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30 Sep

This post is a reflection on a conversation I had with a friend of mine.

There’s a lot of noise out there.

An ear receives a sound wave, which our brain then maps to something in our memory, perhaps a word or a feeling.  Most of the time though, our ears aren’t just receiving one wave at a time.  In fact, I’d wager that our ears are constantly bombarded with waves from different sources (or the superposition of these waves).  As I write this, I’m hearing a professor lecture in a nearby classroom, the gentle taps of my fingers on the keyboard, the faint him of the air conditioning, the occasional shuffling of paper… and the list goes on and on.  Yet despite all of this noise, if someone was to walk up to me and start a conversation, I would be perfectly capable of interpreting their sound.  This is a testament to the design of the way our ears and brain work.  The assumption is that people care most about the loudest signal, so our brain naturally gives the most weight and processing to the loudest sound.

Ideally though, if you’re really trying to focus on understanding a sound, you want to isolate the sound from the noise.  When you go to a symphony, you’re asked to be silent.  When you go to a movie, the only sound is coming from the speakers.  In a lecture, the professor is the only one speaking.  This is so because in order to maximize the ability of our brain to interpret a sound, it needs to be completely focused on just that sound.  Noise disrupts out focus, which weakens the brain’s ability to interpret, and therefore the depth of our understanding of the sound.

So why all this talk about ears and sound?  Well, I’ll get there.  But first, I want to talk about the eyes.

There’s so much to see in the world.  Every moment our eyes are open, our eyes are receiving signals from different wavelengths of light rays, which are interpreted as colors.  These colors are then sent to our brain, which maps clusters of colors to objects we are familiar with.  But unlike sound, we have more control of what our eyes focus on.  Our eyes don’t fixate on the ‘loudest signal’ like our ears do.

Despite this difference, when we really want to understand an object seen by our eyes, we try to isolate that particular object.  The walls around a painting at an art gallery are white.  A movie theater is completely dark except for the screen.  We isolate these objects so that we force ourselves to focus in on the object we’re trying to understand.  Because we have more control of our eyes, we need to exercise discipline to focus on particular objects.  In this way,we are note overwhelmed and are more able to understand what we’re looking at on a deeper level.

In our new technology enabled society, we have access to an infinite amount of information.  This is great.  As Thomas Friedman talked about in his book The World is Flat, the playing field is essentially even for anyone in the world with an internet connection.

While access to this information is beneficial to society in so many ways, it is also detrimental.  With so much information at our fingertips, it’s vey easy to be overwhelmed.  It’s hard to know what information we should care about.  It’s hard to know which information we should spend time processing, and which information we should ignore.

I find that most people are glued to this access to information.  Walking around campus, almost every person is either holding their phone, or has their hand in their pocket ready to pull out their phone in an instant.  In study rooms, classes, and dorm rooms, almost all students have their laptops open.  And even more, they’ll have their e-mail, facebook, twitter, and various other hubs of information open simultaneously, as if they can read e-mails and articles at the same time as looking at the photos from last weekends frat party.  The existence and success of twitter is testament to the belief that we now prefer shorter chunks of information.

We can look at information in the same way we do sound and images above.  There’s so much information being literally ‘pushed’ down to our devices.  How can we focus on the information that matters, and the information that doesn’t matter?  How do we avoid becoming a society of people who know a little bit about a lot, as opposed to a lot about a little?

Perhaps we have to set aside time each day where we can engage in an activity that requires deep analysis uninterrupted.  Or perhaps the need to specialize isn’t as important as it used to be.

The internet is a great asset, but needs to be used wisely.  Stop and think about it when you get a chance.


Exciting industries

31 Aug

Cleantech.  Renewables, energy storage, energy production, energy efficiency, sustainable design.  Current energy sources are diminishing and negatively impacting our environment, what technologies will power the future?  How will this effect our lifestyles?

Healthcare.  Fitness, medical devices, healthcare software, neuroscience.  People are living very unhealthy lifestyles.  Many ‘outdated’ diseases still killing millions all over the world.  Cancer.  What can we do to increase life expectancy?

Entertainment.  Games, movies, music.  Technology is pushing the limits on the level of immersion we expect from our entertainment experiences, but at the heart of good entertainment lies some very fundamental concepts.

Food/Agriculture.  Growing population, especially in emerging markets and third world countries.  How can we meet the demand?  How can we feed the hungry?  How can we be healthier?

Internet.  Social networks, viral phenomenon.  The extremely powerful ability to share information in an instant.  How can we harness the internet to improve life?

Space travel.  The worlds going to blow up some day.  Where do we go?  What’s out there?

These are some of my interests.  What are you interested in???

And in the natural course of things…

12 Aug

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As summer comes to an end, new transitions begin.  Out goes the summer job, the traveling abroad, the couch potatoing and old friends. In comes a new school semester, new people and new ideas.  Some things are hard to let go of, others we are happy to rid ourselves of.  Some will embrace new challenges and opportunities, while others will worry about the unknown.

It’s important that we don’t mindlessly transition.  There is a huge opportunity during transition points to learn from the past and alter our course going forward.  Just take a few minutes and reflect on questions like the following…

  1. Did I have goals? Did I meet my goals?
  2. What have I learned from my experiences?
  3. How has my direction changed? How should I change my direction?

As you reflect on your past and make plans for the future, you can start viewing your life as a story.  A good story is all about transitions.  From poverty to riches, from criminal to hero, or from depression to happiness, we revel in the protagonist’s transitions.

So what’s your next chapter?

Why college is the best time to experiment

26 Jul

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College can be a fantastic opportunity.  I wish that everyone realized this.  For this post, I’m primarily talking to people who don’t have to worry about paying their tuition (either their parents are paying for it, or they have scholarships).  On the other hand, if you are paying for your own school, I give you nothing but mad respect.

Anyways, if you do happen to fall into the first category, I do hope you are taking advantage of this incredible situation.  You’re living for free.  You have very few obligations outside of school work.  School work doesn’t take up all of your time (if it does, I’m sorry to hear that, but you must be killing yourself).  You don’t have to deal with maintaining a home, working a full-time job, being responsible for other human beings, etc… Basically, it’s great.

There will never be a time quite like this for the rest of your life.  If you don’t take advantage of this precious, FREE time, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say you’re losing out on a huge opportunity.  You’ve got nothing to lose, you’re in safe ground.  If you go out and try 100 new things, and fail at every single one of them, so what?  You’re still in school, living your life, getting a great education.  No harm done.

Therefore, I challenge all of you to do something with this time.  Try to become a master juggler, learn to speak a Khoisan language, start a business selling hand-sewed mittens, or write a novel about an insect on an epic adventure.  Just do something, anything!  This is your chance to learn about who you are as a person, what you enjoy, and form new friendships with interesting people.

I’m not interested in your excuses, and frankly no one will feel sorry for you when you look back on your years in university, wishing you tried new things.  So if you haven’t done this so far, now’s your chance, you still have a lot of time left.  And if you’ve already been doing this, great!  In fact, we’d love to hear about it.

So next time you’re at school and you’ve got some free time, think twice before you jump on Hulu and watch a few episodes of your favorite show, think twice before you study 10 hours when you only needed to study 4, think twice before… it’s too late.

Why native apps will lose

21 Jul

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We live in an app universe.  We live in a mobile devices universe.  Have you seen an Apple commercial lately?  There’s an app for almost anything on our phones these days.  However, not all apps are the same.  We like to group them into two categories, native and web.

A native app is an app that is installed on the device, for the iPhone this could me Mail, Notes, or any app you download from the iTunes App Store.  These apps usually offer users a better experience, because the operating system has control over how they are presented to users.  As an iPhone user, I’ve become used to the way apps are downloaded, the way they open, the way they update, the way they present notifications, the way they close, the way they enter the background and multitask, and a multitude of other details.  It is this familiarity that makes iPhone apps so pleasant.  I know that when I open the App Store and download the latest hot app, I will interact with it exactly the same way I do with all of my other apps.

Native apps are also nice because they are closer to the hardware than mobile web apps.  Processor intensive apps such as apps with rich graphics and animations just work and perform better natively because they can interact more closely with the GPU and processor.  This is one of the biggest hurdles to the uprising of the mobile web app seeing as how 20% of apps in the iTunes app store are games.

Enter Sencha Touch and SproutCore.  These two technologies essentially make it very easy for app developers to create web apps that function just like their native app counterparts by giving them access to the hardware (I will spare the details, but feel free to ask me if interested).  Imagine I’m facebook, and I want to create an app so that people can use facebook on their phones.  I have to make an app for the iOS devices, an app for Android devices, an app for webOS devices, an app for Blackberry devices and so on…

Or I could just make a mobile-optimized web app, an app that people access through a browser like Safari, Firefox, Chrome, and Internet Explorer from their phone.  And with the addition of these new frameworks, I can make some pretty sick apps in the browser that allow me to do cool things like detect touches, drags, swipes, pans, and do graphically intensive processes across all mobile platforms (eventually).

I predict these two technologies and others like them will usher in a new era of web apps for mobile platforms.  The development cost for a web app will be significantly lower than that of a native app.  The potential audience of a web app will be significantly higher than that of a native app.  It therefore makes sense for companies to start focusing their development efforts on mobile optimized web apps.  Over time, the web app will dominate, the native app will lose.


16 Jun

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Tesla Motors earlier today filed documents for an Initial Public Offering.

Tesla Motors started out as a Silicon Valley venture-backed electric car company that was founded in 2003 by ex-PayPal CEO and Founder – Elon Musk.  He is also the current CEO and CTO of SpaceX, a space transport company fighting furiously to lower the cost to deliver equipment above out atmosphere.  He has a very impressive track record for tackling complicated problems.  It fits then, that he is the man to lead the new born electric car company in a war against such giants as Toyota and Ford.

Tesla’s first and only commercially available vehicle is the Tesla Roadster, a luxurious and purely electric speed demon that is valued at $109,000.  It is known for it’s sleek design and impressive 0-60 in 4.0 seconds and has made Tesla a household name.  They’ve sold about ~1,000 vehicles to date, which puts total revenue at about 100 million.  Unfortunately, Tesla has never reported a profitable quarter.

However, with the IPO, the partnership with Toyota, and a new strategy, Tesla hopes to take the world by storm.  Their plan is to use the funds from the IPO to expedite the time to market for their newest model – the Tesla Model S (do I smell a link to the Ford Model T??) sedan.  A much more affordable vehicle with a price tag at ~$50,000.

Tesla plans to offer their shares between $14 and $16 dollars, and I am interested.  Although they will face hard times in the next few years as sales of their Roadster dwindle and production of the new model ramps up, I think Tesla has a huge opportunity to shake up the Detroit-based old school Automobile Industry with their Silicon Valley roots.

In other news, I bought some RAX last Friday.  Rackspace is an IT hosting company.  They operate data centers all over the world and have a very promising cloud hosting platform.  In fact, I am using their cloud platform for one of my projects and can attest to it’s quality and affordability, as have many other techies I’ve talked with.

The rate at which data generation is increasing is higher than the pace at which our capacity to store data is increasing.  Their services will be in strong demand for the foreseeable future.  Their product is strong, and they are well positioned to take advantage of the huge growth of data generation in the next 10 years.

So much excitement this week, hope you are all enjoying it!

We don’t need no… ed-u-cation

2 Jun

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Learning is a funny concept. In this day and age, Americans are expected to complete a minimum of 13 years of school. Tens of millions of students choose to extend their education for another 4 to 11 years. We believe that an educated society is a more moral society, a more productive society, a better society. And we’re right. However, I’m here to tell you that while we learn a good amount from classes, reading, homework, and from our peers, the ultimate learning experience is jumping straight int he deep end and getting your hands dirty. That’s right, I’m talking about a job.

Last Monday, I started my internship at Apple Inc., a mobile devices company in Cupertino, CA, famous for such products as the Apple Computer, Macintosh, iPod, iTouch, iPhone, Macbooks, and most recently, the iPad. Unfortunately, it turns out that Apple is a very secretive company. I am not allowed to talk about what I’m working on or what team I’m working for. So, I will talk about everything else.

Working at Apple as a rising sophomore is daunting. I feel as though I am lightyears behind my peers in terms of knowledge. I have to ask questions all the time. Things that would take a regular employee a few minutes sometimes take me a few hours. I spend most of my time listening to conversation without the slightest notion of what is being talked about.

Each morning I return to work, I feel a tiny bit more confident than the last. I imagine by the end of the Summer, I will have learned more than I did all year at school.

It is interesting to meet all the different people working here at Apple. My roommates and I combined come from the following cities: Dallas, Austin, Pittsburgh, Hawaii, Canada, and Boston. We have a lot of different perspectives, which is really cool to experience.

Cupertino is a suburb plain and simple. Neighborhoods are ubiquitous, shopping centers, grocery stores, movie theaters, restaurants, and all that good stuff. The main difference between Cupertino and other suburbs is the quantity of tech companies in the area. It is after all located in Silicon Valley. In a walk to the grocery store I passed by Apple, HP, Symantec, and half a dozen other smaller software companies. The focus on technology in this part of the country cannot be escaped. Restaurants embrace products such as Yelp and Foursquare. Coffee shops are filled with young techies jabbering about the latest news on TechCrunch and Hacker News.

While the omni-presence of technology is awesome, it can get overwhelming after looking at a computer screen for X many hours a day. Luckily, the beach is less than an hour away, a short drive through the mountains. The city of San Francisco is 45 minutes to the north. The beautiful campus and area of Palo Alto just a short 15 minutes to the west. All in all, a great location.

As I mentioned, my last few weeks have been really busy, but I have been doing some homework on the markets. More normal posts to come the next time I get a chance to write. As they say in silicon valley, exit(0).

Second time’s the charm

20 May

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Today, Apple finally decided to approve my second iPhone application – Beamz.  I initially submitted Beamz to the Apple App Store two weeks ago, on May 5th.  In my mind, I had sufficiently tested Beamz.  No bugs, no crashes, smooth gameplay, everything seemed great.  But one week later on May 12th, I received an e-mail from Apple saying that my application was rejected.  Apparently, I had made a very foolish oversight.  I forgot to test the app on a much older version of the iPhone OS.  Sure enough, I loaded the app on my old 1st gen iPhone and it crashed.  I made a couple of quick fixes in the code, and resubmitted the binary to Apple.

Now, one week later, Beamz has been approved – and is now on the Apple App Store.

I spent a lot of time on Beamz, which is kind of strange because it’s a very simple game.  Developing an application during the school year was very difficult.  It was hard to find a solid 1-2 hours where I could just sit down and crunch on development.  And when I did, I would spend a good bit of time figuring out where I left off the last time and what I needed to do.  As the semester went on I got better at this by keeping track of what I was working on, problems I encountered, bugs, and what I still needed to do in a spreadsheet.  This helped a lot.

You’ll note that the graphics and sound in the game are really high quality – and for this I have two guys I found over the internet to thank!  They’re names are in the credits in the App Description so you can check it out there.  We were constantly emailing each other our ideas, feedback, and progress updates throughout the semester.  We collaborated without ever talking face to face over the internet pretty effectively, and it’s fulfilling to finally see our work come to fruition.

So I hope you all go download Beamz now! I’m very excited to move on to a new project, I don’t know what it will be yet – but exciting nonetheless!

The other half…

17 May

The Man Cave gets a break for the summer

And as one good thing comes to an end(temporarily)… an even greater journey begins.  Looking forward to an eventful Summer – I will be keeping you all posted on my journeys and ideas.  So until next time, I will be sitting on my couch watching movies.

In the depths of textbooks – a thought emerges

13 May

It’s finals week here at UT Austin.  The study rooms are packed, the air is filled with the ambient noise of pages turning, keyboard taps, and frequent groans from restless students.  I am currently taking a break from studying for my Diff Eq final to write this post.  I was sitting here methodically working through the types of problems our TA told us might be on the test.  My rational mind tells me that if I know how to do every possible problem that could show up on the exam, I will do well.

That’s the way school works, unfortunately.  I am sitting here, not really learning the material, but force feeding my brain information in order to well on an exam so that I will have a good GPA.

Why do I want a good GPA? It’s a way of measuring my academic performance relative to my peers.  It’s a way others can measure my academic performance relative to my peers.  BUT, it is not a measure of what I know, how smart I am, or my future success.

Ideally, we should be motivated by our thirst for knowledge, our desire to use our education to make the world a better place.  But instead we care about our GPA’s.  Why? Because it’s what we are judged on.

When we apply to graduate schools and search for jobs,  internships or other interesting opportunities – we will be judged partly by our GPA.  Jobs and graduate education are worth a lot in today’s society.  They either help us make a living or give us the potential to improve our lifestyle.  This makes students believe there is a strong correlation between GPA and future financial success.

When it all comes down to it, I don’t believe your GPA is important.  I believe you should focus on building your skills in areas that interest you, making personal connections in a variety of areas, and learning all that you can from your classes, peers, and mentors.