Climate March in NY this Sunday

I have written a fair bit about climate change here at Continuations over the last few years. It is one of those slowly creeping threats that democracy is woefully slow and bad at addressing.

So I am excited to see that we are finally getting a hopefully massive rally to spur politicians into action. If you live in or near New York and care about this issue (which should be everyone) come to the People’s Climate March this Sunday! March starts at 11.30am between 65th and 86th on Central Park West.

Also take 10 minutes to let 10 or more of your friends know about it. Tweet with hashtag PeoplesClimate or email. Here is a picture of me from last week organizing the old fashioned way by handing out flyers. See you on Sunday!

Posted: 18th September 2014Comments
Tags:  climate march peoplesclimate New York City

Jack Hidary for Mayor of New York City

I am thrilled that Jack Hidary is running for Mayor of New York City! There are many things that set Jack apart from the field of candidates, but three stand out as critical to me:

1. Jack understands technology and its importance for how a modern city should operate and what kind of opportunities it creates. Compare that for example to Anthony Weiner’s comments about Makerbot and Uber.

2. Jack champions entrepreneurship and project based learning as critical to solving many of the issues we face instead of more government programs and high stakes testing. These are both issues I care deeply about.

3. Jack is running as an independent and is not beholden to traditional party line interests. For reference, here are all the candidates.

I have known Jack personally since the late 90s when he was one of the early successful Internet entrepreneurs in New York. Since then he has shown a steadfast commitment to public service, for instance helping to bring hybrid taxis to the city.

Unlike Mike Bloomberg, Jack is not a billionaire. So he will need the support of individuals like you and me. If you like having an independent tech savvy alternative in the race, you should contribute to Jack’s campaign.

Posted: 19th July 2013Comments
Tags:  jack hidary new york city mayor

New York City Crosswalks: Safety and Bayes

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.

Posted: 3rd April 2013Comments
Tags:  new york city bayes safety

Post Hurricane Sandy Update and Idea

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.

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Posted: 31st October 2012Comments
Tags:  New York City Hurricane Sandy flooding

Sandy And NYC: It’s All About the Surge

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)

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Posted: 29th October 2012Comments
Tags:  hurricane Sandy New York City tides surge

Shapeways: Manufacturing 2.0 in New York City

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!

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Posted: 18th October 2012Comments
Tags:  Shapeways Michael Bloomberg Manufacturing 2.0 New York City

Moving Back to New York City and Homeschooling

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.

Posted: 13th January 2012Comments
Tags:  new york city personal homeschooling

Shapeways Brings the Future of Stuff to New York City!

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.

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Posted: 18th November 2011Comments
Tags:  Shapeways New York City 3dPrinting

HackNY Now Twice as Nice

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’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.

If you are a startup and have not yet applied, please do so immediately.  Ditto if you are a student.  In the meantime, thanks to Chris, Evan and everyone else supporting HackNY.

Posted: 1st March 2011Comments
Tags:  hackny hackers New York City

Back to the City

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.

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Posted: 4th June 2010Comments
Tags:  personal moving New York City

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