Note to recruiters

Note to recruiters: We are quite aware that recruiters, interviewers, VCs and other professionals generally perform a Google Search before they interview someone, take a pitch from someone, et cetera. Please keep in mind that not everything put on the Internet must align directly to one's future career and/or one's future product portfolio. Sometimes, people do put things on the Internet just because. Just because. It may be out of their personal interests, which may have nothing to do with their professional interests. Or it may be for some other reason. Recruiters seem to have this wrong-headed notion that if somebody is not signalling their interests in a certain area online, then that means that they are not interested in that area at all. It is worth pointing out that economics pretty much underlies the areas of marketing, strategy, operations and finance. And this blog is about economics. With metta, let us. by all means, be reflective about this whole business of business. Also, see our post on "The Multi-faceted Identity Problem".

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Reversing the Decline in Big Ideas

Max Marmer in the HBR blog on why Silicon Valley has "got shallow":

Many venture capitalists are up in the arms because their returns are down, their funds are drying up, and there appear to be a declining number of entrepreneurs pursuing big ideas.

They've turned to blaming angel investors for encouraging "an entire generation of entrepreneurs [to build] dipshit companies and hoping that they sell to Google for $25 million." They say, "this 'think small' attitude is driving entrepreneurs who may otherwise build the next Google or Microsoft to create something much less interesting instead." And this has implications for the whole ecosystem because, "then everyone loses. No IPO. No 20,000 tech jobs. No new buyer out there for the startups that don't quite make it."

Unfortunately, venture capitalists have mixed up their causality. Angel Investors are not the reason more entrepreneurs are thinking small. More entrepreneurs are thinking small, because the costs to starting a company have fallen so dramatically that there is now a whole new class of entrepreneurs creating companies. The founders starting "dipshit companies" are not the same types of founders who would be starting the next billion dollar companies.

These founders don't want to change to world. They just want to make enough money to provide for their family, buy a car, or earn their freedom. These people are the information economy's mom and pop business owners, just more technologically leveraged and profitable than their brick & mortar predecessors. Instead of starting restaurants and hairdressers they build coupon apps that are used by thousands of restaurants and hairdressers.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Monday, July 23, 2012

Stanford researchers produce first complete computer model of an organism

From the website CleanTechnica, news of a breakthrough at Stanford:

In a breakthrough effort for computational biology, the world’s first complete computer model of an organism has been completed, Stanford researchers reported last week in the journal Cell. A team led by Markus Covert, assistant professor of bioengineering, used data from more than 900 scientific papers to account for every molecular interaction that takes place in the life cycle of Mycoplasma genitalium, the world’s smallest free-living bacterium.
By encompassing the entirety of an organism in silico, the paper fulfills a longstanding goal for the field. Not only does the model allow researchers to address questions that aren’t practical to examine otherwise, it represents a stepping-stone toward the use of computer-aided design in bioengineering and medicine.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Gene therapy nears approval in Europe (and office hours)

From the BBC :
Europe is on the cusp of approving a gene therapy for the first time, in what would be a landmark moment for the field. 
Gene therapies alter a patient's DNA to treat inherited diseases passed from parent to child.
The European Medicines Agency has recommended a therapy for a rare genetic disease which leaves people unable to properly digest fats.
The European Commission will now make the final decision.

Update (July 26): Office hours for September will be Monday, September 3, between 7:30 am and 8:15 am. August office hours will be on Monday, August 6, between 7:30 am and 8:15 am as well.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

How many computers to identify a cat?

A very interesting article in the New York Times featuring the work of Stanford's Andrew Ng:

Inside Google’s secretive X laboratory, known for inventing self-driving cars and augmented reality glasses, a small group of researchers began working several years ago on a simulation of the human brain.

There Google scientists created one of the largest neural networks for machine learning by connecting 16,000 computer processors, which they turned loose on the Internet to learn on its own.

Presented with 10 million digital images found in YouTube videos, what did Google’s brain do? What millions of humans do with YouTube: looked for cats. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Computer science tackles a 30 year old economics problem

From MIT news:

In 2007, the University of Chicago's Roger Myerson won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences — in part for research he had published, in 1981, on auction design. Using the tools of game theory, Myerson showed how to structure an auction for a single item such that if all the bidders adopted the bidding strategies in their best interest, the auctioneer would realize the greatest profit.

Myerson's work immediately raised a related question: What's the best way to organize an auction in which bidders are competing for multiple items? That question has stood for 30 years, but MIT computer scientists believe that they have now answered it. In a pair of recent papers, Constantinos Daskalakis, the X-Window Consortium Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at MIT, and his students Yang Cai and Matthew Weinberg describe an algorithm for finding an almost-perfect approximation of the optimal design of a multi-item auction. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

How to make a business phone call

I found this guide on making a business phone call on the Internet and think it is a reasonably good reference for office hours calls. Not that any of you folks need it, but I am providing it just in case.
1. Remember that a business telephone call is comprised of three components: the beginning introduction, the middle bulk of the call, and the end summing up.
2. Say everything that you need to in order to explain your reason for calling. State when you will return the call or request that the other person call you back. If you have to leave a message, be concise.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The manifest destiny of artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence began with an ambitious research agenda: To endow machines with some of the traits we value most highly in ourselves—the faculty of reason, skill in solving problems, creativity, the capacity to learn from experience. Early results were promising. Computers were programmed to play checkers and chess, to prove theorems in geometry, to solve analogy puzzles from IQ tests, to recognize letters of the alphabet. Marvin Minsky, one of the pioneers, declared in 1961: “We are on the threshold of an era that will be strongly influenced, and quite possibly dominated, by intelligent problem-solving machines.”
Fifty years later, problem-solving machines are a familiar presence in daily life. Computer programs suggest the best route through cross-town traffic, recommend movies you might like to see, recognize faces in photographs, transcribe your voicemail messages and translate documents from one language to another. As for checkers and chess, computers are not merely good players; they are unbeatable. Even on the television quiz show Jeopardy, the best human contestants were trounced by a computer.
In spite of these achievements, the status of artificial intelligence remains unsettled. We have many clever gadgets, but it’s not at all clear they add up to a “thinking machine.” Their methods and inner mechanisms seem nothing like human mental processes.
Perhaps we should not be bragging about how smart our machines have become; rather, we should marvel at how much those machines accomplish without any genuine intelligence.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Tamil writing system as an app - a response to some comments

At least a couple of people raised the concern regarding whether the Tamil writing system proposal would require people to learn new sounds. It seems that the concern is about the audience for the writing system - - or as I would like to put it, the concern is regarding the market and any potential requirements placed by this product on the market's population. It would be useful to clarify at this point that the target market for this is people in the United States and Singapore. Furthermore, it is only for specialized users. It is only for people who would want to represent these sounds. It is not intended for elementary and middle school children, for example. Again, I would like to emphasize that this system is only intended for use by specialized users.

The reason for my choosing this population is not that this system would only work for specialized users from the United States and Singapore. The reason is that, first, this subject area is highly political and so I want to basically avoid all the politics around this by simply saying that this system is being made available for those who would like to use it. If you don't like it, don't use it. As simple as that. This also allows me to not worry too much about politics involving people in the Third World, academics in various departments in various universities, et cetera. These people may not have had the best educational opportunities and may therefore have trouble learning entirely new sounds (because they may be from extremely disadvantaged backgrounds). I am referring, of course, to the people in the Third World, the first population referenced. The question of whether this former population of people should be made to learn new sounds and letters arises (given that the educational system in the Third World is uneven in terms of quality) and this is certainly a valid concern. Second, there are many sociological concerns about whether new sounds should be introduced into a language in the first place. However, as I clarify below, I am not proposing to introduce any new sounds into Tamil. This system is intended simply to represent sounds that journalists and writers in Tamil already are required today to represent as part of their jobs.

Indeed, I have kept my system to what  I would like to call an optimal minimum - neither so little is proposed that no significant value is attained nor so much that it creates political problems. When I think back to some results I have seen in the field (based on some work I was doing while at Harvard Business School), it would appear that it would be better for languages to have fewer symbols and sounds, not more, especially since having a very large number of symbols and sounds may impose a heavier burden on poorer children (and note that I am talking about poor children in the Third World) who may already know to speak the language (as native speakers) but do not have family members who can teach them to read. This is indeed a good reason why policy makers would not want to allow new sounds in a language. In fact, I think that this may be the only one good reason why issues around language would acquire a political hue. It is for this reason that I am not proposing to introduce any new sounds into Tamil.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A note of thanks and the theme for July and August

I have been corresponding with Prof. P. V. Viswanath on my Tamil writing system proposal as well. Many thanks to him for his thoughtful comments. This proposal wouldn't be the same without his inputs and responses.  Thanks once again to George Hart and Harold Schiffman for their comments.

I have office hours on Monday, July 2nd, between 7:30 am and 8:15 am PST. (I have office hours again on August 6th between 7:30 and 8:15 a.m PST. I am also scheduling office hours for the next two months - September 3 and October 1, same time.) The theme for July and August is "Innovation and Competitive Strategy". Watch out for posts on this theme.  Please feel free to call me during office hours if you have any comments or questions.

Please note that I enforce office hours time slots pretty strictly. This is because we only have 45 minutes of office hours time in total. It may be possible to reschedule our office hours slots in case you need additional time to talk.

Update: Added a picture of George L. Hart to the post - in appreciation.