Archive for the ‘Algorithms’ Category

Israel as a BioInformatics Super Power – Part One

December 1, 2012

Showing out, showing out, hit and run
Boy meets girl as beat goes on
Stitched up tight, can’t break free
Love is the drug, got a hook on me

Roxy Music,Love is the Drug

Israel is not (yet?) a super power in Bio-Informatics, but it should be.

We have 6000 PHD’s in biology and probably less than ten Bio-Informatics start-ups.

While Data Science is a great area for Israel , and some Israeli brains like to waste their time on SEO and gambling I think the Bio-Informatics industry is going to be huge , but the dominant players are still not set.

Genome viewer screenshot, Wikipedia

Genome viewer screenshot, Wikipedia

Israel can succeed because:

* Israel has some of the leading doctors and health-care research in the world (#3 in Life Expectancy , despite the wars)

* Many of the leading BioInformatics researchers in Boston and in Israel are originally Israelis 🙂

* Bio-Informatics requires new methodologies which are different than traditional biologiets are used to. This is a good scenario for Israelis who tend to be more adaptive in an unknown territory.

* Bio-Informatics is across domains. Math, Computer Science , Chemistry  ,Physics , Statistics and engineering all play a critical role.  While Israelis ,some times, are not as good in structured and well known engineering domains, they work well in teams and move between domains relatively easily.On a side note – Intel, Teva, IAI and Iskar demonstrate that manufacturing can work well in Israel.

* Bio-Informatics industry would probably be more cash efficient than traditional drugs design that requires FAB likes investments of Billions of Dollars.Moving from hardware into software and from manual experiments into virtual ones can reduce costs in an order of magnitude.

* M.Sc and PHD in Biology make very little money in Israel, due to the lack of opportunities.  This can get as bad as minimum wage or a high-school teacher salary.On the flip side, it means there is a large pool of extremely talented candidates.

On the next parts – what is the promise of bioinformatics? Why is Israel not there yet, and how can it get there?

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Could Israel Lead The Data Science Revolution?

October 13, 2012
Tel Aviv Yarkon River Kayaking

Tel Aviv Yarkon River Kayaking

Israel has an enormous potential to play a major role in the new “Big Data” and Data Science ecosystem. Data Scientist is becoming a very “sexy” profession and since “Big Data” is expected to create a huge market, the opportunity should not be missed.

Israel’s has the following advantages:

  • A World class academic activity in machine learning , pattern recognition & text analytics. Some example are: Prof. Yishay Mansour , Prof. Naftali Tishby ,Prof. Yair Weiss and Prof. Amnon Shashua.
  • Large supply of candidates – there are quite a lot of great PhD or MSC graduates in Applied math, Statistics  Physics , Biology, Bioinformatics and Chemistry . Since the universities have a very limited supply for tenures, the pool is quite deep. In Europe and US there is shortage of these skills.
  • These are not new topics For the Israeli Intelligence community and broader Israeli security sector. There are experienced experts who built proven,production systems. The experts are not only on the math side, but also on the business analysis side.
  • Typical Israeli data scientist has more IT\programming skills. While these are not mandatory features for success,they tend to accelerate the discovery process and add a lot value.
  • There are quite a few business applied Data Mining companies in the commercial sector and in start-ups arena (e.g. Pursway).
  • The excellent communication skills, domain understanding and language diversity , especially compared to classical never-worked-outside-of-university PhD. Many Israeli PhD are “forced” to work in teams and in the industry to make a living, or during their army service, so even the more introvert types make a solid team player 🙂
  • 50% reduced cost compared to US – for various historical reasons the PHD\Masters title is not as economical as in the states. An amazing Java developer with no degree at all would probably earn twice as much as an amazing chemistry POST-Doc from Harvard. While this is a shame, it presents an opportunity for Data Science service out of Israel. Moreover, there are less hedge-funds to waste people talent 🙂

There are various directions to capitalize the potential:

  • Providing Data Scientists as a service, out of Israel. While remoteness presents some challenges, we have seen early success. It seems that the pros outweigh the cons.
  • Build infrastructure products for Big data – around Hadoop, Hive, Mahoot etc. Adding the enterprise features and improving performance  These are similar in nature to traditional Israeli expertise in networking, storage and security. In my opinion, there is higher chance for na Israeli start-up to succeed here, bigger than in a new social application.
  • Develop innovative services that use Machine Learning internally to gain a competitive edge (In advertisement, Retail or Medicine)

In a world where “old-fashioned” software engineers are more and more common, each one of these direction can help maintain Israel’s Hi-Tech uniqueness.

P.S

I just saw that other people also think Israel has the chance to be a world leader in big data . Although the quote is from EMC, I knew nothing about it 🙂

Tel Aviv Bicycle Race Sukkoth 2012

Tel Aviv Bicycle Race Sukkot 2012

Why Great Software Developers Should not do Porn and AlgoTrading

June 9, 2012

Product Manager – Backgammon, Company unspecified, Gibraltar

The world’s leading online gaming company, requires an innovative Product Manager to own, develop and manage the company’s suite of Backgammon products. This dynamic role will see you developing and owning the product roadmap for Backgammon, generating new product ideas and driving successful product rollouts.

I believe it is a shame when some of the top intellectual minds of our times devote their 12 hours work days to algorithmic trading, on-line gambling, “casual” gaming, search engine optimization  , on-line porn, search diversion through “Freeware\Malware” and so on.

Of course, these ultra smart developers are not using these services (at least not all of them:) ). They are the brains that run the software and algorithms to operate the questionable services.

I’m not passing judgment on the need for the services , although I’m quite sure Algo Trading has no economical benefit to the world :). I do think that being a “Product manager for backgammon” is less important and satisfactory than “Product manager for diabetes cure” .

I see too many brilliant friends who want to make easy money by finding a loop-hole in the global financial system. While I can’t commit that I would never work in such company, I prefer not to do it, as long as I can.

Interestingly enough, these services are somewhat related. For example, a lot of the real good money in SEO is from references to gambling and porn sites . Forex trading is not really different from a legal(?) form of gambling and “casual gaming” ,IMO, is quite the same.

It just seems that developing the Google search engine is more productive than algorithms that create fake content that only seems real to Google, but no real person would ever want to read.

Our civilization moves forward from innovation like Bioinformatics and Wikipedia, even Facebook and Twitter. But it seems that we can leave SEO to the average  developers….

Can You Make Money Writing Algorithms? – Part III

April 21, 2012

“Money For Nothing and the (K) Nearest Neighbors Are Free”Doctor Mark Knopfler

In 2007 I wrote Why it is hard to make money form algorithms and How new technologies allow making money from algorithms.

Kaggle is a fascinating example:

Kaggle is an innovative solution for statistical/analytics outsourcing. We are the leading platform for predictive modeling competitions. Companies, governments and researchers present datasets and problems – the world’s best data scientists then compete to produce the best solutions. At the end of a competition, the competition host pays prize money in exchange for the intellectual property behind the winning model.

The biggest challenge right now is for $3M , to improve the broken American health care system 🙂 with 951 teams competing at this stage.

If we want to go for higher numbers: google paid $12B for Motorola patents. Most of these patents have probably never been used and are not-so-important-or-smart.

While I believe most software patents are idiotic, this is how the game is played these days. And in some sense it is encouraging that Intellectual property, in the form of Algorithms starts showing its economical value.

And the people with skills are doing well. From  “Big Data Skills Bring Big dough” in GigaOm

If you can claim to be a data scientist and have the chops to back that up, you can pretty much write your own ticket even in this tough job market. A quick search of the popular job posting sites –Indeed.com,SimplyHired.com, or Dice.com – shows a huge demand for data scientists or anyone who can demonstrate other “big data”skills.

And , most importantly, the funniest show in TV right now (except for Fox News) is Big Bang Theory, focusing on Algorithms to making Friends.

The German version is even funnier

Why the F22 Crashed and the iPad Took Off

October 20, 2011

In the 20th century the majority of innovation started as evil nations wanted to destroy other nations.

As a result, the evil (and peaceful) nations devoted large chunks of their tax money to the defense budget.

The flow of research money was the following:

Public (taxes) -> Government -> Defense Agencies -> Universities -> Private Companies (implementation)

Research Budget Flow

Research Budget Flow

Many of the most important contributions to technology and science were created or commercialized through this path: the internet, GPS, atomic energy , satellites and plenty more.

The innovation flowed from the government to enterprises and only then into consumers.

Space and Aviation -> Military ->  Large Enterprises -> Civilian Government -> Small Enterprises -> Consumers

The early experiments or products were extremely  expensive  and sold in small quantities and required public financing.

In the 21st century the flow of innovation and new technology has reversed.

innovation Flow in a Consumer World

innovation Flow in a Consumer World

The recent launch of an iPhone into space with GPS tracking by civilians, is one amazing example.

The following stock chart provides more evidence. It plots the iShares Dow Jones U.S. Aerospace & Defense Index Fund compared to some major consumer oriented companies like Google, Sony, Amazon.

Chart of Defense Index Vs Consumer Companies 2006-2011

Chart of Defense Index Vs Consumer Companies 2006-2011

The new innovations are derived from consumer demand and consumer services or products : cellular phones, smart Phones, social networks,cloud computing, personal computers and online advertisement.

I believe this is the reason the Intel, Apple and Google are now the largest companies in the world, displacing companies like SUN, Nortel, Lucent, HP , IBM and similar companies more focused on enterprise and governmental markets. While IBM, Microsoft and Intel are still leading the patent table, one can claim it implies more on the inflation of patents , rather than true  innovation.

Top 10 Companies Patents ROI from MSN

Top 10 Companies Patents ROI from MSN

The reversal of innovation can be explained by multiple theories:

Moral – the global society has become more civilian and democratic. Individuals have more civil rights, more control of the public spend and therefore there are fewer wars, less dictators  and less weapons. Unfortunately , I’m not sure all of the facts support this theory. I have found some evidence. For example, from 1988 to 2009 the global military spending share of GDP has dropped by 34% from 3.5% to 2.4% , global average. The number of conflicts decreased by 40% from 1992 to 2009.

Share of Military Expenditure as Percentage of Gross Domestic Product 1988 2099

Share of Military Expenditure as Percentage of Gross Domestic Product 1988 2099

Armed Conflicts by Region 1946-2009

Armed Conflicts by Region 1946-2009

Economics – In the end of the day we are all consumers and individuals. Economics are driven by numbers and since there are about 1 Billion consumers with a high standard of living, it is the largest market for almost any product. Selling a $300 product to every consumer translates to $300 billion market, this is equal to the global IT market spend. Selling $30 of advertisement to one Billion people …. you can do the math on your own.  Compare that with the cost of design and manufacturing of a new stealth plane.

The R&D alone would cost Billions  of dollars, and each airplane would cost $336M million dollars , if it the project is not aborted during the 20 years of development. Programming an amazing computer vision system for smart missiles would only be relevant to 20-40 customers. Delivering an amazing face recognition for  facebook generates access to 750 Million customers. The OCR domain is one example I already bogged about.

Sociological Open source software has allowed sharing of innovation and technology with zero cost of patents, licensing and removing many anti-competitive habits , either explicit or hidden that were common in past years. It also allows sharing of development costs across organizations. Younger generations are used to great user experience, and would not “go back” when entering Enterprise office. Cloud computing is also helping to build start-ups in 50 dollars.

The fact that Google and Amazon are hosting funding challenged public database of bioinformatics, that used to be funded by the government is rather  provocative.

To summarize, while there are still huge budgets in defense and commercial enterprises, there is strong trend driving innovation from the individual. Do you believe the trend is real?

Are all the software products created in just five Countries?

August 19, 2011

It seems that software products are only created in very few countries around the world : United States, Israel , United Kingdom , Canada and Texas :).

There are 196 countries in the world, but most seem to have better things to do than to write software.

This is a critical piece of information because “Software is Eating the World.”

India has  plenty of IT projects outsourcing companies , Japan has 200 video games companies while China has many hardware companies.

However, there seem to be very few software products companies In non English speaking countries (I count both  Canada and Israel as English speaking countries for in this blog context).

Germany has SAP and Software AG. France used to have Business Objects, but now it belongs to SAP so it is left with Dassau. Japan has Trend Micro, but that’s about it. China is not in a much much better situation with total of 29 companies listed in Wikipedia.

Try to think about a famous Spanish Software Company ( Hint : Anti virus that looks like a bear).

I’m not sure why this is the case , but can suggest a few ideas:

  • There are a lots of software companies in other countries, but they are local to their markets an don’t bother to become international and big
  • Since programming languages are in English, there is a huge advantage to English speaking countries
  • Software development started form universities and the leading Computer Science universities are in the same countries
  • Software development product companies have consolidated to a very few big companies and most are American
  • Software products require a unique combination of strong engineering and “immature” first versions

Does anyone else have any explanation or counter data?

Any maybe it is less important these days. Our industry is moving into Software as a Service model in many use cases.

Fresh Look – Dozen Interesting Israeli Start-Ups

April 7, 2011
    Fresh Paint Balfour Street Tel Aviv

    Fresh Paint Balfour Street Tel Aviv

    I have assembled a pseudo-arbitrary list of interesting Israeli start-ups. These are mostly companies whose product I got to try and whose team I met. Some bias to companies with real intellectual property in algorithms or products. They may have much in common,and there are many more around, but worth watching.

  1. ToTango – Simple Idea. Wide Appeal. “New Wave” solution.
  2. Contendo – Speed of Light is constant. Akamai is Too Expensive. DNS too Crucial.
  3. Xtremio– SSD can be a game changer.
  4. ZeRTO – Smart guys. Track record. Stealth Mode.
  5. TakaDu – Smart guys. Strong Algorithms. Strong Need. Out of the box.
  6. Panaya – Strong Algorithms. Pure Israeli. Sales 2.0. Sharing knowledge. Proven Results.
  7. WatchDox. A Nobel approach to managing document and security.
  8. WorkLight – Portable Mobile Apps Make great sense. CEO.
  9. PrimeSense – Great Algorithms. Awesome product. Huge Potential.
  10. Plimus – Money has a wide appeal :). Great alignment for SaaS. Good API. Stands out in a confusing world.
  11. Kampyle – Simple product, wide appeal. Responsive to Customers. In the good sense.
  12. Snaptu – They were on the list before their exit 🙂 Same for Sentrigo
Orange and Carrot Juice in Tel Aviv

Orange and Carrot Juice in Tel Aviv

Money Lost Between Banks?

March 23, 2011
Cat On Lenovo Laptop

Cat On Lenovo Laptop

Two days שעם,during the Purim holiday,  I tried to withdraw 1000 NIS from Bank Leumi in Dizengof. The ATM , aka “Kaspomat” returned an error an apologized.

As I was walking across the street to another ATM I was surprised to receive an SMS from Bank Poalim(my bank) confirming that 1000NIS have been withdrawn from my account.

The SMS was a result of a new cool service that Poalim provides sending SMS notifications on major account actions.

However, I was always under the impression that ATM transactions are Atomic in the database sense of transactions. A further check in my on-line account has shown that indeed 1000NIS withdrawal is listed there as well.

In the end of the day, the transaction was automatically canceled after 48 hours. My guess is that Bank Poalim and Bank Leumi “settle” their differences after 24 hours so the overall Action consistent , but it is not Atomic.

Can product management be scientific?

March 12, 2011

I know a spell
That would make you well
Write about love, it could be in any tense, but it must make sense

Belle & Sebastian – Write About Love

Some companies believe that product management can be reduced to scientific experiments.Instead of using intuition and customers interaction one should run experiments and measure results.

While I have great faith in measurable product management , I think that the dream of product management without the human factor is wrong and dangerous.

Everyone seriously involved in pattern recognition and data mining knows that one can’t just throw tons of raw data into an algorithm and expect to gain (artificial) intelligence.

In most cases it is hard to build a large data set to train the algorithm. Once such data set is built , the raw size is too big for any algorithm to train on. As a result ,the raw data needs to be reduced through feature extraction. For example, if we want to build a face recognition algorithm in a video stream we can help the algorithm by removing the soundtrack. While in theory the soundtrack can add information to the algorithm, we guess it is not very helpful.

The process of feature selection and even dataset selection involved intuition and domain knowledge. This is similar to the generic scientific model.

In 2008 wired magazine claimed scientific method is obsolete  in “The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete“. The article claims that models are not needed anymore, as data is stronger than models.

However, even the first example is wrong

Google’s founding philosophy is that we don’t know why this page is better than that one: If the statistics of incoming links say it is, that’s good enough

But Google’s early  success was  not just because of the algorithm. The clean UI,text only ads and great performance were crucial. I’m confident it was intuition\product management that led into these decisions. Moreover, the statistics for incoming links  from fraud (link farms) are also very high. The algorithms needs “help” on the features that identify fraud.

Google Suggest brings another example. It is a great feature which interactively “guesses” the search term for the end-user.

For example, typing the word “Robert” suggests the following :

Google Suggest For Robert

Google Suggest For Robert

But looking for the word “Naked” brings no results at all:

Google Suggest For Naked

Google Suggest For Naked

But “Nak”still shows some alternatives:

Google Suggest For Nak

Google Suggest For Nak

Does anyone think the algorithm decided on this feature based on statistics 🙂 ?

Obviously, someone decided that following the real statistics of the human mind would be too dangerous.

I’m very much in flavor of usability research and detailed numerical specs. But in most scenarios, the psychology, human interaction and models are crucial for a building a great product.

New Version Every Other Week for Three Years?

February 16, 2011

I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult.

E. B. White
US author & humorist (1899 – 1985)

Releasing a working version to customers every two weeks is fun.

  • It is fun for customers who use the features instead of watching fictitious  “product road maps”.
  • It is fun for developers who see their work is actually used.
  • It is fun for the executives who can change the business priorities quickly.
  • If is fun for product managers who can measure actual usage.
  • It is fun for the R&D manager ,as the problems can not be hidden for long.

In my company,  we delivered 72 versions to customers  in three years.

Programming in the large and programming in th...

Image via Wikipedia

Here is one way to do it:

  • Hire top talent for development , QA , IT and operations.
  • Deliver the product as a Service (SaaS). Upgrading one instance is much easier than upgrading 10,000.
  • Bi weekly synchronization meetings on Monday and Thursday. Monday is just team leaders and Thursday is all of R&D.
  • Invest early in QA automation. We invested $20,000 in Automation infrastructure at a very early stage.
  • Invest in Unit-Testing as much as possible.
  • Avoid branching. Branches are evil. Merges are Yikes. One branch is good, two is max.
  • Invest in the “Ugly stuff”. Deployment scripts, upgrade scripts, database consistency.
  • Constructive dictatorship. Every code change  has a ticket. Every. No exceptions.Really.
  • First week is for coding. Than it is feature freeze. Three days for QA and bug fixes.Code freeze. Two days for final QA and critical fixes only. Release on Sunday.

In the next post I’ll try to answer the tricky questions: What about longer features? How not to scare the customers? and more.