There exists a disorder known as hypomania. Why such a mood state is classified as a disorder truly puzzles me. I’ve quoted Wikipedia’s characterization of this disorder below:

Hypomania (literally, “below mania”) is a mood state characterized by persistent and pervasive elevated (euphoric) or irritable mood, as well as thoughts and behaviors that are consistent with such a mood state. Many people also experience signature hypersexuality.

Individuals in a hypomanic state have a decreased need for sleep, are extremely outgoing and competitive, and have a great deal of energy. However, unlike with full mania, those with hypomanic symptoms are often fully functioning.

Specifically, hypomania is distinguished from mania by the absence of psychotic symptoms and grandiosity, and by its lesser degree of impact on functioning. Hypomania is a feature of bipolar II disorder and cyclothymia, but can also occur in schizoaffective disorder.

Classic symptoms of hypomania include mild euphoria, a flood of ideas, endless energy, and a desire and drive for success.

People with hypomania are generally perceived as being energetic, euphoric, visionary, overflowing with new ideas, and sometimes over-confident and very charismatic, yet—unlike those with full-blown mania—are sufficiently capable of coherent thought and action to participate in everyday activities. Like mania, there seems to be a significant correlation between hypomania and creativity.

The Wikipedia article goes on to say:

People experiencing hypomania are often the “life of the party.” They may talk to strangers easily, offer solutions to problems, and find pleasure in small activities. Such advantages may render them unwilling to submit to treatment, especially when disadvantages are minimal.

It is beyond me as to why this condition is known as a disorder.

DISCLAIMER: I do not intend to offend anyone who actually experiences hypomania as part of bipolar disorder, but the condition on its own (independent of bipolar disorder) just doesn’t seem that bad.

The Social Media Diet

Francis Dierick, in an awesome blog post which I totally agree with, writes:
People are creating ‘content’ like never before. Everyone I talk to seems to be drowning in a sea of Tweets, Facebook updates & other user-generated content. Yet I feel something is missing. Something simple. Something elusive. A thing called quality.
He concluded his post by outling a “gentleman’s agreement” for social media sharing:
  • Think twice before you share
  • Only share your best stuff
  • Strictly one share per day

Then, inspired by Clay Johnson’s The Information Diet, I adapted Francis’s points into what I’d like to call “The Social Media Diet.”

Here’s the motto from The Information Diet (which is aimed at curbing unnecessary, even unhealthy, consumption):

And here’s my adaptation for social media (which is aimed at curbing unnecessary production of all the info we consume):

When it comes to separating signal from noise, curbing production is as important as curbing consumption. Several startups have proposed solutions to filter all the low quality links and information being passed around these days. But what if the solution were as simple as developing healthier habits? Is this a technology problem or a psycho-social problem? Think about it.

Thankful for: Lynn Margulis (1938-2011)

This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for scientists like Lynn Margulis, who died earlier this week. She took the theory of endosymbiosis from being unaccepted hearsay to strong consensus and approval. This theory and others of horizontal gene transfer were landmark moments in the history of evolutionary biology.

As humanity takes on some of our greatest challenges in the century ahead, we’ll need more people like our brave heroine scholar. She questioned orthodoxy and stuck by her guns through the decades it took to bring change about. That’s a rare and valuable thing in a field like science, whose incentives are perverted soas to reward only research that merely confirms existing notions, however faulty or misguided.

If the bright young minds of tomorrow heed the virtues of Margulis, we’ll be able to see through some of our most entrenched assumptions and mistaken theories, navigating through the dense maze of 21st century problems.

For more information on the life of Lynn Margulis, see John Baez’s obituary here.

English: Lynn Margulis while attending the sym...

Image via Wikipedia

Liking Music as a Child

Thomas Bangalter (Daft Punk) talking about their 2001 album Discovery (emphasis mine):

“This album has a lot to do with our childhood and the memories of the state we were in at that stage of our lives. It’s about our personal relationship to that time. It’s less of a tribute to the music from 1975 to 1985 as an era, and more about focusing on the time when we were zero to ten years old. When you’re a child you don’t judge or analyze music. You just like it because you like it. You’re not concerned with whether it’s cool or not. Sometimes you might relate to just one thing in a song, such as the guitar sound. This album takes a playful, fun, and colorful look at music. It’s about the idea of looking at something with an open mind and not asking too many questions. It’s about the true, simple, and honest relationship you have with music when you’re open to your own feelings.” *

This resonates deeply with me.

*Quote is from an interview entitled “ROBOPOP” with Daft Punk for REMIX Magazine on May 1, 2001. Here’s the link to the archived piece.

My Uber-awesome Uber experience

Cross-posted from my Quora answer to: What are people’s experiences with Uber in SF, NY, or DC?

I got to use Uber (formerly UberCab) while on a short trip to San Francisco this past week and I am completely sold on this service! (When is Uber coming to Southern California???) My experience has shown that existing taxi cab operations are technological dinosaurs, and in the age of GPS, smartphones and mobile payments, having to deal with their backwards system is simply intolerable. It’s clear to me that Uber is a company that’s harnessed all these new tools to tackle hard dispatch/logistics problems and deliver Apple-type “magic” to their customers.

I’ve got quite the anecdote for an experience, so hear me out…

On the morning of my flight out of SF, I managed to squeeze in breakfast with a friend from college before catching a Caltrain ride down the peninsula to the airport. Breakfast was set for 9:20 AM and I had to be at the nearby station by 10:05 AM, so missing the meeting time with my friend was not an option!

It was 8:55 AM when I exited my friend’s apartment in The Castro. I had a cool 25 minutes to get to the far edge of SOMA near AT&T Park. It was much more time than I needed to get there with a cab.

the ride (direct trace by Uber)

Totally underestimating the cab-seeking problem that plagues SF [1], I thought it would take a minute to call up Yellow Cab and hail a taxi. [2]

How wrong I was.

Standing under torrential rain, I soon realized after the third minute on hold that this wouldn’t be a quick and painless task. I quickly scurried to an awning of a nearby bank, doing my best to avoid the rain and figure things out (didn’t help much).

the awning (Google Street View)

Five minutes on hold with Yellow Cab, still no word…

Then seven minutes…

“Aw jeez! My friend’s going to be there in 15 minutes! What do I do?!”

Finally someone picks up!

“Yellow Cab, how can I help you?”

“Yes I need a cab at 15th and Market”

“Oh… well, sir, I just want to warn you that we may not be able to service you.” [3]

“What do you mean?

“We’re totally spread thin and we–”

<”ee ee ee” : the iPhone disconnected tone>

“Ohhh man!!!! What the hell?!? Damn you AT&T! Damn you Yellow Cab!! Damn you rain!”

So I call Yellow Cab again…

On hold once more, the minutes started passing again.

One minute….

Two minute…

“OK screw this, I’m taking action!”

Thankfully, I had read Bradley Voytek’s awesome posts about slicing and dicing Uber’s usage data [2], and I recalled it that instant: MUST TRY UBER NOW!

I knew it would be expensive, especially for the non-optimal scenario I was in [3], but I had such little time and was sick of being rained on that I threw caution to the wind and gave it a shot. [4]

Despite the spotty service, AT&T had a saving grace for me: simultaneous data and voice connectivity.

As I’m still on hold with Yellow Cab:

  1. I went to the iPhone App Store
  2. Downloaded the Uber app
  3. Launched the app and signed up for an account
  4. Entered my credit card information
  5. Verified my cell number by way of confirmatory SMS text message
  6. Verified my e-mail address by way of confirmatory email and HTML page
  7. Inputted my pick-up location automatically through GPS geolocation
  8. Received a push notification that my driver was four minutes away
  9. Received a quick phone call from my driver saying, “Get on the other side of the street so it’s easier for me to get you. Please cross legally, sir!” [5]

Yes, you understood this correctly: I did all of this while still on hold with Yellow Cab. So…

  1. Yellow Cab is an incredibly horrible service.
  2. Uber is amazing, especially their quick and painless on-boarding process.

My Uber town car arrived within 3 minutes and I was able to make it by 9:25 AM. It was five minutes later than planned, but without Uber, I’d still be stuck on that street corner, drenched in rain, frustrated and pissed off that I wouldn’t be able to meet my friend I hadn’t seen in over a year.

trip details (from Uber's user dashboard)

Using the pickup time from the trip details above, I want to run down the chronology in more ordered fashion:

8:55 AM – Walk out onto 15th street
8:56 AM – Stop under awning and call Yellow Cab
9:03 AM – Yellow Cab dispatcher picks up phone
9:04 AM – Call disconnected, redial Yellow Cab
9:06 AM – Desperation kicks in, start using Uber
9:08 AM – Complete Uber download, sign up, confirmation, and ride dispatch
9:11 AM – Pick-up by Uber town car
9:25 AM – Arrive at destination, proceed to have breakfast

Whoa… wait a second. Did it take about 2 minutes to go from download to ride dispatch with Uber? YES! Amazing. I’ve become familiar with the on-boarding process for countless apps and web services and this was one of the fastest, most fluid, painless experiences I’ve ever had.

Yes, it cost nearly $30, but what’s the point of paying about half that amount for a cab that will never show up?

I hope my experience has made it clear that Uber really is the future of personal transportation. Right now, it only appeals to a certain type of user and income level, but over time, this product may scale into something far more versatile. Clearly the team behind it has done everything to give the service that type of “magic” Apple products have, and with skills like that anything is possible.

In conclusion: Uber is uber-awesome.

[1] The SF cab-seeking problem was something I should have been more cognizant of. The “taxi cab problem” was one of the first things discussed in one of my Berkeley economics courses to demonstrate how certain regulatory regimes are detrimental to consumer welfare. (Wait, what? At Berkeley? What about the Marxists? You thought wrong, pal!) Medallion regimes introduce price ceilings that lead to a gross undersupply of cabs, and cities like SF are deeply plagued by this.

I said this in the intro and it bears repeating: existing taxi cab operations are technological dinosaurs, and in the age of GPS, smartphones and mobile payments, having to deal with their backwards system is simply intolerable. It’s even worse that government regulation keeps these firms in power, completely distorting the market to the detriment of consumers.

For more information on the cab supply problem, see:
San Francisco Taxi Services: Why is it so difficult to get a cab in SF when you need one?
San Francisco Taxi Services: What’s the average wait time for a taxi in San Francisco?

[2] Flagging a cab down off the street wasn’t an option: there are too few to be reliable and it was raining hard (and I had no umbrella).

[3] Full disclosure: there was also the Oracle Openworld conference taking place that week as well, which was probably what accounted for the unbearable load on Yellow Cab. But still: there’s plenty of conferences taking place in SF (though most not as large as Oracle’s) and the cab companies need to be able to scale to meet these demands. Anything short of that is logistical failure.

[2] Bradley’s posts for Uber are written under the #uberdata category here.
Some highlights:




When you look at Bradley’s data dissection, you can’t help but feel the same way Jack Dorsey must have felt in his earlier years, intrigued by local couriers and how to develop a short-form messaging system to help make them more efficient. What lies at the core of both Uber and the early Twitter product is the realization that dispatch is uniquely suited to disruption. It’s an interesting logistics problem with lots of application and potential, and I can’t wait to see what other startups like Postmates do in this space.

If you’re interested in the early Twitter story and Jack Dorsey’s logistics/dispatch fascinations, read this Vanity Fair profile of him.

[3] By non-optimal scenario, I mean to say that this particular ride didn’t conform to the optimal Uber scenario some friends had told me about. There’s apparently a “Goldilocks condition” where the distance and number of people sharing the ride make Uber economically on par with a regular cab. If you happen to be in that condition, there’s no reason not to use Uber.

[4] I’m also a big startup enthusiast and love using new products and technologies, seeing what’s great about them, critiquing what’s deficient. This was a perfect time to finally try Uber.

In addition, I was always interested in Uber because a friend and I had experimented with a similar concept using Twitter and its embedded geolocation feature for taxi dispatch. We couldn’t really scale well because we couldn’t see past the authentication/trust/verifiability problem. Apparently nobody liked our proposed names either: Twaxi, TweetCab, etc. To maintain product simplicity and “magic,” we didn’t want to force users through an API for a second layer of login credentialing. Uber went the route we refused to go, but hey, it’s clearly working quite well for them.

UPDATE: There’s apparently a company already doing this in London called Green Tomato Cars.

[5] Having gone to Berkeley, I’m majorly prone to jaywalking, as are many other Bay Area denizens. Thumbs-up to the driver for dropping this line, haha!

A note on the weather: in the interest of providing as much proof as possible about this whole experience, here’s a screenshot from Wolfram|Alpha showing the weather on that day (October 6, 2011). Note the precipitation rate during the 9 AM – 10 AM time:

TQR Activity

I’ve been pretty active on The Quora Review lately. I’m really enthralled by Quora and what they’re doing. The company has the short tagline of “a continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited, and organized by everyone who uses it,” but that’s not saying much. There’s so many things Quora can morph into, and the underlying infrastructure they’ve built can be scaled for so many interesting uses, to say nothing of the team that built it (which is also stellar). I could go into much more detail on all this, but I’ll save it for later!

As usual, I can’t help analyzing, writing and commentating on what interests me, so check it out:

A third, gone.

Realization: If I live to be 72, I’ve already lived a whole third of my life. A third, gone.

This is a depressing thought, but it’s also powerful: it means how I spend every waking hour truly matters. I can’t afford to waste the precious time that’s given to me on this Earth.

Granted, the first third was the shortest third of my life, since a good five years of it were spent practically unconscious (or at least I can’t remember anything from consciousness during that time).

The next phase is upon me: the career, marriage and kids phase (if that’s even in the cards for me). It should last for 24 years or so. I’m passing out of one phase and into the other. This is that key moment of transition, where things blend into each other, occluding long-term vision that’s so desperately needed.

I thought college graduation was bittersweet. This realization is much more so.