Hackers, Hostels, and Floating Hotels

In the few months leading up to my wedding, a number of really fascinating articles and stories piled up that I wasn’t able to address. Digging back into the files, I came across one NYTimes article from July that definitely wants to be shared. It covers the Silicone Valley phenomenon of “Hacker Hostels.”

These hostels offer cheap lodging and nerdy community for the waves of would-be entrepreneurs who flock to tech-mecca each year. And with a spot on a bunk going for $40/night, they’re a pretty savvy piece of entrepreneurship themselves. Overhead is low (wifi and a roof), and the residents – typically techie men in their mid to late 20s – don’t want much more than to be left to their work.

Cramped living conditions aside, these hostels a pretty popular idea. After all, cramming into tiny spaces is a time-honored tradition in the hacking community: HP was famously founded in a 12′ x 18′ rented garage, and early coders at MIT slept in their offices while waiting for time on the mainframe. When it was acquired in 2012, Instagram was still shoveling pizza boxes out from under the employees in a cramped SF office.

Keeping things cozy does two things. Continue reading

China’s Creative Copycats

Whether you view China’s shanzai workshops as clever innovators or outright bandits, there’s no denying that they’re good at what they do. Shanzhai cellphones accounted for about 20% of the global 2G mobile market in 2010, and shanzhai companies like Baidu and Tencent are now emerging as world-class players in age of internet commerce.

The name “shanzhai” is a reference to historical warlord hideouts, nestled high in the mountains beyond the reach of government control, and today describes counterfeiters and gadget-makers with a similarly healthy disrespect for the law. To their detractors, the shanzhai are shameless imitators, selling cut-rate knockoffs under names like SQNY electronics, Bucksstar coffee, Blockberry, and Hiphone. To others, they are creatively borrowing and building on available ideas, improving products and adapting them to local markets. The “Nckia” brand name might be a blatant rip off, but the built-in flashlight could be useful in areas without reliable electricity, and who wouldn’t want a combination cigarette box and cell phone?

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The Most Creative Music Video of All Time

I recently stumbled across this music video by David Fain called “Choreography for Plastic Army Men”. It’s for an instrumental piece by the Portland band Pink Martini, and – you guessed it – it’s got some creativity. Which led to an interesting question: what is the most creative music video of all time?

I had a hunch that the internet might have an opinion on this, but it pays to be scientific. First off, let’s define what we mean by creative. One useful definition comes from Amabile (1996), who defines creativity as “the production of novel or useful ideas” that are “valuable or expressive of meaning.” That’s great, because it doesn’t mean we’re necessarily looking for the best song or even the best video.

Next, I did some science of my own. I fired up a Google search for “The Most Creative Music Video of All Time” and looked at the top twenty hits for the sites that were discussing the most creative music videos. Then I started collecting the nominations. There’s a lot of taste to this sort of thing, so my list below includes only the videos that were named on two or more sites. Drummmmmrolllll please!  Continue reading