The Pivot, or the Luck Factor in Silicon Valley

A thoughtful take on the concept of the “pivot” in Silicon Valley, from Scott Adams (the creator of the Dilbert comic):

Smart observers in the valley look for the “tell” that an early stage start-up will be a winner, but none can be found. Oh, sure, the team needs to be smart, talented, and willing to work long hours. But nearly every start-up has that going for it. Most have great ideas as well. None of it predicts success. 

So imagine if you will, some of the smartest, most rational humans the world has ever created, wallowing around in the absurdity of Silicon Valley, where success is mostly based on luck. How does one feel good about that? And what is the solution?

Answer: You institutionalize the pivot.

I’ve been watching the TV show Silicon Valley, and the episode where Pied Piper tried to pivot comes to mind.

Adams argues that the pivot is basically a way to optimize one’s luck:

Here’s the system:

1.      Form a team
2.      Slap together an idea and put it on the Internet.
3.      Collect data on user behavior.
4.      Adjust, pivot, and try again.

Thanks to Google Analytics, Optimizely, Bitly, and other tools for measuring customer behavior in real time, a smart team can try different approaches and different products until something works out. A start-up in 2014 is a guess- testing machine.

Read the rest here.

The Goldman Sachs World Cup 2014 Prediction Model

As someone who is both a fan of the World Cup and statistical modeling, it was with great interest that I read “The World Cup and Economics 2014,” a report issued by Goldman Sachs. They have outlined their predictions in a 67 page report. Goldman Sachs estiamtes that Brazil, the host nation, has a 48.5% chance to win the tournament, while Argentina, Germany, and Spain are the follow-up favorites (14.1%, 11.4%, and 9.8% to win the World Cup 2014, respectively).

The Goldman Sachs methodology is rather straightforward:

The explanatory variables in the regression analysis are as
follows:

1. The difference in the Elo rankings between the two
teams. The Elo ranking is a composite measure of
national football team success that is based on the entire
historical track record. Unlike the somewhat better
known FIFA/Coca-Cola rating, the Elo rating is available
for the entire history of international football matches.
Statistically, we find that the difference in Elo rankings is
the most powerful variable in the model.

2. The average number of goals scored by the team over
the last ten mandatory international games.

3. The average number of goals received by the opposing
team over the last five mandatory international games.

4. A country-specific dummy variable indicating whether the
game in question took place at a World Cup. This variable
is meant to capture whether a team has a tendency to
systematically outperform or underperform at a World Cup.
We only include this variable for countries that have
participated in a sufficient number of post-1960 World Cup
games (including Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Spain,
Netherlands, England, Italy and France).

5. A dummy variable indicating whether the team played in
its home country.

6. A dummy variable indicating whether the team played on
its home continent, with coefficients that are allowed to
vary by country.

From there, it’s up to Monte Carlo simulation to make the predictions:

We generate a probability distribution for the outcome of each
game using a Monte Carlo simulation with 100,000 draws,
using the parameters estimated in the regression analysis
described above. We use the results of this simulation
analysis to generate the probabilities of teams reaching
particular stages of the tournament, up to winning the
championship. We use the rounded prediction of the goals
scored to determine the outcomes of each game during the 
group stage and the unrounded forecast to pick the winner in
the knockout stage.

Unfortunately, the model has some limitations:

To be clear, our model does not use any information on the
quality of teams or individual players that is not reflected in a
team’s track record. For example, if a key player who was
responsible for a team’s recent successes is injured, this will
have no bearing on our predictions. There is also no role for
human judgment as the approach is purely statistical.

You can read the entire report here: Goldman Sachs – World Cup 2014 Economic Report

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For further reading, compare the Goldman Sachs predictions to the Five Thirty Eight World Cup Model (both models have pegged the probabilities of Brazil, Argentina, Germany, and Spain to win World Cup 2014 to within a couple of percentages, and in the same rank order of winning the tournament):

538_model_WorldCup2014

Richard Lewis Explains How Cultures Interpret Time

In this fascinating post, Richard Lewis (author of When Cultures Collide) explains how various cultures consider/view/understand time. Most of us in the West are used to “Linear Time” (i.e., event A happens, followed by event B, and so on) whereas people in southern Europe interpret time as being “multi-active”:

Southern Europeans are multi-active, rather than linear-active [read Lewis's analysis of cultures as multi-active, linear-active, and reactive]. The more things they can do at the same time, the happier and the more fulfilled they feel. They organize their time (and lives) in an entirely different way from Americans, Germans and the Swiss. Multi-active peoples are not very interested in schedules or punctuality. They pretend to observe them, especially if a linear-active partner or colleague insists on it, but they consider the present reality to be more important than appointments. In their ordering of things, priority is given to the relative thrill or significance of each meeting.

In countries inhabited by linear-active people, time is clock- and calendar- related, segmented in an abstract manner for our convenience, measurement, and disposal. In multi-active cultures like the Arab and Latin spheres, time is event- or personality-related, a subjective commodity which can be manipulated, molded, stretched, or dispensed with, irrespective of what the clock says.

“I have to rush,” says the American, “my time is up.” The Spaniard or Arab, scornful of this submissive attitude to schedules, would only use this expression if death were imminent.

There are also other great bits from the piece. This part about Japanese culture I had never known before:

Another example is the start and finish of all types of classes in Japan, where the lesson cannot begin without being preceded by a formal request on the part of the students for the teacher to start. Similarly, they must offer a ritualistic expression of appreciation at the end of the class.

Read the rest here.

Computer Program Named Eugene Passes the Turing Test

Some fascinating news in the artificial intelligence world: the Turing test was passed for the first time, ever, at The University of Reading this month. The news is all the more interesting because the test was passed with a program simulating a 13-year-old boy named Eugene:

The 65 year-old iconic Turing Test was passed for the very first time by supercomputer Eugene Goostman during Turing Test 2014 held at the renowned Royal Society in London on Saturday.

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‘Eugene’, a computer programme that simulates a 13 year old boy, was developed in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The development team includes Eugene’s creator Vladimir Veselov, who was born in Russia and now lives in the United States, and Ukrainian born Eugene Demchenko who now lives in Russia.

The Turing Test is based on 20th century mathematician and code-breaker Turing’s 1950 famous question and answer game, ‘Can Machines Think?’. The experiment investigates whether people can detect if they are talking to machines or humans. The event is particularly poignant as it took place on the 60th anniversary of Turing’s death, nearly six months after he was given a posthumous royal pardon.

If a computer is mistaken for a human more than 30% of the time during a series of five minute keyboard conversations it passes the test. No computer has ever achieved this, until now. Eugene managed to convince 33% of the human judges that it was human.

This historic event was organised by the University’s School of Systems Engineering in partnership with RoboLaw, an EU-funded organisation examining the regulation of emerging robotic technologies.

Professor Kevin Warwick, a Visiting Professor at the University of Reading and Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research at Coventry University, said: “In the field of Artificial Intelligence there is no more iconic and controversial milestone than the Turing Test, when a computer convinces a sufficient number of interrogators into believing that it is not a machine but rather is a human. It is fitting that such an important landmark has been reached at the Royal Society in London, the home of British Science and the scene of many great advances in human understanding over the centuries. This milestone will go down in history as one of the most exciting.

Read more: What is the Turing Test and why does it matter?

Sophia Amoruso’s Advice For Millennials

New York Magazine has a feature on Sophia Amoruso, founder of Nasty Gal, and her memoir, #GIRLBOSS. This is some very good advice for millenials:

Amoruso has loads of advice about the workplace, all of it shrewd and unsweetened. Don’t ask for a promotion until you’ve held a job for a year; don’t mistake your boss for a friend; fight the natural human impulse to consider yourself an exception; and never have your phone visible during a job interview. Don’t compliment your interviewer’s outfit, because “making small talk about what someone is wearing is just another form of unsolicited feedback.” Spell-check your cover letters, for fuck’s sake. These rules may seem rudimentary to anyone born before 1982, but they’re aimed at millennial-specific bad manners. A #GIRLBOSS would never take a funeral selfie or wear pajamas on an airplane.

If there’s one generational habit that galls Amoruso more than informality, it’s entitlement. Even as a thief, she was diligent. “A lot of people in my generation don’t seem to get that you have to work your way up,” she writes. “I don’t care if filing invoices is beneath you. If you don’t do it, who do you think is going to? Your boss? Nope. That’s why she hired you.”

Read the rest here.

David Sedaris Book Signing at A Cappella Books in Atlanta, GA

Whilst I was walking in Atlanta yesterday, I stumbled upon a bookstore called A Cappella Books. While I didn’t end up going inside, I put it on my radar to check out in depth in a future visit.

Today, I browsed the bookstore’s website and saw that A Capella Books is hosting David Sedaris (one of my favourite writers) for a book signing for Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls on June 16, 2014 at 7PM. You can purchase a copy of the book on Amazon (or don’t, actually*), or get it through A Cappella Books’s website for $17 (signed by David Sedaris).

I’m looking forward to this event. If you’re in Atlanta, I hope you can make it too.

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*Based on the recent controversy with Amazon and Hachette, David Sedaris suggests getting his book(s) at an actual store, like A Cappella Books:

If you don’t want to go to a store, or if you don’t want to use some other website to buy the book, then don’t buy the book. Don’t do it. Get something else you can get on Amazon, like a toaster or thermal socks. I think they sell those. Go ahead. Don’t get my book. Get a flashlight instead.

For further reading on this blog:

(1) “On Guest Rooms and Conversation Snippets”

(2) David Sedaris on Socialized Medicine

On Art Galleries in Trucks

Since the rise of the food truck scene, the trend for mobile (fill-in-the-blank) has been going (presumably) more mainstream. The New York Times has a great article on a recent trend of galleries in trucks.

While statistics on mobile galleries are hard to come by, social media shows the trend catching on in Los Angeles; Seattle; Santa Fe, N.M.; Tampa Bay, Fla.; Chicago; and even Alberta, where a ’60s teardrop-red trailer presents works from a changing lineup of local artists. Pinterest boards show a range of designs on pages dedicated to mobile galleries, and Twitter is full of people advertising their whereabouts with hashtags such as #keeptrucking. Ann Fensterstock, a lecturer on contemporary art and the author of “Art on the Block,” a history of New York art galleries, said these galleries are “part of the zeitgeist of this moment in art creating.” Critics, however, point out that artists may not be taken seriously without gallery backing. This is hardly the first time American artists have gone mobile. Before opening a gallery in the East Village, Gracie Mansion staged her “Limo Show” in 1981 in a rented limousine, parked in SoHo, where she invited passers-by into the back seat for Champagne while she pitched her friends’ art.

Screen Shot 2014-06-01 at 10.44.56 AM

If one doesn’t care for the commercialization (selling) of art, this movement makes sense:

Ms. Fensterstock agreed that the truck model has limitations. “It doesn’t make for return business; it doesn’t make for contemplation of the art by spending time with it; it doesn’t make for building a strong commercial place out of which the art gets sold,” she said.