Why I love to Swim

I enter the water, feel the change in temperature and dunk inside. Then I swim, propelling forward as I exert my body in this amazing medium that is water. Swimming is a way to summon my attention. Attention which is constantly stolen by the internet, by phones, by people. Swimming is a way to clear clutter from the mind. A garbage collector for the mind.

Each breath utilized to move forward. Each action taken with the purpose of  floatation or movement.  Swimming is meditation. Swimming  is a reminder of life with each breath. Swimming is a reminder of death with each dive. Swimming is about living in the present and being in the moment.A good swim is energizing. That is why I love to swim.

 

Jack of many trades or master of one.

While I strive to be a master of my craft, observing the world yields interesting insights. Many of the successful people I respect are not masters of their craft. The alternate path is to be in the top 25 % of multiple fields. One great example is Scott Adams of Dilbert fame. Scott failed his way to success  by leveraging his corporate career, learning to program, getting an MBA, writing well, persuasion abilities,  his above average sense of humor, public speaking skills and ordinary drawing abilities. Combining those skills makes Scott Adams unique. His heuristic is learning any new skills doubles your chance of success.

The other person I can think of  is Patrick Mackenzie of Bingo Card Creator fame. Patrick or patio11 combined his programming abilities with marketing, A/B testing & writing to become an internet celebrity and a successful bootstrapped business owner.

My own inclination is to diversify skill sets with concentration towards one or two primary skills such as Programming or Design. Further augmenting it by getting good at a few other skills based on your interest. My path forward is to expand my knowledge of business , finance and machine learning. I would love to know  the path you have taken.

Electric cars and the Oil industry

The era of Electric cars is here. The success of the Model S has started an electric car race. Now we have the Chevy Bolt & the Model 3 on the way.  The beauty of oil is that it enabled humans to store and transport energy easily. We could however see the internal combustion engines becoming relics of the past very soon. This is with major economies mandating stricter emission standards for automobiles. Where does this leave big oil?

Lets look at oil consumption per product for 2014 in the USAoil_consumption_2014.png

http://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/index.cfm?page=oil_use

Motor Gasoline is almost 50% of all consumption. A plummeting gas consumption for automobiles is inevitable in the next decade or two. If I were an Oil executive, I’d be up at night trying  to plug that gap. One answer is moving base to emerging economies. But thats just band aid, since there is a possibility that they will leapfrog to the electric car era. This has happened in India with consumers moving to cell phones without ever having experienced fixed lines. The answer according to me is not on land.

Between Aviation gasoline & kerosene type jet fuel we have just over 1% of consumption. A major reason why the Concorde failed was that it was a gas guzzler . In the electric car era that wouldn’t matter. Enter a potential growth driver. The other reason the Concorde failed was unfriendly legislation and limited routes. Big oil almost never has legislation as a problem.

Long distance battery operated or Solar planes are still a pipe dream. The time  is ripe to revive supersonic flights. I foresee a future with a 6 hour flight connecting SFO to Mumbai. If I were an oil executive, I would seriously consider investing in building supersonic airplanes. A future where majority of planes are supersonic and run on aviation fuel can save the oil industry.  The future of big oil is up in the air.

Inverse Index Funds

Just thinking. Jack Bogle revolutionized investing for small investors in the USA by making market cap weighted index funds mainstream. What would happen if someone structured a security such that its percentage ownership of the underlying index say the S & P 500 would be inverse of  its market cap? The hypothesis I am exploring is that the smaller companies have more room to grow over longer periods of time.

The way this would work is that the fund starts out as  inverse market cap weighted  and at the end of x years based on growth it returns capital and dissolves itself. The fund can then be re-established from scratch.

An alternative of course is that the smaller companies shrink drastically and move out of the index. Homework for me to run a simulation and publish those results.

why I love Tennis?

Tennis is civilized battle with the sword replaced with a racket. Tennis is about observing your opponent for that moment of hesitation. Tennis is about coming up from behind when you are down a couple of sets to win the match. Tennis is about focus and silencing your inner voice. Tennis is about living in the moment. Tennis is about believing that the next serve will be an ace, the forehand you hit will be a winner and when you barely get the ball across the net, you will stay alive to mount a counterattack. Tennis is about long term strategy and short term tactics.

Tennis is about asking questions, Can I best my opponent with a fierce forehand or a blazing serve? Or can he get the better of me in that time? Do I serve and volley or do I play from the baseline? Did that extra power on the return unsettle him? It is about adapting to your opponent and employing the right tools. There are many tools that can be applied: the serve, the forehand, the back-hand, the slice, the lob etc. It is about asking what new tools can I employ? Tennis is about statistical thinking, what are the odds of me making this shot? Okay I admit I’m not good at this. There is this constant process of learning that goes on. Tennis is about making decisions in a split second with incomplete information.

Tennis is about showmanship and making elegant shots. I relish the crack of the ball hitting the racket on a shot and the silence of a well executed serve. Tennis is about rooting for your opponent to make that hard return because it adds to the fun. A good game of tennis is energizing. Playing tennis is about loving the battle more than winning and that is why I love tennis.

The Apprentice

To be a master, one must first be an apprentice. In the modern world,  typically your first job is where the apprenticeship begins. I would prefer working on a craft much earlier than that. But, we are limited by the systems created around us like school and university. With medieval guilds no longer around, we have to craft our own apprenticeship path. The first challenge is finding masters.  Some places you will find them are Universities, Companies and Open Source projects. The software industry as dynamic it is will not afford you the luxury of one master. People move on or you do. So be comfortable with the idea of having many masters over the course of your apprenticeship.

The big mistake I made when I was younger is to think that the golden key to opportunity is a degree from an elite college. A degree is just a tool that can open certain doors and maybe give you a head start. So don’t lose hope in case you didn’t go to one. The real world only cares if you can solve a business problem.

There are in fact two keys to opportunity, curiosity and a hunger to learn. Ask if it is your time to earn or time to learn? Most of the times it will be a time to learn. To learn one must have a beginner’s mind. Use your curiosity to learn things that you like. Don’t Panic if things don’t make sense, everyone begins somewhere. Learn from books and the internet, the greatest learning tool of our time. Teach what you learn. Leverage what you have learned to get in a guild[read company or open source project] that aligns with your curiosity. This creates a feedback mechanism for you. Learn from everyone, your peers, your superiors and even the interns. Then let the magic begin, with the right people around you will learn exponentially faster and have a meaningful apprenticeship. In the path to mastery, the journey is the destination. I would love to know about the path that you have taken.

Business problems

When I am posed a question as to what is it that I do, my reply is unequivocally I solve business problems. In fact most craft’s ranging from watch making to ship-building are solving a business problem. I would define a business problem as one which upon being solved either increases profits or decreases expenses for your organization.

for example:
writing software that predicts inventory consumption rates for spacely sprockets.[increase profits]
writing software that helps reduce the number of  delivery trips that big retailer has to make. [reduce expenses]

Building software is a lot of fun as the business problems that are solved by software have the potential to be massively scalable. Lurking in your organization is a problem waiting to be solved, maybe a process that can be automated or a missing hook to an api that returns valuable data. In fact you are running a software company even if you aren’t.

It is easy to be caught up into a title of being an Software Engineer. In reality we are solving a business problem, writing software is just the tool we use to achieve it. So, my questions to you are:
1. what are the business problems that you are solving for your company?
2. what are the ones that exist but you haven’t solved yet?

Would love to hear back about both.

Focus

For a software craftsman, focus is essential to build quality software. Interrupts are the enemy of focus. While not all interrupts are avoidable like meetings, interviews or even a colleague with a question. There are certain things that can be controlled like your inbox and distractions like news, facebook, twitter or any other form of content readily available. The question is how? A friend suggested a system which has worked great for me. It’s called the Pomodoro.

All a Pomodoro is a way to break down work   in chunks of  25 minutes before you take a break. I use this nifty web application called moosti that helps me keep time.  Ultimately it is a mental hack that allows me to give permission to myself to be present and to focus on the task at hand. With the timer counting down I tend to close all other tabs.

The added benefit of this system is it allows  me to measure how productive my day was. I just need to count the number of successful Pomodoro chunks in the day. I would love to know about how you focus on your tasks?