5 Intriguing Things: Thursday, 12/12

Autonomous tractors, phones on planes, Kleiner Perkins, library leftovers, and "innovation" as religion

1. Autonomous tractors are being deployed on our nation's farms.

"The 'go to here' feature has proven to be very beneficial for the farmers. Users can instruct the tractor to go to a spot in the field that they deem most convenient in relation to the combine’s path, instead of having the system follow the combine through the field. This helps increase efficiency and saves time because the farmer can gauge when they will need to unload next and make sure the tractor is there waiting for them

“The 'go to here' feature really opens up the field,” said Kent Armstrong, a farmer from Cameron, IL, leasing the system. “After the corn is unloaded into the semi, I instruct the tractor to drive to the best place in the field to wait until I’m ready. It helps the tractor get to the combine for unloading in the most efficient way possible and opens up the field for combining.”


2. The FCC is meeting right now to decide the fate of making phone calls on airplanes. From the agenda item description, the end of 'Airplane Mode' could be nigh. 

"Expanding Access to Mobile Wireless Services Onboard Aircraft:

The Commission will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to revise outdated rules and provide airlines with the ability to permit passengers to use mobile wireless services via onboard airborne access systems."

Bonus: Follow Brian Fung on Twitter, who is live at the meeting.


3. One of the Valley's really big VC firms, Kleiner Perkins, is reshuffling who makes the decisions.

"The venerable VC firm this week sent a memo to its limited partners, explaining that its active early-stage funds will be led by a group of just five managing directors (who also will serve as the funds' investment committee). The quintet consists of: John Doerr, Ted Schlein, Randy Komisar, Beth Seidenberg and Mike Abbott."


From Stacks by Nick Fraccaro

4. Stacks, a project to document the little piles of books that get left behind in libraries.

"I’m uncertain as to whether a justification, a statement of purpose, a methodology, or a rule-set will ultimately absolve or resolve why I would return to the library every day for one month, sweeping each floor’s tables, carrels, and group study rooms.

I decided on a few conditions for this system and put them into practice.  As a clerk, I would now merely be cataloguing and processing entries— the results of my system.

I could not combine two autonomous, separate stacks. I could turn books right-side up for legibility. I could not re-order the vertical sequence of books in a stack. I could straighten a stack laterally before the camera.

So what are these photographs?  Why were they authored in this manner?  What do they document?  As a document, do they assess objects?  Subjects?  What kinds of claims do they make?"


5. Parodying Gary Vaynerchuck would be impossible.

"It’s not a method, it’s a mindset. Everybody’s looking for tactics, but it’s more about religion. So the reason my team and I stay ahead is that we’re built to stay ahead. We value the ROI that comes from the time we spend researching and pondering and debating and playing. We view that as a necessity. I don’t think a lot of people consciously value oxygen, but you need it to stay alive. That is how I look at innovation. In my opinion, Staying ahead is a requirement for being a successful business, so the reason that I stay ahead is that I allow myself to experiment with new platforms and do un-scalable stuff like spending 45 minutes sending Snapchats to everybody in my contacts because there is no “select all” button. I allow my employees to have that time playing, tinkering, experimenting, and debating. For example, when Vine came out, we basically shut down certain parts ofVaynerMedia in order to get on top of the new app and really try our best to master it before anybody else. We’re in the business of always trying to put ourselves out of business."


^ Thanks, Robin! Thanks, Nick! 


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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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