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The Chimp & I

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

I often claim the label of Luddite and am know to my friends as a digital dinosaur (I spent the weekend upgrading from Office 2003 to 2007).

I’m not a lover of the Internet of Things, because I believe anything/everything can be hacked. (If you have evidence to the contrary, please share).

To me, the idea of hackable self-driving cars is a nightmare and drones make me cringe.

Obviously, I’m not the only one who feels this way.

It seems my revulsion is shared by my distant cousins.

However, if I react the same way I would probably be sued and possibly jailed.

The problem, of course, is that technology is light years ahead of society, not only on a moral/ethical level, but on a consideration of consequences — of which there seems to be none.

Video credit: Bergers’ Zoo

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Entrepreneurs: Disrupting Complexity

Thursday, April 9th, 2015


Entrepreneurs love to talk about disrupting.

Most recently they have been disrupting finance.

Harvard’s Jim Heskett posits the idea that tech itself is ripe for disruption, especially if you agree with Clayton M. Christensen, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma.

Tech is ungainly for many of us.

Too much of it is developed by the young for the young

Both hardware and software are built by techies in love with the bleeding edge for early adopters and people captivated by potential — whether they will ever have use for it is incidental.

We’re told that the typical user of information technology today utilizes less than 5 percent of the capability made available by today’s hardware and software. A small number of basic functions repeatedly are put to good use by the typical user. They are the need-to-have functions. The functions thought by designers to be nice to have may enhance marketing efforts and satisfy software engineers’ desires to make complex things, but they largely go unused. For some, they even make access to “need to have” functions more confusing.

While many companies add (expensive) bells and whistles to drive growth, others work to provide a more minimalist approach that crushes competitors.

Heskett uses Intuit as an example of a company that focuses on consistently making its software simpler.

It did it by providing simple and inexpensive solutions to everyday problems. Scott [Cook, Intuit co-founder] likes to say that Intuit had 47th mover advantage, in part because it adopted a strategy that identified the pencil as the company’s most important competitor.

Does Heskett’s idea have legs? Is tech, in fact, ripe for Intuit-quality disruption?

If you have strong feelings or thoughts on the subject be sure to add your thoughts to the open forum; Even if you don’t comment it’s worth following; Heskett’s ideas always draw eclectic, well thought-through responses from his audience.

Image credit: Harvard Business School

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Entrepreneurs: FinTech at Trading Show West Coast 2015

Thursday, March 12th, 2015

FinTech, the wedding between finance and technology, is a hotbed of startups and innovation, especially in London. Now it’s lighting the fires of the investment community in Silicon Valley, so I prevailed on Ajo Fod, who knows the FinTech world well, first as a quant and now as an entrepreneur, to attend the Trading Show and share his observations with you.

Ajo FodI had the pleasure of attending Trading Show West Coast 2015: West Coast’s leading quant, automated trading and big data event last week. This is one of the most legitimate trading shows I’ve seen and truly geared to professionals.

The first thing that caught my eye, was the surprisingly large majority wearing business attire; I was expecting some confusion. Google tried to hold down the fort of casual-at-work and a few people were dressed in jeans, with long-sleeved shirts for good measure.

But finance won over West Coast causal even in San Francisco. My decision to dress in a brown suit and a tie was just the right measure down from full business dress.

I was impressed by the balance between different groups of professionals. Quants / traders / investors / hardware / risk management and students were all well represented.

Different scales of enterprise from startups to micro hedge funds to medium sized funds, such as AXA Rosenberg, to industry titans like BNY Mellon Financial and Blackrock were there, too.

The mix of speakers, from hardware tech providing fast access to markets to macro thoughts from Lex Huberts, was good, especially considering the audience.

Systematic trading and HFT is no longer about the fastest execution. The marginal advantage from trading faster needs to be weighed carefully against the cost of the infrastructure, while the ability to forecast farther into the future is significant.

Apparently, the fastest access to markets is provided by Algo Logic. They sell machines that race the path from tick data reception to placing trades in 1.2micro seconds!

They achieve this by storing the logic in hardware in FPGA (field-programmable gate array). They include trading logic and risk checks on the chip to achieve this kind of reaction time.

The speed is used to grab favorably priced orders before anyone else can. The winners at any speed tend to be the ones with higher algorithmic sophistication. The direction of development in this field tends to be about adding computing power to the FPGA.

The discussion on Co-location vs Cloud Servers focused on the tradeoff between speed and algorithmic sophistication.

Pravil Gupta of Quadeye Trading and Bert Shen from SuperMicro are both suppliers of HFT technology. The difference is that one is about more sophisticated but still very fast trading while the other is at the higher speed end of the spectrum.

Speed is not everything in the HFT world. The incremental speed edge costs significantly. While there will always be fast traders that grab obviously mispriced orders over a short time horizon, others will play the game of taking the not so short-term bet.

The roundtables covered a list of varied topics. As expected the round table audiences in the Bay Area were largely focused on state-of-the-art in Big Data and deep learning.

These technologies could be the future, but I don’t see as much profitable application of these technologies as there is hype.

FinTech startups seem to be numerous in data services for the finance industry. iSentium: works on estimating the sentiment of tweets. Another works on interpreting SEC filings. Strategies are being fed information faster to produce more efficient markets.

The past was a speed race. The future is going to be about more information used in smarter ways.

For example, Alpha Sangha, my startup, combines information from a variety of data-sources using complex models/algorithms that maximize profitability while filtering out noise.

Acronyms come and go, so here are three relatively new ones stay aware of.

BRIC : Brazil Russia India China
MINT : Mexico Indonesia Nigeria Turkey
ESG: refers to the three main areas of concern that have developed as central factors in measuring the sustainability and ethical impact of an investment in a company or business

Ajo Fod is the founder of Alpha Sangha, which helps companies optimize complex forecasting models or algorithms based on large quantities of past data while avoiding the common pitfall of noise. They can further increase profitability by mining for model/algorithm variants that are better fits based on historical data.

Ajo previously worked as a quant at BGI/Blackrock and Mellon. He has masters degrees in both Computer Science (AI) and Operations Research (optimization). He earned a BTech degree from the prestigious IIT-Madras.

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Entrepreneurs: Another Myth-Killing Role Model

Thursday, February 5th, 2015


Myth: innovation is the province of the young.

Myth: old companies don’t innovate.

Myth: successful startups IPO.

Myth: billionaire founders live loud.

Oops. Chester Pipkin, founder, chief executive and chairman of Belkin International, blows up all these myths.

Pipkin started his company in the 1980s in his parents garage and the innovation has never stopped — from the earliest days of computing to today’s Internet of things and on to tomorrow.

The company capitalized on the early explosion in personal computing, selling devices that connected computers to printers. Through the years the company has kept pace if not stayed ahead of the changing tech landscape. In 2014, Fast Co. named Belkin one of the 10 most innovative companies specializing in the “Internet of things” thanks to its Wemo line of Internet-connected home accessories.

Belkin is still private, has 1300 employees, a billion in sales and Pipkin keeps a very low profile.

He’s low on ego and high on hands-on philanthropy, as opposed to just writing checks.

Definitely a role model for all times.

Image credit: Belkin

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Entrepreneurs: A Lesson From IDEO

Thursday, January 29th, 2015


How would you respond to the following?

  • Would you hire a woman?
  • Would you hire an old woman?
  • A really old woman?
  • Could such a woman contribute significantly to a project?
  • What could she teach your hot, young engineers?

While most founders would answer ‘no’ or ‘nothing’, IDEO thinks differently.

The company recently hired Barbara Beskind and both she and IDEO consider her 90 years a major advantage.

She applied after seeing an interview with IDEO founder David Kelley, who talked about the importance of a truly diverse design team and hires accordingly.

The aging Boomer market has companies salivating and hundreds are developing products for them.

The problem, of course, is that younger designers have no idea what difficulties older people face; not the obvious ones, but those that are more subtle.

Beskind does.

For example, IDEO is working with a Japanese company on glasses to replace bifocals. With a simple hand gesture, the glasses will turn from the farsighted prescription to the nearsighted one. Initially, the designers wanted to put small changeable batteries in the new glasses. Beskind pointed out to them that old fingers are not that nimble.

It really caused the design team to reflect.” They realized they could design the glasses in a way that avoided the battery problem.

It’s the little things that make or break products and the knowledge of the little things comes mostly from having been there/done that.

That kind of insight is priceless.

Now how would you answer those questions?

Image credit: jm3 on Flickr

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Entrepreneurs: Wind And Water

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

Are you green? I love green, so today I thought I’d share two terrific super-green startups with you.

One targets energy and the other water.

One is from France and the other from Washington State.

Neither is one of the over-hyped hotbeds of innovation .

I adore the French approach to wind power, because it’s relatively small and draws its inspiration directly from the natural world.

Designer NewWind R&D has created a “silent” turbine called the Tree Vent that is supposed to blend into the landscapes which house it. It’s a 36ft-tall structure made of steel with 72 artificial leaves.

Pretty cool. In fact, I’d love to have one in my yard.

Next is Washington State startup Janicki Bioenergy; the company with the viral video of Bill Gates drinking water — water made from human poop. Its called an Omniprocessor.

The machine extracts water from sewage that’s piped in or delivered to the facility. The dry sewage is then incinerated to generate steam, which powers the entire machine.

And self-powering is what makes it perfect for entrepreneurs in emerging countries to start businesses.

Do you know of other radically super-green startups? Please share.

Image credit: Edip YALTIR and thegatesnotes

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Entrepreneurs: Tech vs. Responsibility And Accountability

Thursday, January 8th, 2015


Entrepreneurs are notorious for ignoring security — black hat hackers are a myth — until something bad happens, which, sooner or later, always does.

They go their merry way, tying all manner of things to the internet, even contraceptives and cars, and inventing search engines like Shodan to find them, with nary a thought or worry about hacking.

Concerns are pooh-poohed by the digerati and those voicing them are considered Luddites, anti-progress or worse.

Now Edith Ramirez, chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission, voiced those concerns at CES, the biggest Internet of Things showcase.

“Any device that is connected to the Internet is at risk of being hijacked,” said Ms. Ramirez, who added that the large number of Internet-connected devices would “increase the number of access points” for hackers.

Interesting when you think about the millions of baby monitors, fitness trackers, glucose monitors, thermostats and dozens of other common items available and the hundreds being dreamed up daily by both startups and enterprise.

She also confronted tech’s (led by Google and Facebook) self-serving attitude towards collecting and keeping huge amounts of personal data was the basis of future innovation.

“I question the notion that we must put sensitive consumer data at risk on the off chance a company might someday discover a valuable use for the information.”

At least someone in a responsible position has finally voiced these concerns — but whether or not she can do anything against tech’s growing political clout/money/lobbying power remains to be seen.

Image credit: centralasian

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The Wonder of ISS

Monday, December 8th, 2014

Rather than writing today I thought I would share my wonder and show you something amazing.

It’s the stuff of human dreams since time began.

The stuff that fires the imagination of anyone who sees it.

It’s a real-time view of Earth from the International Space Station.

Commentary and explanations from Business Insider.


Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

And in case you are a reader, here’s a link from KG to The Best Science Books of 2014.

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Entrepreneurs: David Kelly’s Mind Map

Thursday, December 4th, 2014


Brainstorming is as vital to disruption and innovation as pizza is to all-nighters.

But what if you have no one with which to brainstorm?

IDEO’s founder David Kelly brainstorms on his own; here’s how he does it.

“When I want to do something analytical, I make a list. When I’m trying to come up with ideas or strategize, I make a mind map. Mind maps are organic and allow me to free associate. They are great for asking questions and revealing connections between seemingly unrelated ideas. I start in the center with the issue or problem I am working on and then as I move farther away I get better and better ideas as I force myself to follow the branches on the map and in my mind. The cool thing is that you allow yourself to follow your inner thoughts, which is different than making a list where you are trying to be complete and deal with data.” Bloomberg Business Week

Here’s an example of how it works.


Image credit: IDEO and servicedesigntools.org

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Shodan and the Internet of Things

Monday, December 1st, 2014


Over the holiday weekend “Eric” canceled his email subscription and the reason given made me smile.

He said my post about the potential for hacking the “Internet of Things” was more fear-mongering than fact, so he was, as I always recommend, “voting with his feet” and unsubscribing.

Granted, I should have referenced my proof, but it’s hard to remember every article I read and this one dates back 15 months.

It’s an article about a search engine called Shodan — the Internet of Things’ worst nightmare.

Shodan crawls the Internet looking for devices, many of which are programmed to answer. It has found cars, fetal heart monitors, office building heating-control systems, water treatment facilities, power plant controls, traffic lights and glucose meters. (…) “Google crawls for websites. I crawl for devices,” says John Matherly, the tall, goateed 29-year-old who released Shodan in 2009.

Shodan wasn’t built for nefarious purposes, but intent has very little to do with actual usage.

Currently, Shodan is the only device search engine with public search results, which is, obviously, a boon to hackers.

However, I agree with Matherly, because if he hadn’t built it someone else would have.

“I don’t consider my search engine scary. It’s scary that there are power plants connected to the Internet.”

And, in case you are wondering, yes, I sent the article URL to Eric.

Flickr image credit: centralasian

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