All posts by EdwardM

The statistics behind start up success

Startups: never have so many understood so little about the statistics of variance present in the outcomes of small samples.

People like to speak of 10x productivity, non-stop work and geniuses – but the reality is much less interesting. A large number of small teams working on many different problems will by definition have a great variance in outcomes just by random extraneous factors (also known as the law of small numbers and insensitivity to sample size).

via Startup School And Survivor Bias | Hacker News.

A lot of the advice is like Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers – luck is random but you can increase your preparation so that you can respond when luck falls in your direction. In the case of start ups, it means trying many things – or in the terminology of Silicon Valley – “pivot quickly”.

Unfortunately the advice ends with a strong recommendation to engage in sex, age and ADA discrimination against workers:

Here’s my list of startup advice:

Be alive. Be male. Be young. Don’t have health issues. Be born in America or move there. Enter the cycle after a recession. Speak English. Enter a growing/new field where the level of competition is low and so is the sophistication of your competition. Surf cost trends down from expensive to mass consumer markets. Work bottom up – on small things. Be of above average intelligence. Have family support. Have a college degree.

One wonders what their lawyer thinks of them writing things like this in public?  This is on the web site of a business that funds start ups, openly admitting illegal discrimination practices. It’s become so deeply ingrained in Silicon Valley thinking that not one commenter to the article notices.

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RailsInstaller: Use it


I am just starting to learn Ruby on Rails, the web development software and tools. I started with Michael Hartl’s book Ruby on Rails Tutorial: Learn Web Development with Rails, Second ed. This is supposed to be the #1 book on the subject – I sure hope the subsequent chapters are better than the installation chapter!

His book walks the newbie through the torturous process of setting up Ruby, Rails, Git, and Heroku access by downloading, installing and configuring every component (more than those listed here). The only word for the install is “torture” as many others have commented about it online. Perhaps another might be “stupid”. A lot of stuff didn’t work and required frequent digging online and finding everyone else having the same problems as we all battled through the installation process.

A far simpler way is to go to and download and run the all-in-one installer.

I spent hours yesterday undergoing the Ruby on Rails installation on Mac OS X (equivalent to a root canal without pain killer) from his book. Finally got the first_app demo to load and run off of Heroku. Only to find that when I went to the second app, the Mac OS X installation no longer worked. Hours later, I discovered the online RailsInstaller – gave up on Mac, went over to my Windows desktop and had Ruby on Rails on Heroku up and running in 15-20 minutes.

Word of advice: Use RailsInstaller – ignore Hartl’s installation instructions.

Update: Chapter 2 onward is going much better 🙂

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“Fisherman Builds DeLorean-Style Hovercraft, Aims for Google Job”

I need to finish my hovercraft (really):

His resume includes crab fisherman and maker of a hovercraft that looks like the car from the movie “Back to the Future.”

via Fisherman Builds DeLorean-Style Hovercraft, Aims for Google Job – Bloomberg.

Attention Google (or Microsoft!) Recruiters – he’s finishing an MA in political science and says he wants a tech job, so he’s building a hovercraft to attract attention.

On the other hand, I have a degree in computer science, an MBA and in another few weeks will finish my M.S. in software engineering (and my thesis has to do with smart phones). I’ve worked in Silicon Valley and for Microsoft and other places too, plus written seven technical books. And I’m ready to relocate.

Did I mention I’m building a hovercraft? The project is further along than what is shown in this old photo. But heck, if this is what it takes, I’m on track! Or “on the bubble” as they say in hovering.

Update: I need all the self promotion I can get. I also have a pilot’s license, an amateur radio license, and I am an amateur astronomer and author. Hello Google? 🙂


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Digital Rights Management and … 3D printing

Digital Rights Management and 3D Printing.

English: RepRap v.2 'Mendel' open-source FDM 3...
English: RepRap v.2 ‘Mendel’ open-source FDM 3D printer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What happens when we can download an object design and create a copy with our 3D printer? That calls for digital rights management of objects.

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Tips for extending your smart phone’s battery life

Unfortunately, the battery life of smart phones, relative to feature phones or plain old mobile phones, is very poor. Whereas my “feature phone” had a battery that typically lasted up to two weeks, most smart phone users re-charge their phone every day, and some times several times per day!

User research on smart phones finds most people use their phone for 4 to 10 hours before they need to recharge the battery. While many users recharge the battery overnight, every night, there are many users that recharge throughout the day, at every chance they get, such as plugging in when working at their desk.

There is not a single magic bullet to fix the problem of smart phone battery life. Batteries improve each year, but only by the low single digit percentages, while power demands rise much faster in new devices. The physical size of a smart phone or tablet also limits how large a battery can be used, putting a constraint on solving the problem by just adding a bigger battery.

It would be helpful if there were a single “Battery Saver” option that would enable a configured set of features for maximum battery life. But on most phones, no such feature exists. Instead, you need to consider disabling unused features manually. But most smart phone users are not going to know which features to select (and personally, I think this needs to be mostly automatic) to achieve best battery life.

  • If your phone or software allows, disable software features that do background checks throughout the day, even while you are not actively using the phone. That is, avoid having Facebook or Twitter update constantly, or continually checking for email. Surprisingly, some studies have found that about half of the battery power is consumed during the nearly 90% of the time the phone is supposedly idle or sleeping!
  • Choose a display theme (if available) featuring a dark background. Lighting up the LCD for, say, a black text on white background, uses much more power than white text on a black or dark background. (Note – this depends on your phone and does not really apply to the newest technology screens but definitely applied to older technology, say 2013 or 2012 and older.)
  • If Wi-Fi is regularly available, say at home or your office, then use Wi-Fi instead of the cellular data link. Not only will your mobile service provider like you, but Wi-Fi reduces the power consumed for data transmission. Even though Wi-Fi uses a considerable amount of power, data transmission is typically 10 to 20 times faster than over a typical 3G link. That means the Wi-Fi transmitter is turned on for a fraction of the time compared to the 3G transmitter.
  • If you know you will not be using Wi-Fi, then disable it. For example, while driving or walking, leave Wi-Fi disabled to avoid constantly searching for available Wi-Fi hotspots.
  • Location services can also use a lot of power quickly. GPS, in particular, uses a considerable amount of power. Many smart phones use a variety of methods to determine your location including knowing where a currently used Wi-Fi access point is located, or using the known location of a cellular servicer tower site, or GPS. But if you are not using location services, disabling this feature will cut power needs. However, avoid turning it off and back on frequently as it can take 30 seconds (or so) for GPS to re-acquire location data rather than just referring to a last known, good location reference.
  • Turn off Bluetooth if you are not using Bluetooth.
  • Use audio alerts instead of vibrate alerts.

There is a lot of research being done on ways to improve battery life. This work includes the development of new battery technologies, but also improvements to the radio network and communication protocols, smarter operating system features that attempt to predict when software or hardware can be set for reduced power modes, or which limit big data downloads (such as app updates) to when plugged in on charge or connected to a Wi-Fi network. There are also tricks that app developers can incorporate to reduce their app’s power needs. But for now, these are all for the future.

Future trends in Information Systems and Technology

This past Saturday I attended an IEEE Computer Society-Seattle sponsored seminar on future trends in information systems and technology. Speakers covered a very wide range of topics.  Here is a bullet point list of some key thoughts from the seminar:

  • The fastest growing market opportunities involve the mobile space.
  • Mobile means smart phones, tablets plus literally billions of devices expected in the years to come that communicate wirelessly.
  • Mobile also means cloud computing.
  • Desktop computers have become massive overkill for many businesses with 90% of the desktop resource literally unused (in terms storage, processing power and even unused in time).  These will be replaced with apps running on smart phones and tablets which are with you all the time. Few people carry a notebook computer to meetings anymore.
  • Applications are gradually moving to “simple”.  No one takes a training class to use the search website. Few people need training classes to use their smart phone app. This is what one called the “Consumerization” of business applications. Companies do not want to spend time and money on training and are looking for ways to get out of that.
  • All applications are likely to be developed in iterative fashion (e.g. agile methodology) and will scale upwards as needed to handle larger capacity (cloud computing where more services can just be added as needed, when needed)
  • Applications are becoming “game-ified”. That is, we see even a progress bar on LinkedIn, and we keep track of how many network contacts we have, or how many friends we have on social media websites. Some firms offer “rewards” for achieving goals. All of these ideas come from gaming – and they apparently work and give status recognition to customers.
  • All mobile devices must be treated as untrusted devices within corporate information systems.  Android suffers from malware made possible by Android’s open marketplace. Corporate information security folks are terrified of Android devices on their network, said one. This gives the security edge to iPhone, and either RIM’s Blackberry (shrinking market share) or Windows Mobile Phone (not yet with any market share).
  • Social media is where all the customers are today. Businesses know this and it has many future impacts. Of course, it means advertising on social media; it means engaging customers on social media. Upset customers have a disproportionate influence with social media. Twenty years ago, I heard that only 1 in 27 dissatisfied customers complained to the business; the rest just never came back, but they did tell friends of their bad experience. With social media, all bad experiences quickly multiple.
  • Facebook Stores is going to be a killer application for social media. When people check their Facebook updates constantly throughout the day, this simplifies the online shopping experience – plus sharing and peer pressure can be used to drive sales.
  • Most non-IT businesses (think retailers, manufacturers and so on) will most likely outsource their IT functions. Unless IT provides a competitive advantage (e.g. Amazon), most companies have no business trying to do their own IT and many admit to not doing it very well. Everything will be outsourced. The IT function will be run by “business professionals” and those focused on the business, rather than technology.
  • Corollary: For most businesses, IT is not providing a sustainable competitive advantage, just as having electricity does not provide a sustainable advantage when everyone has it.
  • What happens to the job market for those working in information systems or information technology?
  • One speaker suggested that anyone doing individual contributor work in a cubicle today will not have a job within ten years. All such work will migrate outwards to the lowest cost supplier, which often means offshore. This becomes simpler as IT is treated as a utility (think like electricity).  Few businesses have a Chief Electricity Officer and run their own power systems.
  • Most businesses should outsource their application development.This creates opportunities for innovative entrepreneurs to do 1 or 2 things better than everyone else and sell that capability to others.  On an individual level, individuals should also strive to do 1 or 2 things better than everyone else and work in organizations with lots of smart people. (Corollary would be that the “era of the generalist is dead” and if you are not surrounded by smart people, your career will not survive.)
  • Within business organizations, the IT person who survives will focus on business, innovating, doing data analysis, business development, management functions and outsourcing IT since IT is just a commodity like electricity.
  • Higher education is not turning out information system students with the skills that employers actually want.
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