Indian startups advice — 3.0

As I tend to be brash and stupid and offer advice/criticisms about running startups before(here and here and here.), I’ll do it again.

I shall dispense this advice now.

1. Treat your early employees more like partners than wage slave.*

2. This follows from the previous one. After every hire(and fire) re-consider your selection process.

3. Remember the Charlie Munger advice on trust here (or quoted below)**.

4. The best problem solvers, prefer to focus on solving the problem(s) and go right on to the next problem. They would much rather leave the performance reviews, raises (promised at the time of joining) etc.. to others. So if you do promise any review and raise based on that, follow through, Don’t delay with “we’ll do this in a formal setting in two weeks” dodge and then fail to follow through. You won’t build the best possible team with that approach.

5. Find the product/market fit..(Meh. I’m not qualified to say much about this without hands-on finding one).

5. Build a monopoly niche. Don’t compete on price, use your skills and knowledge to build a big manic monopoly, that would be the biggest barrier of entry to any competitors.
By the way the last two are just me re-gurgitating what I think makes sense from what I have read around. Only currently experimenting with implementing them.

** – “The highest form that civilization can reach is a seamless web of deserved trust — not much procedure, just totally reliable people correctly trusting one another. … In your own life what you want is a seamless web of deserved trust. And if your proposed marriage contract has forty-seven pages, I suggest you not enter.”
Source: Wesco Financial annual meeting, 2008 (quoted in Stanford Business School paper)

* — Note how I didn’t say anything about politeness or good salary or on time salary etc. That’s because all of those can be wrong ones to emphasize. My whole reason for this point is that they should have skin-in-the-game. Everything else can be worked around. Just don’t do this.

Few other links:
1. https://www.quora.com/Is-Peter-Thiel-correct-that-individuals-should-be-less-concerned-with-competition-and-more-focused-on-creating-creative-monopolies

Indian society rants

Society — a few rants:
Disclaimer:
Most of these are thoughts and ideas that have bugged me often. I have thought of often and on repeated occasions though I have had trouble trying to figure out the biases problems and solutions involved. So this is a complete no filters from any of the rational parts of my brain dump of thoughts and ideas.

Death: Why exactly is old age and death gets the response of nothing more than an acceptance.It’s a just the way of life?. Why oh for the love of one’s self why? Or in some other cases, it’s just a very taboo subject spoken rarely of, and never a good topic to speak about? It’s one of the biggest problems left (viewed from the biased first-world viewpoint of course). I understand there are reasons for civilizations, and groups and tribes of men to flourish, they needed to evolve a certain set of spoken and/or un-spoken rules about topics to discuss.Some of my fellow countrymen would say, it’s simply because there’s so many other more basic and fundamental problems to be solved that there’s no time for abstract, impractical, use-less, philosophical, “Who’s John Galt? type” questions. While it may be true for quite a good chunk(or percent) of people, the majority I meet aren’t that impoverished and living hand-to-mouth.(Granted, am in some sense part of the circle that’s easily classified as higher than middle class, but nevertheless, I can see that it’s those unfortunate classes, who seem to enjoy their life). While the middle or higher economic classes, seem to tend to live in a world of un-named, vague set of fears and guilts.
Infact, the most intelligent/smart/evolved people i have met seem to have a learned helplessness about it.(not unlike Dumbledore in HPMOR), rest are clearly in denial, considering any talk about death as a taboo. It’s not polite conversation for the same reason. Some people might be in denial, and you would be scaring them. Hell, I’ll take learned helplessness (only conditionally), but denial no way. Go on read up about Kubler-Ross Model and graduate atleast one step.

Another related irony, is the reluctance to talk about sex. In many ways, as I understand it, sex can be one of the powerful helper in dealing with the Damocles’ sword of death hanging over all of us.
It’s perhaps the intensity of emotions/affect both of these arouse that both are considered impolite conversation, but to hell with those rules. (Yes I am aware this sounds as cliche as Freud’s theory, but that doesn’t overrule it from being true.)
We are not in a stone age anymore, where every conversation is/was fraught with the danger of costly violence(both immediate and vendetta )

And to those who say, these are rules/heuristics/traditions that survived the test of time and therefore anti-fragile, I just point to this quote:

If you are in a shipwreck and all the boats are gone, a piano top … that comes along makes a fortuitous life preserver. But this is not to say that the best way to design a life preserver is in the form of a piano top. I think that we are clinging to a great many piano tops in accepting yesterday’s fortuitous contrivings.

Buckminster Fuller

Money:
Here, there’s a major pervasive neurosis of losing money or atleast i think so. But overally, there’s major social ideas about, whethe to talk about money or not. there definitely is a major preference to talk vague about money and an idea that better vague the discussion the better it is. It’s kinda weird, given that there’s uncertainty about money and the temporal dynamics of how it grows or changes with time. . I am tempted to say it’s a marketing/sales tactic, along with information asymmetry leveraging.
The worst case is when the human agent that uses information asymmetry to leverage, doesn’t realize that’s what it is doing.
I guess, within the field of “The art of persuasion”, it is an advantage not to realize that you are leveraging asymmetry of information.
It kinda enables you to create, and send symbols that communicate genuiness of despair, sadness and grief.
The flipside, of it is you are more and more likely to have full-blown depression. Anyway, the point I am trying to make here is,
that this approach completely blindsides you to some set of strategies that recommend limiting the cost of living.
Like this one on early retirement.

Gender Roles:
Sexuality:

See this site http://genderfun.blogspot.in/ . The truth is as part of all our society’s mystifying sex.
Infact it’s a whole origin of books like “Eleven Minutes” and also prostitution.
I personally think, that prostitution is perhaps the biggest antithesis of the spirit/idea of sex.
Not very unlike what Francisco d’Anconia explains to Hank Rearden in “Atlas Shrugged”, There I confess am a fan.
But not a cult member. Am also a fan of lesswrong community and their ideals. So really, judge my actions, over a meaningful timeline in which it can be relevant.
And don’t judge my words too seriously. :-P
Relationships:
Sex:

Now, this is yet another area where we as a society are dragging our feet about reconsidering custom rules.
As I mentioned in the Death section above, it’s one of the most powerful antidote to fear of death, and yet has as powerful a taboo surrounding it.
Infact, I would say, it’s more powerful than Death. But no, having seen the potential for it to incite violence, we stick to talking about sex is a taboo in public conversation.
But guess what, we do know the power it holds, and utilize it to sell soap,deodarants, cars, etc..
Just ask any marketing department. Instead of trying to discuss and understand our strong emotions, we instead get cliched,vague(as Agent Smith puts it vapid) ideals like love.
Insead we get either “Eleven minutes” or sex abuse/rape as a tool of violence.
Or we get porn, bdsm and other fetishes that are either a bunch of people rebelling against the taboo we create for sex or
just plain prostitution, which is pure flesh without any attention and as Ayn Rand puts across in Atlas Shrugged,
the lowest, and meanest form of pleasure one can find.
I never understand, why instead of all this discomfort people keep around and dance around, why don’t they just talk about the elephant in the room?.
I mean, we(society) as a civilization have progressed enough to understand the costs of violence, and formed methods to discourage it.
Clearly, not all individuals are in complete agreement with all of them, or with the costs of violence, and avoiding it always.
Nevertheless, its time for us (society) to re-examine some of our unspoken rules and taboos.
I refuse to believe that the humans around me are incapable of re-thinking, questioning, changing their behavioural habits.
I for one, refuse to abide by rules and conventions and heuristics that make no sense any more, in the era material abundance.

Marriage:
Well, what can I say, that I haven’t already rambled on and on about sex, relationships above?.
To start off, it’s a legal entity/contract, and all other properties assigned to it are exactly that.
(assigned by society, and a self-fulfilling prophecy, in a few cases.)
Otherwise, there’s a whole lot of myth, and a little truth, but the worst part is that the proportion is so immense that, it’s generally discouraged to go looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack.
It is a legal contract, in which at the moment men are at a disadvantage(due to the gender roles (see above),
as perceived by society, and partly some aprior frequency data).
I can’t get around the fact that it is instead used as if it were a natural law.
I can’t stand the fact that it’s a real PITA, to be able to enforce the actual(nay purported by society) properties/advantages of marriage.
I understand the reasons why it works, namely, financial security against future for the woman, and reproductive assurance/(continuation of the species) for the man.

Yet, I don’t understand, why or how either of them are the most important aspects of modern society.
to some extent, I can understand that, but the most baffling part of it all is how marriage is supposed to guarantee either of those.
As far as I know, it is impossible to make that guarantee via the instrument called marriage in modern civilized society.
If you think it’s(monogamous commitment) the most natural thing, think of this argument, why then do we need to have legal rules trying to enforce it by penalizing failures and subsidizing compliance(tax benefits etc..?) or better yet read the book “The Red Queen”. and try to punch holes in their thesis.

Signalling:
And here, according to Trout, was the reason human beings could not reject ideas because they were bad:

Ideas on Earth were badges of friendship or enmity. Their content did not matter. Friends agreed with friends, in order to express friendliness. Enemies disagreed with enemies, in order to express enmity. The ideas Earthlings held didn’t matter for hundreds of thousands of years, since they couldn’t do much about them anyway. Ideas might as well be badges as anything.
Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

.
The problem with this approach, is that this is how inefficient markets come into existence, and develop defenses against disruption. While this can be a double edged sword,(i.e: good in some fields like medicine, where slow progress + high accuracy is better, and bad in some like FMCG, where innovation can create better/higher/more value for the customer.). The real dangers are when it creates perverse incentives that hide serious disadvantages. One example would be use of antibiotics vs Drug Resistant Bacteria evolution. Another famously used is the Credit Default Swaps that led (to?) the famous 2007-08 crash.

Probability– teaching, bayes vs frequentists etc..

http://lesswrong.com/lw/1gc/frequentist_statistics_are_frequently_subjective/

I see this kind of reasoning at the core of denouncing standard null hypothesis testing in financial models as this blog says
http://epchan.blogspot.in/2013/01/the-pseudo-science-of-hypothesis-testing.html

I see the core error being the same.i.e: trying to derive inferences from probability calculations that ignore conditional probabilities or treat them as no different from other probabilities.

Now, i have specifically tried to stay out of the Finance sector as a field of employment. I never really thought or questioned the whys’ of it, but am beginning to understand. I actually like money and am a reasonable saver, and like mathematics so the sector has been and perhaps still is a perennial attraction it does pay a hell of a lot more.
but am beginning to realize the reason i have instinctively flinched from it. the most available jobs are accounting and customer relations, i don’t have much stomach for the routine of accounting and am no good at customer relations.. but after that the jobs and openings are myriad higher and higher levels of abstraction
like:
1.Quantitative Trading
2. derivatives trading
3. risk analysis
4. Portfolio management

etc..

Infact, i think this is the same problem with organizations doing normalizations of ratings and what not. I have a problem not because, i don’t think it makes sense to have all their employee ratings to fit to a normal curve, but i do have a problem in tweaking to fit exactly the normal curve at each reporting level. it’s just stupid and crazy application of standards and rules.

Also despite having a master’s degree, a bachelor’s in engineering, and having read a lot of science publications, and definitely having studied for exams, i never really understood the significance of p-values. I don’t really remember studying them very well, and somehow i don’t think they made sense if we studied it at any level of statistics course must look it up some other time.

(Obliquely related)
Probabability by stories:

I came across this story form of probability theory teaching.
See here

And was reading along, at the initial read of the story my first thought was that’s awfullay bayesian biased.
Soon realized, I never studied probability formally, definitely never beyond the dice/coin-toss example.
Have read, here and there(LW,NNT,EY and other blogs), knew there were three different interpretations,
but never was sure what those three were.

Anyway, reading the blog, it defines ‘classical’ as chalkboard situations, where we naively assume equal likelihood.
Now, that’s a category NNT would have called dangerously academic.(am somehow skeptical of this Defn.)

‘Empirical’ view relies on real-world frequencies.
(based on the examples, it’s more like projecting empirical observations from the past to the future)
Again, that sounds dangerously naive. Simply because it’s extrapolation with static/linear implicit assumptions.

‘Subjective’ view aims to express uncertainty in our minds, and therefore harder to define.

I am now finding all of these views rather, useless.
At this point am not sure what’s the point of these theoretical differences,
as they don’t seem to have a single effect on practice(i.e: reasoning with probabilities)

After reading the rest of the seriees, I get the reason why people are so divided on these interpretations.
But overall,think these should be personal preferences ultimately irrelevant to making a tight argument.(which should be based on the theorems)

Engineering –rants

It seems there’s the dawn of a new term called Financial Risk Engineering.
I am beginning to be annoyed by this habit of appending engineering to fields,
that are too new to actually do any predictable engineering.

Ex: Software Engineering,Financial Engineering,Financial Risk Engineering etc…
Talk to me about Software Engineering, when the field has grown enough to
publish a 300 page Engineering data book with values for specific design cases.

Values, that have evolved as a result empirical experience and tinkering.
Otherwise, you are just tinkering or hacking.
I prefer tinkering since hacking has changed connotations in current usage.

I mean talk about safety factors and an idea of what safety factor,
to pick in what use-case,
and where exactly to apply/use them in the subsets of design case.

Only then, you can talk about Engineering. Otherwise,you’re just exaggerating,
for the sake of “i don’t know”(marketing/selling/cheating etc.)

Engineering at it’s core is about reliability,robustness under uncertain conditions.
To paraphrase, it’s about working around uncertainty(or entropy if you’re a mech.engineer).

The underlying point being, figuring out how to make things stable, even when there’s extra load.
It’s about designing a crane that doesn’t break and drop the steel girder,
because some worker placed a bucket of wet concrete on the girder and forgot to remove it.

If you can’t imagine, google for construction site accidents or
just ask your friendly neighbourhood construction worker for stories of injured friends.
But don’t fucking form opinions/judgements before any of these.

It’s about designing a CNC program, that doesn’t move the drill bit into the worker’s eye socket,
because the materials manufacturer, added extra carbon and the steel is harder than it should be.

Don’t append Engineering to a field, because that’s what you want to do.
Try to do it, try to create the data books etc..

And oh, by the way, I was just assuming design of one subpart of the machines in those previous cases.
Not to saying anything about reliability of the machine with all the parts together.
Last, I checked (admittedly atleast 10 years ago), that was still a greenhorn research field,
with not a lot of conclusive evidence/heuristics.

(Disclaimer: I don’t have any real life experience in the design,manufacture,use,feedback,re-design cycle for manufacturing.
The closest I have is writing software programs. Am a sellout in the eyes of quite a few people)

Ironically enough, the traditional fields, there seems to be a forgetting of these facts,
or atleast a movement/approach towards the let’s patch together stuff, sell it and then think about it.

Also, there was an interesting point that arose, while I was on an interview. Apparently mysql(even with innodb),
though provides ACID transactions for DML(CRUD On tables), DDL’s are not atomic.Damn, that’s painfully problematic.
That Oracle/mysql at PyCON 2012,Bangalore, conveniently omitted it when he was talking about mysql 5.5/6’s new features.
Caveat emptor indeed.

I bought a bicycle with gears, one which is the hybrid model, and the designers wanted a shock absorber.

So, they basically, added a Spring load to the core frame, the Spring is situated at the junction of the seat,
and the pedal frame. Now this means that all force I put on the pedal is also offset by my weight on the spring.

Overall, making me put extra effort on pedalling. Now one could say, just get a road bike.
True, but my point being, the designers did not bother testing the new frame design or it’s effects on pedal torque.

Welcome to the modern world where as Daniel H. Pink puts it “To sell is human” and therefore everyone should sell.

To be fair, his book doesn’t say everyone should sell, or one should compromise other stuff for selling,but does
observe the fact that in the modern world a lot of jobs involve some form of selling.

The problem being, the designer(s) of that bike model, would have an easier time selling, if they put up charts,
that project added revenues by presence of a shock-absorber or not, rather than trying to display revenue losses by increased pedal torque.

In this specific case, these revenue losses are by my recommendations (or lack thereof) and even negative reviews.

Moral of the story: via negativa proofs are harder to explain, harder tools to use to convince people to act*
(as compared to inductive/extrapolative projections under naive assumptions ).
Therefore, the simple act of trying to convince people can cause troubles in judgement of engineering quality.
So, if you want to get good Engg., try to keep the responsibility of selling Engineering decisions vs making Engg. decisions separate.
I am not sure about the best way to go about it, and am not qualified (in terms of experience or lack of it) to do that.
A heuristic I can think of is :
Make sure to ask what I am selling more often than who I am selling to.

P.S: if you found yourself agreeing eagerly with this rather meandering post, read this link.

* — I can speculate the reasons might lie in some cognitive biases, but that’s beside the point here.

Opposite of YAGNI

Can’t agree more with this…I have felt this time and again…..the odd thing is, I decide not to dig usually when there’s deadline nearby or a clear goal ahead. In other cases am quite happy digging and morning around.. I enjoy doing that monkeying :-)

But with django, every time i decide, i do not want to look into this source for now, i seem to miss a deadline and end up coming back to look at the source. partly because am pushing into areas rather new in django and partly because, i don’t read the documentation thoroughly, but just enough to get what i need to get done.

http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/TheEndeavour/~3/O_yY4WCaHes/

vim addiction

Have been trying out gedit for the last couple of days for my code editing as against my usual vim.. And it’s been a bad taste..don’t think it’s inherent to gedit, but more towards my not knowing all the kb shortcuts and relying on mouse movement… The problem with vim is multiple tabs are not as useful?? really?? I think i just need to get used to multiple tab usage in vim…

Anyways, was reading steve yegge’s old rant on xemacs.(http://steve-yegge.blogspot.com/2008/04/xemacs-is-dead-long-live-xemacs.html).

He talks about how some of the users come to live in the emacs environment… Am beginning to realize that’s true of vim for me….And perhaps chrome…

But me being the mouse UI hater, am still not sure about chrome …but very sure of vim…

Although, one thing i find annoying about vim is the script of vimL language…very annoying, still mystic to me.. and i have a (perhaps irrational) feal of tweaking it will break it attitude..

My reason for OSS

I have spent close to 6 hours today trying to figure out why Netscaler nitro api’s login won’t work… Finally someone from irc pointed out this blog http://blogs.citrix.com/2011/09/28/netscaler-nitro-api-101-logging-in-with-python/ and i realized i was sending the credentials without the “object ” part… Damn… you Documentations…This is one of the main reasons i am a huge supporter of open-source… Now the documentation did not say not to send object as part of data, neither did it say it needs to be sent.. From the way it was given and my pythonized brain, i just assumed it to be a dictionary object and “object ” just being a variable….

If i had access to the source, i would have read it instead… agreed familiarity with the language matters, but …

Again, NetScaler proves they don’t have a technical writing department or it sucks. Take a look at this.
The part where they tell you how to use the configuration utility has more options. i am sure they assumed it’s common knowledge for shell experts, but then, they don’t provide any POSIX standard shell, but a customized one. (atleast that’s how it looks to me.) So WTF? why can’t you guys document??

Update 05-Jan-2012:
Oh they definitely need some writing skills.. they are making a lot of assumptions about the reader.. As far as the nitro api goes it seems servicegroup and service interchangeable when creating a binding…F.U..F.U..

Update:
And if i try to pass in the servicegroupname instead of servicename it errors out saying “Operation not permitted”. That’s the problem, but the fact that if i login to the LB and say bind lbvserver that works fine for the same values.. Clearly netscaler is doing some magic behind the scenes.. i.e: creating a default service or something like that when i run the bind command from the shell…
I understand why these were designed this way.. nitro api is just too much work to do all of this, and also a security risk… But the real wtf is not mentioning it in the Nitro documentation or may be i should look for different Nitro documentation than Getting started one??

Update 12-01-2012:
And WTF with capitalizing some variable letters when throwing mandatory arguments error?? trying to mislead the developer?? or just you don’t care about how the message looks to the developer????????

Boastless, shameless, Just neutral Self-Plug: There’s an existing nsnitro repo i forked it here. git@github.com:anandjeyahar/nsnitro.git