Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Blog Tour: Startup


Techno Thriller

Date Published: 03-14-2022

Publisher: Open Book

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A high tech AI startup, the Russian mafia, and the downfall of a 'resident adult.'


Professor Andrija Krstic is a bright man―some would say brilliant―with a stellar and secure career at one of the best universities in the country, teaching electronic engineering and pursuing leading edge research in semiconductor technology. But when an opportunity for financing an Artificial Intelligence high tech startup presents itself, he embraces the offer even though the seed money comes from an odd and somewhat suspicious Armenian oligarch.

It all seemed to be too good to be true, but the professor and his cofounders take all the right steps and successfully grow their startup. However, in parallel they also discover the truth behind the roots of their benefactor’s wealth.

Krstic finds himself trying to balance two disparate worlds―that of a high-tech Silicon Valley startup racing toward the twenty-first century's technological future, and that of shady wealth rooted in the collapse of the Soviet empire.

The professor knows he must do the right thing for his company. His reputation and legacy depend on it, not to mention the livelihoods of his colleagues and employees. And yet he must fend off the pressure from the Armenian oligarch who has probably told him far too much.


Here and now, I feel safe. This might be due to the effect that this place has on me more than the reality of my situation. Hiding in this old house, with its thick stone walls, double windows and wooden shutters, I feel secure as a mouse in its den.

Outside, I can hear the rhythmic sound of the waves lapping against the stony shoreline, some twenty feet from my window, and I can discern the sea, the mountains and the night sky, all blending into blackness along the Bay of Kotor.

And inside my head, I can also hear the now distant echoes of excited children—the sounds of my cousins and myself romping through my grandparents’ seaside home. But that was more than half a century ago, so far away both in time and experience.

By way of introduction, my name is Andrija, but my Anglo friends, as well as my colleagues and neighbors, find the Serbian name hard to pronounce (it’s that ‘j’ toward the end that always confuses) so they have long ago changed it to Andrew. By now I am quite used to it, or perhaps I am now truly more of an Andrew than an Andrija.

I am originally from what used to be Yugoslavia, but my compatriots managed to screw up that nation, and I was lucky enough to get out before the worst of the bloody disintegration. I was truly fortunate and after getting my EE degree at the University of Belgrade, I stumbled into a scholarship that funded my graduate studies in America. And I have lived there ever since, other than visits to the Montenegro coastline every couple of years to catch up with family.

And if neither Andrew nor Andrija works for you, then call me Professor. Everybody does, because I formerly taught at one of the top engineering schools in the world. But that seems like another lifetime, even though I left academia only a few years ago.



Good Old Days


Yes, I was a professor, tenured at a university that many of us believed to be equal or better than the famous Ivy League schools. Holding the coveted Alfred S. Harris endowed chair since 2001—an amazing achievement, if I say so myself, for an academic who at the time had not yet turned forty and with what then seemed like sufficient funding to pursue leading edge research in my chosen field: semiconductor technology. I had a state-of-the-art research lab, which at its zenith was staffed by half a dozen permanent technicians, a couple of associate professors, two or three visiting researchers, up to eight Ph.D students, a handful of MSc grunts, and a number of operators and administrators.

Yes, I was flying high back then. I could happily hand off most of the boring teaching chores to my TAs and concentrate on research. And my team was churning out some excellent work. We were publishing dozens of papers each year that routinely won awards and recognition at many industry events and conferences. Our grant applications were frequently funded by DARPA, or SRC, or NSF or even by various private foundations or corporate programs. Attracting talent was not an issue. The best and brightest were vying to join my team.

Back then I was like a rock star in the business, and invitations for keynote talks, review papers, contributions or simply introductions to various technical books were often extended. I could happily turn down all sorts of speaking engagements, even the private corporate invitations that offered those obscene, but so very tempting, honorarium fees—$10,000 plus expenses for a lecture and a two-hour-long round-table chat—evidently a small price to pay for an opportunity to nourish the egos of a few corporate bigwigs who enjoyed grandstanding in front of a famous professor.

Yes, it looked like the millennium had brought good things for us, and the sky was the limit.

And not just professionally…

Bev and I had met back in the ’90s in one of those combined interdepartmental undergrad classes—something like ‘Science, Technology and Society.’ I got involved with the course because it was trendy, and an easy way of earning an extra teaching credit. A feather in a cap for a newbie, especially because such courses were shunned by the more senior professors who did not have to worry about burnishing up their teaching rep. I thought that teaching science to non-scientists would be easy and would not require much prep work—something that I could easily do off-the-cuff. But as fate would have it, the class held something much more significant than teaching credits. The moment I walked into the first lecture, I noticed her, and everything changed. It was not just the deep azure eyes that were such a contrast to her jet-black hair, or the tight jeans that showed off all her beautiful curves, or… It was the dimples in her cheeks that seemed to amplify the sparkle in her eyes whenever she smiled. And the tiny furrows between her knitted eyebrows whenever she raised a question. And the insidious acuteness of the questions she would raise.

I must admit, with all the brilliance of hindsight, it was lust at first sight—certainly so for me. Ethics be damned!

“But, Professor Krstic, why…?”

Sounding awkward and tongue-tied, I tried to focus on the question rather than on her.

“Please explain…” With dimples framing a most enchanting smile, her eyes dared me to impress her.

So I had to be stellar in that class, just to keep up with her questions. I mean, how does one explain magnetism or electricity to a non-engineer without sounding stupid or condescending?

But as we got to know each other, the relationship deepened, we fell in love, moved in together, and…well…lived happily ever after. A couple of years later we married. We bought and renovated a perfect house in a good neighborhood. Summer breaks in Europe—often in Montenegro where we congregated with my family. Winter or spring breaks in Mexico. Fall weekends camping in New England… A few years later Lara came, our wonderful daughter, which of course changed everything. All for the good, though. Diapers, pre-school, play dates, kindergarten, school. We settled into a family routine of two professional careers and a kid and looked forward to the continued bliss of middle-class existence in modern America.


But then Moore’s Law caught up with me.


About the Author

Riko Radojcic is a lucky man who has been blessed with a fulfilling life rich in its diversity.  He was born in what was then a poor post-war Yugoslavia and enjoyed a very happy and secure early childhood there. When he was twelve his father took a job with the UN World Health Organization, and Riko spent his teen years in East Pakistan (Bangladesh now), Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania, observing both, the demise of the colonial Raj, and some harsh Third World realities.  He completed high school in Swiss private schools - a polar opposite of the Third World - which gave him a peek into the lives of the one-percenters. He then moved to Manchester, UK, where he witnessed the bleak circumstances of the working class in the heart of the then-decaying industrial England. He earned his BSc and PhD degrees in Electronic Engineering and Solid-State Physics there, and after a couple of years of working in England he immigrated to the US. Riko and his then-wife settled in the San Diego area, where they brought up their three wonderful children, and he got to experience the American Dream – yet another polar opposite. He enjoyed a rewarding and a very stimulating career in the semiconductor industry, working in a variety of technical, managerial and business development roles. His professional life exposed him not only to the amazing wonders of the silicon chip technology, but also gave him an opportunity to travel internationally and to interact with smart and talented people from very diverse and multicultural backgrounds.  After 35+ years in the world of high tech and engineering management, Riko retired and is now trying to be a writer.   Always more comfortable as an observer than the observed, as an analyst than a participant, he is trying to bring to life the magic of technology, the reality of the  high-tech industry, and some of his diverse life experiences through storytelling…

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