I’m keying this over the Atlantic, propelled by four CF6 Turbofans at 900 kilometers per hour, along with hundreds of other men women and families on their way to or away from home.

Yesterday I listened to another man speak about a different flavor of assisted flight, namely, commercial space travel. How it would give all of us an opportunity to depart our drudge on the surface and witness the Earth from space. How this life-changing moment would inspire in us a sense of mankind’s unique position in the universe and a feeling of oneness across nations and faiths.

I have not witnessed the Earth from space, and I can imagine the event is momentous. But distractingly, I could predict this commercial astronaut candidate’s next words and even his pauses. He was speaking from a teleprompter, and I could read his rows mechanically rolling by from where I was sitting.

And suddenly it was strikingly clear that men aspire the final frontier for themselves, not anyone else. For the supremacy, the platinum, the speaking gigs.

And I remembered a friend of mine, a woman who graduated the Russian cosmonaut training program, and thought if we really must go up, I hope she goes first.

The best laid schemes of mice and men go oft awry.

Good things do come in bunches.

Techcrunch noted on Wednesday that I closed a $775K seed round for my new startup Pingpin. We’re creating a new way to communicate on mobile devices and I’m still bouncing around different name candidates for the product. The round was led by True Ventures and Betaworks. I will have more to say about it soon, so stay tuned!

Then on Friday Mobclix, the mobile ad exchange I advise, was acquired by ad technology provider Velti (LSE: VEL). Mobclix was founded in 2008 and grew into the largest mobile ad exchange, serving 8.5 billion ad requests per month on over 100 million mobile handsets. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

And latest in the series, today Thinglink, the product tagging startup founded by my wife Ulla-Maaria, closed a $1M seed round from Inventure and Lifeline Ventures. It is developing an in-image advertising network: any blogger or website can use Thinglink to make the objects in their images clickable and drive traffic from their images to e-commerce sites and other destinations. I am an investor and advisor and really like the way the product is shaping up.

Here’s a thinglinked photo from this morning, right before the signing of the financing:

I love this Henry James quote, which Wallace Stevens cited in a letter:

“To live in the world of creation – to get into it and stay in it – to frequent it and haunt it – to think intensely and fruitfully – to woo combinations and inspirations into being by a depth and continuity of attention and meditation – this is the only thing.”

Think about it while reading this.

I constantly get ideas for new iPhone apps and like to show people mockups to get their feedback. I needed a way to compile entire apps into browseable flows that I could show to my friends on my iPhone. I also wanted to update the designs on the fly. Thanks to a few great, mostly free online tools this is actually really easy.

A couple of people who noticed what I was doing asked me how it’s done, so I thought I’d share the process:

  • I assemble the layouts in OmniGraffle. Set the canvas size to iPhone resolution at 320×480 pixels and use one of the free stencils out there containing the basic iPhone UI elements, such as Ultimate iPhone by Patrick Crowley. (If you’re creating a web app, the iPhone Webapp Wireframes stencil by Theresa Neil will help get you started).
  • You’ll probably need Toolbar icons such as these ones by Glyphish (or, try this more limited common toolbar icon set).
  • For more UI libraries, see iphonedesigntools.com (Photoshop and Illustrator libraries only, no OmniGraffle version yet).
  • For Home screen buttons, try this Photoshop template or use this browser-based icon maker.
  • Now for the fun part: once you’ve completed the layouts in OmniGraffle, export to PNG and upload the folder containing the images to Dropbox (you’ll need to create an account if you’re not yet a Dropbox user). Then, access the folder using the Dropbox iPhone app — and voila, you can view and browse the 1:1 mockups on your iPhone screen in a convenient, easy to update format.

On Friday I was guest on the Gillmor Gang chewing on the week’s Google I/O announcements with regulars Steve Gillmor, Robert Scoble, Kevin Marks and Andrew Keen. The first half is about Google TV, then we talk about everything else, including Google’s social strategy (Wave, Buzz, etc). Soundbites:

  • Google wants to put a Search box on top of your TV, Facebook wants a Like button. Which would you rather use?
  • Google Wave should’ve been marketed as reinventing the wiki rather than reinventing email
  • Google and the Big Banana – advertising is changing to become social graph-based. How much of that will Google own in 5yrs?

See also the comments posted on Friendfeed during the live broadcast.

At age 15 I moved to Helsinki to study at a gymnasium specializing in fine art. My family remained in California, and relatives lived outside the city except for grandfather Georg, a recently widowed painter.

He lived in a cobwebbed apartment on the top floor of a Jugend fortress built during the Russian era. The building looked confidently over the officers’ casino on the frozen bay as if it was expecting the imperial schooner to dock shortly at its feet, and Alexander the Blessed to hop ashore and claim back his old Grand Dutchy. He had an excellent library, which could only be accessed using a ladder so as to not disturb the dust (which, if it got in the air, could have been deadly to the asthmatic inhabitant).

Grandpa Georg tutored me in languages and the history and philosophy of art. I studied Swedish conjugations late into the night with the help of strong black Caravan tea in his studio, and accompanied him on morning excursions where he taught me his methods of ”people-snapping” (quick sketches on café napkins with a felt tip pen) and painting aquarelle landscapes in any weather. Although he and I inhabited different centuries (the sight of him in public without a decent black tie would have been scandalous), we were both rather lonely, and I began to genuinely value the company of the gruff old aristocrat.

More than anything he was intellectually preoccupied with the notion of beauty. He held beauty to be a value on its own, saw it originating in nature, and considered its reverence a precondition to ethical human discourse and politics. The task of the artist was to be the intermediary who raised in his audience an awareness of beauty where none was apparent – within unremarkable landscapes and unappreciated members of society – and thus a sensibility for the subjects’ worthiness. Although he disliked Heidegger, he was closely aligned with phenomenology in emphasizing intentionality (consciousness being always about some external object) and, through the craft of painting, the portrayal of the world as it presented itself to the eye, as free of presuppositions and intellectualizing as possible.

Speaking about his teacher, the early 20th-century Russian painter Valery Semenoff-Tianchansky, he says:

”When I think about Valery Semenoff-Tianchansky, and what he, an old man, meant when he exclaimed: ”Look! Just look at that field!” It may have been wheat growing, or perhaps rye – it was the color of bronze, and quite spectacular. He said: ”There is nothing more beautiful in existence.” His friend Picasso — he said Picasso could not have painted that. And indeed Picasso couldn’t. Because no man is capable of painting it. We can only adore it, and try to teach others to revere it too. ”

The full 8 1/2-minute interview is below.

Painter Georg Engeström a.k.a. GEM (1921-2008) reflects on his life’s work and the role of the artist as an intermediary between man and nature. This interview was recorded at his summer home in Finland shortly before the opening of his 85th anniversary exhibition. Although GEM applied a range of methods (he studied the fresco in Italy and spent five decades as a political cartoonist), and painted thousands of portraits during his 70-year career, he is still mainly known as a landscape painter. His work was influenced by Goya, Turner, and – more than any other – the Russian master Ilya Repin (he was born in Repin’s home village). He passed away in 2008.

The Great Gatsby (1925) is ageless because in it F. Scott Fitzgerald captures the dynamic between two kinds of people — those who already have everything, epitomized in a propitious couple, Tom and Daisy Buchanan:

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.

… And those whose “sole misfortune,” in the words of Tracy Chapman, “was having mountains of nothing at birth” – personified in the novel’s namesake James Gatz a.k.a. Jay Gatsby:

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——

Despite all the zeal, Gatsby’s impetus to get ahead in life and pursue his dream is a paddle race against the tide of time. It is an effort to relive his one long-gone moment of genuine happiness. Predictably, he never gets to live that dream.

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Whether you’re Tom, Daisy, or Gatsby, salute the past that colors your future.

Saul Griffith has a great talk out on the necessity for us to reduce energy consumption if we are to slow down climate change. I summarized it at an event in Helsinki, my slides are below. Dowload the full Game Plan and measure your own energy consumption on Wattzon.

(Also, this week’s Economist has an informative article on the uncertainty of the science of climate change, which gives additional context to some of the assumptions above.)

In The Shaking of the Foundations Paul Tillich, one of last century’s defining theologicians, quotes the apostle Paul: “For I do not do the good I desire, but rather the evil that I do not desire.”

Paul violently persecuted followers of Jesus prior to his conversion to Christianity. You may not have persecuted anyone, but can you honestly claim your actions have never had unhappy consequences to other people? Tillich’s following lines, written (if I’m not mistaken) in the aftermath of the Second World War, are so riveting that I’ll quote them here at length, with a bit of editing to improve online readability:

“Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound”, says Paul in the same letter in which he describes the unimaginable power of separation and self-destruction within society and the individual soul. He does not say these words because sentimental interests demand a happy ending for everything tragic. He says them because they describe the most overwhelming and determining experience of his life. Read more »

Photo credit: ElDave (Flickr)

My little Google Buzz voting experiment broke 20,000 votes this weekend (story on ReadWriteWeb). As of now 1,390 people have submitted 487 ideas and cast 21,218 votes (some ideas are duplicates, sadly there is no way to merge them). Thanks to everyone who has participated!

Below is a short summary of the feedback. It’s not meant to be objective and you should feel free to create your own breakdown (anybody out there specializing in survey analysis?) I tried to take into account the most actively voted topics while also including less popular fixes that I consider important.

I. Clean the stream

  1. Hide comments by default (use notifications & hints—see Jaiku/Friendfeed)
  2. Don’t re-order the stream when new comments are added to posts
  3. Allow clicking posts to expand/collapse threads inline
  4. Remove dupes
  5. Allow unsubscribing from specific sources

II. Stop ruining my Inbox

  1. Don’t put notifications about new comments in my Inbox unless the comment is directly addressed to me or in a thread that I explicitly subscribed to
  2. Make Mute a clearly visible button
  3. Better filtering: e.g. allow sorting search results by # of likes & comments
  4. Don’t show the same faces more than once in New Followers
  5. Stop showing unread count in sidebar (this is not email)

III. Better public conversation

  1. Block trolls straight from comments
  2. Add autosuggest popup to @-replies in non-Gmail UIs (mobile & Profile)
  3. Include previous commenters in the @-reply suggestions
  4. Enable Re-buzzing
  5. Make it possible to like & link to comments

IV. Leverage Gmail & Mobile features that rock

  1. Add starring of posts and comments
  2. Add Nearby tab to desktop (currently mobile only)
  3. Allow location tagging of desktop posts (currently mobile only)
I’ve excluded the API-related feedback (including third party feeds) from this summary since I wanted to focus on improvements to the current feature set and the API hasn’t been launched yet. The API will have a huge impact on the Buzz ecosystem because it’ll allow content to flow in and out of Buzz and third parties to build alternative UIs. Developers should join the Buzz API discussion group.