What could an old fart possibly know about technology?

The day started with my wonderful son-in-law sending me a reminder of how ancient a technology mariner I am. He’d found this “What if?” answer from XKCD on “If all digital data were stored on punch cards, how big would Google’s data warehouse be?

google punch cards

While the article is a fabulous look at Google data warehouses versus the NSA, it was an interesting reminder of the history of technology as I prepared for a day of listening to twenty companies doing investor pitches at the Zino Zillionaire Investment Forum.

zino zillionaire

After the pitches, I was having a “wine down” discussion with a former Zino coaching colleague who I hadn’t seen for three years. Dave asked me how my wine business adventures were going. I said that after discovering 138 ways not to make money in the wine industry (and no way to make money), I was back starting another software company.

As we were reminiscing (that’s what old farts do), one of the technical dudes from a company whose investor pitch I actually liked came up and awkwardly stood next to us. Clearly, he’d been advised to network during the Wine, Beer, and Hard Cider Networking Reception time seeking out some potential investors that he could impress.

As Dave and I introduced ourselves and welcomed him into the conversation, the young technical dude (YTD) said “I overheard you talking about wine. You know there is a really cool wine app that I could do that could make recommendations based on what wines you like. My wife is a really good wine taster and she could rate the wines to kick start the app.”

I couldn’t resist. “So you clearly don’t understand the challenge of the wine recommendation problem do you?”

YTD: “It is an app just ripe for using AI. Looking at all the wine drinkers here at the reception, I know there would be a big market for it.”

Oh good, not only am I encountering a YTD, but he is also an accomplished market researcher. At least he was kind enough not to spell out “artificial intelligence” for me.

Skip: “There are at least two reasons why an AI app won’t work for wine.”

YTD: “Maybe, but I could still figure it out.”

I could hear those brain cells inside the YTD saying, “What could a gray haired old fart possibly know about AI and an iOS app? I can really impress them with my deep technical knowledge.”

Skip: “Let’s start with every year there are 300,000 different SKUs of wines available in the US from domestic and foreign wine makers.”

YTD: “What’s a SKU?”

Not pausing to wait for an answer, he continued his on the fly technical analysis.

YTD: “No problem, with that many SKUs now we have a big data opportunity. This will be really easy.”

Skip (ignoring the ignorance): “The second problem is that no two wines taste the same from year to year. So just because I like the taste of a wine one year, doesn’t mean it will the taste the same the next year.”

YTD: “Great. It’s a big data problem and just what AI was invented for. This will be too easy.”

Skip: “You clearly don’t know anything about AI do you? By the way, where are you from?”

YTD: “Spokane.”

Time to just walk away. Not only am I an old fart, but I am from the arrogant, snobby west side of the mountains in Seattle.

As I made my way home and waited for the ferry and flipped through some of our Fl!p comics, I realized I had just behaved like that which we mock:

For a humorous look at the wonderful world of innovation and new ventures, checkout Fl!p and the gang at Fl!p Comics.

This entry was posted in Big Data, Design, Entrepreneuring, Humor, social networking, Wine. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to What could an old fart possibly know about technology?

  1. skmurphy says:

    You missed an opportunity to reframe the challenge and give him a specific problem that, if he could solve it, would create value in the “wine selection app” market. It’s tough because as an expert you develop an aversion to revisiting blind alleys that saves you time and trouble. Until someone designs a new approach that enables a new set of trade-offs and enlarges the feasible region of possible solutions.

    • Skip Walter says:


      Thanks for your spot on comment. David Cummings on his blog yesterday had a similar comment “I don’t want an entrepreneur to come to me and say ‘I have a great idea.’ I want the entrepreneur to come to me and say ‘I have a big problem to solve.'”


  2. Nice! Oh, ancient mariner!!!

    Sent from my iPhone

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