New iPhones, Damming the Golden Gate, and Living Longer

Hope your fall is off to a good start. Here's what I've been writing about since my August 25 update:

---The big buzz in the mobile-computing world this month is about the arrival of the iPhone 5C and 5S and the release of iOS 7. But Apple's iPhone announcement on September 10 was greeted by an unusual amount of carping and complaining---almost all of it wrong-headed, in my opinion. To quote Louis CK, everything is amazing and nobody is happy.

---Google said this week that it's funding a new company called Calico to combat aging and age-related illnesses. That's all well and good, but there's no reason to wait for Google to tell us how to live longer. Google's announcement inspired me to write about 10 proven low-tech strategies for extending life expectancy.

---It takes longer to build a startup cluster than you might think. Decades, in fact---or so says a researcher at the Kauffman Foundation, which looked at changes in startup density per capita in U.S. cities between 1990 and 2010. The short version: there weren't many.

---What went wrong at Altius Education? The San Francisco startup had attracted 3,000 students to its online junior college, Ivy Bridge, and was growing fast---until the Higher Learning Commission told Altius's partner Tiffin University to shut Ivy Bridge down. I had a long conversation with Altius about what the disaster means for the the company, and for other edtech startups. 

---Ever heard of sous-vide cooking? You will soon. It's the art of vacuum-sealing meats and other foods inside plastic bags and cooking them in low-temperature water baths for many, many hours, to achieve optimal tenderness and flavor. At one time, only restaurants could afford the equipment needed to keep a sous-vide bath at constant temperature, but now several startups offer affordable immersion circulators that put sous-vide cooking within the grasp of us amateur Julia Childs (Julia Children?). I wrote about Nomiku, a San Francisco startup that went all the way to China to build its own sous-vide appliance.

---My old response to public radio pledge drives was to stop listening until the torture ended. Now there's another option: a Pandora-like app called Swell that plays you a tailored selection of shows from NPR, APM, and other news and talk sources, all blissfully free of fundraising appeals.

---Last month I told you about my idea for the Smog to Fog Challenge, a contest to settle whether Elon Musk's Hyperloop idea or the more traditional California High-Speed Rail project is the better way to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco. In the same wacky-big-ideas department, I wrote recently about the Golden Gate Barrage: a proposed dam, in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge, that could save San Francisco Bay from the effects of rising sea levels. Whether or not such a dam is a good idea, I argued, it's high time for Silicon Valley companies that will be affected by sea-level rise to get involved in mitigation plans.

---If you're the type of person who drools in the power tool aisle at Home Depot, you'll love my story about the new Autodesk Workshop on Pier 9 in San Francisco. It's a candy store full of fabrication machines where the company intends to test out software-hardware interfaces and even tap artists' brains for new ideas.

---I've long been keeping an eye on Animoto, a San Francisco- and New York-based startup that makes a great app for turning your photos and short videos into music-accompanied slide shows. Lately they've been outdoing themselves, coming up with new templates that heighten the emotional pull of the videos. My latest update: Animoto Wants to Make You Cry.

---Does anyone like Yahoo's new logo? I don't. If the company had listened to voters on Polar, a new social voting app, they probably would have picked a different one.

---The bizarre saga of the California Franchise Tax Board's attempt to deal with the demise of an old tax break for startup investors continued this month. It used to be that investors cashing in their stock in a qualified small business could exclude up to half of their gains on their state income tax returns -- at least until 2012, when a state appeals court struck down the rule as unconstitutional. The FTB decided that the only way to respond to the ruling was to collect retroactive tax payments from everyone who took advantage of the exclusion, back to 2008. A bunch of entrepreneurs and legislators said "No freaking way" and have been battling in Sacramento for legislation that would block the retroactive charges and restore the exclusion in some form. That battle came down to its final moments this month, as lawmakers proposed conflicting solutions; now it's up to Governor Jerry Brown to decide the matter.