"Groupon was a huge huge success and potentially a huge huge failure. That neither made Chicago nor does it need to break Chicago."
If you're not from Chicago and you think, "Chicago startups," the company that probably comes to mind is Groupon. Groupon had a heralded IPO and, in recent months, an equally heralded decline. So, perhaps the question I was most interested in answering during our time in the city was, "How has Groupon's meteoric rise and fall changed the startup scene?"
For the answer to that question, I went to Terry Howerton, who has been around the Chicago startup scene since the mid-2000s. He founded the Illinois Technology Association seven years ago, and later, the community hub, TechNexus in 2007. He's met thousands of people in the city's tech scene and has watched more than a few trends rise and fall. In other words, if anyone can say how the Chicago startup scene has been changed by Groupon's story, it's him.
"Groupon was a flare that went up and lit up the ground below, and people looked around and said, 'Huh, there's a lot here.'" Howerton said. "The danger is once that flare starts to extinguish as maybe happened with Groupon -- as probably happened with Groupon -- are there any lights remaining?"
Traditionally, the thought has been that once a city has a company with a big IPO -- think PayPal or Microsoft or Google -- that pumps a lot of money into the place's startup ecosystem. You've got a bunch of youngish people walking around with huge bank accounts and substantial risk tolerance. While he acknowledged the venture capital firm, Lightbank, which was formed by Groupon co-founders Eric Lefkofsky and Brad Keywell, Howerton said that Groupon has not been a boon to Chicago's startup scene, at least not yet.
"I don't think there has been a lot of capital that has flooded into Chicago through the Groupon exit," Howerton said. "You think about the success of a company like Microsoft and the early days of Microsoft in Seattle. It was not that 10 guys got wealthy but hundreds and hundreds of people became millionaires. We haven't yet seen that from Groupon. In some ways, it's not a tech company. You just don't have hundreds of engineers who made a million dollars."
Even so, Howerton seems content with that reality. After all, he thinks Chicago shouldn't lionize business-to-consumer startups just because the media (like your loyal correspondent) like them more. In fact, Howerton is excited about a whole different class of companies and types of work.
"A lot of the technology that exists here today isn't B2C, it's B2B, it's industry transformative and it's incredibly important," he said. "It's companies like ArrowStream that do $100 million a year doing supply chain management for paper products for fast food restaurants. If they were doing $100 million a year in any B2C, they'd be written about as if they were the second coming."
It's actually amazing. If you look at ArrowStream's customer list -- IHOP, Wendy's, Cinnabon, Panda Express, KFC, Friendly's, etc. -- they're probably helping a restaurant on every street in America. But he's right: Who has ever heard of ArrowStream?
In fact, Howerton thinks that companies like that could be Chicago's tech scene bread and butter. There are already so many established large corporations in Chicago in logistics, finance, and healthcare that he sees the city as a place that could provide unique collaborations between startups and big business.
Howerton said that there are several macro trends driving corporations to work with new companies. For one, big businesses have unprecedented amounts of cash on their balance sheets. It's not just Apple that's sitting on money. Recent reports peg the amount of dollars on corporate balance sheets at nearly $2 trillion! Those companies, like State Farm Insurance or Walgreens, want to innovate and stay ahead of potential disruptive competitors, but they just don't know how.
"State Farm has 12,000 employees in IT in Bloomington," Howerton said. "I'm sure many of those employees are really smart people, but how innovative can you be with 12,000 IT workers in your bureaucratic corporate environment in an industry as historic as insurance?"
Or take Walgreens. They recently released an API for their "QuickPrint" feature, which allows you to send photos to Walgreen's and pick them up in a store. "They invited us to organize hackathons for them to bring dozens of technology teams to brainstorm business and app ideas that integrate QuickPrints," he said. The teams get access to the people who built the API and the winners of the competitions make some money. Meanwhile, Walgreens gets technologists building apps using their platform in a way that they probably wouldn't themselves.
With the right corporate friends and deep knowledge of the technology scene in Chicago, TechNexus isn't trying to be like it's flashy neighbor, 1871 Chicago. They're not trying to draw the latest web startup. What they want to do is create an environment where all kinds of technology startups -- especially those with hardcore engineering and computer science at their cores -- can find serious investors and partners.
All this to say: Howerton's idea of a real technology scene in Chicago doesn't end with a certain daily-deals company that happened to go public last year.
"Groupon was a huge huge success and potentially a huge huge failure," Howeton said. "That neither made Chicago nor does it need to break Chicago."
Is a lack of meaning really worse than a lack of freedom?
A man named François is a professor in Paris. He is a scholar of Joris-Karl Huysmans, an obscure 19th-century author who, in his later years, converted to Catholicism in an epiphany. François is the hero, or rather anti-hero, of French novelist Michel Houellebecq’s Submission. François is listless—even his attitude toward sex is uninspired, as if it’s an activity like any other, perhaps like playing tennis on a Sunday, but probably with less excitement. There is too much freedom and too many choices, and sometimes he’d rather just die.
The world around him, though, is changing. It is 2022. After a charismatic Islamist wins the second round of the French presidential elections against the right-wing Marine Le Pen (after gaining the support of the Socialists), a Muslim professor, himself a convert, attempts to persuade François to make the declaration of faith. “It’s submission,” the professor tells him. “The shocking and simple idea, which had never been so forcefully expressed, that the summit of human happiness resides in the most absolute submission.”
How to make sense of axels, edges, flips, and more
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Let's make no bones about it: the headlining sport in the Winter Olympics is figure skating. No other sport comes close to the drama, the athletes, the subplots, and politics that figure skating has. For skaters, all those hours, jumps and training are boiled down to around six or seven minutes. That's what makes the Olympics' skating competition so wonderful and so heartbreaking: skaters don't necessarily have to be the best, they just have to be the best for seven minutes (see: Lipinski, Tara).
That's why we watch. For most of us though, the benchmark of a good skate is not falling (part of the reason people were surprised that Mirai Nagasu didn't make the Olympic team despite skating a clean program). To the untrained eye, a skater just transforms into a spinning blur for a few nanoseconds, and then lands (or doesn't) while we hold our breath.
Tech analysts are prone to predicting utopia or dystopia. They’re worse at imagining the side effects of a firm's success.
The U.S economy is in the midst of a wrenching technological transformation that is fundamentally changing the way people sleep, work, eat, shop, love, read, and interact.
At least, that’s one interpretation.
A second story of this age of technological transformation says that it’s mostly a facade—that the last 30 years have been a productivity bust and little has changed in everyday life, aside from the way everyone reads and watches videos. People wanted flying cars and got Netflix binges instead.
Let’s call these the Disrupt Story and the Dud Story of technology. When a new company, app, or platform emerges, it’s common for analysts to divide into camps—Disrupt vs. Dud—with some yelping that the new thing will change everything and others yawning with the expectation that traditionalism will win out.
On Tuesday, Alex Van Der Zwaan, a lawyer who helped produce a report at Manafort’s behest, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
Alex Van Der Zwaan, a former attorney at an international law firm, pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents about the last time he communicated with Paul Manafort’s longtime business partner, Rick Gates. Van Der Zwaan is the latest figure swept up in Robert Mueller’s expansive probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election to admit to the charges against him.
Mueller’s interest in Van Der Zwaan, who helped produce a report about a contentious trial in Ukraine at Manafort’s behest, may be a signal that the special counsel is ramping up pressure on Manafort—whose connections to Russia and high-level role on the Trump campaign could prove invaluable to Mueller’s probe.
Gates is reportedly nearing his own plea deal with Mueller, according to the Los Angeles Times, but Manafort has continued to fight the charges he faces. His uphill battle to prove his innocence, however, will get steeper with Van Der Zwaan’s guilty plea.
Marvel has hit big with a movie that leads with the artistry of its storytelling and the diversity of its characterization. Hollywood would do well to take notice.
Over the last few years, a lot of pernicious Hollywood myths about what movies are “marketable” have been shattered. Old excuses about how blockbusters featuring actors of color don’t appeal to worldwide audiences have been swept away by the success of franchises like the Fast & Furious series and the Star Wars sequels. Time and again, American audiences have responded to films with black leads like Hidden Figures, Get Out, and Girls Trip, all of them turning huge profits on smaller budgets. Even within this context, though, the box-office success of Black Panther this past weekend was basically unprecedented, and it’s one that could dictate where studios direct their energies in the future.
New evidence challenges one of the most celebrated ideas in network science.
A paper posted online last month has reignited a debate about one of the oldest, most startling claims in the modern era of network science: the proposition that most complex networks in the real world—from the World Wide Web to interacting proteins in a cell—are “scale-free.” Roughly speaking, that means that a few of their nodes should have many more connections than others, following a mathematical formula called a power law, so that there’s no one scale that characterizes the network.
Purely random networks do not obey power laws, so when the early proponents of the scale-free paradigm started seeing power laws in real-world networks in the late 1990s, they viewed them as evidence of a universal organizing principle underlying the formation of these diverse networks. The architecture of scale-freeness, researchers argued, could provide insight into fundamental questions such as how likely a virus is to cause an epidemic, or how easily hackers can disable a network.
One man thinks so, and he’s been manufacturing them for clients for more than ten years.
“Being a pedophile is like living with a mask on,” Shin Takagi told me, before lighting another cigarette in the midst of a Tokyo cafe. Takagi’s mask was off today. He spoke freely and people were noticing. In a sea of black business suits, Takagi sported a red Hawaiian-print shirt—daring them to look.
People like Takagi who struggle with pedophilic impulses but have never acted on them have been the subject of much media attention. With a paucity of reliable scientific data about their circumstances and no known medical or psychiatric cure, many of these individuals rely strictly on self-control to avoid acting on their urges. Takagi believes there is another option.
Struggling to reconcile his attraction to children with a conviction that they should be protected, Takagi founded Trottla, a company that produces life-like child sex dolls. For more than a decade, Trottla has shipped anatomically-correct imitations of girls as young as five to clients around the world.
Trump’s gravest responsibility is to defend the United States from foreign attack—and he’s done nothing to fulfill it.
As the rest of America mourns the victims of the Parkland, Florida, massacre, President Trump took to Twitter.
Not for him the rituals of grief. He is too consumed by rage and resentment. He interrupted his holidaying schedule at Mar-a-Lago only briefly, for a visit to a hospital where some of the shooting victims were treated. He posed afterward for a grinning thumbs-up photo op. Pain for another’s heartbreak—that emotion is for losers, apparently.
Having failed at one presidential duty, to speak for the nation at times of national tragedy, Trump resumed shirking an even more supreme task: defending the nation against foreign attack.
Last week, Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian persons and three entities that conspired to violate federal election law, to the benefit of Trump and Republican congressional candidates. This is not the whole of the story by any means. This Mueller indictment references only Russian operations on Facebook. It does not deal with the weaponization of hacked information via WikiLeaks. Or the reports that the Russians funneled millions of dollars of election spending through the NRA’s political action committees. But this indictment does show enough to answer some questions about the scale and methods of the Russian intervention—and pose a new question, the most important of them all.
A scathing obituary of Richard Nixon, originally published in Rolling Stone on June 16, 1994
MEMO FROM THE NATIONAL AFFAIRS DESK
DATE: MAY 1, 1994
FROM: DR. HUNTER S. THOMPSON
SUBJECT: THE DEATH OF RICHARD NIXON: NOTES ON THE PASSING OF AN AMERICAN MONSTER.... HE WAS A LIAR AND A QUITTER, AND HE SHOULD HAVE BEEN BURIED AT SEA.... BUT HE WAS, AFTER ALL, THE PRESIDENT.
"And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird."
Richard Nixon is gone now, and I am poorer for it. He was the real thing -- a political monster straight out of Grendel and a very dangerous enemy. He could shake your hand and stab you in the back at the same time. He lied to his friends and betrayed the trust of his family. Not even Gerald Ford, the unhappy ex-president who pardoned Nixon and kept him out of prison, was immune to the evil fallout. Ford, who believes strongly in Heaven and Hell, has told more than one of his celebrity golf partners that "I know I will go to hell, because I pardoned Richard Nixon."