About Tom Foremski

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

Underground Cellar Helps Wineries Sell Wine Online

October 6, 2014 by  

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I recently met Jeffrey Shaw, CEO of Underground Cellar, a startup focused on helping wineries sell wine online. He and his team has developed a great technology platform to allow wineries to market themselves and sell their wines but it is also using its own platform to sell wine on behalf of many wineries — using a clever business model.

Shaw explained that when wineries want their help to shift certain wines, Underground Cellar will taste the wines first and then agree to sell a set number of cases and take a sales commission. It always asks the winery to give it additional cases of some of its other lines, often high-end expensive vintages, and those are used to reward its customers.

When customers order wine, they have a chance to win additional bottles for free, equivalent to what they have ordered, or better. The probability of winning extra bottles is shown each time in real time.

[All it needs (below) is some revolving cherries to create a virtual one-armed bandit.]

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Customers used to have to wait until their order arrived to see if they had won but Shaw says telling them immediately if they have lost gave them a ready opportunity to place another order and try again, and many do.

Additional services include storage of customer’s wine in its “Cloud Cellar” with courier shipping for same day delivery.

Shaw says that his startup is a technology platform and he thinks it could be used for many other types of products and services. But it clearly is more than that. The startup also represents wineries online with sharp marketing and page designs, and it is becoming an important e-commerce partner for many wineries.

Underground Cellar is really a new hybrid, a high-tech enabled marketing and e-commerce agency. I’m sure we’ll see more of this type of company because it combines three essential business services in one package.

San Francisco’s Friday Night Market On Mid-Market Street

September 12, 2014 by  

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The new Friday market on mid-Market Street in San Francisco was a big hit with hundreds of people enjoying drinks, food trucks, and shopping eclectic stalls on a warm autumn evening. Mayor Ed Lee and several supervisors arrived, too. I managed to speak briefly with the Mayor about some of the tech community issues and urged him to integrate the tech community and not keep it segregated. He agreed and said the Friday market was a step in that direction.

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Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to tell the mayor about an idea I had, to have Google et al. up the extra quarter on Muni bus fares. They rose by a quarter to $2.25 on September 1. It would be a great publicity gesture if those firms picked up that quarter for all riders as a show of support for busses for everyone. They have often been criticized for using bus stops and city resources and not paying a full share.

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The mayor poses with a Homeland security guard who is always ready to draw.

A charity called San Francisco Beautiful that was founded in 1947 helped organize the event. I spoke with its Executive Director Kearstin Krehbiel. He was very pleased with the turnout. “It’s a success, the Mayor is here and at least three supervisors have come.”  He said he was hoping to entice local restaurants to be involved in future Fridays, not just food trucks.

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There will be a Friday Night Market every Friday until October 24 and then it will be extended if it continues to do well.

 

A New Smart Bicycle Helmet Design With Life-Saving Features

September 5, 2014 by  

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Intel Intern Aniket Borkar modeling the Smart Helmet

Students at Oregon State University and Intel interns collaborated 0n a smart helmet with life-saving features.

For the past half year, a group of five undergraduate students from Oregon State University has been working with interns at Intel to create a smart safety helmet for cyclists. In a perfect world, the primary function of the helmet — to detect a crash and communicate to emergency contacts — would never be used.

The job of today’s bicycle helmets is to provide protection to the head in a crash. The group of interns wants to extend this functionality, especially when used with smaller children, as well as provide tests to determine if a rider involved in a crash may have suffered a concussion and requires medical attention.

Viewed as a “smart helmet,” which is connected to a smartphone, the prototype uses sensors (e.g., accelerometers) to detect a crash and communication hardware to automatically dial a predefined emergency contact. Built into the helmet are above-the-ear speakers, a microphone, an LED headlamp and a 3.7V, 2600mAh lithium-ion battery. The team also created a custom logic board that incorporates Intel Edison along with Bluetooth, magnetometer, gyroscope and two accelerometers.

A smartphone app, developed in Java parallel with the hardware, serves as the companion to the smart helmet’s functions and features. The app enables a user’s smartphone to record ride distance, speed and the path. It currently runs on Android but can easily be ported to other platforms.

Abhay Dharmadhikari, a technologist and architect in the Device Development Group for Intel, who has been at the company for over 17 years, mentored the interns working on the smart helmet. Dharmadhikari has a personal interest in the helmet project, as he has two children, ages 8 and 12, who are cyclists. Children are seldom good communicators and are often embarrassed to talk about problems or don’t give the full picture, said Dharmadhikari.

The helmet knows all…and who to call

“If my kids get into a crash, we will never know what happened. Did they hit their heads? Did they get really injured? Because when they come back [after biking] they just say ‘I got hurt,’ so we aren’t really sure how bad it was,” said Dharmadhikari. “Could we build something that would help us understand; [and] if a crash happens, the helmet can act like a black box?”

The intern team behind the helmet likened it to the automobile assistance program OnStar, but for cyclists.

In the event of a crash, the smartphone application initiates communication with the bike rider through the helmet speakers and microphone to ask if he needs help.

If he says “yes” or does not respond, the app automatically will call and/or text the emergency contact (which can be 911) with location information. The rider can also be asked several medical questions to assess if he’s suffered a concussion or other injury, such as asking the rider to read the current time on an analog clock displayed on the companion app.

The helmet also stores crash data that can be analyzed after the fact to better understand the incident, like a “black box” for bicyclists. The helmet will store sensor data, which is helpful in telling doctors which part of the head sustained the impact. T

The companion app can also connect to the cloud to upload and pool ride and crash data, so that the crowd-sourced data can be used to better understand head injuries as well as identifying dangerous intersections.

Because the interns developing the prototype wanted to extend the functionality to something useful beyond emergency situations, the microphone and speakers can be used for hands-free calling as well as streaming music. Because the speakers do not cover the ears, the bicycle rider can still hear the surrounding environment.

The helmet as a platform…

“We think of the helmet as a platform and there are many things we can do with it. We focused on the present features from a product perspective,” said Dharmadhikari, adding that haptic feedback could be a future feature.

The smart helmet project is part of an extensive internship program that Intel has with university graduate and undergraduate students. The Intel Collaborators program is on its third year employing undergraduate and graduate students and Ph.D. candidates from around the country to participate in high-visibility, cross-functional mentored programs.

Contrary to traditional Intel intern programs, which are typically funded by individual business units at Intel, the Collaborators program receives support and funding from Intel Human Resources.

“We believe in this next generation of students and mentoring them and helping them become better engineers; that is our motivation,” said Dharmadhikari. “I believe in working with the students where they really have energy and challenge the energy with the right problems and tools.”

The smart helmet project started in December 2013 with the five selected interns initially devoting their free time to the project. Once school had completed, four of the five worked full time as official Intel interns. Three students are studying computer and electrical engineering and one is studying computer science.

Saving lives is an adrenaline rush…

Cam Tu Vo is a junior at Oregon State University studying computer science, and at her internship at Intel she works in web development. Vo extracted crash data from databases and visually represented it in a way that was useful to users or researchers.

“The tasks were fairly straightforward in the beginning, but it gradually became interesting after more feedback. My manager really focused on the user interface and meaningful information,” Vo said. “From those expectations, I had the opportunity to work with graphics and 3-D model manipulation of our helmet.”

The intern team finally got the chance to show off their smart helmet at an Intel Collaborators showcase.

“A camera man told us about a close friend’s death. He said our smart helmet would have contacted emergency services after the bike accident and could have saved his friend’s life,” Vo said.

“The man expressed true appreciation, which gave me the sense that I am a part of something that can positively impact people’s lives. It was such an adrenaline rush for me.”

Photo by Intel Free Press.

 

Original & Unique Ideas Come From Original & Unique Experiences…

July 17, 2014 by  

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I’m adamant that San Francisco shouldn’t be allowed to be made into a bedroom community for Silicon Valley’s business parks. Original ideas require original experiences and companies should take advantage of that and not force their staff onto a bus and ship them to a central holding facility for the day.

San Francisco offers a treasure trove of original experiences. Silicon Valley staff should be told to stay off the bus, telecommute, and get out and about. It’ll generate new experiences and possibly new ideas. The same experience every day, waiting for your cubicle to pick you up, won’t generate anything new.

Why do we have hundreds of To-Do list apps, Email managers, calendars, get-food-delivered apps…? There’s a cornucopia of mundane and me-too apps. Original ideas come from original experiences. Watching the world on Youtube or from a bus window doesn’t work. You have to be in it which is a good thing.

By staying off the bus the tech workers become integrated into their neighborhoods. If they stay off the bus their neighbors might even get to know them.

City or Company Culture?

Inclusion works better for communities than division. The techn workers might even notice some city problems and come up with an app for that.

Separation works better for establishing company culture and that’s why Google and the others do it. It never used to be cool to be seen as a “company man” or woman. Eating at the company store and hanging with the company all day, and only using company services. That’s a cultural win for Google et al, because that was not considered remotely cool for many decades.

Can the needs of corporate culture trump community culture? Maybe, but in the long term community needs will always win out over the demands of company culture and that’s what city officials will ultimately choose. Because company culture is in its very nature and reason for existence, divisive and not inclusive. That’s not a good thing especially for a city, where every kind of people have to live together and learn how to sort out problems together.

[London is an excellent example of how the culture has managed to teach people from so many countries, how to peacefully live together, marry together, and create a future together. The UK media deserves much of the credit.]

Please see:

San Francisco’s Incredible History Of Media Innovation -SVW

San Francisco’s Culture War With Silicon Valley’s Cubicle Culture -SVW

San Francisco: An Epicenter Of Creativity -SVW

Here is a needlessly long post by Bryan Boyer. I love the sub-head [The big innovations of Silicon Valley are not technical but social]. This bit at the end echoes my views about San Francisco.

Re-engaging with the public realm is the most fundamental tool that companies (and groups of companies) have to connect with the public, to understand needs more holistically, and to convert that understanding into longterm public and private value.

…Seclusion may make it easier to develop technology, but it’s a barrier to deeper innovations in how we live together as a society. Pop the bubble, come out of that garage…

 

 

100 Ceramic ‘Archivists’ are Celebrated in San Francisco

June 12, 2014 by  

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The Internet Archive is housed in a wonderful San Francisco building that used to be a Christian Science church. In the pews along both sides of the large, skylight-lit auditorium, there is always a congregation: half-sized ceramic figures representing 100 ”archivists” — people that contributed at least three years of service to the non-profit organization.

A recent reception honored Nuala Creed (above), the California artist, who created the figures over a five-year period. They were commissioned by Brewster Kahle (above), founder of the Internet Archive, following a visit to China and seeing the famous terra cotta warriors.

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The 100th ceramic figure is that of Aaron Swartz (above), a brilliant young software engineer, co-founder of Reddit,  and political activist, who took his own life last year following prosecution by the US government. It stands in the front pew next to the figure of Brewster Kahle.

The text on the computer screen reads:

Be curious. Read widely. Try more things. I think a lot of what people call intelligence just boils down to curiosity.

Aaron Swartz 1986 – 2013

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Please see:

To Those That Would Martyr Aaron Swartz: Where Were The Activists When He Needed Them? -SVW

Aaron Swartz Memorial in SF – Our First Digital Liberties Martyr? -SVW

 

Founded in 1996, the Internet Archive has an historical web collection (the Wayback Machine) of over 150 billion web pages, about 240,000 movies, over 500,000 audioitems (including over 70,000 live concerts), over 1,800,000 texts, 1600 education items, and over 30,000 software items.

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Non-ceramic audience (above).

The Internet Archive is housed in a wonderful San Francisco building that used to be a Christian Science church. In the pews along both sides of the large, skylight-lit auditorium, there is always a congregation: half-sized ceramic figures representing 100 ”archivists” — people that contributed at least three years of service to the non-profit organization.

Gray Area Arts Link the Tech & Art Worlds Together

June 3, 2014 by  

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I happen to be a fan of and support the Gray Area Foundation For The Arts (GAFFTA) and its projects, which generally try to link the art and tech worlds of San Francisco, along  with an awareness of the challenges facing urban residents of all incomes and backgrounds.  GAFFTA has found a new home (2665 Mission Street, above) after several exhausting short-term moves. Co-founder Peter Hirschberg announced on Facebook:

This Saturday night: come party at Gray Area’s new home in San Francisco. The former Grand Theater, a fabulous 1940s movie house in the Mission, is being reborn as the Gray Area Art and Technology Theater.

We’ll share our plans for the future, and immerse ourselves in DJ sets and generative art.Our new Art and Technology Theater is 10,000 square feet of possibilities. There will be classrooms to learn, a cinema to experience and share, a large open space to meet and collaborate, desks and studios to move forward.

As an organization that was almost priced out of San Francisco, we are passionate about bringing this historic cinema back to the artistic community at a critical time in the city’s history.

Tickets and details here: https://grandpre.splashthat.com

The May 31 benefit dinner is $250 but the after party at 9.30pm is a sliding scale from $10 to $30 and features international artists and DJs.

One of the projects GAFFTA will be installing is a $100,000 experimental 3-D sound theater designed by Naut Humon, a legendary sound artist and founder of San Francisco’s Recombinant Media Labs. I met Naut Humon recently (below, right) and he showed me a version of his experimental sound theater, Cinechamber, which has been installed in Berlin, Moscow, and other places. I’m looking forward to experiencing it at GAFFTA.

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The Fading Social Fashion Of Google Glass

April 17, 2014 by  

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Sarah Slocum’s recent experience at Molotov’s, a lower Haight Street bar where an irate drinker snatched her Google Glass off her face, did a lot to boost her popularity as TV and newspapers covered the incident. But the association with someone who called the incident a hate crime,  has not been good for Google Glass.

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A bouncer outside Molotov’s

Several prominent Google Glass enthusiasts I know have started to leave their digital goggles at home, and I’ve heard others are doing the same. They don’t want to be associated with Slocum even though they like the wearable technology.

It’s not just the Slocum effect: there’s a sense of manners related to the use of any camera in public that requires people to ask permission.

You can generally see if someone is pointing their phone at you yet it’s difficult to tell if a Google Glass wearer is taking photos, or shooting video. This is especially true in the latest version of Google Glass where the bright tiny screen is now very visible to outsiders and is clearly on even though it might not be recording.

This makes it creepy to talk with wearers and their owners are noticing this and are becoming self-conscious. It has become very gauche to wear Google Glass in social contexts and people are leaving them at home.

There’s a lot of enthusiasm for wearable technologies these days. It’s worth noting that anything wearable is a fashion item and subject to a fickle world of constantly changing styles. Fashion is a social phenomenon and when the masses decide something is not cool anymore there’s nothing much you can do about it.

Sarah Slocum: the infamous face of Google Glass – SFGate

Her assertion that she was the victim of a hate crime was ridiculed. And her past came to light, including a series of restraining orders filed against her – one for video-recording people through an open window of their home.

Critics have said Slocum is not someone who deserves sympathy but is a pushy pioneer in the art of privacy invasion at a time of growing concern about public surveillance…

Slocum’s promotion of the exclusive Google Glass may have backfired… “Companies normally love early adopters of their products. They’re so passionate,” said David Mitroff, a marketing consultant and founder of Piedmont Avenue Consulting in Oakland. “The problem is that those people can go overboard…”

Is Technology Making Us All Autistic?

February 9, 2014 by  

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This ad for  Autism Speaks at a San Francisco bus stop reminded me of an excerpt from an article written by Curt Woodward, senior editor at  Xconomy, about the lack of eye-contact within Google’s top echelon:

During Schmidt’s decade as Google CEO, before co-founder Larry Page took the helm, there was a standing rule for one senior-executive meeting: No computers, no smartphones, and talk to each other face-to-face for one hour per week.

It was so hard to resist the pull of the Web, though, that Schmidt had to walk around the meeting room and look for people hiding their phones under the table, dispensing fines to the offenders.

“Even one hour per week, you couldn’t have a civilized conversation. So when Larry replaced me, he gave up. And now I sit in the meeting, typing away like everybody else, with no eye contact. So, if you like eye contact, I’m sorry–you lost,” he said to laughs.

Schmidt: Google Glass Critics “Afraid of Change,” Society Will Adapt | Xconomy

The lack of eye-contact is pervasive and extends well beyond the Google C-suite. It seems likely that our technologies are encouraging autistic types of behaviors.

We even see it in how tech companies try to use “Big Data” to understand social behavior by customers and communities when empathy is pretty much all you need. It provides insights that data analysis won’t reveal. Lack of empathy towards others is a sign of autism.

There are quite a few tech companies who sit at various points on the autistic spectrum. The disorder isn’t curable but it is treatable and companies with an autistic culture can still lead highly productive lives — they just need some help in playing well with others.

Treatment requires sometimes unplugging from our always-on, always-with-us technologies. Be Here Right Now will be a new mantra and the new manners.

It is derived from the 60s rejoinder but remade for our times, with an emphasis on “right now,” and it implies a real-time environment — a concept familiar to engineers.

We only  have ”now.” But our tech steals it from us constantly with shoals of glittery distractions. Sometimes the price is worth paying but other times our technologies get in the way of meaningful experiences.

There’s no such thing as augmented reality, as Google Glass is often described. There’s something in the way — it’s an occluded reality.

Be Here Right Now is scary and great. It’s a good kind of scary to switch off for a while. It’s great for startups because original ideas come from original experiences. Original experiences are those that are found as unfiltered, and untainted by other people’s opinions, curations, and as un-occluded as possible.

It’ll lead to original ideas — increasingly rare in Silicon Valley.

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