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Uncertainty and Fear.

I lost my keys and I have been locked out(it has happened more than once), so I am sitting in the so called ‘old town coffee house’ sipping chocolate and doing what I love to do. Life has never been this good. Really!

I take breaks from my intense product development to do some other stuff, which is not so important as products but still holds a lot of significance for the company. One of the things is to pen down my thoughts(As I mentioned before, the reason I take action is primarily to aid my thinking, so it is only natural that I should pen down my thoughts as I am in action).

Today I will dwell on one deficiency of human psyche,so pay close attention. Have you noticed the increased security hullabaloo after 9/11? What have people learned from 9/11? To increase more and more security in airports, coasts, air, water, land, your home,your bedroom…your mind? Human beings have a deficiency of drawing narrow principles from particular events. Hardly anyone got the lesson from 9/11 that the future is highly unpredictable. It sounds like a cliché but even the humblest of us have greater confidence in our ability to predict future than it should be. We have an intense dislike for the abstract, We love details and particulars. So, we fail to draw abtsract, but more imporant lessons from events: in this case our inability to predict future, especially those that matter.

The truth is that , in general, security is a big illusion. Are you afraid to start a startup? Are you afraid to live your dream? Are you afraid to learn day trading that you have been dreaming of doing? Are you afraid…..? You are already sitting on a time-bomb, so you might as well live it according to your own terms. It is better to take calcuated risks with a chance to live life fully than to be in an illusion of security and not knowing what to do when the time-bomb finally explodes.

According to many studies it has been shown that most of the bravado is done mostly because the doer did not anticipate the risks involved. Which is good if you are an entrepreneur—you are using your ignorance to your advantage. We are sorely deficient in forecasting risks. And the real problem is that we forecast all the wrong risks, which do not even exist. So, all the dangers you are foreseeing when you want to live the life you want, they just don’t exist. And the dangers that do exist, you don’t know them. And your optimal strategy is to take life in your hands and do what you truly desire instead of sitting on a time-bomb and living under a false security of its muted ticking.


PS: I will follow the advise of the famous mathematician Henri Poincare and won’t bother to correct my spelling mistakes.

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Mathemagic Solution.

Let us say you think up a 5 digit number , say, X=15683.

Add up the digits: Y=1+5+6+8+3=23

Subtract this from the original number : Z=X-Y=15683-23=15660.

Let us say, from Z we take out the number 5. So we have 1660.

The Problem is to find the missing number.

Now look carefully, here is the trick for finding it out. The number you see is 1660. Add them up and you get 1+6+6+0=13.

Now you know the multiplication table of ‘9’.

It is 9×1=9

Now we have the remaining sum=13. Ask yourself the question What is the number in the 9’s table which is closest to 13? The answer is 18, right? So subtract 13 from 18, which is 18-13=5. MAGIC: That is the missing number. You got it.(Remember, I took out 5 from 15660 to get 1660.) NOTE: You can’t hide a 9 or 0

Now, Here is the challenge for you. The number I give you is = 122, tell me which number is missing?

If you have any doubts about the solution , don’t hesitate to contact me. Have a nice mathemagic. :))
PS: Proof of the trick.Let us say a 4 digit number X=1000a+100b+10c+d. Then Y=a+b+c+d

Z=X-Y=999a+99b+9c=0(mod 9).

Which means that the sum of the digits of Z will also be divisible by 9[1]. So, all you have to do to find the missing digit is to get a number which makes the sum divisible by 9.

The proof can easily be extended to n-digit numbers.

PPS: Proof of [1]

Let us say a number X=0(mod 9). Say, X=1000a+100b+10c+d=9k.

X=(999a+99b+9c) + (a+b+c+d)=9k. Obviously (a+b+c+d) is divisible by 9 to make the LHS divisible by 9. Hence, the result. Again, this proof can be easily extended to n-digit numbers.

(Those who attended my talk–Here are the slides )

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Time To Walk The Talk!!

I have been giving talks here and there, in public, in private and sometimes talking to myself on the unrealized power of mathematics and the impact it can have on the WWW. Now is the time to walk the talk.

For that purpose I have started my own enterprise– EvolviMatix[1]. I will come to the ultra-geeky name in a short while.So, first things first. Usually some practical thinkers take action to test their theory, to validate it. And that is what most people think I am doing(including my wife before I explained to her). Actually it is the converse. I am basically a philosopher(the greatest thing is that I do not need a degree to be so), and my action is solely for the purpose of thinking, to have more clarity about the state of affairs in my mind.Actions are for the sake of achieving clarity in thinking and not vice-versa (atleast for me).

My hypothesis is that the smartest strategy you can have is to maximize your odds of getting lucky, the rest are mere details[2]. And I have explicitly stated that in my company’s official strategy(company strategy). My strategy is to get lucky– that’s it.However, it would require a lot of thinking to increase my odds of getting lucky, and that is where my experience with mathematics will come into play. Please understand that it has nothing to do with numbers. As I have said elsewhere that mathematics(and also numbers) is primarily a tool for meditation, that it has other benefits is just a side effect.

If you look at the short history of internet superstars, that is how it happened. Say Google, it didn’t happen that one fine day the founders dreamed up the strategy how to rule the internet and be the poster boys of web2.0. They were just solving an interesting problem while doing their PhD. And it so happened that they soon realized the impact of what they were creating.

Caterina and Stewart had created a game company and were working on that, when they stumbled upon this goldmine of tagged photo-sharing(which was actually a small part of the game they were building).And that is how Flickr came into the scene.

Even Microsoft had an evolutionary approach to strategy when they wanted to put a PC in every home. They were tinkering with various operating systems which also included an OS they were building with IBM. It was just that Bill Gates saw a greater velocity in the Windows market and went for it.And nobody thought that computers will have so varied uses and applications so as to reshape our social and business life.All the breakthroughs were solutions waiting for a problem.

Now, everybody seems to be creating the next killer app, the next idea which is going to revolutionize the web. So, I just thought of doing something different. I endeavor to be extremely lucky. And I am tackling a tough technical challenge of the internet(that’s all I can say about the project in stealth mode).So, wish me luck!!

[1] ‘Evolvi’ is derived from evolution. ‘Matix’ is derived from Matrix, a mathematical structure(much glamorized by the movie ‘Matrix’).
[2] Sometimes people mix up Vision with Strategy. My Vision is to generate wealth(I will write about my vision another time). ‘How’ I do that is strategy.

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Project Euler

Here is an excellent mix of mathematical challenges which can be solved with the help of computers. Interestingly most of the users use Python as their programming language. Somehow, not just on this piece of fact, I suspect that mathematicians like Python(including me).

So far I have solved 4 problems… the journey continues.

Here is the link : Project Euler

Have Fun!! :))

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Why I won’t read Cinderella to my daughter(or Sleeping Beauty, for that matter).

The beautiful Cinderella patiently sweeps the floor, her face black with soot and cinder.She is the archetypal no-initiative girl. Her whole life story consists of silently enduring her step mother and by a stroke of luck she gets noticed by a prince and is saved. With absolutely no initiative on her part except for looking doe-eyed and playing the part of damsel in distress.

The sleeping beauty surpasses even Cinderella in her non-initiative. All she does is sleep. Until, of course a Prince comes and rescues her. She has no personality, no ambitions, no dreams to fulfill except for the arrival of a white knight on the black horse(or black knight on the white horse). I cannot give these values to my daughter(who is 4.5 months old). Or take Red Riding Hood for example, she is so innocent(or so stupid, to be more accurate) that she cannot distinguish between her grandmother and the evil fox, for crying out loud. I really need some good stories for my daughter.

I tried some Urdu folklores (my mother tongue), and disappointment there too. True, there are many tales of ‘Princes’ rescuing more damsels in distress, and ready to fight monsters at the drop of the hat for the first stranger who seems to be in need of some kind of help. But again, they are all ‘princes’ and no ‘princesses’. A definitive gender bias across cultures and languages.

Then I stumbled upon, an RPG[1] game called ‘Aveyond’ which chronicles the journey of a village lass named Rhen with purple hair[an improbable hair color]. She is captured and made into a slave, but she endeavours her escape and finds her hidden powers. I have played just the demo version and it is good.

There is no need to look into traditional stories, I think I can make up my own little story for my daughter, and hopefully by the time she begins to walk, talk and play with computers, a full fledged educational, value-giving RPG-type game for kids, of my own.

[1]RPG(Role Playing Game) is a genre of computer games where the player assumes a character and follows him in an adventure in story mode.


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Talk on Application of Higher Mathematics on WWW.

Here I gave a talk on application of higher mathematics on world wide web :

or :

Tell me how you like it 🙂

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The Hedgehog who got fucked or the power of probability.

I have been long intrigued by the ‘Hedgehog Concept’. Basically it is your USP which lies at the intersection of three conditions:1.What you can be the best in the world at.
2.What drives your economic engine.
3.What you are deeply passionate about.

And Jim Collins(perhaps he mooted this idea), classifies companies into two categories—Foxes and Hedgehogs. Hedgehogs are the companies who apply the above principle and foxes are companies who pursue multiple endeavors and seem diffused in their strategy.

Ever heard of Intersil? It is the name of a hedgehog which got fucked by a fox. Wi-Fi Technology was developed in the mid 90s and by the end of the decade Intersil was leading producer of Wi-Fi. At that time it was the best in the world, Wi-Fi was driving its economic engine and I am sure the Intersil guys must be very passionate about it. So, it was truly a hedgehog.Then came a fox named Intel. It started selling its own Centrino brand of Wi-Fi chips at dirt cheap prices. It wasn’t better than Intersil by a long shot, but it sure was damn cheap. In fact, Intel was selling the chips at a loss. It destroyed Intersil;Intersil, to put it mildly, got fucked.

Intel derives most of its profit from laptop chipsets rather than pc chips. So, it made sense for Intel to commoditize Wi-Fi which in turn will make laptops more popular. And hence, Intel was not running at a loss by this strategy at all, if you look at the big picture. And this tactic had the added advantage of eliminating the hedgehogs,like Intersil.

Mostly, people don’t want to believe depressing news even if the facts say so. So, after giving a bad news I practise giving goodies and solutions, and that makes the party-spoiler more palatable. So, here I present solution in mathematics to come out of this quandary. Imagine you are a hedgehog with one core competency. And let us assume the probability that a bigger rival having the same business is 0.4(and hence 0.4 chances of you being killed, to simplify things). Now imagine you have 3 core competencies tied in an intimate manner which make you distinctive, instead of one which you were doing best. So, what are the chances of your rival beating you up in that game? The probability is 0.4×0.4×0.4=0.064. So, now your chances of being killed dropped from 40 in 100 to 6.4 in 100.That is a dramatic risk reduction. So, the best strategy is to tie together a few core competencies in a unique manner, which holistically work together,even if those core competencies are not the best.

[1] G.Carr,Nicholas, “Does IT Matter?Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage.”
[2]Isaiah Berlin, “The Hedgehog and the Fox .”

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Patents: Some nuanced thoughts.

I wrote something about IPP(Intellectual Property Patents), a while ago(cf:Why patents suck).This post can be taken as a continuation of that post or can be taken independently.

After mulling over the general undesirability of IPP , it is time to ask what are the various reasons why people/companies patent at all. Some of the reasons are obviously evil, and some are benign and can be classified as ‘self-defense’ . Big companies and small companies patent for different reasons.

Big Companies:

1.First, the evil reason is to kill competition and have a monopoly over pricing. It is done to create an artificial exclusivity of the the product. And this in turn slows down the pace of economic evolution.

2.A not so evil reason is to protect oneself. Even if you are a big company, you are always in a danger to be sued by other big companies(and sometimes by smaller companies). So what do you do? Well, here is a small story about what big companies do in that case. Once, there was a farmer who had a dog. He wanted to sell his dog, and priced it at a whopping 20 thousand dollars. There was another farmer who needed a dog but of course did not have that kind of money to pay. So he went to the dog seller and said that he has two cats, and he plans to sell them at 10 thousand dollars each. So how about exchanging two 10K cats with one 20K dog? The farmer happily agreed and later boasted to his neighbors that he sold his dog for 20K. Well, that is precisely what big corps do. They cross license their patents. They say that if you license me with patents A and B, we will license you with our patents C and D. You scratch my balls and I will scratch your ass. Or something like that.

Small Companies:

1.The evil reason why small companies patent their product is to singularly profit from them. They are like domain-name squatters. All they do is patent and pounce on anyone who seems to be infringing their patent conditions. The thing is that these kind of companies don’t have any products, for having a product will put them at risk to be counter sued by big companies. If they have products and sue a big corp, the big corp guy will tell them- “Well, yes we infringed your patent, but let us see; in your product you infringed this, this and that patent of mine so you will end up paying us more than we would pay you. “ So, these small companies never make any product and profit by squeezing money by having patents and hiring lawyers.

2.The not so evil reason why companies patent is the same reason why departments in a research division patent stuff. Thing is that most of the ‘score card’ in the research division is centered around publishing papers and patents. The more papers and patents you have , bigger the grant in the next year plan. The same goes for companies. The more patents they have the more funding they might get from governments and other big institutions.

Now, where does all this place us in the grander scheme of things? It leaves us at a place where patents look like necessary evils, but that ‘necessity’ is artificially manufactured. It is like arms race. Killing is not desirable, but if you do not keep a gun, others might kill you. Despite that it has to be kept in mind that killing and guns are bad in themselves, and that should not mean that even as we keep guns we should not think about the elimination of the necessity of guns altogether.

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Ideas are not land grab or why patents suck.

A chain of thoughts ensued when I read the following article about Microsoft patenting the machine classification technique(ref : am sure that if Microsoft(MS) was there in stone age, it would have patented wheels and you would have to pay MS some big ass royalty each time you drive to work. And if MS was there in prehistoric times where we were still walking on fours, it would have patented the method of walking on two legs, and each time you walk down the grocery store you would be paying even more to MS. Practically your whole life would be centered around paying Microsoft.
The fact of the matter is that patents on Intellectual Property(IP) has to do with protectionism. People who advocate IP either haven’t seriously thought about the impact of IPP(Intellectual Property Patenting) on the general health of humanity or that they don’t really believe in free market. They just believe in securing their own interests. IPP basically boils down to monopoly over pricing for big corporations. I say big corporations– or else try getting a patent if you are a lone guy working in your garage lab. In fact , time and time again it has been the case that if you are a brilliant inventor in a garage lab, you are inducted in some big corporation, and you would get 1$ for making them billions. It is only recently that garage inventors have also become entrepreneurs.The fact that we are knowledge species has to do with sharing of information, not patenting it. A truly creative thing beneficial to the whole humanity can come out only with free flowing of ideas. In fact, IPP is not something new to the history of human civilization. It has existed in one form or the other since ancient times. For example, in most ancient civilizations only people of high rank were allowed to read and write. If you are poor and do not belong to the upper gentry then you would be punished if you try to acquire knowledge and try to do something with it. Monopoly of knowledge is an old game. Progress in technology and general economy exploded in few hundred years only when society became more egalitarian in knowledge transfer. IPP flies in the face of egalitarian knowledge transfer as well as true principles of free market economy. Microsoft and its ilk are trying to reverse the clock of time and push us back to the era of darkness of knowledge.

Microsoft forgot that the knowledge capital it has, is not just because of Bill Gates, but because of the collective knowledge base of the humanity as a whole. It is trying to kick the very ladder it climbed on to this position, so that others can’t reach there. And it forgot what Newton said—” I seem brilliant because I stand on the shoulder of the giants”.

If someone else can come up independently with what you have made then it is not worth patenting. And if they can’t then you don’t need to patent it.

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