CategoryAssumptions

Salt water, lighting… bad journalism or fraud?

I keep seeing stories about a new lamp that is “powered” by salt water. The claim is that you’ll get 45 days of lighting using nothing more than half a liter of salt water… What I want to know is why none of these journalists ever check with an engineer or physicist or high school science teacher on whether such a claim is possible. If it’s not obvious to you, the...

Efficiency vs. Resilience: The Texas Blackout

The right framework can uncover the most hidden of assumptions. For example, the 2021 winter blackouts in Texas. While the politicians and news debate over windmills, natural gas, and deregulation, they are missing the the framework and thus talking trees instead of forest.   The better way to look at this problem is the consequence of a hidden tradeoff we make with all our big, complex...

Milquetoast

It’s been a long time since I mentioned my love of long-lived assumptions. This time it isn’t a story of a startup, but a story of an not-uncommon, but no everyday English word, milquetoast. The spelling makes it looks like an old loan Latin word borrowed from French 1,000 years ago. It’s not. It’s a fancy way of spelling “milk toast” a simple breakfast dish...

The Drought of Capital

Entrepreneurs are farmers of ideas.Farmers who are living in a perpetual drought.No matter how well we teach entrepreneurship, the drought creates year after year of failed crops. The fix has little to do with more and better incubators, accelerators, and startups labs. This drought is the lack of capital to support the existing startups. Just as we can’t solve a regional drought by...

Sharing Equity with Employees

There are a few aspects of venture capital whose origins are lost to history. One of these is the 20% stock option pool. Or more simply, the idea that everyone in the startup should own (at least a small amount of) the equity. Does this idea date all the way back to Rock and Davis, or did it come later? Why 20%? Why not 10% or 33% or 50%? Was this idea ever debated, or did one VC decades ago tout...

America Started with Capitalism

The story of the Pilgrims and the Mayflower taught to every American child in every American school is less than half of the actual story. Obviously there are a lot of day to day details left out, but the most striking of the omissions is the fact that the endeavor was a for-profit business. The corporate side of this story is told in the first chapter of Americana: A 400-Year History of American...

HTTPS is Complicated

I love hidden assumptions. Ideas and services we take for granted. Take, for example, HTTPS. The entire commercial Web has moved from http:// to https://. We did that because it is more secure. And it is. But it’s also way way way more complicated to set up. I’m not going to try an explain how it works. I have a B.S. in Mathematics/Computer Science from a top 5 university plus a M.S...

Decimalization

Have I mentioned I love a good assumption? Have I mentioned my fascination with norms that were normal for our grandparents which seem totally odd today? Did you think 29 knuts in one sickle, and 17 sickles in a galleon was making fun of non-metric countries? Nope! It was making fund of pre-decimal British pounds, shillings, and pence. Note too this video is from 1970, not 1870 or 1670. In 1969...

The end of (solely) Shareholder Value

100 years ago, in 1919, the Michigan Supreme Court made a comment in their ruling of Dodge v. Ford saying (in its common paraphrased form), “The purpose of business is to maximize shareholder value.“ In 1970, Nobel Laureate in economics Milton Friedman repeated this in an essay in the New York Times entitled “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits...

The Trigger for American Recycling

Change is hard. Making change happen even harder. Looking for the origins of change fits in with my questions of how things used to work three or more generates ago, and my general search for hidden assumptions. I was thus delighted today when I flipped on the Planet Money podcast, Episode 925: A Mob Boss, A Garbage Boat and Why We Recycle. I was in high school living in suburban New York when...

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