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Assad Ebrahim
Works at Amazon Europe
Attended UW, Swarthmore
Lives in London
138 followers|111,158 views
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Work
Occupation
Commercial Mathematician
Employment
  • Amazon Europe
    Senior Manager - Supply Chain Control & Analytics, present
  • Dixons Carphone Group
    Commercial Mathematician, present
  • Thalassa Autonomous Robotics
    Consulting Systems Engineer (Navigation Algorithms R&D), present
  • BioSonics Inc. (Smart Sonar)
    Director of Engineering & Operations, present
  • BioSonics Inc. (Smart Sonar)
    Head of Software Development, present
  • Boeing Phantom Works (R&D Centre of Excellence)
    Scientific Programmer, NSF VIGRE Fellowship, present
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Map of the places this user has livedMap of the places this user has livedMap of the places this user has lived
Currently
London
Previously
Seattle - Boston - Philadelphia - Vancouver - Nairobi - Islamabad - Zanzibar
Story
Tagline
Commercial Mathematician
Introduction
I'm an applied mathematician & engineer, American citizen and British resident, living, working, and raising a lovely little girl in the U.K., just outside the London metro area.

Over the years and on both sides of the Atlantic, I've led a variety of quantitative & operational challenges across intelligent systems & software engineering, sonar, defense, environmental technology, robotics, and most recently the complex world of multi-channel retail.

The common thread linking passion, profession, and play is applying technology, good design, and quantitative modelling and simulation, to build better products, enable better decisions, and optimise performance.

Presently, I am Commercial Mathematician (aka data scientist) to a leading UK retailer, where I develop mathematical models and algorithms that get beneath a complex of systems, processes, and behaviours, to drive better performance for customers at a lower cost. My work is applied to demand forecasting, product replenishment, supply chain optimisation, statistical modelling of multi-channel behaviour, predictive analytics, as well as decisions around property portfolio transformation, merchandise ranging & assortments, and own-brand profitability.

Prior to this, I developed navigation & localisation algorithms for unmanned autonomous underwater robotic vehicles working for the ocean robotics R&D company Thalassa  Autonomous Robotics Ltd. (Bristol, UK).  This neat little animation[1] illustrates the concept of what we designed for Undersea Oil & Gas Exploration.  Videos of early prototypes in action are here[2], and here[3]

In the U.S., I was the Director of Engineering & Operations at BioSonics, Inc. (Seattle, Washington), where I led the design, development and manufacturing of intelligent sonar systems and their real-time software.  Applications spanned a number of industries including environmental monitoring of the world's first underwater tidal energy grid in New York City's East River, homeland defense with Sandia National Labs & the Naval Underwater Warfare Centre, and off-shore aquaculture (automated fish farming) with the Chilean government, among others.

I'm always experimenting and tinkering, so feel free to get in touch with ideas.

Education
  • UW, Swarthmore
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Assad Ebrahim

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Michael Uslan, accredited university comic book course creator and originator of the Batman movie franchise, on how to achieve your goals in life?  "First, sometimes you have to take calculated risks and roll the dice, or risk growing old and having to say, “I could have been…."  Secondly, you must believe in yourself and in your work.  And, don’t then forget to market yourself. Use both sides of your brain.  Third, you must have a high threshold for frustration.  You must knock on doors until your knuckles bleed. Doors will slam in your face. You must pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and knock again.  Finally, follow whatever your passion is. Do something you love!"

Michael's story is a masterpiece of inspiration, from how he wangled his way to teaching the first accredited university literature course on comic books, and then worked his way to originating and producing the Batman movie franchise,

You can read the full text here:
http://www.graduationwisdom.com/speeches/0018-uslan.htm
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Super excited to see the release last year of "The Princeton Companion to Applied Mathematics (2015) edited by Nicholas Higham (the numerical analyst).  This second, 1000 page collection follows the outstanding example of the "Princeton Companion to Mathematics" (2008) edited by Fields Medalist Timothy Gowers, which is one of the best surveys of current (last 50 years) of mathematics at the graduate / research level.  Nick's collection promises to be an absorbing read!

For the Princeton University Press announcement, with downloadable table of contents, preface, etc.
http://press.princeton.edu/titles/10592.html

For the original recommendation, see the thread here:
Surveys of Current (last 50 years) Mathematics at Graduate / Research level?  
http://math.stackexchange.com/q/657183/34365
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On Certainty: "in physics, when you claim 99.8% confidence (a ~3σ result), you’re still about 0.19997% away from the ~5σ result we require for a robust, valid detection we can rely on."
Or, how the Fermi GBM (gamma-ray burst monitor) turned out to be wrong on a result with confidence 3σ.
When two black holes merge, a tremendous amount of energy goes into the ripples of space itself. But a brilliant flash of light? Not a chance.
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Relativistic space travel using photonic propulsion (lasers) could accelerate a 100kg unmanned craft to 30% of the speed of light and put Mars just two days away.  Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system to our own (four light years) would be a mere 20 man-years away.  By comparison, a mission to Mars today, manned or not, takes about six months under chemical propulsion. 

Photonic propulsion however, is not without its own laws-of-physics constraints.  Using an equivalent amount of propulsive energy as currently used in a Mars rocket, and accelerating a similar sized manned craft would still require one month to reach Mars, an 83% reduction in transit time, but not quite as swift as two days... 

The technology?  Currently funded through a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts research program [3].  Watch the video [1] or read the paper outlining the roadmap [2].

Principal Scientist: Philip Lubin (UC Santa Barbara)

References:
[1] Going Interstellar (2m video)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCDuAiA6kX0

[2] Roadmap to Interstellar Flight (PDF), Philip Lubin
http://www.deepspace.ucsb.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/A-Roadmap-to-Interstellar-Flight-15-d.pdf

[3] Directed Energy Interstellar Precursors, DEEP-IN, a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts research program
http://www.deepspace.ucsb.edu/projects/directed-energy-interstellar-precursors

[4] Reaching Mars (this article)
http://www.cnet.com/news/reaching-mars-in-a-few-days-its-possible-nasa-video-says/
A new video released by the space agency discusses the possibility of speeding up our missions to other worlds by harnessing the power of lasers.
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The (Re)Rise of the Blowhard Culture in American Public Discourse.
This is a remarkably insightful look into the historical and cultural precedent for the carnival barkers stomping through this cycle's U.S. presidential campaign, and the bloviators wheeled in to fill the round-the-clock needs of the cable news channels.
As Donald Trump surges, so does "bloviate." "The bloviating billionaire" — it's clearly an alliteration whose time has come. But there's hardly a candidate or commentator who hasn't been labeled with the word. Thirty years ago it was dated slang; now it's seen as the prevailing vice of our public discourse.
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Over the past 4 months, Trump has gone from bloviator to promoter and champion of a dangerous current in American socio-political culture.  If his incendiary rhetoric causes more Americans to crystallize around intolerant, heavy-handed, and violent solutions to complex problems, he will be the harbinger and possibly frontman for a long slide backwards in American reputation, credibility, and leadership.  The Boston Globe has attempted to explain, using Trump's own words, what such a future might look like. 
PDF of 'fake' front page imagining a President Trump: http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2016/04/09/etrump/JPOQJZK9hUBdBx5rdPkWFK/story.html
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With 2016 in sight, a useful tip on getting the important things done.
Procrastination is a writer’s greatest enemy. We have the almost cruel fate of having a blank canvas on which to paint every day. We do not have a 9-5 working schedule. We don’t have a boss. Many of us don’t even have clients to meet on a regular basis to add some sort of structure to the day. We have nothing but time, a keyboard and a deadline. With all of this unstructured time, it is becomes extremely hard to focus. One write...
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Assad Ebrahim

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There is a tradition in mathematics that exhorts "Read the Masters!"   With a slight twist, this is now made easy courtesy of the MAA.  Gathered in one place are masterful expositions of mathematics, from 1925 to the present, written by winners of the Chauvenet Prize.

Attributions of the leading quote:
"Euler learned at the feet of Johann Bernoulli, who had Euler "read the masters".  Euler read difficult mathematics and Bernoulli helped him when he got stuck.  In his later years, I propose that Euler was able to teach in the style under which he himself had learned.  He had learned guided by the principle "Read the masters".  He taught under the style "Read me, read me.  I am Euler and I am your teacher in all things."
Edward Sandifer, How Euler Did It, Euler as a Teacher, Part 2, Feb 2010

Laplace on Euler (1846): "Read Euler, read Euler.  He is the master of us all."

Neils Abel, when asked how he got his expertise, replied, "By studying the masters and not their pupils."

References:
[1] The Chauvenet Prize Archive
http://www.maa.org/programs/maa-awards/writing-awards/chauvenet-prizes

[2] Edward Sandifer: Euler as Teacher, part 2:
http://eulerarchive.maa.org/hedi/HEDI-2010-02.pdf
Full Archive: http://eulerarchive.maa.org/hedi/

[3] Euler biography, and Laplace's quote:
https://plus.maths.org/content/os/issue42/features/wilson/index

[4] Neils Abel, his student years: 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niels_Henrik_Abel#Cathedral_School_and_Royal_Frederick_University
The Chauvenet Prize, consisting of a prize of $1000 and a certificate, is awarded at the Annual Meeting of the Association to the author of an outstanding expository article on a mathematical topic. First awarded in 1925, the Prize is named for William Chauvenet, a professor of mathematics at ...
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Why -- if we are not alone in the universe -- is it unlikely that we would have received an attempt at communication? - Cornell freshman Evan Solomonides has written a fascinating paper explaining rationally (mathematically) why, despite the statistical likelihood that alien intelligence exists, it is highly unlikely that we would yet have received contact, and that the lack of such communication only becomes mildly unlikely (50% confidence) after 1500 years.

It's an excellent example of a mathematical argument to a non-mathematical question.

A part of the argument:
In the past 80 years, "the [electromagnetic] noise we make as a society" has reached out 80 light years to reach only 2,326 confirmed exoplanets, and just 1/8 of one percent of our Milky Way.  To put it into perspective, it would take 1,500 more years before our broadcasts have reached 50% of the Milky Way.  (The time for the return communication is baked in, as it is not assumed that extra-terrestrial intelligence is exactly at the end of this distance, but could be anywhere in between.)

But there's more, covering interesting facts about the first broadcast to reach space (unfortunately Hilter's 1936 address), the first signal powerful enough to last close to 10,000 years (1974), why random electro-magnetic signals are not naturally occurring so that detecting them would be of sufficient curiosity despite not being able to decipher them, how SETI is sending mathematically oriented broadcasts as opposed to information encoded images speech or video.

The PDF paper, written to be comprehensible to anyone with a high school level of understanding, is available for download on ArXiv:
https://arxiv.org/pdf/1604.07687

Cornell's press release is here:
http://mediarelations.cornell.edu/2016/06/14/possibility-of-alien-contact-could-be-1500-years-away/

CNN's coverage of the story is here:
http://edition.cnn.com/2016/06/16/health/alien-contact-1500-trnd/
Astronomers estimate that if there are aliens out there, we won't be making contact with them for at least that long.
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Financial Signals in the US Macro Economy  The chart below tells a striking story about prosperity and economic health.  In every financial crash (gray bars), civilian unemployment rises dramatically (green curve).  Insecurity causes an increase in % of disposable income saved (red curve), but this is short-term, typically lasting two years before declining again as employment recovers.

Overlaid on this is the behavior of the Federal Reserve in controlling the money supply and cost of money by adjusting the federal funds rate (blue curve).  This in turn sets the interest rate a commercial bank will offer on savings account deposits.

Notice prior to each crash is a strong spike in the funds rate.  This is the Fed's attempt, by raising the cost of money, to sharply decelerate an overheating economy.  The point is that while the specific trigger point of the crash may be somewhat arbitrary, the circumstances creating the conditions for the crash are not.

The crash that follows brings uncontrolled, severe deceleration to the economy as unemployment jumps.  With this comes economic contraction as spending is curtailed and personal saving rate rises.  In response, the Fed drops the funds rate drastically, loosening the flow of money as stimulus to counter the shock.

This can be seen in the graph, looking at the three curves, and observing how they move in the approach to- and recovery following each crash.

Judged against the past 60 years, the trailing six suggest we are in new territory.  The federal funds rate has been flat lining just above 0% for an unprecedented 6 years.  Though employment has recovered from 10% in 2008 to 5% in 2016, the personal savings rate continued to climb for the first half of the recovery and has only recently held firm at 5% in the second half of the recovery, but has not been shown movement down to pre-2008 2.5% level.

The dotted curves show that conditions appear to be ripening.  Under the prolonged loose monetary policy, investments have not suffered.  Indeed, the Dow Jones is at an all-time high (orange curve), consumer sentiment has been rising steadily toward past highs (blue dots), and home price annual growth rates have been on the upward march for the past few years (purple dots).

The question is whether a sharp rise in the federal funds rate will auger or itself trigger the next crash.  A tipping point may well be November's election...

References:

[1] Three Signals (Chart A): Funds rate, Savings rate, Unemployment;
Assad Ebrahim;
https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/fredgraph.png?g=3MlN

[2] Seven Signals (Chart B): Funds rate, Savings rate, Unemployment, Consumer Sentiment, US Home Prices, Home Price Annual Growth Rate, Dow Jones Industrial Average;
Assad Ebrahim; Federal Reserve Economic Database (FRED)
https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/fredgraph.png?g=3MpD

[3] Federal Funds Rate & Libor (Wikipedia)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_funds_rate

[4] The Big Crashes
www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/from-1929-to-today-the-biggest-stock-market-crashes-in-history/article4621659/

[5] Negative Funds Rates are already here (EU, Japan, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden)
http://money.cnn.com/2016/02/11/news/economy/negative-interest-rates-janet-yellen/
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The infographic, done well, is a technique for telling a story that requires a data lens in order to be properly understood.  This Washington Post article shows exactly how it's done.  Scroll down to the blue and red bar graphs -- they strikingly show the white / non-white-  and evangelical / non-evangelical makeup of the US states in their primary voting order.  Why is this central to the story being told?  Because it directly frames the challenge for Bernie Sanders (D) and John Kasich (R) in the upcoming contests - for Sanders the big question is his appeal amongst non-whites, for Kasich it is amongst non-evangelicals.   Topic: data science
What the results of Tuesday’s primaries mean for John Kasich, Bernie Sanders and the other candidates.
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Hard Truths - Why science rarely 'wins' on the big things that matter  Climate change is one of those things.  And yet for the last decade or more, there have been endless denials.  For those who would lead (I'm thinking of the growing collection of American bloviators stomping about the U.S. campaign trail) a great start would be admitting that we know precious little about many important things, our climate and oceans included.  Then, maybe, the din of politics would subside for long enough that we could decide what we want to do with what we do know.  This article is a good start.
The oceans have soaked up as much heat from global warming over the last two decades as during the preceding 130 years, a study by scientists has found. →
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In memoriam  El-Azhar (4 Jan 1946 - 6 Jan 2016)

"Throw my ashes
    where you will
 but lest you err
    know this
 I want children’s laughter
    in my dead ears." 
Epigrams of El-Azhar [1]

References:

[1] Epigrams of El-Azhar; El-Azhar
bit.ly/1ZaGOk5

[2] The Hourglass and the Pen -- the Measures of Thought, El-Azhar
Out of Print

[3] Thought of the Day, El-Azhar
published in the Daily Nation newspaper (bit.ly/1ONZX6J), over the course of a year.

[4] The LIttle Kitten, El-Azhar
A Short Story about Love, Life, and Death
bit.ly/1POZ10B
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