Over the weekend, I took it upon myself to get started on a much-procrastinated project: retrieving a couple of hard disks from an old desktop PC and pulling the data off them.
The first thing I had to do was to get an external casing with a built-in power supply unit. When I went to the stores and asked for a casing, I was offered a small casing by default, the sort used for laptop hard disk drives. Cue general bemusement when I said this was for the larger desktop variety. "Old school," whispered one chap to himself.
Another question that came up was, what the capacity of the disk was. When I told him, one held just short of 10 GB and the other 8 GB, his eyes nearly popped out of his head. I guess we're from different generations!
Coming to the point of this post, I was actually a little nervous about whether the two drives would even work. I had a lot of old data (photos and so on) that I really wanted to retrieve but I hadn't even turned on my old computer for at least five years. In the meantime, it had endured being stored in a forgotten corner gathering dust and being transported twice by a moving service. I wasn't that worried about retrieving my data as long as the disks would still spin.
But, glory be, both drives actually started spinning with that familiar but long-forgotten whir. When I connected them to my laptop, reading data wasn't a problem either. I was mighty impressed with the engineering that's gone into this, no credit to me for the sheer neglect.
I quickly backed up my files, then started going through my old treasures at leisure. Everything just worked. Even that Word document from 1998, those photographs from 2001, that music from 1999... I was even more impressed by this.
Hang on. Everything? No. Real Media files don't work. Is it because I don't have the right codecs installed? No, I checked that I have the latest versions of everything. They just don't work. Maybe that's the problem. I have the latest version of the codecs not the prehistoric versions. Who knows?
You know that external hard disk you've invested in to backup your stuff? Or that cloud-based service? None of that can save you from this fate. You'll have all the data you ever had and be unable to use some of it.
The sort-of-solutions to this are:
If possible, work with data that use open file formats. This doesn't guarantee that your file will still be usable 5 years from now but at least it raises the odds. [Aside: Microsoft Office isn't truly open but it's become a de-facto standard now and I think backward compatibility is reasonably assured going back to Office 97.]
Keep old software installers handy. This isn't always possible. Your old software programs might have been installed off the web. Or they may have come on a CD-ROM that you have long since turned into a coaster.
Learn how to write software of your own!
These are only sort-of-solutions because you need to be a bit of a geek to make any of this work and, unfortunately, the world isn't only composed of geeks. Or you could go out and get your own captive geek to take care of this for you, but that only works for some people. What about everyone else?
I had a near-death experience a few days ago. On the road. In a taxi. No, don't stereotype by assuming this was in India or Thailand or Vietnam. In Singapore. I'll begin at the end.
Nearing the end of a journey in a taxi, the taxi driver grumbles that Singapore has too many cars on the road and traffic is getting bad. Even though cars are much more expensive than elsewhere in the world.
Driver: Singaporeans don't care. They just buy.
I don't disagree.
Then, as an afterthought: "Do you have a car?"
Driver (surprised): Why? You don't want?
Me: I ride a motorbike.
Driver (aghast): Oh, you should be careful! Not because bikes are unsafe but because drivers in Singapore aren't very good.
Me (thinking): Tell me about it.
Me (aloud): Um-hm.
Driver continues his discourse on the topic.
Me: I do ride carefully. I prefer bikes because they're quicker, cheaper, better for the environment, easier to maintain, more fun...
The conversation ended soon after when he dropped me off.
And my near-death experience? This chap earlier whizzed along merrily at 150 km/h, driving one-handed, weaving in and out of traffic across several lanes without signalling. The speed limit was 90 and dropped to 80 in sections. And he's telling me about Singaporean drivers not being very good. I hadn't even told him that I needed to get home a hurry.
Where are the traffic police and what are they up to?
A funnier but just as illuminating incident occurred a few years ago when I was in a taxi heading to driving school. The driver wanted to know if I was getting a car driving licence. When I said motorbike, he cautioned me just as Mr Near Death did but then added, "Son, get your licence, have fun, but watch out for the taxis!"
I'd posted episode un last year but that was more about how VCs look at investments and why they, or rather, we think a certain way. This post is inspired by this NYT op-ed piece -- the title of that piece isn't meant to imply anything about VCs! -- and is actually literally about how this VC's brain is wired.
To quickly summarise the op-ed: it makes the point that, contrary to today's received wisdom, teams aren't the best way to achieve creative and efficient solutions to hard problems. Solitary operators are often better since they have time to reflect, don't get influenced by or feel compelled to agree with other people's opinions, aren't in permanent meeting-hell, can benefit from privacy, and so on. This has implications for organisation structure, how people learn, even office ergonomics and how each person's daily calendar is organised. All quite fascinating but plenty has already been said in the NYT and it's not what this post is about.
The NYT article made me think of how I think my own brain is (or needs to be) wired to do my job well. I'm sure some of you think this is self-indulgent drivel, and you're probably right :-) but I loved hearing about this from a VC friend/mentor before I got into the field myself so just hoping to pass on the favour.
The one thing I'd say about the VC's mind (my mind) is that I am (or need to be) almost manically bipolar.
When I tell people what I do for a living, I sometimes get asked (mostly by people who've heard the term but have only a vague idea what it means) whether I am an investment banker. I generally respond jokingly with something like, "How dare you use cuss words with me!" The joke is often lost on the audience but, for sake of clarity, here is why I'm not an investment banker:
It is curious to reflect that in the London market of 25 years ago, last week’s decision by UBS to maintain investment banking bonuses in the face of a thumping loss would have been literally incomprehensible. Back then, bonuses were paid out of profits. So without profits, where might the money come from? [...] I have written on this hallucinatory procedure before. Suffice it to say that whereas any corporation could in theory adopt it, only the banks have had the brass neck to do so. Then again, only the banks paid bonuses based on imaginary profits of various kinds throughout the bubble years.
This is also why I can't imagine myself ever investing in shares of investment banks. I really don't know how to analyse or value companies where profits, cash flows and spending decisions aren't necessarily related, and where the principal-agent problem is so pronounced.
I had planned yesterday to go buy some more food and beer to take back with me to Singapore. But it’s 8 am now and I’m not going to have time to go to the shops AND the BMW Motorrad Zentrum before taking the train to the airport. Dilemma: beers or bikes? Oh, callous fate, what a position to put a boy in.
By 8.30am, I’ve decided: beers it is. Saw plenty of bikes yesterday and it’s not like I'm going to buy one now. I hope the shops are open.
It’s 9am and I’m at the train station wondering which ticket to buy off the vending machine that'll allow me to go to the city centre and then to the airport. I seem to have more than one choice, the cheapest being 5 euros and the most expensive being 10.80 euros. Only one must be valid surely. I'm examining the info board to see whether I can get by being a cheapo when a passer-by stops of her own accord with "Do you need help?" She tells me which ticket to buy (the expensive one) and then runs off to her train. I continue to dither when she comes back worried that I hadn’t understood, but my ticket pops out just then. Very nice of her especially since she almost misses her train coming back for me. Get on the train and realise, ah, I forgot to take a picture of the hostel!
I’ve got myself some food, beers and wine but lost track of the time. It’s 10.30 am now and I panic. Hope Munich airport is as organised as Changi or I'm in trouble! Almost certainly no time for the shower and shave I’d planned to take in the lounge. There’s nothing I can do about it now though. Que sera, sera.
That’s me panicking
I take stock of myself on the train. Think I've lost a little weight over the holiday. (When I get home later, I learn that this was just wishful thinking.) I've also managed to lose that cold I had when I left Singapore, so that's good. But my lips feel like they were produced in a tannery and sewn onto my mouth. Not so good.
Ever since Facebook created the Like button, I've noticed people clicking Like on the most inane of posts. Someone says, "Time for a coffee!" and 7 people click Like in the space of about 17 microseconds. The newsfeed on my Facebook homepage shows that nearly every post has at least one Like attached to it. The rush to Like has only multiplied after Facebook extended the functionality to allow Like-ing individual comments.
That's about the Like-ers. And the Like-ees? Facebook must employ the odd drug-pusher because they certainly know how to get people hooked. Your correspondent certainly needs his fix. I put up a post and wonder who's going to Like it and tot up the score when people actually do and what time of day it is where they are. I wonder whether, if enough people comment on my post, Facebook will promote its placement on newsfeeds so that more people will see it and Like it. And sometimes when someone tells me in person that they enjoyed something I put up, I paste a bland expression on my face, thank them and wonder, inwardly baffled, why they didn't just say so in a Facebook comment and click Like.
What's next? A Dislike button? I certainly know that this addict has craved one sometimes. Not least a Dislike button for the Like button.
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