Robo Madness, Online Universities, and a Changing of the Guard

It's been spring here in California for weeks and weeks now, but I gather that's not true for some of you: my parents tell me that the lake where they live in northern Michigan is still frozen over. May the nice weather come to your part of the world soon.

My month has been mostly about robots. We kicked off Xconomy's third annual Silicon Valley robotics forum, Robo Madness, on April 10 at SRI International. The lineup of speakers was stellar, and included Helen Greiner from CyPhy Works, Scott Hassan from Suitable Technologies, John Markoff from The New York Times, David Mindell from MIT, and James Gosling from Liquid Robotics (yes, that James Gosling: the father of Java).

Our longtime freelancer Elise Craig was at Robo Madness and wrote up this list of top takeaways. We also published a slide show.

Speaking of Elise Craig, I have some exciting Xconomy personnel news to share. We've hired Elise to take over as the new Editor of Xconomy San Francisco, effective today. 

That frees me up to take a new role we're calling Editor at Large, in which I'll be able to focus on our Xperience consumer section and on long-form stories about innovation and entrepreneurship, both here in San Francisco and across Xconomy's network. That's a direction I've been wanting to go for a long time, so I'm quite happy about the change. 

Simultaneously, we're bringing on a new national life sciences editor, Alex Lash. He's also based in San Francisco. So we're basically tripling our strength here overnight. We published an announcement today summing up the changes.

Here's some of the other stuff I've been working on lately:

-- The epistolary form worked pretty effectively for my October 2013 rant against cable TV, so I decided to use it again for a column called A Letter to the Year 2061 (If We Make It That Far). It's a plea to the citizens of the future for some pointers about how they dealt with potentially civilization-ending threats like climate change, food shortages, and economic inequality.

-- I covered Demo Day for Y Combinator's Winter 2014 class, which included 54 on-the-record presentations form startups working on everything from Bitcoin investing to microlending to new business models for journalism.

-- I wrote a column with the admittedly odd title Sugary Foods Are Killing Us. The Internet, Not So Much. It was a rejoinder to a 2013 TEDx talk in which video game magazine editor Alexander Macris argued, a la Nicholas Carr, that the Internet offers so much dumbed-down content that it's making us intellectually lazy, in the same way our high-sugar diet is making us fat. I think the food analogy is misleading, and I explained why in the column.

-- I interviewed Guy Kawasaki, the famed former Apple evangelist who has taken a new job as chief evangelist for a little-known Australian graphic design startup called Canva.

-- As a followup to my coverage of last year's battle over California's retroactive tax on startup investors, I checked in with Brian Overstreet, who instigated the lobbying campaign that eventually killed the tax. Now that the endless trips to Sacramento are behind him, Overstreet has been able to raise more venture funding for his startup AdverseEvents, which collects drug safety data that can help managed-care organizations make smarter decisions about which medications to buy for their patients. Not surprisingly, the big pharmaceutical companies are very unhappy about that.

-- My favorite editorial project this month was writing up my extensive Q&A with Ben Nelson, the CEO of the Minerva Project here in San Francisco. The former Snapfish CEO aims to reimagine just about everything about how universities work.

That's all the news for now -- thanks for reading.