About Startups

I just read 17 Pithy Insights For Start-up Founders. Very valuable insights. I just want to add mine.

When work does not seem like work, when you do something that helps someone, when you are creating something you like, you know you are in a start-up.

I am on my fourth one now. I made money in some, lost in others. In the end, startup has become a way of life.

It is hard, but it has its wonderful rewards, and you learn a lot – about business, about people and about life.

Book: Letters to a Young Mathematician

I just finished it yesterday. I really enjoyed reading it. Here are some of my favorite chapters.

  • Why Do Math?
  • The Breadth of Mathematics
  • Surrounded by Math
  • How Mathematicians Think
  • How to Learn Math
  • Mathetmatical Story Telling
  • Pure or Applied?
  • Where Do You Get Those Crazy Ideas?
  • How to Teach Math
  • Is God a Mathematician?

The last chapter “Is God a Mathematician” is all about Symmetry. I really love this chapter. Here are a few quotes from it.

“God and mathematics both strike terror into the heart of the common humanity, but the connection must surely run deeper…. You needn’t subscribe to a personal deity to be awestruck by the astonishing patterns in the universe or to observe that they seem to be mathematical. Every spiral snail shell or circular ripple on a pond shouts that message at us.”

“What are the laws of nature? Are they deep truths about the world, or simplifications imposed on nature’s unutterable complexity by humanity’s limited brainpower?… Are mathematical patterns really present in nature, or do we invent them? Or, if real, are they merely a superficial aspect of nature that we fixate on because it’s what we comprehend?”

“Because we cannot experience the universe objectively, we sometimes see patterns that do not exist.”

“One of the simplest and most elegant sources of mathematical pattern in nature is symmetry. Symmetry is all around us. We ourselves are bilaterally symmetric…. There are symmetries in the structure of the atom and the swirl of galaxies.”

“Imagination is an activity of brains, which are made from the same kind of materials as the rest of the cosmos…”

“Symmetry is deep, elegant and general. It is also a geometric concept. So the geometer God is really a God of symmetry.”

This book, in my mind at least, raises more questions than it answers. But it provides  lots of hints on where to look, and what to look for.

Blogging – Does Currency of Information Matter?

Currency of information, probably matters to a lot of bloggers. I have been watching the visitor patterns to my blog. It is interesting to note that some blogs I have written almost 6 months ago are suddenly attracting a lot of visitors.

I myself follow links and read and blog about information that is useful but not current. I know that most of the high volume of visitors like the latest and greatest.

Here are a few things I was told, that I do not believe in, any more.

  • Blog Often, if possible several times a day.
  • Have a predictable frequency (daily if possible)
  • Stay current

Now I blog when I feel like it and that has not altered my readership much. So I do burst blogging (write a few over the weekend when I am in the mood and skip blogging most of the days during the week, when I cannot afford to spend the time)

I used to blog daily and since every day is not the same, sometimes, I used to do filler blogs (a filler blog in my opinion, is one written to just put something out daily). I stopped doing that.

Staying current is not my chief aim, any more. I do not want to rush and cover every Google or Yahoo announcement (I used to do that before). I would rather think about think about a topic and provide some perspectives and ideas.

So If I have to start my blog again, what would I do different?

I think the subjects I pick to blog about and the unique perspective I provide, are more important than just covering the latest and greatest with a couple of sentences and a few screen shots.

  • Blog when something compels me to share my learning
  • Participate in group writing projects, if I have something worth saying
  • Pick a few areas I am passionate about and stick to blogging about them
  • Blog when I feel like it, and have the time
  • Write as few or as many I like, when I like

The one exception to this list is when I blog quotes. Sometimes you read something that touches you so much, you need to share it with others. In some cases, I may provide some context about the quote or how it touched me. Most of the time, the quote stands by itself as a blog entry.This blog is motivated by “If I have to start my blog again..” . I really like the concept of these group writing projects. Whoever came up with this idea, is a genious in my opinion.

The currency of information probably matters for a lot of blogs. But not every one.

JSON – XML with Anorexia?

Thanks to Jeff for pointing this out. Here is a 3 minute tutorial on JSON.

  1. They are both ‘self-describing’ meaning that values are named, and thus ‘human readable’
  2. Both are hierarchical. (i.e. You can have values within values.)
  3. Both can be parsed and used by lots of programming languages
  4. Both can be passed around using AJAX (i.e. httpWebRequest)

I have heard of JSON a while ago, when I was looking at Yahoo SDK for web. It looked cool but I did not spend time using it. I wanted to understand the following before I jump in:

  • Can it be used by languages other than Javascript – the answers seems to be yes.
  • Can I do a lossless transformation of XML to JSON and JSON to XML – I do not know but for the subset of XML it represents, this seems possible.

It is likely to be popular for AJAX apps. However, will it replace XML as payload? Only time will tell.

Granular Addressing in Google Video

I first heard about the term “Granular Addressing” from Doug Engelbart. Granular addressing is the ability to address a small fragment of a document. Here is a hypothetical situation.
I am reading an article on venture funding of search startups. I would like to share a few sentences that mention the funding activity to one of my friends. I have a few choices.

  1. Copy and paste the fragment of text along with a link to the original article and email it (this is what I do most of the time).
  2. Get one of those page annotation services, highlight the portion to draw his attention, add a comment on why I think this fact is important and send an annotation link.
  3. Mark the fragment, book mark it using del.icio.us (del.icio.us automatically copies the marked portion to the description of the bookmark) and add it as a shared bookmark.

If Doug’s concepts are implemented, granular addressing may become a feature of the web. See the activity related to HyperScope on the current effort.

The cutting and pasting stuff works good in most cases when the document is text. What do you do when the document is an audio or video file?

Google seems to have a solution for the video case. According to this blog entry, you can mark a portion of a video, optionally specify a fragment duration and share the link.

Work and Satisfaction

Your satisfaction must come from the high you get when you suddenly, for the first time understand the problem you are working on and see your way to a solution. I use the word “high” advisedly. You need to be something like an addict for this feeling to provide sufficient recompense for all that work.

From Ian Stewart in “Letters to a Young Mathematician” in the chapter on “The Career Ladder”.


Definition of Work 

Interconnectivity of Knowledge

I got interested in how people learn when I first read “Accelerated Learning for the 21st Century” about 5 years ago. This lead me to other books. One of the books I read was “Mindstorms” by Seymour Papert. That is where I encountered the term Mathetics, for the first time. For some strange reason, a book I was reading about Math triggered me to look up Mathetics.

“On a pragmatic level, ‘Look for connections!’ is sound mathetic advice, and on a theoretical level the metaphor leads to a range of interesting questions about the connectivity of knowledge. It even suggests that the deliberate part of learning consists of making connections between mental entities that already exist; new mental entities seem to come into existence in more subtle ways that escape conscious control. However that may be, thinking about the inter-connectivity of knowledge suggests a theory of why some knowledge is so easily acquired without deliberate teaching. In the sense in which it is said that no two Americans are separated by more than five handshakes, this cultural knowledge is so interconnected that learning will spread by free migration to all its regions. This suggests a strategy to facilitate learning by improving the connectivity in the learning environment, by actions on cultures rather than on individuals”

I will explore this a bit further but the concept of inter-connectivity of knowledge is definitely a fascinating one. Here is the link to the page with the quote and comments, in case you want to explore further.