What to reply to a computer science student who asked you to be his accomplice in cheating?

You probably are familiar with the phenomenon of students, who pay other people to write term papers, theses and projects for them to submit in order to meet academic requirements.

Few years ago, a computer science student named R. (a pseudonym) approached me and asked me to write for him and his partner a computer program, so that they will submit it to meet a requirement in order to pass a course, which they were studying.

Instead of taking money from him, I replied to him as follows.

I am approaching your question from the point of view of a mentor, teacher or a wise person needing to advise a young person, who is in a difficult situation and who is considering a bad solution to his problem. What the young person really needs is not to have someone else do his project for him, but long-term thinking: what are the long-term consequences of this solution, what alternative solutions exist, which obstacles exist in the alternatives, how to overcome those obstacles, the need to summon courage to change course.

For starters, as far as I am concerned, what you asked for is in the grey area between cheating and having an original solution to the problem. This is because certificates are not worth that much in the vocation of software development. Either the developer knows how to program or he doesn’t know, no matter what degrees or impressive certificates he has. If he does not know how to program, then within half a year his employer, if the employer has a clue, knows about it, and gives him a kick in the ass – reducing the long-term damage. Also, there are several people, who take on big projects and hire other people to do the actual work. However, the difference is that they have to provide the project with services such as marketing skills, project management, search and selection of development tools, money handling, etc. – instead of (or in addition to) software development skills.

Now to the point. Before proceeding further with what you and your partner are contemplating doing – I highly recommend that both of you read Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” and follow Peter Keating’s career development in the book. He started out relying upon other people, like you are contemplating doing, made an impression on the right people and reached the top of his profession.

But… he didn’t last long and eventually he fell. And the sad truth is that he trained for the wrong vocation. There was a vocation that suited him perfectly, and he could really excel at it, but his mother pressed him to learn the vocation he actually learned (and in which he eventually failed). The saddest thing about his story is that when he realized which vocation is right for him and started engaging in it – it turned out that he started it too late and could not reach a high level of proficiency in that vocation.

If you and your partner decide to pay someone else to do your project, then:

  • Anyone, who knows that you have done this, will be unable to help you look for a job, because they will have to lie if they vouch for your software development skills.
  • During software development work, there are periods of extreme pressure. Schools plan their course syllabuses so that an average student can handle the resulting pressure (with some sighs and groans). At work, pressure can be unlimited. So if you are unable to cope with pressure in school, it is very unlikely that you can cope with it at work. So you should consider a vocation, in which there is no such pressure.
  • You give up the fight to be really good professionals, who know when to accept failure like men (even at work there are some projects which fail, due to all kind of reasons, such as over-optimistic effort estimates, and it’s better to admit failure and move on to another project), and instead of accepting failure and its consequences, you are heading toward pretense.
What to do now?

I suggest that you first carefully review the decisionmaking process that led you to decide on a vocation in the software world. If you have taken psychotechnic tests and consulted with a specialist in the area of vocational selection, one of the tests was probably as follows:

  1. Go over a very long list of topics and highlight those which interest you.
  2. Group the interesting topics into groups, such that the topics in each group have the same theme from your point of view.
  3. Go over the groups and identify potential vocations related to each group.

Why am I telling you all this? Because if you kept the papers from your evaluation (or you can get them), you might find there a clue for identifying a vocation, which really attracts you and in which you can excel.

The next step is to determine if you have relatives, who are unwilling to accept that your future is not in the lucrative and profitable software world, but in another direction. Then check if and how to neutralize their influence upon your choice of the vocation that fits you.

I assume that the computer world is appealing to you, so you may want to check out some other vocations in this world besides writing software (I remember that in Hadassah Institute for Professional Selection Counseling in Jerusalem, where I did my vocational counselling, there was a library with descriptions of thousands of vocations – such a library could help you choose the right vocation for you). Examples: training, installation and configuring, software testing, maybe even administrative project management. Then go on to specialize in the vocation that suits you and in which you can excel.

True, you already started studying and already invested two years in your studies, and now I am proposing to write off all this investment and start over? Yes, however as far as getting a certificate or a degree is concerned, some of the investment will probably be lost. But as I said above, certificates are not that valuable in the software world. Like a pilot’s license does not turn someone, not having the aptitude to pilot, into an ace fighter pilot; also a software developer’s certificate does not turn someone not fit to be software developer into a great software developer. In terms of content – I’m sure you’ve learned something that will help you in any direction you choose for the rest of your life. And as far as the requirements for finishing your studies are concerned, once you know which direction is right for you, you probably can switch to a major which fits your vocational goals. In this case, you’ll probably be able to use some of the credits of the courses that you already completed. So what you already studied is not a total loss.

P.S.:

A student, who is paying someone else to do his homework, term papers, projects or theses, is like a basketball player who is paying someone else to go to his team’s practice sessions.

Orphan Technologies

Hi-Tech is failing people with disabilities

The other day, Nathan Zeldes wrote to me:

Between us, I’ve always been pissed off by the lack of progress in hi-tech solutions for severe handicaps; the fact that even the legendary Stephen Hawking was using a robot voice sounding like a Commodore 64 shows how little incentive companies (and society) have in driving leading edge solutions that could liberate people from severe disabilities.

To which I replied:

The problem is a lack of incentive to develop technologies which would help only few people. It just is not profitable. People cannot have a decent standard of living or support wife & children by working only on such problems. Subsidizing the development of such a technology could lead to the basic problem of socialism (possibility of turning a profit NOT by serving another person, the basis of “true” capitalism).

A similar problem exists with “orphan medicines” – medications and
procedures for treating very rare illnesses.

What could be done?

In discussions with Nathan Zeldes and with Dr. Yoav Medan (who is involved with the orphan technology of 3D printing of prosthetic hands), the following ideas were mentioned.

1. Students doing Final Projects

  • STEM students, who do their final projects, can profit from working
    on an orphan technology as their final project. The students provide
    a service and in exchange for it, they gain experience which will help
    them later make more money in their careers.
    However, most students cannot bring a product to market. The
    best they can do is to solve problems in a local and limited community.
  • People, who are not students, could gain both experience and reputation by working on such problems.
  • Companies could sponsor such projects, in order to get favorable
    advertising, improve their reputation, etc.
  • It would be a good idea to develop ways to quickly monetize experience/reputation to allow people to live well by doing those projects for a living.

2. Dual-use Technologies

For the deaf and HOH (Hard of Hearing), most of the relevant technologies happen to have dual use, starting from Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone. Robert Weitbrecht’s acoustic coupler was useful not only for allowing deaf people use teletypes over phone lines (and not only over telex lines) but also for other data communication users.

My personal experience was with adding Hebrew support to the Nokia 9110 and Nokia 9210 smartphones at the beginning of 21st century. Those cellular phones were very useful for the deaf in the pre-SMS era thanks to their ability to send and receive FAX messages. Since Hebrew support was useful also for Hebrew-speaking hearing people, it was a profitable endeavor for Erez Zino and me. See also: כנגד קול הסיכויים (in Hebrew).

A variant of this approach is for biotech and pharma companies, when developing a new technology, to first develop it to treat orphan/rare diseases. This gives them regulatory and reimbursement advantages. Once the technology is developed, it is applied also to common diseases, for which established therapies already exist.

An example is Minovia, which is developing a cell therapy technology to treat mitochondrial diseases. They began by targetting the Pearson Syndrome, which affects only 100 children worldwide.

3. “Micro-business” methodology and support services

Orphan technologies become orphan because the Hi-Tech world is based upon economics of scale. To develop a technology, you need a sufficiently big market to make it worthwhile. A business needs to have a minimum size to have any chance for success.

A methdology, infrastructure and support services to facilitate “micro-businesses” would overcome the above barrier. A micro-business would be a business, which does not require more than few hours a month, after some reasonable initial investment in building it, and would be very profitable (in terms of net income per hour) serving its very limited market.

One such possibility is to have spread out creativity centers (both physical and in the WWW) which help people develop their ideas. Examples: TAMI hackerspace and HAIFAUP.

4. Affluent end-users subsidizing the development

One could get affluent people needing an orphan technology to fund its development. Even if they are few, just one millionaire, with a child afflicted with the problem, could be enough to fund the orphan technology’s development.

Variations of this approach:

  • Government funding of technologies needed to rehabilitate army veterans with disabilities.
  • Collaboration with a non-profit devoted to the disease in question. Some of them have money or access to donors.
  • Philanthropic funding (from people not needing the orphan technology or themselves).
  • A variant of philanthropic funding is to use crowdfunding websites (Headstart, FundIt, PipelBiz, Indiegogo, KickStarter, etc.) to donate to a project.
  • Some companies declare upfront that they will allocate a certain percentage of their profits to social causes (including orphan technologies development), without expectation to make any financial returns.

5. Impact Investments

Some people invest not only for profit but also for social impact. They invest in underserved areas where they can see an eventual upside. An example is Social Finance Israel.

The 2010’s John Galt project – Artificial Photosynthesis

The 2010’s John Galt project – the most important technology to be developed this decade:

Artificial photosynthesis.

Technology for using solar energy to bind carbon dioxide with hydrogen from water, and convert them into carbohydrate fuels.

The technology will have the following benefits:

  1. Solve the problem of global heating, thanks to removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
  2. Make it possible to power everything using solar energy – directly during daytime, and indirectly (through burning the carbohydrate fuels) at night and bad weather.

The biggest drawback: drastic change in the economic power structure worldwide, because countries and companies with coal, oil or gas deposits would no longer have power over their clients.

פרויקט ג’ון גאלט של שנות ה-2010 – הטכנולוגיה החשובה ביותר לפיתוח בעשור הנוכחי:

פוטוסינתיזה מלאכותית.

טכנולוגיה לשימוש באנרגיית השמש כדי לקשור פחמן דו חמצני עם מימן מהמים, ולהמיר אותם לדלקי פחמן-מימן.

לטכנולוגיה כזו יש שני יתרונות גדולים:

  1. פתרון לבעית ההתחממות הגלובלית, הודות להסרת פחמן דו חמצני מהאטמוספירה.
  2. אפשרות להשתמש באנרגיית השמש כדי לספק כוח לכל צרכני החשמל – ישירות בשעות היום ובעקיפין (באמצעות שריפת דלקי פחמן-מימן) בלילה ובמזג אוויר סגרירי.

החסרון הגדול ביותר: שינוי דרסטי במבנה הכוחות הכלכליים בכל העולם, מכיוון שארצות וחברות שיש להן מרבצי פחם, נפט וגז, יאבדו את הכוח שלהן על לקוחותיהן.

Guest Article: What to Expect from Forex Trading

By: T.H.

If you’re thinking about trading currencies as a way to diversify your portfolio or as a means to supplement your income, you probably know all about the risk and reward potential. What you probably won’t know until you get started, is exactly how the industry works. Success in the world of currency trading, also known as foreign exchange or Forex trading, actually begins long before the first trade is placed.

In order to ensure a positive trading experience, traders must first choose the right Forex broker, from literally hundreds of brokers worldwide. Making the choice from such a large menu can be difficult, but there are ways to make it easier. Forex broker reviews, for example, can help traders get an understanding of what their options are. Bear in mind, however, that that won’t necessarily provide the truest picture as in some instances there may be some bias toward those brokers which remunerate the website for their “honest” assessment. How other traders rate their experiences with a specific broker is an alternative way to assess a Forex broker. But again, this may not provide the truest picture as you cannot know whether the trader is just expressing “sour grapes” for what would otherwise be construed as risky trade activity – in other words, the trader may have lost all his money because he didn’t know what he was doing in the first place. Therefore, diligent traders should make sure to read both types of evaluations, and to weigh their reliability carefully.

Once a trader has narrowed down his options, he can take them for a test drive by using each broker’s free demo account. Once you’ve got your demo set up you can start making trades, fine-tuning your strategy and seeing how it works with each broker.

The demo period is also a great time to assess the responsiveness of the Forex broker, so make sure to ask questions – lots and lots of questions about anything you are unsure of or want to know more about. What you want to gauge is not only how quickly your question was responded to, but also how thoroughly and comprehensively the response was. Was the response timely and did it satisfy you? When there’s real money at stake you don’t want to be left in limbo by some bimbo; if you need an answer, you need one that satisfies your needs appropriately.

The brokers’ fees are also things that you will need to take into consideration; most brokers build their fees into their spread, which is the difference in pips between the bid and ask price. Spread fees vary from broker to broker, and may seem insignificant at first blush but can add up over the long run; ideally, the smaller the spread the better for you. Your potential Forex broker might have other fees that you should be aware of so look for the Fee schedule on their website and ask your broker’s representative about anything that doesn’t sound right or simply for more information.

Once you’re comfortable with using the platform, and are okay with the spreads and fees and the responsiveness of the Forex broker’s team, now’s the time to consider funding your real account. But before you do that, it’s critical to understand that you should never risk any money that you cannot afford to lose. It’s a simple fact: Forex trading is risky and no Forex broker can guarantee that you will always win. In fact, the majority of Forex traders don’t profit as much as they’d like.

For this reason, Forex trading isn’t for everyone. If you can’t afford to lose some money, you should consider alternate investment opportunities. If you have a tendency to be hasty, you may want to consider strongly whether the volatile Forex market will play to your strengths or whether haste will cause you to lose your money too quickly.

It is absolutely critical to understand that currency trading isn’t about getting one good trade. It’s about maximizing profits and minimizing risks over the long run. How do you achieve all that? By paying attention to these “rules” of Forex trade:

  • Start small; 1% or 2% of your capital is generally a good amount to bet
  • Don’t be greedy; if you’re in the green, lock in or take your profit
  • Don’t get cocky; overconfidence is the quickest path to failure
  • Don’t be impatient; patience is not only a virtue it’s a necessity in Forex trading
  • Diversify your portfolio but don’t over-diversify; rely on only a few pairs to spread risk
  • Make good use of the Stop Loss feature
  • Cut your losses (don’t push back a Stop Loss!)
  • Learn from your mistakes

For a conscientious person, Forex trading can provide excellent opportunities for financial gain. But for those who are just looking for a quick buck, currency trading may not be the best way to go. When exploring your options, make sure to know your broker, know yourself and to make careful, educated decisions.

Getting insurance companies to play fair

In a regime, in which people are supposed to be self-reliant and to take responsibility over their lives, insurance companies have a critical role.  A responsible person would pay premiums so that any calamity, which he cannot handle by himself, will be handled instead by the insurance company.  So that the person would not become burden on the public.

Unfortunately, in pseudo-capitalistic oligrachic regimes, insurance companies tend to emphasize their profits over security for the insured.  So a strong mechanism to keep them honest is needed.  The following proposal addresses this issue.

A proposal for billionaires who wish to contribute to the community without supporting parasites:

Start a foundation which helps insured people, who were screwed by the insurance companies.
The foundation will work as follows.

  1. The insured will provide documents – the insurance policy, all documents he gave the insurance company to get the insurance money due to the event insured against, and documents attesting to the fact that the insurance company rejected his claim due to unjustified reason.
  2. The foundation will check the documents and verify that everything is correct.
  3. If all is correct, the foundation will pay the insured the money that the insurance company was supposed to pay him. The insured will sign a commitment to reimburse the foundation any monies he gets from the insurance company due to compromise, court proceedings, or thanks to a manager’s golden heart.
  4. The foundation will sue in the insured’s name the insurance company and bring to the court its heavy guns (high caliber lawyers).

The billionaire’s donation is needed for running capital and to cover claims in which the court found for the insurance company.

Learn to develop for the Android, contribute to Free Software and advertise yourself

During the last few weeks I developed an Android application for helping people prepare for the Israeli driving theory test.  The application uses the questions database available from http://data.gov.il/dataset/249 (and the corresponding ones for Russian and Arabic).  It was a nice and fun exercise, which helped me master more parts of the Android development platform.

The application is now at version 0.1 and is working.  Its look and feel is not polished, yet; and some missing features have been identified by comparing it to three other applications available from Google Play doing the same thing.

Today the source code has been released under the GPLv3 and is available from https://github.com/tddpirate/teuria and if you are looking for an Android developer with few weeks worth of experience and known quality of work, you may have a look at the above.

Please call me back at my expense (an idea for a needed service)

The following is a service which telephone service providers (both landline and cellular) ought to provide their clients.

Whenever A calls B and leaves him a message “Please call me back”, it should be possible for A to optionally specify that the callback will be charged to him rather than to B.

Eventually, people will avoid calling back unknown numbers unless they are marked as “please call me back at my expense”.

This practice will eventually put out of business all fraudulent businesses, which thrive on getting people to call back numbers with very high rates.

Technical implementation should be relatively simple.

Whenever A sets the option to charge him for callbacks, the service provider will issue a random and for one-time use number, which B will use to call A back at A’s expense.

How to validate the market for your startup idea?

The Smart Bear discusses the question of market validation and suggests that startupists look for 10 people who say that they agree to pay money for the novel product of service to be developed by the startup.

I suggest that if the product or service is useful for business use (rather than being a consumer product), then the question be formulated as: how much money do you think your business can save by using our product/service?

איך לאמת את השוק של רעיון הסטארטאפ שלך?

הדוב החכם דן בנושא אימות השוק ומציע, שיזמים המקימים סטארטאפים יחפשו 10 אנשים, שיגידו שהם מסכימים לשלם כסף תמורת המוצר או השרות החדשניים, שיפותחו על ידי הסטארטאפ.

אני מציע, שאם המוצר או השרות שימושיים עבור עסקים (להבדיל ממוצר צרכני), השאלה תנוסח כך: כמה כסף אתה חושב שהעסק שלך יכול לחסוך הודות לשימוש במוצר/שרות שלנו?

Out of control wrong number

טעות במספר שיצאה משליטה

כשאני בבית, אני בודק כל פעם אם הגיעו אלי SMS-ים בטלפון הסלולרי שלי.

באחת מהבדיקות האלה שמתי לב שהיתה לי שיחה שלא נענתה יחד עם SMS מאותו המספר.

תוכן ה-SMS היה: “לא מבין מדוע כל כך קשה לדבר איתך – נא חזור אליי בבקשה – ש___ מ___”

חשבתי שזה מישהו שקשור לחברה שאני מחכה לתשובה ממנה בקשר לפרויקט שעשיתי יחד איתם, ומשום מה לא אמרו לו שאני חרש.

עניתי לו: “אני חרש. הקשר איתי רק באמצעות מסרונים ודואר אלקטרוני. במה אוכל לעזור לך?”

התשובה שלו פיזרה את הערפל: “לא חזרת אליי לגבי הצעת המחיר שלכם בנושא ____” (נושא שלא קשור לתוכנה).

מכיוון שלא הגשתי הצעות מחיר בנושא הנ”ל, התשובה שלי היתה “ייתכן שיש לך טעות במספר. אני פרילאנסר בתחום התוכנה ושמי עומר”.

ואחר כך לא היו SMS-ים נוספים ממנו.

When I am at home, once in a while I check my cellphone to see if I got SMSes.

In one of those checks, I noticed that I got an unanswered call along with a SMS from the same phone number.

The SMS contents were “I do not understand why is it so difficult to reach you. Please return to me – S___ M___”.

I thought it is from someone associated with a company, from which I am waiting for an answer about a project which I did with them; and that due to some reason, no one told that person that I am deaf.

I replied: “I am deaf. I can be contacted only via SMSes and E-mail. How can I help you?”

His answer dispersed the fog: “You did not return to me about your bid for ____” (something not related to software).

Since I never bidded about this subject, my reply was “you may be having a wrong number. I am a freelance software developer and my name is Omer”.

There were no subsequent SMSes from him.

Benefits of Free Software to people with disabilities

After attending the August Penguin 2010 conference, Ilana Benish wrote (in Hebrew) about the benefits of Free Software for people with disabilities.

I would like to make also the following points:

  • Working on Free Software projects, like working on any volunteer work, is a way for software developers with disabilities to prove their worth to prospective employers.  This can serve to overcome prejudices and resistance by prospective employers, especially those who were burned by people who proved to be capable of drawing a salary and incapable of delivering results.
  • Like working on other self-benefit projects, working on relevant Free Software projects can empower people with disabilities, who can now help themselves rather than rely upon other people to help them.