Minimum Viable Time Travel

The idea of having a time machine has lingered in our imaginations for a long time. But we also know it will be pretty impossible to go backwards or forward in time from the technical perspective. Not only do many mathematicians and renowned physicists say it’s impossible, but even thinking about the implications blows our minds so much we probably can’t even understand how one would get started on solving this problem.

Surely, we understand a time machine isn’t as simple of a technical problem, as lets say a federal government health care website (in that the engineering solutions are known), it could still be “hacked” in some crude form. And by “Hack” I mean a crudely and quickly putting together system that could deliver the objective.

So maybe a hack exists. Just mental time travel. Rather than space-time travel.

Some possible reasons for time travel:

1. To make smarter decisions (give myself advice)

2. Help others

3. Save time

4. Nostalgia (re-live the glory days)

Time travel seems to be thought of a physical journey, but what if it was purely mental or emotional – I think it’s possible to meet these outcomes without having to deal with 3 dimensional time travel.

I think the personal diary, or a time-capsule, blog, or annotations like the ones from, fits this kind of framework.

By keeping a diary someone can revisit the past to learn from failure or success. The past can also provide the previous perspective they may have lost over the years (make smarter decisions/give myself advice).

Annotations are the other way, where they help the next person “forward through history” since your experience added additional information to the literature they were reading (saving them time from having to research the item themselves and potentially make a mistake). This also helps other people.

By leveraging technology and good note taking, I think we can all experience some benefits of time travel.


The Origin of the Word “Technology”

Systematic Treatment of a Craft.

Any tool is technology. A pen is technology. Paper is technology. A desk is technology. When these tools were adopted they provided a new way of systemizing an activity and opening up our brains to focus on other things. Perhaps a better phrase for these examples would be in the past tense?

“A desk was technology, but today, technology is the new phablet or self-driving car.”

Something doesn’t feel right about this statement. Even now, if I don’t have access to a desk and I need to work – I would view that desk as a piece of technology.

Technology is an extension of ourselves so that we can focus on higher order issues and problems.


Every possible idea already exists in the air around us. We just need to match those ideas to symbols. The more symbols we know of and can understand, the more words we can invent. The more words we recognize, the more ideas we can manifest.

About a year ago, through a dear friend and mentor, I was introduced to Ludwig Wittgenstein. His work on the philosophy of language (more accurately philosophy being a bi-product of misunderstanding language) widened my perspective.

What I learned was we recognize words through pattern-recognition. It’s a simple concept I never took the time to realize. We understand the meaning of words by what they mean to us, not by what they mean to the person saying the words. For example a simple request like “Please buy an apple from the store” can be understood by anyone with a basic grasp of the English language – there is complete alignment. However a request like, “Please pick up some of that fruit I had the other night by the waterfront,” would only be understood by the person saying those words – there is no alignment.

Whiteboard-9552This is a very basic example, so lets take a real life example. A few days ago I was talking with a fellow Leanist about the differences between “Lean” and “Six Sigma.” I stated my position as Lean being anti-fragile, whereas Six Sigma was very rigid. My colleague thought “Robust” was a better word for Lean, which I had to disagree with (because I lump robust and rigid in the same category). On the more important level we both agreed with each other’s analysis of the two organizational methodologies but we disagreed on a definition of a word (trivial). What was great about this conversation is we both understood it was a language issue and quickly continued with our productive dialogue. The Ahmad from a year or two ago may have inadvertently picked a fight about the difference in the word “robust” and “anti-fragile”.

I want to be surrounded with people whom I can have conversations like this with, like my colleague I mentioned. It makes the creative process a lot more fun, exploratory, and fluid.


Sara: Hacking a Hackathon


Sara was a project a few friends and I decided to hack on for a weekend in September (Haani, Sumit, Zeeshan and myself). The feedback was great and we learned a lot. We took first place at the hackathon in Toronto (out of 25 teams), and then 3rd place at the Global Judging at MIT (out of several hundred). Here are four tips we discovered for “hacking the hackathon.”

1) Try to solve a Really Big Problem

The bigger the problem, the more likely you will have the attention of the judges and audience. With Sara, we were trying to solve the problem of internet access for five billion people. Identifying a big problem is easier said than done, but it’s important to focus on the steps to take to get there:  Pivots. Which is the 2nd tip…

2) Pivot

Pivots turn into steps. Hacakthons don’t usually last longer than 2-3 days so these have to be made extremely fast. Before landing on the idea of Sara we were brainstorming “Kasaan,” which means farmer in Urdu. Our idea was to build a simple Android app that would give real-time local commodity and produce prices to local farmers so they would know the true price of their goods. We read about many horror stories of farmers being ripped off by brokers and middlemen who benefited from asymmetric information. However good of an idea we thought we had, a quick Google search into the smartphone penetration in the sub-continent showed abysmal figures. Not only that but we discovered even those with smartphones did not have access to data connection. From there we pivoted to providing pricing data via SMS – which subsequently got us to thinking “why not just add a bunch of integrations to other search engines and web directories?” This is how we pivoted our way onto a “bigger problem.”

3) Try to go last if you can

This is an odd one. We did not do this intentionally, rather this was an accidental discovery. When you have so many teams competing (and usually hackathons have a specific cause or purpose) there could be an overlap of your idea with other teams. If the problem is a big one, your solution may umbrella other problems being pursued by other teams. We found there were several teams that decided to leverage the SMS medium to broadcast or distribute relevant information to rural users. This only validating our value proposition. Not only that but we were also able to position Sara as platform for other 3rd party search engines and directories to integrate with. We believe being one of the last teams to pitch made our service more top of mind than the others.

Most importantly, 3) Hustle to be memorable

We learned the underlying objective of any qualitative competition is to be memorable. With competitions like sports games or races, there is a definitive qualitative measure of success; but with a competition on who has the best idea, it’s a completely different game. Our strategy from the get go was to be memorable. We knew we had to stand out because judging can be influenced by so many tiny foreseeable forces. The tactic we used to stand out was getting application into the hands of everyone in the audience, including the judges, at the same time, during the pitch. This was probably just as time consuming as building the application itself. While our team of wizards were knee high in code during the weekend, I was making the rounds, introducing myself and offering product help to other teams in the space. I used this time to introduce (briefly) our idea and ask for their phone numbers in order for them to help us test and better our service (this was the original sentiment). Getting the phone numbers of the judges was the most important, but also harder. A few weird looks from the staff and volunteers shouldn’t deter you; the judges were happy to help. Once we had all the phone numbers, Sumit programmed a quick script which would blast a greeting from Sara to everyone on the list, encouraging them to ask her any question. The timing of this blast was of critical importance – we did it right at the end of our pitch, applying the proverb: Strike While the Iron is Hot.