Getting Schooled by Sharks

A few weeks ago, I was watching a show called Shark Tank with my 10 year old son and almost immediately realized that it’s a great way to subtly expose your kids to a subject that wouldn’t necessarily interest the majority of the tween/teen-ager set.  The subject – venture financing – including start-up capitalization, equity negotiations, licensing, revenue sharing, the power of salesmanship and a whole host of other key aspects of starting and building a successful business.  It’s like sneaking spinach into brownies (hey – it’s Mrs. Seinfeld’s recipe).  Airing on ABC on Friday’s at 8pm (EST), the show is mainly comprised of entrepreneurs and business people pitching a wide range of business/product ideas to five “sharks” who decide there on the spot whether or not to invest in the “contestant’s” business.

The five sharks are usually Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran, technology innovator Robert Herjavec, fashion whiz Daymond John (started FUBU) and venture capitalist Kevin O’Leary all who usually battle each other for a piece of the action (sometimes they work together to partner on a deal). They actually have a fun repoire with each other but it sometimes can get a bit nasty – which makes for more interesting viewing.

What became clear is that the show’s hook is whether the offer (usually in the form of equity) is worth the risk that the investors take in order to invest in the company. Sometimesthe ideas are really great but the valuations are completely off, sometimes it’s the other way around. During the back-and-forth between the sharks and the entrepreneur, there’s great moments – especially with a young kid (10 years older) watching, where you can pause the show (assuming you’ve got a DVR) and ask them to compute what a company is worth if the entrepreneur is offering 20% of his company for $100,000. There’s a lot of moments like that…

As the sharks react, negotiate and ultimately decided whether they’re in or not, there’s a slew of mini-lessons on the fundamentals of valuing businesses and what is involved to take an idea from inception and bring it to market. Here’s a link to some video clips. It’s a well-paced entertaining experience with the typical reality-show manufactured dramatic build-ups and resolutions but despite the contrived nature of the productions – the real value is the way that kids can develop an understanding of what is seemingly the boring dry financial aspects of business without feeling they’re in a lecture. Think of it as sugar coated spinach.

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The Wealth of Khan…

If this post is the first exposure you’re having to Khan Academy, if definitely won’t be your last (whether you have school-aged children or not). The online collection of over 3,000 “mini-lessons” was started by Salman Khan (an ex-hedge fund analyst) as a way to tutor his niece on some challenging math concepts. He figured is was easiest just to post them on YouTube so she could access them anytime and lo and behold six years later the little simple approach he started has delivered over 135 MILLION lessons to people all over the world and is considered to be having a tremendously significant impact on the delivery of eduction to pupils and how to leverage the internet to do so.

I had heard about Khan roughly a year ago after the press got hold of Bill Gate’s endorsement of Salman and that Mr. Gates uses Khan Academy for his kids. After a recent 60 Minutes episode – I went there with my 10 year old to check it out and can now safely say that it’s a daily part of my son’s homework routine. Two videos per day – one has to be math oriented (currently multi-variant algebraic equations) and the other can be math or something else that interests him. If you haven’t been there – and you have kids (even if you don’t) – it’s a treasure trove a bite-sized 2-7 minutes “lessons” on almost all the major areas of human endeavor including math, physics, history, science, chemistry, biology, economics/finance, computer science, biology and many many more. Hey, if it’s good for Bill….


Tasty (Yucky) Tracks

Went to see these guys several months ago with a friend at the Independent where I had zero expectations. I had never heard of Yuck but my friend said the three magic words that will prompt me to check out any band… “wall of sound”.

For lovers of nineties shoe-gazers like Ride, Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine (“Loveless” is one massively influential record, see below for the amazing “Only Shallow” – had to include it here), Yuck will definitely satisfy.

The show was compact non-stop wave of music – with a mix of driving yet melodic layered gems like “Holing Out” (my fav) and “Rubber” (of which the latter half is beautiful slow thick whirlpool of feedback, layered guitars, vocals that mesmerizes) and the Sonic Youth-tinged slow downs “Suck” and “Suicide Policeman”.  A young crew – one American and three Brits – the leader Daniel Blumberg wears his love for Nineties lush-rock on his rolled-up sleeve. If they swing by your neck of the woods – definitely make the effort to check them out.

Yuck: Holing Out

Yuck: Suck

My Bloody Valentine: Only Shallow

A Yearly Burning Sensation

Although there’s plenty of press on Burning Man during the event, there still seems to be a lack of understanding of what the event – which takes place for the week prior to Labor Day in Nevada’s Black   Rock Desert, is really all about. People I know and work with think it’s a:

– music festival
– art show
– extreme camping challenge
– hippie crystal exchange
– nudie love fest

So, it’s none of those, all of those and so much much more. What I CAN say is that it’s one week out of the year that the normal constructs of life, the context in which we typically live our lives is no longer in place, relevant or valid. It’s 55K people all contributing in their own little (or sometimes massive) way that produces an unimaginable feast for all the senses. This year was my 11th time out on the Playa and I put together a little slide show/video that captures some of the flavor of what it’s like – although no amount of photos/videos (no matter how beautifully shot) simply cannot capture a fraction of the scale of the event. That being said – here’s a taste:

Finally some truth about Radiohead’s albums

For Radiohead fans… perhaps some unspeakable truth?

A must see from the BBC.

Fav line – “Somebody please give Jonny Greenwood his bloomin’ guitar back!”

Personally, The Bends rocked my world much more than any other of their albums. OK Computer is sacrosanct among fans and it’s awesome but – well just watch:

Watson Wins It.

“I for one welcome our new machine overlord,”

If you haven’t already heard it, you will – over and over again. It’s what Ken Jennings wrote below his Final Jeopardy! wager knowing full well he and his other humanoid competitor were going to lose to a computer.

For all you “Singulartarians” out there – IBM’s super computer Watson, which beat two of the best Jeopardy! players ever tonight, could very well be one of the milestones that Mr. Ray Kurzweil will point to that validates his theory that within 35 years, human existence will be completely transformed by the overwhelming processing power of computers when we physically merge with hyper-intelligent technology. Want to be totally freaked? – read his book, The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology.

If you want to read some color commentary on the actual performance of Watson – Forbes.com’s account is pretty good.

Here’s a section of the piece that is demonstrative of the fragility, and also the complexity, inherent in Watson for it to be able to compete against humans… because the questions on Jeopardy! are displayed in all capital letters, “Having to read all-caps was going to confuse Watson’s ability to parse meaning from a long phrase without knowing which are the proper nouns or acronyms. Fortunately for the Watson team IBM Research also happens to have some math geeks around who can write-up a quick statistical program to derive the true case of the letters in any phrase.”

“I for one welcome our new machine overlord,”

Who Is Esperanza Spalding?

If your young daughter has recently been acting despondent or unexpectedly displaying  flashes of primal rage it most likely is related to her favorite singer losing the new artist of the year Grammy to a mostly unknown 22 year old jazz cellist and vocalist from Portland.  

 Yes, Justin Bieber got trumped by Esperanza Spadling who took the new artist award on Sunday to the disbelief of the millions of “Bielibers” who were certain that their 16 year old American idol would take the prize. 

Occasionally, the Grammys can get it right – sometimes. Choosing a true artist over arguably a manufactured pop sensation (whose CDs will be in the bargain bin in a few years no doubt).  Picking Bieber would have been consistent with other notable winners such as Milli Vanilli ’90, Hootie & the Blowfish ’96 and Starland Vocal Band ’77. But in this case Ms. Spalding is better accompanied by The Beatles ’65, CSN&Y ’70, and Natalie Cole ’76.

If you’re like most dads out there – you probably have  heard of lil’ Justin and, god forbid – perhaps even attended, unwillingly of course, a concert – but most likely have no idea who Esperanza Spalding is.

Ms. Spalding has been quietly producing a few luciously groovy jazz and Brazilian-influenced vocal compositions since 2006. Her New Artist win is notable not only because of the upset over Mr. Bieber (can I even call him Mr.?) – but also because she is the first jazz artist to win the award in the 53 year history of the Grammys.

Having discovered the cello at 14 after seeing and listening to Yo-Yo Ma on Mr. Rogers, she became a concertmaster at 15 and earned a full scholarship at the prestigious Berkelee School of Music where, after some struggle, considered giving up music and following her passion for political science. Thankfully, for all of us, she was discouraged to do so by none other than world renowned  jazz guitarist and composer Pat Metheny who told Spalding she had what it took and that if she applied herself she would certainly succeed.

Her compositions from both her “first” U.S. release and the most recent album Chamber Music Societyblends classical jazz orchestrations with samba and bossa nova. She’s played with Pat Metheny, Stanley Clarke, Patti Austin, Joe Lavano and many others. Here’s a little taste:

Ponta De Areia (from “Esperanza”)

Winter Sun (from “Chamber Music Society”)