seems consumers want all or nothing: The top of the line computer that covers all their possible needs, or else no computer at all. I’m not sure there’s ever been a middle ground, and I doubt grandma and grandpa are it.

An Even Smarter Smartphone
Concept: Cellphone operating systems that interface with RFID and infrared technologies to allow retail purchases with a wave of the phone.
Advanced by: Ryan Floyd, Storm Ventures
See “Mobile ID For Credit Card Purchases”, above. Silly VC — phones are for talking! The phone as a digital wallet just isn’t gaining any traction in the U.S., and despite its acceptance in Japan (which speaks more about how Japanese social patterns are well-suited toward such channels than anything else), I don’t see any signs of that changing.

Open-Source IT Center
Concept: Software development of open-source, corporate-grade applications. Apps would be free, but the maintenance services and client contracts would bring in the money.
Advanced by: Matt Miller, WaldenVC
Copycatting Linux service providers like Red Hat, basically. The companies already in this space would have a head start by virtue of being established, meaning startups would have an uphill battle. Plus, it’s not like open-source has been widely embraced by corporate users. So a startup would have to contend with existing competitors and the likes of IBM and Sun. Practically a blueprint for failure.

Social Networks Meet The Town Crier
Concept: Craigslist-type collaborative websites, super-localized to the neighborhood level, bolstered by engaged users who’ll post scribbling, photos and other sticky material.
Advanced by: Jim Lussier, Northwest Venture Partners
Newsflash: Blogs have pretty much given the counted-upon “busybodies” something to do, so there goes the vital content to fill up these webpages. And good luck in trying to supplant Craigslist, while keeping the postings from devolving into spam listings and messageboard-like nonsense.

Customer Service Over IP
Concept: Automating and customizing incoming customer phonecalls via VoIP.
Advanced by: Shanda Bahles, El Dorado Ventures
Everyone from Dominos to Best Buy is already doing this, sans the VoIP route. I doubt they can convince large-scale operations with entrenched customer service models to make this transition; the datamining gains will be minimal and probably not justify the necessary overhaul.

A Killer App For Convergence
Concept: Software protocol that allows any Net-connected device to communicate with one another and allow transmission and receipt of things like IM and streaming audio/video.
Advanced by: Randy Haykin, Outlook Ventures
Hello again, Java and Jini. It’s really not in the interests of various hardware and software providers to create products that work across one standard; they see money in establishing their own proprietary systems. Every time someone’s tried to unify the various digital strings into one rope, someone rolls out a new toy that won’t play nice with others, and the whole scheme collapses before it even begins.

I realize that failure that comes from rolling out an ahead-of-its-time idea doesn’t doom things forever. Pioneers are the ones with the arrows in their backs, after all. Perhaps at some point, cellphone multifunctions will gain acceptance with consumers, and that whole field will take off like crazy.

But at this moment, I don’t see any of the above as being worthy of multi-million dollar development investments. I don’t sense the climate change that makes any of them any more appealing now than during their prior incarnations.

Then again, all those sub-$10 million commitments aren’t huge stakes — pretty much pocket money for VC firms. I’m sure they deem it low-risk enough for a shot at cashing in big, in case the time is really right for any of them to bloom. But I don’t see it happening, and I see a load of hype preceding any of these fledglings (should they actually take shape).

More than anything, though, this lineup indicates that VCs prefer to funnel money only into ideas that have track records — even if those track records are spotty. Are the moneymen so risk-averse that they won’t veer from familiar-but-failed concepts? And what chance does a truly innovative concept have in such a climate?

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 08/27/2005 03:43pm
Category: Business, Tech
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numbers game
Sudoku, that Japanese-origined puzzle that’s taken Britain by storm, is now being featured in Life Magazine.

The weekly brainteaser isn’t on the Life website (no surprise, since they don’t put any of the magazine online), but they do have some tips for cracking the Sudoku code.

I couldn’t say which party benefits more from this development: Life or Sudoku. I’d say both need to gain a better foothold on the American popular consciousness — coming from different directions, of course — so maybe they can help one another.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 08/27/2005 02:03pm
Category: Creative, Pop Culture, Publishing
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