Havent posted for a good while.. been incredibly busy working on a side project which seems to have a life of its own.

Collabapi.com is not quite ready for release, but I’ve been using it to get real work done for a while.  Its basically a much quicker way to develop data centric apps.  This kind of app is useful for tracking all the information you need to run a business well – the stuff that goes on paper / word / excel forms.  It would be great if there was a quick way to make it mobile / web and have the data in electronic format from the get-go so you could search it more easily and so on.

Example App :  Gym Membership Sales Pipeline

We can start by making a form each for our Salespeople, and our potential Customers.  I configure up the data model in the App Designer for these, save those changes… then the app comes up on web and tablet straight away :

I did this by configuring the fields, checkbox items etc, and the app reflects this ‘datamodel’  :

Apparently there’s a sales-cycle thing we want to keep track of –

• initial contact
• see if the customers interested
• what are their goals
• book a meeting
• get them to signup
• success! happiness! cash!

So here’s a go at modeling up a sales call…

… hmm, promising and a good place to start, I can actually put that in front of the Gym Owner and her Chief Sales Maven, and they can try it out on the web or on their tablet device.

so.. collabapi.com

The coolness is really just the way we can iterate and experiment : get something out there quickly and get the users to make suggestions.

Its more of a GSD or MVP / lean-startup approach to making apps.  Its not just for business apps, but I think it will be really handy for business … putting the love back into the ‘small-data’ that’s important to most people.

I’ll talk a bit about the technology under the hood at some stage – and there is a lot of tech under the hood – but for now, that’s a good place to pause and have a cup of tea :]

cheers,  gord.

justgord at gmail dotcom

Just watched a really interesting documentary on the Flash Crash of 2010 :

Money & Speed: Inside the Black Box

Some stand-out points :
> CFTC / SEC attribute the root cause as Waddell & Reed ‘dumping’ $4.1bn shares > Eric Hunsader @ Nanex looks at the W&R trades [ see video at 34m18s ] > W&R trades don’t look like dumping, they maximize sell price during local up runs > there are other trades that do look like aggressive dumping, ie. rapid sequential bursts down The Nanex explanation of the Flash Crash : FlashCrashAnalysis Price manipulation ? This raises an interesting Question : Is it possible for a black box algorithm to use a rational probabilistic strategy to drive down stock price in bursts like this, in order to later buy the stock at a very low artificially deflated price ? You’d need a lot of stock to do this : is there a threshold of stock volume, say 5% of all stock, under which its impossible to create this effect ? Price Delay Arbitrage ? Another aspect of this, is the possibility to do ‘Diffusion Arbitrage’ for want of a better name : If you can drive the market so quickly that derived instruments take seconds to reprice ( due to the storm of new data), then you have that window to trade ahead of the market in options or indexes based on the underlying you have manipulated. In this case the delay was a whopping 5 to 35 seconds : see for example Nanex’s FlashCrashSummary , showing the delayed drop and recovery of the Dow. Introduction Tagninju is an ergonomic tag-centric Time and Cost tracking tool. Its very simple to use and extremely flexible : • use keyword tags to organise and group entries • rather than type a long description, keep it terse, with tags • tags suggest : topic, person, subject, code, urgency, project, specifics • inbuilt auto clock timer with pause and continue • set todos into the future quickly • provides rapid insight into costs and time Uses TagNinju app is handy for : • gain real insight into your time usage [ procrastination or productivity ] • keep yourself motivated with objective progress notes • track progress towards a goal like weight loss, fitness, savings • budgeting : shopping list and track expenses quickly • track hours worked on jobs for freelancers and contractors • HTML5 local storage means works on mobile tablet or web Story I noticed a lot of time dissapeared on unimportant things, and my productivity and motivation was inconsistent. Some days I would feel motivated and get a lot done, other days Id languish and could not really recall what I spent time on or what goals had been achieved. I looked for a good app, but the note takers were too general, and a spreadsheet was not easy to use on mobile, many time tracker systems were slow or overkill. Eventually I started working on a simple web app to do this. I added an automated timer clock, and this at least allowed me to note down tasks. I started off writing readable sentence notes, but migrated to a terse form with just keywords. I added a simple filter search and found that worked well : I could zoom into areas of interest by keyword, such as shopping or weight or fee or run or billable. I gradually noticed a useful psychological side-effect of tracking my time : I wanted to get stuff done just so that I could note it down! Id catch myself thinking.. Hmm I havent put in any entries for exercise the last 2 days, I better do some situps or a run so I can put that in. So actually noting things down had the effect of pushing me to get more good things done. Theres a kind of objectivity, and also the effect of your motivated self observing your unmotivated self and kind of comparing the two. I recently heard a talk by memory expert Josh Foer, about autopilot subconscious plateaus. This is where your activity matches your expectation set point at the OK level and so your conscious mind doesnt need to be engaged. We do this everyday for routine tasks, we perform them uncounsciously or rather subconsciously, on auto-pilot. Autopilot is great for things we dont want to improve : washing dishes, shaving, driving to work. For things we do want to improve, we need some way of making the activity stand out to our conscious minds so we can evaluate performance and goals and try a different strategy. Time tracking seems to help with this, it makes you review what youve just been doing. Im not recommending tracking everything, in fact I think its good to decide to not track some areas, maybe the weekends or reading time in the evening. But it can give real insight and motivation for those areas we want to improve : lose weight, gain fitness, reduce cigarettes, study more effectively etc. Tips You might find these tips handy : • tap timer to pause the clock and restart it • tap and drag out from timer box to select a time period • use meaningful tags, use multiple tags • use quick filter search to zoom into that topic or area Coming soon These are some future features which might make Tagninju more useful : • sync between versions [ entries shared across devices : mobile, web and tablet ] • dropbox integration • csv import / export [ to and from spreadsheet ] • bar charts to show time and cost spent by tag • shared groups Some of these features will be more useful to professionals, small business founders and freelancers and will be released as part of the upcoming paid version : TagNinju Pro. Suggestions Im interested to see how people use TagNinju for tracking time and cost, for achieving goals and personal growth. Please do email me with your suggestions and feedback at justgord@gmail.com Guest post by my son, after a wee bit of prompting from dad to make a diagram and work it out : So I thought about how well Angel Investors and Startups mesh and ‘hook-up’ : I think the whole space of Angel Investing is ripe for disruption.. I think we’re sitting in a local minimum, when there is a much more optimal way to do this. From the Investor side : Paul Graham observes that YCombinator backs a group of good founders, knowing its high risk and that one or two in the group will succeed wildly and pay back the others who will grow modestly or fail..and there is no way to know which one that will be. From the startups point of view : Crowd-funding via IndieGogo and KickStarter are probably a much more accessible way to get that initial funding to develop an MVP, do market validation and launch. The TIME overhead for a startup to find a good angel investor is likely not worth it in many cases. Most investors want to invest at vastly larger amounts than early stage startups need. Its an impedance mismatch that prevents deal flow for both sides. So I think we will move in the next one or two years to a crowd-sourced angel investment model that’s something like this : – social website for startups to present, like Kickstarter – first 30 investors fund at say$2000 per 1% equity
– standard terms : legal agreement, company setup
– platform takes admin costs of say 5% to 15%
– platform assists discussion for mentoring, progress, milestones, further rounds

AngelList is already doing something like this, but it needs to be even simpler and cheaper in time cost to participate.

As an entrepreneur I see just this huge mismatch between the investors on the Buy side and startups on the Sell side. But this problem is solvable : it has been addressed before in the case of farmers selling corn or hogs and buying barrels of oil. The solution is to make a market with standard terms and open it up so people can trade more efficiently.

Facts back up this assertion – there are so many startup hubs popping up everywhere to fill this gap and impedance match between money and startups … but I think we need to go further and standardize that into an open platform.

This is not just an idea for me.. I have skin in the game. I believe my own startup GridMaths.com has potential to be of great social good in helping students learn Math in a deeper more visual way, and I believe it can do this and make orders of magnitude more money back for investors.

I’d like to think some benevolent Aunt in Utah who has saved her pennies could back a company that helps her niece improve her Math : if she has 5$to buy the app she can do that, if she has$5000 or \$50000 and wants to take a stake in the company to make it great, there should be a way for her to do that too. But at the moment, she cant do that directly.. she would have to wait until everything is set in concrete 10 years down the track, when the innovation is all but over and the company has 500 staff and launches an IPO.

Capitalism needs to evolve, to become fine grained, and with that change our economies will become more stable and less brittle in the process.

This could be a way to disperse the large amounts of cash waiting to invest, and at the same time bring the Angels back to Angel Investing.

I get the feeling a lot of people are surprised when they find out you can _understand_ math.. it isn’t just a series of random facts and some Rube Goldberg machinery.

I think this problem must start quite early in school, and get enforced so often it becomes a belief system.   For example its rare that the distributive rule is related to areas of rectangles.. but that’s such a good visual explanation, it should be the default way of introducing the idea :

After a couple of these diagrams you can mention it works for any rectangle with sides of length a+b and c+d , namely :  (a+b)(c+d)=ac+ad+bc+bd.

Maybe with tablet computers we can make Math more intuitive,  when good visualizations can be seen by most students.

I wonder if teachers are so constrained to teach the points of the curriculum, handle admin tasks and control the class, that there is no time left for cultivating Math ‘understanding’ ?  But surely its faster to learn / teach by understanding?

If you never get that little rush of endorphin from understanding, I could see how Math would be very boring and random.. because its not really math then, its something else ( and that’s not good, is it Precious?   Not at all.. no it isn’t.. Precioussss… hmm… ghollum ! )

Here’s a nice problem to introduce simultaneous equations and Algebra.  I saw this on the singaporemathsplus.net blog here

There are 100 chickens and rabbits altogether. The chickens have 80 more legs than the rabbits. How many chickens and how many rabbits are there?

In GridMaths there are a couple ways to approach simultaneous equations visually – sometimes you might use a different color bean to represent each variable, lets say an orange jellybean and a brown coffee bean, and you don’t know how much each weigh, but you might be able to figure it out.  This is nice, as your not tempted to add apples and oranges together [ or jellybeans and coffee beans ].

Another way is to have rectangles or lengths and color or shade them differently – this is easy in GridMaths, you just draw color rectangles, or Cuisenaire Rod lengths.  Remember to make the point this is not to scale, you cant yet measure off the diagram, the length is standing in for the real length which youll arrive at.

Here’s a sheet with the C chickens and R rabbits problem [ Chickens in green, Rabbits in orange, known lengths in blue ] :

Apparently this is called the ‘Bar method’ in Singapore maths – I think its good to have a name so teachers, parents and kids can talk about this approach.  Someone asked me about an earlier post, whether it was the Singapore method.. and actually no, I’m not familiar with that method or series of books.. but from what I hear it seems quite good in terms of using visual keys to get the concepts across.

Here’s another problem solved using pink! jellybeans and brown coffee beans to represent X and Y :

A good order to broach these ways of looking at simultaneous equations  is :

• a word problem
• jellybean approach
• algebra / variable names
• linear graph intersection

Likewise, I think that using rectangles for multiplication is a huge thing that isn’t done enough.  This approach can help reach some learners who see algebra as just wacky rules with no meaning.  The great thing about this Visual representation is its easy to work with.. and leads directly to algebra.   Once you’ve done a couple, you can just use letters instead of colored lengths and everything works the same way.  So its seen as an efficiency, to save making the diagram each time.

I was first introduced to simultaneous equations through one of the books of W.W.Sawyer a great teacher of math teachers.  I read his book as a youngster and so got interested in Calculus.. he had a wonderful way of making things simple and interesting.  He talked about how the average speed of a car over its entire journey was not that important, if you happened to get hit by the car just when it was travelling at its maximum speed.  In court you’d want to know the average velocity of the car in the few meters and seconds before the event.. this led directly to ds/dt type discussion.  Awesome guy!

Some comments in response to a video TED talk that Conrad Wolfram gave called “Teaching Kids real math with computers”

I did enjoy Wolframs video, but I think its too tempting to take away computations.. in doing so we risk losing the math understanding behind them.  I just think we need more of both : more understanding and more facility with actual practical problem solving.

Technology can help to explain math better. I just found this video today, which contains a superb intro to Bezier curves, among other things.   I think this would be pretty engaging to high school students, be a motivation for them to learn calculus.

One of the things I wanted with GridMaths is to take some of the pressure off long working out but also have the student solve the problem for themselves. Its easier to line up numbers in long multiplication and you tend to make less typos. By design, GridMaths is _not_ a calculator, there are other apps that do that well.

I’m currently working on a hybrid approach where you can use ASCIIMathML to get good looking math expressions, which should open GridMaths up to wider use at high-school level. Maybe we can make worked problems less of a chore and more about understanding … but still keep the facility and practice with computations at a good level.

I can remember an awful lot of fiddling around with sharpening pencils and erasers at school..  push-pencils solved that, but I must have bought 15 different compasses :]  Once a person can write legibly, maybe the emphasis should segway from paper to electronic tools, but still keep the ability to do the constructions, structure the essay, think critically, type well, organise computations etc.

I recently saw a report from one school where they moved to 1-to-1 tablets, where they saw savings of ~20k/month in stationary costs.. maybe exaggerated and an affluent school, but paper is kind of expensive at volume.

Its certainly a lot quicker to make a GeoGebra construction on a tablet, than to do it with ruler, compass, dividers, protractor and pencil … you can concentrate on the concepts and specifics, rather than paper-management. Then the diagram you construct is malleable, you can drag and interact… that’s a big innovation, and helps understanding.

I wonder what ways software can help take the load off teachers, so the mechanics are easier for them, and they can spend more time teaching face to face.

I’m working on adding nicer text and math symbol support in GridMaths, so formulas will look like they should.

LaTex is the ‘gold standard’ but I’m thinking of using a simpler alternative which gives most of the benefit, namely ASCIIMathML.   I think its quite a nice format, something that covers most of the things a highschool Maths student will encounter, with a reasonably predictable and short syntax.

I’m experimenting with the best way for GridMath UI to enter math expressions, so it may be that you don’t normally see the text representation, but it may be exposed when you need to edit.  I’ll use MathJax to render this, so it may be that you can edit and enter LaTex directly if you are a power user and know it well.

In my googling, I happened upon this video ahowing how to do long-multiplication of polynomials..  and thought I’d try the same problem using the Grid or Box method :

For some students it might bridge the gap and give them a helpful intermediate step so they see it as the same kind of thing as multiplying integers.  I would also try out the box approach to introduce multiplying mixed numbers with fraction parts, and numbers with decimals, and so on – as it relates back to the earlier understanding of multiplication as area of a rectangle.

So GridMaths.com is in open beta, now works reasonably well on iPad and recent desktop browsers.  Android browser support coming sometime soon.

Heres a pic my 9yo created while testing things out on the iPad.. with the obligatory battle scene [ dad vs browser quirks ? ] :

Here’s a couple of sheets on how I like to present long multiplication…

Firstly a concrete rectangle where you can actually count the squares to satisfy yourself its right…

Then move to a more compact form, which still shows the rectangle grid, but not to scale..

This shows that lots of digits should not induce panic.. the same systematic approach works [ which is why computers can do multiplication so well ].

I think having the box grid is a nice way to remember where all the pieces come from [ single digit products ].  Also I think it really helps to use the blank grid spaces, rather than fill in every 0.

The lattice method is slightly more compact, but I think this box approach reminds students of whats really going on.

Thanks for all the emails and encouragement so far as I build this.

Enjoy, and let me know how your using GridMaths.