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Archive for September, 2010

The Seven Best Startups At DEMO

15 Sep

After watching SAP CEO Bill McDermott, HP CTO Phil McKinney, and Square Co-founder Jack Dorsey give their conference spiel today, I took a stroll into the DEMO pit in order to find the seven best startups at DEMO. While the presentation junkets split all 67 worthy startups into Mobile Technologies, Cloud Technologies, Consumer and Social and Media Technologies, I’ve culled the seven that caught my eye (and ear) and presented them here in no particular order: Parallels Definitely the darling of DEMO, Parallels chose Santa Clara to launch its Parallels Desktop 6/Parallels Desktop 6 for Mac app which allows people to use their iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch in order to remotely access Windows applications running on a Mac. You know what this means? Yes, Flash and printing, on an iPad, Uh huh, that’s right. IQ Engines IQ Engines Any Image Recognition Engine is a visual search engine that uses both an exact and category algorithm as well as crowdsourcing in order to tag any image you throw at it with a relevant label. Attempting to one up Google Goggles, IQ Engines aims to provide accurate and comprehensive image intelligence services to shopping applications, web publishers, photo labeling applications, as well as tools for the visually impaired. Range Networks Open BTS’ Range Networks aim is pretty noble, to provide low cost web connected cell phones to everyone on the planet using scalable mobile infrastructure. Founded by Glenn Edens, the startup uses and GSM technology which allows people to route calls over the Internet. And, not having to send as much info through expensive landlines, Range Networks holds that it can set up cell phone plans for $2 to $3 a month. Heard of them before? They’re the ones that built all the open source VoIP stuff for Burning Man. Dynamics Dynamics (see photos above) is a credit cards payments system that is attempting to disrupt current payment system practices in order to to create “Card 2.0.” A Dynamics card looks like a normal credit card but is in fact a thin flexible computing platform, which allows for both a programmable multi-account and “hidden” functionality, preventing theft as well as increasing convenience as you get to choose what “card” you use. Bump Ever wish you could send really mean texts to someone who had blocked your driveway, getting them to respond and perhaps even move their car? You’re one step closer with the BUMPME iPhone app, which allows users who don’t know each other to to send and receive messages to each other through unique identifiers, like license plates. Particle Particle is an integrated development environment (like OpenPlug) which lets developers to translate one mobile app into the native language of another app, enabling programmers who write in Java to develop apps for the iPhone (in Objective-C) and vice versa, switching through what used to be incompatible platforms with ease. Footfeed Like Check.in, Footfeed tries to eliminate Checkin fatigue by aggregating checkins from Foursquare, Facebook, Gowalla, Britekite and Twitter but, unlike Check.in, Footfeed’s got an iPhone app where you can still reap the benefits of cross platform mayorships, points, deals, tokens or whatever the kids are doing these days on the go! It’s about time.

 
 

Good Book Review on Building Social Business By DR.Muhammad Yunus (Grameen) – Poten & Partners

15 Sep

Good Book Review on Building Social Business By DR.Muhammad Yunus (Grameen) – Poten & Partners: http://bit.ly/aZoJgi

Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs (PublicAffairs/2010) by Dr. Muhammad Yunus is an excellent rendition on how to invest in poor countries while getting a modest return and doing much good at the same time. The classic profit maximization model does not produce optimum results because many working poor simply cannot afford the higher prices. To some extent, this phenomenon is happening in the USA. Hence, there are Grameen branches in Brooklyn and Queens, New York. Yunus guarantees loans to the poor; thereby acting as an intermediary. This is not much different from the USA government guaranteeing certain loans to borrowers. The result is that bankers are much more willing to lend money due to the guaranteed payment. Borrowers repay in small weekly amounts. Women have great drive to overcome poverty. The Grameen Bank lends $100 million dollars a month in collateral free loans averaging $200 apiece. The repayment rate is an astounding 98%. Grameen lends money to beggars to sell toys, households and foodstuffs door-to-door. There are 100,000 beggars in the program. Since implementation of the program, over 18,000 beggars have quit begging. Grameen offers children of borrowers money to go to school. And so, 50,000 students are pursuing medicine and engineering coursework. This program is microcredit or microfinance at its best. In some cases, a mother may be illiterate and her children go on to become physicians and engineers due to the Grameen Bank. Grameen Violia Water sells pure water at a price that the poor can afford. In the future, the “Artificial Sun” coupled with desalination may be able to accomplish a similar feat. The objective of the Grameen program is to overcome poverty, have a sustainable economy and have a modest return on the investment. When loans are paid back, profits are plowed back into the company not unlike the function of retained earnings in a for-profit company. Fabio Rosa has brought solar energy to nearly 750,000 Brazilian homes with no electricity previously. There is a similar opportunity to do so for the Palestinians, if the various strategic constituencies can agree on a workable settlement. Currently, Grameen Telecom, Grameen Energy and Grameen Well Being serve the poor. Grameen and Pfizer have a joint cooperative venture to bring affordable health care to village clinics through Grameen Healthcare. A similar cooperative arrangement could be brought to the Medicaid program here in the United States in places like Appalachia and other rural communities where professionals are hardly ever seen practicing their craft. The first major attempt to outline Appalachia as a distinctive cultural region came in the 1890s through the tireless efforts of the Berea College President. William Goodell Frost coined the phrase “Appalachian America” which encompassed 194 counties in 8 states. The Grameen organizations seek to promote social business under the umbrella of charitable organizations and non-profit groups. Universities and think tanks are another great resource for Grameen and its people. A successful program has been underway to cross-fertilize the poor and the wealthy to deliver affordable bone marrow transplants for everyone. The assignment algorithms in linear programming and operations research may be utilized to bring together donors and patients alike. Overall, the book is well written by a popular Nobelist-Dr. Muhammad Yunus. The ideas contained in this book could be applicable to both poor and rich countries since virtually every country on this earth has poor people in every walk of life. Joseph S. Maresca Ph.D., CPA, CISA, MBA: His significant writings include over 10 copyrights in the name of the author (Joseph S. Maresca) and a patent in the earthquake sciences. He holds membership in the prestigious Delta Mu Delta National Honor Society and Sigma Beta Delta International Honor Society. In addition, he blogs and reviews many books for Basil & Spice. Visit the Joseph S. Maresca Writer’s Page. To see more of Basil and Spice, go to http://www.basilandspice.com

 
 

Why founding a three-person startup with zero revenue is better than working for Goldman Sachs. | AdGrok

15 Sep

Why founding a three-person startup with zero revenue is better than working for Goldman Sachs.

The road to serfdom

I joined Goldman Sachs in 2005, after five flailing years in a physics Ph.D. program at Berkeley.

The average salary at Goldman Sachs in 2005 was $521,000, and that’s counting each and every trader, salesperson, investment banker, secretary, mail boy, shoe shine, and window cleaner on the payroll. In 2006, it was more like $633,000.

Don’t read this book. It will ruin your life.

In the summer of 2005, I took one look at my offer letter and the Goldman Sachs logo above it, another look at my sordid grad student pad, and I got on a plane to New York within the week. I packed my copy of Liar’s Poker for reference.

My job on arrival? I was a pricing quant on the Goldman Sachs corporate credit trading desk1. We traded credit-default swaps, both distressed and investment-grade credit, and in the bizarre trading experiment assigned to me, the equity part of the corporate capital structure as well.

There were other characters in this drama. The sales guys were complete tools, with a total IQ, summing over all of them, still safely in the double digits. The traders were crafty and quick-witted, but technically unsophisticated and with the attention span of an ADHD kid hopped up on meth and Jolly Ranchers. And the quants (strategists in Goldman speak)? Mostly failed scientists (like me) who had sold out to the man and suddenly found themselves, after making it through two years of graduate quantum mechanics, with a bat-wielding gorilla peering over their shoulder (that would be the trader) asking them where their risk report was.

Everything is quantifiable

Wall Street is inward-looking and all-consuming. There exists nothing beyond the money game, and nothing that can’t be quantified into dollars and cents.

To cite a particularly grotesque example, once a year, one of the partners would buy a pallet of White Castle burgers and first-year analysts and associates would have a burger-eating competition (with some nominal amount donated to charity). All trading on the Goldman Sachs trading floor would stop as every man on the floor would gather ’round to watch the plebes stuff themselves.

Trading turned from interest-rate swaps (minimal notional size: $50MM) to the over/under on the burger count for a particular analyst. Occasionally, one poor schmuck would puke, and the partner would rush to catch it with a plastic trash bin.

The odds-on favorite was a young analyst, who’d employ the Kobayashi technique to get the tiny greasepucks down. After sweeping the field with 26 burgers eaten, he’d leave the styrofoam cup containing a congealed scum of burger grease and bun and patty bits floating on top, as mute testimony of his victory. The trading floor smelled like the inside of a deep fryer for the whole day2.

Death, Wall Street-style

Wall Street, like Scientology,  has an all-inclusive and claustrophobic value system all its own. Particularly at Goldman Sachs, which prided itself as a breed apart from other firms, this provincialism went even further. Former employees who had left Goldman were rarely mentioned. The unanimous phrase for it was ‘no longer with the firm,’ said in the same tone used to describe the passing of a family member.

This tendency reached the height of comedy inside the strategies division, where some of the quants published academic papers on the more theoretical aspects of their work. If an author quit Goldman though, his name would be removed from the official version of the publication. It got to the point that some papers had no authors, and had apparently written themselves. So it goes. No longer with the firm.

Line up and take a number

I envy the religious. Their inner lives are so blessed. If you’re Christian, do as the Gospel says, live a Christ-like life, and salvation is yours. If you’re Orthodox, wear all black and a Borsalino, check off your share of the 613 mitzvot, and you can await the Messiah with an untroubled heart. No gnawing sense of existential dread when staring at a Godless, star-filled night sky.

Wall Street is even simpler than religion. Your entire worth as a human is defined by one number: the compensation number your  boss tells you at the end of the year. See, pay on Wall Street works as follows: your base salary is actually quite modest, but your ‘bonus’ is where the real money is. That bonus is completely discretionary, and can vary anywhere from zero to a manifold multiple of your base salary.

So, come mid-December, everyone on the desk lines up outside the partner’s office, like the communion line at Christmas Mass, and awaits their little crumb off the big Wall Street table. An entire year’s worth of blood, sweat, and tears comes down to that one moment. And the entire New York economy marches to the beat of that bonus drum.

Without that number though, your privileged place in the New York hierarchy goes away. Gone is the house in the East Hamptons. Gone is the $2mm duplex on the Upper West Side. Gone is your kid’s $25K/year pre-school.

And that’s why Wall Street has that roach motel property: people check in, but rarely check out. By the time you’ve been through a couple of bonus cycles and seen that wad of cash hit your bank account in mid-January, you can’t imagine a life without it. And that’s exactly how the senior management at the Wall Street banks like it.

If Wall Street investment bankers were dogs, they would flaunt their expensive collars and leashes as marks of status, not realizing their true purpose3.

Jose Cuervo, meet Smith and Wesson

Giving sophisticated models and fast computers to traders is like giving handguns and tequila to teenage boys. Only complete mayhem can result (and as we saw recently, complete mayhem did result) . The quants were there to make sure the guns were loaded, but also to make sure the traders didn’t shoot themselves in the foot.

Not that we were terribly appreciated. In fact, we were basically the trader’s little bitches, and any quant who’s honest with himself realizes that. In time, we quants developed knee callouses from genuflecting to service the traders, on whose profits our livelihoods depended.

The only time we shone as stars was when some particularly hairy deal came up, and a befuddled trader came by, dropping off some thick bond indenture document, and asking for help4.

Peering into these deals was kind of like the zoomed-in penetration shot in a cheesy porn video: you could barely tell which end was up, which part was which, or, more importantly, who exactly was screwing whom. The quant aspect didn’t really matter at the end, as one lacrosse-playing Penn graduate would agree on price via phone with another lacrosse-playing Cornell grad, and life would resume its speedy course to another deal.

The sad truth is: quants were the eunuchs at the orgy. We were the ever-present British guy in every Hollywood WWII film: there to add a touch of class and exotic sophistication, but not really matter much to the plot (and maybe even conveniently take some bad guy’s bullet).

Wall Street on a bad day.

But things weren’t all bad! At its best, when the markets presented an apocalyptic Boschian landscape of damned souls torn asunder by hellish tortures, every Goldman grunt, sargeant, or general would close ranks and form a Greek phalanx of greed. Unlike almost every other bank on the street, Goldman could actually calculate its risk across desks and asset classes, out to five decimals5. The partners, who had most of their net worth wrapped up in Goldman stock, had tense meetings and came up with a plan to save the foundering ship. Favors were called in. Clients squeezed. Risks very quickly hedged and positions unloaded. Despite the mayhem (and all the promises of drama in Liar’s Poker) I rarely saw anyone lose their cool for longer than two seconds. We bled, but others died, and you felt fortunate to have a front-row seat on the biggest financial show in a generation.

Better to be first in a village than second in Rome.

World’s largest bookie

Once upon a time, I picked up my early edition of the Wall Street Journal from a liveried doorman and knew that whatever financial conflagration was on the front page would be the mess awaiting me at work. I would ignore sub-million-dollar errors to our end-of-day profit-and-loss reports as mere ‘noise,’ beneath my consideration.  My colleagues and I would grow hoarse to thundering toasts of ‘To bankruptcy, gentlemen, to bankruptcy…” at our Friday post-work happy hours, all on the corporate AMEX6.

Now I log into our online bank account and nervously contemplate our balance which, like the heart monitor on a terminally-ill cardiac patient, just barely beeps above zero and is always decreasing. I sign up for trials of online services and make lengthy mental tradeoffs between the $30 and $50 per month plans. We work out of a cramped one-bedroom apartment, and have to time bathroom visits not to coincide7. Some days, it looks like we’re going bust within the week. Some days, it looks we’re going to be the next Google.

AdGrok world headquarters

What’s work like now? Writing code. Worrying about everything from our credit card billing to the pile of dirty dishes in the sink that will give us all diptheria some day. Writing linkbait blog posts to get us free PR (like the one you’re reading now). Schmoozing with investors, and playing the junior high school popularity contest that is startup funding. Keeping jealous tabs on other startups to see how they’re doing compared to us. Trying to put myself in the mind of our users to make something they’d want. Oh, and launching…finally, good God…launching.

You see, starting a product from an empty text buffer is very different from keeping a well-oiled money-machine running8. I’ve had apocalyptic fights with the other founders that almost ended in fisticuffs. I’m watching my four-month-old daughter grow up via Skype. These jeans I’m wearing will likely fuse with my skin at some point if I don’t take them off. I haven’t seen a paycheck or a loving woman in much too long.

You know what I regret most though, going from Goldman to this?

Not having made the switch earlier.

The Goldman meat grinder doesn’t really need me. It doesn’t really need you either, gentle reader. That feel-good saying that made the rounds on Twitter a couple months ago is actually totally right: go out and write your own story, or you’ll just be a character in someone else’s.

  1. For those truly unfamiliar with this bizarre chimera of the modern age, the Wall Street quant, please see here. []
  2. To fans of irony, Wall Street provides endless delectation. Once, after a particularly competitive round of Friday afternoon push-ups and id bingo, a memo went out to the entire floor about office decorum. It basically boiled down to a reminder about how betting was prohibited on the trading floor. It reminded me of that classic scene in Dr. Strangelove when George C. Scott gets into a wrestling match with the Russian ambassador inside the control room at the Pentagon, and is sternly told, “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here. This is the war room!” []
  3. Ok, with the canine reference, the jig is up, and it’s clear that this entire blog post is just a wordy version of Aesop’s fable about the Wolf and the Mastiff. For the hurried, please just skip the rest and read that instead. []
  4. It’s a somewhat different story on structured credit desks, where numerical modeling is perceived to be more important. Also, on algorithmic trading desks, where the quant writes the code that does the trading, and the sometimes blurry line between quant and trader basically disappears []
  5. At the risk of getting sued, let me throw you geeks a bone and part the Goldman veil a bit. The Goldman Sachs risk system is called SecDB (securities database), and everything at Goldman that matters is run out of it. The GUI itself looks like a settings screen from DOS 3.0, but no one cares about UI cosmetics on the Street. The language itself was called SLANG (securities language) and was a Python/Perl like thing, with OOP and the ORM layer baked in. Database replication was near-instant, and pushing to production was two keystrokes. You pushed, and London and Tokyo saw the change as fast as your neighbor on the desk did (and yes, if you fucked things up, you got 4AM phone calls from some British dude telling you to fix it). Regtests ran nightly, and no one could trade a model without thorough testing (that might sound like standard practice, but you have no idea how primitive the development culture is on the Street). The whole thing was so good, I didn’t even know what an ORM really was until I started using Rails and had to wrestle with ActiveRecord. The codebase was roughly 15MM lines when I left, and growing. I suspect my retinas are still scarred by the weird color blue SecDB was by default. []
  6. If the thought of a group of credit quants drinking toasts to bankruptcy evokes the image of a group of surgeons toasting death, or policemen toasting thieves and murderers, you’d be quite apt in your mental metaphor. One, sadly, can’t exist without the other, so why not celebrate the raison d’être? []
  7. Compared to Goldman though, this is sweet luxury. After a particularly stressful trading day, the bathrooms (all of two for a 300-400 person trading floor) looked as if  busloads of diarrheal American tourists fresh from Tijuana had taken turns unleashing squatting monsoons in the stalls []
  8. If doing a startup is like rolling a boulder up a hill, then working at Goldman Sachs is like rolling it down the hill: you just have to stay out of the way of the boulder. []
 
 

Sugata Mitra: Pendidikan yang didorong anak didik (The child-driven education)

12 Sep

Ilmuwan Pendidikan Sugata Mitra menangani salah satu masalah terbesar pendidikan – guru yang terbaik dan sekolah tidak ada pada sat mereka dibutuhkan. Dalam serangkaian percobaan kehidupan nyata dari New Delhi ke Afrika Selatan sampai Italia, ia memberikan kesempatan pada anak-anak yang diawasi untuk mengakses web dan melihat hasil yang dapat merevolusi cara kitaberpikir tentang pendidikan.

Sugata Mitra: The child-driven education | Video on TED.com

Education scientist Sugata Mitra tackles one of the greatest problems of education — the best teachers and schools don’t exist where they’re needed most. In a series of real-life experiments from New Delhi to South Africa to Italy, he gave kids self-supervised access to the web and saw results that could revolutionize how we think about teaching.

[ted id=’949′]

 

Am I going to use calculus in real life?

12 Sep

Someone always asks the math teacher, “Am I going to use calculus in real life?” And for most of us, says Arthur Benjamin, the answer is no. He offers a bold proposal on how to make math education relevant in the digital age.

[ted id=’587′]

 

Catatan Pendek: Pelibatan Banyak Pemangku Kepentingan pada Program Wirausaha Mandiri

05 Sep

[slideshare id=4135806&doc=group3tugaskewirausahaancilok-3m11-100518031251-phpapp01]

Kewirausahaan bukanlah suatu perlombaan Sprint, namun ia lebih merupak perlombaan marathon. Tidak ada jalan pintas atau satu resep manjur dalam usaha untuk meningkatkan jiwa wira usaha di Indonesia. Namun apa yang dilakukan oleh salah satu Bank dengan Program Wirausaha Mandiri adalah usaha yang tidak kenal lelah dalam memberikan jiwa dan semangat kewirausahaan di Indonesia.

Salah satu contohnya saya perhatikan dan pelajari dari apa yang dilakukan Bank Mandiri pada Program Wira Usaha Mandiri adalah bagian dari CSR berbasiskan “Multi Stakeholder Engagement” (Pelibatan Banyak Pemangku Kepentingan) dari Kewirausahaan. Bank Mandiri mencoba melibatkan sebanyak-banyak “key stakeholder” yang secara pareto dapat memberikan impak terbesar terhadap nyawa dan jiwa kewirausahaan.

Sebagai “Change Agent”, dosen dan mahasiswa dilibatkan untuk membentuk Heart (hati, niat baik atau qalbun), yang diikuti Head (Cara Berfikir, Keilmuan dan Pengetahuan) kemudian diakhiri Hand (Cara Bertindak) yang terstruktur untuk menciptakan “Change” dan “Myelin” kewirausahaan di Indonesia. Tidak dapat dipungkiri Bank Mandiri mencoba menciptakan “ketergantungan positif” (Positive Addiction) terhadap dosen dan mahasiswa kepada lini bisnisnya.Selama ini memberikan sinergi dan “win-win solution”, CSR-preneur ini akan memberikan “Avalanche Effect” (Efek Bola Salju) terhadap perekonomian Indonesia karena akan menciptakan banyak wirausaha (baca: profit center) serta mengikis atau mengurangi jiwa “priyayi dan amtenaar” (baca: cost center) piramida angkatan kerja di Indonesia.

Semoga semakin banyak institusi lain yang melakukan ATM (Amati, Tiru dan Modifikasi) dari program ini yang dapat memberikan Usaha Bersama menciptakan angkatan kerja yang siap jadi “profit center” dan bukan “cost center”…..Amin

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