Travel


3
Dec 10

SVc2UK

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I’m late in posting this, but wanted to write something about a tour I was involved in a couple of weeks ago: Silicon Valley comes to the UK (SVc2UK), and SIlicon Valley Comes to Cambridge (SVC2C), along with an additional trip to Silicon Valley Comes to Oxford, although I didn’t go on the Oxford portion.

It was a really fantastic trip, organized by Sherry Coutu and Reid Hoffman, and it was absolutely packed with interesting events and people.

The crew from Silicon Valley (which generously roped in folks from Vancouver, Washington & NYC as well) was a great group — interesting and diverse — and interested and curious about each other and the technology landscape globally, and specifically in the UK. It included senior people/founders/chairs from Kiva, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google, oPower, Mozilla, Creative Commons, DoSomething.org, as well as investors from August, Index, and Greylock and more — very broad.

But the stars of the tour were the people we got to meet. During the 4 days, we had 23 events scheduled that reached 2,700 people. The first day we started in London talking with people who run the UK government at the House of Commons — we had several MPs in attendance, and were hosted by the Speaker of the House of Commons in the fantastic Speaker’s Chambers. A few of us got to give short prepared remarks at the beginning of the session; mine are here.

After that, we were hosted by Google to talk with entrepreneurs from around London, also a great session, and had an interesting dinner with more folks from the London startup scene in the BT Tower.

The second day, hosted by NESTA, we got to meet many first time London entrepreneurs and it was a great, great time. There’s clearly a ton of interesting and fast startup activity happening in the UK currently, and it was neat to have a firsthand look into it. Was also fun to share some of our own experiences from Silicon Valley.

After that we hopped on a bus to go to Cambridge, which was an altogether different experience — also fantastic.

First a bit of history: Cambridge University was first established in 1284, and counts a number of incredible thinkers amongst its alumni: Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, James Clerk Maxwell, Crick and Watson and many, many more. And it’s been the home of seminal computer breakthroughs — it’s where Charles Babbage and Alan Turing did their work.

Over the past few decades, it’s also had an incredible run in terms of tech industry output, including being the birthplace of ARM Holdings as well as Autonomy.

We spent Friday at the Judge Business School at Cambridge, in a variety of panels, talks, and “surgeries” helping new startups think through their strategies and priorities. The high point for me, I think, was being able to talk with the 3 recent winners of a national entpreneurship contest — 3 teenage girls who’ve started their own venture. Great to be able to meet them and talk for a bit.

Saturday we spent time at the Hauser Center talking with a ton of interesting startups, and helping where we could.

Then we caught our breath for a bit. ­čÖé

On each of the three nights in Cambridge, we were very fortunate to be able to have dinner in one of the colleges: Queens (shown in my picture above), Peterhouse (the oldest), and St. John’s. One of the unexpected delights for me was that we were able to attend Choral Evensong in The Chapel of St John’s College on Saturday night — it’s a liturgy that’s been sung in that particular chapel since the 1670s. It was amazing for me to be able to attend that — as an adult, I haven’t been to church with any regularity, but I attended Methodist and Presbyterian churches growing up, and Dad has sung in choirs everywhere we’ve gone (and still does). It reminded me of listening to some of that music growing up, but the other reason that I liked it (other than that the music was exceedingly beautiful) is that it’s in such contrast to the hyper-paced, global, 24/7, always connected, media slammed life that we all live today. It allowed me to pause a bit, to reflect on what it means to be devoted to a cause, to spend your life trying to express ideas (in music or otherwise), and to think about things larger than just what products are released today that we can buy each other for Christmas. I doubt that I’ll ever be a particularly religious person again in my life, but I felt very lucky to be able to attend Evensong and think some about perspective and pacing and commitment.

Anyway, it was an incredible trip — Sherry and Reid did a masterful job in putting it all together — it was a little overwhelming, to be honest. There are some great things happening in London and Cambridge, and I can’t wait to see where they go.


22
Nov 09

Rome

I’ve wanted to visit Rome for a long time — since high school when I learned about it in Mr. Thompson’s Latin class, really. But I’d never been — there aren’t a ton of reasons to get there for work, and I’d never been on holiday either.

But a couple of weeks ago, I got a chance to go for a few days of vacation there, prior to a visit to our Paris office and attending the Monaco Media Forum. Thanks to my mom being kind enough to visit, Kathy was able to go as well, so we got to spend a fantastic 4 days together exploring Rome.

I have a lot of different reactions to Rome — but the main one is that it feels like 4 or 5 different, distinct cities that all happen to be located in the same place. There’s Ancient Rome, of course, and Catholic Rome (and the Vatican) — and Renaissance Rome (including the home of the Medicis) and modern, International Rome. These are all related to each other, naturally (for example, the Popes underwrote much of the Renaissance work) — but just felt really distinct to me — a little more than I expected. (There are also some interesting monuments to Italian nationalism built earlier in the 20th century, celebrating people like Vittorio Emmanuel II, first king of a united Italy.)

In some parts of Rome, the various periods collide in interesting ways — the Pantheon, for example, has functioned more or less continuously since being built by Agrippa in the first century BC (and then rebuilt in the 2nd century AD) — it’s now a Catholic church, but also is where Vittorio Emmanuel is buried, not to mention Raphael — and is of course, despite being nearly 2,000 years old, the largest concrete dome in the world.

I found the Pantheon to be incredible — there’s something about the proportions of the building that make it feel incredibly stable — there’s a rightness to it that’s incredibly compelling. (I think the iconic status of the place plays into that, but it’s not just that.)

And the Roman Forum and the structures of the emperors on the Palatine hill were amazing, of course. There’s something about being able to walk through the forum, to walk through Domus Augustana (the villa that the Flavians built), and just try to imagine what it looked like, what it felt like, how life must have been. I’d always heard the aphorism: “Augustus found Rome a city of brick and left it a city of marble,” but not really internalized what that meant — as you walk around the Palatine & the Forum, you get a sense — many of the buildings have small holes in them — where the metal hooks had been that had previously held the marble facing for buildings (and that metal was eventually melted down to make ammunition, centuries later, naturally).

The permanence of the ancient buildings is astounding, and — especially taken with the incredible Colosseum, and the remnants of the aqueducts nearby — really hammers home the point that this civilization, for all its obvious faults, really knew what it was doing. Their level of building, planning, administration, and just general control of civic life was unprecedented, and incredible.

Of course, the next question you’re faced with is this: what the hell happened? We know, of course, with hindsight that what happened was invaders from the North, and the middle/dark ages, and the plague, and a shift of power to Constantinople in the East. But, really, it took a thousand years after the fall of Rome to start to approach the level of competence of the Romans again.

What a remarkable thing. I think most of us think of history as a more or less one direction proposition: progress. (We can debate for a while whether, you know, tending to virtual fish & farms is, strictly speaking, but you know what I mean.) And maybe the progress is of a technological sort, or maybe it’s geographic, moving from civilization to civilization.

But you never think the whole world (give or take) will take a gigantic, centuries-long, step backwards. We all read about it in school, of course, and understand it intellectually, but being there, seeing it and thinking about it just left me breathless.

Anyway. Fantastic trip; hope to get back to see more than just Rome, and spend more time in the city itself, too. Will hold onto my camera better next time, too.

I’ve put up a set of pictures of Rome, plus out the window from my hotel room in Monte Carlo, up on Flickr. (Taken with our smaller Lumix LX-3 camera, which is fantastic.)


17
Sep 09

Mornings

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I really love walking in the morning in the cities I’m traveling to — I think I’ll never get tired of it. Often, because of jet lag, I’ll wake up earlier than I really want to be awake, and going outside helps me clear my foggy brain. Every city is different, and the same, of course. Cafes opening up, shop vendors cleaning up in front of their stores, kids going to school, parents dropping them off. Just the city waking up for the morning, and there’s such a wonderful mix of quiet and energy and humanity.


24
Oct 08

Madrid

Holy cow, Madrid is, so far, unlike any place that I’ve been. We got to our hotel after midnight last night, and the area outside our hotel was filled with people, and lit up like it was the middle of the day. People were up through the whole night — I had to crash around 2a, since I had a 9a meeting this morning. We’re only here for about 20 hours this time, but I’m going to make a point to come back before too long….

[As an aside, I’m really interested in BrightKite and their iPhone application. Not sure it will stick with me, since without background apps on the iPhone you have to active the app to update your location, but it’s a really interesting development. Worth watching.]


23
Oct 08

Brandenburg Gate Lit Up

I’ve been in Berlin the past 2 days for a community event, some press meetings, and a talk at Web 2.0 Expo this morning. Got to walk around Berlin some last night, and saw the Festival of Lights all around the city. Amazing stuff. This is just before I crashed from jet lag…