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Inside the mind of a self driving car

This is one of my favorite Ted Talks that shows what one of Google’s Self Driving Cars “see”:

It gets really interesting for me around the 7:50 mark where I came to realize how incredibly complicated and messy the real world is through the lens of a self driving car.

The team at Google essentially has to “teach” the car to make safe decisions instantaneously, as described in the graphic from Google below:

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The fascinating part for me is not the car knowing where it is (thats relatively easy) but rather having the car parse and understand the mountain of data in real time from its sensors and make predictive models about how objects will behave.  For example, flashing police lights mean the car needs to quickly pull to the curb or a bicyclist with their arm outstretched is likely to slow to turn.

When the car encounters a new situation – or an object behaves unexpectedly – that learning can be immediately processed and shared with the rest of its peers, making the collective wisdom of the network exponentially greater.  We’ve already seen some of that innovation in the consumer space with apps such as Waze aggregating traffic speeds from thousands of users and routing traffic in real time through the most efficient routes.  Contrast that with (analog) human drivers; when a new rule, regulation, or change comes into effect adoption is never immediate — and in some cases can have devastating drawbacks.

Finally, I think of the unlimited possibilities when it comes to opening transportation options to everyone.  Personally, I’ve seen first hand the limitations on personal independence when a senior loses their drivers license due to age or for individuals with visual or cognitive impairments.  Can’t wait to see what the future holds.

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Zappos Founder Nick Swinmurn on Lean Startup Principles

Think about this for a second: Zappos, the company that was acquired by Amazon for $1.2 billion in 2009, started out without any inventory and no fulfilment backend to speak of.

Nick recalls:

One day I was at the mall and couldn’t find a pair of the Airwalk desert boots I wanted. So I thought, Why not do an online shoe store? I went to Footwear Etc. in Sunnyvale [Calif.] and said, “I’ll take some pictures, put your shoes online, and if people buy them, I’ll buy them from you at full price.” The store said okay, and I got a few orders.  (Source here.)


Thats what I call lean startup.  Most people would be tempted to build out warehouses, logistical networks, and worry about scaling their systems to support hundreds of thousands of orders.  There is a great lesson here about testing your hypothesis through customer feedback.  In this case, Nick found validation when he proved customers would repeatedly purchase shoes through his site.

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Jeffrey Byun on Startups

I’ve started listening to the Startup School Radio and one of my favorite episodes is this interview with Jeffrey Byun:


Lesson 1: Build things that initially don’t scale

(and don’t begin premature optimization):

They start the show talking about, an earlier startup that Jeffrey and his partner Henry were building:

(Starting at 7:20):

Aaron: So, how’d that go?

Jeffrey: Absolutely terribly!  We made every possible mistake that you could think of.  It took us 4 or 5 months to build a product and then when we were ready to ship Henry had a thought: “well what if we get 100,000 users after we launch we’d need to make sure that our servers can handle that.  So we spent another month making sure that we had the right capacity so that our servers wouldn’t explode.

Aaron: So here’s a good lesson for everyone: theres really no need to build for scale right at the start. You kind of have to build just to attract the first person.  We have a mantra [at Y Combinator] about building things that don’t scale, that includes your code for servers.


Lesson 2: First, get sales:

Fast forward to where Jeffrey begins to talk about the nucleus of OrderAhead, his current company that allows ordering food ahead of time – skipping the line.

(Starting at 18:00):

Aaron: How do you start convincing restaurant owners that this is a thing that they want.  Do they pay for it?

Jeffrey: <<edited for brevity>> …I just wrote up a contract in Microsoft Word and I basically drove to University Avenue downtown Palo Alto and spent the next 2 weeks walking up and down University for 8 hours a day trying to signup every local business.  It was a pretty interesting experience.

Aaron: How many of the restaurants did you sign up?

Jeffrey: About 30.

To put that into context, Jeffrey estimates he talked to 100 restaurants during that period, giving him a 30% close rate.  Keep in mind he wasn’t just signing restaurants up, they were committing to pay a $100 setup fee and pay OrderAhead a commission on every order that came through their system.

He did all of this without a single line of code, wireframes, or product.

His trick?  He cites persistence — saying he visited some restaurant owners 8 times throughout the 2 week period.


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Goldman in ventureland

Goldman in Ventureland

Bloomberg ran a great article that summarized Goldman’s history in Venture Capital (you can read the article here: Goldman in Ventureland).

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The Bank of Montreal’s Passwords are a bit weak

The Bank of Montreal should be ashamed of themselves by forcing users to have exactly 6 digits in their online banking password.  They just provided my mom with the following instructions while resetting her password:

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6 digit passwords are not even remotely safe.

Even Google recommends under their web tips that passwords are “long to help keep your information safe”:

Use a long password made up of numbers, letters and symbols

The longer your password is, the harder it is to guess. So make your password long to help keep your information safe. Adding numbers, symbols and mixed-case letters makes it harder for would-be snoops or others to guess or crack your password. Please don’t use ‘123456’ or ‘password,’ and avoid using publicly available information like your phone number in your passwords. It’s not very original, and it isn’t very safe!

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