Accuracy in Analytics depends on understanding underlying cultural mechanisms

Analytics

Former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Tip O’Neill famously said “all politics is local” when referring to the basic principles of his profession. In many ways, the same can be said of analytics. While the internet as a whole is sprawling and its user base massive, this seemingly singular entity is ultimately made up of thousands of different cultures and sub-cultures.

Similar to how a member of Congress wins re-election not by appealing to the nation but to his or her constituents back home, successful data science is less about deciphering the big picture and more about understanding the nuanced reasons why relatively small demographics generate the sorts of data patterns they do over time. To this end, there’s a certain element of anthropology involved in analytics.

Companies in Silicon Valley and other tech hubs around the world are acting accordingly. The decision to outsource analytics is becoming a more common one in these business circles. Rather than a matter of cost, it’s a matter of remaining relevant to a diverse spread of users.

In fact, tech companies in San Francisco and elsewhere are preferring to outsource analytics on an individual basis in order to appeal to a more talented pool of data scientists overseas. Rather than look for existing facilities to transfer duties to bottom dollar staff, businesses are offering enticing arrangements for independent contractors. These often include automatic payment via many international money transfer channels, scheduling freedoms, and access to cloud services for openers. If you are a top-level data scientist in China, India, or Sub-Saharan Africa, it is a good time to be open for business as a self-employed professional.

For tech business leaders getting inspired and are hiring data analytics specialists abroad, it’s critical to note the aforementioned geographical settings are themselves extremely broad generalizations of where the growth in internet users is its ripest. Within China, India, and the Sub-Saharan Africa are many dozens of sub-regions each with their own cultures.

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Meeting the Startups at Conquest, 2017

Startup

Last weekend, I was invited to talk and critique some of the Startups at the Conquest International Startup Challenge, 2017. It was short sessions of about 20-30 minutes each with the Startups. Most of them are looking for investments. The generic suggestion I mustered up was not to limit to investors in India but to look outside too. The other key missing piece was that they need to hustle a lot.

Here are the Startups I talked to;

Trell

Started as a handle on Instagram, Trell went on to become a sensation amongst young travelers, who love to look at pictures of local places to travel to. They leverage the finger-snappy millennials that love photographing places they visit and sharing with their friends and fans.

The Trell App is a buffet of picture-stories of interest to users who want to explore new places with their friends.

The team is doing a good job of hustling with the right audience, they have a really good traction. I was able to give them few technical feedback and suggestions, especially with the UI/UX of the app. They were interested in a more in-depth technical discussion on how to scale their image hosting/delivery mechanism to give their users the best picture quality at the most optimized setup. It is a solved problem and they should not worry too much about it.

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4 guildelines to thrive and prosper as a consultant

Consultant

As a consultant, you give advice on how to solve problems, you provide recommendations on best practices, and you show people how to use specialized software, equipment, or tools. It’s a great job but requires hard work to get to the point where people trust your opinion.

If you’re thinking of becoming a consultant, here are 4 guidelines that will help:

  1. Leverage the power of technology.

    Consultants in the age of the Internet are far more effective than those from an earlier era. This is not necessarily because they know more — although this is possible as we can now access a wealth of information through a simple search — but because they can leverage the power of technology to get more done for their clients.

    They can build an online portfolio presence, build up credibility through regular blogging, networking, protect client data, be getting protected through a secure VPN connection, and provide coaching face-to-face or via online methods.

    Yes, a VPN, these days is a much-needed necessity. Here are a list of some of the best VPN providers for you to choose and get started.

  2. Avoid self-sabotage. You might imagine that one risk of becoming a consultant is that you don’t have enough clients or that you have irregular earnings. However, with sufficiently robust marketing, in the beginning, you will soon develop a client base which will then help your business grow through word-of-mouth messaging. You might reach a point where you have to turn work away or where you have to put people on a waiting list.

    The biggest risk is actually something else: the exhilaration of freedom.

    You can choose when you want to work and how long you want to work. You can take the day or week off as you please. You can say no to difficult clients. You can refuse assignments that are not worth your time – because you could earn the same amount from someone else for less work. This freedom can be detrimental to your work ethic.

    By contrast, when you work for someone else, you go to work at a certain hour and stay for a certain duration and do a certain amount of work to keep your job. You will do this even if you have a terrible backache, your children are misbehaving, and you are having distressing arguments with your spouse. Although you might not have much quality of life, you will be earning a predictable paycheck.

    So, in order, to be a successful consultant, you will have to impose some of the same iron disciplines on yourself that you would have imposed upon you if worked for someone else.

    It’s important to point out that while you can self-sabotage yourself by doing too little work to keep a healthy cash flow, you could also go to the other extreme and do too much work. You could self-sabotage by working around the clock, getting completely stressed out and ruining your health, joy, and creativity.

  3. Develop a support system.

    When you work for a corporation, you work within a pre-established support system. HR sets a regular schedule for you so that you know when to work and for how long in order to receive a regular paycheck, and it also takes care of administration, benefits, and health care. If you get stuck in a project, you can talk to colleagues with expertise that can help you figure out a solution. If you get stuck on a computer-related issue, then you can complain to the IT department, who will then troubleshoot the problem. Finally, you can enjoy the camaraderie of those around you because you all share a common mission.

    When you work on your own, all these things that you took for granted as an employee suddenly disappear. For this reason, it’s necessary for you to create a network of support to assist you with legal, accounting, marketing, and technical issues. You should also develop a network of business peers like fellow consultants, Internet marketers, bloggers, and entrepreneurs so that you don’t feel so isolated.

  4. Choose an optimum payment system. You can get paid in a variety of ways. You could get paid by the hour or by the day. You could also get paid by a project. And if you’re especially confident about your ability to produce results, you can even accept a percentage of the revenues you generate based on performance. Experiment with the best options for you and your clients.

Get Paid for What you Love to Do

If you’ve spent years in mastering something, you could earn a great living as a consultant. With some marketing, you’ll be able to find people who would love to learn what you know. What’s more, you are likely to earn much more as an independent contractor than if you worked for a corporation.

Photo by Helloquence.

How To Quit Your Job And Become A Freelancer

Freelancer

The reason you show up day after day at your job is because you need a paycheck. On the surface of it, this looks like a good reason to continue to drag yourself to a place you’ve quietly come to despise and to associate with people with whom you have little in common. But, when you examine your predicament a little more closely, you can be much happier, freer, and more prosperous by becoming a freelancer.

So how do you become a freelancer?

Start by deciding what it is that you love to do. Once you’ve identified what it is—writing or photography, graphic design or making videos, throwing parties or organizing spaces—then it’s time to figure out how to get paid for it from multiple clients.

Next, come up with a business plan and fill in as many details as possible.

Finally, launch the business by building a website. Theoretically, you can launch your freelance business without a website, but it’s so much easier to interest clients if you can direct them to a website that explains what you can do for them.

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Three Things Artificial Intelligence did in 2016

Not long ago artificial intelligence was something found in the pages of science fiction novels. Today it is becoming more and more of a reality. While we don’t have computers plotting to take over the world, AI’s did manage to do some pretty amazing things in 2016.


The Next Rembrandt – Case study from J. Walter Thompson Amsterdam.

  1. In March Deepmind’s AlphaGo was able to beat the world champion 4-1 at Go. Go is a very old Chinese game considered much more complex than Chess. For comparison, an AI beat a master at chess all the way back in 1997. Prior to AlphaGo scientists thought AIs were far from being able to beat human Go competitors as they were struggling in even amateur matches. For its win, AlphaGo received an honorary master title.
  2. Human characteristics like imagination and creativity have been the hardest things to get computers to do. In April 2016, however, an AI was able to create a new Rembrandt painting. A team, over the course of more than a year, showed various paintings of the famous artist to the computer. The painting it produced won several awards and generated a lot of discussion about artificial intelligence.
  3. Language is one of the basics of what being human is. Google created the Google Neural Machine Translation, or GNMT, to improve its translation service and it has done some remarkable things. First, it started translating between two languages despite never being given examples of them. It then did something even more amazing and created its own language. Because of its success, Google is now using it in all of the translation service.

Artificial intelligence did a lot more in 2016 besides these three accomplishments. Building on the new advances made 2017 will no doubt bring us even closer to true artificial intelligence.

3 Essential Steps for New Startups

Startup

Most entrepreneurs truly believe that their ideas have the potential to make them wildly successful. That turns out being true for some. But not all startup ventures reach the level of success their founders expect, and some are complete failures. Adding the 3 steps outlined here to your startup plan will improve your chances of a successful launch.

Objectively Assess the Need

It’s all too common for would-be entrepreneurs to think of ideas for products or services to sell, and quickly jump in with both feet trying to market that product or service without objectively assessing the need for that it. Here’s a stark reality: if the market doesn’t perceive a need for your product, it won’t sell; and you will have wasted valuable time and money creating and marketing your product.

Supply and Demand

Identify your Unique Selling Proposition

Whether you’re launching a completely new and revolutionary product or something that’s similar to what others already sell, you must identify your Unique Selling Proposition (USP). Once you’ve developed your USP, incorporate that into your marketing strategy. Remember, just because you inherently know what makes your product better than similar offerings doesn’t mean your prospective customers will.

Plan Ahead

Virtually every startup is fraught with potential problems and barriers. What those might be for you and your startup depend largely on what you’re bringing to market. For example, some product categories are governed by strict regulations, often from multiple levels of government and multiple agencies within each level. In fact, dealing with regulatory requirements is often the single largest expense associated with creating a product and bringing it to market. If you don’t have the resources necessary to navigate the regulatory environment, you could find yourself dead in the water before you even manufacture your first product. But that’s not the only potential problem. In fact, there are so many, we can’t begin to list them here. But we can tell you that you must objectively brainstorm for potential problems that you might face launching your product, then develop strong contingency plans to deal with them, if and when they arise.

Ideally, you’ll incorporate these steps into your plan before you launch your startup; but if you’ve already launched and haven’t completed one or more of these steps, you may want to put everything on hold until you complete the missing steps.

Featured Photo by Mari Helin-Tuominen, Supply and Demand Image from How to Estimate Market Demand for a Product?

DD-WRT, VPN and Apple Airport Routers

Apple’s Airport Extreme and Express are brilliant at what they do. They are secure, yet easy to set up and maintain. Well, you do not need to maintain them – they tend to just keep working. It makes it super easy for an Apple product eco-system to co-exist without much hassle and fuss.

Airport Wireless

After many Linksys and D-Link Wi-Fi Routers, I started with the first generation Airpot Express and upgraded to the first Airport Time Capsule when it was released in 2008. The time capsule (Airport Extreme with Time Machine enabled Drive) lasted for 5 years and the Airport Express, a little over 6 years. Our current Home Network Setup is powered by an Airport Extreme and few Airport Expresses.

However, the apple routers are limited in their functionality. I wanted a VPN sitting in between the Internet and my home network without disturbing my original setup. I also wanted to have the option to turn the VPN OFF/ON quickly as and when I needed. I researched for a bit and settled on a cheap flashable wi-fi router – Asus RT-N18U. I flashed the Asus router with DD-WRT.

There are other Open Source Router firmwares which are equally good. I chose DD-WRT, as I find it easier, and have used it earlier. Some other alternatives you might want to try are – Tomato, OpenWRT, Gargoyle, etc.

I’m not very technical but I can understand technology, and knows a thing or two about how things work. So, I chose simpler setups and things that just work. My current setup works for now.

DD-WRT

DD-WRT is a Linux based alternative OpenSource firmware suitable for a great variety of WLAN routers and embedded systems. The main emphasis lies on providing the easiest possible handling while at the same time supporting a great number of functionalities within the framework of the respective hardware platform used.

Flashing a router and installation of DD-WRT is pretty straight forward. The most important part is to choose the right firmware for the router, making sure that the router is supported by DD-WRT. Following the instructions on the installation should be good enough.

Once all installed and running, here are few basic setting recommendations suggested by industry experts.

  • Change the default network from something like 192.168.1.1 to 192.168.xx.xx of your choice.
  • Broadcast the SSID but secure it with WPA2 with AES. If you’re not worried about backward compatibility, you can disable TKIP.
  • Of course, change your Admin password from the default to something better.
  • Always have a backup of your settings. It tends to be useful.

Services – VPN, NAS, the bells and whistles

The features and functionalities of DD-WRT are humongous. Pick the ones you want to use and you can ignore the others to their default/disabled state. If you have signed up for a VPN, which are much needed these days than ever, read-up on their OpenVPN (better than the other protocols so far) documentation for DD-WRT and set it up.

I really liked the simplicity of ExpressVPN, and it just worked for me. If you are shopping for one, most of the VPN Providers have a trial period – from 2 days to a week, or even sometimes a month. A 2-day trial should be enough for you to make a choice. I once got a good deal on CactusVPN and I subscribe to their VPN + SmartDNS.

Try out other good VPN providers – VyprRVPN, NordVPN, IPVanish, Buffered, Anonymizer, Private Internet Access, Tor Guard, Slick VPN, MullVad, Black VPN, Smart VPN, Private VPN, etc. Have a look at That One Privacy Site to do a thorough research that fits your requirements. More VPN reviews can be found on TheBestVPN.

DD-WRT Router + Apple Airport

Finally, I combined the two worlds – the DD-WRT Router facing the Internet and the Apple Airport Extreme managing the Home Network.

Internet

Setup the DD-WRT Router to face the internet – set up your PPPoE, tethering or the IP that your Internet Service Provider gave you. Enable DHCP so that the DD-WRT router can act as the DHCP Server. You can set up additional options such as the firewall, ad-blocker, access restrictions, etc. Make sure the Internet and everything else is working here perfectly. Leave the Wi-Fi enabled and working to get back to it, just in case, your primary Apple Router fails or just to debug/edit settings to the DD-WRT router. This also decouples the harsh Internet from your home network.

Apple Airport Router

This is your primary network where all your devices are connected. As the Internet is now taken care by the DD-WRT router, we have to just plug in the Airport Router’s LAN to the LAN network of the DD-WRT Router.

Play around with the Airport Router settings of your choices. However, here are a few key important setups that the Apple Airport Router needs to make it work in this setup;

  1. In the Internet tab, connect using DHCP so it gets its unique IP from the DD-WRT Router. You can change the DNS server either here or in the DD-WRT router. I kept it at the DD-WRT Router.
  2. Now, Create a wireless network with the settings of your choice.
  3. For the most important part, turn the Router Mode Off (Bridge Mode). We’re not routing anything with the Apple Airport but merely managing the Wireless Internet Network.

Of course, with Apple rumored to be abandoning the router business, in future, you can just plug off the Apple Router part and move to your DD-WRT router as the primary network manager.

Oinam Home Network

That’s it. You can now have the flexibility, security of a DD-WRT Router and Wireless Network managed by an Apple Router to easily and consistently connect all your devices. All your devices, from phones to laptops to the connected TV, can connect to the Internet encapsulated via a VPN. I’m still experimenting and will continue to play with my setup. The current setup has been running for a year or so, without any issues.

Artificial Intelligence, Facial Recognition, and … Fish?

UI Faces

If you are a tech-savvy, ecologically-minded entrepreneur, then have we got news for you. Artificial Intelligence is capable of many things, and responsible for many more things than the average person may want to know about. You may already be aware that artificial intelligence is used in those dazzling fast facial recognition searches so often featured in police procedurals. Face and body recognition are a controversial, daily reality around the world.

Fish Recognition

Now, as reported in The Guardian, the non-profit environmental group Nature Conservancy is seeking interested parties to create fish recognition algorithms. Similar to the facial recognition algorithms which pick out unique facial features from amidst a crowd, the hoped-for smart program will identify specific kinds of protected fish. If successful, this software will assist inspectors and honest fishing vessels alike, drastically cutting down on inspection times while enhancing accuracy. For those actively engaging in illegal fishing, however, the news will be less good.

Real Problems In Need of Real Solutions

fish-recognition

Illegal fishing costs the world economy an estimated $20 billion a year. Like many of the problems that artificial intelligence is being called upon to address, this one is big, literally too big for human minds and eyes to handle on their own. Smart computers can help, and smart computer programmers can help make those smart computers.

For more information, including details on the machine learning contests, visit Kaggle’s site – The Nature Conservancy Fisheries Monitoring.

Artificial Intelligence: Elon Musk, Neural Lace and the Apocalypse

If it was anyone besides Elon Musk expressing sincere concerns regarding the threat of Artificial Intelligence achieving the singularity within the next five to ten years, the sentiment may be dismissed with a recommendation to stop watching reruns of Battlestar Galactica.

However, Elon Musk isn’t just anyone. He’s not even just any genius. He’s founded SpaceX, OpenAI, Tesla, SolarCity and X.com (which eventually became Paypal). So, when celebrated technologist Musk advises that care should be taken with regards to AI, elaborating that “with artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon,” it’s worthwhile to stop and listen. Musk identifies several concerns about humanity and AI’s interconnected future;

  • In the wrong hands, AI could become a tool for governments and individuals (including “evil dictators”) in the pursuit of power and could contribute to bad ends, such as oppression and war.
  • If robots become too “human-like” in appearance, they may be used for deception.
  • Leading AI companies are overconfident in their ability to “shape and control the digital superintelligences,” and may fail to “prevent bad ones from escaping into the internet.”

So, how does Musk intend to prevent a future where an AI administrator of a company computer network – a Master Control Program (MCP) – plans to pwn the Pentagon and the Kremlin?

Elon Musk

Musk’s solution is more Cylon than Tron: the creation of an “AI – human symbiote” using neural lace. The lace would constitute a digital layer that taps into certain neurons, most likely entering through arteries and veins. Once infused with the digital layer, limitations to the thinking part of the human mind (the cerebral cortex) would be lifted; and hybrids would be able to think both in the virtual place within their brain as well as on the cloud, free of bandwidth constraints. Ultimately, in merging humanity with AI, and creating a “neural link between your cortex and your digital extension of yourself,” technology would be democratized.

However, if worse comes to worse, the neural lace may make it easier to file paperless requests with our robot overlords.

Partnership on Artifical Intelligence to Benefit People and Society

Ex Machina

Of all the modern demands on Artificial Intelligence, “open the pod bay doors” is arguably the most infamous. Years after Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, you can ask your own pocket AI. Unlike Siri, HAL 9000, the fictional AI who kept the pod bay doors closed, is a revealing reflection of humanity’s anxieties regarding technology created in one’s own image.  

Perhaps the same shared, underlying unease that caused HAL’s misbehavior to still resonate to this day is partly behind Google, DeepMind, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and IBM banding together to police the development and implementation of AI.  Notably absent are OpenAI (Elon Musk’s research project) and Apple. The group’s chosen name, “Partnership on AI to Benefit People and Society,” is fairly self-explanatory, if not clunky and slightly sinister. As stated on the Partnership’s website, the group was formed to leverage the “great promise” of AI “for raising the quality of people’s lives” and addressing “important global challenges such as climate change, food, inequality, health, and education.” However, many of the Partnership’s stated goals seem geared towards shaping the future public attitude towards AI via knowledge and reassurance.

  • Advance public understanding of artificial intelligence.
  • Create standards for future research.
  • Support best practices.
  • Create open discussion.

Further, some of the Partnership’s eight tenets listed on its website almost directly address public concerns regarding AI and its logical conclusion, robot uprising. In general, the tenets involve the following principles:

  1. As many people as possible should be benefited and empowered by AI.
  2. The public should be involved in the development of AI.
  3. Development will be held accountable to “a broad rage of stakeholders.”
  4. Research and development should be conducted with transparency, and systems’ reasoning should be equally transparent, but also explainable.
  5. Development will seek public feedback and address public questions.

The Partnership’s formation, as well as its focus on transparency, public involvement, and ethics, is notably near to the White House’s series of workshops and groups on AI’s risks and benefits. The government’s workshops addressed complex policy, safety and security questions, and also revealed fears that jobs will be lost to AI, and behavior will be unpredictable and uncontrolled.

One must wonder whether the Partnership is less an exercise in selflessness than a strategic maneuvering to control the AI conversation.  Arguably, presenting solutions via the Partnership would potentially discourage government regulation, and in so doing avoid regulatory speed bumps to company growth.