Shoot for the Gap

December 31st, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink § share on facebook

The first thing they teach you when getting a motorcycle license is to look for the gaps. Emergency rooms have a higher than normal incidence of motorcyclists who drive into power poles despite them 20cm wide and being spaced 30m apart. Our brains have a funny habit of going towards exactly what we focus on.

Motor Teresa once said:

I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.

What does all this mean for you? When you’re setting your New Year Resolutions for 2013 – focus on who and where you want to be at the end of the year, not what you’re trying to avoid.

All the best for 2013,

If –

December 5th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink § share on facebook

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
- The Rudyard Kipling.

Code, Customers and Cashflow

September 18th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink § share on facebook

Perhaps I’m a little old school, but it feels like technology entrepreneurs are incredibly distracted (myself included). There has been a meteoric rise in demo days, pitching events, incubator programs, investor meetings, meet ups, work spaces, emails… all demanding your precious time.

You just have to look at the incredible competition to get into top incubators. Its not uncommon for them to get 1000+ applications, with 10 spots available. Assuming it takes 4-days to write and polish an application, with 990 declined applications that is 11-years of time not spent on their core businesses. Start Up Chile applications scaled from 25, 300, 700, to 1500 since early 2011.

I have to constantly remind myself of what really matters: customers, code and cash-flow. In my opinion, loosing focus on those three is what kills all start ups. You could add capital, in lieu of cash-flow, but it seems like a poor strategy to rely on investment capital to launch your company.

QuantConnect won Start Up Chile in 2011, which gave us $40,000 equity free and was a fantastic boost for the company, but we started QC before Start Up Chile and would’ve continued even if we didn’t win. If Zuckerberg had applied to an incubator for Facebook I imagine he would’ve been declined – “a social network for university students”. It was his single-minded push for users, traction and a beautiful product that got him to his first 1-2M users – which was when he raised his first ever capital, $500,000, according to Quora.

Evolutionary Counter to Communism

July 22nd, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink § share on facebook

Our market systems are not perfect; capitalism squashes the little guy, communism is ripe with corruption. But as we embrace the 21st century we need to try iterations and hybrids to approach a fair and free society. I may be biased but I believe the NZ/European blend of public good and free market are getting pretty close.

In artificial intelligence design you have to be careful to avoid a local minima; a solution that is the best for the given values, but not the best overall. You do this by shaking up the network once in a while, give it something random to consider, jagged and unexpected.

Civilisation has reached a local minima by weighing up only free market and public good, where money is the measure. We need a jolt of new alternative ideas for society. One such project is a resource based global economy described in the documentary “Zeitgeist Moving Forward”, if you have a free hour you can watch it here. Or the budding social entrepreneurship movement.

But regarding communism; this is an insightful extract from “Iconoclast” by Gregory Burns:

 …[Imagine] if two animals got together and somehow agreed to share food that they found. As long as they trust each other, these cooperating creatures stand to do substantially better in the race for survival. In fact, evolution pretty much guarantees that such cooperative relationships will be discovered by animals because they are superior to completely self-interested strategies of survival. But there is a wrinkle in this story. Imagine an entire colony of these friendly creatures, which willingly cooperate with each other, sharing food and shelter. Such a love-fest creates the opportunity for more sinister operatives to take advantage of their trusting counterparts. In a culture of complete and absolute trust, evolution begins to favour creatures that can deceive other members of the species. The final balance between cooperation and deception is called an Evolutionary Stable Strategy. It means that in any society there will always be a mix of cooperation and deception. It is only the possibility of deception that confers value to cooperation.

That resonated with my plans for Stocktrack. The stock market assumes crowds working towards their own self-interest, where Stocktrack plans to unite people online to form discrete teams and share or even donate the profits. Hopefully we’ll shake up the paradigm.

What I find interesting about the evolutionary stable strategy is that it not only dismisses pure communism, but also pure capitalism. We can’t abide people pushing the free market ideal when evolution indicates that it doesn’t work in the long run. What do you think is the best way forward in 2012?

Social Activation Energy

July 3rd, 2011 § 3 comments § permalink § share on facebook

To the end of an era” – I chimed as we clinked glasses and sipped on a some Grants whiskey huddled around the heater, fending off the Santiago chill. It was Brad’s last week in Santiago before heading off to Brazil for a new job, and after almost a year of working together on ideas and strategy for Stocktrack it will be a change going forward.

I cracked my last cigars, hand rolled from the New Orleans Cigar Factory, tag line - for one of the best cigar’s you’ll ever smoke - indeed. After struggling a few minutes with painfully short matches we were set and let sweet white smoke billow into the room. The it was 2°C outside so the warmth was a welcome comfort.

We talked about the plans for the future, theories on strategy and goal setting, politics and of course women. Something I always appreciate about Brad is an intelligent, rational counter weight to my soaring optimism and faith in humanity.

Over the night an interesting concept arose; when you approach a new person, tell a joke in a crowd, or suggest a new uncanny idea – in order for these special moments to occur, there needs to be initial push or energy present to overcome the temptation to do nothing - a social activation energy, supplied by you. You can describe it as brazenness or audacity but by tapping this energy you can make something amazing or memorable happen.

In science activation energy is described as the energy required to initiate a chemical reaction; ask a girl out, or be unique in a room full of people. I believe once you’re aware of this phenomenon you’ll be more likely to dig a little deeper to make it happen.

For example; a friend’s car broke down outside a Blues bar in Brisbane on a Friday night, where there was a live band playing and a small crowd. After trying to get the car started a few minutes she approached the bar and asked for help. Before I had heard the end of the story my mind raced off, imagining an old, husky, blues trumpet player improving the story of the broken car blues on stage, mixed with piercing blasts of the trumpet striking the urgency..

.. of course it didn’t happen like that; because no one took the initiative, but next time you see a chance, don’t be afraid. Jump the fence, explore the uncharted and make something memorable happen. You won’t regret it.

I Miss the Mob

June 29th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink § share on facebook

A quick insightful video by Derek Sivers; if you’re getting lost in the numbers, remember your mission.

Do What You Love

April 17th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink § share on facebook

jibberish

There are few truly universal truths out there, but I firmly believe in the saying – do what you love. It has a self-fulfilling obviousness; if you just focus on doing that which makes you happy, you will be happy! Genius!

The difficulty, as always, is in its implementation. We are constrained by fears and need to conform that we intentionally continue with our lives, occupied with whatever is socially acceptable, putting off what we desire to fit in.

I spent this weekend writing a new math library for Stocktrack, working from Friday afternoon to early hours of Sunday morning. But I am completely happy I did! I find a sense of joy from filling a whiteboard with non-sensible jibberish and making the code run 300% faster :)

What do you love to do? What socially accepted ideas of happiness are stopping you?

Is keeping a respectable CV really worth waiting 5 years to follow your passion? What about waiting 2 years?

“The deepest need of man, then, is the need to overcome his separateness, to leave the prison of his aloneness. Man is confronted with how to overcome his separateness, how to find at-onement… If there is no better way, then the union of  herd conformity becomes the predominant one…. Most people are not even aware of the need to conform. They live under the illusion that they follow their own ideas and inclinations, that they have arrived at their opinions as a result of their own thinking”
- The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm (paraphrased).

P.S. The elegance with this concept is; if you are happy in your job, then its conditions are met and you can continue being happy without changes! Only you define what makes you happy.

Practise Risk

March 25th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink § share on facebook

After two months running a “safe” algorithm on the markets Stocktrack tanked and lost all its gains in a week. As difficult as it is, I appreciate the higher risk tolerance I have developed from it. There are no safe options in life so if we’re risking everything, everyday, why not shoot for the best possible?

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. - Helen Keller

I looked back over the performance data and found if I were running an algorithm with a higher failure rate it would’ve performed 9x better than the “safe” option over the same two month period.

There is a risk-reward balance in everything, but by actively practising risk, pushing a little outside of your comfort boundaries each day you open yourself to greater rewards it brings.

Perhaps to get the home runs you need to strike-out a little more than average. Tomorrow will you regret not taking a little risk today to achieve your dreams?

Live the future

March 14th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink § share on facebook

An interesting essay by Ivan Illich, written in his manifesto Celebration of Awareness, after the 1967 March on the Pentagon.

I and many others, known and unknown to me, call upon you:

To celebrate our joint power to provide all human beings with the food, clothing and shelter they need to delight in living.

To discover, together with us, what we must do to use mankind’s power to create the humanity, the dignity and the joyfullness of each one of us.

To be responsibly aware of your personal ability to express your true feelings and to gather us together in their expression.

We can only live these changes: we cannot think our way to humanity. Every one of us, and every group with which we live and work, must become the model of the era which we desire to create. The many models which will develop should give each one of us an environment in which we can celebrate our potential — and discover the way into a more humane world.

We are challenged to break the obsolete social and economic systems which divide our world between the overprivileged and the underprivileged. All of us, whether governmental leader or protester, businessman or worker, professor or student share a common guilt. We have failed to discover how the necessary changes in our ideals and our social structures can be made. Each of us, therefore, through our ineffectiveness and our lack of responsible awareness, causes the suffering around the world.

All of us are crippled — some physically, some mentally, some emotionally. We must therefore strive cooperatively to create the new world. There is no time left for destruction, for hatred, for anger. We must build, in hope and joy and celebration. Let us meet the new era of abundance with self-chosen work and freedom to follow the drum of one’s own heart. Let us recognize that a striving for self-realization, for poetry and play, is basic to man once his needs for food, clothing and shelter have been met — that we will choose those areas of activity which will contribute to our own development and will be meaningful to our society.

But we must also recognize that our thrust toward self-realization is profoundly hampered by outmoded, industrial-age structures. We are presently constrained and driven by the impact of man’s ever growing powers. Our existing systems force us to develop and accept any weaponry system which may be technologically possible; our present systems force us to develop and accept any improvement in machinery, equipment, materials and supplies which will increase production and lower costs; our present systems force us to develop and accept advertising and consumer seduction.

In order to persuade the citizen that he controls his destiny, that morality informs decisions, and that technology is the servant rather than the driving force, it is necessary today to distort information. The ideal of informing the public has given way to trying to convince the public that forced actions are actually desirable actions.

Miscalculations in these increasingly complex rationalizations and consequent scandal, account for the increasing preoccupation with the honesty of both private and public decision makers. It is therefore tempting to attack those holding roles such as national leader, administrator, manager, executive, labour leader, professor, student, parent. But such attacks on individulas often disguise the real nature of the crisis we confront: the demonic nature of present systems which force man to consent to his own deepening self-destruction.

We can escape from these dehumanizing systems. The way ahead will be found by those who are unwilling to be constrained by the apparently all-determining forces and structures of the industrial age. Our freedom and power are determined by our willingness to accept responsibility for the future.

Indeed the future has already broken into the present. We each live in many times. The present of one is the past of another, and the future of yet another. We are called to live, knowing and showing that the future exists and that each one of us can call it in, when we are willing, to redress the balance of the past.

In the future we must end the use of coercive power and authority: the ability to demand action on the basis of one’s hierarchical position. If any one phrase can sum up the nature of the new era, it is the end of privilege and licence.

We must abandon our attempt to solve our problems through shifting power balances or attempting to create more efficient bureaucratic machines.

We call you to join man’s race to maturity, to work with us in inventing the future. We believe that a human adventure is just beginning: that mankind has so far been restricted in developing its innovative and creative powers because it was overwhelmed by toil. Now we are free to be as human as we will.

The celebration of man’s humanity through joining together in the healing expression of one’s own nature and needs, will clearly create major confrontations with existing values and systems. The expanding dignity of each man and each human relationship must necessarily challenge existing systems.

The call is to live the future. Let us join together joyfully to celebrate our awareness that we can make our life today the shape of tomorrow’s future.

- A Call to Celebration – By Ivan Illich

Whiskey Wednesdays

January 22nd, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink § share on facebook

Full Moon Rise

What started as a midweek catch up with a few friends has grown into a tradition. We had our regular “Whiskey [or Cold Beverage] on the Roof Wednesday” and had a turnout of about 15 amazing people, with interesting stories to tell about their work and travels.

It is a short, relaxed function on the roof of our building to take a break from the chaos and meet some interesting people. Numbers vary from 5 to 20 but it is always a great evening.

At 8.30pm the sunsets shining onto the Andes, turning them into bright red rock and the city into silhouettes. The smog seems to disappear for 15 minutes a day when the light changes colour. About an hour later it is dark and an enormous yellow moon pops up over the tip of the mountain range and slowly forms above the city lights. Before these Wednesday evenings I could count the number of moon risings I had seen; now you can catch it every week.

Taking a ritualised, forced break from work is a great way to keep your sanity when the days roll together. Whether it is a slow intentional breakfast or afternoon coffee out of the office, you need to take the time to breathe for magic to happen!

Santiago at Night