You Can Run But Can’t Hide On The Web

One of my favorite cartoons, published in The New Yorker, shows a dog at a computer saying to another hound, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

In fact that may no longer be true.

With the Internet you can learn all kinds of things about dogs, especially dirty dogs.

By dirty dogs I mean the type of people who should otherwise be kept outside.

I know someone who might fit the description, though I won’t name him. He tells a good story. I was led to believe he was a big winner in the business world who launched many businesses and inventions. I seriously doubt it now and will be suspect about anything this person says.

If you are a successful professional you are searchable on the Web. That’s not true of everyone. If you’re fastidious and Web savvy you can keep a low profile.

But for many people making it big requires having a Web presence, both professional and social. The information grows over time and it doesn’t go away. This is why you should be careful about the personal information you post. And remember, don’t drink and Tweet. It’s not safe.

You can learn many things about people on the Web by typing their name into Google search and adding Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn with it, for example. Even if you’re not connected to that person you can still find general background information. And most public legal documents about you are available, usually for a fee. This incudes criminal records. It’s easy to find their online bio by entering “bio John Doe.” Check the Web section of Google, the News section and Blogs, then follow up on the leads with more searches. Check out the people who recommend them as well to see if they are legit. It’s not hard to find out what breed of dog they are, and dogs sometimes roam in packs.

There’s nothing wrong with having your information on the Web, if you are who you say you are.

Which brings me back to the dirty dog. I looked at his professional bio, his LinkedIn and Facebook site, and tried to verify the information. I did this because I was planning to write a blog post about things he had said at a gathering I recently attended. As a journalist I attend a lot of gatherings and meet many people. I had been duly impressed with his story and wanted to share it as an inspiration.

With the background check everything began to unravel. The person’s current business, as listed on his bio, did not seem to exist. The business did not have a Web site; very strange in that this person is Web savvy and wants to be known. It just didn’t make sense.

As I dug deeper into other stated facts I gradually discovered it was like traveling down a sewer hole. It got darker and smellier, leading me to the conclusion, after about two hours of research, that this person was a fraud, a con artist. Perhaps some of his rather lengthy story is real, but enough of it stinks and I don’t like the stench.

On the one hand I say, “Congratulations, you dirty dog.” You have persuaded many people you’re a big winner. But I now think you’re a con artist, and a good one at that.

I do not hold a grudge against this person and have no plans to out him, unless he was going to defraud or unfairly deceive people I care about.  On the day I heard him speak the message was informative and useful.

But I tell you the story for this reason: If you are not who you say you are, in today’s world it will ultimately come to light. You can run, but you can’t hide.

It’s getting harder and harder to stay private in this world. There are multiple ways your identity can be uncovered. There’s no trick to it. All you have to do is be a little adept at doing a Google search.

There are Web sites that will help you do that as well. Sites like Pipl.com and 123People.com, ZabaSearch.com and Intellius.com make a business out of it. Some of the information is free. For a fee they will dig deeper. I am not applauding these sites, just pointing out they are available. There is also the Better Business Bureau, for checking out a business. You can also find out if someone you know has been busted for an offense. Try CriminalSearch.com.

And if you are really serious about profiling someone, try to find out if they have an alias, or changed their name – common among con-men. If they are really big, see if they have a Wikipedia listing. And though some people use a different name on Twitter to make them difficult to find, if you search enough they are findable. It also helps to know their age and location for some searches

I wrote a comprehensive story about the Web’s band of Big Brothers that you can read here. Remember this: Not everything you see on the Web is trustworthy. Check and check again, from different sources.

Learning about the dirty dog caused me to reflect. He led me to believe he has wealth, and maybe that’s so. Maybe this person has a few million stashed in a bank somewhere for his dirty deeds, done dirt cheap.

I don’t have that kind of money. But I do have my integrity, and that is worth more than all the money he has.

Strength & honor,

Brian

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We Can Live Long And Prosper

Each morning when I wake up the first thing I do is fight off the bugaboo creepy crawlers of gloom.

Soon I know that everything is OK and I look forward to the challenge and opportunity the day offers.

The future looks even brighter having heard Peter Diamandis present at the Saturday morning METal breakfast in Los Angeles.

Peter Diamandis on a weightless flight with Zero-G

 Diamandis, the Bronx born Greek of immigrant parents, brims with confidence and ideas. His efforts have brought forth expanded human space flight, cars that get 100 miles per gallon, breakthroughs in medical science and the realization that things are much better than most of us think. And that’s just a capsule of what he’s up to.

Diamandis is perhaps best known for being chairman and CEO of X Prize Foundation, which provides multi-million dollar awards in contests that bring forth radical breakthroughs in science, medicine, energy, education and other areas. This includes the $10 million prize to SpaceShipOne, the first non-government piloted spacecraft that led to Virgin Galactic and commercial space flight.

When asked of his motivation in life Diamandis said, “The realization that each has the ability to make dreams come true.” He also prefers working with people who are “willing to risk it all.” His personal motto is: “The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself.”

Here’s something else. Diamandis doesn’t live with a linear world view as we have for the last 200,000 years. The linear world is logical and time oriented, where each event has a cause and effect. The problem here is linear thinking makes it hard to deal with the flood of information and change pouring on us at an increasing rate.

“The way we think is local and linear but the world is changing in an exponential fashion,” he said.

SpaceShipOne

Instead we need to think in leaps and bounds and open our minds to the possibility and opportunity for explosive shifts in innovation and disruption. The rate of technical progress is doubling every decade and that shift is accelerating. What it means is this century will see 1,000 times the advancement in technological change than the prior century.

It’s for this reason that Diamandis and the genius futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil established Singularity University, with a mission “to assemble, educate and inspire leaders” who can understand and develop “exponentially advancing technologies in order to address humanity’s grand challenges.”

Diamandis and Kurzweil are two peas in a pod, and to the linear thinking man they might seem a little bit far out. Both of them believe in a world and Universe beyond your wildest imaginations.

They see the time when computers will have the ability of the human brain, and with people able to live hundreds of years. They envision tremendous breakthroughs of all kinds to the point that it makes me believe – despite the constant insanity that seems to plague the world – that everything is going to be OK. No, really.

What you’ve seen on Star Trek will, in essence, become reality.

Audi V 10 @ METal

*Other notes:

Last night I was chatting with my good friend John Sutton who shared some great insight he picked up. “ROI,” said John. “Do you know what that is? It’s not return on investment. It’s return on INVOLVEMENT.” And, he said, “It’s not about what’s new. It’s about what’s NOW.”

Back to METal. Each week METal founder and host Ken Rutkowski asks people at the breakfast for the first time who they are and what they do. Here’s a sample from Saturday: We had a writer and producer from PBS; a filmmaker, a guy who shark dives without cages, a tech entrepreneur from London and one from Romania, several highly accomplished Web designers, a singer/songwriter, a leader in the space tourism industry and another guy who described himself as a “super car engineer.”

If I got this right, he was the guy with some awesome 850HP Audi with a carbon fiber chassis in the parking lot. I think he said it can do 240 mph. That’s the photo here. I took these other photos of cars driven by the Men of METal. Pretty awesome, don’t ya think?

Strength & honor,

Brian

UPDATE: Thank you Alex Deighton, for pointing this out: “Actually the car was not the Audi, but a Mosler Photon. The street legal version of this: http://chivethethrottle.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/mosler-photon-1.jpg?w=500 ”

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Marvel-ous Superhero Stan Lee Takes Flight

For a guy who is 88 years old Stan Lee still has super powers, just like the many comic book characters he created.

Ken Rutkowski with Stan Lee at METal

In the world of comic books, Lee is a real Super Hero. At Marvel Comics he co-created Spider-Man, X-Men, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Fantastic Four and many others. His influence over the comic book industry is enormous. His name is on 35 million comics annually. More than 2 billion of his comic books have been published in 75 countries and 25 languages

And like any great superhero Lee keeps on going. The fruits of his work are currently on display in theaters. “Thor” is the story of a powerful warrior sent out of Asgard to Earth where he becomes a great defender. The movie is slaying its way to a box-office hit.

Bottom line is this: In the world of comic books, like Thor, Lee is a God. And that’s his right as a writer.

“That’s a nice thing about being a writer. I can be God,” said Lee, speaking to an audience of about 200 men at the METal breakfast in Los Angeles on Saturday.

He created Thor in 1962, based on the Thor of Norse mythology. Thor is more real than Superman, the star of DC Comics, Lee explained with some humor.

“Superman has no real propulsion,” said Lee. He simply raises his arms, leaps and flies.

“I happen to be very scientific,” said Lee. Thor flies with the aid of a large hammer strapped to his wrist. When he wants to fly he swings it around like a propeller and lets it go, as Thor flies with it.

“It’s science!” Lee exclaimed.

Thor cover in 1978

Brilliant though he is, Lee acknowledged a weakness.

“I have never been one for memory,” he said.

This explains why the alter ego of Spider-Man was named Peter Parker, the Hulk character Bruce Banner, or the Fantastic Four character Reed Richards. Having people with the first and last name beginning with the same letter was easier to remember.

“If I could remember the first name it gave me a clue of the other,” Lee said.

With that kind of memory it was not uncommon for Lee to sometimes flub a story line.

“I would get these indignant letters from readers,” pointing out flaws in continuity, he said.

This led to the creation of his No-Prize, which is exactly what readers would get. Lee would mail a pre-printed envelope that, on the outside cover, congratulated them for the “No-Prize which you have just won!”

The envelope was empty.

Lee, sitting cross-legged on a chair wearing his trademark large-rimmed glasses, tan-brown pants and olive green shirt displayed enthusiasm, whit and ego while being interviewed by METal founder Ken Rutkowski.

During a Q&A session, when asked what inspired him to create Thor he replied, “Greed.”

Asked who his favorite character was he said only the one he was working on at that time.

“I am my own biggest fan,” he said.

Spider-Man in 1962

On a recent Twitter post Lee wrote, “Finally saw THOR! It’s even better than everyone said it is! But, forgetting about my cameo for a moment, the movie itself is great!”

Known on Twitter as TheRealStanLee, he tweets about four times daily and has more than 143,000 followers.

Asked his definition of a hero Lee said, “The good guy who fights a bad guy. It’s someone who, when he or she needs to help someone, difficult or dangerous it may be, they do not walk away.”

About his creation of X-Men, Lee once said they used it to point out the injustice and wrong-headedness of bigotry.

Asked to elaborate, he said that was not a starting point. Merging in a message about the evils of bigotry “usually comes later. That’s not what I start with when I sit down to write.”

Stan Lee gets hugs from Bianca, Alexis and Maya at METal

With credits on several blockbuster films Lee spoke of the exquisite blessing it provides.

“The best thing about movies is you have cinematographers, actors and all kinds of creative people working their hearts out. They make beautiful movies and I get all the credit! It‘s a wonderful business.”

But if the movie bombs he can also say, “I had nothing to do with it!”

Lee’s current focus is on POW! Entertainment. POW! stands for Purveyors of Entertainment, where he is founder, chairman and chief creative officer. POW! creates and licenses intellectual property for the entertainment industry.

Stan ‘the Man’ Lee is also known for his signature sign-off of Excelsior which, translated, means “even higher.”

If Lee can fly any higher than he already has, he might in fact meet God.

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Flying High On Outer Space And Tourism

 

I spent Thursday evening with about 200 people who want nothing more than to fly into outer space.

The event was at the Proud Bird restaurant at the tip of Los Angeles International Airport, sponsored by the Space Tourism Society.

One focus of the evening was to acknowledge Dennis Tito, who ten years to the day became the first paying citizen to hitch a ride on a rocket to the International Space Station, in 2001 (A Space Odyssey).

Tito is a hero in this crowd, in a similar way that Yuri Gagarin was the first man to fly into outer space in 1961. That was the beginning of human space flight. Tito marked the beginning of space tourism.

Dennis Tito

He paid a reported $20 million to ride aboard a Russian rocket and spend 8 days as a space station crew member. Six more paying passengers have followed in his footsteps, including the first woman to do so, Anousheh Ansari. One of them, Charles Simonyi, has flown twice.

Tito, now age 70, in 1972 founded Wilshire Associates, a provider of investment management and consulting services. He spoke at last night’s event and said his trip 221 miles up “achieved my life’s dream of 40 years.”

The flights were coordinated through Space Adventures, which announced that it has booked a flight to send someone around the moon and back. The project remains in stealth mode but you can bet it will happen someday.

To many this is pie-in-the-sky stuff strictly for the space geek at heart (like me). In reality, it’s serious business and many space entrepreneurs have spent millions of their own money to prove it.

Perhaps best known is Elon Musk, who acknowledged to me in an interview once that he put up $100 million of his own cash to launch SpaceX, in Los Angeles, which now employs 1,300. The company has been a wild success building and launching rockets into orbit. It recently unveiled Falcon Heavy, which will be the largest rocket ever built. Last week SpaceX announced a $75 million NASA contract, one of several it has received as part of plans that include replacing the space shuttle for the delivery of cargo and astronauts to the space station.

International Space Station

Musk is also founder of electric car company Tesla Motors. He made his millions building Internet companies, including PayPal.

Another is Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who is building space ships at his company Blue Origin.

Another is John Carmack, a game developer who is building rockets at Armadillo Aerospace.

Another is Bigelow Aerospace, founded by real estate tycoon Robert Bigelow. It is building expandable space stations that can be used for research or tourist vacations.

Another is Virgin Galactic, founded by Richard Branson. Next year it plans to send its first paying customers into space on a futuristic craft designed by Burt Rutan. It’s a $200,000 ticket and last night I spoke to two women who have put a down payment for the trip.

One of them looked to be in her late 60s. I asked her why she was going and her answer was simply that she wanted to enjoy the adventure. Another woman with a reservation, about age 37, in her life had applied four times to be an astronaut. She didn’t get accepted and figures that flying aboard SpaceShipTwo was her way of finally reaching that goal. Virgin Galactic has 410 reservations booked thus far.

There are more examples of space technology company pioneers, like Xcor Aerospace and Scorpius, and many more.

On top of that, there are several professional organizations whose mission it is to bring space flight to the common people. They include the National Space Society, the Space Frontier Foundation and the 62 Mile Club – 62 miles being the closest edge of space.

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo

There are two opportunities here. One is launching satellites into space and for trips to the space station and, possibly, the moon. That’s a multi-billion dollar business right there.

The other is space tourism. How large that will be is anyone’s guess though some say it will also be a multibillion dollar business.

So, the next time someone says to you they want to take a trip to outer space, don’t act like that is where their head is right now.

Elon Musk, will tell you his dream is to make it possible for us to become a spacefaring society. While that may seem a little far out right now, humanity never would have colonized the world were it not for a few people willing to boldly go where no one has gone before.

So rock-it on!

Strength & honor,

Brian

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A Brave New Digital World Will Smack Us

Translation: Cars, Facebook, and Smartphones

If you were born before 1994, you are not one of them. Which may be a good thing.

Those born in 1994 and beyond are “the Internet generation,” and they are not like you.

The demarcation point was the launch of Netscape, the Internet browser that made it easy for people to surf the Web and changed the world forever. It led to Yahoo, Google and then Facebook. Along with it came the cell phone and text messaging.

Put it altogether and we discover that kids age 16 and younger are different. Their hometown is not New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. Their crib resides in Facebook. Here is where they keep tabs on their homies in the confines of their bedroom. When offsite they high-five via text messaging. They communicate in short bursts. Long form communication is anathema.

I got a peak inside this world from Mike Walsh, author and self-described anthropologist “looking at the disruptive impact of innovation on consumer behavior.” He presented at the Saturday METal breakfast in Los Angeles with a multimedia display that showed how things will never be the same.

“We’re at impasse about what to do with this new generation,” he said. “It’s a new world, a generation that never lived without the Web.”

It’s changing how information is absorbed and communicated, Walsh explained. Advertisers are racking their noggins over how to creatively con folks into consuming their products. The old methods, like TV and print advertising, don’t work. This is also true now for mature adults, who have been enveloped by the electronic tsunami of razzle-dazzle communication.

Greetings From Turkey

My favorite example of how digital technology has changed culture comes from Turkey. Walsh began with a slide from a Turkish movie titled “At, Avrat Silah,” an old proverb I am told translates to Horse, Woman, Gun. He used it to explain why Turkish men today buy very expensive smartphones. It times past it seems that real men in Turkey prized their horse, woman and gun, but times have changed.

The horse is now the car. Getting the woman apparently requires one to be adept at Facebook, where Turkey is the 5th largest user in the world of the social network. The gun? It is now the smartphone. The better the phone the bigger the gun.

“When Turkish men meet the first thing they do is put their phone on the table,” said Walsh.

Mike Walsh

Now, I totally respect foreign cultures. Fine with me if that’s what they do. Sadly, I think the same thing is happening here. If you’re not using an iPhone or iPad you’re just a little less hip. And, you know, girls prefer guys with a fancy gun.

Shit. I was just learning that a nice pair of shoes eases the foray into a woman’s heart. I really don’t care much for smartphones and was recently teased by a woman for using a dumb phone. But I digress.

The Internet generation represents a whole new ball game. They don’t watch TV. A lot of what they watch comes through YouTube or other methods of online delivery. Their Universe is inside Facebook. And they’d rather create content than absorb it. Some of the most successful advertising of late are from campaigns that encourage and allow Johnny Technology to pitch the brand based on what he perceives it to be.

“You can’t buy people’s attention like you used to,” said Walsh. “Your brand is not the one that matters. It‘s the consumer’s brand. They have challenged the way we do business.”

Walsh explains what this digital world is all about in his new book, “Futuretainment.” You can learn more at his Web site, which is the best I’ve ever seen. Walsh is also a keynote speaker and business consultant with “unique insights into the growing influence of new markets on breakthrough innovation and business transformation.”

The World of Futuretainment

During the Q&A session at the METal breakfast, hosted by Ken Rutkowski, I asked Walsh what has been the impact on social skills of the Internet generation. It seems to me we are raising a generation of kids with attention deficit disorder.

“It’s a big problem,” he said. In China, where the Internet is a primary source of entertainment, “the fastest growing group is Internet addiction,” where treatment takes place on old military compounds.

How quaint.

I imagine much of what’s being said here is not unlike what happened in the ‘50s, with “the television generation.” TV changed everything. We turned into couch potatoes and entertainment zombies.

The wheels of technology now turn.

Other METal notes:

Alex Lightman questioned why people spend their time developing software applications instead of focusing on bigger markets like energy. Venture capitalist William Quigley, in his presentation, found it odd that economists are downgrading the growth of the U.S. economy at a time when Wall Street estimates are rising.

I don’t mean to give either one short space here but I want to get one more thing in before this blog post gets too long.

Alexis and Bianca at METal

When the METal attendees check in for breakfast we are greeted at the sign-in table by three terrific woman. Maya is the juice that runs Ken’s engine and keeps METal moving forward. Alexis has been with us for a while and is wonderful as well. It seems this Saturday the sister of Alexis, Bianca, joined the table. I had the opportunity to chat with Alexis and Bianca. Fortunate me. They are charming and a pleasure to be around. The result is I get to post this photo, which I figured would encourage some of you to read to the end! And for that I thank you.

Strength & honor,

Brian

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UFO Sightings And Aliens Not Of This World

Years ago, for fun and adventure, I attended a UFO convention in Landers, Calif., near Joshua Tree.

The location was a popular meeting spot for UFO buffs and sightings in the 1950s. It was here that George Van Tassel had built his “Integratron,” a wood-and-wire domed two floor structure said to be an energy machine built partially on the theories of Nikola Tesla.

About a mile from the site is “Giant Rock,” a massive boulder in the Mojave desert believed to be a beacon for space ships, right next to “Crystal Hill.”

In 1951 Van Tassel was meditating at Giant Rock, the story goes, when he was transported to an alien space ship orbiting Earth, where he met the “Council of Seven Lights.” A year later he reports being visited by aliens from Venus, who suggest building the Integratron. It became Van Tassel’s obsession for the next 25 years.

The Integratron

As I recall, about 300 people attended the UFO convention at this location. Saturday was filled with seminars. Here I met Dr. Peterson, a tall and hearty man who told amazing stories. He said Mars was once inhabited and had an interstellar war with another planet in our solar system. In that battle the other planet was destroyed. Mars was so badly damaged that its surviving inhabitants left the planet for Earth. These “Reptilians” now live underground in Antarctica, parts of South America and China, he said.

Another man I spoke to had a scrapbook of photos and newspaper clips about UFOs. As I perused the pages, at one point he put his finger firmly on a photo and said forcefully, “If you ever see one of these, Run!” Apparently, as far as space aliens go, these were bad guys.

The most amazing story I heard was about Project Serpo, also called The Zeta Reticuli Exchange Program. It starts with the Roswell UFO crash in New Mexico in 1947. It seems that one of the alien survivors had a communication system that enabled him to radio his home planet, Serpo, for retrieval. This contact ultimately led to the exchange program, which consisted of 12 humans getting picked up and taken to Serpo for a 10-year visit. The full story of this is documented  here, which is totally mind blowing.

The next morning I drove out to see Giant Rock and Crystal Hill. It’s a weekend I’ll never forget. I have always wondered if there’s something out there.

Giant Rock

I was reminded of the trip this week because of a story in the media. The FBI had released formerly Top Secret files, accessed through the Freedom of Information Act. One file was about Roswell. Another was about Majestic 12, an investigation launched after a pilot flying over the Cascade Mountains in Washington in 1947 reported seeing nine disc-shaped objects traveling in formation at high speeds. Hundreds of reports of similar sightings followed. This led to the Majestic 12 committee set up on an executive order by President Harry Truman, if you believe it or not.

Another document by the FBI was about “Project Blue Book,” a U.S. Air Force study that began in 1952 and investigated 12,618 UFO sightings. The book was closed in 1969, concluding that most UFO reports were misidentifications, though 701 were listed as “unidentified.” As a side note here, the years with the most UFO sightings, about triple the average, were 1952, ‘57 and ‘66. I wonder why.

All these stories capture my attention. Any time a UFO report is in the news I read it. If video is available I watch it, anything I find.

Search YouTube for UFOs. You’ll find a ton of videos, to include interviews with civilians and authorities describing incredible events. This includes radio communications from pilots during UFO encounters.

Over the years, NASA astronauts Gordon Cooper, Edgar Mitchell,  and Brian O’Leary have stated that UFOs are real. Another amazing claim comes from Colonel Philip Corso, who in 1997 wrote “The Day After Roswell.” And in 2001 a group of 20 military, intelligence, government, corporate and scientific witnesses came to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. to state their case that UFOs and extraterrestrials are real and the government has covered it up. It’s called “The Disclosure Project.” Then there’s also Area 51.

As is often the case, when a UFO story is reported at some point another story follows to say it was bogus or some kind of hoax. Many immediately accept the explanation. Most people probably know someone who claims to have seen a UFO. Can they all be wrong?

If every single UFO report is somehow false, then what is it in the human psyche that causes thousands of reputable people to announce they witnessed some unexplained phenomenon? In many of these instances the sightings are witnessed by large groups of people, like the thousands who witnessed the “Phoenix Lights” in 1997.

Despite this abundance of reports, our population is seemingly numb or generally indifferent about the possibility that maybe we have been visited, many times. After all, deep down, it’s a rather frightening thought. If they have the intelligence and means to get here, they sure as heck have the ability to pretty much do whatever they want.

Here’s why I am more of a believer than a disbeliever in all this. By my calculation, there are planets in our Universe that, in theory, have been around 500 million years longer than Planet Earth. Now, imagine the technology we would have by then. I bet we could do inter-stellar travel.

There’s always that question, though, that if these aliens are that advanced why the heck would they be interested in the Third Rock from the Sun? Whatever the case, some believe it’s time the media, which tends to make a joke of all this, take it more seriously.

Should I ever meet one of these aliens, the first thing I’ll say is, “I come in peace!” I hope they do, too.

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The Amazing Universe of Alex Lightman

Alex Lightman is like a firefly. When his luminescent light is flitting about you see the light circling and glowing but it’s hard to see the appendages. He moves fast and never stops buzzing.

Alex Lightman at METal. Photo: Cooper Bates Photography

He often appears at the Saturday METal breakfast in Los Angeles for a brief presentation to this group of business professionals that meet each week. Lightman is a prolific author, entrepreneur and futurist. METal leader Ken Rutkowski winds up Alex and lets him fly on a weekly topic about things we don’t quite see. He sometimes runs out of time before getting to the central nugget, like he did this week, just before he was about to tell us of a billion-dollar market opportunity.

Darn.

Alex did toss us some words of wisdom, which I managed to catch on my keyboard. Think of it as Lightman in a bottle.

He began with an intellectual teaser. What was the spark that lit Silicon Valley?

To be sure, Silicon Valley would not exist were it not for industrialist Leland Stanford, who moved to the Bay Area in 1852 with a plan to build the “Harvard of the West.” Stanford University opened in 1891. To Alex Lightman, that was not the tipping point.

“It was 1904,” said Lightman, having something to do with the awarding of a U.S. Navy contract, which he did not specify.

“From that you can draw a straight line” to the gradual emergence of the world’s technology capitol, he said. I missed the chance to follow up with Alex to ask what that contract was.

Radio’s Role In Silicon Valley

That evening, burning with curiosity, I went to the Internet to see if I could find out. I found “The History of Silicon Valley” by Piero Scaruffi, to Chapter 1, “The Pioneers (1900-25)”. I searched for this elusive contract and found nothing specific, but I did find clues.

It was a period of intense research in the field of radio communication. San Francisco, being a big Navy port, was very involved with establishing radio towers and protocol to communicate with localities and ships at sea.

In 1909, Stanford alumnus Cyril Elwell had founded the Poulsen Wireless Telephone and Telegraph Company in Palo Alto. In 1912 it won a contract by the Navy. This start-up company was funded by Stanford’s own president, David Starr Jordan.

“The Bay Area had stumbled into electronics almost by accident,” Scaruffi writes, “And Jordan had just inaugurated venture-capital investment in the region.”

It’s likely that Lightman was referring to some earlier Navy contract, or maybe he got the date wrong. But it’s clear that the U.S. Navy’s investments in radio technology was a spark that ignited the area’s interest in technology.

Of course, Alex was just winding up to pitch a point. It was the investment of federal dollars in technology that led the way. He pointed to the U.S. Office of Science and Technology, formed in 1961 by President Kennedy to help fuel space exploration.

“This office is run by geniuses,” said Lightman. “It‘s the smartest part of the federal government,” with a budget that dwarfs the venture capital industry.

Hardware vs. Software

An underlying theme to all this is that “our strengths are in building complex objects,” said Lightman. It is the creation of complex hardware, not software, that keeps the technology candle burning bright. He made this same point at a previous METal breakfast, essentially pissing on the time developers spend creating software-based businesses like Facebook and other social networks, and games.

Instead, Lightman insists, we should focus on supporting complex hardware companies like Cisco.

Gamma ray burst

And it was here on Saturday that the amazing mind of Alex began to delve deeper into obscure analogies.

“Hardware is like ice,” he said. “When ice melts it turns to water, which is software. Water then evaporates, and this is what service companies are made of.”

“It is much easier to control ice than water or evaporated air,” said Lightman.

Make sense?

Inventing complex physical objects enables the founders to then create the standards for that technology, which enables them to stay ahead of foreign competitors. Steve Jobs figured this out, said Lightman. Apple starts out with new and novel physical objects, like the iPod, iPhone and iPad. After that comes the software.

So, go out and build a better mousetrap. After that someone will build an app that tells us at which hours of the day one will catch the most mice and what they prefer to nibble on.

–Other notes from METal breakfast–

The featured presenter on Saturday was a trio of executives from Syyn Labs, “formed in 2008 by a group of creative engineers who twist together art and technology.”

Eric Gradman, Brent Bushnell and Adam Sadowsky

On hand was Adam Sadowsky, president and CEO. With him was entrepreneur, engineer and co-founder Brent Bushnell, and Eric Gradman, a robotics specialist, musician and circus performer.

Syyn Labs, here in Los Angeles, consists of an eclectic and creative group of talent. It is best known for the project with indie rock band OK Go and its video “This Too Shall Pass,” now viewed more than 26 million times on YouTube. Syyn Labs put together the extremely amazing Rubik’s Cube project that was used in this highly entertaining video. They did something similar for the “Google Science Fair Experiment.”

Another project they worked on was the DieHard battery commercial starring Gary Numan, who plays his hit song “Cars” on a sequence of 24 cars with horns tuned by Syyn Labs, which took the team days and nights in the Mojave desert to set up.

Another project was the “DNA Sequencer” built for the annual Santa Monica Glow event.

“We do great art and creative things for clients,” said Sadowsky. “If you have brand you want to promote, hire us.”

I also want to thank Cooper Bates for contributing these METal photographs. Cooper is a great photographer. Do look him up for services.

Thanks for reading.

Strength & honor,

Brian

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Business All-Stars: Scott Painter, Jay Samit Both Rock The Tech Scene In Los Angeles

In Silicon Valley, throw a nickel out the window and hit a tech genius. In Los Angeles, you might have to toss the whole bag but sooner or later you’ll hit one.

OK, L.A. may be the redheaded stepchild to those propeller heads in SV but there are giants in this town.

Two of them are Scott Painter and Jay Samit. As a business writer for about 25 years I say they don’t come any better.

I recently watched both present some nuggets of wisdom to a class of aspiring entrepreneurs at the L.A. chapter of Founder Institute.

Painter’s first company was Scott’s Auto Detailing Service, founded at a spry 14. It was the start of a career disrupting the auto sales business. Detailing all the companies Painter has launched would fill a book. He’s started 37 and has raised about $1.4 billion in the process.

Among them is TrueCar.com, which provides a no haggle, transparent method of buying a car. Another is SharesPost.com, which connects buyers and sellers of shares in privately held companies.

So who better than Painter to address the subject of how to raise money for a startup business. As with all success stories, there’s pain before gain. While being the chief executive of a startup seems like king of the hill it’s not quite as glamorous as being a Persian kitty.

“As CEO and founder you will spend 50% of your time raising money,” said Painter.

His first warning to the Founder class, “If you don’t like fundraising, quit. You won’t make it.”

Here’s something else: “Be prepared to give up one-third of your company to investors.” That’s standard.

Here’s the good news: “It’s just as easy to raise $5 million as it is $50,000.”

If you want to do this, get out the business encyclopedia because there are some basic terms you need to know just as well as the face in your mirror, said Painter.

Some of the terms are: Balance sheet, income statement, cash flow and pro forma.

Scott Painter

But wait, there’s more.

You need to understand return on investment, internal rate of return, EBITDA and discounted cash flow.

But wait, there’s more.

You need to know the difference between common stock and preferred stock, an investor rights agreement, strike price, liquidation preference and at-will employment agreements.

Feel like quitting?

If not, and you plan to go forward, there is one more thing you need.

“Get a prenuptial agreement,” he said.

Painter seemed pretty emphatic about that. Better still, don’t get married.

“These are things you need to know,” he said. “You need to be able to speak the language of investors.”

But you have to do the work yourself. I mean, you didn’t expect me to define all this stuff, and if I did you would have stopped reading this blog long ago. But I will help. You can look up the definitions here and here. And if that’s not enough, search Wikipedia.

Now, on to Samit.

Jay Samit

The word genius isn’t adequate to define Jay. He has spent the past 25 years pioneering new forms of film, video and music production and marketing. As senior vice president of Universal Studios, he built one of the first online million-member social networks. At EMI Capitol Records, Samit pioneered digital music platforms that blew the doors off competitors and established several industry records.

“My job is to make buying music easier than stealing it,” he once said.

He left EMI to be creator and general manager of Sony Connect. He helped build it to one of the world’s largest online music store with over 2.5 million tracks serving 45 million page views a day in nine countries. He left long before that business hit the skids.

The story of how Samit introduced Sony Connect to the world is worth recalling.

He did so essentially for free. Reporters from around the world wrote about the launch as part of a free airline flight they received, the first ever in-flight concert at 30,000 feet, featuring Sheryl Crow.

He got Sheryl to perform for free, as she wanted to promote her new album. And he got United Airlines to fly for free, as they were just coming out of bankruptcy and wanted the publicity.

Sheryl Crow

Samit likes free, that is he likes to ride on other people’s money. Here’s a reason why: Establishing a new brand to the world costs about $100 million in ad and market spending, he said. Not many can do that. What Samit sets out to do is attach his brand, whatever that may be, to the company that’s spending the $100 million. He once got a music artist to record a song that McDonalds used to promote a new product. Boom! His artist hit the stratosphere riding on McDonalds spending. He’s performed that trick time and again with large ad spends by IBM, Microsoft and other giants.

“Partner with market leaders, with brands people know,” he said.

Samit knows hitting a home run is hard work but it’s not always necessary to swing for the fence.

“Home runs are lucky and can’t be forecast,” he said. For the startup company, just shoot for singles and doubles, he said. Get enough of those and you’ll rack up enough points to win the game in the long run.

Here’s another gem: “The first person you should educate is your competition.” That is, hit them over the head before they see the bat coming.

One company that made a dumb mistake was Groupon. No sooner did this online coupon distributor first enter the minor leagues that it began boasting how they were the brightest boy in the class. What that did was tip off every top-notch entrepreneur that there was a big business to be had copying the Groupon model. Groupon might still the leader but a major competitor, Living Social, this week received $400 million in financing.

Oopsy, Groupon.

Samit handled it differently with his current company, called SocialVibe, which is smashing barriers to radically transform digital marketing. Samit joined the company as CEO in 2009 but kept the company in deep stealth mode until recently. Before it’s unveiling to the world he quietly but steadily built up a rock-solid list of clients. The plan was to build an impenetrable fortress before launch to keep from being overrun.

His brand advertising network now reaches more than 200 million consumers every month, and it just announced a $20 million round of financing.

Other tips Samit offered up include this: “Hire the best people you can afford. Experience is a lot cheaper than failure.”

“Don’t be afraid to pay for talent,” he said. “You should never be the highest paid employee in the company.”

I gotta believe Samit is the highest paid person at SocialVibe, though. Who could do better?

(Update: Samit said this to me in an e-mail response: “I practice what I preach – I am not the highest paid employee at SocialVibe.”

Thanks for reading.

Strength & honor,

Brian

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Betting That Online Gambling Will Play Big

How much do you want to bet that online gambling will become legal across the U.S.?

If you bet no, Richard “Skip” Bronson will take that bet.

Bronson is chairman and co-cofounder of U.S. Digital Gaming, a company set up to help states provide legal online gambling. Though online gambling is illegal in the U.S. about $5.5 billion in illegal wagers changed hands last year.

“So many are doing that and getting away with it,” he said. “If you are playing poker online (with real money) you are breaking the law.”

A law passed in 2006, the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act, prohibits businesses from “knowingly accepting” bets or wagers over the Internet. It prohibits banks and credit card firms from transferring funds but does not specifically outlaw the sites. Some online gambling sites left town but two big ones stuck around: Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars.

I’m not a lawyer and can’t figure this stuff out but apparently real money does change hands and it’s illegal, said Bronson, who blogs here.

He hopes to help make it legal. States across the U.S. are hard up for cash and see legalized gambling as a cool way to pay up. The trend started with state lotteries and 43 now have them. It seems that above-board gambling is no longer seen as devilish. For the record, the politically correct term for gambling is gaming.

“It is becoming socially acceptable,” said Bronson, who served with Steve Wynn as one of two inside directors of Mirage Resorts until the company was sold in 2000. He is also CEO of Bronson Companies LLC, involved in the development of more than 100 shopping centers and office buildings. He spearheaded development of the $1.2 billion Borgata resort hotel in Atlantic City, N.J.

Bronson presented his views at the METal breakfast in Marina del Rey on Saturday, hosted by Ken Rutkowski.

State governors are seriously considering online gambling as a way out of debt. Among the bills is SB40 in California, which would license and tax Internet gambling. It has the support of the California Gaming Association. Among the opponents is the powerful Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, which runs the Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, Ca.

Bronson’s company, U.S. Digital Gaming, has a stellar list of executives, two of which are members of METal. They are co-founder Scott Painter, a dynamic fundraiser and digital entrepreneur, and Oded Noy, chief technology officer with a stellar list of accomplishments.

Painter is best known for disrupting the auto sales industry with his Web sites that include CarsDirect.com, Zag.com and TrueCar.com.

Scott Painter

“We believe no one should get screwed on buying a car,” said Painter.

Gentlemen, start your engines.

Painter, who has started more than 35 companies and raised more than $1 billion in financing, also presented at the METal breakfast Saturday. He said there is a “huge rebound” taking place in the U.S. auto industry, with Ford being in a good position. He also noted that the Japan earthquake affected “about 30% of global production.”

Oh, and if you own a car dealership, you might want to consider launching an Internet gambling site, instead.

Painter said major disruption is under way in the car dealership field.

“We see massive attrition,” he said. “We have way too many dealers. I think we will see one-third of U.S. car dealers hit the skids.”

Other METal notes:

In the weekly “Quigley Report,” venture capitalist William Quigley of Clearstone Venture Partners commented on U.S. unemployment falling to 8.8%.

“We’re adding 200,000 jobs a month. We need to add 300,000 a month,” he said. “If we can do that within 3.5 years unemployment will fall to levels last seen in 2007.”

In Silicon Valley he said the hiring of engineers this month came back to pre-recession levels.

“It’s really taken a long time to get out of this,” he said.

Here’s something else to write down in your notebook. Quigley recently said the hottest Internet sector right now is gaming (not gambling). To that list he now adds mobile payments. An example of that is the deal Google has with MasterCard and Citigroup.

Tim Sanders

We also got a brief presentation from Tim Sanders, an amazing intellectual who just published his fourth book, “Today We Are Rich.” He is a highly desired keynote speaker on developing strong business relationships.

Here are a few nuggets of motivation he presented Saturday, on the matter of how positive thinking can improve your lifestyle. He said changing your psychology to boost your lifestyle “takes twice as much effort as physical workouts but pays off enormously.”

It has been shown to lift nations out of recession. Negative thinkers, those who say the sky is falling, need to be avoided.

“They are a disease, and fear is an airborne disease. It pollutes our culture,” he said. Staying positive, especially during hard times, will prevent competitors from coming in and steamrolling your business.

“Be the phoenix instead of the fodder,” he said. Sanders will be a future METal presenter, and I can’t wait.

On a separate note, yesterday I did a blog post on what METal man Morgan Wandell wrote and said about his recent trip to Saudi Arabia and his obervations of its youth, here.

Thanks for reading.

Strength & honor,

Brian

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Party In Riyadh, Wish Your Were Here

Young men revel in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Perception is not always reality, as it seems to be with Saudi Arabia.

Here in the U.S. the man on the street, if asked about Saudi Arabia, might first think of oil and sheiks, oppression of woman and concerns about subversive activity. It’s a country were drinking and drugs are strictly prohibited.

Might it also be a place where its youth are acting out much like our own?

This morning I heard Morgan Wandell, an executive producer at ABC Studios, talk about his recent trip to Saudi Arabia. He was speaking to the collective of business professionals that meet each Saturday morning in Marina del Rey, Calif., at the METal breakfast, hosted by Ken Rutkowski.

Morgan Wandell

This past week Wandell had also posted comments about that trip to the METal e-mail list. He included a rather amazing photo with it, seen above.

As Wandell told the story, he had flown in to Riyadh early on a Saturday morning and was headed to his hotel to prepare for a jam-packed schedule of meetings with Saudi officials, as part of a congressional delegation.

It was near 3:30 a.m. when they hit a massive traffic jam on the main freeway running through Riyadh.

As Wandell explained in the e-mail, “Young Saudi men, who all looked to be in their twenties, were hanging out of the windows of their cars and playing loud Arabic music. Some of them waved the green national flag and surfed on the roofs of their cars as we inched along the highway. When I rolled down my window to get a better look, many of these young Saudi men flashed me the peace sign and shouted “Welcome to Saudi Arabia!

“While some of these men wore the traditional robes and head dresses, many of them were wearing western clothes. Soccer jerseys and Nike athletic wear seemed to be the popular fashion choice of this crowd. As I started to snap photos on my iPhone, they mugged for the camera and asked me where I was from. “Los Angeles,” I said. A few guys took pictures of me in return and shouted back that they loved the United States.”

It turned out they were celebrating a series of proclamations King Abdullah (bin Abdul-Aziz) had made earlier that day.

The Saudi citizens, he said at the Saturday breakfast, are “restless about jobs, housing and health care.” The country suffers from chronic unemployment of young Saudis even though millions of foreign workers live and work inside the Kingdom.

King Abdullah

But that day the King had promised all citizens greater access to health care and plans to build more affordable housing, extra pay for government workers, and a day off on Saturday.

Wandell said “the proclamation is just one of the recent reforms announced by the government after a wave of revolution has swept the region, and by all accounts, the King has his hands full.“

About 50% of the population is under age 20, and “officials here seem to realize there is ample kindling for social unrest if they aren’t more responsive to the concerns of the public.”

The Saudi leaders are nervous about the ‘Arab awakening“ spreading across the Middle East, “forcing everyone to fundamentally re-evaluate their assumptions about this part of the world.”

Wandell also spent time at a location where a massive development project is under way. Here, in a place essentially walled off from the rigid social edicts of the government, the picture is much different. The women were “very Western,” not wearing the traditional head dress, some with executive authority. He also said there is a black market for booze, where a bottle of Jack Daniels can go for $400.

At a business dinner in Riyadh, he met the son of a wealthy construction company magnate. The man, about 30, was humble and wore traditional dress. A week later Wandell spotted him in Dubai – the Las Vegas of the Middle East – and barely recognized him. It was at a lavish beach resort with the man decked out in Gucci clothing and with a gorgeous girl.
The commentary on the METal e-mail list from Wandell received some responses.

Kingdom Centre, Riyadh

One person, an author and Internet professional said this:

“The U.S. view of kids in Saudi is far from reality. In Saudi they have thrash and heavy metal underground groups, they do rave parties in the desert organized by Facebook and SMS, they are just normal kids who want to have a good time. Of course, their options for entertainment and social activity in Riyadh especially are limited, but they are finding ways to use social media to get around those limitations and create their own fun.”

He then shared this link, “of the young Saudi’s letting their hair down.”

It’s time we all let our hair down.

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