Some Speculation on The Future of Payments in Virtual Reality

Update: Coincidentally, the day after I published this, London-based software engineer Julius Sweetland published Optikey, which uses iris tracking to let users type and use their computer’s “mouse” hands free. This could be great for those people who don’t have good dexterity. Check out the Optikey wiki on Github.

“The ideal payments experience would be an invisible one,” said a friend of mine while we were driving through the Tenderloin in San Francisco. We’d had a drink at a spot where to gain access you have to mention something about a library. Apart from the price (stratospheric, but passable because it was quite tasty, and in San Francisco) the process of cashing out was fraught with unnecessary friction which drew my attention. There was waiting for the bartender to print our tabs, still more waiting while he gathered our cards, or taking time to pay cash and get change, etc. In all, it took probably 4-5 minutes, a full 7% of our total time at the establishment.

This post is an exploration of payments, virtual reality, and the use of biometric data to make payments in a virtual reality environment. Not so much a technical paper as a meandering survey of various technologies and their intersection, this post can be broken into three parts: first, an overview of the payments space and investor interest in financial technology; second, analyzing the current trends in virtual reality headset technology; and finally, I hope to lay out a couple plausible paths toward building a seamless payment experience in immersive VR based on current hardware trends and industry forecasts.

Continue reading “Some Speculation on The Future of Payments in Virtual Reality”

Jack and Jill Went to Sand Hill…

Jack and Jill went to Sand Hill to raise their Series A

They went from Andreessen to Kleiner and Greylock and then to DFJ

Jill spoke of disruption

Old term sheets’ destruction

And when they will move to the Bay.


Jack said said to VCs

“Our app’s the bee’s knees”

“I see you have two Stanford degrees.”

“That’s right,” said Jack, “And the check, if you please?”


“Yeah, uh, sure. Okay.”

Does The Internet Have An Image Problem? Maybe

If a picture is worth 1000 words, then we are living in the most verbose of times. On the average day, more photos will be taken during that 24 hour period than any other 24-hour period before.  The numbers, into which will delve a little bit deeper later on in this paper, are truly staggering. In the past decade, the way we think about photography is fundamentally changed. Continue reading “Does The Internet Have An Image Problem? Maybe”

Does Who You Meet First Matter More? Analyzing VC Influence At The Earliest Stages [Excerpt]

Note: This is an edited excerpt from a research proposal I wrote for a course on network theory. For the purposes of this post, I did not include any of the sections on the data I would gather or the statistical analysis I would perform. If you have questions or suggestions about data or analysis, please feel free to contact me via the contact form on my site. Alternately, if you want to collaborate on executing this study, please also reach out through the contact form.

I consider this proposal a “working draft” of the first section of a longer paper. In order to complete that longer paper, I need data. So, if you have a huge database of VC deals, please let me know.

The objective of this paper was to propose a method for identifying the most influential venture capital firms (by using betweenness centrality as a proxy for influence) and determining whether there existed a correlation between the “promiscuity” of lead VCs and those VCs which were most effective at increasing valuations of the underlying ventures between the A and B rounds, rather than focusing on IPO valuations like other research has done.

I did include the works cited and my annotations to said citations at the bottom of this post.

In 2007, Hochberg et al.  published a paper titled “Whom You Know Matters: Venture Capital Performance and Investment Networks” in which they establish that more well-connected VCs perform better at the individual company and portfolio level over the course of the venture lifecycle. At the earliest stages of the venture lifecycle, however, entrepreneurs understand the importance of partnering with a high-quality venture capitalist. Just as picking the right business partners can set up a project for success, picking the right investor should therefore augment performance. Continue reading “Does Who You Meet First Matter More? Analyzing VC Influence At The Earliest Stages [Excerpt]”

Half-Baked Startup Idea: Bibliographies as a Service

Since I returned to school to finish the rest of my undergraduate degree, I’ve noticed a particular pain point in the academic process. The bulk of the academic work I have to do for my major comes in the form of research papers and proposals. The biggest problem I have, when it comes to writing one of these things, is figuring out where to start.

TLDR? Skip to the bottom of the post to view a little slide deck…

To give a real-world example, I was sitting in a class called “network theory for international political economy,” a really interesting class that blends concepts from social network theory and international relations. Fortunately for me, the class’s subject matter skewed heavily toward social networking theory, a subject I find particularly interesting. Continue reading “Half-Baked Startup Idea: Bibliographies as a Service”

A (Very Incomplete) Conceptual Toolkit for Designing Rebellious Software

Although Snopes corrected my belief that Bill Gates said in an address to high school students, “Be nice to nerds. You may end up working for them. We all could,” the idea rings true. For what it’s worth, that quote comes from Charles M. Sykes, author of the 1996 book Dumbing Down Our Kids. But it sounds better when it’s attributed to Mr. Gates, the archetype of nerd-turned-businessperson success stories. The truth is, people like Gates – computer scientists, hardware tinkerers, entrepreneurs, product designers, and marketers who help explain the benefits of new technology to the general population – they really do run the world now, because they’re the ones who build, command and control the computers that mediate so much of our lives today.

Software developers and designers are endowed with a particular kind of power. As glaziers of the digital world, they make and frame the windows through which we ingest and interact with information. An emergent phenomenon of this power to define the rules of interaction and consumption is that aspects of their creations have taken on a degree of social significance. In short, there is a politics of application features.

Oftentimes, software developers and designers build in features that reject (or at least push against) norms established by the structure of law and protocol. Here, we will briefly explore a small set of concepts employed in many contemporary software products and platforms, and we’ll give a short analysis of how these concepts are brought together and remixed in three particular software products: FireChat, Hush and Symphony. Continue reading “A (Very Incomplete) Conceptual Toolkit for Designing Rebellious Software”

Semantics for Startups, or, Unpacking “X for Y” Company Descriptions


Venture capitalists and certain technology publications love to sneer at derivative product ideas. Startup founders peddling goofy “Tinder for Cats” ideas become the butt of cruel jokes. And like all things, when it comes to joking about derivative startup ideas, there is an app for that: ItsThisForThat. Joking aside, explaining startup ideas by comparing them to successful companies is, at least from a social and linguistic perspective, an extremely efficient way to identify the nature of a company’s core product or service offering. By invoking an archetypal company and declaring the niche the startup wants to exploit, one-line startup pitches take the general form of “I’m building [archetypal company] for [niche market]” or, more simply, “X for Y”.

It is difficult to pinpoint when technology entrepreneurs began explaining their products and services in “X for Y” terms, but this explanatory heuristic has firmly ingrained itself in the startup ecosystem. Searching on Product Hunt for “tinder for” we find a plethora of startups: 208, Tinder for investors; Karma Swipe, Tinder for Reddit; and KickOn, Tinder for house parties and events. Searching again on PH for “uber for” we find Lugg, Uber for moving stuff; Nimbl, Uber for cash (because apparently going to the ATM is incredibly difficult); and perhaps my favorite company, MOWARES, a rather meta startup platform for building and launching your own Uber for X startup.

The question we want to answer here is, “functionally speaking, what do we mean when we say that a company’s product or service is ‘Uber for X’?” Continue reading “Semantics for Startups, or, Unpacking “X for Y” Company Descriptions”

From Ride Sharing to the “In Real Life Transport Protocol”

Abstract/TLDR: The biggest opportunity for companies like Uber and Lyft is to expand their transportation services to third parties and diversify the type of objects they convey from one place to another. In doing so, the metaphor we use to describe these companies can shift from platforms to protocols. In short, these companies are building what I’m calling the IRL Transport Protocol, a system for routing packets (in the form of cars and bikes) and their contents from point to point.

This is a draft of a paper I recently submitted.

Continue reading “From Ride Sharing to the “In Real Life Transport Protocol””

Cloaking The Swarm

Analyzing the role encryption and meshnet communication platforms play in post-Arab Spring protest movements: case analyses of Hong Kong & Ferguson, MO in 2014.

Note: This piece was first submitted as a paper for an academic project. I plan to expand parts of it into a much longer article. It was originally published online on my Medium blog.

There is little doubt that the advent of mobile communication platforms has radically affected how protests form and manage themselves. The speed and scale at which protesters can communicate their message, galvanize a base of support and report government infringement of their free speech rights is unprecedented. Governments, citizens and traditional media outlets treat “social media” as a monolithic entity, despite the fact that different communication and publishing platforms have diverging patterns of use, different sharing mechanics, and different levels of privacy protection. In this paper, we will examine the role a particular “genre” of communication platform plays in protecting citizens’ free speech rights in protest situations. By examining two cases from the recent past — the Hong Kong and Ferguson, Missouri protests of 2014 — we seek to demonstrate that decentralized and/or end-to-end encrypted mobile messaging platforms provide a first line of defense against government crackdown on free speech. To do so we will first explain the different facets of the “social media” landscape in two dimensions: the default scope of content sharing on a given network, and the degree of privacy protection afforded to users. Then we will describe the many similarities between the Hong Kong and Ferguson cases, and explain the role of decentralized and end-to-end encrypted messaging applications at the point where the cases diverged. Continue reading “Cloaking The Swarm”

A Few Things I Learned in 2014

Note: This is a cross-post from my Medium blog, originally published in January 2015. I included it here on my website to kick off the new blog.

I’d originally intended to share this list of bullet points with a friend. Some are general, some are personal. A few are quite revealing, but I believe that personal faults and foibles are rendered less significant if they’re openly shared.

Nothing to hide, nothing to fear, right?

I’m sharing this list mostly because I think some of the things I learned are potentially valuable and applicable to other people* (See note at end of post.)

Here are a few things I learned in 2014:

  • Some people have a tendency to be trusting and generous to a fault, and that they let other people take advantage of that because they weren’t sufficiently self-confident to stand up for what was best for them.
  • Corollary: Some people (including me) have a hard time saying no to things.
  • People (especially in startup culture) tend to overestimate/overvalue people with well-developed hard skills, whereas it’s the people with well-developed soft skills (communication, intuition, aligning ideals with action, etc) that are often more effective and productive. (And it’s those with both hard and soft skills that rule the world.) [Edit: this is to say that, all things being equal, a brilliant designer with limited communication skills will not fare as well as a merely good designer with good communication skills.]
  • Although some people are fairly smart they can also be intellectually insecure. This compels them to keep learning about new and emerging fields and developing hard skills, but this drive to keep learning sometimes hinders their ability to seize opportunities as they’re presented. (I’ve dealt with this too.)
  • Finding partners that mesh well with you, personally and culturally, is more important than finding the most talented person to build something with you.
  • The emails I write are often too long.
  • Unsexy but easily-executable projects with a high likelihood of success are often a better time investment than ambitious, difficult ones with a greater risk of failure.
  • It really is all about people. This is a really tired cliche, especially in entrepreneurship circles, but it’s true. Ideas are cheap. Money can come from (almost) anywhere. Execution reigns supreme, and the only thing that can execute is a good group of people.
  • Despite a lot of irksome elements in contemporary startup culture, it does you no favors to shun it thinking you’re better off on your own. (This hasn’t been a real problem with me, but I’ve observed it in others.) That being said, it’s okay to laugh about it sometimes with people who also think it’s kind of ridiculous.
  • Friends = Family.
  • Volunteering for political campaigns is fun and educational. You learn a lot about your country by knocking on its doors.
  • Connecting and helping people make deals is incredibly fun and is probably what I’d like to spend my life doing.
  • ^That^ and writing. I used to write so much for public consumption, back in my college days. I don’t know why I stopped publishing stuff… because I really liked it. I’d developed a (very) small cult following that liked what I wrote, and to be honest I really miss having that community of readers. I’m making it a point to write and publish a lot more in 2015.
  • It’s easier to change a system from within it.

So, that’s about it. I hope you found parts of this post valuable. If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. If not, but you scrolled down to the bottom to see the little note at the end, I hope that doesn’t leave you dissapointed either.

Happy New Years! May your 2015 be better than your 2014.