Category Archives: Personal

Technology and entitlement

On yesterday’s flight from Istanbul to San Francisco, I was hoping to connect to the inflight WiFi to do some work that required internet connectivity. Unfortunately, the inflight WiFi didn’t work for the duration of the 13 hour flight.

At first I was disappointed. Since I had set my mind on what I wanted to be doing during the flight, I was upset when I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to do what I had planned.

But then I thought to myself how inflight WiFi didn’t even exist until a few years ago. I realized that, over the span of the last few years, I had gained a sense of entitlement to a technology whose absence I didn’t complain about in the past and whose presence is, even if it doesn’t always work, pretty miraculous.

So rather than complain, I simply did the work I could do in the absence of an internet connection.

And I even had time left over to read a book.

Feelings, unique and in perspective

All that you feel has been felt before. Depending on the feeling, somewhere between hundreds and billions of people have felt it and its variations before. And many more will feel it in the future.

Seeing this helps you keep things in perspective.

But you can only feel what you feel as an individual. You cannot access the feelings of those that came before you, those that will come after you, or those lives with whom your life overlaps. So, from your perspective, your feelings are uniquely meaningful.

Seeing this helps you immerse yourself in all that life has to offer.

Learning from your and others’ experiences

There are two ways to learn. The first is from the experiences of others and the second is from your own experiences.

The advantage of the first is that, since multiple people have more experiences than a single individual, you can learn more faster by relying on others’ experiences.

The challenge is that it’s harder to learn from others’ experiences than it is to learn from your own. The reasons for this are that you’re more likely to discount others’ experiences by thinking that they don’t apply to you, and even if you don’t discount them, it’s difficult to internalize the learnings of others’ experiences without having felt the pleasures and pains which result from having lived through them.

In other words, others’ experiences provide breadth while your own experiences provide depth. Once you appreciate the benefits and shortcomings of each, you recognize that both are necessary.

Inaction

We live in a time period where technology has greatly increased our productivity. This means that, on an individual basis, we can get things done much faster than before.

Thanks to the content available on the internet, we can learn faster than before.

Thanks to the extensive storage and processing capabilities of software and hardware, we can apply our learnings to quickly produce outputs from inputs.

And thanks to online communication tools like email and messaging apps, we can instantaneously relay the outputs we produce, and the decisions based on these outputs, to the people we interact with.

In other words, technology makes it easy to act fast.

However, acting fast isn’t always in our interest.

Although there is a limitless amount of content that we can learn from, our brains remain single track processors that need to recharge regularly. We therefore need to choose what to learn, and allow enough time for the learning to actually take place.

Although we have, for most practical purposes, virtually infinite storage and processing capabilities, that doesn’t mean that we should store and process everything.  We need to ask the right questions based on our learnings in order to store and process data that’s likely to produce meaningful answers. We also need to cross-check the assumptions behind our answers before using these answers to drive our decisions.

And although we can instantaneously communicate the outputs we produce, and the decisions we take based on these outputs, to others, we need to take into account the fact that the recipients of these outputs and decisions are humans. Humans process information differently depending on when they receive it, both on an absolute basis (for example, the time of day or on weekdays versus weekends) and on a relative basis (for example, relative to when they expect to receive it, which is in turn influenced by the importance of the output or decision and when you last communicated). As a result, the first moment when an output or decision is available for communication isn’t necessarily the right moment for its communication.

In other words, while technology makes it easy to act fast, as a result of our humanity, there are important benefits to inaction.

Ironman

Mert Salur is the son of Nazim Salur, the founder of Bitaksi, where we’re investors, and Getir.

I still remember when I first met Mert. At the time, he was training for the half Ironman. That’s a 1.9 KM swim followed by a 90 KM bike ride followed by a 21.1 KM run. It’s daunting to say the least, but Mert successfully completed it about 2 years ago.

Fast forward 2 years and Mert is now a full Ironman. That’s a 3.8 KM swim followed by a 180 KM bike ride followed by a 42.2 KM run.

It took Mert 11 hours, 12 minutes, and 55 seconds of non-stop physical extertion to complete the journey. Even people who exercise on a regular basis like myself find it difficult to exercise at that level of exertion for over an hour or two.

Here’s a blog post in which Mert shares his learnings from the arduous process of becoming an Ironman. The learnings are:

  1. Achievement necessitates preparation
  2. Listen
  3. Be patient
  4. Accept that you may not succeed this time, and that that is OK

As Mert shares, “now that I am an Ironman, I can set more difficult, distant, and unclear [mental] goals.” And that’s a goal worth striving for.

Congratulations Mert.

Learning the fundamentals to create the application

In a post from October 2016, I wrote that “if we hope to create or support the creation of an application, in other words if we’re an entrepreneur or an investor, we need to understand the textbook fundamentals [behind the application]”.

This is in contrast to diving straight into the application without engaging with the primary sources necessary to understand the fundamentals behind the technology, or, even worse, trying to get a grasp of the fundamentals by reading secondary accounts (like most blog posts and podcasts) of the technology. Since the latter doesn’t take a structured approach to building your knowledge base in a particular technology from the ground up, you’re left with many holes in your understanding.

The best source for acquiring textbook fundamentals (or video or audio fundamentals, depending on the medium of your choice) is schools. Fortunately, we live in an age when many leading global universities make available the content of their classes online, and often for free.

For example, Princeton University offers a Coursera course on Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies. I recently completed the 11 week course and have learned more about cryptocurrencies in general and bitcoin in particular through the course than through the hours I’ve spent reading secondary accounts of the same technologies.

John Roberts’ commencement speech

US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts recently gave the commencement speech at his son’s 9th grade commencement.

It’s a very strong speech overall, and the excerpt below is excellent:

“From time to time in the years to come, I hope that you will be treated unfairly so that you will come to know the value of justice.

I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty.

Sorry to say but I hope that you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted.

I wish you bad luck again from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life, and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either.

And when you lose as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship.

I hope you will be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others.

And I hope that you will have just enough pain to learn compassion.

Whether I wish these things or not, they are going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend on your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.”

Root and derived data

When making a data-based decision, there are often hundreds of data points that you can look at to inform the decision.

However, different types of data points that carry different value. Specifically, there are data points that are the consequence of other data points which also go on to cause other data points, and data points that cause other data points but are not the consequence of any. I call the former derived data and the latter root data.

You can produce and analyze an endless amount of derived data, but it’s the root data that determines the outcome and hence the quality of your decision.

Video assistant referee technology in soccer

In a May 2016 post entitled “Technology in soccer”, I wrote that “Now that (video recording and replay) technology is available (through smartphones) to everyone in the heat of the moment, the power is shifting from FIFA to the fans. I think that the fans will eventually vote to preserve the true spirit of soccer (by using video recording and replay technology to help referees make the right in-game decisions)”.

Fast forward about a year and video recording and replay technology is indeed being used to help referees make the correct in-game decisions. Specifically, in yesterday’s 3rd place Confederations Cup game between Portugal and Mexico, the referee paused the game to use video assistant referee technology to correctly award Portugal a penalty.

While using the video assistant referee causes a momentary delay in the game, it’s well worth the resulting benefit of promoting fairness in the sport. Well done FIFA.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find a video of the video assistant referee as used in yesterday’s game, but here’s a video of the first time that it was used in Australia’s top soccer league, the A-League.

Physical and cyber wars

Yuval Noah Harari, the author of Homo Sapiens and Homo Deus, recently wrote an insightful post on why it’s increasingly less beneficial for countries to wage physical wars. This is distinct from cyber wars which are becoming more advantageous and hence frequent.

The reasons why physical wars are less advantageous today than in the past is because of their higher costs and lower benefits.

On the cost side, nuclear weapons, other chemicals, and drone technology make it much easier to kill very large numbers of people. And since more and more countries have access to these technologies, the risk of mutually assured large scale destruction lowers the likelihood that any single country uses them. The cost is simply too great. And it’s also increasing.

On the benefit side, economic power is increasingly shifting from the ownership of physical assets to that of knowledge assets. And the latter are much more difficult to physically seize. You can seize an oil field or a gold mine but not a search engine or a social network. As a result, the economic benefits of physical wars are lower than in the past.

The transfer of economic power to the owners of knowledge assets also helps explain the rise of cyber wars which attempt to cripple these knowledge assets.

That said, this analysis needs to be taken with a grain of salt because it assumes rational actors. All it takes for a physical war to erupt is a few, or perhaps even a single irrational actor.

You can read the full post here.