Category Archives: Uncategorized

Arrived in San Francisco!

We finally made it off Iceland to Narsarsuaq, Greenland and then hopscotched across North America via Goose Bay, Canada; Mont Tremblant, Quebec; Duluth, Minnesota; Rock Springs, Wyoming and finally San Francisco. Four days of flying, with 24 hours in the air. Upon arrival, I immediately jumped on a 12 hour flight to Hong Kong, where I have just arrived. Ready to be earth-bound for a while now.


Grounded in Reykjavik

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Having joined friends for the delivery of a propeller aircraft from Europe to the US, we are currently grounded in Reykjavik, Iceland by the weather at our next landing point: Narsarsuaq, Greenland.

We left Paris yesterday by commercial flight to Billund, Denmark – home of Legoland – to pick up the aircraft. The co-pilot’s HSI, an electronic compass, had burned out mysteriously and needed to be replaced. The replacement also burned out shortly after we left. The pilots (I am the only passenger on this voyage) tell me that they have 5 separate GPS devices between them (including a GPS for jogging), so the compass is not actually vital.

Even if GPS and HSI fail, we apparently have Gmail for navigation – photo below. Should I be reassured?

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The photo of the three of us was taken at our first stop, Wick, which may be the northernmost airport in Britain. Andrew Bruce, in photo below, seems to do everything at the airport – from refueling to flight training to air traffic control.

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According to Andrew, there are 37 flights like ours that stop at Wick each month. There are quite a few single engine aircraft and about three aircraft per year perish. “You can blame the weather, but in reality it is almost always due to bad planning and doing things in a rush.”

Wick serves as the winter loading point for North Sea oil platforms, since it is flat enough for helicopters to land in very bad weather. While we were there an oil platform helicopter was clattering overhead doing various exercises.

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Teach a Qwerty Mac to speak French


Los Angeles, written in French as a joke by the SNCF (Merci à Jean-Francois Paris pour le photo)

As a frequent contributor to Loic Le Meur’s blog – which is consistently ranked among the top blogs in France – I face frustration with adding accents to my postings. (I own a Qwerty keyboard Mac, not the French-style Azerty keyboard that has handy one touch accents).

Here’s the solutions (All suggested by readers of Loic’s blog)

1- Use Bon Patron to add accents and correct your French. A Canadian website that specifically looks for typical anglophone errors in French, I highly recommend it. (Grand merci à Sylvain Pellier)

2- Use Mac accents thanks to this handy table (Grand merci à Cedric)

æ = Option (alt) + ‘
à = Option (alt) + ` + a
â = Option (alt) + i + a
ç = Option (alt) + c
é = Option (alt) + e + e
è = Option (alt) + ` + e
ê = Option (alt) + i + e
ë = Option (alt) + u + e
î = Option (alt) + i + i
ï = Option (alt) + u + i
ô = Option (alt) + i + o
ö = Option (alt) + u + o
ù = Option (alt) + ` + u
û = Option (alt) + i + u
ü = Option (alt) + u + u
« = Option (alt) + \
» = Option (alt) + Shift + \
½ = Option (alt) + ½

3- Install Rainer Brockerhoff’s program that simplifies the adding of accents. Have not tried this because I am extremely wary of jamming up my computer with too many programs. (Grand merci à Thy)

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From TagMyPod to StartAkademy?

Thanks to the large number of comments – and one in particular – about the TagMyPod project that I started on my French blog (description here in English), I am seeing if anyone will join me to take the concept further.

One comment, by Alexandre Le Guyader, pointed out that starting a company is extremely hard for young people and that Phuong Tran of TagMyPod had an enormous advantage through interacting with people via my blogging.

Since the blog where I write in French – belonging to my friend Loic Le Meur – is the number one blog in France, the videos and blog posts I did on Phuong’s project created an immediate buzz. (That said, the success of his company is still very uncertain, which is probably why people have enjoyed following the series of postings.)

I totally agree with Alexandre about how Phuong was very fortunate to receive the attention via my blog. Also, I detest when favoritism and connections can be used to beat out hard work and great ideas.

For that reason I propose launching StartAkademy.

Based on an identical principle to what I am doing with Phuong, young entrepreneurs would pitch their idea via video blog. A jury would then select and mentor the young entrepreneur via video-casts that would share, teach and inspire others who want to start their own companies.

This could perhaps be linked in with Seedcamp or a VC firm or a business school. Any takers?

I’ve done a brief video in English (above) and French (below) about the concept.

Email me or post a comment here!

Merci, Franck!

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I had a very interesting lunch, followed by video session with Franck Perrier, speaking about the directions of Internet development.

Topics included on his video and blog post:

– Why Facebook works
– Privacy dangers of Facebook
– How cultural differences are now emerging across the Internet

In addition to running a popular blog, Franck is founder of Eyeka, a company that aims to connect User Generated videos and photographs with publications.

A faithful MacBook goes under the laser

Having left journalism last week, I am now getting a taste of entrepreneurial experiences by helping Phuong Tran, my brother-in-law, launch his first start-up.

Phuong, a 23-year old commerce school student, is obsessed with lasers and now wants to turn the technology into a self-made summer job.

The faith I have in the project was shown by my willingness to put my faithful MacBook under his laser’s beam.

My contribution is to bring a journalist’s skills – asking questions – to help him shape the company. We will interview on video and post various experts on small businesses giving their ideas on how Phuong should best proceed. With some luck (and hard work) the venture will succeed commercially and journalistically.

We hope people in France – a country not known for start-ups – will enjoy seeing an idea move into execution!

Disclosure: Unlike any other story I have written, I have a monetary interest in the company, having helped Phuong finance this summer project. (He starts commerce school in Reims – the Champagne city – this September)

The website for Tagmypod is up (though fairly basic) and below is our first video (in French). Comments and input are very welcome!

My online replicant (with French accent and acne)

Picture 26-2What if you were replaced by a robot suffering from acne?

VirtuOz, a French company that normally makes smart bots for websites like the French Post Office and Railway (Answering questions like: “What is the nearest train station to Aix-en-Provence?”), just launched a free consumer version of their artificial intelligence robot.

Skaaz is an online avatar suffering from an oversized head and acne who answers questions you have pre-programmed explicitly or entered through a series game-like questionaires. For now, it is only available in French.

Why do I want this?

The idea behind Skaaz is a variation on the continuous presence theme. Instead of the instant feedback of Jaiku or Twitter that tells people “what are you doing now?”, Skaaz will tell people about your broader preferences. You could put in your favorite color, car or restaurant, for example. That way, a person interacting with the bot could get to know you, even if you are not online. By the time you do actually get online, people have finished all the chit chat with your bot and you can get into the substantive stuff. It is possible even to imagine that Skaaz bots could be programmed to seek other bots loaded with similar interests.

How do they make money?

Since Skaaz is a watered-down version of the commercial-strength system used by the French post office and railways, presumably they could offer more functionality at a price. This would allow more complex questions and and subtle interaction. Advertising could also be worked into the bots fairly easily when it comes to recommendations.

The lowdown:

While VirtuOz clearly has experience on the output side (answering questions) it will be a challenge to get users to input enough information to make the bots knowledgeable about their owner. There could be real strength in tying Skaaz to a back end like Facebook or, where users have already expressed many views and preferences.

Due to the limited amount programmed into one person’s bot, the power of Skaaz might come more with crowdsourcing rather than from the knowledge of one bot. Imagine asking a large community of Skaaz bots to tell their favorite restaurant. This would turn the Skaaz technology into a search solution for personal recommendations from a large community.

Here is my Skaaz. Click here to chat with my virtual self.

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