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Gillmor Gang: Strange Days Indeed



The place we’re in, the valley of the dolls between the vote and the Inauguration, is overshadowed by the battle to save our lives. The vaccines look promising, and so does the persistence of the Trumpster to play his games. Somehow we have to live with that, on both sides. In the business we’re in, the technology industry, broadband has penetrated to the point we can survive with a reasonable degree of fidelity to the world COVID erased.

This week’s move by WarnerMedia to release all 2021 pictures on HBO Max and in theaters is both a capitulation to reality and a political gambit to negotiate with theater owners. Disney, with their theme parks and investments in streaming crescendoing in layoffs and rebuilding, announced a mix of 80% streaming with only 20% theatrical. Trump’s TikTok deadline has already passed, and the administration is pretending to not pay attention in order to keep negotiations for a buyout alive. The incoming government talks of a working bromance between Biden and McConnell. It’s the opposite of reality TV, or TV reality.

Newsletters straddle mainstream and social media, rolling up links that blur the credibility of publications with the Wild West of uncredentialed freelancers. Some of these voices are playing the newsletter sweepstakes, choosing to move from a salaried position to their own subscription model. For those publications funded in part by a paywall, the transition to a newsletter comes with opportunity and risk. Selling a subscription for a single voice competes with the bundled voices of a paywall publication eventually diluting potential readers’ available funds. We’re seeing this same subscription saturation dynamic in the rise of streaming networks.

Another trend, notification-based news, is making inroads with live streaming over social networks. The pandemic has forced many students into working from home over Zoom for interactive sessions mixed with traditional lecture-type webinars. Events normally covered by trade publications have yielded at least for now to influencer and analyst driven watch parties. Podcasts forego subscription and advertiser revenue for lead generation and industry traction. The 24/7 nature of work from anywhere fights for eyelid time with binge viewing, listening, and reading.

Beyond the virus’s impact on audiences, the productions themselves have new challenges. The FX series Fargo ceased production in March, as did ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy. When you see the completed shows, it’s fascinating to try and guess which scenes were shot under the much tighter strictures of the fall. Grey’s Anatomy used the pandemic as a plot point, but it took a few shows for the actors to settle into a more relaxed rhythm. Pre-pandemic footage from the abbreviated series’ previous season lived uncomfortably alongside the new material to cover the transitional story line.

Citizen Kane, considered broadly as the best film Hollywood ever made, spawned a Netflix production about the author of the screenplay, one Herman J. Mankiewicz. Presented in black and white with Kane-like musical scoring and the original film’s innovations in deep focus photography and low angle shots that include the ceilings of sets, the story uses flashbacks and time-jumping to great effect. It’s streaming meets MGM’s catch phrase from the time: All the stars in the heavens. Director David Fincher tells the New York Times how he overshoots by 20% the number of pixels so he can post process and polish the rough edges and camera jiggles into a precise reflection of the intricate vision of his cinema universe.

40 years ago this week John Lennon was murdered by a troubled fan. I was watching Monday Night football when Howard Cosell broke in with the news. What was left of my childhood vanished in that moment. I was newly divorced, struggling to keep my momentum going, no idea of what our world would become, and stupid with sadness over someone I’d never met. The Beatles was this magic machine, a coalition of the fleeting imperfection of the group and the unifying perfection of what they had accomplished.

The days tick by. The vaccine trucks roll. The Supreme Court denies another desperate move to overturn the will of the people. Nobody told me there’d be days like these. Strange days indeed.


The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary, and Steve Gillmor . Recorded live Friday, December 4, 2020.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

For more, subscribe to the Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

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Elon Musk is donating $100M to find the best carbon capture technology



Elon Musk said Thursday via a tweet that he will donate $100 million toward a prize for the best carbon capture technology.

Musk, who recently surpassed Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to become the world’s richest person, didn’t provide any more details except to add in an accompanying tweet the “details will come next week.” It’s unclear if this is a contribution to another organization that is putting together a prize such as the Xprize or if this is another Musk-led production.

The broad definition of carbon capture and storage is as the name implies. Waste carbon dioxide emitted at a refinery or factory is captured at the source and then stored in an aim to remove the potential harmful byproduct from the environment and mitigate climate change. It’s not a new pursuit and numerous companies have popped up over the past two decades with varying means of achieving the same end goal.

The high upfront cost to carbon capture and storage or sequestration (CCS) has been a primary hurdle for the technology. However, there are companies that have found promise in carbon capture and utilization — a cousin to CCS in which the collected emissions are then converted to other more valuable uses.

For instance, LanzaTech has developed technology that captures waste gas emissions and uses bacteria to turn it into useable ethanol fuel. A bioreactor is used to convert into liquids captured and compressed waste emissions from a steel mill or factory or any other emissions-producing enterprises. The core technology of LanzaTech is a bacteria that likes to eat these dirty gas streams. As the bacteria eats the emissions it essentially ferments them and emits ethanol. The ethanol can then be turned into various products. LanzaTech is spinning off businesses that specialize in a different product. The company has created a spin-off called LanzaJet and is working on other possible products such as converting ethanol to ethylene, which is used to make polyethylene for bottles and PEP for fibers used to make clothes.

Other examples include Climeworks and Carbon Engineering.

Climeworks, a Swiss startup, specializes in direct air capture. Direct air capture uses filters to grab carbon dioxide from the air. The emissions are then either stored or sold for other uses, including fertilizer or even to add bubbles found in soda-type drinks. Carbon Engineering is a Canadian company that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and processes it for use in enhanced oil recovery or even to create new synthetic fuels.

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Chinese esports player VSPN closes $60M Series B+ round to boost its international strategy



eSports “total solutions provider” VSPN (Versus Programming Network) has closed a $60 million Series B+ funding round, joined by Prospect Avenue Capital (PAC), Guotai Junan International, and Nan Fung Group.

VSPN facilitates esports competitions in China, which is a massive industry and has expanded into related areas such as esports venues. It is the principal tournament organizer and broadcaster for a number of top competitions, partnering with more than 70% of China’s eSports tournaments.

The “B+” funding round comes only three months after the company raised around $100 million in a Series B funding round, led by Tencent Holdings.

This funding round will, among other things, be used to branch out VSPN’s overseas esports services.

Dino Ying, Founder, and CEO of VSPN said in a statement: “The esports industry is through its nascent phase and is entering a new era. In this coming year, we at VSPN look forward to showcasing diversified esports products and content… and we are counting the days until the pandemic is over.”

Ming Liao, the co-founder of PAC, commented: “As a one-of-its-kind company in the capital market, VSPN is renowned for its financial management; these credentials will be strong foundations for VSPN’s future development.”

Xuan Zhao, Head of Private Equity at Guotai Junan International said: “We at Guotai Junan International are very optimistic of VSPN’s sharp market insight as well as their team’s exceptional business model.”

Meng Gao, Managing Director at Nan Fung Group’s CEO’s Office said: “Nan Fung is honored to be a part of this round of investment for VSPN in strengthening their current business model and promoting the rapid development of emerging services and the esports streaming ecosystem.”

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Google’s parent firm is shutting down Loon connectivity project



Google’s parent firm Alphabet is done exploring with the idea of using giant balloons to beam high-speed internet in remote parts of the world.

The firm said on Thursday evening that it was winding down Loon after failing to find a sustainable business model and willing partners. The demise of Loon comes a year after Android-maker ended Google Station, its other major connectivity effort. Through Station, Google provided internet connectivity at over 400 railway stations in India and sought to replicate the model in other public places in more nations.

That said, Alphabet’s move is still surprising. Just last year, Loon had secured approval from the government of Kenya to launch first balloons to provide commercial connectivity services in Kenya — something it did successfully achieve months later, giving an impression that things were moving in the right direction.

Perhaps the growing interest of SpaceX and Amazon in this space influenced Alphabet’s decision — otherwise, the two firms are going to have to answer some difficult feasibility questions of their own in the future.

“We talk a lot about connecting the next billion users, but the reality is Loon has been chasing the hardest problem of all in connectivity — the last billion users,” said Alastair Westgarth, chief executive of Loon, in a blog post.

“The communities in areas too difficult or remote to reach, or the areas where delivering service with existing technologies is just too expensive for everyday people. While we’ve found a number of willing partners along the way, we haven’t found a way to get the costs low enough to build a long-term, sustainable business. Developing radical new technology is inherently risky, but that doesn’t make breaking this news any easier.”

The blog post, which makes no mention of what will happen to Loon’s existing operations in Kenya, characterised Loon’s connectivity effort as successful. “The Loon team is proud to have catalyzed an ecosystem of organizations working on providing connectivity from the stratosphere. The world needs a layered approach to connectivity — terrestrial, stratospheric, and space-based — because each layer is suited to different parts of the problem. In this area, Loon has made a number of important technical contributions,” wrote Westgarth.

More to follow…

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