Esther Wojcicki, known as "Woj" at Palo Alto High School, where she teaches journalism, is a beloved figure on campus. She's also quite welcome at the Googleplex, as the mother of Anne Wojcicki, who's married to Google cofounder Sergey Brin, and Google executive Susan Wojcicki. I wonder if proximity to power and wealth has dulled Woj's reportorial instincts.She recently wrote a wide-eyed travelogue for the Huffington Post about the first flight of the Zeppelin NT, a blimp launched by startup Airship Ventures. Airship is backed by Esther Dyson, who is also an investor in her daughter Anne's startup, 23andMe. That, at the least, Woj ought to have disclosed. (I've asked Mario Ruiz, an executive at Huffington Post, if she violated any of the online publication's disclosure rules for writers; he has yet to reply. But if she really wanted to impress her students with her journalism chops, Woj might have asked questions about Amphitheatre LLC, the shadowy entity which has also invested in Airship Ventures. Amphitheatre shares a name with the street address of Google's headquarters — and possibly more. I would love to have known what Woj would have discovered, had she been less interested in promoting her daughter's investor's new startup.
Zeppelins went out of style when the Hindenburg went down in flames over New Jersey. But Airship Ventures, a startup backed by quirky angel investor Esther Dyson, is trying to bring them back. With a little help from Dyson's friends. Airship's Zeppelin NT, the first to fly over the U.S. in 70 years, has just completed a transatlantic journey and is scheduled to touch down this afternoon at the Nasa-operated Moffett Field, where it will be permanently stationed, operating aerial tours of the Bay Area. Curious — a private enterprise making use of public lands. Nasa's excuse for hosting the zeppelin: It will be used for scientific investigations and other public-spirited purposes. Where have we heard that before?Why, with the Google founders' fleet of party planes, which are also parked at Moffett Field, with the excuse that they sometimes fly scientific missions. (In fact, the Google founders' jets proved impractical for Nasa's science needs; Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Eric Schmidt bought a fighter jet to fly those missions instead.) One of Airship Ventures' backers is an entity called Amphitheatre Holdings. Amphitheatre is incorporated in Delaware under the address of INV Tax Group, which Google may have purchased in a real-estate transaction two years ago. Google's headquarters is at 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway in Mountain View, Calif. This hardly seems like coincidence. Dyson is an investor in 23andMe, the Google-backed startup of Anne Wojcicki, wife of founder Sergey Brin. Has Dyson taken Google's shareholders for a ride, by having them take a hidden stake in a blimp startup?
With a parking space at the giant hangar on Moffett Field run by NASA, Airship Ventures plans to buy a blimp and run pleasure cruises from the Googleplex's back yard to Napa Valley's wine country. To that end, the startup has secured $8 million in funding from wealthy sorts, including lead investor Esther Dyson. Airship Ventures can surely count on the legions of local steampunk fetishists to keep the waiting list for seats well padded, not to mention corporate-expensed junkets from Valley tech companies. After the jump, video of a Tokyo flyover in one of the Zeppelin NT airships the startup will use. (Illustration by Martin Luechinger)