‘Betwixt’ is Semi-Trending: The New Insight into Old English

Look at that fucking upswing.

Look at that fucking upswing.

Speculative word nerds, keep your dotted eyes fixed on “betwixt,” the Old English utterance enjoying a semi-comeback, thanks to insights gleaned from from Google’s word search.

Giving the likes of Dictionary.com a run for their money (let alone Wiktionary, sans the money), Google has for many years displayed a definition at the top of its search page for any word whose meaning it suspects one might enjoy clarification — stygian, for instance.

Realizing, however, that everything is better with infographics, Google now adorns definitions with a tempting-looking down arrow, begging for the click. To this I say: user, be thyself tempted, and click thyself to a cavalcade of etymological joy.

First drops down the word’s origin, illustrated in March-Madness-style tournament brackets, tracing the roots of the word through branches of time and space. Betwixt itself proves an excellent example, arriving betwixt a confluence of wordlets:

This is what betting pools at the OED look like.

This is what office betting pools look like at the OED.

Offering, after this, an option to translate the word into any which language — including Welsh (rhyngof), Finnish (yhdessä jkn kanssa), and Bulgarian (изправих между) — Google then offers the Googliest insight of them all: trending usage through time.

As one can see in the abovemost picture, betwixt has seen better days, but like that of the proverbial British empire, the sunlight twinkles at the edge of the horizon.

Enjoying a newfound popularity — a moderate popularity, to be sure; a restrained popularity, a Canadian-esque sort of ascendancy — betwixt breezes upwards from the trough years of the aughts, caught as it seemingly was in recessionary mires. (Betwixt bubbles up in the jollier of times, when credit default swaps comport themselves more suitably.)

Could this be a mere aberration, or might boring, overused “between” finally be falling to its zestier, twixtier cousin?

Austin: There’s Gold in Them Thar Silicon Hills

Marching towards progress.

Marching towards progress.

My first taste of SXSW, circa 2008, left a weary residue on my palate. Unable to see beyond the hype of the festival, I swore I’d never return. But then, this year, thanks to my co-founder Mike Gold, I came back, and with eyes freshly opened, I can say that, folks, this place is the real deal.

Culturally, economically, and ecosystemically, Austin is quickly emerging as the next big startup hub, joining the esteemed ranks of San Francisco, New York, and London. As Faith Merino writes for Vator:

The tech scene in Austin is booming, so much so that it’s been dubbed the “Silicon Hills.” Heavy hitters like Apple, Facebook, Google, HP, IBM, Dell, and more have set up shop in Austin, and the city now accounts for much of all the tech-related revenue in the state.

So if you’re looking to get your idea off the ground and you don’t want to live under a freeway overpass in Silicon Valley, Austin is the place to go.

Moreso than Boston (too stodgy), Portland (too chilly), Boulder (too small), LA (too sprawl-y), Seattle (too Amazon-and-Microsoft-y), or Chicago (too — I’m not sure what — but just not Chicago), Austin has the perfect storm of factors that position it for exponential growth in the years to come.

Consider the following fun facts, if you will:

  • Austin is the fastest-growing city in the country, with regional population increasing by 2.8% annually, and economic growth soaring by 6.8%.
  • One of the largest universities in the nation, UT Austin, sits blocks away from downtown.
  • Similar to the San Francisco counterculture of yore, Austin celebrates individuality, self-expression, and weirdness — qualities that befit an entrepreneurial culture that challenges, rather than embraces, the status quo.

More to the point, Austin has a genuine and growing startup ecosystem already in place. Vibrant spaces like Capital Factory and Conjunctured offer world-class co-working. Accelerators like TechStars, Tech Ranch, and ATI offer numerous opportunities for incubation and early-stage growth. Growth-stage startups, like WPEngine and uShip, anchor the community with proven success stories.

And then, of course, there’s SXSW Interactive, bringing together more people from more startups than any other event in the world.

Southby serves as a telling analogy to the city’s sensibility as a whole: deeply community-driven, yet friendly and open to the outside world. Tellingly, denizens identify as “local,” not “native”; hometown pride permeates every square inch of the city’s 271.8 square miles, but it’s a smiling pride, a friendly pride, a welcoming pride — a pride that says mi casa, su casa — this is my home, and it can be yours, too.

Granted, none of this is intended to paint a rose-tinted view of the place. Austin has its share of problems and shortcomings — the startup scene lacks growth-stage venture capital, and, outside of SXSW, the event community is said to be lacking (though we’re certainly thinking about ways to change that). The city itself lacks blue-state-quality public transit, endures its fair share of crime, and sits in the midst of a state that’s governed, at least for now, by a festering mold of scum better known as Rick Perry.

Then again, the gaps and shortcomings in Austin (for the startup scene, at least) imply that there’s room to grow — and, with both an open-minded and business-friendly culture, the future shines brightly.

Trending at SXSW: Sex; Anonymity; Free Sunglasses. (Also, Google Glass is definitely creepy.)

Chuka Chase, rocking the wood-grains.

Chuka Chase, rocking the wood-grains.

Southby! It’s that time of the year again, when gobsmacking masses of techies converge in the Texas capital for five days of drinking, trend-chasing, drinking, drinking, socializing, scavenging free barbeque, drinking, standing in lines, sporting the occasional pushup, and chasing the next big thing. Also, drinking.

The widely buzzed-about (or over-hyped, depending on your perspective) festival famously serves as a launchpad for emerging technology trends. The atmosphere offers a palpable taste of the zeitgeist — live at the time of this writing, at the Samsung Blogger Lounge, panelists dive into a live YouTube show, What’s Trending.

SX revolutionized the sharing economy when then-ramen-unprofitable AirBNB revolutionized short-term home sharing. It shifted social media when Twitter blew up, most famously with Scott Beale’s impromptu AltaVista party. It helped launch the musical career of impossible-to-spell-his-name-without-Googling-it Macaulay Culkin’s Pizza Band. And this year includes, among other highlights — not to be confused with Highlight — real-life Mario Kart racing.

Often referred to as “spring break for nerds,” attendees oft scour for the same thing as people at every other spring break: sex. And this year, in particular, there’s an app for that. Many apps. On the top of everyone’s mind is Tinder, whose popularity seems impossible to quell. Then there’s the gay ol’ standby Grindr, whose Saturday night party promises to be… interesting.

Then there’s social dating app Down, rebranded from the infamous Bang With Friends. Offering double-opt-in matchmaking with a twist, users swipe “down” on a person’s face if they want to “get down,” or swipe up if they covet a date. Finally, a solution to humanity’s greatest challenge: separating those who want to date from those who want to fuck. (Venture capital at work!)

Since everyone is getting tired of Facebook’s insistence on real names, anonymity is enjoying a moment in the sun. Most popular, of course, is Secret, among a slew of emerging apps offering freedom from the glaring eye of everyone you know in real life. From another angle, internet privacy matters more than ever, with anonymous web-surfing trending along with the launch of The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz.

Something you’d expect to see a lot of is Google Glass — but tellingly, there’s a lot more Regular Glass (it’s still a nerd conference, after all), not to mention sunglasses. Free shades dance about ubiquitously, elevated to the status of semi-official schwag. (Sidenote: bright neon frames are in, slatted Wayfarers and their assorted knock-offs are out.) When I met someone yesterday wearing Google Glasses, my first question was, “are you recording this?” and he replied, exasperatedly, “why does everyone keep asking me that?”

Bonus trend: “gif” is now definitely pronounced “jif.”

Apparently, Telegrams are Still a Thing

MAKE ME

MAKE ME

In 2006, Western Union announced the end of its telegram services, leading many to proclaim an end to the messaging service whose popularity once approximated that of WhatsApp.

Apparently, however, you can still send a telegram — just not through Western Union. Instead, International Telegram, or iTelegram, picks up the slack. According to Wikipedia:

iTelegram provides telegram, mailgram and telex service. In the United States, iTelegram still operates the telegram service which, until 2006, was marketed under the Western Union brand.

Niftily, in the UK at least, “for telegrams to hotels, inns or B&B’s, a street address is not necessary. For example, ‘Hilton Heathrow, London’ is sufficient.”

Silicon Valley Cracks the Glass Ceiling

Ada Lovelace may finally have reason to smile.

Groundbreaking accelerator 500 Startups recently announced the 500 Women Fund, an AngelList syndicate dedicated to funding startups led by women in entrepreneurship. 500 founder Dave McClure commented to PandoDaily, “Smart women entrepreneurs are not getting the access to capital they could.”

An estimated 25 to 30 percent of teams currently funded by 500 Startups include at least one female founder, double the US average of 13%. (500 also invests substantially in international teams, bolstered by its Geeks on a Plane initiative.)

The 500 Women syndicate is a new program designed to further encourage women to become founders, and to support them with a deep network of investors, mentors, and peers.

Meanwhile, fellow incubator YCombinator prepares its first conference focused exclusively on female founders. The incubator turned an about-face in December 2013, after comments from an interview with YCom founder Paul Graham went viral. During the interview, Graham remarked:

I’m almost certain that we don’t discriminate against female founders because I would know from looking at the ones we missed. You could argue that we should do more, that we should encourage women to start startups.

Even for an industry structurally dominated by male-biased investment patterns, YCombinator stands out from the crowd: over its eight-year history, 96% of YCombinator founders have been men. It appears, however, that the tides of patriarchy may be waning. Commented PG (as he’s often known) in a subsequent essay:

More thoughtful people were willing to concede YC wasn’t biased against women, but thought we should be actively working to increase the number of female founders. As one put it, instead of being a gatekeeper, we should be a gateway…

We fund more female founders than VCs do, and we help them to overcome the bias they’ll encounter among other investors. In the current YC batch, 16 out of 68 companies, or 24%, have female founders.

I realize though that with female founders, efforts at our stage are not enough.

Pivoting from a previously laissez-faires attitude towards the gender gap, YCombinator appears ready to assume a proactive role in catalyzing social change. Complimenting his two provocative essays on the subject, Paul Graham’s wife and partner, Jessica Livingston, will soon co-host the Female Founders Conference.

Taking place March 1 at the Computer History Museum, the conference will feature an impressive series of talks from accomplished women in technology, including industry leaders Diane Green (Founder, VMWare), Julia Hartz (Co-Founder, EventBrite) and Jessica Mah (Co-Founder, InDinero).

But is it enough?

All these efforts, while commendable, overlook the growing gender gap afflicting the tech field as a whole. In 1984, for instance, 37.1% of US computer science degrees went to women; today, the same figure is 12%, less than a third of the rate three decades ago.

Women face similar discrimination at all levels of organizational leadership — only 19% of American CEOs are women, for instance — leading to the widespread, if controversial, notion of a “pink ghetto.

Reasons for such a participatory decline may vary, but the scarcity of role models — women in technology with name recognition approaching Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or, more contemporarily, Mark Zuckerberg — may likely play an inhibiting role in encouraging more women to enter the field.

Efforts by YCombinator and 500Startups may play only a minor role in reversing a long-standing sociotechnical trend, but even the longest journey begins with a single step — and in this case, it’s a step in the right direction.