To my daughters

Dear Rose, Alana and Becky –

I am writing to you today to share with you my deep concern about what the candidacy of Donald Trump represents.

Riane Eisler makes the point in her masterwork – The Chalice and the Blade –  that the progress women have made in the last 60 years has elevated their status as high as it has ever been.

Jim Garrett writes  – “The point of Eisler’s study of prehistory and ancient history is to show that the domination of the male gender over the female gender is not an eternal and inevitable feature of human social organization, that another type of society, a Partnership society rooted in gender equality, is possible.”

Today that society is beginning to be well entrenched.  Just under 100 years ago women were given the right to vote in the USA Constitution.  This was followed in the intervening years with steady improvements in women’s pay equality, service in the military, rights to control their bodies, and so forth.  Each of you are in control of your own lives.  I would have it no other way.  But so many more women have so much less freedom and personal control of their lives.

Unfortunately, all of this can be undone – even women like you who have claim and exercise their rights can lose them – in almost no time at all.  In many other societies on the Earth today women’s rights are much worse or non-existent as you know.  The Catholic and Mormon Churches continue to have 2nd class citizenship for women; this is even worse for the world’s more than half a billion Muslim women.

To me, the real hope for our world is that women continue to grow in their participation to full partnership and equality with men.  Nothing less will work and nothing less can save us all.  Women intrinsically see the value of all life – human, animal and plants.  Women innately value the earth and our environment and see that renewable and sustainable approaches must be embraced and further developed quickly.  Women know how long it takes to raise the next generation and how much patience this requires.

Men have been objectifying women for centuries.  We men go through a hormonal period in our teen years where our feelings and emotions see huge swings.  During these formative years we see problem solutions more through the lens of quick resolution, through fighting rather than patient negotiations and discussion.  When you think of the term “bully” it is almost exclusively applied to men.  We are broadly physically stronger and tend to use that to get our way.  In simple family relationships, this results in domination, in countries it results in outcomes that are much worse – wars, starvation, corruption for personal gain.

So it is with these thoughts in mind that I encourage you to –

It is true today that so many people feel the fall election will be an easy win for Hillary but I worry it will not be so.  Bully’s tend to win unless people broadly stand up to them.  Trump has money, bluster, is willing to lie and distort facts to a level we have not seen and his core supporters believe he is telling the truth.

It is to the women of the USA that this defeating of Donald Trump must fall.  You all have to see it as a personal and direct affront to your rights and future.  Please find ways to feel so strongly about this that you get all you know to share this message.  We don’t want to let the past accomplishments come undone after being so hard won.

Much Love,

Dad (Frank Levinson)


Posted in Essays, Personal Stories, Spiritual Threads

Do You Prefer Mercy or Justice?

There is a personality test that was invented by Myers and Briggs that helps groups of people work together better because it shows each member how the other members are different from each other.  When you see this, you can make adjustments and understand what feelings motivate each person.

As a part of this Myers-Briggs test you typically answer a series of questions and then your answers show aspects of your personality.  You can take the test for free here.

Now this essay is not about personalities or psychology.  It is about how to ask questions that reveal things and how to structure judging platforms that are more challenging but provide more solid results.  One of the questions is the title of this essay – “Do you prefer mercy or justice?”  Of course, you prefer both in your life.  We all do.  But if forced to make a choice, you have to think that through more carefully.  Right?

Now, let’s take the hypothetical situation where there is a judging panel of 5 people who will score some contest – a business plan contest will do fine for our example here.  Each judge will score the business teams on five categories and are allowed to award any category up to 10 points where 10 is the best score, and 0 is worst.  So a top plan could score 50 points, and a dismal plan could score 0 points.  Let’s also suppose that we have ten teams but only 3 of them can “win” the competition and be awarded prizes.

If you ever look at the results of such judging, typically you will find that even a range of teams and plans all tend to get scores between about 35 and 50 points.  And so differences between teams is often quite small numerically even though they are not close in capability at all!

A judge in the competition can have an undo influence on the judging panel and its process if that person simply uses the entire scale of scores for the same set of teams.

Let’s suppose there are ten teams and 4 of the 5 judges gives scores that are have a small spread in scores.  But one judge gives 7 of the teams 0 points and 3 of them 50 points.  If this happens, it is pretty clear that those 3three teams have a very strong likelihood that they will be the 3 winners!!

An alternative way to do this that preserves fairness is to insist that each judge may only award a total of 50 points throughout the entire contest.  That is that there are ten teams, and each team can get an average of 50 points.  So it is now not possible for every team to even get 35 points let alone the typical average score of perhaps 42 points.  So such a scoring system forces choices akin to the mercy or justice question of Myers-Briggs.

Such a judging system is easy to do using simple electronic computers/tablets or even on a smartphone.  But we often don’t want to be made to judge and accept that there are only going to be a few winners.

I will visit this topic again in the next essay but from an entirely different use case.

Posted in Essays, Personal Stories, Spiritual Threads

Impression of Photonics West

Many years ago, around the time of the “dot-com” bubble, photonics had a similar bubble popping episode which in many ways was worse than the dot-com one.

The reason it was worse was that many companies at that time had real sales, profits, factories around the world and employed many thousands and thousands of people.

Going into the bubble Finisar was one of the smaller companies but we had been consistently profitable since our founding in 1988.  And our drop in sales while strong (about 30%) was much less than the biggest companies in the space which dropped 90%+ or simply went out of business completely.

One of the problems at that time was that people felt that “photonics” or the engineering discipline of the precise making, manipulating, amplifying and such with photons was the next wave to follow the “electronics” wave that had been so successful for venture investors and startup founders for the past 20-30 years.  Beyond similar sounding names there was promise in the late 1990s.  Fibers began to carry information at 2.5 and 10 Gb/s over distances of 1000s of kilometers using optical amplifiers, dispersion could be managed and corrected precisely, large numbers of wavelengths could be place onto a single fiber pushing the information carrying capabilities even further … and all these wavelengths could be amplified and dispersion corrected in parallel and as optical signals without conversion back to electron-based information.  Magic seemed everywhere in the field.  And to many people at the time, especially Venture investors, the world looked like this.

What we thought


Unfortunately this was not true.

What was true emerged over the next 5-8 years after the bubble burst.  And then we found out the world needs did not call for photonics to be so important.  So then the real world looked like this.

What was true


In reality, the most important trend coming to communications was to be wireless radio based communications that we see today as 3G/4G wireless phones, WiFi for LANs and Bluetooth for personal devices, etc.  It is technology that touches us in so many ways all the time.  And then we underestimated the resillance of copper based communications – on circuit boards, for inter and intra cabinet communications, for cable television and internet services, and even the upgrading of our phone lines to DSL.  So instead of being the whole square with electron based comms being marginalized and becoming insignificant, phontonics really only continued to dominate in long haul telecom and then it moved into data centers and buildings for datacom.  [Datacom is where Finisar got its start, today it dominates both spaces of photonic communications.]

Unfortunately so much money was invested that the field continued to be over funded for the next decade and consolidation took longer than everyone thought and many companies have very long periods of losses and shareholder disappointment.

Now lets move into the present day.  This week San Francisco hosted the Photonics West conference and exhibition.  It allowed 1000s of companies to show their products, to hear talks on various aspects of photonics technology and so forth.

And what I saw was that so much of the investment money has poured into optical fiber communications but that is beginning to change.  We are seeing the maturation of that field of applications for photonics but the fields of sensing are just beginning to find their strides.  And photonic engineering and sensing of the world around us – for self driving cars, more accurate medical diagnostics, better ways to make, manage, store and transfer energy are all being explored.  And these can bring a renassiance to the field and an even brighter future.

But we must not over invest in fields which have been good in the past.  As those mature they are less interesting for venture like investments and more the domains of larger companies that can invest the large sums needed to make smaller incremental improvements.


Posted in Essays, Investing, Optical Technology, Personal Stories

Tesla Update

OK, so I admit to not having written a single entry in 2015. It was a year of pretty great change for me.

Small World Group was winding down and I traveled to Singapore much less. And SWG has stopped investing as frequently in seed level companies in both the USA and Singapore

At the same time, my commitment to Phoenix Venture Partners increased and I now am giving this advanced materials focused VC Group most of my time. I am a “general partner” with them. We are nearing the end of fundraising for Fund II. The PVP model is one where we have 8 MNC corporations who invest as the anchor strategic partners. Then we have additional partners in terms of sovereign wealth funds and HNW individuals.

So there are my excuses. But I am going to try and pick this up again and maybe write even more frequently than in the past. So look for my posts to be announced on Twitter with a link … and maybe on FaceBook too.

Tesla update. I have only driven Chevys and Prius for the last 40 years but on March 31, 2015, I bought a Model S Tesla. Wow, do I love it.

The self-driving mode is perhaps my favorite feature. I think it makes the car a much better driver than I am in heavy stop-and-go traffic. It never loses focus, never gets tired, never tailgates! And I have a tendency to suffer from all of these afflictions as a normal driver.

The car is quiet, has plenty of range, I got it with the dual chargers so on my personal front I can charge the car at 220VAC at 80A when at my house so it refills its “tank” in about 2-3 hours for most circumstances.

And then when I take a longer trip the Superchargers (which are completely free to use) can do the same charging function in less than 30 minutes in most cases. I have only gone into a gas station 1x in the last year or so and that was for a rental car. I don’t miss that at all.

Yes, the car is quiet, comfy, has a very nice sound system too. But what really makes it different is the periodic updates that empower the car to be “smarter”. Each one is a delight and sometimes a surprise as well.

It is an American car company that is changing the world. Hurray!

Posted in Essays, Green Perspectives, Personal Stories

Truly Disruptive Technology

I am in line to get the new Tesla model S 85D.  This is the new dual motor, all wheel drive, some limited self driving capabilities, update of the Model S.

When you sign up to buy one they take a small deposit and then loan you a car for 24 hours to test it out, see how it works for you.  So much nicer than a normal dealer where the test drive you get is with the sales person and it is limited to a few miles from the dealer and for probably a few minutes.  My test drive of the Tesla was 200 miles in length, down freeways/interstates at reasonable speed, down California highway 1 which has twists and turns, through redwoods and up the coast.  In short it was sufficient time for my partner and me to really both drive it to our hearts content, try out the features and really understand how it felt to us.  What a different car purchasing experience.

Some states in the USA will not permit Tesla cars to be sold!!  Can you imagine this in the land of the free?  They do this because Tesla cars are not sold through dealers but through the factory.  Does anyone really have a great dealer experience to tell us?  If they do then it is about a dealer who probably did solid long term service on the car that was sold.

Do you know that Teslas generally are not sold at all on the basis of service?  It almost never comes up in the sales discussion and if it does it is pretty small discussion at that.  Why?

Because Teslas have almost nothing that under normal wear can break.

Car repairs come it 2 flavors – those that are considered “normal maintenance” and those which are just problems that arrive –  here is a list of these from Yahoo

  • Replacing Intake Manifold Gaskets
  • Replacing Ignition Coils
  • Replacing Engine Coolant Temperature Sensor
  • Replacing Exhaust Gas Recirculation valve
  • Replacing Spark Plugs
  • Replacing Mass Air Flow Sensor
  • Replacing Catalytic Converter
  • Loose Fuel Caps
  • Replacing Oxygen Sensor
  • Changing the Oil
  • Changing the Oil Filter
  • Changing the Air Filter
  • Replacing the Brakes
  • Replacing the Coolant
  • Replacing the tires

Of this ENTIRE list only replacing the tires happens on a similar basis with a Tesla.  The rest of the list mainly is not valid because the Tesla’s don’t even have the parts or systems in the car … they have no spark plugs, engine coolant, ignition coils, manifold or manifold gaskets, catalytic converters, oxygen sensors … well you get it.

So repairing the Tesla is something that many people don’t do for years.  They may rotate the tires from time to time to get longer wear from them.  But that is pretty much it !!!

No wonder dealers are wary of Tesla cars … they will kill the dealer model of making money from post sales service.

That is pretty disruptive and it is the kind of idea that comes from Silicon Valley.

When Finisar was started in the late 1980s the entire fiber optic world  was centered on Japan and the east coast of the USA.  20 years later the Japanese are still contributing but honestly at a much lower level.  And the rest moved to Silicon Valley because it was ripe for disruption.  Same for the automotive industry.  Detroit is so embedded in its vision of the past that this industry will change forever soon.

The next disruption is when we get sufficient numbers of pure EV cars that can stay plugged in whenever they are not moving and then become one major element of grid storage to help stabilize a grid where renewable sources are a significant part of the grid.

For example in California if there were 1M Tesla each with 85 KW-hr batteries.  Then theoretically the grid would have about 2 hours of storage in place to help manage transitions from renewables back to other forms of energy generation.  Such transition times are more grid friendly.  And of course this storage also can be used to provide peak shaving at any time.

Go Tesla!

Posted in Essays, Green Perspectives, Personal Stories

The Revolution in OnLine Learning

You may be reading about how online learning is a revolution that is happening all around us.  But for sometime I have been skeptical.  The purpose of this essay is to share with you how my own exploration of this area is now producing worthwhile results.  Hope that you find it useful and will begin your own exploration.

There are many sites for online learning at the university level and high school level.  First let me list a few and give you perspectives on their use and structure –

  • is a site of training videos for learning subjects like Excel Macros, programming, arts and crafts.  It cost $25 per month for basic membership and for this fee you can take unlimited courses as often as you like or have time.  The courses are given by self determined experts, there is no real screening of their credentials such as you would have at major universities.  Still many of the courses are quite good.  It is a good site for keeping up with new technology, for example.
  • Playground Sessions and Artist Works are both music learning websites for a variety of instruments.  Playground Sessions offers basic keyboard lessons for beginners through intermediates and there you can learn complete songs pretty quickly.  Artist Works is at the other end of the spectrum, offering classes in many different instruments where you watch videos from leading master performing figures and where these same famous people give the students direct video feedback from questions submitted by video from their students.
  • Khan Academy is generally a free learning website that focuses on short educational videos in various areas for middle and high school ages.  You can learn algebra or geometry, for example.
  • Udacity offers courses at the college and job skills sharpening level such as Java or Python programming.  The courses cost individually anywhere from $25 to more than $200.
  • Coursera offers courses from some of the finest degree granting institutions in the world and many of the courses are free for those who just want to enrich their lives.  I am currently watching a course on Coursera entitled “A Brief History of Humankind” and it is FANTASTIC.

When I explored this perhaps every 5 years for the past 20 years, I have always come away disappointed but this time it is different.  You can not take courses from the world’s major universities – Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, MIT and more – for free.  You can learn in courses that are taught by the best in the world and they are presented in ways that are refined, thoughtfully organized, with solid graphics and visual aids.

I encourage you to dig in and if you find something worthwhile, send me an email and let me know of the jewels you find.

Frank (


Posted in Essays, Personal Stories, Spiritual Threads

Sticking with Our Tribe or Moving Forward with Logic

Let me start off this essay with a link to a law just passed by the Tennessee legislature.  It bans buses of any type in the state of Tennessee.  It is there because some people feel that a rapid transit system would’ve ran on a 7.1 mile route and served rapidly growing neighborhoods across [Nashville].  This from the same state that once tried to legislate Pi to be 3 and not 3.1415926 …   We are so divided as a country and a planet/people.  We cannot agree to do simple projects for the good because it goes against some embedded interests that for a religious or hidden reason work very hard to defeat it.

There is a terrific program on climate change being shown on Showtime over the next 8 weeks.  The first episode was last Sunday.  The series is entitled Years of Living Dangerously.

The show has 3 revolving stories – one about a drought in Plainview (and Lubbock) Tx, one about the burning of forests in Indonesia and the last about a drought in Syria.  In each case, there are people who are confused and some that are clear.  Of the people who are confused, they are all thoughtful but they have deeply embedded views of the world.  These views come from the people, religions and educational systems that have been with them their entire lives.  After the first hour it is clear that the people in west Texas and Syria are having a drought that will drive deep social and political unrest, change and heartbreak.  And that the corruption of the political process in Indonesia is having an impact on all of the world’s people and there is literally nothing we can do about it.

I highly recommend this series.

I also have been reading a book – The Fourth Turning.  The main thesis of this book is that in the course of human history there are major cycles that repeat themselves about every 80-100 years.  That it takes 4 generations of people (a generation being 20-25 years) before we forget how we forged our last real political and social alignment and then – often in the furnace of large scale death and destruction – we forge a new alliance.

In the USA, these major events happened in 1776 (revolutionary war), 1860 (civil war), 1940 (WW2) and we are coming up to one very soon.  In each case the future of our society hung completely in the balance and we agreed to change directions.  But not without lots of heartbreak.  This will be the first one we have to face with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, cyber warfare, and such.

At the end of each 4 generation cycle, we find that there are groups who are totally at odds with one another.  In the revolutionary war, there were colonists who were deeply loyal to Britain and the King, and there were those just as fervent for change.  In the civil war, it was clearly about slavery and not just states rights and there were people on both sides so at odds that only large scale killing of brothers and families could pave the way forward.

Today clearly (as you see in the first episode of Years of Living Dangerously), we are in a time of deep devision and mistrust between groups in our society.  Many believe that climate change is a lie or worse a hoax by the liberal establishment to be pushed onto others to enhance their own political future.  The governor of Texas does not believe it is real.  Most republicans do not believe it is real.

It is when we get to these seemingly unreconcilable differences that we are in the most horrific trouble.  And now it appears we will have to experience it with weapons and a global interconnectedness that was never present in the past.

Are there opinions you are holding that are so important that you want to risk global chaos more massive than anything we have ever seen?

Think about it.

Posted in Essays, Green Perspectives, Spiritual Threads

Fun Tradition

This past week in Singapore the folks in Small World Group Incubator in Singapore held our Yusheng or Lo Hei or Prosperity Toss.

Chiet Ping, one of our key partners here helped prepare it.  Here is a photo of her nearing the end of this preparation.

Chiet Ping Salad Prep


The salad contains carrots, radishes, raw fish, peanuts, black sesame seeds and so much more that I cannot remember them all.  Here is what it looks like from the top.

Horse Character


Chiet Ping placed the carrots and then the black sesame seeds in a pattern for the year of the horse using the old form of Chinese character, here is what that looks like in full caligraphy.

year of Horse character

Of course I had to look this up, so when I did, I was really impressed with how well it came out.  After all of the preparations you use very long chopsticks and group around the table and toss the salad into the air saying things like good fortune, our in our case profitable exits and such for a few minutes … here is what that looks like.





Salad is eventually flying everywhere.  And then you eat it down and it is very tasty.

And now you are participating with us vicariously through this posting.  yeah!

Posted in Essays

Block 71

Small World Group Incubator started in January 2010 as one of the initial group of 7 NRF TIS group.  It has been an interesting journey over the last 4 years.

To date we have started 15 companies, closed 5, sold 1 and have 4 of the companies nearing $1M per year in sales.  All that is pretty normal for the statistics of a seed level VC here in SE Asia.

Initially we worked out of offices provided to us by Nanyang Technological University at the NTU Ventures buildings.

But in November, 2011 we moved to “Block 71” which was an older building slated to be torn down so that newer and shinier buildings could be put up.  Building is the national sport of Singapore.  Block 71 was rescued from destruction by some folks at the National University of Singapore and made the home for startups.  In all fairness Block 71 is a partnership between the Media Development Authority of Singapore, NUS and others.

Small World Group Incubator took 4000 sq ft of space kept it relatively open except for some conference rooms and began adding companies to the space.  Today it looks more like a USA garage than a Singapore start up space.  It has 3D printers, CNC laser cutters and machining centers, soldering station, electronic measurement equipment, fixed wing and hex-copter drones, LED lighting, embedded energy monitoring and much more.

And wouldn’t you know it, but now Block 71 has an article about it in the Economist.  You can find it here.

Overall the article is a pretty good tale about how this single building became such a successful nucleation site for startups and it shows how when you create sufficiently distilled interactions things can transform pretty fast.

Write me with questions at


Posted in Essays, Investing, Singapore Incubator

A Creepy Thought

Recently I looked into taking a mid-winter trip to Iceland to be present there for the Winter Solstice. And it turns out that the only airline that flies to this small country of 320,000 people is Iceland Air.  It turns out that this year we won’t go but perhaps sometime soon.

Now if you looked at the title of this essay you may be asking – “just want is so creepy about Iceland” and the answer is nothing.

But for weeks now I have been getting ads inside pages that show up with ads for Icelandic Air.  And that is where the creepy parts starts.  A brief whimsy about a trip and now I am constantly reminded that I have not yet booked my trip to Iceland.  How did this happen?  It happened because I wrote to a friend using gmail about this idea for the trip and even shared some Iceland Air flight times and dates.  That was enough, Google had me.  And the ads started to show up each time I did a web search.

Now lately I have been using Google Hangouts  quite a bit for voice and video calls and SWG team conferences.  And what we discuss is private or at least we would like to think so.   Right?

But if you have heard about Siri which is Apple’s voice recognition and command system – which I have to say is very good for my uses – the buzz from others is that Google’s is much better and handle’s a wider range of voices and languages.


So how soon will Google be using the voice traffic flowing through the system to do targeted ads and reference selling based on voice input?  And how much more communication do we do daily using our voices than we do with email?  And how much more private do we think our voice conversations are than email?

Suppose there was a phone app that used little power but listened to you ALL THE TIME using your mobile phone’s microphone and capabilities.  Would we start getting ads for deeply personal stuff?

I see you may be running out of condoms Tom, so I have taken the liberty of ordering some for you from Amazon …

And what if a few years behind this comes development of visual input and understanding again for helping target our needs?

You see gMail is free just because Google reads it and uses the information in a “non-personally-intrusive” ways to target ads for their users.  But voice and visual cues are even more powerful, I suspect.  So could it be that Google is offering free voice and video chatting, meetings and phone service so that they can expand their knowledge of how to be a more effective advertising platform?

Hmmm.  More than 90% of Google’s revenue comes from ads.  Right?

There is no other motive for offering free services than to gain advantage to your main business purpose and to increase that revenue.

Welcome to the future.  Are you a deep user of Google Hangouts?  Do you like them more than Skype?

How far behind do you think Microsoft is in this game?  (They do own Skype …)

Posted in Essays, Personal Stories, Spiritual Threads, StartUp Ideas