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Space shuttles, telecommunication networks, and even new hip tech startups are home to big and complex systems. These systems employ thousands of software developers on different teams. Although big systems don’t have an exact scientific definition, we will refer to systems that contain more than one service working together as a “big system.” Additional clarity is provided through plentiful Wikipedia links, but the overall structure is inspired by Martin Kelppmann‘s “Designing data-intensive applications.”

These systems can be fault-tolerant, meaning one part deviating from the expected behavior won’t necessarily cripple the rest of the system. They could also be self-healing, i.e…

The Milky Way Galaxy. Source: Alec Favale, via Unsplash (CC0).

Drake’s Equation

In the 1960s, Frank Drake, then a professor of astronomy at Cornell, formulated the Drake equation. It’s a probabilistic estimate of the number of intelligent civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy. An intelligent civilization, as he defined it, is one advanced enough to communicate with other extraterrestrial civilizations.

Drake’s Equation was not an attempt to quantify intelligent civilizations precisely, but to invoke humans’ curiosity of aliens’ existence. If you’re still reading this, 60 years after, then Drake has been successful.

In this article, we discuss humanity’s attempts to find aliens. We comment on the Fermi paradox, the apparent contradiction between…

Two years ago, I attended a conference on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. As I was exiting, I came across a talk organized by researchers from a Montreal-based startup called Maluuba, a then-recent acquisition of Microsoft. The researchers demonstrated how they created an AI agent that had achieved the highest possible score of 999,990 in Ms. Pac-Man, the popular arcade game from the 1980s.

The ambiance of excitement and intrigue left everyone in the room speechless. I felt nostalgic; when I was a little boy, cool kids used to win in video games. …

The Great American Novel

In 1925 Scott Fitzgerald published “The Great Gatsby,” a story that has been referred to as the great American novel and has been adapted into four movies since. It’s a tragic story of a self-made man who reinvents himself and achieves socioeconomic mobility, of sorts.

Gatsby changes his name to conceal the shame of his humble roots. He becomes wealthier than his wildest dreams. Gatsby then moves to Long Island and throws the most lavish parties only to meet Daisy, the love of his life, once again. …

In 2008, to avoid an economic meltdown, central banks introduced measures of which we still endure widespread repercussions today. In this post, we discuss the challenges these measures have developed and how to escape from the plateau we find ourselves stranded upon. “The Only Game in Town,” a book by Mohamed El-Erian, provides a guiding framework throughout this post.

The Marriner S. Eccles Federal Reserve Board Building in Washington DC

Low Growth is the new normal

In 2014, Christine Lagarde, the chief of the international monetary fund at the time, coined the term the “new mediocre.” This term indicates secular stagnation and low interest rates, euphemisms for negligible inflation and high unemployment.

Secular stagnation is the condition…

The rosy promises

I’m a millennial, a term used by some as a derogatory one these days. The media blames us for being irresponsible, uncommitted, and almost good for nothing. It’s an image that has been perpetuated for so long now.

At the same time, we’re told that nothing is impossible and that socioeconomic mobility isn’t an imaginary ideal. We’re promised that the lands of our wildest dreams lie behind the doors of our hard work.

So how did I use to pursue my wildest dreams? Certainly not through a lack of commitment or responsibility. I used to wake up at 4 am…

In his book, The Undoing Project, Michael Lewis writes: “Amos’s three children have vivid memories of watching their parents drive off to see some movie picked by their mother, only to have their father turn up back at their couch twenty minutes later. Amos would have decided, in the first five minutes, whether the movie was worth seeing — and if it wasn’t he’d just come home. He’d then go back and fetch his wife after her movie ended. “They’ve already taken my money,” he’d explain. “Should I give them my time, too?”

What is conforming?

Conforming is a problem that we have…

I first heard the term “the wisdom of the crowd” years ago when I was learning about Game Theory which is the science behind crafting strategies that work bearing in mind other agents’ (people, corporates, or countries) actions. I remember it was so enticing, it still is.

It’s a theory about delegating making decisions to crowds. At its core, it holds that the aggregate of a crowd’s predictions yields an approximation which beats experts’ predictions.

How does it work?

The story begins with Francis Galton, a statistician, who visited a livestock fair in 1906. In a contest to guess the weight of a slaughtered…

A mirage from the Mojave Desert

Do you remember when you read these slides ten times but when it was the moment to present you blanked out on many parts? Alternatively, when you studied for many weeks to fail miserably in an exam? When (you thought) you mastered a skill by watching a YouTube video before trying it and embarrassing yourself?

I did crash many times before learning about “The illusion of competence.” It’s when a person thinks she knows more than she really does. People exhibit this illusion while reading a book, highlighting sentences, and taking notes. …

Homo economicus a political construct that served to undermine the secular authority of the Roman Church, and then the divine right of kings, and more recently the “market.”

“Winwood Reade is good upon the subject,” said Sherlock Holmes. “He remarks that, while the individual man is an insoluble puzzle, in the aggregate he becomes a mathematical certainty. You can, for example, never foretell what any one man will do, but you can say with precision what an average number will be up to. Individuals vary, but percentages remain constant. So says the statistician.”

And so, frankly, says the economist. Adam Smith first conceived economics in 1776, although some recent evidence even refers to a time before that. It’s been called a dismal science for a good reason: Since…

Shehab Yasser

Software Engineer @Microsoft

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