Nonlinear and Linear Goals: 20 somethings in America, India talk at 3am

Last night, I was on the phone until 3am with an IT representative in India. I’m a little disappointed to say that I was brisk, and perhaps not the most relaxed person after spending hours on the phone debugging.

An interesting turn in the conversation happened, which went something like:

Me: “You barely have an accent.”

Her: “Accent, are you saying I have an accent?”

Me: “No, I’m saying that you have a perfect accent, or well not perfect, but it sounds like a normal person. ”

Her: “I thought you were giving me a complement, and then you insulted me! What do you think Indians sound like?”

Me: “No! It wasn’t supposed to be an insult, I promise, I just mean that I know in India everyone is tested on their English, and where they land in society depends on their fluency. ”

I’d once heard a story about a mathematician who became a janitor after failing to pass exams testing his language skills.

I apologized profusely, then there was some laughing and ultimately conversation. After quite some time, I asked her if she studied IT, she hesitated, and said, “…Yes, IT, of course.” Then silence. I responded, “So you studied computer science.” “Yes, I’m an engineer.”

She said it was her first job, she dreams about working for Google. What did I study?

Me: “I did courses in English, economics, neuroscience. I thought I would be a neuroscientist.”

Her: “That doesn’t make any sense. You can’t be using neurology skills working here? Right?”

We got into a discussion about career. When she explained her goal, it was very clear, she was confident. It was linear. When I explained my goal, it was totally nonlinear.

 

Goals

 

(? = know thyself, how to execute, how to be an effective person, a good person, a clear mind. Know How. )

 

 

 

I said I wanted to connect people’s brains to networks, and explained what I had done to get closer to that goal.

Me: “There are a bunch of moving parts, so it’s not straight forward.”

Her: “No it is straight forward. I don’t know what you’re saying, if you want to be a neurologist…”

Me: “Neurology is medicine. I’m interested in augmented intelligence.”

Her: “Then why are you here?”

Me: “Because I was advised to learn an industry, and banks buy technology.”

Her: “That sounds so disappointing. You’re doing all of this to sell to banks.”

Me: “Breakthrough technologies usually start with businesses buying, then they move to average consumers. Think about the car… that presented a good business case as a replacement for horse and buggy.”

 

 

The Plan

I knew that wasn’t really the story of the car. It started as a high end luxury good, then the price lowered. Eventually it was affordable. It may have been sold to businesses, but that wasn’t the essence of the strategy.

The logic works something like this: to sell to general consumers, you need to have 1) a product and 2) popularity.

To develop an advanced software/hardware blend, I assume that it will require a plan giving investors a positive return on investment within 3-5 years.  Most venture capitalists want to exit in that time frame, otherwise their money is wrapped up in one place too long. Popular products need to rely on Reddit fame, or a celebrity tweeting. Advanced products that satisfy a real need are helped by that, but it’s not the make or break. Microsoft isn’t sexy, it’s essential. Show the merits in industry, make some money, and then expand to consumers.

 

 

Linear and Nonlinear Thinking

It’s a highly nonlinear road. It begs the question of why finance? To which the question isn’t just, “because of product strategy”, but also “because I need to develop as a business person, watching the market gives me that development”, and also “because I need money, and this intersects with enough of the life goals to be a good way of making money and more”, and because I was hedging, and if I failed, I knew I would survive this way.”

Linear thinking says, this is what I want, and I need to do this thing to get it.  Nonlinear thinking says, this is what I want, and I want to increase the chance of it working out while hedging the risks.

The good of linear thinking is that you can be myopic and successful because of the focus characteristic of myopia. The bad is that after you’re at Google, you have to do the next logical thing for that immediate situation. It’s iterative, unpredictable in the long term. But it leads to consistent, observable results. If things don’t go according to plan the IT rep can learn a new language or programming paradigm. She can network with people. She can try to make herself as close as possible to a standard Googl-er. Eventually, it would work out.

Nonlinear thinking is good because it extends the planning horizon, and diversifies risk. It’s bad because the chances of particular successes are lower, due to effort being dispersed between the goals and the hedges. There’s no certainty of what will happen next, and it requires everything to go pretty much perfectly to hit a particular target. In my case, CEO of a big tech company that makes a brain-based distributed network. That’s got a lot going on. Everything has to go right. If everything doesn’t go right, I’ll be a CEO with no brain network, and a weak knowledge of technical details. Or an engineer with not enough business acumen to be successful.

 

It sucks to know there’s no straight forward best option. It’s preference. What kind of chaos do you like?

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The Sound of Global Power

 

Have you ever heard the powerful discuss the world?

This was my first time seeing Treasury Secretary Mnuchin speak off the cuff. . . (The one in the red and tan boots)

You can’t realistically leave the clip feeling enraged at or proud of Trump. It’s more subtle than that. The powerful are asking what to expect from America, and Mnuchin on behalf of America is attempting to paint a picture.

The panel is an open discussion between giants from the IMF, Deutsche Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, UK Treasury and BlackRock. In the audience are the most powerful CEOs in the world.

Mnuchin sat down knowing exactly what everyone wanted to know–where’s the dollar if inflation and interest rates are on the rise? Rising interest and rising inflation are two opposing forces. Mnuchin admits he doesn’t know if inflation (from tax reform) or higher interest rates (and thus less available credit) would have more of an impact on the dollar.

Everyone on the panel applauded tax reform. In fact, the main complaint was voiced by Larry Fink from BlackRock about inequality and inclusion. He said that biggest problem is that 70% of money is kept in the bank instead of invested. That was accepted as the real cause of inequality facing the global middle class–lack of adequate retirement investment. That’s a little exasperating, since it ignores the first 65 years of life most people live.

(On another note, Mnuchin was anxious to discuss Bitcoin…and laid the groundwork for aggressive regulation.)

Watch it if you’re interested in the levers, instead of the flashing lights. This isn’t the kind of vid that goes viral, but it elucidates the biggest changes happening around the world (other than “one belt, one road”).

 

My Best Failures in 2017

“I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow… I learn by going where I have to go.” — Theodore Roethke.

On December 31, 2016 I found myself on a rooftop in Brooklyn, excitedly telling the party how I was launching my startup this year, had a team in mind, and funding prospects. This was the year that I was going to reinvent the internet to be completely ‘thought operated’, meaning controlled with just brainwaves. There was just one problem: I didn’t have a brain computer interface, and didn’t know anything about hardware. I was still designing the backend for connecting raw data from brainwaves (w) to what I call a Homotopy Type system protocol — aka a network protocol (e.g., IP).

The first thing that I did this year was press a button a minute and 30 seconds too soon. Due to the nature of my job in banking, millions of dollars were nearly lost and I was put on probation. That was painful. I had panic attacks at the idea of doing something wrong and losing everything.

In 2016 I’d worked on the Gary Johnson campaign for president, joining just after Gary won the libertarian nomination and went on the road with Bill Weld as his running mate. During the campaign I met a mathematician and cryptographer who switched careers to become an IP lawyer. I pitched him on my project, and he set up a meeting with the partners at his law firm to negotiate taking an equity stake in exchange for early stage funding and legal expenses. Sitting in those mahogany chairs across the table from those Yale legal minds, grilling me on the details of my incorporation strategy was one of the most actualizing experiences of the year.

I learned that I wasn’t ready. I didn’t understand how I could legitimately take funding before reducing the risks of the project. When saying the history of the project, it was also littered with managerial failures. I told the lawyers, and all of a sudden my prospects for the future were uncertain.

Irritation breeds habit. The discomfort of not knowing what comes next led me to my default — working on the technical aspects of the project. This mainly involved research and experimenting with segments of code. I found a dissertation by a young mathematician that seemed perfect for a structure I wanted to build. I found her c.v. and dialed the number written on the top. “Hello?” she said. “How did you get this number…?”, and I began my next failure.

She asked, “Is your system like an archipelago or like a Rubik’s cube? How do things fit together?” “Rubik’s”, I responded. “Good, because it’s hard to work with archipelagos.” She’d developed a kind of “zipper” for multidimensional systems of data and logic. To see why this might be useful, consider how you search in google. The keyword “zips” together the relevant links and spits them out. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do this very well. The syntax in a search for a term like “What kind of personality do I have” wouldn’t lead to the most useful results. The problem in my conversation with the mathematician was that we didn’t speak the same language. I couldn’t ask the right questions. She spoke a diagrammatic language called Category Theory, and I spoke bullshit. Because what the fuck do I know? Kidding.

She put me in touch with David, a category theorist at MIT who might be able to translate between what I was developing — the operational semantics(basically these are directions for processors) and the pure mathematics she had already elaborated. Hope.

“So you don’t really know what you need.” David was skeptical and he liked me. I utterly failed to convince him that I could balance learning category theory while pushing ahead in finance. After hearing my story, and my history he encouraged me to focus on finance, stacking paper. He agreed to be my mentor, and suggested that before I leap into my project, I should make sure my feet are firmly placed under me in the finance world.

I found myself interviewing to open up a bank in India. Trump had just said there was violence on “many sides” in Charlestown and I was feeling pretty unwelcome. The racial tension in Boston oozed into my day — when called a nigger on the train on the way home from work. When Trumpers would lean out of their cars and chant his name while driving by. When a baseball playerwas called racial slurs, and the response in my office was that he was probably lying for PR.

I didn’t get the job, and I used a lot of clout trying. Up until the very last moment I was pushing and emailing, and attempting to persuade.

Here’s another failure.

At night, I was going home and working on the Global Challenges Competition. The challenge was to put together a team and offer a solution that would reform global governance away from the U.N. model towards something capable of addressing the humanitarian crises, wealth inequality, and climate problems of the day. A couple million went to the winners. My team of 3 was spread across 3 continents at different times. On the team was a lawyer and a military strategist. I didn’t manage emotions well, nor did I establish enough managerial clout to on-board an economist that I admired. Some of those conversations have shaped the way that I see my purpose on earth, but the passion in those meetings was explosive to the point of disbanding our team.

Then it happened. Another failure.

While in a Haskell chat room, I started hearing about this guy Stephen Diehl. On Diehl’s website his email is only accessible if you can use code enough to decrypt a message with it inside. (He doesn’t want to be contacted with job offers…good problem to have.) I got the contact info then emailed him asking to meet. He’d launched a startup called Adjoint which builds smart contractson a homemade blockchain.

It’s brilliant technology.

I emailed the CEO, and pitched myself for a job working in between the engineers and the clients based out of Dubai, Boston, and London. I liked the company. They were sane about the problems in front of them, incredibly experienced, and contractarians. Unfortunately, I think my interview helped them clarify that I was close to, but not what they were looking for. No Dubai, no London, but experience talking about the competitive landscape of blockchains with a portfolio manager and some talented engineers. Worth it.

So there I was, waking up at 4:30AM to study for financial exams, pouring over regulations, and algoraving as a noob hobby. I made sure that I failed everyday by wearing a watch that vibrates every 5 minutes from 4:30AM to 10PM. Each little vibration asking the question, “Did you do what you said you were going to do?”

I took the FRM (Financial Risk Manager) exam in November, a move to make more money and really understand the concept of risk, since I think risk is universally applicable to life, and salaries are pretty good for risk managers. Because i’m gambling on my ideas, having a safety net in finance is really important to me. I come from poverty, and if I fail, I will fail everyone that I’m trying to bring up with me out of “hell”.

2018 — esketit!