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The Problem With Unicorns

This item’s a two-fer: two different perspectives on the larger problem with the modern VC-fueled internet startup game.

1. The ethos of scale fast and grow at almost any price sets up companies with no viable path to becoming profitable.

2. The pressure of venture capital investors pushing for stratospheric returns is more akin to a mob loan shark coming for his vig than a bank looking for a profit on a loan.

And internet investors don’t want a modest return on their investment. They want an obscene profit right away, or a brutal loss, which they can write off their taxes. Making them a hundred million for the ten million they lent you is good. Losing their ten million is also good—they pay a lower tax bill that way, or they use the loss to fold a company, or they make a profit on the furniture while writing off the business as a loss…whatever rich people can legally do under our tax system, which is quite a lot.

What these folks don’t want is to lend you ten million dollars and get twelve million back.

2Tiffany’s Monopoly in Blue

The story behind the single most iconic brand color in the world.

3The Art of Cinematic Cartography

With the much-anticipated release of the trailer for the final movie in the Skywalker saga this week, Star Wars was all over the news and internet feeds. As a result, the distinctive artwork of Andrew DeGraff came across my field of digital vision. Specifically, it was the unique maps that DeGraff made that showed the travels of all the main characters of the Star Wars movies that captured me. Just stunning, really. (Check out this single master map that covers the first six movies all at once.)

And it’s not just Star Wars — DeGraff has cinematic story maps of movies as diverse as The Breakfast Club and The Shining to go with his sci-fi (Star Trek, Aliens) and fantasy work (Lord of the Rings).

4Building the Matrix

When author and technologist Kevin Kelly talks about the coming AR (“augmented reality”) — “Mirrorworld” — as the next big platform development, this is pretty much what he’s talking about. In order for AR tools and apps to work, they require a detailed digital mapping of the real world. London-based startup Scape aims to do just that, with centimeter-level accuracy. In their words, “Our end goal is a one-to-one map of the world covering everything. Our ambition is to be as invisible as GPS is today.”

5Notre-Dame in Art Throughout History

It was shocking to see the famed gothic cathedral in Paris engulfed in fire this week. The earliest stones for the structure were laid in the mid 12th century, and it has stood for over 850 years through wars, revolutions, and the remorseless march of time. Here are examples of the cathedral’s role in inspiring art and artists from as far back as the 15th century (the earliest piece at the link is from around 1460).