Key take way from the Truth Machine, Michael J.Casey

The Truth Machine, Michael J.Casey
  • Blockchains are decentralized ledger systems
  • trust is a vital social resource, the truth lubricant of human interaction
  • human social organization comes from our ability to craft meaningful stories that we all believe, Yuval Noah Harrari
  • Engineering talent is still in severe shortage

Three great power centers in US

  • Technology, Silicon Valley
  • Finance, New York
  • Government, Washington

Use cases

  • Refugees are thrust into statelessness. Easy for criminal exploitation
  • Removing the central silos such Uber, Facebook and Twitter and replacing them with
  • barter trade, double entry
  • Support the scaling internet of things while avoiding one central controlling big brother
  • Self-sovereign identity
    • priorly done by government,
    • now done by Facebook Google and Twitter

Types of blockchains

  • private permissioned block chain to protect sensitive information
    • gate keeping prone to monopolies and oligopolies
  • permissionless block chain where management of data is done by individual themselves

Most popular chains

  • Ethereum
  • BitCoint

Moon shot scenario

  • Technology has freed humans from work
  • Human free to focus on creativity instead of the drudgery of work
  • Getting paid for creativity instead of it being captured by Facebook

Highlights from The Future of Humanity by Michio Kaku

  • Organisms on earth eventually will meet one of three fates, leave, adapt or die. Earth has already sustained 5 extinction cycles.
  • The threats we face are largely self inflicted
  • Scientific revolution comes in waves often stimulated by advances in physics
    • 19th century
      • mechanics and thermodynamics: locomotive and industrial revolution
    • 20th century
      • electricity and magnetism bring forth the electric age
    • The forthcoming wave
      • nano-technology
      • AI, neural networks
      • Quantum computing
      • CRISPR revolution
      • Transhumanism – the need to deal with ethical questions
  • Technological regression occurs when the population becomes complacent,
    • Admiral Zheng He and his fleet under subsequent rulers
    • US space program after the cold war is over
  • Interesting phenomena worth exploring
    • wormholes
    • rogue planets – planets that do not orbit any particular stars
    • caloric restriction and increased life expectancy
    • falling birthrates and education of women
    • uploading and downloading of consciousness (Transcendence and Mnemonic Johnny)
    • achievement of super strength on new planets
    • artificial enhancement of body, seamless interfacing with machines (telekinesis)
    • big bang happening over and over again and the universe does not grow only in one direction
  • Civilization categorization method 1:
    • energy based
      • Type 1: utilizes all the energy of the sunlight falling on the planet
      • Type 2: utilizes all energy its sun produces
      • Type 3: utilizes energy of an entire galaxy
      • Type 4: utilizing energy beyond the galaxy
    • information consumption based

Key observations of Chinese One Belt Road Initiative in Africa

Territories observed

  • Egypt
  • Sudan
  • Ethiopia
  • Kenya
  • Tanzania
  • South Africa

Similarities observed

  • Heavy Chinese enterprise involvement in the building of roads and houses
  • Shops with Chinese labels observed in operation
  • In areas where there are construction operations, Chinese supervision and management observed aided by local manual labor
  • Ubiquity of mobile internet connection
  • Ubiquity of Samsung, Huawei and Tenco Android mobile phones ranging from USD50 among local adult and adolescent population

Macro trends

With the rise of the Chinese middle class, there is now increasing domestic demand for goods and services within China. This has driven the need to increase the overall throughput volume of such commodities. It can be speculated that the level of consumption is expected to surpass the level of production within China at some point.

Economic growth in China has for now hit a road block due to the following factors:

In light of these, China needs to start shifting its policy from an export focused economy to a domestic focused economy. To do so, it needs to feed and drive domestic demand for goods and services.

Regional trends

The Chinese government has been observed to enter into agreement with local African government to fund the build out of infrastructure, primarily roads and buildings. At the date of writing 85% of roads in Ethiopia has been completed within the country while in Zanzibar, Tanzania, all major roads are under construction and a sports stadium named Mao ZeDong stadium has been observed.

In exchange for the funding, local governments are restricted to engaging the service of Chinese companies. This safeguards the effectiveness of funds deployment for the operations aspects of the agreement while serving to three specific purposes. It minimizes the actual volume of liquidity that is tied up in loans to local government, while boosting demand for construction services within China and increasing maximum possible throughput volume of commodity exports from the region.

What is not obvious during the time of observation is how effective local governments are at managing funds during the stage between its receipt from China to its payment to the engaged Chinese companies. Discounting the inherent effectiveness of the various projects in driving local GDP, differing levels of corruption and maturity of national identify within the region will result in variance between actual ROI versus expected ROI for these projects.

On deciphering Chinese end goal within the region

At the moment of writing, it is yet clear how Chinese African relationship will crystalize for the future. Two key observations need to be made before we can get a glimpse of it.

Key observation #1 would be how China would react when the loans come to maturity and the local government have yet made sufficient returns from the infrastructure investments to pay off the debt.

Key observation #2 would be how Chinese companies would handle the post construction phase of projects that require ongoing maintenance in terms of knowledge transfer.

Related readings

Navigating the trough of sorrow

While I was reading through most of the success stories that were published on IndieHackers.com, it occurred to me that my project GetData.IO really took longer than most others to gain significant traction, a full 5 years actually.

The beginning

I first stumbled upon this project back in December 2012 when I was trying to solve two other problems of my own.

In my first problem, I was trying to identify the best stocks to buy on the Singapore Stock Exchange. While browsing through the stocks listed on their website, I soon realize that most stock exchanges as well as other financial websites gear their data presentation towards quick buy and sell behaviors. If you were looking to get data for granular analysis based on historical company performance as opposed to stock price movements, its like pulling teeth. Even then, important financial data I needed for decision making purposes were spread across multiple websites. This first problem lead me to write 2 web-scrappers, one for SGX.com and the other for Yahoo Finance, to extract data-sets which I later combined to help me with my investment decision-making process.

Once I happily parked my cash, I went back to working on my side project then. It was a travel portal which aggregates all the travel packages from tour agencies located in Southeast Asia. It was not long before I encountered my second problem… I had to write a bunch of web-scrapers again to pull data from vendor sites which do not have the APIs! Being forced to write my 3rd, 4th and maybe 5th web-scraper within a single week lead me to put on hold all work and step back to look at the bigger picture.

The insight

Being a web developer, and understanding how other web developers think, it quickly occurred to me the patterns that repeat themselves across webpage listings as well as nested webpages. This is especially true for naming conventions when it came to CSS styling. Developers tend to name their CSS classes the way they would actual physical objects in the world.

I figured if there existed a Semantic Query Language that is program independent, it would provide the benefit of querying webpages as if they were database tables while providing for clean abstraction of schema from the underlying technology. These two insights still prove true today after 6 years into the project.

The trough of sorrow

While the first 5 years depicted in the trend line above seem peaceful due to a lack of activity, it felt anything but peaceful. During this time, I was privately struggling with a bunch of challenges.

Team management mistakes and pre-mature scaling

First and foremost was team management. During the inception of the project my ex-schoolmate from years ago approached me to ask if there was any project that he could get involved in. Since I was working on this project, it was a natural that I would invited him to join the project. We soon got ourselves into an incubator in Singapore called JFDI.

In hindsight, while the experience provided us with general knowledge and friends, it really felt like going through a whirlwind. The most important piece of knowledge I came across during the incubation period was this book recommendation?—?The Founder’s dilemma. I wished I read the book before I made all of the mistakes I did.

There was a lot of hype (see the blip in mid-2013), tension and stress during the period between me and my ex-schoolmate. We went our separate ways due to differences in vision of how the project should proceed shortly after JDFI Demo Day. It was not long before I grew the team to a size of 6 and had it disbanded, realizing it was naive to scale in size before figuring out the monetization model.

Investor management mistakes

During this period of time, I also managed to commit a bunch of grave mistakes which I vow never to repeat again.

Mistake #1 was being too liberal with the stock allocation. When we incorporated the company, I was naive to believe the team would stay intact in its then configuration all the way through to the end. The cliff before vesting were to begin was only 3 months with full vesting occurring in 2 years. When my ex-schoolmate departed, the cap table was in a total mess with a huge chunk owned by a non-operator and none left for future employees without significant dilution of existing folks. This was the first serious red-flag when it came to fund raising.

Mistake #2 was giving away too much of the company for too little, too early in the project before achieving critical milestones. This was the second serious red-flag that really turned off follow up would-be investors.

Mistake #3 was not realizing the mindset difference of investors in Asia versus Silicon Valley, and thereafter picking the wrong geographical location (a.k.a network) to incubate the project. Incubating the project in the wrong network can be really detrimental to its future growth. Asian investors are inclined towards investing in applications that have a clear path to monetization while Silicon Valley investors are open towards investing in deep technology of which the path to monetization is yet apparent. During the subsequent period, I saw two similar projects incubated and successfully launched via Ycombinator.

The way I managed to fix the three problems above was to acquire funds I didn’t yet have by taking up a day job while relocating the project to back to the Valley’s network. I count my blessings for having friends who lend a helping hand when I was in a crunch.

Self-doubt

I remembered having the conversation with the head of the incubator two years into the project during my visit back to Singapore when he tried to convince me the project was going nowhere and I should just throw in the towel. I managed to convince him and more importantly myself to give it go for another 6 months till the end of the year.

I remember the evenings and weekends alone in my room while not working on my day job. In between spurts of coding, I would browse through the web or sit staring at the wall trying to envision how product market fit would look like. As what Steve Jobs mentioned once in his lecture, it felt like pushing against a wall with no signs of progress or movement whatever so. If anything, it was a lot of frustration, self-doubt and dejection. A few times, I felt like throwing in the towel and just giving up. For a period of 6 months in 2014, I actually stopped touching the code in total exasperation and just left the project running on auto-pilot, swearing to never look at it again.

The hiatus was not to last long though. A calling is just like the siren, even if somewhat faint sometimes, it calls out to you in the depths of night or when just strolling along on the serene beaches of California. It was not long before I was back on my MacBook plowing through the project again with renewed vigor.

First signs of life

It was mid-2015, the project was still not showing signs of any form of traction. I had by then stockpiled some cash from my day job and was starting to get interested in acquiring a piece of real estate with the hope of generating some cashflow to bootstrap the project while freeing up my own time. It was during this period of time that I got introduced to my friend’s room mate who also happened to be interested in real estate.

We started meeting on weekends and utilizing GetData.IO to gather real estate data for our real estate investment purposes. We were gonna perform machine learning for real estate. The scope of the project was really demanding. It was during this period of dog fooding that I started understanding how users would use GetData.IO. It was also then when I realized how shitty and unsuited the infrastructure was for the kind and scale of data harvesting required for projects like ours. It catalyzed a full rewrite of the infrastructure over the course of the next two years as well as brought the semantic query language to maturity.

Technical challenges

Similar to what Max Levchin mentioned in the book Founder’s at work, during this period of time there was always this fear in the back of my mind that I would encounter technical challenges which would be unsolvable.

The site would occasionally go down as we started scaling the volume of daily crawls. I would spend hours on the weekends digging through the logs to attempt at reproducing the error so as to understand the root cause. The operations was like a (data) pipeline, scaling one section of the pipeline without addressing further down sections would inevitably cause fissures and breakage. Some form of manual calculus in the head would always need to be performed to figure out the best configuration to balance the volume and the costs.

The number 1 hardest problem I had to tackle during this period of time was the problem of caching and storage. As the volume of data increase, storage cost increase and so did wait time required before data could be downloaded. This problem brought down the central database a few times.

After procrastinating for a while as the problem festered in mid-2016, I decided that it was to be the number 1 priority to be solved. I spend a good 4 months going to big-data and artificial intelligence MeetUps in the Bay Area to check out the types of solutions available for the problem faced. While no suitable solutions were found, the 4 months helped elicit corner cases to the problem which I did not previously thought of. I ended up building my own in-house solution.

Traction and Growth

An unforeseen side effect of solving the storage and caching problem was its effect on SEO. The effects on SEO would not be visible until mid-2017 when I started seeing increased volume of organic traffic to the site. As load times got reduced from more than a minute in some cases to less than 400 milliseconds seconds, the volume of pages indexed by bots would increase, accompanied by increase in volume of visitors and reduction in bounce rates.

Continued education

It was in early-2016 that I came across an article expounding the benefits of reading widely and deeply by Paul Graham which prompted me to pick up my hobby of reading again. A self-hack demonstrated to me by the same friend, who helped relocated me here to the Bay Area, which I pursued vehemently got me reading up to 1.5 books a week. These are books which I summarized on my personal blog for later reference. All the learnings developed my mental model of the world and greatly aided in the way I tackled the project.

Edmodo’s VP of engineering hammered in the importance of not boiling the ocean when attempting to solve a technical problem, of always being judicious with the use of resource during my time working as a tech-lead under his wing.  Another key lesson learned from him is that in some circumstances being liked and being effective do not go hand in hand. As the key decision maker, it is important to steadfastly practice the discipline of being effective.

Head of Design, Tim and Lukas helped me appreciate the significance of UX during my time working with them and how it ties to user psychology.

Edmodo’s CEO introduced us to mindfulness meditation late-2016 to help us weather through the turbulent times that was happening within the company then. It was rough. The practice which I have adopted till to date has helped keep my mind balance while navigating the uncertainties of the path I am treading.

Edmodo’s VP of product sent me for a course late-2017 which helped consolidate all the knowledge I have acquired till then into a coherent whole. The knowledge gained has helped greatly accelerated the progress of GetData.IO. During the same period, I was also introduced by him the Vipasanna mediation practice which coincidentally a large percentage of the management team practices.

One very significant paradigm shift I observed in myself during this period of continued education is the observed relationship between myself and the project. It has changed from an attitude of urgently needing to succeed at all cost to an attitude of open curiosity and fascination as one would an open ended science project.

Moving forward

To date, I have started working full time on the project again. GetData.IO has the support of more than 1,500 community members worldwide. Our mission is to turn the Web into the fully functional Giant Graph Database of Human Knowledge. Financially, with the help of our community members, the project is now self-sustaining. I feel grateful for all the support and lessons gained during this 6 year journey. I look forward to the journey ahead as I continue along my path.

Symbiotic relationships between man and other species

Somewhere along in time, Man formed semi-symbiotic relationships with selected species of plants and animals. Thereafter this cohabiting social structure was scaled up the world over. 

As the process ran its course, other species were inevitably marginalized due to habitat loss, some driven almost to the brink of extinction.

It is interesting to note, the larger the physical size of an unincorporated specie and the closer it’s distance to the brink of extinction. 

The long term trend tends towards mono-cultures and minification of species. 

Man does not share the position at the top of the food chain well with others.

Key observations in Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, a city under construction

On society

  • 120 million relatively young population
  • 65% of youth graduate from college
  • unemployment rate is 85%
  •  The Youth is hungry for opportunity to advance in life
  • The Youth is highly optimistic and have faith in their prime minister
  • Shifting away from a tribal centric identity to a nation identity is the key challenge for the country. Tribal warfare was observed in Matema region.

On infrastructure

  • One belt one road initiative has thus far rebuilt 85% of all major highways
  • significant levels of Chinese operated construction observed in Addis Ababa where Chinese occupy the management layer while the locals occupy the manual layer.
  • Significant levels of new housing construction in villages by locals. Projects are facilitated by ease of material transport due to improved road conditions.
  • At the moment of writing, Chinese built daily train is in operation from Addis Ababa to Djibouti. Chinese management is in process of doing knowledge transfer to local with the intention of handing eventual management.

On nature and agriculture

  • mixed of highland and grassland terrain
  • lowlands are utilized for the cultivation of wheat, corn and coffee
  • highlands are utilized for the cultivation of potato and barley

On technology

  • Ethiopia’s own version of Uber was launched earlier this year.
  • Country-wide established 3G networks has been observed
  • Majority of people were seen using Android mobile phones like Samsung and Huawei.
  • Tenco is a locally manufactured Android phone ran by Chinese management. Typical phone sells for USD50.

On foreign relations with China

  • China is the largest trading partner where food is the main export.
  • China’s one belt one road initiative in Ethiopia aims to increase supplies of raw materials available to the middle class rich in China by building up critical infrastructure like roads and manufacturing facilities to increase overall throughput volume from this agriculturally fertile region.
  • The approach is to utilize Chinese capital, Chinese management expertise and operations technique gained from the rebuilding of their economy, local raw materials and local human labor.
  • Where maintenance is required knowledge transfer occurs. This serves to help conserve Chinese human capital as they further their initiative across the region.
  • The observed build up of educated youth will likely help facilitate the necessary knowledge to ensure infrastructure gets maintained beyond the time period of the initiative.

Related readings

  • Why the west rules for now, Morris Ian

Key learnings: Les Capital, Karl Marx

Le Capital, Karl Marx

Core idea

Individuals purely focused on maximizing return on capital through combination of commodities and human labor to generate newer forms of commodities cannot be trusted to fairly remunerate producers of human labor in a sustainable manner.

Deep dive

Commodities are comprised of natural resources and human productivity

Types of value that can be attributed to commodities

  • Use value: actualized when commodity is consumed
  • Exchange value: actualized when commodity is exchanged for another

There is a subset of commodity of which use value is so universal it assumes universal exchange value for every individual operating within the market overtime. A good example is gold which becomes associated with the concept of money.

Money forms with inherent use value like gold gets inevitably replaced token forms guaranteed by governments like the dollar overtime. The reason can be attributed to wear and tear of money forms like the gold coin where overtime a pound (of gold) in the form of a gold coin might not actually contain an actual pound of gold.

Accumulation of Capital can be attributed to prolonged periods of under consumption by an individual of the use value he has successfully produced and exchanged.

Historical context

This doctrine was written during the time of the industrial revolution in England when the society is still in the midst of figuring out the core tenants of employment, namely standard working hours and minimal wage levels.

Related readings

  • Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens
  • The wealth of nations, Adam Smith
  • Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler

Key learnings: The discipline of market leaders

The discipline of market leaders

Highlights

Choose a specific value and align your people, processes and culture to that value. Relentlessly build upon that value everyday.

Types of values

  • Operational excellence
  • Product leadership
  • customer leadership

Operational excellence

Build up and optimize system to reliably and cheaply deliver what is expected. A perfect example is Amazon CEO Jeff Bezo’s consideration where it’s competitors margin is its own profit.

Product leadership 

To setup processes to stay at the leading edge of what the industry expects by constantly pushing technological boundary to make possible what was not priorly possible. To setup independent teams to tackle problems in the same domain such that products developed by an internal team are made obsolete by another internal team instead of another company. To consciously self-disrupt. Andy Grove’s intel is a perfect example.

Customer leadership

To empower your teams to deeply ingrain themselves into your customer’s processes such that integration between your customer and your company is seamless. Perfect example is JSlabs where the consultants are so seamlessly integrated with Edmodo there is close to no difference between JSlabs staff and Edmodo staff from Edmodo’s perspective.

Key concerns

Need to ensure the other 2 values are at least on par with industrial expectation at the moment

Related readings

  • The effective Drucker
  • Amazon: The everything store

Reflections on self mastery

The ability to fully master yourself is predicated upon the ability to cut through the narratives thrown off by your limbic brain in situations of stress to tap directly into your sensations and be at peace with them.

The ability to master the environment is predicated upon the ability to physically execute upon a series of actions which in the process yields a corresponding set of sensations and results.

The ability to master other sapiens and mammals is predicated upon the ability to bend them to your will, namely the disciplined application of the carrot and the stick. In Sapiens, it is necessary to utilize narratives to  manage their limbic brain.

Any property in nature brought to its extreme form counter-intuitively appears on the surface to be its exact opposite. High levels of Self-mastery on occasions gets perceived as Sociopathy by the casual observer.

Forecoming social experiment: To practice exploiting the unsuspecting street tout without yielding a single dollar.

References

  • Steve Jobs, by Walter Isacson
  • The Elon Musk blog series, by Urban Tim
  • Titan: the life of a John D Rockefeller, by Chernow Ron
  • Anabasis, Xenophon
  • Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler
  • The everything store: Jeff Bezos and the age of Amazon by Stone Brad
  • The Facebook effect: The inside story of the company by Kirkpatrick David
  • Machina by Sebastian Marshal
  • Be slightly evil, by Vankatesh G Rao
  • Sapiens: a brief history of humankind by Yuval Noah Harrari
  • Why the west rules for now by Morris Ian
  • Analysis of Arabic Street tout aggressive sales technique by Gary Teh
  • Observations in Sudan by Gary Teh
  • Summary of learnings into the subject of Mundfulness by Gary Teh