Playing it safe

Apple is getting old

It was this tweet from Howard Lindzon which kind of inspired me to write this:

This is something which pops in my mind whenever I see an Apple announcement; Apple is getting old. It is not necessarily a bad thing, it is just is.

With getting old, I mean that Apple has become mainstream. I mean with that, that everything Apple does nowadays is to come closer or maintain its mainstream position. It is not changing the world, it is trying to maintain the status quo.

I have a few reasons for that:

Apple’s design language is safe to the point of boring. I personally call it Volkswagen design, I am sure there is a better – or even established – term for it. Volkswagen designs cars which nobody hates nor nobody really likes. The design is a safe choice. It is good and solid design, but super safe. Apple’s design language is very similar. Everything looks and feels the same. Nobody will take offense.

The Apple Watch is really a mom and dad product. It is also how they market it. The main focus is on health. They can detect heart problems and falling – both problems or worries of the middle-aged and up.

Apple’s media push brings forward people like Oprah and promises family entertainment. Again, it is very safe. I guess we do not see a Californication reboot on Apple TV Plus.

Apple is a reflection of its leadership. Tim Cook comes across to me as a solid, grounded, hard-working and reliable person, but also older and seasoned. Tim Cook acts more like a good-natured grandfather than a dad, let alone resembling a friend. Apple is changing into his image.

Amazing hobbies people have

Boeing 737 home built simulator

A while ago, I came across a post from Clement Stals where writes on setting up the displays for his home built cockpit. He built a Boeing 737 flight deck simulator and created a whole site on how to do it.

I went down a rabbit hole and a search on Youtube confirms he is not alone. I think this is amazing. The time and effort people put into it to create something like this is simply astounding.

Here is one of the videos I particularly liked. Neale Hargreaves shows and talks through his whole setup. It’s worth a watch:

 

Addictive puzzle game

Retro gaming: TETЯIS

Retro gaming: TETЯIS

Tetris was the first addictive simple puzzle game. I played it on my Commodore 128 (in C64 compatibility mode). It had all the characteristics you see in mobile puzzle games nowadays like Candy Crush. It was developed by Russian AI researcher Alexey Pajitnov who needed a simple puzzle to test new hardware. The game became popular with his coworkers who ported it to the PC. It became popular in Moscow and then ended up in Hungary. Hungarian software developers ported it to different platforms. It caught the eye of Western game companies which licensed (with some controversy) to release it in the West.

The name of the game is a contraction of tennis and tetromino.

To learn more there is a great documentary called “The Story of Tetris”:

Here is a long play of Tetris on the Commodore 64. Please notice graphics, I always thought they were a bit odd. The atmosphere was a bit dark for a puzzle game:

Tetris lives on and a new version was released this year called Tetris 99. It brings battle royal gameplay to Tetris.

You can play Tetris online. This is the Nintendo NES version.

Notes

  • ENTER = Start + Select
  • LEFT / RIGHT = move tetromino
  • DOWN = rotate tetromino
  • Z = drop tetromino

Looking in the mirror

Forty Five

It’s my 45th birthday today. I am spending it with my kids and my parents in The Netherlands.

Funny thing is that I do not feel any different than I was 25. When I look in the mirror, I look older. But inside, I feel not a year beyond 25.

Of course, I have learned a ton and not really reflect the person I was at 25. I’ve learned a ton in those two decades – both professionally and personally. I moved continents, started a few companies and had a lot of fun along the way.

What I do know is that I could not have predicted how my life would unfold when I was 25. I did not have a career path in mind. The only thing I knew was that I wanted to be working on “the internet”. It was still early days and nobody really knew what to do with it yet. I just felt like an enormous opportunity to build and work on great things.

Today, I still love “the internet” and it surprises me still every day on how it can impact people’s lives and changes the way we live and work. I am convinced we are still only at 10%. Or as Jeff Bezos would put it: “We’re still at day one.”

Over time my mindset did shift a bit from “everything will be online” to “the internet underpins everything we touch”. It is a subtle shift from the virtual world to a more physical integrated world.

I have no doubt in my mind that I will be working on “the internet” until the day I leave this earth. The internet is the single biggest achievement of mankind until today. It is a new age. We’re still discovering what this means and how we can apply it. It touches literally everything we know including politics. The industrial complex we built in the 20th century can no longer properly support our society today and it is hurting. The machine is breaking down. Change always hurts – sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. It is the unknown what scares people and brings fear. It reminds me of this quote of Master Yoda (or George Lucas):

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

I would replace fear with anxiety in this quote. It makes more sense from a psychological point of view, but I digress.

Given history, we will get passed it and we will get it right. I’m an optimist at heart.

I for one feel lucky and privileged to be part of this journey.

Where did all the angels go?

The changed landscape of early stage funding

While raising funding for my new company ENZO, it is interesting to notice how the early stage startup funding landscape has changed in the last few years.

Since the last time raised funding, all the rounds have shifted. What used to be series A is now seed funding. We call the original seed preseed now. Early stage funds who do seed are now doing rounds the size of an original series A.

Also, the impact of accelerators in the startup funding landscape is significant. Since there is an accelerator for every conceivable segment and geography, investors now expect at least a small team and product in-market before they want to move on a seed-type round. Startups coming out of accelerators have those in place and some early market traction data. Accelerators have changed the funding landscape in significant ways. They pushed up the seed round while reducing the risk for early stage funds.

I think this could also be the reason why angel funding has gone down. The seed round went up in size and valuation making them undesirable for angels while the bottom of the market has been picked up by accelerators. In a way, accelerators you could see commodification and professionalization of angel investing.

100,000 words

6-month streak

It’s interesting how sometimes things just coincide. I wasn’t really planning on writing this post, but in the last couple of days I passed a few personal milestones for my blog:

  • 6-month daily posting streak
  • 300 posts total
  • 100,000 words written

It was that last one that gave me pause. A hundred thousand words.

That’s book length territory!

Defensive moves

Apple’s media push

Apple’s media push is very interesting – not the products, but their execution. Why is Apple doing this? Nothing screamed category-defining product, more like a me-too. Apple Music is the same.

It is clear Apple’s goal is to further vertically integrate with media. Besides from a couple of extra news subscriptions, they were already getting the 30% take on most media. Right?

The other puzzling thing was the super odd timing. It almost felt like a vaporware presentation. Definitely not something you’d expect from Apple. Introduction the fall, no pricing and limited view of content. Why would they do that?

First, I think, Apple is scared of more companies doing a Netflix-move to them. The first one has done it and it is only a matter of time the rest will follow. The rest was just watching to see what Apple was going to do. Apple had to act now and they did. By moving up vertically into the ecosystem, Apple gains more control. Apple is going to put themselves into a position from where they can directly control the revenue streams of media companies. If you do not play by Apple’s rules, they’ll remove you or downgrade your listings. It’s a play right out of the Amazon playbook.

Second, they announced early so they can do a rolling thunder of announcements between now and the fall. I think Apple figured that there was too much content to announce in a single event. By announcing it early, they can take advantage of a summer of Apple stories on new content to tease the audience. This event was just meant to kick that off.

I like they are taking charge. I am sure Apple’s media push will be a success given its worldwide scale.

Also, read Ben Thompson’s take on Apple’s services event.

Natural evolution of gaming on the internet

Streaming games, Stadia and cloud gaming

Last week, Google announced Stadia to the world. In essence, streaming gaming is coming.

Streaming gaming is nothing new and has been working on for a few years. The biggest hurdles were broadband speeds and processing cost. It was inevitable we would overcome either of those. It was more a question of when.

Nvidia has been working on this for years and launch their GameStream service back in 2013.

It was not by accident that Reed Hastings (CEO of Netflix) said: “we compete with Fortnite more than HBO“. If I look at my boys, he is 100% right. They would trade in a Netflix subscription for a Fortnite battle pass any day.

There are some doubts voiced about lag, but I doubt it is bad enough for most users to care. Hard-gamers? Yes, they will keep playing on PCs for now. For everyone else it is fine.

I say that because most people game on their TVs. Most TVs have an input lag of 50ms or more. The image processing takes a couple of frames or more analyze before outputting it onto the screen. You can put your TV in ‘game mode’ which reduces that to 35ms to 33ms, but nobody does that.
A casual test by pinging Google’s DNS server at 8.8.8.8 reveals a round-trip time of 13ms. According to John Carmack, most games have 100ms+ of total control lag anyway.

The biggest technology hurdle must have been the CPU / GPU budget. Google and Microsoft think that the performance increases and prices have come far enough to reduce the CPU / GPU budget to make this a viable business model.

There are a lot of upsides to streaming.

Platforms will no longer matter. You can play a game on any platform which is fast enough to process streaming video. Today this means any device. It could be your Chromecast or Amazon Firestick. This is a major game changer.

This will also simplify AR/VR gear and untether them. A wifi connection is enough. Google kicked this off with a wifi game controller, but that is just the start. An Oculus Go can become a video streaming device which simplifies the design while offering much more powerful immersive experience than they can ever offer on a standalone device.

Game streaming allows for other business models like game subscriptions which are interesting. Just imagine a free Prime gaming service with ports of old games and premium channels to get the latest EA or Bethesda games.
Games could be free on one device and paid for one another.

It can also change gaming mechanics where simple actions can be managed on let’s say on a mobile device and full-on gaming with a headset.

It will make spectating a lot more interesting too. No longer are you watching over the shoulder with another gamer like today, but you can be a real spectator inside the arena. Perhaps even choosing your viewpoint.

You can seamlessly move from gaming to spectating to gaming. You can spectate on your mobile device and decide to jump on with your TV.

The longer I think about this, the more I see ideas where this is just a stepping stone to create a more immersive long-lasting gaming experience. I am also particularly excited about the idea that games live on forever without major porting efforts to new platforms (and paying again for the same game).

Subscription services fit better the new game experiences which are popular today. Fortnite and others provide new game content and new experiences while asking for a battle pass to unlock some of the new options immediately. Instead of one-off major release, game studios can continuously work on expanding and changing the experience.

The gaming industry is bigger than the music and movie industry combined for years now. It was inevitable that we would end up here. It was technology holding us back. Google thinks it is time now. Microsoft agrees.

It is still early days and the future will show us where we will end up, but I for one am excited.

Back to the future

Remastering old TV shows to 4K using neural networks

We all know the examples in movies and TV shows, where they take a low resolution photo or video footage and then use some magical software to uncover tiny hidden details. Here’s an example from CSI:

But is there are some truth to that? Here’s a great post from Geoffrey Litt where he explores using Generative adversarial network (GAN) to enhance low resolution photos. The results are pretty impressive:

Of course, you can turn a horse into a zebra:

Funny, but makes an interesting point. It is the start of deep fakes.

Topaz Labs turned a similar neural network into a commercial product called AI Gigapixel. CaptRobau used to turn a couple of scenes from Star Trek: Deep Space 9 from SD to HD and 4K:

I watched this on my TV and it is really good! Especially, considering this is a side project without millions of dollars of funding, the results are impressive. I can see this technology maturing in the next years. There is plenty of great movies and TV which can benefit from a remaster to bring it to the 21st century. Star Trek is on top of my list.

Sega’s hit franchise

Retro gaming: Sonic the Hedgehog

Retro gaming: Sonic the Hedgehog

This week’s game is Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s one of Sega’s most recognizable characters and shows up in many of their other games.

I never owned a console which could play this game, but I did rent a console every now and then at the local Videoland – like Blockbuster, also dead. I think it was the Sega Mega Drive which I rented. You could choose a few games as part of the rental package. I didn’t play this game a lot, but when I played I did, it was in short intense burst.

This game franchise has sold a staggering 123 million copies across 23 releases plus there are 7 TV series featuring Sonic in the lead.

The objective of the game is simple. You run and jump, avoid other animals (some shoot!) and collect as many rings you can.

Here’s the long play:

I chose the Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on the Mega Drive. Version 2 has faster and longer game play than the first version. I am very impressed by the quality of emulator version. It is flawless in both Chrome on MacOS and Safari on IOS.

Notes:

  • ENTER = Start
  • LEFT / RIGHT = move
  • X = Jump