Hyperloops, Fitness Trackers, and Santa Cruz

The whole summer has zoomed by since my last update. In an unusual (for me) change of pace, I've been taking Fridays off lately, so I'm been writing a bit less. But here's a sampling of the stories I've published lately.

- My June 14 column, Don't Panic, But We've Passed Peak Apple. And Google. And Facebook, riled up quite a few readers with its argument that we shouldn't look to these three companies for the next big wave of innovation in consumer technology. It's now become one of the most widely read pieces I've ever written for Xconomy. After the piece got shared at sites like Reddit, Slashdot, Hacker News, the Huffington Post, and AllThingsD, so many people wrote in that we decided to publish a roundup of reader comments. It's not too late to share yours.

- My biggest project this summer was a three-part series on the tech-startup scene in Santa Cruz. The idea was a little off the beaten path for me; as San Francisco editor for Xconomy, I usually don't range farther south than San Jose, farther north than Marin County, or farther east than Oakland. But the more Santa Cruzans I spoke with, the more it seemed like this beautiful beachside community is a laboratory where technology entrepreneurs are exploring exactly the same challenges that many other regions want to solve, such as how to attract a critical mass of engineering talent and investment.

Part 1: Santa Cruz, The City Over the Hill, Builds Its Own Startup Culture

Part 2: Seeding a New Generation of Startups in Santa Cruz

Part 3: Building an Entrepreneurial Pipeline in Santa Cruz

- I don't usually write much about enterprise software and infrastructure, so when I do I try to make it count. In early July I published a long feature about virtualization pioneer VMware and its struggle to update its products and services for the era of cloud computing.

- Life without coffee might still be worth living, but I wouldn't be awake for it. In early June I published an Xperience column about the "third wave" culture of coffee roasters and brewers, with a focus on Blossom Coffee, a San Francisco startup building a amazing high-end coffee maker that can be reprogrammed to bring out the best flavors in each variety of coffee bean.

- Like it or not, Moore's Law is losing steam. But even if chip miniaturization comes to a standstill, there's still plenty of work to do to make computers and software easier to use, I argued in a July column.

- For example, software should be a lot better at listening to us and anticipating what we need. That's the idea in the works at Expect Labs in San Francisco, which is about to release a demonstration app for tablets called MindMeld.

- Should you buy a wearable activity tracker like the Jawbone UP, the Nike+ Fuelband, the Fitbit Flex, or the Misfit Shine? I tried the Shine for a couple of weeks and concluded that it's a nice motivational tool, and is certainly a lot more elegant and wearable than the competing devices. But for data geeks like me, it won't replace activity-tracking smartphone apps like RunKeeper or RunMeter.

- The overlap between health and digital technology is an ever-growing focus at Xconomy. I covered the latest class of startups emerging from the Rock Health accelerator and wrote up a report of my on-stage conversation with digital health investor Chamath Palihapitiya of the Social + Capital Partnership. 

- I also covered the venture industry's ongoing love affair with startups digital health and wrote an update on Keas, the employee wellness startup I've chronicled a couple of times before.

- Speaking of demo days, I looked at the startups finishing their mid-year terms at local accelerators Matter Ventures and Y Combinator.

- I read The Unknowns, a lovely book about romance and the hacker mentality from first-time novelist Gabriel Roth. Later I contacted Roth for a long interview about -- among other things -- the San Francisco startup scene during the first dot-com boom and the gap between thinking and feeling.

- I reviewed some of the coolest new portable Bluetooth speakers, including my personal favorite, the Jawbone Jambox, and wrote about PasswordBox, a new service that helps you replace all your vulnerable old passwords with one strong one. 

- Have you ever driven past the building in Brisbane, CA, with the big "Glam" logo and wondered what was going on inside? I stopped there one day to find out and wrote this profile of Glam Media's vast network of lifestyle blogs.

- Who's behind International CES -- the vast consumer electronics extravaganza held in Las Vegas each January? The answer is the Consumer Electronics Association, and I recently had the opportunity to speak about the future of CES with the association's longtime CEO, Gary Shapiro. 

- Are you ready for the Big One? In a slide show, I gave readers a glimpse inside my earthquake kit, which has enough food and water to get me and my dog through at least a few days of post-quake chaos. As I argued in the accompanying essay, everyone, not just Californians, should have a similar disaster kit.

- I took a look at Udemy, the online marketplace where video instructors can make good money teaching professional skills like video editing or spreadsheet programming.

- I visited a San Francisco startup called Sift Science that's using machine learning to foil credit-card fraudsters.

- As a committed vegetarian, I was excited to have the opportunity to moderate a panel discussion in San Francisco on the future of protein. Turns out that in a world riven by climate change and water shortages, we're probably going to be getting a lot of our protein from insects.

What's a biofuels company doing selling skin moisturizer? I interviewed Solazyme CEO Jonathan Wolfson about his company's decision to enter the high-margin cosmetics business before it tries to scale up its microalgae-based biofuels technology.

- Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, raised eyebrows (and angered many rail fans) by proposing that California abandon its high-speed rail project linking Los Angeles and San Francisco in favor of his Hyperloop idea. Tongue only half in cheek, I proposed the Smog to Fog Challenge, a competition inspired by the race to finish the Transcontinental Railroad in the 1860. The idea is to start building both the Hyperloop and the high-speed rail line, and guarantee a $10 billion bonus to the first organization to finish.