An idea is not a mockup

A mockup is not a prototype

A prototype is not a program

A program is not a product

A product is not a business

And a business is not profits

-Balaji S. Srinivasan from Startup Engineering

I've been working at a smalls startup now for almost close to four years and although it has in no way shape or form ever gone down the celebrated path you hear or read about in the press, it has definitely been a learning experience for me. Over the past couple of years I have iterated over a couple ideas that I have prototyped in the Bitcoin space (BlockShare.IO, and a news aggregator called CoinGazr that became a little too convoluted but I am thinking of return to work on.) and the music space (MusicGenius, and my boutique record label Context + Form Digital) and I love the process of taking an idea and trying to bring it to life. I have some other ideas floating and I hope to build on those over the next months as well. And I really hope to turn some of those into 


"Mathematics has beauty and romance. It's not a boring place to be, the mathematical world. It's an extraordinary place; it's worth spending time there."

Marcus du Sautoy

Mathematics was never my stronger subject growing up. In fact it was the one I hated the most which is something I find humorous now since I find myself engrossed in it one way or another on a daily basis. It intrigues me to no end and I have days where I want to do nothing more than focus my thoughts and time on a specific mathematical subject. Lately I've been engrossed in the very basics of abstract mathematics using logic and proofs. Learning and applying it has helped open my eyes and mind to a whole new world that I never knew existed. It has a beauty and elegance to it unmatched by most other subjects. 


"I’m of the opinion that most investors would be better off making fewer decisions and getting rid of any unnecessary clutter from their portfolios and investment process. Placing constraints on yourself is a great way to do this. The first step is understanding yourself and your own flaws, something that’s not as easy as it sounds, since the easiest person to fool is often yourself."

Ben Carlson on Placing Constraints on Yourself

This quote is directly related to the markets and it is excellent advice too. I think it's under appreciated in most all areas of our lives as well. Cluttered thinking and action can lead anyone down a vicious cycle and constraining your thought process and approach can help alleviate some of the unwanted pain. I've been finding myself a bit more active on the investment side of things in my life lately and this advice hits home to me. What I've discovered is that learning one particular area of investment suits me well once I understand the long term effects of such a process. It isn't easy but it is definitely worth it.


"Focus was ingrained in Jobs’s personality and had been honed by his Zen training. He relentlessly filtered out what he considered distractions. Colleagues and family members would at times be exasperated as they tried to get him to deal with issues—a legal problem, a medical diagnosis—they considered important. But he would give a cold stare and refuse to shift his laserlike focus until he was ready."

The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs

Learning Data Visualization using Processing

Learning data visualization techniques using the Processing programming language has always been a skill that has been on my list of things to learn really well and I finally got around to get started. I've used other technologies and methods before for data visualization, most notably R and RStudio, so when I got the opportunity to learn how to take that skill to the next level I jumped at it. Here is a visualization of all the meteor strikes that have been collected around the world. The bigger the circles, the larger the impact. I'm not going to go into a huge analysis since I'm sure it's been done many times before, but I am excited to get cracking on other data sets in the near future. 

The code and data can be found in this Github repo and the Skillshare class can be found here. 

One API to rule them all.

A few months ago I wrote about how API's could be used as a personal key that will give access to various platforms that people belong to and sell their products or services through. I still strongly believe that this is a good idea especially in lieu of so many people using different platforms to make money. (Think everything from Etsy to Uber or even how musicians and artists could benefit from having one with streaming platforms like Spotify). But another function of an API that I hadn't thought of is getting rid of layers of management. I ran across this post today which talks exactly about using API's in that way.

What is interesting to me is what the possible ramifications of this could be. People are already starting to get worried about automatons taking over the working world, but I don't think it's as cut and dry as that. Although I do think that more jobs will be automated in the future, I would argue that was going to happen no matter what. Technology is snowballing in that direction regardless. But somebody will need to work with this type of software and those people will have to be trained with new skills. Ultimately, most autonomous software isn't even completely autonomous. It needs the feedback of a human who is trained properly to work with it. This is where the ultimate synergies will reside; where human beings and machines will work together seamlessly and augment one another. This also gets me thinking about what types of new jobs there will be in the future that we can't even fathom right now.

So as API's and software start digging away at different layers of management, it will be those who know how to work with that software that will be the better off. I am also curious as to what kinds of scenarios will be possible if  or when this type of system is in place. Much to think about. 

An Approach to Thinking Deeply

I discovered this article over the weekend and have been pondering it quite a bit since then. The quote that really got me was this: 

"People vastly prefer passive activities like reading or listening to music over spending just a few minutes by themselves. Being alone with no distractions was so distasteful to two-thirds of men and a quarter of women that they elected to give themselves mild electric shocks rather than sit quietly in a room with nothing but the thoughts in their heads."

This was shocking (no pun intended) to me and at I had a hard time believing it at first. Then this morning on a packed bus, I sat down and quietly looked out the window for a few minutes. There was a new concept in probability that I had been reading and thinking about and I wanted to take some time to wrestle with the concepts in my head. When I looked up I noticed that all but two people were staring at their mobile phones. The first one was me and the other was a child who couldn't have been more than five years old. For many years now I have always tried to have quiet moments where I can reflect on what is happening in my life. Some people call this meditation, but it isn't quite like that for me. There are always thoughts reverberating through my mind and sometimes it feels best to just reflect and think on them. Focus is the key element here. But I haven't always been successful doing this and the rise of smart phones has made it a bit more difficult to actually accomplish such deep thought. 

Lately I've been thinking about very specific things (algorithms) and focused thought has become a key to understanding the way I think through a problem and solve it. Or at least understand it on a deeper level. My process has been very simple. Normally I will review, study, and apply new concepts when I am at home, but I can't always be at home to work. So I write down a problem or concept in a small notebook I keep in my pocket, glance over it throughout the day, and then when there is time, I exercise focused thinking about that one topic for the next 20 - 30 minutes. Sitting on the train or bus (but mostly the train) helps me relax and do this without too many distractions. My goal is to know the problem inside and out instead of a cursory understanding. In fact, having read this book a number of times and applying the methods to my own thoughts has helped me grow intellectually. What is it I hope to achieve over the long term? To become a more effective thinker and problem solver and to think critically instead of haphazardly. 

So it's disheartening to read that people would rather receive an electric shock than be bored. Our minds are made to think effectively and critically analyze problems to make our world a better place. And it's no secret that doing so takes a tremendous amount of work. But it takes work for a reason and the best reason, at least to me, is to understand ones self at greater level. It's strange to think that some people don't want to know themselves at all. Or as Bertrand Russell once said "many people would rather die than think. In fact, most do."


I had taken the time to write a very specific post over the past week on probability and forecasting but when it came down to it, I decided to nix using it at the last moment. I will eventually post it (probably this summer), but since I haven't written anything in a while I thought I would at least use a quote here. 

"Whether you think you can or you think you can't... You're right." - Henry Ford

I'm not sure of the circumstances that made Henry Ford say this but I fully agree with it. If you think you can do something then you will find whatever means necessary to accomplish it. Likewise, if you don't think you can do something, then you will find every possible way not to do it, whatever it is. It's a quote I think of whenever I feel stuck in a rut or not sure. I just ask myself if I think I can do whatever it is I've set out to do. If the answer to myself is yes, then I do what needs to be done. It's as simple as that. 

I haven't written much here in a while and would like to get back in the habit of sharing my thoughts and ideas here. Composing one or two essays a week for now should be good to move forward. It feels good to be writing again. 

Building an Audience Machine - "Conversation is King"

I've been reading a book by Cory Doctorow called "Information Doesn't Want to Be Free" which argues that copyright and creative success in the digital age are changing dramatically. I agree with this sentiment and it's not only because this book is wonderfully argued, but because I have been doing it with my own creative endeavors for the past year. Selling art isn't what it was 20 years ago and because most people expect music to be freely streamed or torrented, making a living as an artist has changed dramatically. 

Exactly one year ago I made the choice to start releasing my music. It needed to happen for several reasons. First, I was finding that I was creatively stymied in my work environment and needed a way to express myself. Second, I hadn't ever released my own original compositions to the world, only a few DJ mixes, with one being featured prominently on a British radio show back in 2006. (I don't have a link). Third and lastly, recording and releasing my own music was something I have wanted to do since I was 8 years old and now was a great time to do it. Why? Because there are so many great distribution channels and ways of reaching people all over the world and that is fantastic way to get your products (in my case music) to people.

But I had to put some limitations on my work first. Each piece of music had to be composed, recorded, and released all within a one week time period. Also within that time period I needed to create an album cover, copy describing the track, and put together any other marketing components. The example I took was a methodology based on scrum and kanban. My weeks generally ranged from Monday as my start date to Sunday as my release date. The limitations worked wonders for my creative output and I found a musical voice for my project quickly and was able to expand on it with each new subsequent release. Although this started as a project that was primarily dance music focused, it quickly turned into a more elaborate electronic music project that was starting to showcase my composition skills. Skills that have felt hampered by not creating or releasing anything for the past few years finally felt a bit of release. My happiness levels shot through the roof. What I found was that by adopting this system and adhering to the process helped me get things done. I was able to release music consistently and started to slowly build an online audience which I will get to next.

Another limitation that I placed on myself was not telling any of my close friends about it which meant I had to build an audience organically through social media and other methods. This has proved much more difficult than I would like, but in the past year alone, I have connected with a multiple amount of people all over the world who simply enjoyed the music I was making. It is a fantastic feeling to be able to do this and it's something that I want to continue to do. However, without a large marketing budget, it is much more difficult. That aside, I will continue pushing forward over the next year. 

What started as a project that was going to help me showcase my skills and release some creative tension quickly snowballed into more creative work and bigger ideas that needed to be acted upon. I had to make a choice as to whether or not I should release music as a single musical project, or as a boutique record label with the possibility of adding more artists further down the road. I chose the latter based on the idea that it could offer me more freedom and the opportunity of working with other great artists in the future. Once that choice was made, I operated the entire project from the perspective of a business day in and day out with the ultimate goal of releasing an albums worth of material by sometime in late summer '14 (which was accomplished). To help market my eventual album release, I contacted a few electronic music blogs until I found one (BeatsandBeyond) that would let me submit my new material and have it posted. Doing it this way really helped clarify my thinking as to how I would interact with customers (fans who liked my music) and release more music down the line. I also went into this knowing full well that there was a huge probability that no one would actually make a purchase of any music. The fact remains that people just aren't purchasing music like they used to and that is fine by me. It is a commodity that is for the most part free (torrents and streaming) and it is harder to swim against the stream then anything.

How has everything fared in the year since my first song release? Here are the numbers: I average about 100 - 150 plays a week on Soundcloud when I am not promoting anything. The majority of my fans and followers came from Soundcloud as well and I found that talking with and regularly updating them with new music and news was the best way to keep a relationship going. It should also be noted that when one of my tracks went up on their trending section, I found myself gaining on average about 1000 plays per week for that track over the next six weeks or so. It was a fantastic way to get my music heard. People still love music and that is exciting to know. Advertising on Reddit was a small success (seeing as how I didn't have much capital to pour into the two campaigns I did) and I was able to convert new fans based on them clicking the advert, sending them to Bandcamp and getting them to listen to the music. From there these fans could decide to support me by paying or download my releases by giving me their email address. There is a bit more power in Reddit then most people may realize and using it for future campaigns will be a must. My click through rate was a bit under 0.6% (this metric is an average for all Reddit music campaigns). I didn't sell a whole lot of albums but I did make a little money (not a lot but a fair amount to justify the work that was being done) and that was enough for me to continue on. Lastly, and most importantly, a year ago I had zero fans or support and now my Soundcloud followers (whom I consider fans) fluctuates around 600 (give or take a few). People seem to stop following ever once in a while. That is fine by me as I would rather the label builds up a solid fan base of people who really enjoy what is being released. 

Now that I have written through my thoughts and experiences of the past year, I should probably explain what I am expecting over the next. The plan is to continue creating and releasing music. And with that it should be added that each fan relationship should be carefully cultivated. I would rather have 100 people love the products (music) we are releasing (and pay for it) than 1000 people who don't care one way or another. Building and maintaining that audience is going to be priority number one. I'm sure by now you are asking "didn't you say that people don't want to pay for music?". In fact I did and I will follow that up by saying I am going to be experimenting with new methods of building an audience by stepping into new territory. Licensing music and creating music/sounds for specific media platforms are examples that are already currently being looked into and implementation will begin over the next few months. But I would also like to add a few more services slowly as well such as sonic branding, strategy and intelligence for companies looking to add music to their campaigns, and finally a tool I built to help discover information about artists. It is still in it's minimal viable product stage, but you can check it out for yourself here: MusicGenius. (I have a plan with what I want to do with it. I just wanted to make sure I could build it first). If that seems like a lot to handle then you are right. But just know that I will slowly be building out these new methods. And the hope is to build a company with the revenue to not only build a bigger customer and fan base, but hire employees who are just as passionate as I am and can fill in the roles that will be needed. If you think that sounds less like a record label and more like a marketing and tech company then you are correct. The future music incubators will have to be a cross between marketing and technology since those are the best ways to reach out and have conversations with people. And instead of relying on the old adage "Content is King", they will instead have to be focusing on the new one, "Conversation is King." Marketing and technology make it easy for people to communicate with one another and for brands to communicate with people. Building an audience will take more than content, it will take starting the conversation.

I've had some other projects that I have worked on throughout the past year. But my focus is now going to be on building this business into a viable record label and business. And that won't be easy at all. Like I said, my main focus with it is going to be building an audience for the music that will be released. I am super proud of everything that has been accomplished since the release of my first track a year ago, but now it's time to up my game. I've connected with some pretty cool people all over the world. And in the second year creating more great music, as well as fun and new ways for people to experience it, will be my main mission. Now it's time to take that mission to the next level.

Check out my latest release here:

And go here too:


Private and Public Thoughts

I don't post much of my writing in the public as I would like to. To me, there is nothing better than to open up a notebook, pull out a pen, and start writing to my hearts content. Most of the time these are just small, private ideas or thoughts that need to get out of my head. So I lay them down on paper and can comfortably walk away afterwards. I've always thought of this blog as being a place where I can write a more detailed analysis about whatever it is I am thinking about and apply my mind to understanding it in greater detail. 

Lately, that has been with three things: Bitcoin and it's applications with the world around us (not just the financial world), The Internet of Things (I just ordered some Arduino supplies like a touch screen. Learning how the IoT may work seems super exciting to me. I will need to purchase some sensors soon too.) And finally, functional programming. In fact, I have been throwing myself head first into an online course given at the University of Washington called "Programming Languages". I love this course and I love what I am learning in it. The best way to describe it is like this: In order to learn a language like English, we must first understand the analysis of how it works. What is a verb? A noun? An adjective? And how do these elements effect the language? We can move forward from there. This class works in much the same way. What is the languages syntax? In other words, how do the various parts of the language work? Does it type-check? Do we understand the semantics of the language? Finally, does it evaluate? What do the expressions in the language evaluate too? I have been learning so much that it is very overwhelming at times. But it in order to learn, we must keep moving forward one step at a time.

Now is the best time as any to start putting more of my thoughts out there in public. And writing about something can really help analyze and clarify any elements of our thought process that we are not sure about. So that is my resolve, to start clarifying my thoughts in more of a public space.