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Technology, Chutzpah and Innovation in Israel

April 19th, 2011 by Moti Karmona | מוטי קרמונה · 5 Comments

“Throughout Israel, brains and energy are ubiquitous” – Warren E. Buffett, 2007

This blog post is a ~thousand words “elevator pitch” on Technology, Chutzpah and Innovation in Israel (a.k.a. The Silicon Wadi)

Start-up Nation

The best book I have read on this topic is Start-up Nation – The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle (by Dan Senor and Saul Singer)

Start-up Nation addresses the trillion dollar question: How is it that Israel – a country of 7.1 million (smaller than New Jersey), only 60 years old, literally surrounded by enemies, in a constant state of war since its founding, with no natural resources, managed to produces:

  • More start-up companies than large, peaceful and stable nations like Japan, China, India, Korea, Canada, and the UK
  • Most VC investments per capita in the world – Twice as much venture capital investment as the US and thirty times more than Europe
  • More tech-oriented NASDAQ companies than any country besides the US, more than all of Europe, India and China combined
  • Leads the world in medical device patents, and is a strong global player in cleantech and biotech
  • Economy barely hit by global economic crisis
  • The quality of Israel’s own scientific research institutions is ranked 3rd in the world by the WEF (+4 Nobel prizes in the past 6 years)

a.k.a. How do we kick ass with such little feet?


“It’s no exaggeration to say that the kind of innovation going on in Israel is critical to the future of the technology business . . . For Microsoft, having an R&D center in Israel has been a great experience . . . The quality of people here is fantastic.”

– Bill Gates, Chairman and Chief Software architect of Microsoft (2005)

 

 

Start-up Nation observations

  • Israel is not just a country, but a comprehensive state of mind. Where Americans emphasize decorum and exhaustive prep, Israelis put chutzpah over charm (see below)
  • Israeli immigration and assimilation policies bring and support a highly motivated, diversified pool of talent into the country; “Immigrants are not averse to starting over. They are, by definition, risk takers. A nation of immigrants is a nation of entrepreneurs.” — Gidi Grinstein
  • The fostering and facilitating role of the Israeli Government – Israel spends more as a percentage of our economy on R&D than any other country in the world and knows how to make that money relevant to startups.
  • Israel actively cultivates a culture of entrepreneurship and leadership in the military. Teenagers are not only given the responsibility to make life-saving decisions, constantly practice improvisation, typically with little data, but to question authority regularly in doing so.
  • The Israeli economy respects and knows how to integrate the unique talents and “chutzpah” developed by soldiers in the military.
  • Hyper- networking, everybody are connected to everybody; “The social graph is very simple here. Everybody knows everybody” — Yossi Vardi
  • The two real fathers of Israeli hi-tech are the Arab boycott and Charles de Gaulle, because they forced on us the need to go and develop an industry” — Yossi Vardi

 

“There are projects for which it won’t matter if tens of thousands of engineers work on it or if a group of 100 engineers with a range of talents do all the work. Israel has such groups.”

– Clifford Meltzer, Cisco Systems Senior VP Network Management Technology Group

 

The Good, Bad and Ugly of the Israeli Chutzpah (a.k.a. Where is the catch? or Aptitude vs. Attitude ;)

“Doubt and argument—this is a syndrome of the Jewish civilization and this is a syndrome of today’s Israel” — Amos Oz

Chutzpah is hard to define… Leo Rosten defines Chutzpah as “gall, brazen nerve, effrontery, incredible ‘guts,’ presumption plus arrogance such as no other word and no other language can do justice to”. In this sense, chutzpah expresses both strong disapproval and a grudging admiration

Outsider would see chutzpah everywhere in Israel: in the way university students speak with their professors, employees challenge their bosses, sergeants question their generals, and clerks second-guess government ministers.

When the Intel Corporation began building its Israeli teams in the 70′s, the Americans found Israeli chutzpah so jarring that Intel started running “cross-cultural seminars on Israeliness.” Intel-Israel’s Mooly Eden, who ran the seminars, said that “from the age of zero we are educated to challenge the obvious, ask questions, debate everything, innovate.” as a result, he adds, “it’s more complicated to manage five Israelis than 50 Americans because [the Israelis] will challenge you all the time — starting with ‘Why are you my manager; why am I not your manager?’”

When Paypal — the internet payments giant — bought Israeli start-up FraudSciences in 2007, Paypal president Scott Thompson went to Tel Aviv to meet with the FraudSciences team. He told us about his first meeting with the staff: “Every question was penetrating. I actually started to get nervous up there. I’d never before heard so many unconventional observations — one after the other. Junior employees had no inhibition about challenging how we had been doing things for years. I’d never seen this kind of completely unvarnished, un-intimidated, and undistracted attitude. I found myself thinking, “who works for whom here? Did we just buy FraudSciences, or did they buy us?”

To Israelis, this is the normal mode of being. Somewhere along the way — either at home, in school, or in the army — they learn that assertiveness is the norm, reticence something that risks your being left behind.

“What drives us is the desire to improve and excel, as well as the desire to build things by ourselves” –  Check Point Founder, Chairman & CEO, Gil Shwed

 

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People who read this post also tend to read these two related posts

Main references

→ 5 CommentsTags: Innovation · Israel

The GeoSpatial Cloud

November 1st, 2010 by Moti Karmona | מוטי קרמונה · 3 Comments

In continue to my geo distance post, I have decided to post something on the simplest cloud architecture (RDS) for location based services (LBS)

IMHO, (to cut a long story short :) Amazon RDS is more than enough for most geo location applications.

Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) is a web service that makes it easy to set up, operate, and scale a relational database in the cloud.

Amazon RDS gives you access to the full capabilities of a familiar MySQL database. This means the code, applications, and tools you already use today with your existing MySQL databases work seamlessly with Amazon RDS.

Two preliminary steps:
* Start a small DB instance with the kind help of AWS management console (image above)
* Use the RDS instance as if it is your “disruptive”  MySQL instance e.g. manage it using MySQL Workbench 5.2.29

“Flirting” with MySQL spatial capabilities (which seems to be “fully” supported by AWS RDS)

* Create the (MyISAM) Table with spatial index

CREATE TABLE `locations` (
`id` int(11) NOT NULL AUTO_INCREMENT,
`lat` decimal(10,6) DEFAULT NULL,
`long` decimal(10,6) DEFAULT NULL,
`loc` point NOT NULL,
`name` varchar(45) DEFAULT NULL,
PRIMARY KEY (`id`),
SPATIAL KEY `loc` (`loc`)
) ENGINE=MyISAM AUTO_INCREMENT=6 DEFAULT CHARSET=utf8

* Insert few values to populate your table

INSERT INTO locations VALUES(1,40.748433, -73.985655, GeomFromText(‘POINT(40.748433 -73.985655)’), ‘The Empire State Building‘);
INSERT INTO locations VALUES(2, 40.689166, -74.044444, GeomFromText(‘POINT(40.689166 -74.044444)’), ‘The Statue of Liberty’);
INSERT INTO locations VALUES(3, 40.758611, -73.979166, GeomFromText(‘POINT(40.758611 -73.979166)’), ‘Rockefeller Center’);
INSERT INTO locations VALUES(4, 40.757266, -73.985838, GeomFromText(‘POINT(40.757266 -73.985838)’), ‘Times Square’);
INSERT INTO locations VALUES(5, 40.7527, -73.9818, GeomFromText(‘POINT(40.7527 -73.9818)’), ‘New York Public Library’);

* Execute a simple test drive query which returns all the locations and their distance from ‘The Empire State Building’ + Comparing two distance calculation methods (1) MySQL euclidean calculation (2) Haversine calculation (results below)

SELECT locations.name,
astext(locations.loc),
GLength(LineStringFromWKB(LineString(locations.loc, GeomFromText(‘POINT(40.748433 -73.985655)’))))*100
AS euclidean,
6378.1 * 2 * ASIN(SQRT(
POWER(SIN(RADIANS(40.748433 – locations.lat) / 2),2) +
COS(RADIANS(40.748433)) * COS(RADIANS(locations.lat) )
* POWER(SIN((RADIANS(-73.985655 – locations.long)) /2), 2) )) AS haversine
FROM locations
— HAVING euclidean < 1
– ORDER BY euclidean ASC LIMIT 10;


Two Surprises/Issues

(1) SRID (Spatial Reference Identifier) support in MySQL is a disgrace – In MySQL, the SRID value is just an integer associated with the geometry value. All calculations are done assuming Euclidean (planar) geometry.

Possible Workarounds: (1) Euclidean calculation can be enough (2) Use Haversine function if you need the accuracy

(2) MySQL ‘Where’ clause can’t use column aliases for filtering

Possible Workarounds: (1) Use ‘Having’ clause (see above) (2) Use the explicit function or field and not the alias

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Related/Interesting reference Geo Distance Search with MySQL (Presentation | 2008)

Important note: To help new AWS customers get started in the cloud, AWS is introducing a new free usage tier. Beginning November 1, new AWScustomers will be able to run a free Amazon EC2 Micro Instance for a year, while also leveraging a new free usage tier for Amazon S3, Amazon Elastic Block Store, Amazon Elastic Load Balancing, and AWSdata transfer – Very Exciting Times!!!

Disturbing unrelated fact: Starting in 1931, every graduate of the Japanese Naval Academy was asked: “How would you carry out a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor?”

→ 3 CommentsTags: Cloud · Development · Disruptive Technology · Geo

You Yong Wu Mou (“Having Courage but No Strategies”)

October 20th, 2010 by Moti Karmona | מוטי קרמונה · 2 Comments

I have just finished reading a very interesting book (!!!) “Predictably Irrational” by Dan Ariely and came across a very interesting historic story.

“In 210 BC, a Chinese commander named Xiang Yu led his troops across the Yangtze River to attack the army of the Qin (Ch’in) dynasty. Pausing on the banks of the river for the night, his troops awakened in the morning to find to their horror that their ships were burning. They hurried to their feet to fight off their attackers, but soon discovered that it was Xiang Yu himself who had set their ships on fire, and that he had also ordered all cooking pots crushed.”

“Xiang Yu explained to his troops that without the pots and the ships, they had no other choice but to fight their way to victory or perish. That did not earn Xiang Yu a place on the Chinese army’s list of favorite commanders, but it did have a tremendous focusing effect on his troops (as they grabbed) their lances and bows, they charged ferociously against the enemy and won nine consecutive battles, completely obliterating the main-force units of the Qin dynasty”

Prof. Ariely is making a point about the advantage of making a choice to focus by closing other doors/options/opportunities.

Joshua Baer had an interesting allegory to the startup world in his “Necessity is the mother of Invention” post

“This is similar to when a bootstrapper enters the Valley of Death* and commits to their venture, but before they are making money and cash flow positive. They are forced to figure out how to make it work with what they’ve got. The timeline is not completely in their control.


We’re always tempted to leave ourselves an escape route or path of retreat. And usually that’s a good idea. But sometimes there aren’t enough resources to mount the attack and cover the retreat. In order to be successful sometimes you have to commit the resources to what you believe in because the retreat option isn’t acceptable. Sometimes once you head down a path there is just no turning back, so you might as well commit all of your resources to getting to the end”

Well… this is true but since I am a notorious pessimist and usually like my options open, I have continued reading about this fine gentlemen (a.k.a. Xiang Yu)

I learned that indeed in the beginning of the civil war Xiang Yu was winning but with his rude manners, arrogance and lack of political vision, the tide turned against Xiang Yu and in the end he lost the war to Liu Bang.

In 202 BC, when Xiang Yu and his remaining men had their backs against the river while surrounded by Liu Bang’s troops, a boatman on a raft persuaded Xiang Yu to go with him across the river so he can prepare a comeback.
Xiang Yu said, “When I crossed the River and went west, I took with me 8,000 sons and brothers from east of the Yangtze. Now none of them has returned; how can I face the elders east of the Yangtze?” After declining this offer, Xiang Yu turned around, charged against the Han troops, killed over a hundred men, and finally cut his own throat.
Shortly after his death Liu Bang established the Han Dynasty.

Three concluding facts about Xiang Yu:

  • Xiang is popularly viewed as a leader who possesses great courage but lacks wisdom, and his character is aptly summarized using the Chinese idiom “Yǒu Yǒng Wú Móu” (有勇無謀) - “Having Courage but No Strategies” (or  to be foolhardy or to be more brave than wise or to have reckless courage…)
  • Xiang’s battle tactics were studied by future military leaders while his political blunders served as cautionary tales for future rulers
  • Xiang Yu is also the kind general that raided the Terracotta** tomb less than five years after the death of the First Emperor – Xiang’s army was looting of the tomb and structures holding the Terracotta Army, as well as setting fire to the necropolis and starting a blaze that lasted for three months.

“Yǒu Yǒng Wú Móu” (有勇無謀) - “Having Courage but No Strategies” - Think about it…! ;)

* Valley of Death – A slang phrase to refer to the period of time from when a startup receives an initial capital contribution to when it begins generating revenues.
During the death valley curve, additional financing is usually scarce, leaving the firm vulnerable to cash flow requirements.

** The Terracotta Army or the “Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses“, is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the First Emperor of China
The figures, dating from 210 BC, vary in height according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals. The figures include warriors, chariots, horses, officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians.
Current estimates are that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits.
There is also a legend that the terracotta warriors were real soldiers, buried with Emperor Qin so that they could defend him from any dangers in the next life.

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p.s. Prof. Ariely also recommends another role model for door closing – Rhett Butler for his supreme moment of unpredictable rationality with his astonishing elan, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn”

→ 2 CommentsTags: Conspiracy · Leadership · People · Psychology

Karmona Labs on Geo Distance

October 9th, 2010 by Moti Karmona | מוטי קרמונה · 6 Comments

Well.. Everyone are talking about Location-Location-Location so this weekend was all about Geographical distance

I will quickly preview few basics (geographic coordinate system, earth radius), introduce and compare four distance calculation models (Pythagorean, Law of Cosines, Haversine, Vincenty), finalize with a pragmatic recommendation (use Law of Cosines! :) and random quote for desert.

Start with the basics…

A Geographic Coordinate System Indicate location using lines of longitude and latitude

Latitude is the angle between the equatorial plane and a line that is normal to the reference ellipsoid, which approximates the shape of Earth to account for flattening of the poles and bulging of the equator.

Longitude is the angle east or west of a reference meridian between the two geographical poles to another meridian that passes through an arbitrary point. All meridians are halves of great circles, and are not parallel. They converge at the north and south poles.

Exempli Gratia
The Status of Liberty is located on 40° 41′ 21″ N , 74° 2′ 40″ W with the following Decimal representative: 40.689167, -74.044444

Since…
40.689167 = Degrees + Minutes/60 + Seconds/3600 = 40 + 41/60 + 21/3600 = 40.689167
-74.044444 = -1*(74 + 2/60 + 40/3600) = -74.044444 // the minus is used to represent South & West

What is Earth Radius? (hint: we will need later for the calculation)

To cut a *very* long story short, Google, IUGG and Karmona labs thinks it is 6378.137 (3963.19 miles)

Because the Earth is not perfectly spherical, no single value serves as its natural radius.

Distances from points on the surface to the center range and regardless of calculation model, the radius falls between 6,357 km and 6,378 km

Earth Radius (km) based on different models

Equatorial Polar Volumetric Authalic Meridional
6,378.1 6,356.8 6,371.0 6,371.0 6,367.4


Geographic Distance Calculation Models

There are quite few geo distance calculation models but I will focus on the four I found most relevant:
* Pythagorean
* Law of Cosines
* Haversine
* Vincenty

I have done a little excel experiment (downloadable here):

  • I  have compared the distance between “The Empire State Building” and 15 other locations
  • I have used three geo distance calculation models (beside Vincenty)
  • Modeling this into Excel – I had two locations A (latA, longA) and B (latB, LongB) with R as Earth Radius (coordinates are used in their decimal representative)
    • Pythagorean =SQRT((111.2*(latA-latB))^2+(85.2*(LongA-LongB))^2)
    • Law of Cosines =ACOS(SIN(RADIANS(latA))*SIN(RADIANS(latB)) + COS(RADIANS(latA))*COS(RADIANS(latB))*COS(RADIANS(longA-longB)))*R
    • Haversine =2*ASIN(MIN(1, SQRT(SIN(RADIANS(latA-latB)/2)^2 + COS(RADIANS(latA))*COS(RADIANS(latB))*SIN(RADIANS(longA-longB)/2)^2)))*R
  • Additional Notes:
    • The reason I have used 111.2 and 85.2 in the Pythagorean equation is the fact that 1° latitude ≈ 111 km and 1° longitude can vary but the average is ≈ 82.2 km (the right thing to do actually is to choose the exact longitude/km conversion base on the degree)
    • The conversion from the original Geo Location representative to a decimal one was using this excel formula =IF(Degree<0,Degree-Minutes/60-Seconds/3600,Degree+Minutes/60+Seconds/3600)
  • The Results
    • Pythagorean is easy to compute but not that accurate
    • Law of Cosines and Haversine are almost the same
    • See comparison table below…
Model Pythagorean Law of Cosines Haversine Vincenty
Formula d = sqrt((X2 – X1)^2 + (Y2 – Y1)^2) a = sin(lat1) * sin(lat2)
b = cos(lat1) * cos(lat2) * cos(lon2 – lon1)
c = arccos(a + b)
d = R * c
dlon = lon2 – lon1
dlat = lat2 – lat1
a = sin^2(dlat/2) + cos(lat1) * cos(lat2) * sin^2(dlon/2)
c = 2 * arcsin(min(1,sqrt(a)))
d = R * c
Too long… ;)
Assumptions Flat Earth… :) Spherical Earth Spherical Earth Ellipsoidal Earth
Accuracy (Worst | 1-5 | Best) (1) Estimated distance (good enough for less than 20km) (4) Good! (4) Good! + The Haversine formula is more robust to floating point errors (5) Great! The most accurate…
Computability (Slowest | 1-5 | Fastest) (5) Fastest! (4) 5-6 trig. calls (3) 5 trig. calls + SQRT (+ Floating Point) (1) Requires iteration (+ “The rest”)

Final note:

  • Simple pragmatic recommendation - Use Law of Cosines to calculate geographic distance – It will be suffice in 90% of your usages !
  • Complex pragmatic recommendation – It really depends – Call me…


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Random Quote“There’s no sense in being precise when you don’t even know what you’re talking about” | John von Neumann

→ 6 CommentsTags: Geo

American-Israeli Cultural Misinterpretation

September 30th, 2010 by Moti Karmona | מוטי קרמונה · 8 Comments

*** Warning: this post might contain cultural bias material ;) ***

As most of my friends and colleagues, I had the pleasure of working with Americans for most of my professional life and this post is only the tip-of-the-iceberg trying to capture one tiny angle of the American-Israeli cultural gap.

We (Israelis) think we know enough about English since we have watched many hours of American TV, studied the language from early age and use it constantly and “fluently” during our adult professional life but we should be aware about our tendency to interpret English phrases literally, which results in amusing/frustrating/interesting/challenging misunderstandings – We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.

Executive summary:

  • Israelis consider themselves creative, direct and honest but being perceived as arrogant, stubborn, negative, rude and pushy (did I forget any other negative adjective here? ;)
  • Americans are professionals, positive, polite and showing respect but being perceived as bureaucrats, artificial and square

Few examples:

Original (American) Wording Original Intent Possible (Israeli) Misinterpretation
American: “This is a challenge” This is a problem! Israeli: Great!, we are always looking for interesting challenges
American: “I would appreciate if you could get this done by Friday” The deadline is Friday – Make it happen! Israeli: It is nice-to-have to get it done by Friday, but next week is also an option…
American: “You might want to consider…..” There is a problem here – This need to be changed Israeli: IMHO, there are other options but yours is also good
American: “This is ok but…” This is bad! Israeli: This is OK (Thanks! :)
American: “I do have my concerns” There are severe problem here Israeli: This is OK – Need some more discussions but nothing serious…
American: “I’ll make an effort” Just being polite… No real commitment here, it’s optional whether I’ll try harder than usual Israeli: You can count on me doing everything possible for this



Original (Israeli) Wording Original Intent Possible (American) Misinterpretation
Israeli: “I don’t agree” I disagree with your point of view and want to discuss it some more so that we can reach agreement on the best approach (this is almost the default :) American: (Rude) There’s no room for discussion
Israeli: “Your presentation was OK” Your presentation was really good American: I didn’t like your presentation.
Israeli: “Why don’t you do it another way?” I’m giving you a helpful suggestion because I’m interested in improving the result. American: (Rude) I am insulting your work
Israeli: “I am OK” (direct answer to “How are you?”) I feel great – if I wasn’t, be sure you will be the first to know American: Nothing is OK
Israeli: “This will not work!” I need you to explain the way it suppose to work since it seems like I am really missing something here American: (Rude) I am insulting your work again…
Israeli: “I think” (pronounced as sink :) I think… American: Ha???



German Coastguard | “What are you s(th)inking about?”




Do you have more examples to share?


Relevant books:

Very cool link:




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Random Quote: “Don’t get overconfident. Tiny minds also think alike” (Pasha Bitz, May 2010)

→ 8 CommentsTags: People