I want to tell you a little about Labmeeting. I work at Labmeeting. Actually, thinking about it, I have too much to say about Labmeeting. I cannot tell you everything in one post. I will tell you a little bit at a time as I think of cool things to talk about. Let me tell you about our goals.
First, understand that science is broken. Not in the traditional sense. Science has not been speeding along the freeway and then suddenly tore a gasket and broke down. No. Science is puttering along reliably as it has for decades, centuries. Exactly as it has been. No faster.
Yes, scientists do an incredible job of being on the cutting edge of technology while simultaneously pushing that edge further and further. Nevertheless, it takes between months and years to publish interesting results. Labmates email cumbersome PDF’s back and forth. Literature search tools frustrate even the most patient of users. Conferences help disseminate knowledge quickly, but not when abstracts lose themselves amidst a shuffle of papers and when fellow scientists’ contact information evaporates. Publishers almost seem to try to restrict access to fulltext research articles, so much so that the government must force them to share knowledge. Graduate students find professors and professors find grad students by pure luck, not by targeted searches. Professors spend little time at the lab bench due to the skyscraper of paperwork required for modern research grants.
At Labmeeting, we are well on our way to solving all of these problems and many more. Science operates best when people can develop good ideas securely and communicate good ideas rapidly. We created a platform to do both like nobody has ever seen before.
Thousands of biomedical scientists, both at top US Universities and smaller ones around the world, already use and love Labmeeting. We want to help all researchers communicate and work more efficiently so that they can focus on what they do best: science.
Mark Zuckerberg Wears My Sandals
Valleywag reports that Facebook still has not started firing employees as every other Silicon Valley startup has. But, the most interesting part of the article lies hidden within the picture.
Mark Zuckerberg (the billionaire) wears the same sandals I do: old-school Adidas sandals . I don’t know anyone else who wears them.
I just bought these Rainbows in Miami which are pretty nice.
In PE in middle and high school, I always remember taking my pulse and having a very high resting heart rate relative to others. I forget the exact number, but it might have reached 80 beats per minute or higher. I always thought I counted incorrectly or double-counted.
I’ve started running and walking almost daily recently. I feel better and more energized, especially after a run. I would like to know if my overall health improved since I started about 4-6 weeks ago. The first days, I could barely go around the block. I would come back into the house and gulp down a gallon of water in between deep panting heaves. After a couple of weeks I could run/walk a mile or two without gasping for breath by the end. Yesterday, I estimate I ran/walked 5 miles (I know that I walk 4 miles an hour) without a problem.
So, in terms of endurance, my fitness improved. But what about my heart rate? I check yesterday and today. It’s down to about 63 beats per minute. I made a graph using a short Python script, pygooglechart, and the Google Chart API. I will be plotting more data points every day:
Lance Armstrong has a resting heart rate of 32 beats per minute! On the other hand, some quick research online tells me that resting heart rate poorly correlates to fitness, although recovery rate would be a better measure. I’ll start charting my recovery rate once I figure out how to measure it easily.
Y Combinator Application Guide
Y Combinator, a kind of mini-venture capital firm, invests tens of thousands of dollars ($$$) into very early seed stage start-up companies run by smart technology hackers. They wanted to fund me in Summer 2008.
I applied to Y Combinator two times. The first time, when I applied with my friend Mason for the Summer 2007 round, I arrogantly presumed that Paul would lavish on us praise and beg us to fly to California to work with him. I spent no more than an hour on the application. We had no passion in the idea we presented. Our projects list hinted at nothing particularly remarkable or unique. Our analysis of the idea and our competitors delved only into the shallowest parts of a deep lagoon.
The second time, when I applied alone in Summer 2008, in an inspired moment I sat down in Starbucks for a solid few hours to work on the application. I strived for excellence, not perfection. A few months prior, I had briefly glimpsed the semi-successful application of Liz Jobson and Danielle Fong. I recalled their deep detail and thoughtful writing, so I imitated that kind of deep analysis which shows off one’s mastery of logic and breadth of experience.
I wish I had known how to write a good application the first time. So, taking my cue from Brian Lash’s recent question on Hacker News, I helped him out. I write here a slightly expanded version to help out anybody else who wants Paul Graham & co. to fund his or her startup.
If I were to advise myself in 2007, I would recommend that I write briefly but write a lot. This advice seems contradictory, but I mean it in a very specific way. My first application, I kept brief. I did not want to swamp YC with a tome of text. I saved many of my accomplishments for the interview. Do not do this. Write, write, and write some more. Write everything interesting and unique about yourself. If you have doubts about a statement you made about a competitor, qualify it. Don’t vacillate, but at the same time don’t seem shallow, ignorant, and inexperienced.
Of course, once you’ve written all that, you have a very long application. Now, take out filler words. Compress ideas that take up two sentences when you can use just one. If you waste two words in a sentence, delete the whole sentence and write it again from scratch. If you see a phrase that you think an investment banker might use on his resume, nuke it. Achieve a high density. In my experience, the YC crew truly pores over these applications to understand all of the meat of it. They do not skim your application when it has rich content. Cut, cut, and cut some more.
Now, step back and look at your application. If you have very little writing left, real content, then you may not be the best fit for Y Combinator this year. That’s okay. It’s good you know now. Take this year off and work on some interesting, hard projects that nobody has done before. Bounce your idea off of the smartest person you know. Hell, micro-test the idea. Then, repeat this process.
Step back, look at your tight list of accomplishments. If it’s long, that’s great, since reading something long but rich in content everyone loves to do. The length indicates strength. In my limited experience, I think this is how I made my application successful.
What is your company going to make?
I’m open to anything. Here’s one idea:
Have you ever scanned a document before? How was that experience?
It was terrible for me, too. Everyone I have ever asked has agreed that it is physically painful. But, there is a solution, one based on understanding actual human needs. What is wrong with the scanners of today?:
* slow (takes time to heat up)
* slow (scanning at a high dpi takes a long time)
* complicated (please select the dpi, now select bla, now bal[sic]…)
* cumbersome (files generated at high dpi are huge, slow down system)
* cumbersome (OCR’ing a document is a whole other rigamarole)
What do people really need? Simply a decent, readable scan of the document. This should be as easy as holding the paper up to face the monitor.
I propose that I sell a device which is basically just a decent-resolution CCD chip with a special lens which connects to a computer (wired at first, but v2 wireless). Scanning a document is as simple as holding the camera up to a document and clicking. In my tests, scanning a whole text books takes 5-10 minutes. This is a game-changer. I’ve worked with an ip lawyer to file the provisional patent on this and a few other aspects of the designs.
[BY THE WAY, IF ONE OF YOU WANTS TO HELP ME BUILD THIS, I'M ALL EARS. I'M AN AI HACKER NOT A HARDWARE HACKER. OH, BY THE WAY, I USED A DIFFERENT IDEA IN THE INTERVIEW ROUND, NOT THIS ONE SINCE I'M SKEPTICAL OF THE MARKET FOR THIS PRODUCT AT THIS POINT. NEVERTHELESS, IT'S VERY COOL. I WANT TO BUILD THIS FOR MYSELF!]
For each founder, please list: name, age, YC username, email address, personal url (if any), and current employer and title or school and major. List the main contact first. Separate founders with blank lines. Put an asterisk before the name of anyone not able to move to Boston June through August.
….. [Be sure to put your blog here. Don't have a blog? Make one. Blog about whatever is on your mind. Blog about your hacking.
To be honest, an Ivy League pedigree probably helped. Also, my computer science degree (as opposed to Economics or Business one) probably encouraged YC's faith in me.]
Please tell us in one or two sentences about something impressive that each founder has built or achieved.
Looking at some things in ~/projects folder: ……..
[Here I mention a few of my projects, with links to open source code, web pages, anything I can publicly show. I didn't spend more than one or two sentences describing any one project, but I listed many of my most interesting projects and why I worked on them. YC likes to see you working on real problems, so I talked about problems I solved for myself and for others directly
They want to see that you think creatively and that you actually finish things.
It goes without saying that you should list projects which uniquely describe you. Building a toy language in Programming Languages class many people probably do. Yes, it may have taken you a long time, and you may have learned a lot, but you do not necessarily stand out. Writing a CAPTCHA solver to hack Digg few people do or can do.]
Please tell us about the time you, ljlolel, most successfully hacked some (non-computer) system to your advantage.
…… [I talked about my shotgun email to dozens of startups here in Silicon Valley which gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of cool entrepreneurs. I'll probably blog about this at some point in the future.]
Please tell us about an interesting project, preferably outside of class or work, that two or more of you created together. Include urls if possible.
(see above) [I applied alone, so group projects inapplicable.]
How long have the founders known one another and how did you meet? Have any of the founders not met in person?
n/a [Again, I was a sole founder.]
What’s new about what you’re doing? What are people forced to do now because what you plan to make doesn’t exist yet?
(see above) Basically, nobody ever scans anything because it takes forever, doesn’t really do what you want (you just want a readable, small image and for the document to be searchable),
What do you understand about your business that other companies in it just don’t get?
Scanner manufacturers try to pack in the highest dpi they possibly can. They focus on resolution, when they should be focusing on the user experience. Speed is what they should optimize, but I see no scanner manufacturer doing that.
Who are your competitors, and who might become competitors? Who do you fear most?
HP, Xerox, etc, also ScanR, Qipit, Evernote …… [I go on to be brutally honest about the difficulty and vulnerability of my position as a hardware startup in a crowded field. Remember, you are writing for some very, very smart people. They want to see your analytical thinking skills here. They want to see you be realistic, not delusional.]
……. more questions, answer analytically deeply, answer honestly to the best of your ability ……
If you had any other ideas you considered applying with, feel free to list them. One may be something we’ve been waiting for.
…….. [I always think of new ideas and discuss them with friends. I chose 4 and listed them here. I crisply described each in no more than 2 brief sentences.]
Have a Happy New Year
In high school, there was a friend of mine who would send out this very cheery holiday email every year. I remember I loved to receive this little card from her. I also remember how I love to receive little warm random greetings from strangers. When I got the idea to send out a holiday greeting to my friends, to see how they are doing, I thought about it more. What if I could send out the holiday cheer to more people? So, I looked online and figured how to use the princeton.edu main site to reach out to a lot of my fellow Princetonians. I crafted a very brief message, and I attached a link to a surprising and cute little YouTube clip. Then, I made a program to send out the emails on New Year’s.
I expected to receive replies from my friends, so I could reply back. They did, of course, and I’m happy to catch up with them. However, I also received hundreds and hundreds of replies from my other fellow tigers, strangers. I didn’t expect replies, but I’m glad some did. Every reply was positive, some very positive:
Thanks! That video was really cool. Happy New Year to you too!
Sweet! I appreciate the holiday cheer!
hahaha, thanks man
Happy New Year to you too! nice video, the cat looks a bit like mine !
Each one brought a big smile to my face. Most people appreciated the video and understood that I was just a fellow tiger sending a random warm greeting. But, I also received a few dozen replies asking, basically, “who is this?” I realized I left my message too brief; I didn’t explain clearly the scope and purpose. For example,
I think maybe you sent your new years wishes to the wrong person? But this video is amazing all the same. Especially that he lets his cat knock over the first domino.
I replied individually apologizing for my mistake and hoping it didn’t cause any them trouble. I don’t want confusion, I want smiles . Some of the re-replies really got me,
Well that’s awesome–I like to receive random little greetings as well so I appreciate it I hope you had a fantastic break and uhhhh….now it’s time to get back to work!!
In that case thank u so much, u did brighten my day!
So overall, I’m really glad I sent this out. There was actually, however, exactly one negative response from one guy. He used the f-word in a short angry message, concerned about spamming. I thought about his perspective, and I understood where he was coming from. I replied, and so did he, and in the end he calmly showed himself to be a good concerned guy. He just wanted to make sure his and others’ Princeton e-mails stayed Princeton-related. I was surprised, but I can see why he might get annoyed by the message. I understand where he’s coming from. Because of his reaction, I will not do this again. I’m not in the business of causing even a tiny bit of pain to one person even if it brings a lot of smiles to more people. There are other ways to spread cheer.
He also said that a few people took it negatively and were negatively talking on some listservs about it. There was one other re-reply where the person mentioned at first thinking the message was “sketchy” (women aren’t usually called sketchy, if I happened to be a woman, would these same people react in the same way? interesting sociological question…). I think that’s because I wasn’t clear in the message that I was sending it to many of my fellow tigers, both friends and strangers. Again, unfortunately, far too curt a message.
I hope that those who initially took it negatively, I hope they eventually see my intention, reread the warm greeting, smile, and have a wonderful 2008.
Dave Barry’s 2007 Year in Review
Almost four years ago, I went to a Books and Books in Miami for a book-signing. James McBride was there to talk about his book, The Color of Water. He also brought his band along to play a few songs and promote the band’s new album. James McBride plays incredible jazz. Contrasting his abilities with the dry jazz I normally heard on 91.3 NPR at night, I realized that there is a gulf of difference between good jazz and bad jazz.
There were no seats left in the audience, so I stood in the back with a large group of Miami natives also eager to hear. As I listened to one of McBride’s stories, a couple just arriving walked through the back and situated themselves next to a column nearby in front of me. “Excuse me,” the man said as he passed by me. He had a boyish face, and looked oddly familiar. The man’s slender wife was slightly in my way. I was about to politely ask her to move and start some small talk, but suddenly she moved herself. I could see and hear, so I said nothing.
Later on, Mr. McBride was expositing between songs. I forget the exact context, but he mentioned, “…Dave Barry, who is in the audience right now,” and then pointed at me. Confused, I realized that he was pointing to the couple right in front of me. At first, I thought he was kidding, but it slowly dawned on me that my best recollection of Dave Barry’s visage was the same as the man’s. Around that time, I was a fervent Dave Barry fan, reading all of his columns (he no longer writes for the Miami Herald regularly). I began to wish I had talked to them earlier. Now that I knew, and everyone knew, that he is Dave Barry, I did not want to be part of a horde who mobs him for an autograph. I would have preferred to just talk, hear a joke, see what he’s like as a normal guy. So I said nothing.
I very much wish I had. I read more and more of his columns. My first week into college, I found out that a good friend of mine there, Jono Leitch, from Tulsa, Oklahoma, is also a big fan of his. He was jealous of me after I told him this story, also disappointed that I didn’t really talk to him. I am disappointed too.
But I still read his articles. Every year, even though he stopped writing regularly, Dave Barry writes a year in review. The year in review for 2007 is out: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/breaking_dade/story/359770.html.
If you follow the news, it’s pretty funny. I recommend it. I like to read it out loud slowly, imagining the situations as I go along.
While the White House ponders its options, congressional Democrats vow to strongly oppose whatever action the president decides to take, while at the same time voting to fund it.
Sports remains in the news in . . . FEBRUARY . . . when South Florida hosts Super Bowl Roman Numeral.
In other show-business news, the surprise contestant on American Idol is llama-hairstyled Sanjaya Malakar, who, with the support of millions of viewers, all apparently deaf, manages to reach the late rounds of the competition before being eliminated by a blowgun dart from Simon Cowell. Upon being revived, Sanjaya is signed by the Miami Dolphins.
So New Hampshire moves its primary to early January, and Iowa moves its caucus to even earlier in January. Soon the other states, not wanting to be left out, start moving up their elections; before the frenzy is over, Nebraska has officially declared that its 2008 primary election will take place in 1973.
As May draws to a close and the Atlantic hurricane season looms, weather experts, having reviewed all their data and their sophisticated computer models, announce that they have absolutely no clue what is going to happen.
Ha ha! We are, of course, kidding. The experts confidently predict that we are going to have a worse-than-usual hurricane season. This is also what they confidently predicted last year, which, as you may recall, was an unusually quiet season. It is only a matter of time before these experts are hired by the Miami Dolphins.
In sports, the Anaheim Ducks defeat the Ottawa Senators in a Stanley Cup playoff series watched, worldwide, by most of the players’ parents.
But the biggest story in June, as well as the history of the universe, is the release of the Apple iPhone…
In the arts, July is dominated by the release of the seventh and last Harry Potter book, Harry Potter Spends Half the Book Camping…
In sports, suspicions of doping continue to plague the Tour de France when the grueling 2,200-mile race is won, in a stunning upset, by Barry Bonds.
…the Democrats fare little better in their ”West Side Story Rumble Debate,” which ends early when a switchblade-wielding John Edwards ”accidentally” stabs Hillary Clinton in her pantsuit.
Sen. Craig explains that, even though he pleaded guilty, he is innocent, but he promises that he will resign, a pledge he later clarifies by explaining that he will not resign. The Senate, responding with unusual speed and firmness, funds a large unnecessary project in Alaska named after Ted Stevens.
On the weather front, the nation is gripped by a heat wave. This has happened pretty much every August since the dawn of human civilization, but it totally stuns the news media.
In politics, the race for the Democratic nomination heats up during a nationally televised debate when John Edwards and Barack Obama, in what political observers view as a thinly veiled attack on Hillary Clinton, repeatedly raise the issue of ankle size.
Meanwhile CNN faces allegations of allowing planted questions in its televised debates after a group of audience members billed as ”ordinary, undecided voters” — including a police officer, a construction worker, a soldier, a rancher and a native American — turn out to be, in fact, the Village People.
In economic news, the Federal Reserve Board, responding to recession fears and the continued weakening of the dollar, votes unanimously to be paid in euros.
Abroad, French transit workers attempt to end a strike, only to discover that they have forgotten how to operate the trains. Everybody enjoys a hearty laugh and returns to the café.
This leads us to . . . DECEMBER. . . in which the race for the presidency becomes even more riveting than it already was, if such a thing is possible. On the Democratic side, a major spate of snippiness erupts when Barack Obama suggests that Hillary Clinton is more ambitious than he is. In response, Clinton’s campaign, showing the wacky sense of humor it is famous for, releases documents showing that Obama thought about running for president when he was in kindergarten. Obama’s campaign retaliates by releasing a sonogram allegedly showing that Clinton was running for president in the womb. (I am making only some of this up.)
But the big story on the GOP side is former senator or governor of some state Mike (or possibly Bob) Huckabee, who surges ahead in the polls because (a) nobody knows anything about him, and (b) it’s fun to say ”Huckabee.” Huckabee Huckabee Huckabee.
In a major Latin American story, Venezuelan voters reject sweeping constitutional changes pushed by President Hugo Chávez, including a law that would make it illegal for anybody to be taller than he is. A defiant Chávez concedes defeat, but notes that he is still polling ahead of both Joe Biden and John McCain in Iowa.
In downtown Lima there is a new park. It’s nicknamed, “Las Aguas.” Throughout the park, there are fountains gushing water in unique patterns. Some waters dance to music. Others let you run through them.
Here I am with my aunt and little cousin under a very cool piece. You walk under the water throw above you in a jet. It’s a wondrous effect being under.
Here I am with my uncle next to a very, very tall fountain. It launches water up to 30 meters.
These are jets that come straight up out of the ground in a series of concentric circles. The jets come out at random intervals and at random pressures. The “goal” is to get to the center and out without getting wet. Or not. There I am close to the center. It’s very fun. Bring a change of clothes.