An update: Factual, Drake, and… hello, startup world!

startupIt’s been ages since I posted anything on this blog. And even though it was never supposed to be my personal platform, I decided to post an update on what I’ve been up to, and what’s next.

I spent over 6 years at Google, and these were the best years of my professional life. I learned volumes from my brilliant colleagues, got appropriately humbled and was lucky enough to interact and sometimes closely work with such champions of the industry as Jeff Dean, Peter Norvig, Amit Patel, Marissa Mayer and the like. I also got to experience the incredible rush of releasing the newborn Google Trends to judgment of millions of users and the press.

But all good things come to an end, and in April 2011 I left Google to join a little known data startup called Factual. Headquartered in Los Angeles, they wanted to expand their presence in the Bay Area, I loved their mission and I knew the founder, Gil Elbaz, personally from the times where he was heading Google’s Santa Monica office after it acquired Applied Semantics, which he also had founded. It was a great opportunity to learn the ropes before starting my own company, and Gil and I agreed I might not be staying for too long.

The very first thing I learned at Factual is that the startup wilderness is nothing like Google. The Google’s technology stack is amazing. Not only it’s highly advanced, but also well documented, well supported and constantly improving. In contrast, out there we rely on open source projects and 3rd party services, and to my surprise it turned out that quite a number of things I used to take for granted are either impossible or quite complicated to do. And often there’s no support to speak of.

But this only makes things more interesting, and I had a great time at Factual – it definitely has its share of fascinating people. At Factual, I got to lead the creation of Factual’s first product database. And there was a lot to learn, too: I had a quite unique experience of immersing myself in Clojure – a JVM-based Lisp. I had never coded practically and extensively in Lisp, and now I know that it really is true that Lisp rewires your brain.  I can confidently say that it made me a better engineer.

drakeWithout doubt, the most rewarding project at Factual was the workflow management tool Drake, which we just recently released to open source. Drake allows to organize and automate off-line data processing pipelines by specifying steps and their dependencies, in a similar way make automates building software. There are quite a few features which makes Drake stand out, such as multiple outputs, HDFS support or precise control over step execution. I really wish I had a tool like Drake when I was working on Google’s QueryCount service back at 2004. Instead I had to write a lot of Python code to automate my data workflow and I hated it. Based on the response we’ve been getting so far, it seems like we hit a nerve – and it’s exciting to watch our small Drake community grow. Needless to say, Drake is written in Clojure.

But as it happens, I never got over consumer products. My true passion has always been making something millions of people would use. So, about a month ago, I quit Factual to found a new company in the consumer space, based on the idea I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years now. I’d love to tell you what it is but then I’d have to kill you. And I’m pretty sure I need you alive because I myself am dead set on building a small team of world-class engineers and doing all I can to make it happen.

If you’re an engineer or a UI designer looking for an exiting project that has the potential to change the way we do certain things, let me know! My email is, and I would love to hear from you. And of course, if you’re an angel investor or a VC searching for opportunities, I’d be more than happy to get together.

I was told it won’t be easy but I’m braced for the ride. Wish me luck.


Jim Rogers interview on Bloomberg

Bloomberg’s Night Talk: interview with Jim Rogers, who predicts great trouble for US economy and for the US dollar. From Wikipedia:

James Beeland Rogers, Jr. (born October 191942) is an American investor and financial commentator. He is co-founder, along with George Soros, of the Quantum Fund, and is a college professor, author, world traveler, economic commentator, and creator of the Rogers International Commodities Index (RICI).

I found this part of the Wikipedia article most interesting (he talks about it a bit, but very late in the interview, at ~40:00):

In December 2007, Rogers sold his mansion in New York City for about 16 million USD and moved to Singapore. This is due mainly in his belief that this is a ground-breaking time for investment potential in Asian markets. Rogers’ first daughter is now being tutored in Mandarin to prepare her for the future, he says. “Moving to Asia now is like moving to New York City in 1907,” he said. Also, he is quoted to say: “If you were smart in 1807 you moved to London, if you were smart in 1907 you moved to New York City, and if you are smart in 2007 you move to Asia.” In an CNBC interview with Maria Bartiromo broadcast on May 5, 2008, Rogers said that people in Asia are extremely motivated and driven, and he wants to be in that type of environment so his daughters are motivated and driven. He said during that interview that, this is how America and Europe used to be. He chose not to move to Hong Kong or Shanghai due to the high levels of pollution causing potential health problems for his family. His second daughter was born in 2008. [3]

Rogers is also an adventurer, went around the world both in a car and on a motorcycle, and published two books about it (along with investment books he’s known for). Check out his website – I think the car is waaaay too cool. 🙂

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (1993) – book


Just finished reading Dr. Robert Cialdini‘s 1993 classic – Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, and would like to recommend it to anyone interested in applied psychology and cognitive science. Cialdini was interested why people comply with requests that do not necessarily benefit them. According to Wikipedia, he spent 3 years applying for jobs and training at used car dealerships, fund-raising organizations and telemarketing firms to find that out. Now he’s a Distinguished Professor of psychology in Arizona State University.

From Wikipedia, Cialdini’s “6 weapons of influence”:

  • Reciprocation – People tend to return a favor. Thus, the pervasiveness of free samples in marketing. In his conferences, he often uses the example of Ethiopia providing thousands of dollars in humanitarian aid to Mexico just after the 1985 earthquake, despite Ethiopia suffering from a crippling famine and civil war at the time. Ethiopia had been reciprocating for the diplomatic support Mexico provided when Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1937.
  • Commitment and Consistency – If people commit, orally or in writing, to an idea or goal, they are more likely to honor that commitment. Even if the original incentive or motivation is removed after they have already agreed, they will continue to honor the agreement. For example, in car sales, suddenly raising the price at the last moment works because the buyer has already decided to buy. Seecognitive dissonance.
  • Social Proof – People will do things that they see other people are doing. For example, in one experiment, one or more confederates would look up into the sky; bystanders would then look up into the sky to see what they were seeing. At one point this experiment aborted, as so many people were looking up that they stopped traffic. See conformity, and the Asch conformity experiments.
  • Authority – People will tend to obey authority figures, even if they are asked to perform objectionable acts. Cialdini cites incidents, such as the Milgram experiments in the early 1960s and the My Lai massacre.
  • Liking – People are easily persuaded by other people that they like. Cialdini cites the marketing of Tupperware in what might now be called viral marketing. People were more likely to buy if they liked the person selling it to them. Some of the many biases favoring more attractive people are discussed. See physical attractiveness stereotype.
  • Scarcity – Perceived scarcity will generate demand. For example, saying offers are available for a “limited time only” encourages sales.


Закончил читать одно из классических произведений по психологии Роберта Чалдини – “Психологию влияния”, и рекомендую к прочтению каждому. Чалдини всегда интересовало, почему люди выполняют просьбы и требования, далеко не всегда им самим выгодные.  По информации из Wikipedia, чтобы получить ответ на этот вопрос, он провел три года на разных позициях в фирмах, торгующих подержаными машинами, агенствах по телемаркетингу, рекламных агенствах и т.д. Сейчас Чалдини Заслуженный Профессор психологии государственного университета Аризоны.

Естественно, эта книга отсканирована и выложена в Рунете в многочисленных экземплярах. 🙂

New episode of CrAP

Andromeda’s Wake posted a new episode of CrAP (Creation Astronomy Propaganda debunked):

I’ve also updated my original post where you can see them all.

Penn & Teller on creationism, and why the Bible is “Bullshit!”

Here’s a funny little excerpts from Penn & Teller‘s episode on creationism from Bullshit! series.

These episodes run 30 minutes each, and counting 69 through 6 seasons. A mixed-and-cut, 10 minute version of the episode on the Bible is available on YouTube:

I can’t say that I really loved the series. I found them a little bit boring – I rented two DVDs from Netflix and by the end of the first one I’d had enough. There’s too much comedy in it for me, and too little facts.

But there’s something about magicians (which is what Penn & Teller started as, at least partially) becoming debunkers. The one that stands out of them all is, of course, the great James Randi, the man who I passionately admire, who used to put up his own money against paranormal claims. Randi deserves a separate post (and not one!), but amongst other famous magician debunkers I can list Harri Houdini and Joe Nickell.

I think the reason is simple. Magicians deceive the public while the public is aware it’s being deceived, and that’s what makes the experience so astounding. Psychics, fortune tellers and other charlatans use pretty much the same tricks and techniques, but mislead the public into believing they’re genuine. That outrages fair magicians as they often do the job much better but yet never claim paranormal abilities.
(to be objective, I must add that not all psychics are charlatans – a good chunk are delusional, true believers in their own “powers”, even after it’s been demonstrated in controlled experiments they don’t possess any)

TED: Apes that write, start fires and play Pac-Man by Susan Savage-Rumbaugh

Apes are not really that much dumber than us, especially the great ones. 🙂 Susan Savage-Rumbaugh has been studying Bonobo that understand human language, can draw symbols, start fires and even play Pac-Man. Susan thinks that the level of intelligence is determined by culture (vs. biology) to a much greater extent than it is currently thought.

Original video on (might be better quality).

TED: How creativity is being strangled by the law by Larry Lessig

Lawrence Lessig is a Stanford law professor, and one the leading authorities on the issue of copyright. He is a founding board member of Creative Commons, an organization (and a license name) devoted to making creative works such as images or video available for others to build upon and share. This wonderful TED presentation, in “Lessig Method” style, is about how our culture has been changed (and is changing) by Internet, and why the existing copyright laws are inadequate any more.

Original video on (might be better quality).

Lessig has been extremely politically active and is widely recognized by the Internet community as having greatly contributed to the freedom of expression. Here’s a “Tribute to Larry Lessig” from Brave New Films, the guys who brought you The Real McCain, FOX Attacks! and Meet the Bloggers: