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This is a picture of me completely and unapologetically engrossed in a game of Space Invaders on a VIC 20. Here’s an early commercial for it, featuring the one and only William Shatner.
Several weeks ago the team at the Media Archeology Lab (MAL) celebrated their accomplishments to date by hosting an event – called a MALfunction – for the community. Attendees include founders of local startups, the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences of the University of Colorado, students that are interested in computing history, and a few other friends. The vibe was electric – not because there were any open wires from the machines – because this was truly a venue and a topic that is a strong intersection between the university and the local tech scene.
Recently, Amy and I underwrote the Human Computer Interaction lab at Wellesley University. We did so not only because we believe in facilitating STEM and IT education for young women, but also because we both have a very personal relationship to the university and to the lab. Amy, on a weekly basis, speaks to the impact that Wellesley has on her life. I, obviously, did not attend Wellesley but I have a very similar story. My interest in technology came from tinkering with computers, machines, and software in the late 1970s and early 1980s, just like the collection that is curated by the MAL.
Because of this, Amy and I decided to provide a financial gift to the MAL as well as my entire personal computer collection which included an Apple II (as well as a bunch of software for it), a Compaq Portable (the original one – that looks like a sewing machine), an Apple Lisa, a NeXT Cube, and my Altair personal computer.
Being surrounded by these machines just makes me happy. There is a sense of joy to be had from the humming of the hard drives, the creaking of 30-year old space bars, and squinting at the less than retina displays. While walking back to my condo from the lab, I think I pinned down what makes me so happy while I’m in the lab. An anachronistic experience with these machines are: (1) a reminder of how far we have come with computing, (2) a reminder to never take computing for granted – it’s shocking what the label “portable computer” was applied to in 1990, and (3) a perspective of how much further we can innovate.
My first real computer was an Apple II. I now spend the day in front of an iMac, a MacBook Air, and an iPhone. When I ponder this, I wonder what I’ll be using in 2040? The experience of the lab is one of true technological perspective and those moments of retrospection make me happy.
In addition, I’m totally blown away by what the MAL director, Lori Emerson, and her small team has pulled off with zero funding. The machines at MAL are alive, working, and in remarkably good shape. Lori, who teaches English full time at CU Boulder, has created a remarkable computer history museum.
Amy and I decided to adopt MAL, and the idea of building a long term computer history museum in Boulder, as one of our new projects. My partner Jason Mendelson quickly contributed to it. If you are up for helping us ramp this up, there are three things you can do to help.
1. Give a financial gift via the Brad Feld and Amy Batchelor Fund for MAL (Media Archeaology Lab).
2. Contribute old hardware and software, especially stuff that is sitting in your basement.
3. Offer to volunteer to help get stuff set up and working.
If you are interested in helping, just reach out to me or Lori Emerson.
My partner Jason Mendelson sent me a five minute video from Wired that shows how a Telsa Model S is built. I watched from my condo in downtown Boulder as the sun was coming up and thought some of the images were as beautiful a dance as I’ve ever seen. The factory has 160 robots and 3000 humans and it’s just remarkable to watch the machines do their thing.
As I watched a few of the robots near the end, I thought about the level of software that is required for them to do what they do. And it blew my mind. And then I thought about the interplay between the humans and machines. The humans built and programmed the machines which work side by side with the humans building machines that transport humans.
Things are accelerating fast. The way we think about machines, humans, and the way the interact with each other is going to be radically different in 20 years.
If you follow our investments, you know that one of our core themes is Human Computer Interaction. The premise behind this theme is that the way humans interact with computers 20 years from now will make the way we interact with them today look silly. We’ve made a number of investments in this area with recent ones including Fitbit, Sifteo, Orbotix, Occipital, and MakerBot.
Last week Bloomberg did a nice short piece on Sifteo. I’m always intrigued on how mainstream media presents new innovations like Sifteo in a five minute segment. It’s hard to get it right – there’s a mixture of documentary, interview, usage of the product, and explanation of why it matters, all crammed into a few minutes combined with some cuts of the company, founders, and some event (in this case a launch event.)
I find the Sifteo product – and the Sifteo founders – to be amazing. They have a lot of the same characteristics of the other founders of the companies in our HCI theme – incredibly smart, creative, and inventive technologists who are obsessed with a particular thing at the boundary of the interaction between humans and computers.
We know that these are risky investments – that’s why we make them. As we’ve already seen with companies like Oblong and Fitbit it’s possible to create a company based on an entirely new way of addressing an old problem, product, or experience with a radically different approach to the use, or introduction, of technology. Having played extensively with the beta version of the Sifteo product, I’m optimistic that they are on this path.
If this intrigues you, order a set of Sifteo Cubes today (it has just started shipping.) In the mean time, enjoy the video, and our effort to help fund the entrepreneurs who are trying to change the way humans and computers interact with each other.
If you are familiar with Defrag and Glue, you know they are built around two of Foundry Group’s themes (Protocol and Glue respectively). Blur is being built around our Human Computer Interaction theme, but with a twist. Instead of simply being able to “see cool stuff up close”, our goal with Blur will be to create an environment where you can actually use and work with this stuff. We’ll have user-oriented demos, hackathons, and tons of crazy shit no one has ever seen before.
Plus, we’ll give away a lot of cool toys, have a ton of smart people who are working on the next generation of HCI in one place, and have some fun surprises. And we are doing it in an environment that is especially tuned for a conference like Blur.
I’m incredibly excited about what Eric has put together for this year’s Glue Conference (as I wrote about the other day). He’s setting a high bar for Blur, where the goal will now be to have a few brains explode! Get ready – it’s never dull around here.