ICEYE is hitting it out of the atmosphere. Their suitcase-sized radar microsatellites are vastly improving humankind’s ability to produce unobstructed imagery of Earth and respond to climate change–and this satellite is 1/100th of the price and around a tenth of the size of a conventional radar satellite.

From the minute I met the ICEYE founders Rafal Modrzewski and Pekka Laurila I was astonished by the possibilities and now they have achieved their first milestone. At True Ventures we are incredibly fired up–read more about it in my blog post on the True blog. Thanks to our Finnish co-investors Petteri and Timo at Lifeline for making the intro!

I was born 40 years ago in Helsinki. Finland wasn’t a wealthy place back then. GDP per capita that year was about $7,000. Over in neighboring Sweden GDP was over $11,000, for comps. “Suomi” was a small, relatively poor country.

During my lifetime, Finland’s population hasn’t dramatically changed. But GDP has skyrocketed more than 6x to $43,000. It’s been a good run. Not just in terms of wealth but on almost every other indicator you can think of. People live longer, fewer kill themselves, more report feeling happier.

So today, on the 100th anniversary of Finland’s independence, there’s a lot to celebrate.

But also things that worry me. Rising inequality being by far the biggest risk. It, coupled with bad governance, could wipe out all these gains in the remaining part of my lifetime. I really think they are reversible. Complacency and short-sightedness, such as devaluing basic research and the arts, and a rise in polarization, coupled with a reliance on tech, gives me concern.

But I’ll finish by singling out one stat: it’s the only country where fathers spend more time with school-aged kids than mothers. Being a dad of three, it’s the one indicator of the Finnish economy I feel I can throw some weight behind :)

Here’s to the next century forward. Happy 100th, Finland!

“Let us see rather that like Janus—or better, like Yama, the Brahmin god of death—religion [technology] has two faces, one very friendly, one very gloomy…” -Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms

“Michael Varus drew his sword. ”My father is Janus, the god of two faces. I am used to seeing through masks and deceptions.”
― Rick Riordan, The Blood of Olympus

The degrading effect smartphones are having on our cognitive ability, sleep, and relationships—and the related connection between social media, elections and democracy—is rapidly becoming the most talked-about topic in tech.

The WSJ, Guardian, and FT all published long stories about how smartphones can be addictive. Each one is worth reading, particularly Nicholas Carr’s op-ed in the WSJ (paywall).

Business Insider put them together in this article.

I think there is a good chance this will become one of the two or three defining conversations of the next few years, and that it will influence the change-agents who will be responsible for the next major disruptive changes in our communication stack.

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter, in a prescient 2012 appearance, said “I don’t worry about our losing republican government in the United States because I’m afraid of a foreign invasion. I don’t worry about it because I think there is going to be a coup by the military… What I worry about is that when problems are not addressed… some one person will come forward and say, ‘Give me total power and I will solve this problem.’

“That is how the Roman republic fell. Augustus became emperor, not because he arrested the Roman Senate. He became emperor because he promised that he would solve problems that were not being solved.”

Worrisome words, as we are now “about to hand over power to a man who has spent his whole adult life trying to build a cult of personality around himself.”

But the seeming similarity between Donald Trump and Augustus really is only seeming. Augustus took care to discourage his personality cult.

Perhaps it’s our luck that Trump is no Augustus. Augustus and his wife Livia put a stop to a century of civil war and ruled together for 40 years, restoring Rome to considerable prosperity. They were the ultimate power couple. Many believe Augustus genuinely intended to restore the republic. But thanks to them the justification of tyranny in the eyes of the Roman people was so total that the republic was never restored, and a succession of awful emperors eventually led to Rome’s downfall.

There’s nothing more un-Trump-like than Augustus’ emphasis the ancient Roman virtue of “pietas”, the key quality of any honorable Roman: reasoned judgment and a devotion to the gods, the homeland, and one’s family. He is quoted once telling his stepson (later emperor) Tiberius: “you must not give way to youthful emotion or take it to heart if anyone speaks ill of me.” Leaders still aspire to match his modesty and magnanimity.

History is rife with cronies, lunatics and megalomaniacs usurping power, but in the grand scheme of things their reigns haven’t tended to be very long, and unlike Rome after Augustus, republics have sometimes restored themselves pretty quickly.

Could it be that Trump gives the U.S. enough of a whack over the head to make this country more resistant to future attempts to strip it of its democracy?

Last night, at the premiere of Werner Herzog’s documentary on the internet, someone asked Herzog what he would say as advice to young filmmakers. Herzog replied: “Read, read, read, read, read, read.”

It reminded me of this 1916 quote from Henry Hazlitt, in his Thinking as a Science:

“A man with a scant vocabulary will almost certainly be a weak thinker. The richer and more copious one’s vocabulary and the greater one’s awareness of fine distinctions and subtle nuances of meaning, the more fertile and precise is likely to be one’s thinking. Knowledge of things and knowledge of the words for them grows together. If you do not know the words, you can hardly know the thing.”

Replace thinking with making movies, writing code, creating whatever it is you create.

boatIn his book Cognition in the Wild, Ed Hutchins published what is probably one of the most fascinating analyses of ship navigation ever written. I was reminded of it when we took the M/S Silja Serenade from Helsinki to Stockholm.

Hutchins explores how systems that are larger than an individual person “think”. He is concerned with how these larger systems operate and how such a system computes by propagating representational states across its parts.

The Silja boat is a good example. It’s so big, its four corners occupy different GPS coordinates on a map. Steering it successfully through one of the densest archipelagos in the world is impossible for any single individual. It requires what Hutchins calls distributed cognition.

The boat is huge–well over two football fields long, and there are cabins for 3,000 passengers. Our cabin was on the 11th floor!

Early in the morning we got a special invitation to visit the bridge. Our hostess explained it would be like visiting a church. She was right! After climbing a series of restricted-access stairs and passing through several well-locked doors, we emerged beside the captain and his first mate, high above the rest of the ship.

We saw a full panorama view of the hundreds of islands that make the archipelago so spectacular, many of them startlingly close. And the blue water somewhere far, far below. The passage ahead seemed impossibly narrow.

I asked if anything unexpected ever happened. The first mate said almost every time something does. For instance, that night the stabilizers hadn’t been working as expected. Still, in the last 25 years he said there had only been a single occasion when the ship had not made it to port.

The most unpredictable element is the wind, he explained. The ship is 32 meters wide. But in strong wind it lists and goes diagonal. Suddenly it needs 70 meters to pass through a narrow passage. The narrowest strait (Kustaanmiekka) is only 81 meters wide! I checked.

According to Ed Hutchins, “the members of the navigation team form a flexible connective tissue that maintains the propagation of representational state in the face of a range of potentially disruptive events.”

That’s why there are always at least two pilots on the bridge.

Right now consumer internet is expanding in two interesting ways.

On the one hand, we can dispatch small sensor-packed devices into the world around us – the air, oceans, even space.

On the other hand, connected sensors are beginning to probe the microscopic world inside our bodies. They track our blood, stress, sleep, brain activity and even our digestion.

There’s a secondary industry forming around making sense of all the data these probes spew into the cloud.

Last year I tried to woo data visualization geek, designer Anand Sharma to come work on Set, but he was too busy working on his personal website. I didn’t think more of it at the time, but when he launched his site a few weeks later, I was among the thousands who were blown away by his stunning real-time visualizations of where he went, what he ate, and how he exercised.

When Anand decided to make the technology he’d developed for himself accessible to everyone, I invested in it, as did True Ventures, where I am right now an entrepreneur in residence. Yesterday Anand and his co-founder Eric Florenzano launched their company, Gyroscope. It pulls together streams about your life and health from your various sensors and apps, and publishes everything in one visual, personal profile.

Before everything converged on Twitter and Facebook, social media went through a phase of multiple apps. The health and wellness space seems like it’s now in that early pre-convergence phase. Several sleep and activity trackers, blood pressure monitors, body scales, and other sensors are duking it out.

And just like with social media, there’s also a desire to bring all that wellness data together in one place.

This is the most interesting thing about Gyroscope. Once you’ve connected all your apps and devices, it starts showing you the different data sets side by side. For instance, looking across how you work, eat, sleep, travel and exercise during a given day, it’s suddenly obvious that each affects the other.

It’s early days for Gyroscope and the quantified self industry is still nascent. But when the data is put together and starts telling a meaningful story, it could become just as important to people as Facebook is today.

Today, Wired published an interesting article by Jason Tanz on “The Techies Who Are Hacking Education by Homeschooling Their Kids.” Our micro-school, Sesat, was also mentioned (not pictured).

What consequences the homeschooling trend will have in the long run is subject to debate, but one thing is certain: compared to us, our children will grow up with more peers who have eschewed some part of traditional school, or even acquired their education entirely outside conventional classrooms.

We’re used to work becoming distributed, yet people are surprised when the same happens in education. Wouldn’t it be odd if education was immune to this trend?

Being a homeschooler dad, I see opportunities for new education startups that forego traditional school. For instance, I could see myself using a TaskRabbit-like service for teachers on-demand. A friend of ours recently hired a fireman off TaskRabbit to babysit. He arrived in full uniform and demonstrated his equipment to the great delight of her kids.

I am convinced we will see a successful startup in this space, run by an entrepreneur who takes advantage of the widening gap between test/audit-driven public schools and expensive private schools.