Monthly Archives: November 2011

Airplanes

Herat > Kabul > Istanbul > Dubai > Kabul > Herat – 1.5 weeks.

Sitting in a room in Kabul right now with a latte and two legs of chicken.  For being a war zone, they sure is a plentiful supply of food and water (thank God), no wonder everyone around here is so freakin big and beefy.  I guess I should caveat the supply of food to the foreigners, not quite sure of the nutrition the locals receive.

My internet connection wasn’t working so I wandered over to the IT office.  As I pushed open the creaking door and walked in, I noticed the guy behind the counter and thought to myself, “Damnit, I knew it!”

He was Indian.

We shot the breeze as he made an ethernet cable for me on the fly (of course).  He even sorta looked like me, same height, build, and brown skin.  It occurred to me, had I not been born in the US and maybe in Pakistan or India instead – that would be me sitting there asking, “Did you check the network connections!?  You probably just typed the wrong password!”

I asked him if he had bought the knock off shoes/clothing from the Afghan store next door as I was considering getting some boots.  He claimed their merchandise is golden for being fake, so I picked up a pair of military boots.  I’m guessing the amount of travel I’m going to be doing within the next two months definitely justifies having all-purpose footwear.  And maybe it’ll save the very little remaining life on my dress shoes.

The flight over here was insanity, as usual.  I’m not too big of a fan of the airline.  Apparently they USED to fly to Europe, but Europe has since banned the airline on account of safety compliance issues.  Apparently the tail end of one of the airplanes nailed a landing approach light at the airport on take off, destroying it.  Banned.  From the European Union.  The last flight I had with them to Kabul – they just BARELY cleared the airport compound wall, and bounced a handful of times on landing.  Granted, I know absolutely nothing about aviation, it just seemed a little close for comfort.  Flying over the snowcapped Hindu Kush mountains was quite a spectacular sight though.  I could see the mountain peaks encircled by puffy white clouds, all the way to the horizon.

The one good thing about mentioned airline?  They give you AN ENTIRE PACK of coconut cookies (made in Pakistan, woot) and mango juice (also made in Pakistan, woot).  That entire pack has probably 8 cookies.  A small slice of heaven.

There is hope!  I’m only ONE busy day away from a flight to Istanbul.  Already booked the hostel in the heart of the old town.  Looking forward to a few days of unwinding!  Though unwinding pretty much equals full days/nights of sightseeing and wandering.  On my connection through Dubai, while my visa is being processed, I hope to go sandboarding (finally)!  I heard Big Red is the meanest sand dune this side of the Atlantic.

On a slightly more narcissistic note – my hair hasn’t been this long since start of college, I kinda like it.  Its wavy.

Why Humans Procrastinate

Got this off Reddit, I thought it perfectly explained…

http://www.reddit.com/r/askscience/comments/mkwf2/why_do_humans_procrastinate_and_how_can_it_be_beat/c31rsxx

Kahneman and Tversky, the guys who first really began to probe human cognitive errors, found in their research that there was a systematic human tendency to either under or overestimate the expected value of a reward that varied as a function of time.
I’ll give you an example. Do you want a dollar today, or 10 dollars in a year? Most people will say a dollar today. How about a dollar today, or 10 dollars in a week? I would take 10 dollars in a week. But does this make sense? I mean, in the first case, I make 9 dollars fewer. Yet, in the second example, I suddenly flip my preference.
It turns out that human motivation is heavily influenced by expectations of how imminent the reward is perceived to be. People overestimate the value of the reward if the reward is imminent, and increasingly discount the value of the reward, the further away it is in time. In other words, your perceived utility of an outcome increases with temporal proximity.
So playing skyrim now is more valuable than an A on your paper until temporal proximity increases the value of that A on the paper, which is when you stay up all night finishing it. One way to try to work around it is to give yourself an immediate reward for forward thinking goal oriented behaviour. You can, for instance, create a situation where you will reward yourself with a tub of ice cream when you’ve put in 4 hours of work. How can you get around it without resorting to this? Have high level executive functionality. Which to some extent can be exercised by simply practicing doing things you don’t want to. So, start small, do 5 minutes of dishes per day. When you have no problem keeping up this routine, add in more tasks with short term punishment but long term reward. You build your way up. However, there are limits.
It’s one of the systematic biases in human cognition that this dynamic duo discovered. They were pretty much the death of the rational actor model in psychology, because we’re not. Their work is the basis for neuroeconomics, which seeks to take into account that humans aren’t rational, that we have systematic cognitive biases, and to reinvent the field of economics so that it has more bearing on reality, and is a reflection of how people really act.

Wtf is a MBA Anyway?

Last night after eating chocolate dusted truffles and discussing with colleagues why I think Rachel McAdams is overrated, my brain decided to lay in bed wide awake and reflect on all of today’s happenings. Then the reflection scope shifted to the last few months. Then the scope shifted to the last couple years. Then again the damn scope shifted to the next 3 or 4 years. And finally my asshole brain started thinking, “Well, If I take the GMAT this year, I can apply first round for Fall 2013, which would put me at entering MBA school when I’m 27, meaning I wont finish til I’m 29 – and that age is dangerously close to 30.   Damn”

But that got me thinking, why am I trying to get into MBA school anyway?  The more I thought about it, the more I started to realize the following three reasons seem to be why most people go to MBA school. Preface: I’m not implying EVERYONE goes to MBA school for the following reasons, but these seems to be the big reasons I’m concluding from the feedback I receive from many that I’ve spoken with.

1) Ego feeding

2) Career Change from current path (e.g. Software Developer to Investment Banker)

3) It’s flexible enough to fit in somewhere along the way (e.g. “Still haven’t figured out what I want to do yet”)

Many people are going to MBA to go to MBA school.  It may have a prestige, it may be “the next logical step”, it may be a doorway to opportunity, it might assist you in derailing your current career path to another one, but one things FOR DAMN SURE, it’s 100k and 2 years of your life.  So really thinking through the opportunities that might come with it would be a great idea before unloading that much life into something that you may not be all too clear on.  With 100k and 2 years, you could do a lot.  You could import a koala from Australia and get it a custom tailored pinstripe suit with that kind of money.  It could walk around your apartment like a Roomba.  Can you comprehend how bad ass that would be.

Imagine how many schools you could build in Peru with 100k in 2 years.  Imagine the opportunities that could open up for you.  Imagine importing Peruvian highschool student’s artwork to the US, setting up Art Gala’s at big university’s, selling the artwork for some big $$$, and using that big $$$ as scholarship money for other low-income Peruvian highschool kids.  After they graduate, they’ll have some contractual minimum capital retribution to the program to keep it sustainable.  Imagine writing a book about your experience.  Imagine applying for venture capital to spread your program to other regions of the country, or potentially other countries.  Is that experience, spanned over two years, more valuable than MBA school?  Would it take you in a direction you would want to go?  The idea has an allure to it, doesnt it?  It’s unique.  It has opportunity.  It simply takes one enterprising individual.  I thought about doing it in Pakistan, problem is, you need to be on ground in the country you would want to do this sort of thing in.  To build relationships with individuals requires face-to-face contact.

Ran a 5k on the American Army base today. 22 minutes. I felt the Lemon/Mint hookah in the lungs after that.

Imagine using that 100k and investing maybe just 1/4 of it AT MOST to a software development shop in India to develop a GREAT software or mobile app idea you’ve had.  Imagine spending the other 1/4 of it in Branding and Marketing.  Imagine using the other 1/4 to hire a couple freelance folks that are well connected to assist you.  Use the other 1/4 on buying a few nice suits.  Why not?  There’s a risk, the risk seems much higher because it’s a path less traveled.  But think about it, could this open up other pathways and opportunities if it works?  Or even if it doesn’t work?  100k is a lot to shell out on a venture like that (I wouldnt do it!) – but you don’t need to start there- start with 1k and spend as you go along (with prior planning of course).  Try and bootstrap before looking for capital.  Find a co-founder.  Launch something, go half and half.  What do you have to lose?  Again, it just takes an enterprising individual.

Why don’t we do these things.  We are we always trotting along the same beaten path everyone else has taken?  I’m asking myself this right now, and the only answer I can come to is because I’m afraid of the risk, maybe I’m a little lazy too.  Maybe I can’t get out of bed because I’m too busy trying to figure out how the hell Jack Bauer never has to use the bathroom in “24”.

I’ll be heading to Kabul this week for a Technical Presentation by one of our entrepreneur companies for a multimillion dollar government contract.  If they win it – it’s big news.  It should be quite interesting.  The same company has rushed to try and grab other government and international organization contracts – but all of them have fell through due to lack of preparation and rushing into something without fully understanding it.  I was thinking about this from the angle of applying into MBA school for Fall 2012 – if I rush into this, I’ll be under-prepared and overworked (and at this point I’d be shooting in the dark by applying into the 3rd round).  Maybe I should wait for the right time and with ample preparation, then shoot for the big schools once all the ducks are in order.  If I’m going to ego feed myself with MBA school, might as shoot for the top tier – right?

Who cares if I’m 27 when I enroll – ideally by then it’ll be an addition to an already established career path that I’ve made for myself.  I don’t want MBA school to be the deciding factor in what happens to my life – I want it to be the augmentation of what is already there.  With that frame of mind – things seems a lot easier to deal with.  Are you applying for MBA/Grad school?  If so, consider the above.

A Month in AFG

I quickly get up, awoken by a noise coming from outside of my door. It’s 6:30am. I hear the light rustling of something happening in the hallway, and then I hear a hissing noise. I jump out of bed and run to my door to find smoke being funneled into the room from outside the hallway and immediately I start coughing. The smoke is coming from a small bag peeking through the bottom of the door, so I open my door and throw the bag back into the hall and open the windows in the room.  I then pickup my phone and send out a text, “This is only the beginning”

At the army base, they have these pouches which contain gray powder, typically these bags are used to heat up liquids. Water reacts to the power, causing it to heat and expand, letting off a vapor. If you were to take Tobasco sauce, mix it with the powder, close the bag but pop a small hole in it – essentially you have yourself homemade coughing gas. You’ve made the Tobasco airborne.

What a freaking morning.

After a month of being here, the homesickness has subsided for the most part. I’ve been thinking about whether or not I miss normal living, but then again, what really is normal living? It depends on the society you’re in, right? It also depends on how you choose to live your life. Those parameters set the standards of normal. When I think back to all the time I’ve wasted in my life thus far doing trivial things that haven’t amounted to any sort of progression, I’m disappointed. The new strategy I’ve learned over here is a simple one: Every morning, make a checklist. Make a checklist of the things that need to, and will be, completed by end of day. Cross off each item as the day goes on. As simple as this is, it is incredible, each day you have a log of your accomplishments.

This is amazing
Awesome.

My Guardian Angel sent me a link leading to a virtual job fair with my company in Africa. For those of you that don’t know, my Guardian Angel is someone I met a couple years ago at a conference in DC. She only appears when I need some sort of help, she is the primary reason I made it to DC, met a bunch of people, and have the job I have today. Regardless, I plan to attend the virtual job fair – and hope to see if there are any projects in Africa awaiting my arrival. Unfortunately I need to go back to MBA school at some point, it might have to be 2012.

I’ve been working with a number of entrepreneurs as of the last two weeks, teaching web development, social media and networking, programming languages, etc. I’ve also been working with a number of nonprofit organizations out here trying to get some investment traction for the startups. Needless to say, the work is never ending and massive.

Trying not to take things for granted.
Trying not to take things forgranted

I can see it with every interaction i have with the Afghans, they want change. They want to be the generation that reigns it in – they’re tired of an age-old war and want progress. Many want to leave the country and study abroad. Many want to be the IT generation of their country. Unfortunately it requires more than money and labor, it requires a cultural shift. A shift in the way things have been done for so many years, and adapting new mindsets, new ideas, new products – innovation.

70% of Afghan economy is Agriculture and Agri Value Chain. To tap innovation into these markets would cause immediate and drastic upticks in GDP. To change the standard way things have been done for so long will require lots of time and lots of effort. I met an entrepreneur that melts tires to make products that augment irrigation systems – this is the type of innovation the country desperately needs. We may be working with this individual in the near future.

One month in Afghanistan, a year ago I would’ve never imagined.  I’m not even halfway through my total duration here.  I sort of miss normalcy, but then again – what is normalcy?  They’re closing the office here for Christmas/NYE … instead of heading back to the US for a week or two, I think I’ll change the itinerary and take advantage of the fact I could spend new years in a different country.  See something new.

A Lesson on Solution Creation

In a previous post I mentioned leveraging resources creatively instead of depth of native skill in order to achieve and succeed.

Consider a chef, all the tools he/she uses are available to you, but the way the chef uses and assembles them is what makes the difference between ingredients and a stellar final product.

Friday Mosque in Herat - Where the partys at for Eid ul Adha

Many times I feel solutions are there for the taking, but the inability to creatively make connections and use them to your advantage is what is at fault; not necessarily your inherent skill with regards to a specific task.

Today is Eid ul-Adha around the world; one of two annual Muslim holidays.  Afghans have three days off to pray, celebrate, and visit family and friends.  Unfortunately I will be celebrating within the confines of a compound – regardless, Eid Mubarak to all.

There are ups and downs / pros and cons to every situation, but the ability to take a negative situation and extract a positive lesson from it is what makes the difference between progression and stagnation.