Friday, April 30, 2010

Happy Birthday, Claude Shannon, the Juggling Scientist

A man of great intellect and playful fantasy …….

“He was one of the greatest geniuses of the 20th century, the father of the bit, and the pioneer of the information age in which we live. But Claude Shannon not only stood out by virtue of his perspicacity and ingenuity; he also possessed great humor and originality to boot. The founding father of information theory spent his spare time building juggling robots, chess computers and programmable tin mice. He was often seen riding a unicycle or juggling clubs in his office.”

Shannon was born on this day, April 30, 1916. Walking around Portsmouth today, I asked some of the more senior technical people I encountered (including JV, JC, AM, and KD), about Shannon. They didn’t recognize him. Yet his work with digital information laid the groundwork for the video games, YouTube, MySpace, iTunes, and digital telephony these guys work with daily.

While I was at MIT, I heard stories that Shannon had unicycled down the Infinite Corridor, juggling as he went. I have yet to find anyone who actually saw this event, but I’m still asking. Meanwhile, I asked my friend Len Kleinrock, the Internet pioneer, one of Shannon’s first two PH.D. Students.

“When I first met Shannon in summer of 1958, it was at his home. I remember the huge library he had with a ladder on a track to reach the high books. I was sitting on his porch and he showed me the wire-tracking lawn mower he had installed. He also loved automatic chess playing machines; once in LA with him, before dinner, we went to a chess shop and bought this neat chess game which would move the pieces by actually lifting them up with an arm and moving them - if the piece was not there (when it thought it should be there) the arm went into a catatonic fit,” says Len.

The quotation heading this blog post is from the just ended “Codes and Clowns” exhibition at the Heinz Nixdorf Museums Forum in Paderborn, Germany. The exhibit showcased a selection of his inventions, ranging from the highly practical to the downright useless. The presentation set Shannon’s inventions in the context of his biography and the history of information technology

To see an excellent five minute video on Shannon, click here then select “Video about the exhibition.”

So, Happy Birthday, Claude Shannon. And, as Len Kleinrock proposes, “Let’s all raise our glasses to toast the man I admire the most in my professional life.”
And good news: the Nixdorf Exhibits are on loan from the MIT Museum, the first time that they have been  displayed at a different location.The Heinz Nixdorf Forum exhibition has just closed but this exhibition is en route to Berlin and then Linz, Austria. There is a longer proposed itinerary among museums in German speaking countries but those venues have not yet signed contracts. The tentative plan is for the exhibition to return to the US in late 2012, according to Deborah Douglas, Curator at the MIT Museum.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

AWS Launches Cloud Computing In Asia Pacific Region

Amazon Web Services (AWS) provides developers with access to in-the-cloud infrastructure services based on Amazon's own back-end technology platform, which developers can use to enable almost any type of business.  AWS continues to expand the range of services offered and the geographic areas served. AWS now offers its suite of web services from new Singapore datacenters to serve customers desiring an Asia Pacific presence

Developers and businesses can access AWS services from the new "Singapore" Availability Zones beginning today. Available services now include Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), Amazon SimpleDB, Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS), Amazon Simple Queue Service (Amazon SQS), Amazon CloudFront, Amazon CloudWatch and Amazon Simple Notification Service (Amazon SNS).

If you haven’t checked out the list of AWS services recently, more details on each of these and other services and specific pricing for each is available at the AWS website. Take a look.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Open Angel Forum now in Silicon Valley, Thinking Nationally

Don Dodge posted some interesting updates on the Open Angel Forum on his blog today. Don attended the first meeting of the Silicon Valley Chapter and reports that the founder has plans to take the organization both national and global.

Says Don: “Open Angel Forum came to Silicon Valley last Friday night. Dave McClure and Shervin Pishevar are the Silicon Valley chapter leaders for OAF. Jeff Clavier, Andrea Zurek (XG Ventures), Cyan Banister, Pejman Nozad, Chris Yeh, and others attended the first meeting. This is an invitation only group, and these Angels all write checks. Each Angel listed some of their most recent or notable investments to start out the meeting. Some of the biggest names in tech were mentioned, and many of the current hottest startups. It is an impressive group.”

There was a lively discussion about how to make the investment process flow more smoothly, and specifically around how to structure convertible notes that are simple, fair, fast, and inexpensive to put together. Neither Don nor I favor convertible notes, so I’ll refer you to his earlier post on this topic..

And while I applaud the attempt to make angel capital more accessible to entrepreneurs, I feel a need to point out that in not charging presenters the Forum is not innovating, but is just following the tradition of most existing angel groups, including those located here in the Northeast, as I wrote earlier this year.

Says Don: “See Open Angel Forum for news on future meetings and locations. Jason Calacanis never thinks small. He wants to take this nationwide...and global.”

Stephen King, Book Pricing, Kindle, and RiverRun

I just received a press release from Amazon announcing that Stephen King’s new novella, Blockade Billy, is available now on Kindle for $7.00.

Since I’ve been following the debate about electronic vs. traditional book pricing, I checked on the Amazon site and found that a hardcover version of the novella is available for pre-order: price, $10.11, shipping date May 25.

So the Kindle version is available five weeks earlier and costs 21% less. And, of course, the book needs shipping. I have Amazon Prime, so the apparent shipping cost is free. If you already have a Kindle, the apparent cost for that is also free. The actual costs are higher of course but difficult to calculate so most users won’t bother.

Just for fun, assume that I buy 36 books in a year (one every ten days), at an Amazon price of $20.00 each. Assuming the same discount as the King novella, I would pay $720 for hardbound books and $570 for Kindle versions. A basic Kindle costs $259, or $86 annually, assuming three year depreciation. Free two-day shipping with Amazon Prime is $79 annually.

So who is the big winner: The Kindle ($656 vs. $849) by almost $200 plus earlier availability.

Who is the big loser? Alas, my favorite local book seller, RiverRun Bookstore, which needs to charge full price: $14.99 for the new novella, almost $1100 for my 36 books.

Sorry Tom, but please keep up the book signings and author readings for us.