Idea: Driving Time Predictor

When you live in a sprawled suburb like the Silicon Valley, it’s sometimes hard to predict how long it will take you to drive from point A to point B. For example, my one-way commute time from Mountain View to San Francisco has ranged between 45 and 120 minutes in the past few months. 

Of course the travel times are somewhat predictable. I know that if it’s a nice day and I leave SF at 10 am, the odds of time(travel) < 50 are high. Maybe once a week or so there is an accident that sets me back 10-15 minutes. Friday afternoons are different, coming back from Mountain View usually takes patience; I know that if I leave around 6 pm I probably be in the city by 7:30.

The obvious question is, what if I need to be in Oakland for a 5:30 pm meeting for which I just cannot be late? Google says it would take me 50 minutes if I left now. It’s 3:55 as I write this, if I were driving away this second I would arrive at my destination by 4:45. However, it’s raining outside. What are the odds that there will be an accident somewhere along the way? How much does traffic fluctuate during this time of the day, on a Tuesday? The point is that when I have an important appointment tens of miles away I have to make sure to pay attention to the clock since much earlier, which is distracting. What I would like is for Google (or whoever) to tell me when I need to leave A order to be at B before time T. Also, I’d like two modes: 

  • 80% confidence: I probably will be on time, but if I’m late it’s no biggie.  
  • 99% plus: most likely I will be early, but a high chance of being on time is worth the extra 20 minutes or whatever.

This could be done analyzing historical data, real-time traffic, and weather conditions. I would want to run the query in the morning, and have the service send me an update (SMS, email) any time my suggested departure time changes. Would I pay for this? Possibly, but I’d have to try it first. 

Frighteningly Ambitious People

One could say a sperm is ambitious. It is competing against millions, and most likely it will die. If it wins however, it will fertilize the egg and stand a good chance of becoming a member of the dominant species on this planet.


A monkey is not that ambitious when he climbs a tree to eat bananas. But he will eat today.


Would you rather be the sperm or the monkey? Well, you don’t have that choice in real life but you do in the world of startups. You can pick a “Frighteningly Ambitious Idea” or a more conservative one. The important question is whether that matters in the long run, because unlike a sperm or a monkey ideas can mutate over the course of their lives. Some say that ideas don’t matter, it’s all about the people. When it comes to ambition, I tend to agree. Ideas are not ambitious, people are.


If you look at the most successful companies in the world, you will often find Frighteningly Ambitious People behind them. Frighteningly Ambitious People (FAP for short) are the entrepreneurs who won’t take the early exit, and will shoot for the stars. They are the ones VCs love to meet. They pass the test questions: “how will your company make $10M/year? how about 100M?” because they naturally have thought about such scenarios. Tiger Woods would stay on the practice green for hours because he wanted to win so badly. That’s what FAP are about. Mark Zuckerberg is certainly portrayed as FAP by the media.


The interesting question to me is: Do FAP always start with ambitious ideas? Bill Gates aimed to write a BASIC interpreter. He said there’s nobody getting rich writing software that I know of. Serendipity, timing and ambition led him to become the richest man in the world. Ambition is key because he could have left Microsoft much earlier, and moved on to do anything else he wanted as extremely wealthy man. He was already a billionaire when he chose to stay, and turned Microsoft into an empire.


I’m sure there are many examples of extremely successful companies that started with simple ideas and became huge doing something else. I’m not ambitious enough to go on a Google quest for them on a Saturday morning, so I’ll pull the old textbook trick of leaving that as an exercise to the reader.


I’m not FAP and I don’t want to be. Most people are not. If I were an early-stage investor however, I’d be looking for FAP. If you ever pitch to a venture investor with a large portfolio, he/she will run the FAP test on you. If you are not FAP, the meeting probably won’t have a happy ending.


By the way, this post is not meant to criticize FAP. If that’s your personality, more power to you. As for me, If I ever start another company I’ll be looking for Normally Ambitious People, or NAP 🙂


Hey Klout, One-dimensional Reputation Is Meaningless.

According to Klout,  “Your Klout Score measures your online influence on a scale of 1 to 100.” I just read a blog post (from June 2011) that carefully analyzes all the ways in which the Klout score is flawed, and therefore meaningless (hat tip to Peter Skomoroch). However, there is a more important reason than the flaws in the calculation: what does “online influence” even mean? There are countless topics and fields over which people can exert influence both online and off. I believe the main problem with Klout is the one-dimensional score. Like the excellent “Building Web Reputation Systems” book says, karma is user reputation within a context.

To put it in less abstract terms: some things are easy to measure with a single number, some are not. The faster car is the one with the highest speed. On the other hand, what’s the “usefulness score” of a car? You can rate a vehicle along a number of dimensions, but a single “vehicle score” would be a marketing gimmick because it lacks context.

Going back to online influence for people, it would be interesting to trying to measure it for a specific topic. However, I suspect that there won’t be much data for anybody but the most well known people within that topic. E.g. how influential is Robert Scoble in Distributed Systems? Is he more or less influential than Paul Graham for this topic? Obviously the answer changes if we’re talking about startup advice, although it’s still nuanced. Clearly Barack Obama is more influential in Politics than Brian Schweitzer (governor of Montana). But how does Lionel Messi’s political influence match up with Rafael Nadal’s?

The gist of a service like Klout is that it needs to be popular, and most people are not particularly influential at large. If only a few thousand people had Klout scores, and only for specific topics, then it would just be a  “Who’s Who in X” list. As it stands, it’s simply a game that measures how good you are at it. In other words, your Klout Score measures how good you are at getting a high Klout Score.

As usual, this is all unscientific speculation on my part. Follow me on Twitter for more of that, plus the occasional Foursquare check-in 🙂

Discuss on Hacker News if you please.

Privacy Is a Continuum

This blog post is as public as it gets. I’m promoting it through social networks, and my name is prominently associated with it. On the other end of the spectrum, if I dive into the depths of the ocean by myself and give the finger to an octopus then I expect this to be a private act.

Some people fail to realize that privacy is not black and white. When Facebook says that it respects your privacy, it doesn’t mean that it guarantees that future employers will never see your drunken self-pictures. The fact that you can’t find your own tweets from two years ago doesn’t mean that nobody else can. This is something all readers of this blog surely know.

Of course, there are other situations we don’t think about much. For example, we may believe that during a remote vacation we are in a more private setting than in our hometown. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, right? That hasn’t been the case for a while. A couple of days ago I saw a tweet from someone who found himself on Google Street View, having coffee with his daughter during a Paris vacation. What we do on the web is no different. We can sign up for a site with a random username and believe we’re untraceable. In reality, there are many signals that give our identity away. Our writing style is one of them. Our posting patterns may make it possible to identify our timezone, and perhaps our rough location. Of course, the site knows our IP address. The ISP knows who we are, unless we’re using someone else’s network. Do we access the site via mobile? Game over.

A colorful anecdote from my youth in Argentina. I was in a cemetery once, attending a family member’s burial. It had been a long morning, and at some point I had a desperate need to pee. The cemetery was huge, and there were no other parties in sight that morning. I walked a few hundred yards to the nearest toilets only to find the door locked. I did what probably many teenagers have done: I urinated next to a random grave. I’m paying it forward by the way: when I’m dead, feel free to pee on my grave if you must; I won’t mind, it’s the circle of life. Anyway, the point of the story is that I wouldn’t do it today. I’m sure that cemeteries are surveyed by security cameras, and there’s a non-negligible chance that I might be booked for public urination.

Being an asshole in public is even riskier. A few days ago I was at a coffee shop in San Francisco that has the following policy: between 11:30 and 2:30 pm some tables are laptop-free and have a 30-minute limit. There are signs on those tables that make it clear. While I was eating a delicious sandwich, two guys sat next to me and moved their table’s sign to the next table. They proceeded to open their laptops and start talking business. They threw a tantrum when the manager politely asked them to respect the policy. Here they are, caught in the act.

I believe that for the time being we have a reasonable expectation of privacy for the unwired activities we do in our own homes, away from open windows. Outside of that, we are somewhere in the privacy continuum.