Sunday, October 8, 2017

Marching on once again....

Another season of masonry work has passed yet again, leaving me free to pursue “higher” interests during the course of the winter.
Looking back at the last seven years, I’m nowhere near as far along as I had hoped I’d be at now. But by what measure?
Everyone’s journey is different.
I may materially not be better off, but by not giving up the pursuit, I have continuously been adding to my inventory of what Reid Hoffman calls “soft assets”, and in a not-entirely-subjective way, I find the build up to date to be of substance.
I went on a weird digression of sort last year by starting to write a science fiction novel out of the blue. I couldn’t help it in fact: the book started writing itself. Although I’d love to “get back to the prose” and get it finished, I recently snapped back into action mode relating to my goal of metamorphosing into a technologist by profession.
The opportunity I currently see is cryptocurrencies — more specifically, ICO’s, or perhaps, more aptly named, token generation events. That’s what I’ve decided to be working on in the weeks and months to come.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Not taking our way of life for granted

I hope that by now everyone realizes that we’ll be very lucky if some form of a global crisis, the like of which we have never seen, does not hit us before the end of the current US administration.

 I typically tend not to take things for granted; therefore, I’ve caught myself at various intervals in my life appreciating the fact that there wasn’t anything dramatic going on in the world — such as WW3 — to upend our collective existence and ruin my life and everyone else’s.
But I’ve been uneasy lately about the unfolding of the recent political landscape. It’s been incessantly gnawing at me. It’s been in the background of everything else that I’ve put my mind to. It’s been there when getting out of bed and when getting back into it some 16 hours later.
It’s particularly unnerving to think that the White House agenda is being pushed by a white supremacist, Bannon, who worships the Fourth Turning ideology — and in fact hopes for armageddon to set humanity right again — as he controls a mentally unhinged President with no moral compass that carries a nuclear football wherever he goes.
It hasn’t helped my frame of mind reading all the social media coverage, I must admit.
Nonetheless, I have faced the tune for myself and made the anxiety go away by simply deciding to deal with whatever happens, and by accepting the fact that things could go really wrong, and we could, at the extreme end, lose our freedom and even our modern way of life — we could basically lose it all.
It could happen. I sure hope it doesn’t, but if it does, bring it on baby.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Keeping the flame alive somehow

This is my first post in over ten months. I was working from March to October 2016 in my masonry business, and that took priority over anything else; but at around August, one morning, the idea struck me to write a fiction book centering around the role of venture capital and entrepreneurship in the creation of a brave new world in answer to an approaching armageddon.
What had happened is that I had been obsessively reading on the topic of entrepreneurship and venture capital since 2010 in preparation of running my own startup, which, after three iterations, had be put on hold until such a time as an opportunity to be seized would present itself again.
In the meanwhile, all this build up needed an outlet, hence the book. Ideas kept coming out on their own for it throughout that month and even afterwards, compelling me to conclude that I “ought to” pen it down.
I had the idea to compose, play and produce a music album to go along with the book.
And so in October I started, being drawn more to the music at first. After 5 songs, I realized that doing both was too arduous and so I concentrated only on the written story from November onward.
I had assumed that writing a book wouldn’t be too hard “for a guy like me” — the arrogance!
To complicate the matter, it is a science-fiction book and it required that a fair deal of scientific research be done to bring the credibly factor to a certain level.
I sent the first chapter to someone prominent who is an avid reader, and who I respect and trusted not to bullshit me and tell it as it was.
With more diplomacy and tact than were required, the message came across loud and clear: “I have read this,” and “Have you ever read ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King?” he said. In other words, it sucked big time.
Now I was facing the fact that there was more than I had thought to being a fiction writer … if I was to induce someone else to read my work.
I then set out to put myself through a crash course so as to bring my writing up several notches, and went back to work, getting up to and through Chapter 10 before deciding to scrap it all and restart from the beginning.
The second start was much better, but as I was running out of allocated time this winter, I decided to push through getting the first draft all done without bringing each chapter to a satisfactory result, just so I could nail the basis for the book. This episode was painful and filled with self-doubts. At one point I decided that the book should not be written, and I forced myself to finish the rough draft, just for the discipline of completing an action and not merely abandoning something started mid-course.
By the time the first draft was done, I felt liberated; and when I looked at the first chapter, I liked it a lot, even though it would undoubtedly benefit from some polishing should the actual novel be written in the future. I sent it to my trusted reader, who said it was “much, much better”, causing him to want to read Chapter 2, when it’s ready.
So where does that leave me?
I have to imminently go back to my masonry business; however, after several months of steady, albeit part-time work, I now have one good chapter, better writing skills and another 32,500 words to draw from to inspire the novel proper — or the novella — or the short story — to take me where it will, as I continue to unearth its story, characters and secrets.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

On diversity and biases

Looking at the Donald Trump circus playing out right now, it’s abundantly clear that biases are alive and well in our society.
Trump is not creating these feelings in people, he’s simply harnessing them.
I see this as a wake up call to double down on working to eliminate biases in our society, if anything.
Trump is blatant and in your face. What most people usually do, though, is keep their biases well-hidden below the surface, suppressed by political correctness and other social norms. But that doesn’t get rid of them. And it’s not much better than what Trump is doing if you ask me, to put it bluntly.
I personally see Trump’s affronts as an opportunity to publicly acknowledge that biases still exist and to recognize that they should be worked on so as to be eventually eliminated.
It takes real work to do this.
Take me as an example, I’ve been raised in a borderline rural, predominantly white, area outside of Quebec city; and when I grew up, biases and racist comments were not uncommon. They were a way of life, sadly.
They consequently were ingrained deeply in my upbringing and I’ve been fighting them all my life and I still uncover some of them at times. I didn’t put them there. They were seeded by my environment. But it’s up to me to rid myself of them.
But what I’ve come to realize is not to try to pretend that they’re not there — that’s easy to do — but to me, the right thing is to tackle them head-on when they come up and confront them. And to not let them get by me "unscathed".
One of the problems is that often people aren’t even aware that they have gender, religious or ethnic biases.
A few Saturdays ago, I went downhill skiing and went relaxing in the resort’s outdoor spa afterwards, soaking in the hot water with my head exposed to the winter temperatures — lovely.
Anyway there was also a couple in the spa and I couldn’t help but hear what they were saying. They were discussing plans to add more living quarters for the mother of one of them and were contemplating how this would be a subsequent source of income when they would eventually rent the space to the “ideal tenant”: a single white female.
That’s two biases in a four-word phrase, but the lady was very-matter-of-fact about uttering those words.
Once casually discussing the career of a woman that both my father and I know, he said to me, “She’s making pretty good money for a woman.” There’s actually a good amount of baggage that goes with this one. The world was very different when my father grew up in the 50’s. When he got married in the 60’s, there were values to take pride in in supporting a wife and a child, and having the woman under the man’s wing. You were a good man if you did those things. And so I know that if I try to bring up this bias with him, I’m in for a long conversation that might lead to nowhere, as it’s below his awareness level to even consider. You’d have to peel the onion slowly one layer at a time. And you’d be in for several bottles of hard liquor — or beers, in his case!
In many ways, it comes down to one’s comfort zone and stepping outside one’s bubble. Stepping out of the zone can be hard — more for some than others, I suppose. It’s a conscious effort that may require an initial effort.
Throwing myself in intimate relationships with women at the other end of the religious / ethnic spectrum has gone a long way to help me embrace diversity.
I was once engaged with an African-Arabic Canadian woman. Her parents were Muslims. I met them once as they lived far away. We were eating buffet-style, and they would repeatedly slap her on the wrist during the meal if she had failed to serve my food and I therefore had to reach for it myself. Then they absolutely insisted that she put my boots on for me before we left. Normal for them, way out there for me. I wanted her skinny, they gave her shit for letting herself getting so thin. She said it was what I wanted. They looked at me with disbelief and even contempt. Normal for me, way out there for them. But we could have work it out. 
By the way, racism goes both ways. When I would drop her off at home after a date in the early days, before we moved in together, black guys would often approach her after I had left and ask her why she bothered going out with a “white trash”.
Or, when we would walk down a public street holding hands, we quite often had “Jungle fever” thrown at us as we would walk by a couple of black dudes.
That relationship didn’t ultimately work out and I ended up marrying a Chinese-Vietnamese girl instead. We’ve been together 17 years, as of a week ago today.
Getting married is hard enough in its own right, but with someone who is very culturally different and with different religious views, it can be a much wilder ride, as I have found out.
We also live in a profoundly diversified neighborhood: as a white guy, I’m the minority. There are no majorities in fact. There are Cambodians, Vietnamese, Portuguese, Latinos, Indians, East Europeans, you name it.
What I have discovered is that it takes real work to break down the barriers of ethnicity and religion if you make the effort to step outside of your bubble and really bust those walls and truly connect; but it’s worth it.
Having gone through it in our marriage has given me a lot of experience.
The same thing goes for the gender issue to a large degree, IMO.
You have to be willing to work at it, you have to communicate it out and develop enough empathy to understand what’s it’s like to be the other person.
That’ll be too much work for some to consider pursuing, but it’s up to the rest of us to get the ball rolling in earnest.
Being blunt, politically incorrect and “in your face”, as Donald Trump would have you believe, is not what is going to make “America great again”, but having become bias-free through collective soul searching is what can make the world at large great at last.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Reflecting on how things are going so far

Startups can be brutal even for experienced serial entrepreneurs, and some of them at times feel as though they are banging their heads against a brick wall and getting nowhere.
I‘ve been banging my head too.
Content, it turns out, is especially hard. There is so much of it to compete for the attention of users.
And the world of social media and messaging apps is largely where their heads are at these days.
Over the course of the winter, I tried various approaches to get the proverbial needle moving in trying to get some semblance of traction for PreAcquaint.
Nothing has really worked so far.
Mind you, I’m alone and I didn’t pursue investment capital — I put in several dozens of thousands of dollars of my own money, but that’s it — and so I didn’t have the appearance of going somewhere by having hired an editorial staff, renting office space and having a marketing budget. You can create a buzzing of activity for a while, but if there is no business at the end of the day, then the singing has to stop at some point. So being alone and “trying this and that” with zero budget whatsoever left at this point, there is nothing fake about my lack of traction: it’s in stark view. Plus I leave the page view count for each story on the home page with no trickery for all to see.
It doesn’t mean there’s nothing left to do with it; and I certainly now have a better appreciation for what is not working.
If I had raised money from investors, the time would have long come to shut down the company for sure, even with some "artificial" traction.
But I didn’t raise any money and so I can keep going if I want to; and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Why?
Because I don’t have a better idea that I’m qualified to execute on at this point. I’ve written here a few days ago about another idea, but that’s outside of my league. What’s wild though, as a side note, is that I wrote this on Feb 23, 2016, and two days later, this article came out announcing that someone else (who is substantially more qualified and happens to be well-suported by Tim Draper) is coming out with the very idea I was describing. And if you had some serious time on your end to spend lavishly and read this blog all the way back to the very first post, you would find out that their ambition to create a social network that connects people who share common interests (on top of their AI offering) is precisely what I had set out to do back in 2010. Anyway, back to the topic…
Now, it’s time for me to start working on my seasonal business — brickwork restoration — for the year, starting next week, which means I’ll have even less time to devote to the project until next November, when the season ends once again.
One valuable thing that this attempt has taught me so far is modesty. Seriously, I’ve been referred to as a good restorer of old brick and stone buildings, and when I was stuck in my little bubble, I let it go to my head and believe that I was the best thing since sliced bread. I was even quite arrogant at one point. Well, trying to do a startup as a non-technical solo founder and competing globally with the best minds in the field has busted my bubble, I’ll tell you that much. Even though I’ve tested higher-than-average on IQ tests, I don’t feel that smart anymore. There are people out there that are so way smarter than I am that it blows my fucking mind just to think about it. I’m not putting myself down, that’s just a fact, and I’m OK with it.
And so in addition to keeping abreast of everything that is going on in the Tech sector and educating myself — as luck is preparation meeting opportunity — I’ll keep tweaking my little zombie side project, as I’m able to, during the upcoming months and also next winter — although I should probably refer to it more as a hobby than anything else at this point. Until I see an opportunity that I should definitely jump on, I still think it's better to keep the ball rolling somehow than to quit altogether.
Just don’t expect it to join the unicorn list anytime soon ;-)

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Probably the most important piece of advice I’ve seen so far

I’m finding out that — at least sometimes — you can “feel it” when an inflection point is coming.
It’s as if things are starting to fall into place.
Around the time I wrote this blog post, I had already started to formulate a new strategy. Immediately things felt better, although the wheels are only slowly getting into motion.
Without clearly identifying what it was at the time, I could nonetheless sense that it would, from that point on, be easier to execute on my objective — (although I’ve got a shitload of work ahead of me).
Coincidentally, or in a rather uncannily timely manner I’d say, Fred Wilson wrote a seminal blog post two days ago, titled “Get the Strategy Right and the Execution is Easy.
It could not have been more à-propos!
And so when I read the post, something clicked for me regarding the importance of strategy; and that's an understatement.
I find it puts the old adage, “Work smarter, not harder” into proper context.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Equality doesn’t mean being the same

Joanne Wilson wrote a blog post yesterday, titled “Women look at things differently", in which she points out the differences in the genders’ way of making decisions.
The first thing that popped into my head when reading it was:
Equality doesn’t mean being the same — it means equal rights and opportunities.
I’m obviously not the first one to have said it, as a Google search will quickly confirm, but the thought hit me very clearly.
And it doesn't just apply to the gender issue.
People are different in many ways, and you can’t expect them to be the same.
But they all deserve to have equal rights and opportunities.
In every area of human interactions where equality is sought, whether it is gender, sex, ethnicity, health, etc., the mistake can commonly be made of saying, well, “They claim to be the same as us so we don’t need to give them any special treatment”.
That would be like saying that a handicapped player in a sport would have to play by the same rules if she wishes to be a part of the group … but she’s missing a arm and two legs, and so the considerate (and obvious) thing to do is to make concessions on the rules and allow her to play in a wheelchair with a prosthetic arm.
That logic might seem less obvious, however, in more abstract situations, but I would offer that the right thing to do is to focus on ensuring equal rights and opportunity while embracing the inherent differences that are present.
So following this formula, if I am a teacher for example, and I have a student that stutters very badly, I won’t have that kid stand in front of the class and be subject to embarrassment, ridicule and the resulting low-self-esteem that is sure to follow. He or she will have the exclusive right to present their presentation in writing and have another volunteering student read it out loud for them; as the goal is to give them an equal opportunity to present their ideas (which is the point) while working around what is different about them. But if they chose on their own accord to present it verbally, that would be up to them.
I obviously took the concept into another direction than what was essentially Joanne’s point; but that’s where her post has lead me to; and I think it’s touching on something real about Human Rights.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The power of the side project

There’s definitely the archetype of the super-founder: she’s graduated from MIT or Stanford, has top expertise in a particular field, has acquired the skill of differentiating between going after a hard problem versus an unattainable ideal and has the evangelical persona with which to enthrall both investors and potential teammates.
And even she will have a difficult time of it.
Startups are hard.
I haven’t experienced it personally, as I haven’t raised any money, but everything I’ve been reading and listening to in the last six years tells me so in no uncertain terms.
Doing a full-fledged startup is a major undertaking which deserves serious consideration prior to taking the plunge.
And now imagine the non-technical solo founder trying to become a tech entrepreneur. The odds are stacked so high against a positive outcome that it’s nearly ludicrous to consider (although, believe it or not, that too is slowly starting to gain acceptance with some early-stage accelerator programs such as Forward Partners in the UK and Science in Santa Monica, CA).
But there is a way out — or rather, a way *in*:
Work on it as a side project.
In other words, it’s something you’re not trying to scale, but you are tinkering with.
Duck Duck Go started out as such, and while other search engines have raised a ton of money and have since disappeared, it is still among us.
This approach may not work for some, as it requires some cash outlay in getting the prototype(s) made; but it might just “be the ticket” for someone who has earmarked some money for the purpose of investing it (or should I say gambling it?) on trying to create something new in the world.
This is assuming you can’t code. If you can, then common sense dictates that the requisite would be to put in time initially — rather than money — for a software startup (hardware reportedly being a different ballgame).

Friday, December 25, 2015

Could ‘discovery’ offer the greatest potential for the future of the internet?

I’ve been aware for over five years that discovery is fundamentally more  important than search.
My initial goal in creating PreAcquaint.com was to create a discovery engine in the form of a social network that would allow its users to discover highly compatible people they should be adding to their life that they would be grateful to have met, that they otherwise never would have come into contact with.
The problems to carry out this vision were numerous and quickly became apparent.
First of all, if an idea is good only as long as it assumes having an active network effect — in other words, if the prerequisite to its success is having millions of users — then it will indeed be reduced to being a bad idea without a practical (and innovating!) way to acquire users.
As well, such a social network typically requires having the user answer many questions so as to be able to provide useful matches, but asking the questions in the first place kills the user sign up and engagement metrics; and so it would appear that AI would be the way around this, which is a theory which remains to be proven in addition to the fact that it would likely be capital intensive to research and implement (assuming that AI in its current state could come close-enough to HAL 9000 for this particular task, and assuming that there would be demonstrable interest in the product in the first place). 
It could perhaps be done, but not easily and not realistically by an industry outsider like myself: a non-technical solo founder. It’s the type of challenges that you’d typically expect a graduate or post graduate from Stanford or MIT to be working on — not a mason who’s dropped out of college.
And so I felt I needed to leverage my position and credibility by doing something else first that was more within reach; and so I parked the social network at PreAcquaint.net for the time being and created “the new” PreAcquaint.com to be a content site, which can be more easily made to undergo “soft” pivots without having to have the entire site re-coded. Perhaps it's wishful thinking, but the jury is still out on that one.
Back to my main point, searching on Google is not an end product in itself. The discovery that results from having searched is the true and only end product.
As an example, you could be searching your entire life for a suitable partner (and some people do), but you won’t have a relationship until you discover that individual.
We search in order to discover. We can also discover without searching, and that’s a big fact of life. It’s what we call serendipity. We also rely on curation by others in whom we trust in order to discover new things to be, do and have.
Curation is built in every facet of our lives. We choose a particular retail chain over another, or a restaurant, museum, etc., largely because what is on offer has been curated. Word of mouth is basically curation.
Curation is a mechanism through which discovery can be regulated. If you think about it, there is so much that each one of us could potentially discover in the world that we’d realistically never get to, due to our limited life span of approximately 80 years (if we’re lucky).
For instance, devote the rest of your life exclusively to be studying mathematics — everything closely related to it and everything ever published about it — and you likely won’t have the time to get through it all; and you will by default have missed out on everything else, including having a family and a social life, as well as every other topic, such a fashion, politics, biology, aviation, marine life, etc. I’m exaggerating, of course, in order to hopefully drive home my point.
If the above example didn’t convince you, maybe this one will: devote your entire existence to be watching *all* of YouTube’s content, at the exclusion of everything else, and of course you’ll soon realize that it’s an impossibility.
But at the same time, we could leverage technology so as to maximize our individual discovery output (or is it rather input?) Think about all the things we could discover that we’d otherwise never get to if we could optimize the process through which discovery is made.
Imagine having at your disposal the ability to make profoundly better choices about where to live (and perhaps with whom), with what products, eating what food, down to what career, activities and entertainment would truly fulfill you; not to mention what treatments would optimize your physical and mental well-being and so forth.
Google Search was a great innovation, and it is still utterly amazing at what it does to this day, but having “curation on steroids” through AI has got to be the way of the future, IMHO.
Having access to truly powerful curation in multiple facets of our lives, powered by big data algorithms, would yield the power to dramatically impact our existence. The limiting factor would be reduced to our *willingness* to engage at that point, rather than not having the *ability* to do so.
I'm not in a position to offer suggestions as to what the technology needs to be; and I suspect this is old news for many elite computer brainiacs around the world, but writing it down has proven beneficial on a personal level, as it has made "the path ahead" clearer to me; and again, this is currently why I keep a blog.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Shouting into the abyss that is the internet in 2015

Let’s face it, the current noise level online is fast approaching the insanity threshold.
Imagine a stadium in which everyone has a microphone and is speaking at the same time?
Well, the internet is many orders of magnitude worse than that, I would say.
Short of a viral hack or streak of luck, unless your social status is already into the stratosphere, posting something online and hoping that it’ll be read widely is misguided, if not delusional.
It begs the question, why keep a blog if virtually no one is going to be reading it anyhow?
Personally, one very simple reason is that I write predominantly for myself: it is a widely known fact that committing your thoughts to writing gives you clarity.
It is also yet another creativity outlet for me. I thrive on creativity.
It is also liberating in a way, knowing that what you say could potentially be read. And it is bound to be read — just not in the quantity that you’d likely hope for. And there’s always the comfort of knowing that, at the very least, the NSA will be sure to archive your article for their spy program! — (sorry, I couldn’t resist the satire.)
Lastly, if I’d ever get to experience success in a meaningful way, having a running record of the path that led me there would assuredly come handy. “Better be prepared” comes to mind….
Not to mention that it keeps those few readers who somehow seem to care about what I have to say informed about what I’m up to. ;-)
So, that’s why I write into the abyss. Let me know what you think in the flood of comments that is sure to follow. Hmm, guess not … thought so.