Forget about the constraints

All our lives we're trained to look at a problem and keep in mind the constraints as we look for a solution. 

Given x < 5, for what values of x is x + 4 > 1?

Even in things less objective than math, you're never really pushed when you're young. For example, in English--write a 5 paragraph essay comparing and contrasting the two authors. 

No one ever really questions the work, and if they did, they'd get in trouble because it was taken as if they're questioning authority--but let's put ourselves in that position again and pretend like we could ask why. What would you ask?

I'd ask: Why 5 paragraphs--what if I could do it better in 3? What if I wrote a mere sentence--I could make so much more of an impact just because of the accessibility and the stunning terseness. Why even an essay--why not a poem, a meme, a CAD model of a representative piece of architecture?

And now I think, had I done anything but those 5 paragraphs, it would have been not only awkward (what the hell is a CAD file?), I would have been disciplined. Yet, 5 paragraphs in reality sounds like a way less interesting and ineffective way of expressing your thoughts relative to all of the other mediums. 

The best entrepreneurs push the boundaries (probably why many of them didn't get along well with school); they drop the constraints, ignore them, forget about them. Look at Stripe, "but it takes time to be able to get a bank to start processing payments online", or FreedomPop, "people need to pay for their data for you to be profitable", or Facebook, "there's already a major social network in Myspace, where's the market for Facebook?", or even Dropbox, "the dropbox founders must be stupid, so many people have tried this yet failed". They don't let constraints dictate what they do; they take criticism, but they don't take shi*--you can't tell them what they can or cannot do.

I actually wrote this today because Carolyn Levy of Y Combinator just created and released Safe, which is going to change early stage investing for the better and which is a huge move in a constrained industry (the legal side of investing) plagued with "this is how it's always done".

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Tryna go to jail dog?

"On Bastoy prison island in Norway, the prisoners, some of whom are murderers and rapists, live in conditions that critics brand 'cushy' and 'luxurious'. Yet it has by far the lowest reoffending rate in Europe."

With our country's high reconviction rates that lead to a large loss of taxpayer dollars given the expense of maintaining large prisons, we should try and test new prison models across the thousands of prisons in our country rather than letting our preconceived notions get the best of our judgement and just sitting on the problem, acting like it isn't one. A data driven society is a safer and more efficient one.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/feb/25/norwegian-prison-inmates-treated-like-people

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Why I'll Never Take A Normal Cab Again

Today I took a Taxi to the Airport, and now I know why ridesharing apps must and will win. (I can't drive--otherwise, I would've used FlightCar.)

The Taxi Cab Process:

  1. Wait at street corner waving at taxis as they buzz by. Hope that one is free and you can get a ride with them.
  2. Driver (I'll call him Joe) barely speaks English, I struggle to communicate with him.
  3. Joe's car is filthy.
  4. Joe decides to take his own convoluted route to the airport, not a standard one. I eat the cost.
  5. Joe claims some sort of toll that isn't on the meter. Can I believe him?
  6. Joe apparently doesn't take card. He forces me to walk to the ATM with him to withdraw cash, all the while I'm running late for my flight.
  7. Joe doesn't have change. I have to run around the airport with him to get change.
  8. This was a shitty experience. I can't rate Joe. There's no accountability. Many others will suffer the same fate I did and there's nothing to stop this.
  9. The worst part is that Joe expects a tip after this set of shenanigans, and I don't have the time to argue with him as to why he doesn't deserve one. 

The Uber Process:

  1. I open my app and press pickup.
  2. Driver (I'll call him Malcolm) arrives--I'm notified where he is and how long it will take him. There's not much chance in play here.
  3. Malcolm speaks English well, his car is maintained. If this weren't the case, he'd be fired as his rating wouldn't be >= 4.7 stars.
  4. Malcolm gets me to the airport via an appropriate route, and I can trust Uber to refund me if that's not the case. 
  5. I'm dropped off curbside (in style), the tips included, my card is charged automatically, and I can't catch my flight without the hassles of figuring out how to pay Malcolm in cash. I can even request a fare quote before traveling.

Technology-enabled disruption of industries is awesome.

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Thanks to Ishaan and Delian for looking at drafts of this post.


My Fortune Couldn't Be More True

Today, I received this fortune: "You will make some change before winning". (photo upside down)

And while I've received ones that were utterly false like "Eat more Chinese food, it's good for your health", this one couldn't be more true.

In order for a startup, a fortune 500 company, government, non-profit, or even a religious body, to succeed, it needs to be able to change. 

And that too, quickly, or else, I fear, their competition will be more fortunate.

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Massachusetts Introduces "Software Tax", Further Proving the Incompetency of Our Politicians

In the state of Massachusetts, there's apparently a new software tax for all software developed, upgraded, or customized (yes, Wordpress) by a third party (out or in state) for any business in Massachusetts, as well as a tax for any business that doesn't do ALL of their own IT work. (Does this mean AWS qualifies? Who knows??)

Here's the law:

“... computer software, including prewritten upgrades, which is not designed and developed by the author or other creator to the specifications of a specific purchaser. The combining of two or more prewritten computer software programs or prewritten portions thereof does not cause the combination to be other than prewritten computer software. Prewritten computer software includes software designed and developed by the author or other creator to the specifications of a specific purchaser when it is sold to a person other than the specific purchaser. Where a person modifies or enhances computer software of which the person is not the author or creator, the person shall be deemed to be the author or creator only of such person's modifications or enhancements. …”

Read more here: http://www.fastcolabs.com/3015446/why-were-so-frustrated-about-the-massachusetts-software-tax

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Innovating Beyond The Screen

Samsung is about to release the Ativbook 9 Plus and I'm stoked to get one. If I had money and access to the Korean stock market, I'd probably invest it all in Samsung, because they're going to win. They've already ousted the competition in the smart phone market, and they're slowly dominating the TV market, computers shall be next.

But it's not Samsung, or Apple, or Google, or insert big company name here who is going to win in the long term. At least not with what they're publicly  "innovating" today.

Sure higher resolution screens and lighter weight laptops and better connectivity are great, but that's not the future of computing. Call me crazy but Space Glasses are. And someone's already making and selling them. (And they're a YC company!) These guys might be the next Microsoft or Apple. They might even be bigger than that.

Check it out:

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The Sad Truth

A friend shared a quote with me from the great French historian and philosopher, Alexis de Tocqueville.

“The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money.”

It's unfortunate that we're far past that moment in history. 

Read more about Alexis' writing: 

De la démocratie en Amérique (French pronunciation: ​[də.la.de.mɔ.kʁa'si.ɑ̃.na.me'ʁik]; published in two volumes, the first in 1835 and the second in 1840) is a classic French text by Alexis de Tocqueville. Its title translates as On Democracy in America, but English translations are usually entitled simply Democracy in America. In the book, Tocqueville examines the democratic revolution that he believed had been occurring over the past seven hundred years.

In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont were sent by the French government to study the American prison system. In his later letters Tocqueville indicates that he and Beaumont used their official business as a pretext to study American society instead.[1] They arrived in New York City in May of that year and spent nine months traveling the United States, studying the prisons, and collecting information on American society, including its religious, political, and economic character. The two also briefly visited Canada, spending a few days in the summer of 1831 in what was then Lower Canada (modern-day Quebec) and Upper Canada (modern-day Ontario).

After they returned to France in February 1832, Tocqueville and Beaumont submitted their report, Du système pénitentiaire aux États-Unis et de son application en France, in 1833. When the first edition was published, Beaumont, sympathetic to social justice, was working on another book, Marie, ou, L'esclavage aux Etats-Unis (two volumes, 1835), a social critique and novel describing the separation of races in a moral society and the conditions of slaves in the United States. Before finishing Democracy in America, Tocqueville believed that Beaumont's study of the United States would prove more comprehensive and penetrating.[2]


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The Bill of Rights Sometimes

The owner of Lavabit, a Dallas, TX based secure email service, was forced to shut down his company by the government without due process (or out of fear of no due process), and, furthermore, forced to refrain from sharing the details and reasons as to why the government had shut down his business.

"I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit. After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations. I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot. I feel you deserve to know what’s going on--the first amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this. Unfortunately, Congress has passed laws that say otherwise. As things currently stand, I cannot share my experiences over the last six weeks, even though I have twice made the appropriate requests."

I thought that our government guarantees us citizens some rights. Since when did we switch to The Bill of Rights Sometimes model?

Read more here: http://lavabit.com/

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Naming Things

It's easier for something to become a standard when it's given a name.

It's funny how the best technique to do something as important as "absolute centering" in CSS, a fundamental technique in web design, hasn't been given a name until today.

"Spoiler alert: Absolute Centering only requires a declared height and these styles:

.Absolute-Center {
  margin: auto;
  position: absolute;
  top: 0; left: 0; bottom: 0; right: 0;
}

I'm not the pioneer of this method (yet I have dared to name it Absolute Centering), and it may even be a common technique, however, most vertical centering articles never mention it and I had never seen it until I dug through the comments section of a particular article."

Read more here: http://codepen.io/shshaw/full/gEiDt

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