This morning’s NY Times has a couple of interesting stories. The first is that apparently the rate for bribery in NY State and City legislatures is as low as $20K. But the one that really caught my attention was the headline titled “Crosswalks in New York are not Havens.” Having three children who walk to school in Manhattan, this is a topic very near to my heart.
The article starts out with the following quote:
Pedestrians struck by cars are most often hit while in the crosswalk, with the signal on their side.
Pretty much every morning when I walk with my kids I make a point of saying that the signal is just a hint as to when it might be safe. What they really have to do is look for the cars. In fact, because the signal is just a hint it can to some degree be dangerous because it provides a false sense of safety!
But I of course also immediately thought of this being a classic Bayesian inference problem where we need to understand so-called base rates. Even in New York where jay walking is common, I would estimate that pedestrians crossing roads either against the signal or not at the crosswalk account for only about 20% of all crossings (probably even lower in reality). So unless doing so would be massively (at least 5x) more dangerous, we should expect for more people to be injured when they are doing the right thing.
Maybe it’s time again for me to teach my Skillshare class on Bayesian Probability and a Theory of Life. The goal for the class is for anyone who has taken it to question a headline and conclusion like this one about crosswalks.
Regular scheduled programming should return tomorrow. On Monday I posted how the storm surge was the biggest threat to New York City and that’s exactly what happened. There was definitely damage from wind blasts and also several people were killed by falling trees but in terms of knocking down the city, the flooding of tunnels, the power outages and the loss of subway transportation have had by far the largest impact.
According to a NY Times article today, the three highest water marks at the Battery have all occurred in the last three years (one was Irene, the other Sandy and I am not sure about the third). Sea levels are projected to rise six inches per decade wich by itself would give us another foot of water level by 2030. And if anything the melting of Greenland ice is accelerating. Plus the surge from future storms could be even higher. In fact, the models for Sandy still had some probability at 4 (!) more feet than were actually realized.
What all this means is that we need to look seriously into major flood mitigation efforts. One idea is to put floodgates under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and also under the Throgs Neck Bridge. The latter would protect the East River from water being pushed through the Long Island Sound (and protect La Guardia Airport, which was badly damaged with submerged runways and flooded terminals). But it would of course make flooding in the Western Part of the Sound that much worse.
That brings me to another idea: a Kickstarter project to fund the immediate exploration of different alternative options. If a group of qualified engineers would put that up, I would give a fair bit of money to it.
Our kids have been super excited since yesterday afternoon that school has been canceled for today. Waking up this morning and looking around they were a bit surprised to see that it seemed to be neither blowing nor even raining outside. That got us into a good conversation about why Sandy is a dangerous storm for New York City. In the Northern hemisphere hurricanes rotate counter clockwise due to the Coriolis force. With the center of the storm supposed to be passing South of us, that means we have very strong onshore winds. These winds essentially push the ocean towards the city.
So the real danger for New York City are not the wind nor the rain but the storm surge. Think of it like the ocean rising up. As that higher sea water level is forced into the narrow harbor it rises even more (same volume of water but less area, so greater height). Now to get a sense of just how much water this storm is moving take a look at these tidal surge predictions which show probabilities for 6 feet or more above normal tide levels:
As you can see there is a 40-50% chance of this happening later today around Manhattan. If you want to play around with the surge levels, you can play around with this terrifying surge predictor created by NOAA.
Now you have to keep in mind that this is surge above normal tide. To make matters worse, tonight is a full moon and we are expecting a high high tide to begin with. If you have been to various parts of the waterfront at high tide you know that we don’t have a lot of room to spare. If the surge gets above that we will have flooding. How much? We won’t know until it actually happens, but right now the models don’t look very reassuring. We have taken our car out of the underground parking garage and put it in a parking lot and we have also started to clear out our basement.
If you want to watch the swell rising you don’t even need to leave your house. As long as you have power and Internet, you can check out the live data from the New York Harbor buoys here (the Harbor Entrance, about 15 miles out) and here (in the Harbor, right off the Battery). You can also see more at this handy NOAA Sandy Quick Look page that pulls a bunch of buoy data together and shows plots of normal predicted tide versus actually observed water levels. Also shown in each chart is a purple line labeled HAT, which stands for Highest Astronomical Tide. It’s the highest water level that has been observed in the absence of a storm. As you can see we will be very much above that.
Good luck to all of us here in New York and along the shore.
Update: This is the Hudson already breaching its banks near the Standard Hotel (picture taken by Fred)
A couple of years ago Shapeways was a tiny company based in the Netherlands with a big idea: providing 3D printing as an on demand service and marketplace. Following an investment from Union Square Ventures and Index Ventures the company relocated to New York City (and recently raised more money including from new investor Lux Capital).
Today marks a critical milestone in the growth of Shapeways: Mayor Bloomberg presided over the groundbreaking for a large 3D printing facility in what used to be an old manufacturing building in Long Island City.
Next to the mayor are Peter Weijmarshausen and Marleen Vogelaar two of the co-founders of Shapeways. This is a big step forward in making New York City a center for Manufacturing 2.0 as I had hoped when we first invested in Shapeways. Congratulations to the entire team at Shapeways!
In the middle of 2010 we started to seriously consider moving back to New York City. At the time one of the considerations was that it would be possible to experiment with homeschooling the kids. I am excited to report that we are doing both. We have a place in Chelsea that is a short walk from the Union Square Ventures office and almost as importantly around the corner from Murray’s Bagels. We are also homeschooling our kids for at least the next six months. Now the “we” here shouldn’t be read to imply that Susan and I are doing the teaching - we both work full time. Instead, we have worked with Teri and Melissa from QED to recruit some amazing tutors. Susan has all the details on that over at a special blog about our homeschooling experiment.
When we announced the USV investment in Shapeways a little over a year ago, I pointed out the potential to make New York City a global center for 3D printing. Since then the Shapeways team has done a lot to make that happen. Here are just a few of the highlights. First, the founders relocated themselves and their families from Eindhoven in the Netherlands to New York City. Then they proceeded to assemble an amazing team here that is building incredible stuff and fostering a great community.
Team Shapeways also started a research collaboration with NYU that’s pushing the frontiers of analyzing 3D models for printability. With over 300,000 different 3D printable parts and thousand of new parts being uploaded, Shapeways has reams of data for analysis.
Now I am super excited that we are moving another step closer to making New York City a global center for modern manufacturing: in collaboration with NYCIF which is providing a loan, Shapeways will be opening a production facility right here in New York City. Oh and while they were at it, they launched a redesigned site with an awesome new tag line - the future of stuff! - and an awesome tool that lets you create a beautiful completely customized vase (sake size) in minutes.
When I was studying Computer Science at Harvard (a shocking 20 years ago this year), startups were nowhere on my radar. The big name recruiting on campus was Microsoft, where my former TA, Dean Hachamovitch, has been leading the Internet Explorer team for several years now. Things have improved a lot since then, but there are still too many talented computer science students being lured to large companies and/or Wall Street instead of joining a startup or even starting their own.
That’s why I am excited that HackNY this year is going to be twice the size of 2010. HackNY is a terrific program run by Evan Korth and Chris Wiggins with an awesome set of advisors including Etsy’s Chad Dickerson and Bit.ly’s Hilary Mason. HackNY brings talented Computer Science students from top programs around the country to New York for the summer to intern at great startups. Last year’s internships were a huge success with students and startups alike.
We have been living in the burbs since shortly after our third child was born, which makes it easy to keep track. Shockingly we are rapidly approaching a decade there! We are fortunate to have a (near) perfect setup — a 12 minute walk to the train station (which gives me 24 minutes of walking per day guaranteed), the elementary school across the road and public tennis courts around the corner. The Long Island Sound 20 minutes away by car.
Yet we are seriously considering moving back into the city. Having grown up in the country side of Germany, the burbs frequently strike me as neither fish nor fowl. You are not in the city and you are not in the country!
The older kids will finish elementary school next year and the middle school where we are isn’t particularly inspiring. Middle school is tough anywhere but in the city there are more options (including home schooling). Susan and I would both like to go to more events in the city and still see the kids. We are also finding that like almost all suburbians we hardly make use of the many amazing things the nearby city has to offer. That includes getting the kids exposed to more art and diversity. For all intents and purposes we might as well be 100 miles away.
Would love to hear from anyone who made the transition back from the burbs to the city (I know Fred and Joanne did). In particular, I am curious about what the biggest challenges are — most importantly how to help the kids with the transition (and how to get them involved in the process)! Also of course if anybody knows of a place in New York City for a family of five that’s interested in a fixer-upper — we are actively looking.
Congrats to Owen Davis and everyone else involved for launching NYC SeedStart 2010. I have long argued that there is no such thing as too much seed capital and SeedStart is a terrific addition. It is amazing that until now New York City did not have such a program, given the success of YCombinator, TechStars, Dreamit, Launchbox, SeedCamp, FBFund Rev and others. I am also thrilled to see that NYC SeedStart has adopted a simple financing model - $20,000/team for 5% of the company. Now very much looking forward to the first crop of companies!
Tonight I will be on Brian Lehrer’s TV show, together with Chris Dixon and Henry Blodget, to talk about what’s in store for NYC tech startups over the next decade. At least that is the putative topic, although I would not be surprised if the conversation goes elsewhere. Here are some points I am planning to make:
It has never been easier to hire top tech talent for NYC startups. And that’s not just because folks no longer want to work (as much) in finance. It is because people want to live and work in NYC. Google has done a lot to promote this, which I have in the past called Google’s gift to NYC.
Seed and angel funding, which I believe are the critical missing link and have been in (relative) undersupply in NYC are looking up also. FRC now has a NYC office. Founder Collective announced its fund. Individual angels are also back following the rebound in the stock market.
All the top VC firms are now investing in NYC. Boston-based firms have been doing that for some time but have really stepped up the pace (for instance, Bijan from Spark Capital seems to be in NYC more than in Boston). It used to be that West Coast firms would not venture past Silicon Valley (they barely invested in San Francisco), but now they are here all the time. Just as three examples, Accel, Redpoint and Kleiner all have significant investments in NYC.
NYC now has all the key ingredients of a startup ecosystem, including (in addition to the above) service providers focused on startups (lawyers, recruiters, etc.) and a growing number of serial entrepreneurs.
As important as any of the above are the shifts that are taking place in where startup opportunities exist. Silicon Valley and Route 128 (anyone remember that?) completely dominated the infrastructure space. But a lot more opportunities these days exist at the application and content layers. Graphic and social design are becoming as (if not more) important than technical design. These are areas that NYC has traditionally excelled in.
Finally, a whole new generation of entrepreneurs are “net native,” meaning they have grown up with the Internet. They are not only too young to remember the dominance of Silicon Valley and Route 128 but more importantly they have internalized the Internet’s global reach and place less emphasis on geography for their startups.
All told, I believe this will be a terrific decade for tech startups in NYC. I look forward to tonight (7:30pm) and am eager to hear any other points folks think worth mentioning.