"I have a great idea!!"

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

I was just browsing through my twitter feed and came across a picture of a chapter heading from Alexis Ohanian's recent book, "Without Their Permission" (credit to Daren Smith for the picture) and it inspired this post.

What do you do when you think you have a great idea? Many people sit on the idea, pumping themselves up about how great it is then ..... nothing. Why is that? Did they speak to friends and peers then realized the idea wasn't so great in the first place? Did they forget, get too busy with life? Or was it something else?

For some they realize that there's going down the start-up route isn't glamorous, it's a struggle, a fight to stay above water and it can be incredibly hard. For others it's that they don't have the necessary expertise that they feel they need to get things off the ground. While this is often a valid reason, for many people, this problem can be circumvented or at least mitigated somewhat by outsourcing, partnering with a technical founder or self-teaching while building. So why the hesitation?

From my own experiences and those of others I've spoken to on the issue fear is the primary reason people don't take the chance. Many opt against going for their ideas even if they're ground-breaking because they're afraid of failure, afraid of finding out that their ideas may not be that great, fear of doing something that isn't a sure thing. Even if the experience yields tremendous amounts of knowledge, helps build a network of people that you can call upon later in life, many are too afraid to give their ideas a go.

I know I am.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

It's been talked about to bits, and I've had my fair bit to add on Twitter about the entire thing but I felt like far too many people, especially those most up in arms about the deal in the first place are being quite narrow-minded concerning the potential of VR technology going forward.

Most people see VR as only having real applications in gaming, which while a large addressable market in any reasonable sense of the word would hardly value such a lofty valuation. Especially when one considers that the people most interested in Oculus-like technology are likely to be hardcore gamers, of which there are only a few tens of millions at best. Given the price of the technology (though it's likely to come down) and the intrusiveness of the experience, it's unlikely to gain the sort of mass-market adoption that smartphones have garnered if this is the sole use. Luckily Mark Zuckerberg and thus Facebook don't think in such limited ways.

Mark Zuckerberg for all his faults, perceived or otherwise is a man on a mission. Connecting all people through technology is his end goal, preferably through Facebook owned and controlled technology. Considering the reach Facebook already has and their recent acquisition of Whatsapp it's fair to say that they're well on their way to that goal. However, as Microsoft, Nokia and Blackberry can attest, missing the next big thing can have dire consequences on your future prospects. Mark has no intention of missing the next big thing, and VR, powered by Oculus may very well be that.


Gaming is the obvious application, the one that has been pushed into our minds through decades of film, comic books and science fiction and one that makes sense. However, many of the major possible use cases for VR arise when one combines it telecommunications technology. Telepresence as it is currently exists, consists of off-the-shelf video conferencing equipment shoe-horned into proprietary "solutions". They all have the same limitations though, limited point of view, unnatural controls (mouse and keyboard are not natural, though they are familiar) and have the unfortunate side effect of pulling people out of the experience they're trying to have.

Telepresence coupled with VR could allow individuals to share experiences in a more holistic and natural fashion, regardless of distance. It could allow individuals with severe disabilities to experience things that they might otherwise never have. Further developments in telepresence coupled with robotics could remove the need for human beings to take risks performing dangerous jobs such as mining in hazardous environments. By the same token, VR could be used to augment existing and relatively safe/mundane tasks.

Education is already being disrupted through the growth of MOOCs and VR can be the killer app for widespread, high quality, remote education. Healthcare is another sector that could benefit from VR technology. Robotic surgery is a rapidly growing field and though studies concerning long-term benefits of these surgeries have yet to yield significant results,  the benefits in terms of complications and readmission rates are a known quantity. Adding more natural visual feedback and finding ways to further decouple a surgeon's knowledge and ability to fix a problem from their physical limitations could be incredibly powerful.

Of course, much of the following relies on improvements to the telecommunications infrastructure around the world and of course here in the United States, something that some telecoms companies have been doing little of in the past several years. Furthermore, providing these capabilities to all people, rather than just the affluent is something we should strive for. Of course, whether these improvements to infrastructure and the dream of widespread, immensely powerful and useful VR come to pass is up for debate.

Building something.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Being unhappy with the status quo, your job, your home, your life in general are all common enough occurrences. The motivation, will or expertise required to change any of the above is not. All too often, intelligent or driven people go through life dissatisfied with the state of things, if only because they're too afraid or too "busy" to bother trying to enact any changes.

Like most people, I've felt those things and right now, I mean to change at least a few of them. I love solving problems, asking tough questions and looking for the answers to said questions. I love building things, if only to see whether they're viable and this year, 2014, I'm choosing to do those things, instead of settling for the droning monotony of my current job/life.

This blog will cover my thoughts on random happenings in the tech space, my thoughts/readings on entrepreneurship and will serve to chronicle any of my attempts to build a viable business/startup here in NYC.

I guess it makes sense to start with a  little background information on me.

At the current time, I'm a 24 year old with a Bachelor's in Biology (Minor in Bioinformatics) working at one of the preeminent research hospitals in the US. I work on the moreboring and dreary side of clinical research ^_^ .

Where I grew up, in Antigua, the focus of most education is to transition into a professional of the traditional sort. Think Lawyer, Doctor, Accountant, Mechanic. Individuals that are always in reasonably high demand and almost always lucrative if competent.

My initial life plan was to go to medical school and why not? There's always a need for doctors, it's prestigious enough and opportunities wouldn't be too far away.  I loved the sciences, especially Biology and Chemistry and my grades were certainly good enough to get me into one somewhere.

The first seeds of doubt sprouted at the end of my Freshman year of college. I'd shadowed a few doctors by then, interned in a hospital or two but what I saw there, while interesting, didn't seem to fit with my idea of career. It seemed, monotonous and somehow constrained. Having spoken to a few of my professors about my concerns, I decided to try my hand at academic research. On the face of it, asking questions of the world, designing experiments to test one's hypothesis, validating or refuting the assumption of hypothesis, it seemed perfectly tailored for me. 

For a year and a half, I did a fair bit of that, primarily in biomedical engineering and synthetic biology. Lovely, interesting and growing fields to be sure but again I couldn't shake the feeling that again, it wasn't for me. Perhaps it was the extent of the focus on the most minute of problems/questions that put me off. Or maybe it was the feeling that practical application in a reasonable timeframe was not just unimportant but repugnant. In any case, again I determined that right now, that side of things wasn't for me.

So on to the next one for me! Clinical research, research focused primarily on end results, asking important questions, doing important work on what can easily be considered one of mankind's biggest scourges, cancer. Early on, I was incredibly excited by what I might be able to do there. After all, I was pretty much on the cutting edge of practical and possibly immediately applicable research. A year in, and I realized while there was lots of research being done, I wasn't as big a part of it as I had wanted to be. Understandable of course, I was on the lowest rung of the totem pole, one of the most junior people there and I just didn't have the level of education that many of the MDs, PhDs and the other clinicians and researchers did. At the same time however, I felt like it would be years, far too many in fact, before I was going to be given the opportunities that I'd been made to believe were available.

Something else that bothered me was noticing that "newer" individuals in my position were getting to work on the projects that I coveted; even with  my greater level of research experience and willingness to do the dirty work.  I held no grudges at the time but it would later come to my attention was the political landscape (who knew who & relationships outside of the workplace) was influencing my ability (or inability) to make the impact that I felt I could. While it shouldn't have surprised me as much as it did, it made me realize that a meritocratic system was all but impossible to enforce (and not desirable for some) in an organization as large as this one.

So where'd that leave me? 

A tad frustrated for sure but it's been an educational 2 years in clinical research. For starters I learned that I'm not much of a schmoozer, prefer my work to speak for me, prefer to communicate and be communicated with in a clear, straightforward fashion, despise disingenuous behavior and more than anything prefer to work in small, tight groups with common and aligned goals. I learned that being made aware of the big picture makes me work better, harder, longer and helps me to prioritize tasks and effectively manage my time. I learned that having something that you're incredibly passionate about helps motivate me and keeps me incredibly focused.

Having mulled these observations over for a couple months, I realized that working in a small, tech focused company (given my own hobbies) was probably the best place for me. Alas, having spent most of my formative years not doing much engineering, electrical or otherwise and only did a sliver of programming and little of it in the conventional sense.

So I sat on things, for a while, looking at alternatives to my current predicament that would enable me to leverage skills that I already had but still represented a transition to the environment I thought was best for me and where I could make a significant impact on a regular basis regardless of role. Looking online for opportunities in that space is about as likely to be successful as peeing into the wind. Serendipitously, I've bumped into one or two people in my travels that have provided helpful advice on remedying the issue.

So here I am

Working on building something in my time away from the job, constantly improving my programming with help from MIT Open Courseware, networking via NYESN, reading a boatload including this gem and picking the brains of former professors, bosses and friends.

Hopefully, it works out.

On Google, and Nest

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

On Google and Nest

Google’s M &A arm has been plenty busy in the past fewmonths to say the least. The purchase of Waze in June of last year was followed by Bump, Flutter, a slew of robotics companies culminating in the purchase of Boston Dynamics (of terrifying youtube fame). Today they’ve just announced theacquisition of Nest labs, the home automation company for some 3.2 Billion dollars. Given that the company has but two products in the market at the current time and is involved in an industry that Google has had ZERO stake in thus far, it seems to be a strange buy, on the surface at least.

For starters, Nest very recently completed another investment roundwherein they picked up 150m dollars in capital. For a company with less than 500 people, only 2 products in the public domain (announced or shipped) there seems to be little need to cash out (and this is a cash-only deal).
So what was it? What turn of events could have possibly led to this decision?

There is the investor-founder relationship which could well have been a rough one. We’re not exactly sure what sort of profits or sales number the company had been hitting and with such premium products (the learning thermostat starts at $249.00 and the smoke detector at $129.00) it’s entirely possible that the founder were getting a lot of pushback from investors for failing to hit certain targets. This could lead to hostile takeovers, difficulty raising further capital and has the unfortunate side effect of distracting the executive team from their goal(s) to grow Nest into a viable business.

Other alternatives include the need to get into more homes in order to create an even better product for end users which is difficult for a start up attempting to disrupt what is an admittedly slow-moving and innovation-averse industry like home improvement. Like many other small companies, it's possible that Nest realized that despite the importance of having a brilliant product and a web presence, the target audience of this product are likely to buy them in brick & mortar locations. This in turn necessitates significant logistical expenditure. Coupled with selling a physical product is the need for customer service, widespread marketing, packaging and all the other odds and ends that come along with such a venture.

How then, does a small company, selling expensive, albeit good products go about fixing these problems? Partner with someone else, or get acquired by a company that doesn’t mind selling products at or below cost. We all know of one company with extensive experience in moving into new industries, selling below cost (or for free) while using the data gained to support its primary business, Google.
Of course, one of Nest’s key investors has been Google Ventures, the Venture capital arm of Google. Which leads one to believe that they got some inside information that made the prospect of owning the entity that is Nest far too tempting to pass up. Fair? Probably not. Good for the end-user? Unlikely. Google can easily buy, subvert & shutter any competing product(s) or stop others from hitting critical mass through acquisitions much like the Nest and Waze purchases. This makes me wonder why anyone would sign on with an investor like Google, regardless of assurances about firewalls and independence of their VC arm.

Regardless of what happens next for Nest, it’ll be interesting to see whether this push is part of some long term Google goal to do everything, be everywhere and be indispensable to your day to day life. Take a minute to consider what the world would look like if Google’s impact in the home or the world of physical good and services mirrors its impact and control on the web. It’s a sobering thought.

Apple launch the iPhone 4S, iOS5 and iCloud is it as revolutionary as we thought?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The "New" iPhone

iPhone 4S was finally launched yesterday amid a maelstrom of expectation, wish-listing and hype. Alas, the general opinion of many in the technology space was/is genuine disappointment, predominantly at the hardware. Let's make this clear though, Apple has never been one to adopt bleeding edge technologies and fill their devices to the brim with features. They've always maintained that quality of experience and simplicity were the more significant deciding factors for consumers and have geared their products towards those goals for time immemorial. That said, the iPhone 4S is far removed from an obsolete device in terms of technology.

Using build materials and quality that to this date only Nokia have ever managed to approach, they built a chassis with the iPhone 4 that to this day is impressive not just for the size (or lack there of) but the level of design that went into creating it. I dare you to name one other manufacturer that used Gorilla Glass and stainless steel as the only materials in the external construction! As for the internals, though not a lot is completely new, (dual core processor, updated baseband chip) there are some aspects that are truly impressive.
 The new GPU, likely to be a downclocked (compared to the iPad 2), dual-core PowerVR SGX543 chip is easily better than every GPU currently on the market and likely a few more that are still unreleased, including the Tegra 3 GPU and Qualcomm's additions for its upcoming chipsets.

For the sake of perspective, the GPU in the new iPhone as seen in the iPad is able to push twice as many pixels as the best currently utilised GPU (the Mali-400 MP4) as seen in the Samsung Galaxy S2, while simultaneously outperforming the Galaxy S2 in both the number of triangles drawn and in Fill Rate as well. Considering that Apple likely aimed for similar (if not exact performance numbers) on both devices, it's fair to say that the 4S is to the mobile gaming industry what the 3GS was before it. The new standard, the "Halo" device that their best efforts will go toward.

The new camera, utilising technologies that the best in the industry (Nokia of course) have used to significant effect on their camera phones such as ND filters, wide apertures and complex lens construction, is another step up for Apple and deserves a mention. Albeit in the current age it is likely a bit run of the mill compared to devices like the Galaxy S2, N8 and HTC myTouch Slide in terms of special capabilities.

The biggest improvement on the hardware side would have to be the single radio SKU and thus single device for us the world over. Combining a GSM-based baseband with a CDMA supporting baseband on the same Qualcomm chip, iPhone users on CDMA carriers will be able to roam on global carriers with ease, possibly even being able to pop and swap out their SIM cards at will. This also has the added effect of making a world-wide simultaneous release possible while decreasing the complexity of hardware and manufacturing that needs to be done by Apple.

That said, there are quite a few disappointments with this "new" hardware, predominantly the lack of LTE-compatible hardware and missing NFC. It's unlikely that these omissions will mean much in the near term, ~ 1 year, due to adoption rates of these technologies but these omissions make upgrades from the iPhone 4 to the 4S all the more unlikely as users struggle to determine what the differences between the two are. In any case, these omissions are more due to limitations of current technology and space/design constraints than they are willful omissions on Apple's part.

To the avid follower, it would appear that Apple is following a similar product cycle to Intel. That is to to say that there is usually a big improvement in specifications, handset design and chipset process followed by a much more minor improvement to specifications while maintaining the same basic hardware design; Something Intel calls "Tick-Tock". On this basis, the hardware improvements seen thus far make perfect sense and justify why the major changes in this product cycle are software related.

iOS has evolved quickly from what was more or less a dumbed-down feature phone without even so much as video recording on initial release to becoming one of the most stable whilst still functional mobile device operating systems available today. Sure it's not feature-packed, easily unlockable or very flexible but the things it allows and does are often done very well.

The changes that came with the new version of iOS deal primarily with very slightly better integration and sharing with social media services like twitter, much improved notifications system and substantial ties to the cloud and a few apple services. The biggest addition is Siri, the voice and artificial intelligence software whose makers Apple acquired in early 2010. Unlike most voice-enabled software available today, Siri doesn't appear to be limited to a small set of key words and phrases but rather the user can freely interact with the software much like one would another person. As Apple have previously stated, it's a lot like your own personal assistant and the capabilities here are staggering. Whilst many mobile operating systems today feature at least a few key voice commands, Siri's implementation is a hop-step and jump beyond what anyone else has managed to put into devices to date.

That's not to say that in day to day activity that it's a wholly practical proposition but the technology therein is  really, really good. Stephen Elop, CEO of Nokia mentioned a few months back that voice-control, increasingly context-aware applications and predictive algorithms would be the future of mobile devices, highlighting it as a key feature that sets Windows Phone apart from other operating systems. Whilst that may have been true then, it's fairly obvious that iOS5 and Siri have retaken that crown, at least for the time being.

iCloud on the other hand is a feature Apple have continued to drum up both at WWDC in June and now at the launch of iPhone 4S. The main elements of iCloud, iTunes in the cloud, Documents in the cloud, Photo's in the cloud, Apps and Books in the cloud, Cloud backup and Find my iPhone/friends while new to iOS aren't particularly new to other operating systems.

Both Android and Windows Phone have web-accessible means of reinstalling, installing and managing applications on the device while away from the computer. Windows Phone takes this all a step further by allowing automatic syncing of Office documents (just like Documents in the Cloud does), Photos and music via Skydrive AND Zune along with  a web-based find my phone feature. All of which have and continue to be available to users. What's more is that SkyDrive offers 5 times the storage of Apple's Documents in the Cloud with the exact same rules and restrictions.  Features that by and large will have been available for well over 6 months by the time iOS5 hits users. Sure iCloud is great for people that didn't know about Windows Phone or didn't have access to similar services via other means but the additions are not revolutionary in any way, simply more convenient.

Now for some perspective. Apple has incrementally improved the internal hardware of the iPhone without setting the world completely alight and doing something unexpected. That said, the device is not to be scoffed at, especially in light of the hardware and software improvements  made available, especially Siri. Sure the iPhone may not be the best of the best in any one category, but that's never really mattered to Apple and it's fans. What's always mattered is the execution of the whole device and the associated hardware, software and services, often being the best in class when all things are considered and I see no reason for this to change now.

The new iPhone will sell and sell well, of that there is little doubt and Apples inclination towards keeping the iPhone 4 and 3GS (albeit with lowered storage) indicates to me that they have every intention of consolidating and growing their lead as the single largest handset manufacturer in the game. That said, this rather incremental update on Apple's hand does open the doors for Samsung, HTC, Motorola and Nokia to woo those buyers that are on the fence concerning the new iPhone. Though I can't see the benefits derived therein being anything substantial for the other OEM's.

Here's to hoping though, competition in the industry has never hurt the end-user!

The mismanagement of RIM and Nokia

Friday, September 9, 2011

If you've opened an Organisational Theory and/or Design textbook anytime in the past 10 years, you'd likely have come across the story of the Xerox corporation and the massive capitulations they made in the late 70's and early 80's and the massive struggles they had in trying to reclaim their former glory. Initially started as the Haloid company in 1906, Xerox was the first company to implement the xerographic photocopier (hence the name) and bring it to market in 1959. Having had a stranglehold on the necessary patents required to implement a similar copier, Xerox controlled the industry with ~95% of the marketshare in that segment.

With the patents locked up, a strangehold on the industry and 70% gross profit margins, Xerox created the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). If the name sounds familiar(and it very well should), it's because this research center is the very reasons that PC UI's, Ethernet and the laser printer as we know them today even exist. Pretty impressive stuff to say the very least. Sadly for Xerox, the company management was unable to look beyond the massive profits they were making. This coupled with the massive distances between company headquarters in New York and the research and development teams based on the other side of the country in Palo Alto, California made for a rather sticky situation for the monetisation of the massive amount of innovation going on at PARC.
IBM and Apple, seeing the promise the GUI held and the massive disadvantage they would be at in the event that Xerox actual got a hold of that technology and more or less beat them to the punch. This coupled with expiring patents on the xerographic process, new-to-the-field companies like Canon and Ricoh meant Xerox's marketshare and subsequently profits fell like a meteor from 95% in the early 70's to 13% by 1982. Such a fall, such a lax attitude amongst employees, such an unwillingness to actually innovate is a key and unfortunate side effect of the large organisation with little in the way of management motivation.

Whilst Xerox eventually extricated themselves from the aforementioned failures and a few other mismanagement and decision-making failures, the time it took to do so was on the order of YEARS. It was closer to 2 decades before the company gained any significant respite.

Now that we've gone through that pre-amble, take a gander at the situations with Nokia and RIM. Nokia went from the maker of cheap and reliable phones to the sole, major producer of Symbian devices and indeed had control of well in excess of 50% of the smartphone market in 2006 to a company struggling to maintain its lead as top smartphone manufacturer with the likes of Apple, HTC and Samsung creeping up on them.

Similarly to Xerox, Nokia were unable to look past their marketshare lead, their engineering advantage (which some would argue that they still have with their significant R&D budget), and the raw features that each and every device packed in to see that the experience of the user and the touch paradigm would be the wave of the future. Touch technology in particular being something they'd implemented in labs and experimental devices many years before the iPhone jumped on the scene. Alas, management was slow to adapt and tried to price competitors out of the game. Failing that, and losing the reputation they'd had as innovators of the industry and leaders of the market, Nokia have been on a long, slow tumble downwards,  a spiral seemingly only paused by the announcement of a change in CEO and corporate culture.

Time will tell whether the direction undertaken was the right one, but it's fair to say that at least Nokia has observed the need to change direction and have taken a rather bold step in that direction. RIM on the other hand, have decided to stick to their guns (and multiple CEO's) and keep their development and future plans as internal solutions. Whilst that strategy may not necessarily be a bad one, their approach can be seen as the antithesis of Nokia's approach (i.e. slowly phase out internal solutions and associated expenses, perform R&D into future opportunities and cut costs in the short-term).

RIM has recently announced a set of new devices running Blackberry OS 7 a seemingly minuscule update to the well-worn Blackberry paradigm that some of us have come to know and loathe. Simultaneously, they've committed their future to their QNX platform for upcoming devices, in spite of what can be seen as a floundering developer ecosystem and massively disjointed development environment. Similarly to Nokia, they've seen decreases in their marketshare numbers and though not as precipitous as Nokia's is only down to the unique selling feature of BBM and their carrier relations in the third-world, something I can personally attest to (and dismay at).

In both cases, a reluctance to accept change, change focus in terms of target audience and innovate on products has resulted in marketshare tumbles and lowered forecasts and outlooks for both companies, with shareholders in both organisations more or less up in arms.

All of the above-mentioned problems, distill down to  mismanagement at the highest levels and of course middle-management, whether the company management can extricate themselves from this situation will be interesting to see regardless.

PS. It seems HP is taking a few cues from Nokia, what with their flip-flopping on the whole TouchPad, WebOS, hardware spinning-off motivations.

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