Review: The Last Jedi

The Last Jedi The Last Jedi by Jason Fry
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This adaptation was OK. Because it was released AFTER the film (vs The Force Awakens, which was not), it is more of a straight, 1:1 transliteration of the film and doesn't offer much that you don't see on screen (with the exception of a deleted film scene and a prologue detailing what Luke's life might have been like if he had never left Tattooine).

Here are a few thoughts in no particular order:
* We get a little more Finn and Rose time so their developing relationship seems a little more believable than in the film. Her "love arc" still seems forced.
* I find the Holdo/Poe subplot to be even more ridiculous in this novelization. In the movie you can try to write it off as possibly the victim of editing but the book, which has all the time in the world to make it seem less contrived, doesn't even bother.
* This novel suffers from the same challenge as many Star Wars books. In the written medium, authors often try to "expand the universe" by giving exotic names to alien creatures and futuristic things. For whatever reason, though, there seems to be NO creativity on Team Star Wars and they continue just to mash together familiar words, hoping that the result will be interesting. Plastocrete. Battering ram cannon. Turbo lifts. Sooooo lame! Many of these elements are in the films too but they can be glossed over there, whereas they have nowhere to hide in the books.
* Similarly, this novel also makes reference to several other extended universe plots and characters - references they weren't able to squeeze into the film. Unfortunately these plots and characters were pretty weak so the references aren't very compelling.
* Per the above, this novel doesn't really fill in any film gaps. If you're hoping that this will, for example, address Snoke's back story, sorry to disappoint you.
* The novel DID, however, make some things clearer for me, especially around Luke. It wasn't evident to me previously that Luke's reconnecting with the Force was the cause of Leia's reawakening and Yoda's reappearance. After rewatching the film, it's all there, but the book somehow drove it home for me. Thanks, book!

Overall it's hard to recommend this novel. It doesn't offer much content that isn't already in the film and stylistically there isn't much to it either. Still, if you're a hard core completionist, it's not a bad read and you can finish it quickly.

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Review: Artemis

Artemis Artemis by Andy Weir
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an enjoyable read but . . . it wasn't The Martian. Weir does a good job again of weaving real science into this novel but it feels less organic this time and more . . . inserted. Weir establishes a good and consistent voice for his character (I listened to the audiobook, read by Rosario Dawson, who was great.) but I didn't find myself nearly as engaged by her.

Maybe he doesn't write women as well as he writes men or maybe the plot just didn't grab me as much as the "entire planet coming together to bring our boy home" arc of The Martian did. Either way, I couldn't put The Martian down whereas I felt my mind wandering during Artemis and I found myself eager for it to hurry up and finish.

Not a bad sophomore effort, but not great either.

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Startup Fundraising: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

One year ago today, Smart Office Energy Solutions closed a $1.3M angel round of funding. We've accomplished a great deal since then - expanded the team, finished gen-1 product development, obtained all the requisite certifications for our hardware, and built a large sales pipeline - but I find anniversaries to be a good time to pause and reflect.

This is a presentation on startup fundraising I gave a few days ago to entrepreneurship students at the University of Wyoming. In it, I review the pros and cons of several different startup fundraising strategies, using Smart OES and my previous startups as specific case studies.

Toward the end of the presentation, I take a deep dive into Smart OES's three rounds. The quantitative analysis provides some interesting insights:

  • We had a 0% success rate trying to raise funds from people who were not part of our networks. 100% of our investment came from people we knew or people to whom we were introduced.
  • Former colleagues invested the most (in total invested, mean investment size, and median investment size) in my venture. The trust developed by working with or for someone is a real asset in early-stage fundraising.
  • A similar trust clearly is formed in the academic setting as well because a good deal of our investment came through my school networks. Interestingly, Rice contacts invested more (in total invested, mean investment size, and median investment size) than did IMD contacts.
  • Second-degree contacts became much more likely to invest over time. It is helpful, therefore, for startup founders to engage "smart" money (in this case, investors with connections to other investors) early on.
  • Similarly, the value of repeat investors increased over time, demonstrating the value of engaging investors with the capacity to follow on.
  • Geographically, investors in Texas out-invested investors in Switzerland 2:1. However, using my LinkedIn network size (1,100 contacts in Texas; 250 contacts in Switzerland) as a denominator, the Swiss outperformed the Texans on a per capita basis. Most disappointingly, we didn't raise a penny from North Carolina (where I have 300 contacts!) - and not for lack of trying.
  • Unsurprisingly phone calls and in-person meetings were more effective than emailing or messaging on social networks in leading to investment.
We've just opened up a new funding round (with more than 25% already committed by existing investors!) so we're putting these learnings into practice to be better/smarter/faster this time around.


Review: The Dark Tower Series Collection: The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, The Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass, Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah, The Dark Tower

The Dark Tower Series Collection: The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, The Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass, Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah, The Dark Tower The Dark Tower Series Collection: The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, The Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass, Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah, The Dark Tower by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! The Dark Tower series really blew me away. I'm not a fan of the horror genre so I have never read any Stephen King novels before. Of course, as a fan of movie adaptations of his non-horror works, I have long known that he does stray from the genre occasionally but I was never terribly motivated to give him a try.

However, The Dark Tower kept showing up on lists of top FANTASY books, and that is a genre that I truly love. Last year, in preparation for the [bad] Dark Tower movie, I decided to give the first Dark Tower novel a try and - BAM - I was hooked!

From the opening lines of the novel, King uses evocative language to captivate the reader. He creates rich, complex characters and an interesting, immersive world that leaves the reader wanting to know more about it - and about how it came to be. With eight novels to date and probably more to come (King has claimed to have been done with the series multiple times before but it keeps calling to him.), the series scratches that itch satisfyingly.

Interestingly, different novels take on very different tones. Some might be considered dark western fantasy; some might be considered time travel mystery; some might be considered dystopian future sci fi. They provide substantial variety - but always with the same core of well developed characters, so there is a mix of familiarity and novelty.

The series began as a few short stories that were kind of mashed up into a novel. Then King had an idea for a follow-on novel. Then another. Then a prequel. Then a three-novel meta-series that would tie the Dark Tower into all of his other works. Then another prequel. Organically The Dark Tower has grown into his magnum opus over the course of more than four decades.

In some ways I think King's reach exceeds his grasp and he stretches a little too far trying to massage tie-ins of his other works into the later books in this series but, still, I found every book to be very interesting without a single disappointing entry.

It's hard for me to qualify a recommendation for this series with "if you like XYZ genre" because the series is so broad and expansive. So, let me leave my recommendation as such: I see now what the big deal is about Stephen King.

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2018 Winter Olympics Wrap-Up

Another Olympics has come and gone so it is once again time to take a look at who "won" the Games by several different metrics. Per my previous posts, I continue to use a weighted scoring system to tally up Olympic medals by country. This year I once again tracked not just the medal counts but also economic and demographic metrics for each country - you can see my full spreadsheet here.

Norway was the clear victor in medal scores, winning in every category: golds, silvers, bronzes, total medals, and weighted medal score. The top performers by weighted medal score were:
123 - Norway
107 - Germany
89   - Canada
75   - USA
64   - Netherlands
Norway went from a weighted medal count of 75 in 2010 to 80 in 2014 to explode this year - a true success story! Meanwhile Russia has gone the opposite direction, from 91 (#1) four years ago to 37 (#12) this year. Russia was technically banned from competition this year for doping . . . and yet three Russian athletes competing as individuals were caught for doping at this year's games anyway!

Because Norway is so small, it crushed the competition even (especially!) when normalized by population. The top performers by weighted medal score per million citizens were:
23.43 - Norway
5.60   - Switzerland
5.49   - Sweden
4.59   - Austria
3.77   - Netherlands

These countries are all pretty affluent, though, so how do things change if we normalize instead by GDP? Not much! The top performers by weighted medal score per $B GDP (PPP) were:
0.33 - Norway
0.14 - Liechtenstein
0.10 - Sweden
0.09 - Austria
0.09 - Switzerland

We can mix up the leaderboard a little bit if we normalize by GDP per capita. The top performers by weighted medal score per $1,000 GDP per capita were:
2.12 - Germany
1.84 - Canada
1.71 - Norway
1.51 - China
1.35 - Olympic Athletes from Russia

Many congratulations to Norway, a small country that absolutely crushed much larger and richer countries than itself at this year's Olympics - well done! Keep up the good work and we'll hope to give you more competition in four years!