About Tom Foremski
Tom Foremski is the Editor and Founder of the popular and top-ranked news site Silicon Valley Watcher, reporting on business and culture of innovation. He is a former journalist at the Financial Times and in 2004, became the first journalist from a leading newspaper to resign and become a full-time journalist blogger.
Tom has been reporting on Silicon Valley and the US tech industry since 1984 and has been named as one of the top 50 (#28) most influential bloggers in Silicon Valley. His current focus is on the convergence of media and technology — the making of a new era for Silicon Valley. He also writes a column at ZDNET.
Latest Posts by Tom Foremski
In the future, computers will sense what we are doing, where we are going and the very context of lives. However, the promise of the so-called Internet of Things won’t become reality without a new generation of pervasive computing systems that use “perpetual power” to keep running indefinitely.
Dieter Fox, University of Washington associate professor of computer science and engineering, and other researchers are now working to develop “perpetual power” techniques that harvest energy from ambient sources and could allow computer and sensor systems to run ad infinitum.
A former director of the Intel Research Lab Seattle, Fox is part of the core research team for the Intel Science and Technology Center for Pervasive Computing. The center’s research focus is developing the fundamental technologies needed to power the next generation of pervasive computing systems. Also referred to as ubiquitous computing, pervasive computing is a post-desktop model of computer interaction that integrates information processing into everyday objects and activities, making the Internet of Things possible.
The science and technology center launched in 2011 and brings together researchers from top-tier research universities. The University of Washington is the hub, coordinating research among the five other universities involved in the collaboration: the Georgia Institute of Technology, Cornell University, the University of Rochester, UCLA and Stanford University.
Fox recently discussed the research work at the center and the challenges in enabling systems that are trustworthy, always aware and continuously learning and adapting.
How close are we to the Internet of Things becoming an everyday reality?
For the past 20 years, the pervasive computing community has developed technology that allows sensing, computing and wireless communication to beembedded in everyday objects, from cell phones to running shoes, enabling a range of context-aware applications. While these apps are useful, the time has come to develop the next generation of pervasive computing systems. These future systems will support applications that have much deeper awareness of users and their activities, context and goals. They will be able to learn and adapt continuously to user’s habits, routines, and preferences. These future apps will be capable of supporting complex tasks, such as cooking a soufflé or building a complicated piece of furniture. In the process, they will deliver far richer user experiences than the technologies of today can offer.
How important is low-power to the Internet of Things?
Pervasive computing systems must be continuously aware of the environment, the people nearby and the activities in which they’re engaged. Because of the need for such systems to be “always on,” saving power whenever possible is crucial. The researchers are developing “perpetual power” techniques thatharvest energy from ambient sources and allow simple sensing and computing systems to run indefinitely. For larger devices, they are exploring how to dynamically use the most energy-efficient 802.11 and cellular modes available in the current locale, based on RF conditions and competing network traffic. Because pervasive computing systems perform continuous sensing and inference about people, within their homes and on the go, developing privacy and trust is paramount. With that in mind, the researchers are investigating how applications, sensors and data coding techniques can be modified to improve privacy. We’re also investigating new sensing modalities, both for mobile devices and embedding in the environment that can be used to infer the state of people and their surroundings.
Declining costs have made it possible to deploy sensors on a much broader scale than ever before. What will the data from those sensors make possible?
Next-generation pervasive systems require fine-grained recognition of activities, objects and social context. To achieve this, researchers are deploying dense, heterogeneous sensors in mobile environments and smart spaces, including audio and depth video sensors (via cameras that measure 3-D shapes) as well as classic pervasive computing sensors such as GPS, accelerometers and 802.11, cellular and RFID wireless signals. Research focuses largely on developing new algorithms to extract complex context and activity information from sensor data far more accurately and robustly than the current state of the art. The algorithms might determine not just that someone’s in the kitchen but that the person is slicing an onion, and that the slices are too thick for the recipe being used. To be the most useful, pervasive computing systems must be able to assess the user’s context in real-time, a challenge for systems that must operate on low power. To address the challenge, researchers are exploring how to divide the computational work involved, like executing algorithms, between mobile devices and the cloud.
With the Internet of Things, smart devices will be constantly gathering data about us. Will we reach a point where computers “know us” and even make some decisions on our behalf?
Successful pervasive computing systems must be able to learn interactively the environments, objects, schedules and preferences of their users. It should be easy for a user to teach a device to recognize activities such as a regular jogging routine, places such as a favorite grocery store or objects such as the user’s car. The research in this area focuses on developing probabilistic techniques for handling the complex estimation and learning problems required for lifelong learning, adaptation and personalization of systems for individual users.
Probabilistic graphical models that describe users and their context will continuously adapt, allowing the incorporation of new places, activities, personal objects and social contexts over time. In addition to personalizing what systems know, the researchers are building systems that personalize how they interact with users. Their goal is to enable interactions between users and systems that seamlessly blend multiple modalities – gestures and natural language, for instance — enabling users to focus on their goals rather than making the technology work.
Photo credit: alcuinbramerton.blogspot.co.uk.
I recently visited the just-opened Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, a stunning $200 million project, largely financed by the Warsaw regional and national governments, but with support from the the Silicon Valley Bay Area’s most impressive philanthropist: Tad Taube.
The museum from the back: still under construction but opened in April for the 71st Anniversary of the Uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto.
I first met Mr Taube in 2009 during a ceremony at city hall celebrating the twinning of the cities of San Francisco, and Krakow, in Poland. I was extremely impressed with the work he and his foundations are doing in Poland, a series of extremely ambitious projects trying to bring back to life the 1,000 year old culture of Polish-Jews, destroyed by a five-year industrial-scale system of German premeditated murder.
From death to life: A monument to the heroes of the uprising of the Warsaw ghetto in 1943 – just outside of the new museum, which is a monument to the rich cultural life of Polish-Jews.
Poland’s Jewish population of 3.3 million Jews, 10% of the entire population, was almost completely wiped out, with only 300,000 surviving. Add another 3 million Polish citizens of other religious and secular backgrounds to the death toll, and the horrors of the Polish experience in the Second World War are pushed beyond anything we can imagine today — even with Hollywood’s best efforts.
Inside: the entrance reminds visitors of rolling sand dunes, or the parting of the sea, a path to safety and the future.
The museum is an attempt to resurrect, rediscover, and reconnect with Poland’s rich Jewish history and the truly extraordinary contribution of its populations to global culture.
The goal of the museum is very clear: To understand Polish culture you have to understand Polish-Jewish culture — a 1,000 year history that started at the same time as the Christian origins of the Polish nation itself, in 960 CE.
Similarities are stronger than differences…
I grew up in a Polish household in London, UK, and when I was younger, I was often puzzled and pleased to find Jewish culture so similar. The food, attitudes, words, music, and the shared nature of our mothers. A Jewish mother is a Polish mother and vice versa.
The familiarity I experienced was because the cultures have the same roots.
As many as 80% of US Jews have their ancestry in Poland and its former lands to the east. For centuries Poland was a thriving center of Jewish culture, mysticism, the arts, and more. Poland has a long history of tolerance, giving shelter to oppressed groups such as early Protestants, driven out of Germany by endless religious wars.
The word “Polin” is the Hebrew word for Poland and it has additional meaning of homeland.
Above, part of the museum building is covered in letters that spell the word “Polin”
” The letters signify the word “Polin” (ןילופ) — the Hebrew word for Poland — interpreted as “Po-lin”: po (“here”) lin (“[you should] dwell”). In the dramatic reach of the building’s exterior, the medium is the message. The message of “Polin,” reported to have come to Poland’s first Jewish settlers from a divine voice, was interpreted as “a haven for Jews.” Now, in this very place, a thousand years of Jewish history will shine in the light of the building’s façade…”
The Museum of the History of Polish Jews | Taube Philanthropies
A tale of two town squares…
Polish-Jews in much of Poland led segregated and insular lives largely because of adherence to traditional values. In the brilliant book “Konin,” British author Theo Richmond reconstructs pre-war life in his parents’ town of Konin in west Poland. As he searches for his Polish-Jewish roots, his meticulous research brings back to life a vibrant community, rich in characters and pathos. He describes a town with two town squares, separate shops and separate schools. Daughters would be sent to the local public Grammar schools and knew secular Polish culture very well, but the boys would be segregated in Jewish religious schools from early age. It describes how the two peoples, sharing the same space but also living apart, might misunderstand each other, not understand the same things at times, and be prone to wild speculation about each other because they don’t know enough about each other..
Telling stories about each other…to each other
I’ve always believed that the role of journalists is to help tell the stories of people and their communities to each other, so that we won’t seem so strange from each other. And today we have enormously powerful media technologies that help us see others, and see other communities, with great insight and humanity.
The best example of this is the incredible job that the British media have done in showcasing the many diverse communities that make up the United Kingdom. Success is measured in how little strife there is between very different peoples. It makes for an outstanding cosmopolitan culture that cannot be matched anywhere.
It’s good to see Polish-Jewish culture coming out of its dark cave, where its ghostly martyrs have been telling its story, a vastly incomplete one, the prequels are far more interesting.
Warsaw’s newest museum is a jewel and it’s the start of Poland trying to reconstruct its cultural genetic code and rediscover its own stories – representing tens of millions of lives engaged across a thousand years of industry and the arts. It’s a fabulous story but most of us have only known its killer ending.
It’s truly inspiring to see the start of this process of rediscovery, and by that very process - to deny the remaining victory of the Nazis – the eradication of a millennium of Polish-Jewish culture.
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Please return for a profile of Tad Taube - Silicon Valley’s top philanthropist with more than $550m in funds managed through his Taube foundations and the Koret Foundation. He escaped from Poland in 1939 just two months before war broke out, aged eight. He has made several fortunes in the chip equipment industry and in real estate. He has worked long and hard to make this museum a reality. His philanthropic ventures must rank way beyond those of any other Bay Area philanthropist, both in amounts of money and the metric of making a real change, over a multi-decade time span. No one comes close to Thaddeus Taube.
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Here is a visual essay of a truly extraordinary museum:
A multi-sensory exhibit: “Letters from afar” – home movies made by US relatives of Polish-Jews before the Second World War.
The moving images are projected onto multiple billowing screens of fabric, with the many layers seemingly symbolizing layers of time and understanding.
I was walking along Haight Street in San Francisco and spotted a poster competition for the upcoming Haight Street Fair, June 9, 2013, which has always been one of the best San Francisco Street Fairs. For a long time it was organized by the wonderful Pablo Heising, a good friend and one of the neighborhoods best community leaders.
Pablo was a former Digger in the 1960s, and saw the neighborhood fall apart, and be torn apart, by drugs and violence following its “Summer of Love” season on the world’s stage. Pablo was one of the protectors and caretakers of the community, guarding kids from predators in the park, helping to bring free medical care into the community, and so much more.
Pablo’s Haight Street Fair was instrumental in bringing the neighborhood back to life. It showed that it could be a safe and fun place to visit, instead of a reputation as a violent, crack and speed infested no-go zone. The Haight Street Fair started in 1978 and quickly became the best loved and the best attended street fair in San Francisco, and an important community resource.
My wife and I used to publish a local neighborhood newspaper in the late 1980s called “The Street – A View From The Haight.” It was a perfect excuse to get to know Pablo better and celebrate his life in a feature interview, calling him “The Mayor of Haight Street.” It was a title that stuck well, and struck true to his thousands of friends.
A dark and troubled time…
Pablo was always a modest man, quiet and unassuming; he achieved so many good things, and without any fanfare. He was a gentle giant in his community. His passing at 61, was a shock and we lost a kind man. And we lost a first-hand witness to an important period in the neighborhood’s fabled, but also deeply troubled history.
The Haight-Ashbury story is as rock & roll as any cautionary tale of a rock star’s life. From the heady thrills of life on an adoring world stage, there is the inevitable fall from grace and the slide into a bottom-less dark place of drug addiction and mindless acts of self-destruction. And then the painful, gradual rehabilitation, a reawakening, a blinking into a harsh sunlight but at least back on track, back onto a track of work and slow, gradual improvement. The Haight-Ashbury is no longer a neighborhood of crack houses and cracked kids, and Pablo was very important in the resurrection of what was a very damaged community for most of the 1970s and into early 1980s.
Pablo lived very simply, which probably was due to his Digger background, a radical group that ran free stores, and free community kitchens, and whose egalitarian philosophies are a key influence in the software engineer culture of Silicon Valley and beyond. Pablo should have bought some crack houses and flipped them to provide himself with a little bit of security as he grew older but he didn’t. Many people, such as my landlord, made fortunes in the Haight-Ashbury real-estate market as the neighborhood moved well beyond gentrification.
In the mid-1990s, Pablo was forced out of his rented apartment and came to live with me and my wife and two kids, for a couple of weeks up in Forestville, which is about an hour or so north of San Francisco. He was a long-time friend of my wife Mervana because both had worked for many years at Bill Graham Presents; we were very happy to have Pablo all to ourselves for a short while.
Pablo worked with many other city neighborhoods showing them how to organize and provide local services. And he also organized the other great San Francisco street event — The Castro Street Fair.
Pablo’s spirit can still be found at events such as the Haight Street Fair, which always seems to mark the start of a yet another great San Francisco summer season of street events and music festivals. This city has a wonderful cultural life and it doesn’t require money to enjoy it.
The poster above is one of my favorites from past years. It was designed by Kathleen Bifulco, one of the art editors on our publication “The Street.” [Kathleen's husband Chris Dichtel wrote a historical column for the paper and many of our other friends were involved too -- "The Street"was a close knit editorial collective.]
Here are some posters from this year’s poster competition from a Haight Street store window, (my apologies for my feet!):
Startups and small companies should make sure that they expose their staff to as much of the local cultural life as they can manage because it builds a diversity in ideas and in services opportunities. A business that doesn’t take an interest in its communities will not be in business for long. Culture is constantly being disrupted and replaced, it is innovative and wildly creative — and it constantly generates new languages of expression, and these reflect how society thinks about things, and what it thinks about itself. To understand “social” you have to be in it, you have to go out and about, and you need to be social. Social media is not enough.
There’s a story that George W. Bush once said, “The problem with the French is that they have no word for ‘entrepreneur.’”
It’s more of a Yogi Berra-ism because it’s kinda true, the French culture has seemed very anti-entrepreneur and suspicious of anyone trying to make money and build a business.
If you are running a startup your own mother might keep it under wraps – she’d be far prouder if you had a job at a big corporation such as French Telecom.
But things have changed quite a bit over the past five years or so. Liam Boogar, a reporter for Rude Baguette, which focuses on the Paris startup scene, makes a good case for reminding the world that, “entrepreneur” is still very much a French word.
I held my tongue during my fireside chat with Soundcloud CEO Alexander Ljung as he said the only cities he thinks anyone should start a company in are Berlin & London – I get it, Paris isn’t the most connected city. I even nodded politely during my 30 minute interview with Gary Shapiro as he told me fake facts about French labor laws, clearly reflecting a bad experience he had many years ago, which he had not bothered to check in the past 10 years…
Here’s the deal: from Business Objects to Criteo, Sparrow to Exalead, Dailymotion to Viadeo to Deezer, I wager that France puts out more $100M startups than Berlin (easy!) and even London, if you stop counting video game companies (where Ubisoft and Gameloft still rank top in gaming) and agencies.
Some days it seems as if the universe is conspiring to provide me with exactly what I need, in the right amounts, and at the right time. Johnny Marr, the former guitarist of The Smiths, playing just down the street from me at The Fillmore — was concrete proof of this conspiracy.
He started off with the first track from his new solo album “The Messenger,” demonstrating his guitar genius by playing just the one sustained note that opens “The Right Thing Right.” The title of the song is also its best description.
There’s no need for Johnny Marr to prove himself with flashy guitar licks, and theatrical moves, as his mid-gig special guest, Billy Duffy from The Cult, did.
Johnny Marr’s singing was very good, and so was the performance of the young backup band touring with him. And he’s a very modest man, far from a rock and roll stereotype, but totally absorbed in the roots of the music.
And he finished the set with what must be the best guitar intro ever: The Smith’s “How Soon Is Now?”
The venue was hot and everyone was dripping, and it must have been much worse on stage. Before he came on for the encore he changed into a dry, loose fitting white T-shirt with three large words, one on each line: “Johnny Fucking Marr.” Indeed.
Even he’s not as good as he is….brilliant. Thank you universe for a superb night.
Albert Hoffman, the discoverer of LSD died at the age of 102 on this day five years ago. LSD has been more influential in Silicon Valley than Ayn Rand.
Albert Hoffman, the discoverer of LSD died at the age of 102 on this day five years ago. LSD has been more influential in Silicon Valley than Ayn Rand.
Steve Jobs found it very “profound” and John Markoff, senior reporter at the New York Times has written about LSD use by early Silicon Valley companies. He spoke recently at the San Francisco Psychedelic Society (above):
Here is what Steve Jobs said about LSD:
“Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life. LSD shows you that there’s another side to the coin, and you can’t remember it when it wears off, but you know it. It reinforced my sense of what was important—creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as I could.” Quote by Steve Jobs: Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of th…
There are many people trying to emulate Steve Jobs’ management style. I wonder how many are prepared to experience some of the things that Jobs did in his remarkable life.
Here is John Markoff speaking at a recent meeting of the San Francisco Psychedelic Society. The talk was based on his excellent book, “What the Doormouse said.” There’s not much to see but the talk is well worth listening to if you are interested in the early history of Silicon Valley.
I saw A Killer Story at the March in Berkeley California, a smart dialogue, excellent musical performance by Allison Lovejoy.
Pre-show cabaret performance at 7:15pm
Arrive at 7pm and enjoy”Noir Era” food and “Killer Cocktails” in cabaret-style seating.
FRIDAY, May 3 The fabulous Mr. Lucky sings crime songs and more…
Allison Lovejoy is playing the score for this excellent and entertaining “Noir” play at a wonderful venue Friday and Saturday nights through May 18.
The show begins at 8, and we have pre-show cabaret from 7:15-7:50, with great food and cocktails in the Marsh Cafe.
It’s on Allston Way, 1/2 block from downtown Berkeley Bart.
Tickets are available on Goldstar for $10.
San Francisco’s How Weird street fair is always fun and difficult to categorize. Here’s how it describes itself: http://howweird.org/
The How Weird Street Faire is a world-class music festival, featuring a wide range of electronic dance music. There will be 10 stages of great music, art, and sound systems from Symbiosis, Muti Music, Groove Garden, Enchanted Forest, Opel, Opulent Temple, World Famous Productions, Basscraft Soundsystem, Urge Productions, Pink Mammoth, SF House Music, Temple Nightclub, SWAG, Pulse SF, Space Shaping, PK Sound, The Boombox Affair, Party Babas, Red Marines, Psycircle, Happy Camp, and more.
Here’s some photos of the festival from past years: