The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Partial book review

It is my goal this year to read a book a month. Up this month is the Pulitzer prize winning: Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee, an Indian born, Harvard Medical School educated, oncologist and writer.

The treatise is, like all Pulitzer prize winning non-fiction, an enlightening read, ripe with first-hand journalism from the annals of history, bound tight in the pages of a delightful book that you do not want to put down. 

This journey is about the breakthroughs that medical soldiers at the forefront of the war on cancer have made in the last century. It is a journey that follows the vicissitudes of iconoclasts and outcasts like chemotherapist Sidney Faber and drug-addled surgeons like Steward Halsted.

If you, like me, await in anticipation for the 2016 Pulitzer winners, head to:



The Threat of Wikipedia Zero

As members of an educated first world, we take Wikipedia for granted.  We believe the right to scour random articles, settle disagreements using wiki authoritatively, and research with reckless abandon as inalienable. This privilege is empowering, because as they say, knowledge is power.

While the internet does not discriminate between who can and cannot access free content, some people have less access than others. In the developing world where phones are cheap and cell phone penetration is high, data remains expensive – and thus access to Wikipedia remains stratified.


Wikipedia Zero (WZ), a new initiative launched by the Wikimedia foundation, aims to remedy this barrier by providing mobile access to Wikipedia free of data charge in developing countries. Wikimedia sees access to knowledge as a fundamental human right; by partnering with mobile phone operators to deploy a free version of Wikipedia, Wikimedia will deliver on the promise of making knowledge truly free and universally accessible.

60% of individuals at the base of the economic pyramid in Kenya have mobile phones, but the cost of mobile services can be 25% of their monthly income.

If you are encouraged by the spirit of this initiative consider donating here.

There is an important caveat to mention. My astute friend, Giulia Angi (@GiuliaWithG), noted that such a program would require operators to violate net neutrality by implying that some bits, in this case Wikipedia bits, are created more equal than others.  

This dichotomy has important implications – could Wikipedia Zero be the first in a path down a slippery slope? For instance, could Facebook then partner with (read: pay) AT&T to make Facebook content available for free? This would be monopolistic and anti-competitive since startups would have difficulty competing with Facebook in such a situation.

To answer this, we need to recognize that there are 3 players - the consumer, the ISP, and the content provider and we need to look at 2 scenarios.

 Green: current situation; Red: hypothetical situation

Green: current situation; Red: hypothetical situation

Note: I see violating net neutrality as analogous to being monopolistic -  raising prices and reducing quantity/quality to maximize profits. This hurts the consumer, net neutrality seeks to avoid this and protect the consumer.

Top Right: This is the current situation where the ISP is not charging their user more for the use of WZ. Practically speaking this is not a violation of net neutrality. Or put differently, as noted by Austan Goolsbee, Robert P. Gwinn Professor of Economics at Chicago Booth,

“It’s hard to argue that it’s hurting consumer surplus if it’s free.”

Top Left: If however, ISPs were charging users more for the service, then it would be in obvious violation of net neutrality. They would be discriminating between types of content and increasing costs (read: screwing the consumer) to capture consumer surplus.

Bottom Right: An ISP can charge the user or it can charge the content provider. In the current situation they are not charging WZ to provide this content, so it's all gravy Would the same be true if they were to charge, say, Facebook? 

Bottom Left: This is a dangerous situation to be in, where the ISP charges the content provider to push bits. Last week, while writing this post, it happened: AT&T's sponsored data plan that lets brands pay to deliver content.

Wikipedia Zero is not to blame for AT&Ts scheming, so I stand strong behind the mission to make the world's knowledge free and universally accessible. But I am wary of the impending digital state of affairs.

Chicago Ideas Week 2013: Tech Summit, Key Takeaways

Chicago Ideas Week wrapped up this weekend with a blockbuster Tech Summit. While much of the content was a bird’s-eye-view of the industry and its trends, there were a few memorable nuggets worth sharing. Three key things resonated with me.

 Bing Gordon of Kleiner Perkins at Chicago Ideas Week

Bing Gordon of Kleiner Perkins at Chicago Ideas Week


For some time Myspace has been rebranding, hoping to recapture an audience it lost circa 2008 to the likes of Facebook, Pandora, Spotify and others. I don’t know what the future holds for Myspace but I am optimistic. Much like the Digg rehaul, this rebranding effort will incorporate a brand new technology stack, providing nimbleness by shedding off years of heavy technical debt. But there’s one prescient philosophical decision that Chris Vanderhook mentioned that makes me especially optimistic: Myspace is going distributed.

As an ardent believer and proponent of distributed technologies from Git and Tor to BitCoin, the idea of having key resources non-centralized seems obvious. Myspace recognizes that media does not, should not, and will not live on their platform alone. Justin Timberlake’s latest single will be heard on YouTube, Vine and Soundcloud. Myspace claims it will make its new dashboard generic and facilitate distribution of new content uploaded by musicians available to any other platform. By recognizing that they are not the hub and primary resource for this content, Myspace is playing the long game. You’ve heard of Big Data, Mobile, and APIs as the future. It’s time to think distributed.

Manage you Metadata

Currently there are 2B people, and 9B machines connected to the internet! And that machine number is expected to grow to 40B by 2020. These machines are things like CO2 sensors, printers, thermostats etc. and they amass zettabytes of data about the world around them. This data - data about data, is considered metadata, and many of these devices are tracking metadata that relate to us. I believe that any personal data collected by an institution should be done transparently, with consent and with full permission to delete that data when a user sees fit (see my blog post for PLOS detailing how I set out designing their identity system). While we may have voluntarily donated our location, age and sexual preference to the Google and Facebook digital overlords, realize that in the past you used to surf the internet, now the internet surfs you. So when you sign up for your Nike Fuel Band terms of service, make sure their privacy settings have your best interest in mind.

 Project Mayhem: Reboot Credit | Tyler Durden

Project Mayhem: Reboot Credit | Tyler Durden

The next big one: Affirm

Credit rating in America is sorely broken. FICO scores, the foundation of this system, which is critical to major life decisions like home loans and student loans, is extremely opaque, convoluted and entrenched. You open a credit-card it hurts your rating, you close a credit-card it hurts your ratings. Que!?

Max Levchin, serial entrepreneur and founder of Paypal and Yelp recently launched Affirm. Affirm has an idea on how to bypass this system and improve banking. Affirm determines credit-worthiness through an algorithm that looks at your facebook profile, your prior interactions with the merchant and other such social and digital signals to assess risk. I think there’s a big opportunity here and I would put my money (Bitcoins?) on Max.


My favorite quote of the night

I read resumes backwards, if you don't have any interest(s), neither do I.

- Bing Gordon, general Partner Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (Katherine Boo)

The slumdwellers I’d already come to know in India were neither mythic nor pathetic. They were certainly not passive.  Across the country, in communities decidedly short on saviors, they were improvising, often ingeniously, in pursuit of the new economic possibilities of the twenty-first century. Official statistics offered some indication of how such families were faring. But in India, like many places in the world, including my own country, statistics about the poor sometimes have a tenuous relation to lived experience Read More