It's a big day for Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter: He celebrates his 60th birthday today! (Gifts, flowers, and cards can be directed to 4 Times Square, 22nd floor.) Others marking off another year today: hedge fund manager Phil Falcone (and the husband of Lisa Maria) is turning 47. Music impresario Tommy Mottola is 60. Movie mega-producer Scott Rudin is turning 51. Fellow film mogul Joel Silver is 57. Howard Lutnick, the CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald, is turning 48. Upper East Side plastic surgeon Sherrell Aston is 67. Actor Matthew Fox is turning 43. Tech luminary Esther Dyson is 58. Hudson News chief Jimmy Cohen is 51. Legal powerhouse Barry Ostrager is turning 62. Actor Harry Dean Stanton is 83. Interior designer Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz turns 53. Artist Lee Friedlander is 75. And actor Vincent "Big Pussy" Pastore celebrates his 63rd birthday today.
Esther Wojcicki, known as "Woj" at Palo Alto High School, where she teaches journalism, is a beloved figure on campus. She's also quite welcome at the Googleplex, as the mother of Anne Wojcicki, who's married to Google cofounder Sergey Brin, and Google executive Susan Wojcicki. I wonder if proximity to power and wealth has dulled Woj's reportorial instincts.She recently wrote a wide-eyed travelogue for the Huffington Post about the first flight of the Zeppelin NT, a blimp launched by startup Airship Ventures. Airship is backed by Esther Dyson, who is also an investor in her daughter Anne's startup, 23andMe. That, at the least, Woj ought to have disclosed. (I've asked Mario Ruiz, an executive at Huffington Post, if she violated any of the online publication's disclosure rules for writers; he has yet to reply. But if she really wanted to impress her students with her journalism chops, Woj might have asked questions about Amphitheatre LLC, the shadowy entity which has also invested in Airship Ventures. Amphitheatre shares a name with the street address of Google's headquarters — and possibly more. I would love to have known what Woj would have discovered, had she been less interested in promoting her daughter's investor's new startup.
Zeppelins went out of style when the Hindenburg went down in flames over New Jersey. But Airship Ventures, a startup backed by quirky angel investor Esther Dyson, is trying to bring them back. With a little help from Dyson's friends. Airship's Zeppelin NT, the first to fly over the U.S. in 70 years, has just completed a transatlantic journey and is scheduled to touch down this afternoon at the Nasa-operated Moffett Field, where it will be permanently stationed, operating aerial tours of the Bay Area. Curious — a private enterprise making use of public lands. Nasa's excuse for hosting the zeppelin: It will be used for scientific investigations and other public-spirited purposes. Where have we heard that before?Why, with the Google founders' fleet of party planes, which are also parked at Moffett Field, with the excuse that they sometimes fly scientific missions. (In fact, the Google founders' jets proved impractical for Nasa's science needs; Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Eric Schmidt bought a fighter jet to fly those missions instead.) One of Airship Ventures' backers is an entity called Amphitheatre Holdings. Amphitheatre is incorporated in Delaware under the address of INV Tax Group, which Google may have purchased in a real-estate transaction two years ago. Google's headquarters is at 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway in Mountain View, Calif. This hardly seems like coincidence. Dyson is an investor in 23andMe, the Google-backed startup of Anne Wojcicki, wife of founder Sergey Brin. Has Dyson taken Google's shareholders for a ride, by having them take a hidden stake in a blimp startup?
The Valley's pundits believe that partisan bias is damage, and that the Internet can route around it. That's the conclusion I arrived at after hearing about Ameritocracy.com, a new startup aiming to have Internet users factcheck soundbites for free. Esther Dyson, the writer and startup investor, has joined it as an advisor, just in time for the vice-presidential debate Thursday night. "It bothers me to see people's random statements spread around the world with no quality control — and I like Ameritocracy's decentralized approach to providing that quality control," Dyson says in a press release. So that's what's plaguing politics — a lack of quality control! Dyson, who also invested in Flickr, is deluded to think crowdsourcing will work with opinions as well as it does with photographs. Anyone who's spent time on Wikipedia knows that a decentralized approach doesn't lead to the elimination of bias — it just guarantees that whoever has the most time to waste wins.
Esther Dyson, one of the 28 women counted at today's Supernova conference, responding to Bob Iannucci of Nokia in a conversation on the challenges of making money off of emerging networks of users, urged businesses to "appeal to people's pride rather than their avarice" or else they risk "turning good people into prostitutes." When Iannucci replied that "a market is just a language," Dyson extended her metaphor to herself, and to Dopplr, a trip-sharing social network. "I give up my travel information for free on Dopplr," she explained. Dyson is an investor in Dopplr. Does that make her a pimp who gives out freebies? (Photo via esthr)
With a parking space at the giant hangar on Moffett Field run by NASA, Airship Ventures plans to buy a blimp and run pleasure cruises from the Googleplex's back yard to Napa Valley's wine country. To that end, the startup has secured $8 million in funding from wealthy sorts, including lead investor Esther Dyson. Airship Ventures can surely count on the legions of local steampunk fetishists to keep the waiting list for seats well padded, not to mention corporate-expensed junkets from Valley tech companies. After the jump, video of a Tokyo flyover in one of the Zeppelin NT airships the startup will use. (Illustration by Martin Luechinger)
Hyperglobal adventure capitalists Joi Ito and Esther Dyson met by coincidence at London Heathrow's just-opened Terminal 5, and raced to post photos of each other to Flickr. Before Yahoo bought the photo site, Dyson was an investor in Flickr. Suggest a caption in the comments. (Photos by Esther Dyson and Joi Ito)
With the launch of Google's health data service, we're going to set aside our skepticism for a moment and think about what this could potentially mean for society. Nah, screw society — for me personally. Google cofounder Sergey Brin invested in his wife's genetics research startup. 23andMe takes cheek swabs from customers and spits out their genetic history. Board member Esther Dyson writes:
- A compelling play-by-play of the goings-on at FOO Camp '06. We don't know about you, but starting the day watching Kevin Rose popping a zit at an Addictive Users seminar and ending with Moshe Cohen entertaining the masses with his zany clownish antics is well worth the privilege of being a Friend of O'Reilly. [Dion Hinchcliffe's Web 2.0 Blog]
Marketer and pro-blogger advocate Curt Hopkins is a good and reasonable man. Good because he's running the Blogswana project, in which students will help those affected by AIDS in Africa tell the world about their plight. Reasonable because when he asked the following Valley people — people known as good souls with a passion for world-changing technology — for financial support, he expected a few yeses and a few nos.
Wrap up the Powerbook cord and follow Esther Dyson to the next con — the D Conference winds down today. For actual news from people who are there, check out the Wall Street Journal's blog. (Favorite post: Turning the schmaltz up to 11.) For trumped-up news filtered through the snark machine, look no further. Photos by ZDNet reporter Dan Farber.