Ramblings of a College Dropout

  1. October Begins

    The agenda:

    1. Apple and iOS 5
    2. Crowd sourcing a cure for AIDS
    3. New York City’s crush on technology
    4. America Invents Act
    5. Ikea’s MANLAND
    6. NFL Week 4
    7. Life in Boston 

    Apple and iOS 5

    On tuesday Apple is set to announce the newest iPhone, I think it would be wise for them to introduce a cheaper model for sales overseas in addition to the feature rich model. But more importantly in my mind is the release of iOS 5. Having used it the whole summer I can say there are a slew of great features included. For developers the automatic reference counting, JSON serialization, and the new storyboard feature of Xcode further reduces friction in the app development process. For users most of the features might go unnoticed, but they do a great job of making the iPhone experience more pleasant. The new notification system has been long overdue but lives up to expectations, and I’ve been very happy with the automatic iCloud backup. I’m most excited to see Apple’s work on the Siri Virtual Assistant app, which they purchased in order to bake it into iOS 5. Hopefully we will see computing devices take a step towards streamlining some of the more menial and tedious tasks we do on a daily basis. I imagine a future device which can eavesdrop on a man telling his wife about his day, and based on the conversation can place events in his calendar, make reservations for dinner at a restaurant and make a to do list for tomorrow. Apple has consistently shaped the way we use computing devices, so I would not be surprised if they managed to do it again. This has already been quite the year for Apple, becoming the biggest company in the world but losing the man who inspired the greatest corporate comeback in history. I am very curious to see what happens next, is their rate of growth sustainable? Can it be maintained without Steve Jobs?

    Crowd sourcing a cure for AIDS

    This past week major progress has been made in research for an AIDS cure, thanks to a puzzle game called FoldIt. I think this is unbelievable, we can use the addiction to games and obsession with solving puzzles to solve real world problems. Jane McGonigal popularized this concept in her TED talk about gaming, but FoldIt was able to effectively execute on what seemed to be a nice fantasy. If you could convert the millions of man hours we spend straining our minds in games into man hours spent solving real life problems, we could drastically speed up world progress. There are many things we successfully crowd source, but when it comes to scientific advancement (among a few other things) we prefer to trust experts rather than wisdom of crowds. I’m starting to strongly believe this is a false assumption. Just as one man can’t fight off an army, one man can’t solve a problem faster than a collaboration of thousands of minds. This philosophy is analogous to the concept of parallel programming in computer science. The CPU (powerful computer core) is similar to a scientist by trade, while the GPU (composed of hundreds of not very powerful computer cores) is similar to a coalition of untrained individuals. In computer science, the CPU distributes work to the individual cores in the GPU, and does so in such a way where each core does a very simple computation. But because of the sheer number of cores in the GPU this is much faster than the CPU doing everything on its own. We could similarly apply this principle to solving more problems like a cure for AIDS. If the scientists and experts can find a way to break down the big goal into small self contained puzzles that require little knowledge to solve, it would allow them to use the world as a GPU. The difficulty is finding a way to do so that creates an enjoyable experience for every individual, the sub-problem must be fun, and must be solvable without causing too much frustration. If we were to find a recipe for this, we could create awesome games that were fun to play and also had incredible tertiary benefits for society.

    New York City’s crush on technology

    There’s been talk recently about New York City’s interest in becoming a technology and startup haven. Paul Graham (founder of Y Combinator, a startup incubator) had interesting insight into the topic at a Y Combinator event in NYC. What really intrigued me was Stanford President John Hennessy expressing interest in the opportunity to build a second campus in New York City. This interests me for two reasons, the first, is New York City’s desire to duplicate Silicon Valley’s stature as a Tech Mecca. For years New York City has been primarily known for Wall Street and Madison Avenue, emphasizing that business and marketing are the critical components in building a company. Could this represent a global shift in ideals towards the Silicon Valley mentality that technology and product are truly at the core of creating a successful and sustainable business? Second, education as we know it is changing more and more, with the rise of the internet, many kids (not unlike myself) are looking to learn independently of the rigid structure of Universities (side note: Sir Ken Robinson gave an incredible talk about the changing face of education). The Ivy league (along with Stanford and MIT) are elite and exclusive institutions, and many have suggested they should increase class sizes or open new campuses to allow more students to have access to their high quality of education. Could Stanford be starting a trend of franchising which would allow more students potentially all around the world to have access to the same caliber of Ivy League education?

    America Invents Act

    A few weeks ago, congress passed and Barak Obama signed into law the America Invents Act. In theory, the benefits of faster patent review, and more detailed examinations will be great for entrepreneurs. However, in practice, these may turn out to be false promises as the US doesn’t have the money needed to fund improvements to the USPTO. Similarly, the change from a first to invent system to a first to file system also burdens small companies. While the first to invent system was difficult to enforce, the first to file system will lead to big companies with big legal teams to file patents on any startup ideas that might compete with them. While young startups might not be able to afford filing for a complete set of patents on these same technologies. This also opens the door for more useless patent holding firms like lodsys to obtain a series of broad patents and hold true inventors for ransom. I would agree with Paul Graham in that I’m not sure whether patents as a whole help or hurt inventors and I hope big corporations sign on to his patent pledge in order to be good samaritans and foster the growth of startups.

    Ikea MANLAND

    Ikea’s MANLAND idea was absolutely brilliant. MANLAND was a fathers day stunt in one of their Australia stores. They set up a playroom for husbands with an Xbox, pinball tables and football on TV. But I think the idea holds far more merit than a cute publicity stunt. For a few hundred dollars, they managed to drastically improve the IKEA experience for the husbands who would rather not be out shopping. Husbands get to enjoy their day, while still being on alert to help their wives carry the heavy furniture to the car and drive them home. IKEA’s cafeteria already does wonders for the IKEA experience, for incredibly low prices they offer a hearty meal so shoppers don’t need to leave the store during a long day. Little intangibles like these are not the kinds of things that make it onto a business plan, but the simple things that improve the customer experience often separate good companies from great ones.

    NFL Week 4

    Aaron Rodgers (408 yards, 4 TDs passing, 2 TDs rushing) is giving Tom Brady a run for the money for best QB in the NFL. His confidence and poise on the field and in the pocket has improved year after year, and his mobility and quick release makes him difficult to sack. I look forward to seeing Rodgers, Brady, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck all play in the NFL next year. The Baltimore Ravens defense is scary good, 2 fumble return TDs and 1 interception return TD tonight, outscoring their offense and the Jets offense. If I had to pick a Super Bowl matchup today I’d take Packers vs Ravens. The Lions proved to be the team with the most heart, coming back from more than 20 down in back to back weeks, they won’t quit and have earned every bit of their 4-0 record. Unfortunately the other cinderella team the Bills had a big letdown after their big win over the Patriots last week. I love the Ryan Fitzpatrick story, it’s ironic to see a Harvard grad overlooked by his profession because of the school he went to. The 49ers had an impressive comeback win against the Eagles. Entering the season they had limited talent and a rookie head coach who was given no offseason (due to the lockout). After the preseason they were written off as a contender in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. Jim Harbaugh has once again taken a beaten down team and disciplined them into a good football team. The 49ers lead the league in turnover differential at +8, Jim Harbaugh teams do not make mistakes and it helps them win games, I have high hopes for the future of the 49ers franchise. The Eagles proved to be the worst team in the NFL, they are hardly a team just a collection of talented individuals. Thanks to poor offensive line play, a defense that thinks their reputation will stop opposing offenses and a turnover differential of -6, the dream team find themselves with a 1-3 record at the bottom of the NFC East. My Giants scraped out an ugly victory over the Cardinals, but a win is a win. Beanie Wells had a breakout game for the Cardinals, but the Giants defense should have tightened up having Osi Umenyiora back on the field. Eli Manning had a slow start to the game but came out strong in the fourth quarter, throwing for two touchdowns within a minute in an improbable comeback very late in the game. He ranks third in passer rating so far in the season (after Brady and Rodgers) and so far has made a strong case that he is in fact an elite QB. The comeback was not entirely smooth sailing, on the game winning drive receiver Victor Cruz caught a pass then fell down untouched and let go of the ball. The officials ruled he had given himself up by going down to the ground (instead of being ruled a fumble since he was not down by contact), but the play was very similar to Eli Manning’s blunder against the Eagles last year which was ruled the other way. The Giants should send a big thank you note to the refs as a fumble would have secured a victory for the Cardinals. Instead, Manning hit Hakeem Nicks on the very next play for the winning touchdown and the Giants improved to 3-1. All in all the Giants won as did both my fantasy teams so it was a good football weekend.

    Life in Boston

    I arrived in Boston about three weeks ago to begin my work with Manifold Studios. While I’m not entirely sure it was the best decision to leave UCLA, it promises to be an incredible learning experience with a startup and living experience on the east coast. October looks to be a good month, football season heating up, baseball playoffs, fall TV shows are starting (side note: arrested development is reportedly getting a new season), my birthday and halloween coming up. The weather has been decent, a little rain, but has not begun to get cold yet. Having never experienced a real winter (apart from when I was 3 in New Jersey), I’m not looking forward to the below freezing I will soon get to experience. The people I’ve met have been very interesting, a mix of students from MIT, Harvard, Wellesley, Boston University (among others) as well as other game developers. I like Boston more than LA, likely because the demographic of people I’ve interacted with has been similar to the Bay Area, with a similar excitement around entrepreneurship. I’ve been somewhat surprised that most people think its cool (and not crazy) to be pursuing non traditional education. Work has been good, we’re still in the design phase, but we’re beginning to transition into starting to code and build. My coworkers/roommates have been a delight so far, and we’ve finally finished furnishing the apartment. My room is sparsely furnished with a bed, chairs, and Nintendo 64+TV. Over the last year I’ve grown accustomed to living with few possessions as I’ve been living out of a suitcase for the past 6 months, but I can’t say there’s anything else I really need apart from a computer, a bed and an N64. Obviously the move to Boston was a big change, but I’ve settled in quite comfortably. Amusingly it doesn’t feel too different from being in school last year, not going to class, coding most of the day, and hanging out with college kids. All things considered, I’m very excited about my time here and very excited to build some awesome games!

    3 years ago  /  24 notes

  2. Introduction

    Hi, my name is Ashu Desai and I’m currently a co-founder and game developer at Manifold Studios in Boston Massachusetts. I was born in Princeton New Jersey, near the home of my childhood hero, inventor Thomas Alva Edison. My family then moved to Asia for six years (Singapore and Hong Kong) before returning to America to live in the Bay Area. I attended Menlo High School and spent a year at UCLA studying Computer Science. I’m fortunate that at such a young age I’ve had incredible exposure to the world, having travelled to over 25 countries, and having learned parts of 4 Asian languages (Gujarati, Hindi, Japanese and Chinese). Although Italy is a close second, Silicon Valley is my favorite place in the world, and is the first in which I’ve really felt at home. The unique entrepreneurial spirit and emphasis on pursuing your passions and reaching for the stars would be considered naive and foolish in many cultures. But life is short, and sometimes being foolish is the best way to have fun.

    I’ve always been curious about new technology and had the desire to be an inventor, but I really fell in love with computer science when I started coding my sophomore year in high school. I love the creative problem solving aspect of the subject and love how limitless the field is, if you can dream it, you can do it. The highlight of my experience with computer science was learning how to write iPhone apps. Two summers ago, I challenged myself to learn Objective-C instead of getting a summer job. The result was “Helicopter” which has been a small success (download it on the app store). Recently I decided to raise the stakes and leave school to pursue my interest in developing iOS applications. Like many successful (and many unsuccessful) entrepreneurs before me, I founded my first company in foolish hopes of one day putting a ding in the universe.

    A few of my foolish philosophies of life:

    One cannot possibly learn everything he will need in the future. Instead learn how to learn fast, so he can learn as the need arises.

    Living is the moments that make our heart race and our mind race.

    Sarve jana he sukhino bhavantu (Let everyone be very happy)
    Kruvanto Vishwamaryami (Strive to make this world prosper)
    — Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) 

     "Imagination is more important than knowledge."
    — Albert Einstein

    "The best way to predict the future is to invent it."
    — Alan Kay

    “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
    — Ralph Waldo Emerson

    3 years ago  /  5 notes