tag:danielharan.posthaven.com,2013:/posts $ hack | biz > manifesto & 2014-07-14T15:16:35Z tag:danielharan.posthaven.com,2013:Post/713899 2014-07-14T15:09:48Z 2014-07-14T15:16:35Z Bastille Day
225 years ago, a few folk in Paris stormed a prison where the King could hold anyone he wished without any due process. They dismantled the building and ushered in a ghastly, bloody civil war.

The Statue of Liberty is today one reminder of those ideals, shared with the United States.

France is now on its 5th incarnation as a republic. I was born in one of its colonies, far enough to be able to see it critically.

In the last years, I've travelled a lot. I thought of my uncle who fought in "Indochine" while I was in a café in Saigon. I observed a father caring for his daughter and wondered how our countries ever got to war. How we ever justified killing a man like him, or how anyone in my country thought it right and proper to rule over him because of our skin's pigmentation.

In Thailand, a Victory Monument that neither French or Thai could explain: a war so futile neither wants to teach its young.

I won't burn a French flag (or my French passport), nor will I only celebrate the country for its croissants. I know a lot of French people, and many of them are pretty awesome. I also owe a great debt to its writers and philosophers. Pasteur, too.

However I can't go waving my flag. Atavistic identity displays terrify me. Nationalistic fervour was an essential element that allowed my uncle to go to war.

So, happy day, France. You're messed up and beautiful.

Via Dinosaur Comics
tag:danielharan.posthaven.com,2013:Post/624558 2013-11-29T16:15:09Z 2013-11-29T16:15:10Z Effective Altruism

Effective altruism is a growing social movement based around the idea of using evidence and reason to work out how best to make the world a better place. About effective altruism

Some charities are far more effective. As Peter Singer says in his TED presentation, a guide dog costs $40,000, while ensuring someone doesn't become blind because of a preventable disease, as little as $20-50:

This kind of thinking makes people very uncomfortable, which leads to terrible critiques. One doesn't have to be Spock to think it more effective to save 800 to 2000 people from blindness than training a guide dog.

EAs are not above critique, and good ones should actually improve their behaviour: as you would expect with rationalists. Even non-Vulcan ones!

I have some cognitive dissonance with regards to EA. Take the Against Malaria Foundation. I thought it was shown that selling the nets was more cost effective than giving them; but a market-driven approach doesn't feel very altruistic. It also seems as though there's too much emphasis on exploitation over exploration and an over-confidence in their estimates, suggesting a portfolio approach would be more effective.

A lack of emphasis on environmental issues is rather puzzling given how much EAs tend to worry about X-risks.

This suggests that the next frontier for EAs will be building better models. Accepting measures such as disability-adjusted life-years creates a de facto implicit model, one in which an intervention that gave you an extra 10 years with a disability would never be as good as another that extended your healthy life just a single day. Such a ridiculous utility function probably doesn't matter when making a first pass, but we get what we measure; if EAs succeed to shifting people's charitable giving habits, we could quickly be making these kinds of perverse optimizations.

Don't let those critiques deter you from learning more about giving more effectively and researching charities to see which ones do the most good.

tag:danielharan.posthaven.com,2013:Post/623298 2013-11-25T17:25:34Z 2013-11-25T17:25:40Z Travel advice

A lot of people ask me about travelling, especially in South-East Asia. I shall dispense this advice forthwith.

Stay a bit longer

How much is it costing you to fly there? How much time will it take to get over jet lag? If you're flying to the other side of the world, try and make it worthwhile.

It's worth considering an extra 2 weeks unpaid vacation and subletting your apartment while you're gone or having your friends coordinate airbnb bookings for you.

Getting around

Now that you're a bit less rushed, you can travel a bit more slowly. Take the night train between two cities on your itinerary. AirAsia is ridiculously cheap, but nothing beat the $14 bus ride from Phnom Penh to to Ho Chi Minh City with a land crossing. We saw so much more of those countries than we would otherwise have, met interesting people and did I mention how cheap it was?

We also traveled on night buses in Vietnam, another crazy adventure.

Pack light

Every long-term traveller I've met downsized their packs. Having to carry a suitcase means you're a whole lot less mobile. Getting off a bus at 6AM for a day of sightseeing is a whole lot easier with a small pack.

There's almost nothing you absolutely need to bring with you. The only thing I wasn't able to buy everywhere is deodorant. Either pack your own, or do what the locals do and shower twice a day.

You can buy clothes once you get to your destination, and they will be more adapted to the climate. It's also more fun to buy something at a market than visit yet another temple. Camping style clothes that dry fast are worth it; you can hand wash them at night, hang dry and have them ready for the next day.

Electronics? An unlocked phone is a good idea. A small laptop or tablet if you're an addict like me.

Gifts and all that shit you bought? Mail it.


Not credit cards (but have an extra, warn your bank and write down a number you can call collect *from the countries you'll be in*). Getting into countries can be a drag and depends on your nationality. If possible get them ahead of time, otherwise you can't use some cheaper land transport options.

Vaccines and meds

You can get some good vaccines cheaply in Bangkok, and medications are available just about everywhere in SEA without a prescription (there are even pills for erectile function sold on the streets, near prostitutes). It's a good idea to have medications for most common problems (food poisoning, diarrhea, dehydration), or just their names so you can buy them there if needed.

Stay flexible - only book your return ticket

On my last trip I bought a one-way ticket. If you know when you need to be back, buy a return ticket. Regional tickets are usually cheap, even at the last minute.

While in Cambodia the King Father died and for the national mourning period all bars were closed. People even looked at us funny for daring to smile, so we booked the next bus ticket to Ho Chi Minh City - then found out we didn't have the right visa, rescheduled the bus ticket and went to the embassy in person for a rush visa that cost several times more than the bus ticket. We crossed the border less than 24 hours after our decision to leave.

Floods, revolutions, strikes, outbreaks and typhoons can all happen. Most of the time it's not dangerous though family and friends might worry. I was in Seoul while media were announcing that nuclear war was imminent, and everyone there knew it was fine.

Sometimes it can be something as simple as rain on the days you had planned to be on the beach in Nha Trang, so you leave early to spend more time in Hoi An where you'll get some cheap shirts tailored.

What to see

There are plenty of websites covering each destination. My only advice is to go to a market, buy all the weird fruits and eat in places outside the banana pancake trail.

tag:danielharan.posthaven.com,2013:Post/621217 2013-11-19T16:08:26Z 2013-11-19T16:08:59Z Tech meetups: enough with the pizza and beer

Is there any other profession that routinely asks for sponsors to give them beer and pizza money? Can we picture lawyers, doctors or other engineers doing this?

I don't understand why software folks do this. Every damned meetup and hackathon does it. Sometimes we get real fancy and have Subway cater the event.

We can't increase diversity by putting off such a frat house vibe, nor can we market ourselves as competent, highly-paid professionals when we can be so cheaply bribed.

So what should we do about it? 

If you're running a meetup, either stop providing food or ask sponsors for enough cash to afford better snacks. Sponsors can get much better publicity from providing good food; those that have catering for their lunches could have them make extra for the evening's event and get an opportunity to brag about their perks.

As an attendee, ask your meetup organizers and sponsors to get us better food.

tag:danielharan.posthaven.com,2013:Post/608561 2013-10-13T22:54:45Z 2013-10-14T00:59:44Z Hacking bixi to save Montreal taxpayer's money

Here are two ideas to optimize bixi that could save Montreal tens of millions of dollars.

Open a competition to optimize redistribution

Two "bike depots" and half a dozen trucks criss-cross Montreal to move bixis from full to empty stations. Yet we still see plenty of both full or empty stations, which results in fewer trips and fewer people buying and renewing subscriptions.

Let's call in the artificial intelligence talent that works in gaming companies or universities, and the operations research people that know how to find elegant solutions to this problem. Their goal would be to ensure the highest possible availability: whenever possible, there should be a bike or free dock in every station.

What needs to be opened up? Data about bike trips, without user identifiers. Basically a file with a long list of lines in the form of

"station X, 10:30AM, station Y, 10:48AM"

We also need some cost values for the redistribution, e.g. how long it takes to load and unload bikes.

Specifically, the goal should be software that handles these inputs and produces real-time redistribution recommendations.

Ask mobile users to help

For any trip, there can be several stations near the origin and the destination. A mobile application can highlight stations from which it would be best to get or dock a bike to change redistribution.

How this saves money for Montreal

In 2011, Montreal's city council approved a $108-million bailout package for Société de vélos en libre-service, which administers Bixi and sells the system to other cities. Without government backing, that corporation would be bankrupt. Not only are they not making payments right now, we still don't have audited statements from *last year*.

Our next mayor must enforce some transparency and accountability, and replace some of the leaders at SVLS. I hope the ideas I presented will be considered by city council or in job interviews for new leaders.

Fixing and optimizing Bixi has a lever effect on our ability to sell the system to more cities, as well as on our local budget. Unfortunately SVLS has been downright hostile to developers that would love nothing more than make this project succeed.

SVLS estimated Montreal's bike share could break even with 50,000 subscribers. Redistribution is not only an important cost driver, it's also a reason people don't renew their subscriptions.

tag:danielharan.posthaven.com,2013:Post/595204 2013-08-15T19:55:23Z 2013-10-08T17:28:37Z Finance Post-mortem


  • Abandoning this project
  • Suggest you stay out of the market until P/E ratios fall a bit
  • Some funds are going to blow up

I'm no longer pursuing the creation of signals for trading algorithms, and have come to be very cynical about the idea of mining social signals.

There are a lot of people claiming to have found signal, *even after their pet theory has been debunked*. Every single pattern that has been announced was probably garbage. Practitioners seem to keep making the same classes of mistakes, over-fitting and cherry-picking.

Smart hedge fund types stay as far away as possible from the hucksters. So even if I had something legitimate, they would lump me in with all the chartists and assorted loons.

If some people found something useful, they are not be talking about it and trying to use the advantage in-house. Any edge will wear off with competition and if it was chance they might even blow up. Odds are high we will see a few  hedge funds go under in the next 2 years.

Socially-mined signals may not correlate well to financial metrics because the real economy is increasingly disconnected from our financial system. Our market P/E ratios are quite high by historical standards, so staying out or shorting the entire market is probably the best idea, without requiring sentiment analysis voodoo. Of course, fund managers won't tell you this.

Although I wanted to assess various NLP APIs, I decided to stop this project shortly afterwards and didn't do a thorough job of it. Early results were abysmal.

tag:danielharan.posthaven.com,2013:Post/590143 2013-07-22T17:31:15Z 2013-10-08T17:27:35Z Avoid Hadoop: a beginner's checklist for big data reporting

A lot of companies are trying to get value out of "big data". Most go through a period of panic and flailing around using ill-adapted tools. In consulting engagements or during the sales process, the same themes tend to come back.

You might have an idea something's wrong when your web logs are filling up your database, reports patched from SQL queries take over minutes to generate and your team is now considering a web-scale NoSQL data store.

It's common for great developers to waste weeks or months on a flawed approach. I'm hoping this list helps some of my readers avoid that fate.

(If all of this already sounds old-hat to you, go read Memory Architecture Hacks from which I've taken the Hadoop criteria below) 

0: Avoid or delay using Hadoop

Hadoop is only useful when you don't need real-time results, data is too big to ever fit in memory and the map-reduce algorithm is well-suited to the task, e.g. the output of the map is not bigger than the size of input. Unfortunately many people spend weeks learning this new framework, without realizing it forces them to solve their problems in unnatural ways.

One special case that must be mentioned is search. Just because MySQL or Postgres aren't up to the task should not have you reaching for Hadoop if Lucene will do the trick. And by "do the trick" I mean it will sip resources on a single machine, returning results faster than a dozen machines painstakingly configured with hdfs and Hadoop.

There's a similar rush towards using various NoSQL data stores even though flat files can be perfectly adapted.

1: Shrink it, Cache it, Fudge it

Ask how accurate the reports need to be.

Sample: sometimes 5-10% of the data can get a good approximate result.

Save computations: one of my first reports was total visits to a website. An extra table saved totals for arbitrary ranges, replacing an expensive sum with a handful of selects and a bit of code overhead.

Fudge it: while visits are easy to sum, uniques seemed to be a harder problem. Fortunately Bloom filters are useful when counting set intersections. You can set the trade-off between accuracy and size.

2: Buy more RAM

It's often cheaper to buy more RAM than use engineering cycles. $200-1000 sometimes speeds up your reports by keeping your entire data in memory instead of doing disk IO. In-memory database are much faster than disk.

3: Avoid or speedup IO

Store the memory mapped representation of your problem. Create smaller pre-processed records by stripping fields you won't use. Gzip the files. Save indexes.

On the hardware side, there's SSDs, RAIDs and networked RAM.

4: Cram it into memory

Remove unused fields, replace large strings with indexes, or use sparse matrices - whatever is needed to fit everything into RAM.

The above aren't universally applicable, although they should solve the majority of the pain most teams encounter when first venturing into the world of big data.

tag:danielharan.posthaven.com,2013:Post/585533 2013-06-24T14:19:40Z 2013-10-08T17:26:41Z Quoting Steve Jobs like it's my job

Trying to classify tweets containing the word "job" was probably more ambitious than I realized. 

My project's objective is to create signals for trading algorithms. Unfortunately, "job" is one of those common words that can have multiple meanings. References to Steve Jobs or quotes from the Book of Job are not relevant to build early economic indicators. There are also references to paint jobs, and adult references like these:

Even when job refers to employment, things can get complicated:

Any Bayesian classifier will correctly consider "my" and the bigram "my job" as strong evidence that this tweet is talking about employment rather than one of the above meanings. However, it is not the subject of the phrase.

To get a sense of people's sentiment towards their jobs, I need to parse sentences to ensure job is the subject and verify that job means employment. As if that wasn't complicated enough, sentiment analysis tools seem to be mostly lacking, maybe because they are generally using naive Bayesian approaches for something that requires word sense disambiguation prior to classification.

Sentiment analysis can be comically broken. Consider this gem:

According to Datasift's sentiment analysis APIs, the above tweet is *neutral*. On some of my test subsets, error rates range from 50 to 70%.

My next step is assessing various natural language processing APIs to see which ones can properly classify my (hand-labelled) gold data.

tag:danielharan.posthaven.com,2013:Post/579189 2013-05-15T19:24:12Z 2013-10-08T17:25:24Z Twitter "jobs"

People tweet about how much they love or hate their job, or how they're looking for or need a second job. Basically, a lot of data that could be part of a consumer confidence index or an early indicator for the job market.

Unfortunately, tweets containing the word "job" are mostly job offers written by bots. To tease out the signal in this stream, I first used a naive Bayesian classifier to separate out bots from humans. As expected, there is a pattern to the tweeting: humans don't talk much about their jobs on the week-ends.

Since bots are trying to get clicks, I conclude that people are least likely to click on job ads on a Saturday and least likely job hunting on a Thursday.

Here are some pretty graphs, care of Google Docs:

If you want access to the raw data or have ideas for how to use Twitter to build indicators, please get in touch.

Next up: teasing out the different meanings of "Job" and "Jobs". Steve Jobs, Book of Job, attaboys... few occurrences of "job" are actually employment-related.

tag:danielharan.posthaven.com,2013:Post/532284 2013-04-29T03:42:58Z 2013-10-08T17:15:12Z March, April: dancing in Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Japan

10 countries in 9 months have left me a bit overwhelmed and ready to go back "home".

Nestled in high mountains in rural Japan, it's time to record some of the craziness of the last 5 countries in 2 months.

SEA JAM in Kuala Lumpur was fantastic, and reminded me of how much I love Lindy Hop. This event was followed by a stop in Thailand, then off to Nha Trang for Vietnam Lindy Exchange, Seoul for Camp Swing It and Beijing's Great Wall Swing Out.

72 hours in China cured me of any desire to learn Chinese. The remaining choices are Korean and Japanese; basically a choice between living in a place with great dancing or another with a fascinating culture.


I couldn't keep up the Coursera classes in places with bad bandwidth, and got very frustrated with the deadlines and tests. Just like cars were initially horseless carriages, online classes are university classes without accreditation yet with all the trappings of the old system.

If there's no accreditation, why am I getting a mark? Why all these exams? It's natural to have test problems to verify one's understanding. I should be able to do 1 problem, see if I got the answer right, and get a chance to try a similar problem if I didn't solve it. Right now Intro to Finance, has 10 questions in a test, and you don't get the right answers. This keeps the cheaters out-- but what's the point of cheating in an online class if there are invigilated exams for those wanting verifiable credentials?


Too much moving around means no stead access to a gym. When I did have access, they didn't have a squat rack, so I tried the leg press which is a lot easier.


Just a little bit of coding gave me an important insight: one leitmotif has been wanting tools to handle data streams on the web as easily as it is on a command-line.


I'll fly from Tokyo to San Francisco on the 1st, then to Montreal on the 8th. Besides a conference on May 3rd, the only plan is to reconnect with friends and network my way back into my field after a long absence.

tag:danielharan.posthaven.com,2013:Post/531499 2013-02-28T17:07:00Z 2013-10-08T17:15:00Z February in Thailand

Next month I start on a string of lindy hop events through Asia as I make my way back to North America. I'll probably be looking for consulting or other work by May.

This month was spent in Bangkok's Sathorn neighbourhood


I started the month taking 4 online classes through Coursera, and dropped 2 very early on. This leaves computational investing and intro to finance, which is already plenty.


I gained >5 lbs, though much of it was fat. Blame the 199 baht lunch buffet at Ibis hotel.

I've had to adjust my training program due to shoulder pain. Squatting more than 170 lbs is out of the question until that issue is resolved. Perhaps also due to overtraining, I can now only do 3-5 pull-ups and chin-ups before failure. Next month I'll concentrate on upper body strength and range of motion with progressive work on cable machines and push-ups.


Implemented a Naive Bayes algorithm to sort twitter bots from humans. After difficulty adding log probabilities and renormalizing, I went looking for better libs in Ruby. Two had float under-flow issues because they were multiplying too many small numbers, and some made decidedly odd choices for smoothing. nbayes does all this right, so it's replaced my own library. I'm glad I tried implementing my own because then I could then recognize a well-designed one.


Took a refresher Balboa class at The Hop. The real adventure starts March 1st at SEA JAM, followed by the after party in Phuket where I hope to see sharks on my next dive.
tag:danielharan.posthaven.com,2013:Post/531500 2013-01-28T12:13:02Z 2013-10-08T17:15:00Z Trekking
One of the school employees where I'm volunteering this week is lucky to be alive. His bus fell down a cliff; 6 people died.

I took that bus in December last year, wanting to see the Nubri valley. Many of the students are from that area in Nepal's Manaslu conservation area, where you can see the world's 8th highest mountain. Taking a bus from Kathmandu, you can make it to Arughat Bazaar in a day.  Another half-day's travel by bus takes you to the end (start?) of the road; from there it's about 6 days walk to Manaslu base camp.

Can you imagine having only 2 week's vacation a year? If your journey to your family was 5 days each way, that leaves only 4 days spent with them! Young students also can't safely walk the path by themselves; once in the boarding school they might not see their parents again for years.

You could technically walk faster if you are in great shape, up until about 2500-3000 meters. Feeling short of breath due to altitude sickness, I chose not to go to base camp, getting a view of the other side of the great mountain on my way down. 300 meters a day is the safe limit for daily altitude increase.

The path on the way down is hard on the knees, and in a few places it's very slippery. Several villagers have died there. A few students are missing a parent.

We say "trekking". Locals just call it "walking to the village".
tag:danielharan.posthaven.com,2013:Post/531501 2013-01-21T10:03:00Z 2013-10-08T17:15:00Z First MTurk Request
I posted my first task on Amazon Mechanical Turk today, paying many unknown workers the world around $4 an hour to classify tweets. Specifically, asking whether tweets containing the word "job" are:
  • related to the user's job
  • a job offer
  • another use of the word, e.g. "#AmericanIdol I love Mariah, Nicki, Keith and Randy r doing a fabulous job"
The process wasn't all easy. Some lessons:
  • Master workers agreed on 70 of the 88 items. Some of the edge cases were the result of poor instructions, although thankfully very little money was wasted. A test run was a good idea.
  • $0.02 per classification task gets quick results. I will try $0.01 and see what difference it makes.
  • Amazon gets $0.009 / HIT (Human Intelligence Task).
  • Any sentiment analysis of job-tweets is mainly affected by non-employment tweets, making it a noisy indicator of job satisfaction.
Next up: getting more data for the classifier, then sentiment analysis for those tweets that are really job-related.

Tech note: about 12% of tweets had smileys or other characters that were deemed UTF-8 by Ruby, but choked Amazon. These HEX values on a line seemed to trip them up: 62 72 69 6E 67 69 6E 67 20 68 6F and 65 72 20 68. I'm not sure what to do about these. If you have ideas, please let me know.
tag:danielharan.posthaven.com,2013:Post/531502 2013-01-13T05:24:17Z 2013-10-08T17:15:00Z Kathmandu
I landed in Kathmandu without enough foreign currency for the 3 month visa. The staff took my passport while I went down to use an ATM, walking by half the security layers without being stopped.

The ATM withdrawal cost me 400 rupees, about USD $5. They do not accept Nepali Rupees, however, so I had to lose more money getting USD. Not accepting your own currency for a tourist visa may be a sure sign of a failed state. Cambodia does the same thing.

The first time the metal detector did not ring, despite having my iphone in my pocket. The second time it beeped. Was it the passport that set it off? Since there was no security guard and the folks at the x-ray machine didn't seem to care, I just walked off. The 2nd layer of security I had walked by just waved me on. Perhaps they were only interested in locals smuggling items back.

Friends were waiting for me outside. The parking lot attendants exact their toll too, also on the honour system. "How long were you here?" 30 minutes. "20 rupees!" We pay and leave for the chaos that is Kathmandu traffic.
tag:danielharan.posthaven.com,2013:Post/531503 2012-09-11T13:04:54Z 2013-10-08T17:15:00Z 9/11
11 years and one month ago, a colleague and I wondered what the next attack would be. At the time, I thought it would be a remote controlled plane dropping chemical and biological weapons on the White House. The idea being that the US's military might made terrorism more likely, since it was the only effective form of violence left to opposition groups. Attacks were getting more numerous and brazen. Terrorists were going after symbols like a military ship and a US embassy. It was only a matter of time before another attack on US soil.

Why was I looking at this? In his last course at Dalhousie, Anthony Barton warned us the cultural divide between Muslim and Western worlds was about to explode. Unlike the Cold War, this time we knew almost nothing about those who hated us. How many letters are there in the Arabic alphabet? Who was their equivalent to Shakespeare? Their most famous mathematician? Hardly anyone in the class knew, as hardly anyone reading this. During the Cold War, many universities were teaching Russian Studies. How many teach Arabic? At the time, a mere handful.

Because our elected officials everywhere reacted to people's fears, our world is more cruel and violent than it was 10 years ago. Staggering sums have been spent trying to give people the illusion. Countries have been invaded, causing far more casualties than the initial attack. Rather than make more attacks less likely, they have only helped fringe groups recruit more members while creating new targets.

11 years is enough time.

We need to stop being afraid.

We must accept that perfect security is an impossible goal. Even if we sacrifice all our liberties.

We must heal the cultural rift.
tag:danielharan.posthaven.com,2013:Post/531504 2012-08-19T21:24:00Z 2013-10-08T17:15:00Z SPVM, BDSM, et la culture du viol

(Réponse à une conversation sur FB)

Bon, va falloir parler de sexe. De liberté, de normes et de viol.

Imaginons il y a 50 ans, une manif dans la rue. Les policiers sont violents. Plus tard, on entends des rumeurs que certains des  policiers les plus violents sont fifs. On peut pas faire confiance à ces gens-là!

Scénario bien entendu effrayant. On se bat pour des questions sexuelles entre adultes consentants, plutôt que de trouver des moyens d'arrêter la répression policière.

Quand un(e) policier(e) s'en va jouer dans la "scène fétish", c'est aussi entre adulte consentants. Peut-être que ça dégoûte, comme certains sont dégoûtés par l'idée même de rapports entre hommes. Cette réaction, c'est pas mal la base de la moralité de droite autoritaire.

Dans le BDSM des adultes peuvent simuler un viol, mais il doivent avoir un mot qui signifie "arrête" (sans ça, on peut pas évidemment réaliser de manière sécuritaire un fantasme ou on dit à l'agresseur d'arrêter).

Le viol, c'est grave. Pire, on vit dans une culture de violence sexuelle qui protège les violeurs. Pour arrêter ça, il faut pas s'en prendre aux adultes consentants; ce sont nos allies.

Ce qu'il faut changer?

Une fille en bikini c'est faite dire par le SPVM "tu sais y'a des filles qui sont font violer pour moins que ça?"

j'va te l'crisser dans le cul ton mégaphone

Tant qu'il y a des policiers qui disent ce genre de conneries et utilisent la menace de violence sexuelle, il faut que des chefs de police perdent leur job. La culture de la force de police, c'est leur responsabilité.

Quand vous entendez ces menaces, prenez le nom et numéro de matricule de l'agent. Documentez pour qu'on puisse un jour changer la culture.

tag:danielharan.posthaven.com,2013:Post/531505 2012-08-16T22:01:00Z 2013-10-08T17:15:00Z Nomadic

The declaration form to enter Hawaii asked for my home address, which is no longer applicable. 48 hours ago I put most of my belongings in storage, intending to travel in Asia for the next year.

Last night friends and I went dancing, drinking and eating, part of a plan to beat my body's diurnal cycle into submission. While in Hawaii, I'll visit a cocoa plantation with the folks at Madre Chocolate then learn to surf and go on hikes.

Travel plans so far include Tokyo next for 10 days, followed by Bangkok and Phnom Penh where I'll be visiting the swing dance community. After that everything is wide open, with only a wedding in Australia in early December. Looking out to Diamond Head and Waikiki from my friend's place in Honolulu.
tag:danielharan.posthaven.com,2013:Post/531506 2012-05-11T16:02:00Z 2013-10-08T17:15:00Z Conversation with a striking student

Last night I spoke with a student who's only missing 2 credits to graduate. She's out in the streets trying to block a tuition increase she will never pay.

She's already doing her practice teaching. Students are shocked that she would be on strike, not for herself - but for them. Your children, whom she'll also be teaching.

The language of spoiled brats infantilizes and casts this as an issue of order with Charest as the authority figure. This is obviously the framing that Charest wants us to have, but there's a better one. For more on political language, I recommend Lakoff's Don't Think of An Elephant!

Anyone who went through post-secondary education in the last 40 years is asking the next generation to pay much more than they did, and trying to cast it as getting students to pay their faire share. To add insult to injury they're reneging on the promise to eventually make it free.

In material terms, it is the students that are risking their sessions for someone else's gain - making a sacrifice. Meanwhile, their older generation is selfishly asking them to privately assume debt we used to have collectively. Who's spoiled again?

Making all post-secondary education free in our province would cost us 1% of our provincial budget. That's much less than we gave up in capital gains tax cuts and 10% what we could save by getting rid of corruption.

So the best frame for this is the red herring. While we shower opprobrium on those "spoiled brats", media spends less time talking about corruption. Plan Nord? Fracking? Anticosti? Out of sight, out of mind. The diversion is working: Charest's poll numbers are up.

I want Quebec to become a prosperous, tolerant and green society. This requires the rule of law, uprooting of corruption and an educated population. It is why I support the students.

What's your frame and vision?
tag:danielharan.posthaven.com,2013:Post/531507 2012-05-10T21:27:00Z 2013-10-08T17:15:01Z Stopping the Spiral of Violence
"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable" -JFK

Today terrorists shut down the Montreal metro with smoke bombs. The spiral of violence in Quebec has reached a new low. It's only going to get worse, because THERE ARE NO ADULTS IN CHARGE.

Starting a spiral is really quite simple.

First, make sure there are no common goals. What are we trying to build in Canada? In Quebec? Yeah, I can't answer either. We no longer stand for anything.

If you're under 30, chances you don't remember the last major public transit development. Even before the recent protests, you've never had a positive encounter with the police. You know the mafia rules your province and bible-thumpers run your country. Cheap tuition and the promise of free university have been reneged.

Second, sabotage language. In a spiral of violence we need to think clearly, and we can't do that without basic definitions. We talk past each other we confuse "proposal" with "agreement", "anarchy" and "civil disobedience", "protester" with "terrorist".

The definition of terrorism, so often forgotten, is to use fear (terror) to gain political advantage. Unlike blocking a bridge or throwing a pie in someone's face, being forced to inhale an unknown gas is likely to have people fearing for their lives or health.

To recap: we have no common vision, and most of the population can't think clearly because it lacks basic vocabulary. We've alienated more than youth. Think the metro being down is a pain? Try being disabled and barely able to use it in the first place. Ask anyone the difference between "sex" and "gender", "marriage" and "civil union". If you can't define those, you can't be an ally.

Third, block all avenues in which a group could argue for equality. Naturally, the media uncritically uses the language of the government and paints all protestors as violent. Courts are a dead-end. Negotiations take months.

Fourth, wait for the inevitable violent revolution to crack down. If this takes too long, a government can always use agent provocateurs. *cough* mosque informants *cough*.

So that's about it. The nature of a spiral is you can repeat steps 1-5 as you travel towards an increasingly authoritarian culture, side-lining one group each turn: queers, students, trade unionists, socialists, muslims, etc.

The way out is also simple.
  • Build and communicate a vision for a better society.
  • Be pedantic. "Feminism", "Anarchy", "Gender": insist they be used properly. If you're unclear, ask.
  • Make peaceful revolution possible. Ensure our education, justice, political and police institutions are responsive to groups with less power.
  • Denounce violence on all sides, keeping in mind the difference between a broken window and a broken skull.
Although our government has visibly done none of this, it is not clear to me whether the other parties could. Which means it's up to citizens to provide adult supervision.
tag:danielharan.posthaven.com,2013:Post/531508 2012-04-26T17:50:00Z 2013-10-08T17:15:01Z Fixing the rift between police and youth
If you're under 35, you've probably never had a positive interaction with a police officer. Student protests have exacerbated the rift. 

Cell phone or bike stolen? They will likely tell you it's not even worth filing a report.

Drugs? Just an excuse to harass you.

Something more important like rape? Cops might victimize you instead of helping.

We used to see cops mostly Friday and Saturday nights. Now we're more likely to think of them pepper-spraying protesters or kicking someone already down.

Unless they're hitting their batons on their shields. "Move, Move, Moove, Mooo". That's the sound of cattle, not humans.  They're even branded with numbers, though sometimes they even refuse to show those.

Anonymity is a breeding ground for violence. Like a terrifying re-enactment of the Stanford Prison Experiment, we are slowly descending in a hellish nightmare. Others have already predicted at least a death in these protests. They are optimistic.

The militarization of police and use of non-lethal equipment actually exacerbates the problem. Tasers, sound / flash grenades. The chemicals that are used would be illegal in a war. All of these can be lethal.

This weaponry has become the norm without any real oversight. Our political powers have not put in place the institutional controls necessary to control police forces. Police are policing themselves. Can anyone be surprised that it's not working?

These protests have exacerbated the rift between police and youth. To repair it, we'll need to start by adding police oversight. Then, we need police to actually be helpful when youth are victims of crime.

Failing to do so means that the next spiral of violence will see a lot more bloodshed.
tag:danielharan.posthaven.com,2013:Post/531509 2012-01-16T04:24:00Z 2013-10-08T17:15:01Z Chocolate particle size over time

I bought a micrometer to ensure my chocolate's particle size would reach around 20 microns - the point at which a human tongue can't detect grit.

Since I'm also learning Octave, this graph was inevitable.

tag:danielharan.posthaven.com,2013:Post/531510 2011-12-12T19:16:00Z 2013-10-08T17:15:01Z Startups, Skills and Diversity

Sunday Morning in New York's financial district. I'm asking women how they would feel if their bridesmaid hired a party planner to organize their bachelorette.

Some women roll their eyes like I'm yet another guy practicing my pick up lines.

I'm part of a team that is validating business model assumptions in a 48 hour competition, the Lean Startup Machine. The event itself defies stereotypes. There are lots of women and blacks. People of all ages. Men join teams led by women, and the two winning teams have a woman.

We had started with Kristen's initial idea of party boxes - decorations, accessories, drinks, mixers and food delivered to your door. Our first round of surveys and interviews show men don't throw as many parties. It's women that stress about them - getting RSVPs, choosing themes. Even the playlist is more stressful than running around to buy supplies. The party box idea has a 100% probability of failure, so we "pivot" or change our business model.

The worst of those parties? Showers and bachelorettes. One woman tells me she has to organize one for the end of March. "That's only 3.5 months away" I point out. She gasps and turns red. Better yet, she's not the only one to bring up that issue: we found a problem people care about.

When we present our findings the women in the audience are nodding their heads, but we're no match for businesses that have managed to get more validation. The winners went through 5 or 6 pivots and gathered over 20 letters of intent.

"You guys did in 2 days what we do in 2 weeks" says a mentor. It's been an intense experience. We've learned better  interviewing skills and techniques for quickly verifying a business idea has merit.

Kristen already has 2 customers for the concierge bachelorette party planning. Follow Partyflyny on Twitter if you'd like to stay informed about what she does with it. Like all new businesses, odds are stacked against it, but at least it got a good start.

Finally, if you're interested in practicing startup skills, I recommend you sign up for the next LSM near you.


tag:danielharan.posthaven.com,2013:Post/531511 2011-11-10T18:51:00Z 2013-10-08T17:15:01Z Usability for Illiterates

Can you guess what these signs, found near elevators, mean?

Getting in the wrong elevator, a friendly Korean explained I was in the odd-numbered elevator and I would have to go all the way down and switch elevators. Nothing in the elevator gave me a clue why pressing buttons had no effect whatsoever. No beep, no light, nothing.


Not one but two hostels were located in this Seoul high-rise, so hundreds of functionally illiterate people were confronted with these signs. Many were also sleep-deprived and jet-lagged.

"Don't Make Me Think" is a solid usability principle. I'll add a more specific one: "Don't assume literacy".

The signs on 1st floor elevators were slightly better:


Green is good colour to denote "go" like in traffic lights, and the numbers on the signs are different, letting you guess meaning. Crossed out numbers where it didn't stop could have helped.

Simpler would be to just have both elevators stop everywhere. No sign, no explanation. Just get in and press the button for your floor.

Something even an illiterate person can understand. Which I really appreciate when that person happens to be me.

tag:danielharan.posthaven.com,2013:Post/531512 2011-10-25T05:04:00Z 2013-10-08T17:15:01Z Learning AI

Reading Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach (optional text book for http://ai-class.com/ ) to make sure I really understand A* before implementing it for http://aichallenge.org/

Three observations:

1 - The video lectures were a much better introduction to the material than the book alone.

2 - Having a "real" use case and implementing as you learn is a fantastic way to make sure I actually learn the material thoroughly

3 - I can't believe I went this long without learning this material.

tag:danielharan.posthaven.com,2013:Post/531513 2011-09-09T04:24:01Z 2013-10-08T17:15:01Z FOB in Japan
I'm at my buddy's in Akasaka, Tokyo. Isaac's apartment is small without feeling cramped.

A woman was outside announcing something on loud speaker. No idea if it's a sale at some department store or an evacuation order. No one seems worried.

Even that temporary home-base is befuddling. The A/C control turned out to be hot water heater. Showers and toilets aren't like anything I've used before. Curtains don't want to stay up.

At the convenience store I bought food and drink at random because the cashier there couldn't speak a word of English. Salty tuna in rice balls would not have been my first choice. It was tasty.

Sushi last night was incredibly tasting. The highlight was the fish killed and served in under 2 minutes, gills still moving with cut filets served at its side.

Must go out some more and explore - and take picture. Maybe as these experiences percolate, I'll have less stereotypical observations to offer.
tag:danielharan.posthaven.com,2013:Post/531514 2011-08-30T14:07:16Z 2013-10-08T17:15:01Z Leaving Recoset & new adventures

I am no longer working for Recoset, the company I co-founded almost 17 months ago. In talking with people, a few questions come back quite often:

Quit? Wasn't it your company?

 My co-founder, investors and employees also have equity or stock options. I'll remain a shareholder.

But wasn't it doing great?

Absolutely! Recoset is on a great trajectory, which is why it's safe for me to leave.

I'm happy with my contributions: finding an amazing co-founder and team, early customers and investors, overseeing a pivot to a much larger market and helping to recruit James, our new CEO.

That said, my skills won't be as useful at our upcoming stages of growth.

What now?

First, a couple months of long overdue travel. SF, Tokyo, Osaka, Seoul, Bangkok, Honolulu.  

A few people have offered interviews and contracts. There are plenty of new startup ideas I'd like to explore, ranging from chocolate manufacturing to finance. Travel will give me time to reflect on what I want to do next.

Naturally I've learned a lot. Like all the startup CEOs I've spoken to, I beat myself up for things I could have done better or faster. With practice I might get good at starting companies.

Before committing to any given course, though, it's vacation time.

tag:danielharan.posthaven.com,2013:Post/531515 2011-02-03T00:34:12Z 2013-10-08T17:15:01Z To increase runway, spend more money
Potential hires sometimes ask how much runway we have left. We have 6 months of total runway, but need about 3 months to prove our assumptions and start showing real traction. This leaves us a 3 month "raising runway" for the series A.

The best way to get more raising runway is to prove faster, which we can sometimes do by spending more money. Our expenses are roughly $30,000 a month. If we get to validation a month earlier by spending $15,000, total runway is reduced by 2 weeks while raising runway increased by 2 weeks.

There are lots of opportunities to spend more money wisely. Whether hiring a consultant for a few hours or buying a dedicated machine to avoid re-architecting, the amounts can vary from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

I hear a lot of people claim startups aren't "lean" if they spend a lot. The whole point is to learn as fast as possible on the smallest total budget.
tag:danielharan.posthaven.com,2013:Post/531516 2010-12-28T21:29:00Z 2013-10-08T17:15:01Z How can startups destroy more jobs?
This whole job obsession misses the most important point of startups: creating a new economy.

A lot of recent articles can be boiled down to this simple logic:

  -Startups create more jobs
  -We need more jobs
  -Therefore, we need more startups

Like any other, the job creation ideology masks and simplifies reality. What we do is closer to creative destruction.

Lots of jobs should be destroyed. Call centers come to mind: many pay shit wages and offer no security. Lots of dreary clerical busy-work can be automated. Can you think of more?

New jobs aren't all created equal. Startups also create lots of jobs indirectly. I wouldn't mind being an engineer at Google, but I wouldn't trade that for being a crafter on Etsy. At least I assume they love what they do and have "flow"; certainly a luxury for most earning on working Amazon's Mechanical Turk for pennies per task.

300 years ago, some 98% of Europeans were farmers. Now it's <2%. The creative destruction of entrepreneurs recycled entire industries, giving rise to new jobs that have since been forgotten. Tinkers, coopers and blacksmiths have all but disappeared.

The web is only 20 years old and the information revolution is only getting started. If we do our job, the economy will be unrecognizable in 50 years. By then, our employment obsession - a bizarre relic of the industrial revolution - might be ready for the trash heap of history.