Dec 31, 2007

Introspection

23andMe is my favorite startup of 2007.


From: Kirubakaran
Sent: December 27, 2007
To: 23andMe Help
Subject: RE: Can you...?

Thanks. It will be really cool to look at my raw machine code and write my own code to parse it :-) If you can let me know when you offer that, I'd buy immediately.

Thanks,
Kirubakaran.

-----Original Message-----
From: 23andMe Help
Sent: Thursday, December 27, 2007
To: Kirubakaran
Subject: RE: Can you...?

Hello,

Thank you for your interest in 23andMe. Our service characterizes your genome at more than 580,000 points, known as SNPs, where people tend to differ from one another. Ongoing scientific research is determining how these SNPs, or Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms, affect an individual's chances of having particular traits or developing certain medical
conditions.

23andMe's web-based service offers an assortment of tools that let you view your data with regard to certain genetic associations, and also in the context of ancestry, the global gene pool and, family relationships. Our tool set also includes Genome Explorer, which allows you to browse all 580,000 points of your raw genetic data by SNP, gene or chromosomal location. At this time 23andMe does not have a way to give customers their genetic data on a CD, flash drive or other downloadable or stored format. But we are working to make that possible, and hope to be able to distribute raw data to our customers in the near future.

Regards,
The 23andMe Team

--------------- Original Message ------------------

From: Kirubakaran
To: help@23andme.com
Date: 12/26/2007
Subject: Can you...?

Hi,

I am planning to order your product in www.23andme.com
I have question though: Will you allow me to download my genome?

I understand it takes around 3GB to fit this information. Can you ship it to me in a DVD?

Thanks,
Kirubakaran.

2008!

Plan for 2008 : Be More Audacious

I have some serious goals for 2008. My entire focus is on creating a successful startup.

I do get "free" time besides my focussed effort. This is where I plan to fit in all the other stuff. It is pretty much a given that the main startup that I will be working on will not succeed and a derivate of it will be The One. It is due to the simple fact that you cannot predict something that doesn't exist yet. However, the startup that I work on with full effort will be the battering ram with which the doors of opportunities can be opened. I've seen this happen again and again in my work. I will be working on something very seriously and will get inspiration to do something else. This fact doesn't diminish the importance of the primary task. Without such focussed effort, the derivative inspiration wouldn't come in the first place.

I can give numerous examples from my experience but each of them are worth a separate post. One quick example I can give is: I was working hard for a programming competition in school. My friend Pradeep was also working on his project. He wanted to construct some line drawings for that and asked me to help - as it was taking a long time to get it right. I wrote a quick tool to interactively draw shapes and then have the program spit out the code that will create the shapes. Then I got interested in that tool, abandoned my original project which now looked lame compared to this tool, and rewrote it into something presentable to an audience. That was the first public programming contest that I won.

Besides kicking some serious ass regarding startups, I plan to learn lots of new things in subjects I am totally unaware of. Math and computer science are already in the radar. I will grok some Genomics. I think this is where the puck is going to be. Looking forward to an exciting projectile vomit filled 2008.

Bye Bye 2007

There is nothing as great as good old fashioned last-minute-rush to get something done. I promised my friend that the number of my blog posts this year would be a perfect square. It happened to be perfect squares in the past - although I didn't try to make it that way. [144,100,__ - I am trying to fill in the blanks with 49].

Could I have done more in 2007? Regrets are for losers and ONWARD we march :-)

Here are few notable things I did:

YC Winter Founder Program
I applied for WFP Y Combinator funding, for my startup AdheSieve. It was not selected. The process of submitting the application itself was a new experience. One big positive outcome was that I talked to my current manager at my day job about my startup plans. I didn't want to do anything behind his back as he has done a lot for me - and also because doing something behind someone's back is just plain creepy. He was extremely supportive and encouraged me to make it big. I am continuing my efforts - moonlighting basically. I pretty much threw out the AdheSieve idea though.

Web Apps
I know much more about web applications than I ever did. I have internalized various things, which mean I can roll out a webapp in hours when I think of something. I'll be putting my webapp muscles to work in near future ;-) Expect some serious kick ass apps. If you want to invest in my company, do so soon. You don't want to miss the next Google.

Linux, Exclusively
Ever since I first started using Linux, I've been a loud mouthed advocate. My friend TVK and I won Rs.100 in a college debate (Windows vs Linux). :-D But all my computers so far had been dual-boots. Although I rarely booted into Windows, I had it there. When I bought my new Thinkpad T61 few months ago, I made it an exclusively Linux machine. Finally! I intend to get the Vista tax back by going to small claims court. I've made videos of not accepting the Vista EULA . I have not filed the claim yet. At the very least, it will make a funny YouTube video.

Patent Pending, Almost
My friend Mark and I came really close to getting a patent. I bought three books on the subject and started reading earnestly. Really interesting books. You should read them even if you are not thinking of getting patents: (like digging a well before you are thirsty)
  1. Patent Pending In 24 Hours
  2. Patent It Yourself
  3. How To Make Patent Drawings
It turns out that prior art for our invention exists. Hmmm. Anyway, the whole activity of excited discussions over lunch every day and sharing dreams of what we were going to do after we cash out has got me all psyched up. It will be really cool to invent something! Now, THAT would be achieving my childhood dream.

Drawing Lessons
My sister and I took one full quarter of drawing lessons. I can say that I see things a bit differently now. I feel that my patience has improved too. I don't remember doing anything else ever for three hours straight. That is good. I sometimes have a sneaky suspicion that I have ADD or ADHD or whatever. It may be that I am just being childish. If I can draw a still-life of eggs on a white paper plate for three hours, I guess I can safely assume that I am okay.

Skills
Learned snow-boarding and inline skating, early this year. I found out that I enjoy snow boarding much more than skiing. It is a LOT more fun. I learned several new tricks in playing Racquetball.

Instant Word Search


Instant Word Search was one of the best things I did in 2007. It is a toy application and anyone can write it in a day or less. I know. But I learned a lot in the process of creating it. I will try to explain.

I was working on my startup - which was trying to empower small business with easy client management tools. I was getting nowhere. I wanted to play with Javascript and Python frameworks. I wanted a simple but interesting application. So I wrote a small application over the afternoon and called it "Instant Word Search".

Writing it was fun. I did some nifty things to make it fast. It was hosted as a CGI application. So the fastest it could get was not fast enough. 'Mechanical Turks' gave me feedback that was very eye opening. I used this need for speed situation to learn all about Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and moved the application there. There I played with lighttpd. I did lot of UI improvements based on what the real users were saying.

In the mean time, I showed the app to my friend Manikantan. I was (am) shy about showing it to anyone, as it was a very trivial app. I was really ashamed. Mani submitted it to StumbleUpon. I was shocked to get 20k visitors per day. They kept coming back too! The reviews of StumbleUpon users were heart-warming for me. These were people who I had never heard of - and they were treating IWS as best thing since diced tomatoes! The feeling cannot be expressed in words, I guess :-)

My sister and Ruchi loved the app from the beginning. But the praise of strangers gives a weird satisfaction. My sister sent the link to her friends. Ruchi found out that the site showed up in Alexa. The app got written about in an online magazine called "Web English Teacher" that goes out to teachers. Ruchi acted as my PR person.

I found out that we tend to grade our work in terms of the effort we put it, while the users tend to grade it based on how useful it is for them. Duh!

Great thing about StumbleUpon is that the recommendation is very targeted. Mani submitted it under 'linguistics', 'search', 'words'. That just worked perfect in getting really interested users. Submitting it to Reddit was an embarrassment.

I saved the best for the end: I got a B-I-G fan mail from Gail. This app happened to be something she wanted for years. She even used it at her work to show her co-workers that teaching certain prefixes to students was a waste of time. Reading her email was so much fun and satisfying. You just can't put a price tag on that. We are friends now and she has volunteered to test drive every app I write!

May be next time I'll try to be less shy about the silly things I create :-)

My Startup


Here is my very own spartan startup. I have everything I need right here. The dead tree books are there mostly just for old time's sake. I like to view the results in my Nokia 770 (near coffee cup) - which usually shows me the novel ways in which I screwed up. Dell machine has Windows XP that it came with - I use this for testing in IE... *sigh*. My new Thinkpad T61 is all pure Linux. Moleskine notebooks are awesome and I swear by using index cards for brainstorming.

At present, my startup uses: Python (+Pylons), Javascript (+jQuery), Linux, ligHTTPd, git, Amazon EC2 etc.

That orange thing is my startup pillow.

Quest To Become A Better Programmer

The best time to start was last year.
The second best time to start is right now.
- Seth Godin
I will try to list the milestones I want to cross:
  1. Write a compiler
  2. Write a ray tracer
  3. Write an operating system
  4. Learn Lisp
  5. More math #
    1. Neural Networks
    2. Genetic Algorithms
    3. Bayesian Classifiers
    4. Clustering Algorithms
    5. Image Matching
    6. Project Euler
  6. More Computer Science
    1. SICP
    2. Operating Systems
    3. Compiler Design
    4. Machine Learning
    5. Distributed Computing
    6. Algorithm Design
I am not kidding. I am pretty miserable about the current state of my programming abilities. I am going to follow Stevey's advice. Valiant effort has got to pay off. Of course, as I learn more, my world view will change and I will revise this list. What we have right now is just v0.1. In this case, I think 'revise' most likely means 'expand'. Since you are my loyal audience, I will keep you updated about my quest.

As I explore to write this post, I am finding more and more things that I need to do. Damn. All the more reason to become financially independent soon, quit and retire to a beach house filled with books and computers... Ahhh... :-)

Links:
Books recommended by Stevey

Dec 30, 2007

2007 - Books That I Read

Friends were the first victims of my startup efforts of 2007. Hanging out, emailing, chatting, calling up - everything just dropped as if someone threw on the gravity switch in a zero-gravity area. A close second is my reading habit. Fiction intake especially took a big hit.

These are some notable books that I did read this year:
  1. The Four Hour Workweek - Tim Ferriss
  2. On Writing - Stephen King
  3. Man's Search For Meaning - Viktor E. Frankl
  4. Selected Stories - O.Henry
  5. Stumbling On Happiness - Daniel Gilbert
  6. How To Get Rich - Felix Dennis
  7. Founders At Work - Jessica Livingston
[1] crystallized many of my thoughts and gave them a concrete form and plan; [2] is making me write different and simple. I feel very inspired and might write a book next year (serious - what the hell anyway); [3] eased a lot of my pain and brought me out of depression - you know 2007 was horrible year for personal pain; [4] relaxed me on lonely nights; [5] opened my eyes to several things about our mind (unfortunate author - he was humiliated by a Baboon); [1], [6] & [7] inspired me immensely.

I plan to read more often in bed than I did in 2007. It is great to read some fiction before you fall asleep. It lifts you off and places you in a different world. If the author does the job right, you forget yourself and there is nothing that wipes your troubles better. Of course stronger drowning agents may be needed for stronger troubles, but that is off topic.

I kicked off this personal goal of reading 5000 pages in 100 days - but that was a flop. I'll do that in 2008.

The books I had in mind for the 5000 page challenge were:
  • ANSI Common Lisp - Paul Graham [few chapters]
  • VIM Book [done]
  • On Writing - Stephen King [done]
  • Software Engg For Internet Apps - P.Greenspun [nope]
  • Prime Obsession [one chapter]
  • Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain [nope]
  • Dive Into Python [many chapters]
  • Practical Common Lisp - P.Seibel [few chapters]
  • The Little Schemer [few chapters]
  • Analysis of Genes & Genomes [one chapter]
How much I actually read are in s[quar]e brackets. As you can see, I didn't do too well. However, what I was doing was pretty productive and I'll blog about that soon... sooner than you expect :-)

The Movie Madness Continues

On trying to list the movies that I watched in 2007, I was shocked. The list is not comprehensive - I am pretty sure I missed a whole bunch of them. Still the count is 70+!

Movies Seen In 2007 (Google Doc Spreadsheet)

I briefly entertained the thought that I should cut back on movies, and then thought - what the hell. It is one of my primary relaxation activities. There is nothing like sitting together, eating and seeing a nice movie.

[Thanks Ruchi, for your help with the list]

Dec 26, 2007

A Simple Way To Become Rich

You may use this idea to become rich. Just give me 10% of your profits. Losses are all yours though - that is tax deductible, right?

If you are not a criminal, you probably believe in the adage:
"Truth Triumphs".

Then why didn't you short SCO or buy put options? Instead of just talking to your friends about SCO's fraudulent business practices, you could be a millionaire today.

Instead of the countless hours that I spent Donald Duck dancing in front of my sympathetic friends, had I done some research and put some options where my mouth was, I would now have more options to put things in places - especially my feet in Seychelles and some of the finest rotten grape juices in my mouth - regardless of what I would actually do.

I think this is a great hedge fund idea. Derivatives of this idea could make great startup ideas. If startups are born from the conviction that Fat Corporation is the 'Bad Way To Do Business' TM, why not take it all the way and build your business model around fighting evil?

Do you claim that Splenda is just chlorinated sugar and hence a deadly carcinogen waiting to strike en masse? Buying put options on Johnson & Johnson could be your ticket to wonderland. What is stopping you? What, you are not that sure now or something?

TRAT HedgeFund (Truth Always Triumphs Hedge Fund) could also lead to a better world. If Green Peace can buy put options in Exxon before suing their asses for an oil spill, it can be self-sufficient. Is it legal for a hedge fund to lobby? If not already so, I guess it can be lobbied successfully that it is legal for them to lobby - given suffient money. This could be like the idea of unleashing solar powered self-replicating robots in the desert to build solar panels from the sand (K Lackner & C Wendt ; Cochran ; cached link).

I bought a significant (significant for me) chunk of Vonage using the same logic. My average price was $3.11 per share. But contrary to my expectations, Vonage lost the seemingly frivolous and vague patent lawsuit and went down to $0.89. I expected that it would jump to at least $7, if they won. It has bounced back to $2.10 since. Lets see what happens.

You missed Enron. You still have time on Halliburton. Will you act? Microsoft, anyone?

Unpredictability = Risk. Since you know that the "Truth Triumphs", you get huge advantage, since the outcome is predictable. Watch out for options expiry though.

Consult your accountants and financial experts before proceeding with this idea. Side effects may include nausea, bankrupcy, extreme riches and/or baldness by tendency to pull your hair out. No animals were harmed in the writing of this post. Opinions of the author are, well, opinions.

[Submitted to: Hacker News(YC), Reddit]

Dec 12, 2007

My New Year Wishes

  1. People will stop using guidelines from medieval times (also known as religion) to live in the modern world.
  2. India will not elect convicted criminals just for religious and caste reasons.
  3. America will elect a President who is not of the current race, gender, belief and orientation stereotype.
  4. Instead of putting band-aids on problems like starvation, we will empower the victims to resolve their problems themselves.
  5. For a change, middle east will be peaceful.
If my wish #1 comes true, I think everything else will come true too. I am hopeful.