A Fall Poem

Over and across the rooftops,

the fall leaves from proud trees stand,

glimmering like gold in the softening sun.

Feel the rustling air that brings a deathly cold,

the passing of time against all who feel so bold.

 

Beneath the dancing leaves,

of sweet red Maple, and quiet White Birch

When our love blossomed against cold frost

And a knot was tied for you, the prettiest of all,

In an old weathered chapel, in a lonely red fall.

 

In this mellow autumn sunset

The cloudless orange sky beholds,

Our winter’s store is filled, we borne no ill.

Guided well, a crimson victory’s never tasted so swell.

And now that we’ve consumed, it holds us under sweet spell.

 

How charmingly fragrant,

trees perfume themselves in fall.

The falling leaves, the dying trees, the cycle of life

—retold. The Wheel gives and takes without heed

And I, a lonely reed, will pray under misty breath my creed.

 

Under the damp, grey heavens,

Under a chill wind where all hope lessens,

The dimming gold turns grey, light is chocked,

But the memory of your coming beacons above reason,

A hope that spring will come, and thus, that love is for all season.

“Millennial” is a meaningless concept

“We can all agree that Millennials are the worst,” proclaims Philip Bump from The Atlantic. As a “millennial” myself, there are little things I find more irritating than to be labeled as one. Indeed a poll already shows that “Most Millennials Resist the ‘Millennial’ Label” -oh the irony! Legions of marketing consultants/gurus/evangelists/futurists herald the coming-of-age of this group as a golden opportunity, a last chance, for corporate conglomerates to get in the action. “Hurry or you’ll miss this once-in-a-lifetime chance to earn millions!” is at least a more honest proclamation for what we know is already a scam.

The absurdity of stereotyping a group that is now “the largest living demographic in the United States,” is akin to saying that 50% of the people in the world are women. Yes, we know that. They’re all around, can’t you see? The endless parade of clickbait headlines such as “U.S. and European Millennials differ on their views of fate, future”, “Millennials care about the environment” and “More than half of Millennials have shared a ‘selfie’” paints a more ambiguous image of this population than a Jackson Pollock.

It’s time to stop the selling of ideas on the basis of a conceptual demographic turned up by a Harvard lawyer back when The Bangle’s Walk Like An Egyptian was not considered politically incorrect.

My advice to companies who rely too much on expensive, 3rd party marketing research firms is simple: look around. There’s no need to make a 54-long slide on information you can get by simply walking to your next door neighbor and asking.

There’s a saying that people are not persuaded by reason, but by emotion. There’s some truth to that. I do believe you need reasoned evidence to support your claims, but simply laying out statistics about people and weaving together a story more fragile than a dandelion is simply not a way to sell a product or service. What happens if the wind blows?

And don’t even get me started on the “Z generation”. Though kids are admittedly playing too many video games.

Blockchain & Capitalism

“It’s not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest”. — Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations

Blockchain fulfills the most basic principle of capitalism, trust, to a degree that’s without equal to anything else we have today. Without trust, out entire economic system fails. If I can’t be assured that my payment will arrive to you untampered, I wouldn’t trade with you at all. This novel technology ensures the security of transactions by tying every single one together, such that braking, or hacking into a single block, will affect every other one in the chain —hence, a blockchain. In an era where hacks are putting a massive dent in the trust we have for institutions, blockchains democratize that trust and places it at the hands of every person interacting with it. It’s fitting paradox that, in the same way greed enables capitalism (by having people work for their own self-interest), blockchain enables it by relying on the fact that no one trusts one another. A sad state of affairs? Yes, but it’s a solution that works.

I won’t go into explaining the fundamentals of blockchain. There are numerous sources where you can find that out, such as here, here and here. Suffice to say, Mr. Nakamoto’s invention of Bitcoin did indeed change the world for the better, though not perhaps in delivering that much-awaited libertarian utopia. Bitcoin as a cryptocurrency is speculative at it’s best, “a fraud” at it’s worst (according to JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon). It’s fluctuating price is a rollercoaster that mirrors the same emotional moods as its investors: ecstasy, or perplexity. I don’t want to negate the validity of cryptocurrencies however. They do have it’s use and purpose, the same way you purchase tokens at a Chucky cheese to partake in the privileges of jumping into a ball pit, or eating a the pizza equivalent of a cholesterol bomb. Certain merchants would want the privacy to sell goods and services, away from the prying eyes of government. That’s all good! As long as they follow the laws of their state. My belief is that it’s underlying technology, blockchain will become the most important technology in the next decade —ahead of artificial intelligence and self-driving cars (unless Elon Musk lands on Mars in 2025 and starts a colony. A timeline which even he calls “aspirational.”)

The processing of transactions worldwide is the engine that drives the economic growth. Adam Smith recalls the necessity of trust between parties to exchange goods: “In a free trade, an effectual combination cannot be established but by the unanimous consent of every single trader, and it cannot last longer than every single trader continues of the same mind” (Book IV, Chapter VIII). This trust is essential before any transaction takes place. The rise of globalism has connected traders from every corner of the world to exchange every single kind of good imaginable. It allows me to drink this coffee right now from Guatemala, while eating bread with flour imported from Colombia and raisins from California, all the while I type this in a MacBook manufactured in China. Milton Friedman famously stated how not a single person on earth knows how to make make a pencil (a retail pencil). Someone had to cut the trees, another had to operate the machinery that stripped the trunk, another had to paint it, another had to market it, another had to take it to the retail location, and finally someone had to place it on the Wal-Mart shelf. Every single one of these transactions has to be recorded to ensure that it’s compliant and someone is not cooking the books. It’s a laborious process that takes days to do and mountains of paperwork. Blockchain eliminates the paperwork and cuts the transaction time in milliseconds.

It’s a tough competition, but blockchain technology could become an even larger player in the next coming years than artificial intelligence. Many companies are struggling to implement AI. Some have successfully applied it to their business (like Google and Amazon), but many, many more have failed to find a meaningful return on investment. It’s also no surprise: current AI training requires very large amounts of data in the first place. A data scientist (or a team) must then parse through the data and ensure it’s “cleaned.” Finally, it’s fed to the AI system and we’ll all hope that it will return a meaningfully low cost function to operate in production. However, all of these steps require time, investment of resources and most importantly, investment of talent. It’s a luxury that many companies cannot undertake. Now I won’t say that Blockchain is a piece of cake to implement, you’d have to install the software, connect it to the payment systems and educate the workforce, but the returns can be immediately experienced: faster processing times, increased security and better transparency.

In economics, there are three ways to be the top player in a market: be first, be best or be the only one (a monopoly). The mavericks have jumped on the blockchain ship and the rest of the world is playing catch up. It’s up to companies now to decide whether to join in, or let the sharks (i.e greedy hackers demanding ransoms in Bitcoin) encircle the less protected ones. It’s a rainy day as I write this, and I’m comfortable going to bed tonight knowing what kind of world awaits for me tomorrow. Which one will you decide to have? One that runs on cryptocurrencies, or one that’s demanding you money through a cryptocurrency?

AI: Savior or Curse?

The first observation in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations was on the division of labor. More specifically, how an economy, as it progresses, becomes increasingly compartmentalized into specialized divisions that produce a particular good or service. For example, a single shoe maker will not be as fast, or efficient as 10 shoemakers doing a particular part of the same shoe. Today’s division of labor is being supplied by advanced in artificial intelligence. The creation of a digital mind that can perform complex, human-like tasks is being implemented on a wide scale in enterprises. This has brought great gains in productivity, but also challenges in it’s usage.

Recently, a machine-learning program at JPMorgan just saved it 360,000 hours of interpreting mundane loan agreement. Google uses an AI program to save 15% on it’s energy expenditures at it’s data centers. These and many other examples are playing out in the world right now. Increasing productivity in organizations and thereby making them wealthier.

However there is also the ever-looming challenge of implementing the AI. Unlike a software program, the AI must be trained with huge amounts of data. If the data were corrupt, if the training algorithms were off, or the skills required by the AI don’t match the application for which it was designed, it could easily become a multimillion dollar mistake.

AI doesn’t solve everything, nor is it a technology to be dismissed. Like anything, it is a tool whereby we can use to our advantage, if we think about it carefully enough. If we see AI as a means, rather than an end in itself, business and organizations can bring about the new, 4th revolution that the internet for now has failed to deliver —apparently people feel more distracted than wise when watching compilations of cat videos or seeing the zillionth newborn baby on their Facebook feeds.

A prayer of thanks

A little background: I was sitting in an airport, letting the hours pass by before I boarded my flight. I had some very busy days before, and it had been some since I last worked out. I could feel my body relaxing, my muscles easing and my back aching from sitting so long. I longed to be playing sports, to feel the wind rush in my face, to feel the pain of lifting heavy weights. It’s a good kind of pain, the type that makes you stronger (both literally and figuratively). In a flash, I decided to write a poem to describe these feelings I had. I’ve since come back to it many times. I like it, and maybe by sharing it here you too might be able to benefit from saying it.

How I long again to feel my muscles stretch,
To look ahead for the ball I seek to fetch,
To the ribboned finish line that’s yet to break,
To the net that sleepily waits to be fast awake.

How I long to have sweat run through my brow,
To feel pain overtake the pillars of iron I’ve trained to plow,
Opponents, obstacles, challengers of the prize,
I seek to win somehow.

How I seek to run through mountains,
Swim in oceans, fly across space,
Seek inside my mind a treasured place,
Where body, mind and soul coalesce,

In the quiet scene of battle I guard my heart
And strengthen my will.
In the defining seconds of the game,
I remember my skill,
And rise again with zeal.

The lonely practices, the sacrifices I made,
The friendships I keep and hopes I’ve prayed
-to never fail, to never surrender,
To keep my character firm in splendor.

However grey the situation can become,
In whatever challenge I must overcome,
I can safely say “Thy kingdom come-
Thy will be done.”
Yes Lord, I attach myself to You, the only One.

The first champion of the universal race.
The only goal worthy of lifelong chase.

Amen

A walk to Chipotle

It’s noon, and the smell of lunchtime -beans, pork, grease- permeated downtown Buckhead. People from all backgrounds congregate to the hallowed hall of Chipotle at a corner intersection for physical (and I daresay, spiritual) renewal. I walk in and stand in the long line behind the counter.

There’s a young, well dressed man in front of me, and a moment later, a joyful woman strides in with her two best friends. At first, I couldn’t help but admire the young man’s well-tailored suit and trimmed hair. He was wearing a tan leather belt with spotless buckle, cuffed shirt and double-strap monk shoes -which of course, matched his belt.

A true, walking stock photo.

Suddenly, my attention was shifted to the loud talking of the woman behind me. She was a tall but delicately built black woman, with a pin in her business outfit that read, “Cousins,” and a logo right beside it. A humanitarian organization, judging by her warm smile and apparent social connections. She and her friends were about chatting all the time I was in line. I wasn’t paying attention. Still, I chuckled inside.

It’s amazing how, with all the varieties of human experience, we are still drawn to the same things: power, money, love and of course, good food.

I devoured my burrito in a heartbeat. The hotness of the Tabasco sauce briefly made me feel like I could breathe fire. Endorphins kicked in my brain, tingling it with a satisfying sensation. How wonderful and blessed it is that modern industry can feed the whole population in a dazzling array of colors, tastes and combinations. We can safely assume that we’ll be fed today, and that’s a wonderful realization. One we’re prone to easily ignore, considering the history of humanity.

My parting words before I leave are this: let us rejoice and be glad, for indeed, we can all get along with each other and sit at the same table together, as long there’s good food, decency, and good cheer.

The Wheel of Fortune Turns for Everyone

Betrayed. Jailed. Abandoned. These were probably some of the things that were running through Boethius’ mind as he awaited his eventual torture and execution under false pretenses. One of the brightest minds of his day, and having climbed to the top of the political ladder, Boethius’ friends gave false testimony of him as a traitor to the king, who promptly had him jailed without due process.

Boethius loved astronomy, mathematics and the philosophy of the greeks. Although he was a Christian, he was well-known because of his translations of greek philosophy that were used for almost a thousand years before the recuperation of lost texts during the renaissance. But this wasn’t in Boethius’ mind. He had served the King well, and tried to live out a good Christian life; yet he was miserable, while the wicked reveled.

How could God permit such a thing?

During his time in his cell, he wrote a masterpiece called The Consolation Of Philosophy, which tried to answer this question by having God’s wisdom embodied as Lady Philosophy. She visits him in his cell, and they exchange a dialogue, with Lady Philosophy explaining how small our minds are to comprehend the will of God.

In this passage, Fortune (embodied as a god) speaks to Boethius’ desire to justice. Her answer might not be what you’d expect.

When nature produced you from your mother’s womb,
I received you naked of all things and helpless,
kept you warm with my resources and,
whereas now it makes you impatient with us,
I brought you up under the easy favor of indulgence,
surrounded you with all the abundance and splendor
which are right for me.

Now it pleases me to withdraw my hand:
be grateful as for the use of another’s;
you have no right of complaining
as if you absolutely lost yours.
Why then do you groan?
No violence is brought against you from us.

Wealth, honors and the rest of such things are right for me.
The servants recognize the mistress:
they come with me; with my going away they depart.
Boldly I declare, if these were yours
which you bemoan are missing,
you never would have lost them.

–The Consolation of Philosophy, Book 2

Now compare this passage to God’s response to Job, when he complained to God about his own misfortunes, and demanded infinite goodness to justify Himself after all the evil that had fallen on Job.

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?

 Tell me, if you understand.

Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!

Who stretched a measuring line across it?

On what were its footings set,

or who laid its cornerstone—

while the morning stars sang together

and all the angels shouted for joy?

–Job 38:4-11

A popular saying goes, “the wheel of fortune turns.” Sometimes good things happen to those who are good, and bad things to the wicked; and sometimes, just the opposite occurs. There’s no rhythm or pattern to the fortunes of our lives. God gives and takes away freely. There will never be a time for a person to say, “now I am content, all will be good with me”, or, “nothing good is going to come. I am cursed.” The wheel of fortune indeed keeps turning. There’s an excellent video by The Bible Project that explains this in much greater detail, and their animations are absolutely stunning. I’m putting it here for you to take a quick look:

We must watch ourselves not to get too hung up on the turns of this wheel, rather taking life as it comes with a certain detachment from our earthly fortunes, and trusting instead on a more solid anchor than Lady Fortune. Thus does the book of Ecclesiastes fittingly ends:

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:

Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.

For God will bring every deed into judgement, 

including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14