The startup instruction booklet, powered by my life (and other things I think about).
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Vyoo Functionality Freeze - Happy NYE!
Phew. Well, our loyal CTO, has implemented a functionality freeze. Finally. And our final algorithm is expected in the new few days. We have one working now, but it's a quick and dirty solution while we're waiting for the final one from our psychometrician. The alpha has been great for testing, but we're still working out plenty of kinks.
Now it's time to get the UI up to date, flesh out the final fixes, brush up some things and roll out our Beta. Things are coming together. Looking forward to our rollout in '09.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Surprise Surprise. The Results are In. Ebay and United Really Do Suck!
Two of my least favorite companies are in the news again. I'm happy to report that Glassdoor.com has just released their best and worst places to work. The usual suspects adorn the best places list (full list here). These lists are telling of the types of talent a company can recruit. While many great employees seek out "best places" to work, worst places not only push away prospective employees but also alienate their own. Treating your employees well is part of your total success equation (along with treating your customers well).
1) General Mills
5) Northwestern Mutual
6) Whole Foods
And... now for the worst places (full list here).
1) DHL Express (USA)
2) United Airlines
3) Reynolds and Reynolds
4) Farmers Group
5) Gibson Guitar
7) Rain Bird
8) CSAA Inter-Insurance Bureau
9) Office Depot
1) General Mills
5) Northwestern Mutual
6) Whole Foods
And... now for the worst places (full list here).
1) DHL Express (USA)
2) United Airlines
3) Reynolds and Reynolds
4) Farmers Group
5) Gibson Guitar
7) Rain Bird
8) CSAA Inter-Insurance Bureau
9) Office Depot
Monday, December 29, 2008
Refurbished iPhones $99
iPhones are $99 for the next two days (until the 31st) from AT&T. They are refurbished, but if anyone was looking for an iPhone, but felt it was a bit too expensive, this is your chance.
Find them here.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Creating Fake Data - Adding Multiple User Accounts - Rails
A big testing pain in the ass is adding multiple user accounts and the accompanying profile data (etc.) which provides a more realistic user experience and a wider variation in data to allow for potential issues to crop up more quickly. Thus - hopefully better code.
Well, as with most things Rails, someone (or actually more than one person) has come up with a way to create a bunch of data, populate your databases, and give you a break from manually creating hundreds of accounts. Their projects are below. These tools essentially provide random name, address, number, and other generators (colors, passwords, currency) which you can stack together to create bunches of users.
Users dictionaries to generate data. You can override theirs with your own.
A port of Perl‘s Data::Faker library
Populates an Active Record database with a mass insert, very quickly. This library is quite customizable in terms of the data you can have it create.
Names, numbers, text, grammar, locations, booleans, arrays. Has a bit more to offer than Forgery.
Friday, December 26, 2008
Google It! How To Find What You Want...
I'm stunned, day in and day out, by some of the questions people ask me. It's not that they're asking me the questions (because I'm more than happy to be helpful), it's that they're not finding the answers out for themselves. It would be a lot quicker if they did. As you know, I teach GMAT classes. And people will ask me things like "is 0 an integer?". Totally fair question. One that I would have asked. But they'll wait the entire week between classes to ask. Or people will ask me things like "how do you get from point A to point B?". Shit, I don't know. But Google Maps knows. Or what's this program that keeps running on my machine called xxxx?". Yea I am a software engineer. But I don't know every program that's ever been written. Google does. Or "what's the weather like in Thailand in November?". While that last question is understandable because I used to live there, it's just another case in point. I don't remember. And with weather changing so much, just look it up.
Why don't people use Google for this stuff? I mean, most of the questions people ask me, I just turn around and Google anyway. I wonder why that's not just an absurdly obvious solution? You can ask Google things... you can type in whatever the hell you want, and something will come back. You can ask where to find the cheapest gas in San Francisco. In fact, I can't recall ever typing anything in, that was in English, that didn't have tons of pages returned. One of those pages is bound to have your answer. And likely it will be near the top.
Don't be afraid to search. Look at that cat up there. He kicked a dog's ass, just by knowing how to use Google!
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Uh-oh! Can Rails (RoR) Handle the Load?
People have always been talking about Rails and its ability to handle scaling (here, here, and here). I was a skeptic of these haters. Because I had always made the assumption that good design would lead to good performance. I might be putting my foot in my mouth shortly.
We ran some preliminary stress tests on our site this past week. And the results were, well, unimpressive to say the least. In fairness, we're not caching everything at this point and haven't done everything we can to tweak performance, but we should have had a better go of it.
The main problem seems to be the sheer volume of database accesses. Rails just loves to talk to the database. In fact, almost everything is in the database, which is the major problem. MySQL has turned out to be our biggest bottleneck, which I guess you can blame on Rails, right?
A few things to note: We're running our DB and our application on the same box for the time being. We're using a server in the cloud, which is not really a dedicated server. So those play into the cards.
We're currently implementing memcache, starling, and workling as ways to help us boost our performance. But implementing caching requires a reworking of a lot of our code. So that's not cool.
All in all, I love developing on Rails. Is it enterprise ready? Jury will remain out on that one - for now. But I tend to think it is if you're a good architect. Twitter seems to have solved their problems. Which I initially thought was probably based on their design rather than RoR. So, did Twitter drop RoR? Nobody seems to know. Again, I remain in the camp that thinks scaling Rails is doable. I'm just not a pro at it yet. And we're going to have some growing pains, as we would with any technology.
Monday, December 22, 2008
That Was Weird.... What To Do When Your Mom or Dad Facebook Friend's You...
I'm sure my mom is going to love reading about this, but it wasn't without thought that I accepted her friend request on FB last week. I mean, it's sorta strange, isn't it? This is a window into my world... a world that my mom doesn't necessarily play around in. Sure, she's the greatest mom around and I share plenty with her, but I'm not sure she's interested in seeing me drunk at a party or the pictures that my friend's tag of me that aren't even me. Or how about my feeds and my friend's feeds (some are less judicious about what they post). Or my relationship status or what I was doing last night. Or explaining why the hell some girl threw a sheep at me? I haven't graduated to the point where I use Facebook for anything other than friends and acquaintances. I used LinkedIn or Doostang for more professional services.
I realized that I couldn't say "no" to my mom and wasn't really sure I'd want to say "no" anyway. I definitely didn't want to deal with the repercussions. I mean, how do you explain that to your mom? "Mom, I had to reject your friend request, because, well, we're not really friends. We're family. And um, well, yea, you're a friend, but I mean, you know... No! You're not old ma. I'm friends with people your age!" You know how it goes.
So I accepted her friend request, wondering what was coming next. Sure, there were a flurry of emails. "Who is that?" "There's a picture that say's it's you and it's not you". But she caught on. And maybe I'm a little...just a little more cautious about what I put on. I was never one for exposing too much about myself on that thing anyway.
Now my dad has signed up. And surely I had to accept that request too. And now he's trying to set me up with a girl who lives in London. Thanks dad.
If I were younger though, I surely wouldn't have accepted these. But, I guess it's alright these days.
What's the Keiretsu Forum All About Anyway?
On Friday I went to the monthly Kieretsu Forum gathering in Palo Alto. So what is Keiretsu? It's the world's largest angel investor forum, with over 750 accredited members in 17 chapters on 3 continents. In other words, it's a group of high worth, well connected people, looking to invest in startups. What's it take to become a member?
A Keiretsu Forum member is:
* An active accredited private equity investor (definition here),
* A trusted, honest and respected member of our business community,
* A contributor of time, wisdom and experience to our funded companies and soon
to be funded companies,
* Someone who enjoys building relationships with other members and companies we
The Forum was founded by Randy Williams, a Cal guy, back in 2000, as a way to provide structure to private equity investing.
The Forum is pretty straightforward and slightly different than I expected. You arrive, sign-in, and mingle for about half an hour before the meeting starts. There are three tables set up in horseshoe-like fashion, with a screen in front of the open end of the setup. The tables are occupied by the Forum members. Behind the table directly across from the screen are rows of seats, about 8 rows of 10 seats each, where the rest of us sat.
Randy begins with an introduction to some of the members - or at least the members who were in from out of town. There were several people from Ireland, Scotland, Russia, Austria, Germany, and China, who were all prompted for a greeting in their native language. The intro's were very mellow - and you could tell this wasn't some uptight group of people.
Each group had ten minutes to present at which point there was a 10 minute Q&A, which we were allowed to participate in. There were five companies that presented. And it was during the Q&A that you really understood the Forum. Not only did they ask the right questions - not only about revenue forecasts and company growth projections, but also about network security and the broader technology implementation. While informal, it certainly highlighted their understanding of investments.
The biggest gain for participating companies, besides the obvious investment potential, was the contacts that came out of the meeting. At the end of the pitch/Q&A, Randy asked members if they had any contacts who could help these companies. Undoubtedly, someone in the room knew someone who could help and offered the introduction. It was quite a family.
If you'd like to be considered for participation as a presenter, you can do so here.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
iPhone - "We were not able to validate your number." with free WiFi (Starbucks, McDonald's, etc)
As any iPhone user knows, we've been allowed to access free wi-fi hotspots wherever there's an AT&T hotspot (Starbucks, McDonald's, etc). That is, if your phone is hooked up properly. Well, my phone never worked and I've worked with several AT&T customer supports reps about this. This was the error message I kept receiving:
"We were not able to validate your number."
When I first called, they sent me over to Apple support, even though it was obvious that it had nothing to do with Apple - it was an AT&T account validation issue. The usual circus ensued where I was sent back and forth between departments. They opened a case and told me to check back in a month.
Fast forward a month (that was sometime last week). I called back to check in on what they'd found out. While it was nothing, I had the absolute best experience I've ever had with a customer support rep (actually, to be fair, she was tech support). She was obviously very concerned about the issue and wanted to help me find a solution. After we talked she explained that she can't stand leaving issues open - man I wish all tech support was like this.
She did her research and found out what the problem was. First, my phone wasn't in their database as an iPhone. It was an unknown phone. So she changed that. Then using my IMEI number (Settings -> General -> About), she found out that my iPhone wasn't properly registered in the different systems (I'm not sure what these systems are, but I'm assuming billing, activation, etc). So what'd she do? She changed my name in the database. This caused all of the systems to update, pushing the correct IMEI number to all of the systems.
I had to wait about 24hrs, but here I am...online at a Starbucks with my iPhone. Thanks Shannon!
UPDATE: "If you’re posting suggestions on your blog, just tell folks to call AT&T customer service at 800-331-0500, ask for Technical Support, and have the tech support rep to make sure the system that contains the Media Net registration information shows the correct device type. The support rep will then know where to look."
Credit Card Rate Hikes Suck (rate-jacking)! Citibanks and Chase Suck! How Is This Legal?
Twice in the last two weeks I've received notices from my credit card companies. They're hiking my rates even though I have stellar credit. I do have a balance, thanks to this startup, but that would make me think that they're making money off me anyway - so why do they need more? I can opt out, in the fine print, but then they cancel my account. What kind of opt-out clause is that? And what the hell can I do about it?
Apparently it's not uncommon these days, especially from Citibank, one of my credit card provider's. But that doesn't mean it's fair or justifiable. I think it's an abomination in this current economic climate for large financial institutions to prey on people in debt. It's disgusting. This all goes back to my common belief that people need to start taking responsibility for their own actions. If Citi or Chase (the other provider who just notified me) has mismanaged their money, well, that's their damn fault. To pass the buck along to the consumers who can't afford it is the easy option - but one that may not work.
There has been quite a stir in the blogosphere as of late which will hopefully get the stalled bills in the Senate that deal with this issue, kick-started (from CNN).
Check your mail. It probably happened to you.
This reminds me of another disgusting practice. Charging $3 to use another bank's ATM machine. What the hell is that? You can use one of those janky ATM machines in a bar for less money. Screw the customer...seems to be the montage of some select financial institutions.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
A Meet and Greet with Tina Fitch of EZRez
A few weeks ago I sat down for an informal chat with Scott Orn of Lighthouse Capital Ventures. After our discussion he kindly introduced me to Tina Fitch who he thought would be a good contact in the travel space. I finally met her yesterday.
Tina is CEO of EZRez Software Inc, a company that helps its clients package and distribute travel related products and services. They have a tremendous value add over other companies that attempt to achieve a similar goal - they use dynamic and proprietary search capabilities along with lower costs and increased efficiencies.
I spent some time looking at providers for this when we were initially thinking about providing booking through our site, and I have to say that EZRez blows away ITN and World Choice Travel. You have an incredible amount of flexibility, control, and data with EZRez. While they aren't exactly competitors, they're a close comparable.
But back to my meeting. Tina was exceptionally bright. She's one of those people you meet and are just blown away by their grasp of a situation and their drive to implement solutions to problems. I don't meet many people who leave me with this impression who combine that with a very down to earth, pragmatic, and candid approach to the world.
I spent an hour and a half speaking with her about all things travel and business as well as her own startup experience. Afterward, she offered up a pretty comprehensive list of people in the industry she though we should chat with. She's spent a lot of time in travel and hospitality and knows just about everyone around. Then we chatted about our own experiences living in Asia... which if you haven't done, is worth its weight in gold. She valued that more than any MBA. I can't say I disagree.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Another slice of morning humble pie... Life as CEO
I woke up this morning and did my usual perusal of the magazines littered throughout the house. It takes me a while to get started in the morning and I find that kicking back on the couch or still in my bed, reading a magazine or the internet, is a good way to get going.
Today I felt a little better after reading Inc. Their December issue has an article titled "Don't bother me, because I'm in the middle of my most important task as CEO - hanging window blinds", by Joel Spolsky, co-founder and CEO of Fog Creek Software. I had to laugh.
The kicker though was this quote: "I'd love to imagine that I'm the most valuable person in the company, that my time is so precious that I have to optimize every minute. But it's not true. At this point, I'm probably the worst developer in the office".
It's a sentiment that I can relate to. As CEO, it's always nice to think that we are invaluable to the company. But the fact of the matter is, there are so many other integral components that drive your success. Namely - the rest of the team. And even those outside the team that place a role in advising or helping to refine your product or company.
Like Joel, I know that I'm the worst developer at our company. Fortunately there are only two of us, so that makes it a little easier to digest.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a boy solider. My Book Review.
I grabbed this book in the airport just the other day. It looked like an interesting read, but I hadn't heard of it, so I had my usual apprehension about dropping too much money in an airport book store. A Long Way Gone is a firsthand account of a boy's life as a solder during the civil war that fractured Sierra Leone in the early nineties.
Ishmael Beah was just 13 years old when he was "recruited" into the army and given an AK-47. He had lost his entire family to brutal killings by rebel soldiers. They were burned alive, locked in their huts just a short time before Ishmael was to reunite with them. His only hope for survival was the army. Hopped up on cocaine and other stimulants, Ishmael saw and did unimaginable things during that war. Things he should have never known.
It's a story of love, hate, war, and finally, a bit of hope. It takes you from the lowest depths of humanity, to the highest highs.
I had trouble putting this book down. It's well written and a quick read. But it leaves you with lasting memories. Not all of them good.
Friday, December 12, 2008
Install Starling on Windows
We've started performance testing. While a big step in nearing completion of our alpha, we're unfortunately working on two new pieces of functionality. I'll detail later. For performance, we've implemented two new components to get memcache to work really well (Starling and Workling):
Starling: "Starling is a light-weight persistent queue server that speaks the MemCache protocol. It was built to drive Twitter's backend, and is in production across Twitter's cluster." - It was open sourced by the guy's at Twitter, so thanks Twitter.
Workling makes working with Starling easier: "easily do background work in rails, without commiting to a particular runner. comes with starling, bj and spawn runners"
But... I just wanted to post a note to other Rails developers who are trying to install Starling on Windows. The gem fails the install due to C compilation failures. While you could get a C compiler working on your box to make things like this easier, it's not that simple. I've been struggling with integrating a native C compiler with my Rails environment for a while. The Microsoft version would probably work better, but I don't have it. And I'm not paying for it.
Anyway, in order to install Starling, you need to manually install the last eventmachine version that has a windows compiled gem (that's what's failing in the gem starling install), which is version 0.12.0. Thanks Stackoverflow (here)
gem install eventmachine --version=0.12.0
Once that installs run this:
gem install starling
Voila - set to go.
Another cool project is: Rubyinstaller (here), which aims to take care of the install problems I experienced above. Hope that helps
UPDATE: You will most likely get this error when you try to startup: custom_require.rb:27:in `gem_original_require': no such file to load -- syslog (LoadError)
This has been fixed in version 0.9.9 but is not yet available as a gem. You can download the source and overwrite your existing files. The files you need to overwrite are server.rb and server_runner.rb. The paths' are in the downloaded tarball so you can easily see where to put them.
UPDATE to UPDATE: So it looks like I'll need Cygwin to successfully run this on my Windows box. Why? Because there's no fork() process that's native to Windows. Cygwin fudges one together. This is a bigger pain than I thought. I'll probably take Kenny's advice from his comment and grab myself a Mac. I never thought that would happen.
Ford, Detroit, and the Lions - The Link Between Football and Ford
Do you know what football team is 0-13 this year, on pace for going 0-for? Do you know what football team has had the worst record during the last decade? Or how about what football team gave its CEO, Matt Millen, a 5 year extension last year, even though they've owned the worst record in football? The Detroit Lions. Well, technically he was released this year. Or resigned. It's uncertain. But their performance hasn't improved.
What I find particularly enjoyable about their abysmal performance, isn't really about the team. It's about the ownership. See, they're owned by the Ford family. The very same family who has proven they can't run a car company. The performance trickles down from the top. It's the same theory as Reaganomics - just applied a bit differently.
So what's the Ford family doing wrong? Well, you can see some similarities between the two "companies". They are overpaying their employees to deliver a sub-par product. They've put people in who don't know a thing about their product (Millen had no experience in football operations). They aren't focused on giving their customers what they want. And, of course, they've built their products with parts that don't last. Henry Ford must be rolling around in his grave!
GM - You Gotta Be Kidding Me! Don't Drop the Saturn!
Please, please, please don't do what you said you'd do. Don't keep running your company like you have been. It won't work. I promise.
A Frustrated US Consumer
It appears that GM is talking about cutting Saturn out of its plans. Yup, shutting down the one bright spot in their company. That's like cutting off your arm to save your finger. Except, you won't be saving your finger, because, well, it's still attached to your arm.
What does GM have with Saturn? It has a very loyal and passionate following (there are tons of Saturn enthusiast forums across the web). It has style... yes, cool cars. It has the potential of a money making product.
What doesn't it have? Profits. But that's not entirely Saturn's fault. They don't have a very large advertising budget and therefore people don't know a whole lot about what's out there. You've probably seen their recent car commercials, so maybe that's changing. And maybe they need to make some of their Saturn's in the US. Their Astra became uncompetitive here because of the dollar (it's made in Belgium). Since we're the largest auto market in the world, I find that surprising. And, they've sort of lost their way. They started making the 8 passenger Outlook SUV when their core market wasn't shopping for those. Saturn was started with the intention of keeping the product line low and delivering cost efficient, fuel efficient vehicles. An 8 passenger SUV doesn't fit the mold.
There's a lot that Saturn would need to do to succeed, but I have to say, I haven't even seen a cool car, like the Sky, come from a US automaker in quite a while. And if you think the PT Cruiser is cool, you're not welcome here anymore. While I admit that the Ford GT is sweet, any car that's $150K can be made cool, even by Ford.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Firefox Add-ons - TooManyTabs
On Thanksgiving (yes, this is a bit late), there was a great post on LifeHacker that discussed all things FireFox and the great add-ons/extensions (here) that can make your browser a pretty powerful tool. Sure, there are all the copy/paste, multiple tab, download helpers, memory managers, skin tweaks, document managers, and hundreds of other add-ons. And those are all great, but the one thing that consistently kills my user experience is having too many tabs open in my browser. It gobbles up memory like it's a job. And I always lose pages that I want to look at later, but not necessarily bookmark, because I'm constantly trying to conserve memory.
Bookmarking is great, I'll give it that. But how many times have you bookmarked stuff never to look for it again? Probably quite often. And since my memory likes to escape me from time to time, I like to have visual queues. Alas, here comes TooManyTabs. This is my favorite extension - and it's well worth it. Extensions are free for those who've never used them.
TooManyTabs (here). I'll leave the description to them:
TooManyTabs allows you to store up to over 50 tabs in multiple extra rows in your browser by a simple click. It saves your browser's space and memory as idle tabs are put aside. The extra rows also help to better prioritize and visualize your tabs.
GetAFreelancer Sucks! oDesk Doesn't Suck!
I know you've been missing my "... Sucks" postings, so here you go. I decided to try two outsourcing services to get a side project done for our website. The big firm, oDesk, I've actually done some work for as a service provider. I wrote up some economic analysis of the G7. I think my macro professor, Andy Rose, would be proud. oDesk is a site with great usability and great design. It provides the ability for extensive project management and easy communication - along with a strong feedback model. Definitely best of breed. Then there's GetAFreelancer.com on the other end of the spectrum. I should have been skeptical, but it's been around for a while and there are tons of people who have successfully used the service, so I figured, why not give it a try? Their design is terrible and their feedback system leaves a lot to be desired.
I posted the job in both places and awaited the responses. I had quite a few in a short amount of time. There was quite a big price differential between the two. This was a small project, and GetAFreelancer sourced me some offers at almost half the price. I figured there wasn't much to lose using the service since you don't pay until your job is complete. Though you do have to deposit money on their site (through Paypal or several other ways)
The candidate on GetAFreelancer was incredibly responsive, answering emails several times a day for days on end. So I chose him and began the project. Well, it's now been 3 weeks and I haven't heard a peep from him since he won the job. He doesn't respond to emails and has pretty much disappeared.
I tried to reopen the project to get other talent, but the hoops you had to jump through were enough to make me leave. You had to send emails back and forth to support, which extended the project constantly. Part of my issue was getting this done quickly, which wasn't possible.
After finally getting my project reopened, the service charge wasn't refunded. And while they were responsive, I had to jump through hoops to get that taken care of. Long story short, I closed the project and went to oDesk. But... it wasn't over. My deposit (the amount I had to put in my account) is still sitting with them. And to withdraw it takes two weeks, in addition to a service fee. So they take money from you up front when you hire someone and then they take money from you when you withdraw money. And I didn't even use them. I hate schemes like this. Now, in fairness, many people probably have great experiences. I just wouldn't use them again. I'm using oDesk now and am very happy with the project. The developer rules. And I still can't leave negative feedback for the guy on GetAFreelancer! COME ON!
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
The Cool Thing About an MBA
I went down to Google yesterday to participate in an information session for Haas. It was somewhere in the middle of the question and answer session where I spoke about how great it was to be an alumni of Cal and how it really opens doors for you everywhere you go. In addition to all of the great people who have helped us out with Vyoo so far, last week was yet another case of this in action.
I sent a few email to some math professors at Berkeley. I wanted someone to take a look at what we were doing with our algorithm and to help us design a more efficient approach to running this algorithm in real time. The calculations get pretty computationally intensive and grow more so quite dramatically as new users are added.
Professor John Strain met with me last Thursday. His specialties are: Applied mathematics, Numerical analysis, Fast algorithms, and Materials science. It was the numerical analysis and fast algorithms that really interested me. But anyway, he was a Math professor at Berkeley so I knew he was brilliant. Just spending time with people like Professor Strain is rewarding in itself.
He ended sitting down with me for quite a while, looking over what we were doing, explaining the intricacies of the calculations, and presenting me with a solution to how we could improve the speed of what we were doing. While I had read a bit about what he was showing me in advance, I had a difficult time understanding. He walked me through it, showing great patience. I can imagine how difficult it must be to have to walk someone through something you can see so clearly. But alas, I got it... and what he showed me made great sense. I've always had a passion for math. It's one of those cool properties that guide a great deal of life on this earth.
In any event, he was a great teacher and an excellent person and seems truly interested in our approach. We ended up chatting for quite a while about all sorts of interesting things: travel, linguistics, Asia, recommendations... definitely a cool meeting.
Monday, December 1, 2008
World AIDS Day 2008
Today is World AIDS Day. Doesn't it seem like every other day is a day that represents a cause? It does to me.
I'm happy that people are taking a look at AIDS again. It seems like the disease has slipped under our collective radar. I remember being petrified, constantly thinking about contracting HIV when I was younger. I think there is this misguided assumption that it's a disease that only affects certain people, but that's not entirely true. Sure, there is a disproportionate number of black people who have contracted HIV in this country. More than half of the just over 1M people who have it. And sure it affects the homosexual community more than the heterosexual community. But that sure as hell doesn't mean you can't get it. I can't tell you how many of my friends have unprotected sex. It's really mind boggling.
You can read more about World AIDS Day 2008 here: http://www.worldaidscampaign.org/static/en/
Friday, November 28, 2008
What I'm Not Thankful For...
Now that Thanksgiving has passed, the next logical step is to post what I'm not thankful for. Actually, I was trying to wrap my head around writing a Euclidean Distance calculator for our algorithm when I decided to take a bathroom break. The seat was down on the toilet in the men's room. And yea, I know you don't want to hear it, but the person who used it last didn't need the seat down, but felt no need to put it up. So... I began to wonder why some people don't think about anyone but themselves.
So here are some of my pet peeves, in no particular order:
1) Leaving the toilet seat down and peeing all over it (this bathroom peeve includes people who don't wash their hands when using the restroom)
2) Not using a blinker (this is probably near the top of the list)
3) Not saying thank you
4) People who can never accept they're wrong
5) eBay ;)
6) Constant negativity (caveat: while I complain a lot on this blog - I assure you I pass along a good bit of positivity here and there)
7) Not taking out the trash (when it gets to the point of stinking)
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Happy Thanksgiving To All, From Vyoo!
It's time to look back at the last year and think about what we're giving thanks for today. Here's my quick list:
1) Family. While I'm not with them today, I'm thankful for a happy, healthy, and supportive family. They've been behind Vyoo, well, not since the beginning, but they've come around.
2) Friends. We all need these. They too have been supportive, in both my personal and professional life. My good friend Nader Ghaffari always tells me, "surround yourself with good people, it serves to make you that much better". I think I'm doing a good job of that, which is more a testament to my friends than to me.
3) The end of an era. Thank you Mr. Bush for not increasing term limits. It'll be nice to see some positivity coming out of the States going forward.
4) Turkey. I love Thanksgiving dinner. It's my favorite meal! Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes. Apple pie. Mmmmm!
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Are Unions Good or Bad? It All Depends...
In my post about the government bailout of the auto industry, I made a crack about unions. I'm not a fan of unions. Let me explain.
My memories about unions start back in 4th grade (give or take). I remember reading about the Industrial Revolution in our history book and seeing the squalid conditions that workers had to endure in the little pictures accompanying that chapter. It sticks with me today. And every time I think about unions, the pictures come back. Long work hours, crappy living conditions, unfair labor practices. People stacked on top of each other in makeshift communal living. I couldn't really grasp what it was like during the days of the booming tanneries in Lynn (the town next to where I grew up) and Lowell, Massachusetts. It seemed dreadful. And finally, the workers began to unite. They protested, picketed, and finally unionized behind a central leadership to force changes in the industry. It worked. Albeit slowly. And it achieved its goals. And worked well during the Industrial Revolution and even beyond.
Today, things are a lot different. Unions have incredible power and leverage in their respective industries. They force labor issues often. France, a model of labor strife, has their transportation shut down intermittently. I was stuck on a train for 48 hours because of this back in 2001. Yes, I could get off, but the train wasn't moving. Shut down on the Spanish border because the French workers struck.
Now I ask you to take a look a little deeper into unions in the States. It's the larger unions I'm most concerned about. The airline and auto labor unions for example. Take a look at the auto union's wages above. There are stories littered across the web about forklift operators making over $100,000/yr (here). And you want me to feel bad for these people? When a union gets big enough it becomes a danger unto itself. With the clout of these unions, the automakers and airlines are at their beckon call. If the unions shut down their industries, this stands to bankrupt the very people they work for. These workers aren't clamoring for improved conditions to unbearable circumstances, but they're working towards higher pay, more benefits, and less labor. At what cost?
These unions are making American companies uncompetitive. You wonder why manufacturing is getting outsourced? Why would you wonder when a line worker is making $30/hr (a staggering $65/hr cost to the employer considering benefits). Or that forklift operator? You wonder why the airline industry is suffering and cutting benefits to the people paying for their services? Because their workers keep asking for more. Why can international airlines still serve food (and Continental airlines I might add), especially airlines from weaker economies (sure there are some where there is government intervention), but their workers aren't unionized.
Now here's a case where I think unions are still necessary - or at least some sort of organization: eBay sellers. Their sellers are getting raked over the coals and they have no recourse. Maybe they stop selling, but then their livelihood shuts down. Or how about doctors? They're prevented from striking, for obvious reasons, but they have very little voice in the changes that are occurring in their industry. Sure there are physician lobbies - but they don't work very well. Less care, less reimbursement, no recourse. That's what's been happening for the last 15 years. During the discussion to socialize medicine, it's interesting nobody talks about the current state of medicare and medicaid and the continual cutting of reimbursements to physicians. I guess your poor grandmother doesn't need that extra test ordered to save her life. And if she does, I guess doc should pay up.
Jim Hornthal and Triporati
Two years ago, right around now, I went to meet with Jim Hornthal. Jim was the founding member of Preview Travel, one of the first online travel companies. He became the first vice-Chairman of Travelocity when the two companies merged. He left when they were acquired by Sabre. I met with Jim to discuss working on a project during my final semester at Haas. I wanted to research a travel project and Jim was the ideal person to speak with.
I can't say the meeting went well. At least from my perspective. He was straightforward and honest and gave me the rundown on the difficulties of getting into the travel space. In fact, he told me if I had anything else worth doing, I should do it. I was a bit deflated, but it really helped me evaluate the idea and work on improving my approach.
I was excited to see Jim holding office hours this week and wanted the chance to catch-up with him. Both to let him know I forged ahead anyway, despite his best efforts, and to discuss our new business with him to get his perspective. Jim is also working on a new business, Triporati. While his tag line shares some similarities with our approach, we're tackling the problem from different angles.
"We help you discover great trips - for your unique travel interests" - Triporati
Jim was more forgiving this time around and was genuinely interested in what we were doing and how he could help. We spoke about the difficulties we had in attempting to solve the problem of efficiently delivering and personalizing content. We talked about Dr. Stanley Plog's BestTripChoices website. And how it's difficult to bucket travelers because people have different reasons for traveling. That's why I think Dr. Plog may fail. We also shared our skepticism of semantic search, with sites like UpTake. The semantic web is good for objective data, but in order to deliver more subjective content, like reviews or recommendations, it's necessary to find out more about the person searching than the content. People have different ideas of what they think is "cool" for example, so if you and I search for a "cool" hotel - we'll expect different results. Semantic search doesn't account for situations like that.
My two biggest takeaways from this were:
1) We're trying to tackle some important issues. Problems that have a long way to go before they're solved but that provide quite a bit of business opportunity.
2) Partnerships will be difficult in this economy as the first thing to get cut are budgets aimed at trying new things. As Jim said, most stagnant companies won't try to innovate during tough times, but they will hope their results change. And unlikely expectation.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Do you Suck GoGrid? Come On!
Well, although I was a bit skeptical about the fact that GoGrid would have maliciously or even accidentally removed our root user from our MySQL user table... I'm a bit more curious today.
I awoke to an email from our eng that our root user had been removed again from our MySQL table. I have the highest regard for our eng and if he's pissed about this and thinks it's an issue with GoGrid, I'm on his side. He and I are the only ones with access to these boxes. And I don't touch them.
So what's the deal? I called GoGrid and spoke to Josh, the tech support guy, who is fast becoming a friend of mine. He's incredibly helpful, but he's working alone today. Which isn't doing us much help. I know they're a startup so I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt. For now. He's looking into it for us.
I have an inkling about what's going on. They have an outsourced support team. With full access to our boxes. I spoke with them two nights ago and unimpressed is putting it nicely. I'm starting to wonder if, while looking into our case, they changed the user yet again.
If we were fully live, I'd be pissed. Fortunately for GoGrid, we're not. But if this happens again, here we come Amazon EC2.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Backup Plans. A Must! Assembla and GoGrid At Fault
We were thrust into the unwelcome position of creating plans for alternates for two of our services. Neither was at our urging, but it's probably a good thing we encountered these situations early on.
The first was our svn respository. For those unfamiliar with coding, it's really just a place to store all of our code so we can reach it at all times. It also lets several team members work on the same code at the same time, managing all of the different versions. It should be mandatory for any coding project. Even those with just one person. Because this repository stores history too. So if you make a change, then a few months later determine the change was a mistake...you can just unwind your changes.
We were using an online service called Assembla. At first, I have to admit, I was surprised it was free because it was such a kickass service. That didn't last long though. A message was posted on their blog about changing their free service to a subscription model. If we wanted it to remain free, we'd have to allow our code to be visible to the public. Naturally, this wasn't an option. Unfortunately, we don't read their blog. Why should we read the blog of an svn service? I don't think anyone else read it either, because a few weeks later, when they realized this, they sent emails to people using their service, advising them of the changes. Great timing as we were about to push out our alpha. We need our code. In SVN, readily available.
We weren't the only people pissed about this. I'd be fine going into their service if I knew I had to pay. But they advertised a free service, got our business, then decided to flip a switch. Comments on their blog skyrocketed. From both sides of the argument. One side said "hey, it's a good service, a charge is fine". The other, "we felt deceived, we don't have a choice now that you have our code, and there's no way to be grandfathered in since we helped build the product and community".
The flaming continued. And in several instances, their CEO, Andy Singleton, vociferously called out several members, reciting personal details, and hurling insults. I really couldn't believe it. Definitely not the way to conduct yourself. And not the way to make me feel comfortable about having my code on their site. What if he got pissed at me? Would he just steal my code or "accidentally" make it public?
I wrote. He responded. And told me how trite it was for me to complain. How I should just stop serving pizza once a month for my team and pay for the service. Yea, that's the way to my heart. Let's see. I believe it's $2/user/space/month. And $3/Gb/month for space. Since we have 4 team members and 3 spaces at the time. Hmmm...if my math is correct, that turns out to $24/month just for our users. Then the space. Probably be another $2 maybe. So $26/month. And what happens when we have a few more eng's to add on? Like we do this week. We are a bootstrapped startup. Any costs we can save, we will. And $32/month is not worth it. We have a small project. We don't use it. They'd be making probably $30/month from us. So we moved our repository to our own server and are using Redmine, which I'm incredibly happy with.
The next backup service issue has to do with our servers. Yesterday our servers on GoGrid were mysteriously rebooted. According to GoGrid, there was a node outage. And since our virtual server sits atop this node, we were affected too. Then the root user entry in our user table in MySQL was removed. I have absolutely NO idea how these could be linked. But it is strange. I just got off the phone with GoGrid. They're definitely bright and proactive, but this outage isn't consistent with their 10,000% uptime guarantee SLA. They'll be sending out an RFO (reason for outage) in the next day or so. The question remains, how reliable will they be? They're a startup too - can we trust them? I always like to give the little guys a chance. As long as it doesn't impact business, I think we'll be ok with them. For now.
UPDATE: GoGrid has been great. They just called me back to talk to me more about the issue. To ensure we're covered under their SLA, etc. Good customer support.
Lesson: Have a backup plan. Or, at least think about one ahead of time. And don't screw your customers.
Friday, November 21, 2008
It's OK to be Wrong, I promise
My business partner and I have written and re-written our company presentation numerous times. I've never been particularly happy about it. Because I just couldn't nail down our pitch - our objective, and that's what starts the whole presentation off. Part of the problem is the depth and breadth of our involvement in our company. It's hard to rise above it and get an objective, broad overview when you spend most of your time underneath it all.
Yesterday, we had an invaluable meeting with Jane Lindner and John Voltz of Jane Capital. Jane is a friend of my mom. Which furthers my advice of reaching out to your network - parents, friends, co-workers - because you never know who they can put you in touch with.
We went through our presentation with a fine tooth comb and got some great advice. One of the keys from this meeting, aside from the tips for our pitch, was a comment Jane made to us at the end. She said, one of the important characteristics about the two of us is our willingness to accept constructive criticism. She says that she too often runs into bullheaded entrepreneur's who think their way is the only way. Rajiv and I realize that we're not always going to be right. And that's more than ok. It's much better to realize that and evolve rather than staying the course and heading towards potential failure. Fail early and fail often.
Show humility - it's really the least you can do.
“To be humble to superiors is duty, to equals courtesy, to inferiors nobleness.”
“To become truly great, one has to stand with people, not above them.”
-Charles de Montesquieu
“I claim to be a simple individual liable to err like any other fellow mortal. I own, however, that I have humility enough to confess my errors and to retrace my steps.”
iPhone 2.2 Firmware Update Available Now
Although I have some Vyoo posts waiting in the wings, I just wanted to let people know that the iPhone 2.2 update is out (here).
My iPhone has been hanging quite a bit recently and exiting programs, especially Safari. Hopefully this takes care of the problem.
Additional release notes:
1) Street view
3) PodCast downloads from iTunes (wi-fi and cell)
4) Stability (call drops, call failures, crashing)
5) Location sharing
6) Public transit directions (select cities only)
7) HTML email formatting
8) Improved sound quality for visual voicemail
I'm downloading it shortly, if I have any problems, I'll share.
UPDATE: Installed and running smoothly. No problems so far.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
GMail Skins, GMail Themes Are Pretty Cool
This is turning into a Google blog - but today Google is launching skins, or as they call them, themes, for GMail (here). Some of them are pretty damn cool.
They're rolling them out over the next few days in case you don't see them today. You can go to your "Settings" and then to "Themes" to update your GMail.
I'm not really sure how practical having a busy interface is for mail. While some are pretty basic in Google's typical fashion, some look pretty busy.
The Great Googley Moogely - Google Voice for the iPhone
A few days ago I got an update for the Google App on the iPhone. I had read a few blog postings about the update and the addition of voice activated search. I finally got to try it, and I'm quite impressed. Just speak into the phone and voila...the search happens.
It's pretty damn accurate too. I even tried speaking gibberish into the phone and it came back with what was probably the closest pronunciation to my "rrraaaaaaa" sound. Red. And the search naturally brought back search results for red.
You can refine your searches in various ways, but the most useful is probably the local search tab. A quick search for burritos pulls up my local taquerias, along with a button for getting directions (which opens up Google maps) and a button for calling the location. This pretty much kicks ass. Way to go Google.
While in Florida last week, I used Google Maps extensively. While some people haven't taken full advantage, because they use their phone in their home location, anytime you're in an unknown place or aren't sure what you're looking for, Google Maps saves the day.
I ran errands, got food, found gas and ATM's, and basically couldn't have gotten myself lost if I tried. All while out of town. What's the world coming to?
I wonder what my grandpa would think of all this? I should probably show him.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
My last day in Florida was a good lesson in history. I visited my grandfather for the second time this trip. He's 88 years old and full, I mean full, of wisdom and stories from his vast lifetime. From the Great Depression, to college in the 30's, to World War II, and on and on.
He recanted stories of his first airplane ride and how the hull was made of metal piping covered with cloth. He talked about Atlantic City when it was the vacation destination of the world. Now look at it. He spoke about his wild nights partying and picking up women. Yes, my grandpa did. He spoke of his marriage to my grandma, how he met her. He talked about the history of our family and the migration from Germany in the mid 1800's. He talked about his family fighting for the Confederacy in the war. And surprisingly, it was the one time he admitted to being on the losing side of something. He spoke about the transition from the Great Depression to wartime prosperity, to the sexual revolution, to civil rights and beyond. He's a living history book.
He had story after story after story. When you grow up with your grandparents, you take them for granted. You don't take their gifts for granted, because those are always awesome, but you take who they are for granted. I always took it for granted that my grandpa grew up in the 1920's and 30's. That he had a direct connection to people born in the 1800's - which to me, seems so so very far away. He is my living connection to my family history and I never really understood the significance.
We're but a blip on the radar of life on this earth. But within each of our families, there are lifelines that tie us to the past. Talking to him about his life is one of my few chances I have to get my family history lesson face to face - along with his take on the progression of our culture. He has far more experience.
I came to realize that as different as we are, we share a lot of commonality. He's a staunch Republican (who thinks I'm a liberal). I'm a staunch middle of the roader. But certainly not a staunch Republican. I like to think I fall somewhere in between. I often say, because it's nice and cliched at this point, that I'm fiscally conservative and socially liberal. But really. Why do we have to be on one side or the other anyway? Before I go off on a tangent, my point is that I share a lot of the same perspectives he has. And it's a pretty cool thing to figure out after all these years.
If you haven't spoken to your grandparents. I mean, really sat down with them, regardless of whatever differences you have, it's an incredibly rewarding experience to learn about your past. What brought you here. Where your family has been. And to also let him know where you're going, so he doesn't lose all hope, like most grandparents, on the current generation.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
United Airlines Sucks!
When it comes to hating on airlines, United is my favorite poster child. I had several problems with United a few years back (here). They were so bad, I vowed not to fly them anymore, unless, of course, it was absolutely necessary. I also stopped using my United credit card. All of this was over a $150 charge. Was it worth it United? They probably thought so at the time.
So it wasn't much of a surprise yesterday when my big bro called me and told me he had a story that was better than mine. He's supposed to go to Chile in a few weeks with my dad. They've been planning this trip for a while. Almost 8 months. They were supposed to fly United.
My dad called United two days ago to ask about changing their seats. What seats? United had canceled the flight and failed to notify my dad or my brother. If they hadn't called, who knows what would have happened? Imagine showing up at the airport for a two week vacation to another country, only to find out the airlines took it upon themselves to cancel it and not notify you? It's not like they didn't have email addresses and phone numbers for them. The trip was on Untied mileage. So of course they did. And this wasn't some puddle jumper that flies every hour on the hour. It's an international trip. What about hotel reservations, rental car reservations, dinner spots... all the plans they've put together? Then I asked myself, why would United care about anyone but themselves? And I realized, this was par for the course.
Now what? Well, not only did they not have an alternate flight or plan, but in typical United fashion, they outsourced the problem. The plane they were flying was Air Canada - one of their code share partners. And they just placed the blame on them even though United was handling the trip. In addition, my brother could only talk to outsourced customer service and couldn't get anyone with authority on the phone. Livid doesn't begin to describe how they felt.
They had to re-book their flight on American because, well, they didn't have any other choice. Leaving the same day but coming back a day later. Not perfect, because now my dad has to scramble to get someone to give him coverage for yet another day. What if American didn't have an available flight? A canceled trip for sure.
If my family's experiences with United is any indication of their performance at large, I don't see United lasting much longer. And good riddance at that.
I have read some rumblings recently about the deterioration of customer service and people who were in favor of it. They claimed that complaining customers can sometimes be a greater burden than they're worth. Sure, in some cases, where customers do nothing but hassle and heckle. But when you turn your backs on your long time customer base (my family has flown United and American our entire lives), that just lacks common sense. Your customers are your evangelists. They will live and die by you. They are the best advertising you can get. And the worst. I can never stress enough that without your customer, there will be no business.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Vyoo Quick and Dirty Scoring - Done!
I've come a realization today and I'm not sure I like the results. See, I've been programming for a while. Ten years now. And I'm always awed by those people who can pick up a programming book and learn how to code. It really blows my mind. I can't. I'm one of those visual people I guess, where I need to see some examples in order to learn. And then I can extrapolate further. So it takes me a while to get up to speed. It's the reason I shied away from coding this website, initially. I just knew it would be a lengthy endeavor.
Fortunately for me, I have a trusted sidekick. Fajar, a co-worker from the Gap back in the days when I worked there. He's since moved home to Indonesia to be with his family, and to help start his own consulting company, after attending school and working here for a few years. He got fed up with the Gap like I did and decided it was time to move on.
He's been coding Ruby a lot longer than I have and can provide me with the support I need. Though having a 24hr turnaround is a bit of a nuisance sometimes. It also requires a healthy dose of IM'ing in the late hours of the night or early morning when we're both awake.
He's one of those low level coders. He loves to hack away on Unix. He lives and dies by the command line. I live and die with the GUI. In any event, he's great at the infrastructure. Setting up the servers, setting up the Rails environment. Coding our framework.
I am good at solving the the data manipulation problems - the mathematical stuff. The bigger picture stuff.
Yesterday I finished part of the scoring for our algorithm. So it was a big win for me. There's another component I'm hoping to finish in the next several days. And this is going to allow us to open up our alpha to a wider range of people.
Now - there's a caveat here. We call this algorithm the Quick and Dirty (Q&D) algorithm. Because our algorithm maestro is working away on the real algorithm, which uses far more computational know-how and power. While I'm good at the big picture, using spatial geometry and intricate statistical modeling methodology will be left up to Mark.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Today was the day we finally ran our raffle. Sorry for the delay. You gotta know that things take a whole lot longer than you think they're going to take.
So, using a nice little random number generator, we picked our ten Starbucks gift certificate winners and our iPod Nano winner - out of 222 (completed) survey responses. I sent the emails out already, so make sure it's not in your spam folder.
It's always strange when some of the winners are your friends, but when you send something out and lots of the respondents are your friends, there's obviously a high likelihood that it's going to happen. One of my boys in New York City won. And I just know that I'm never going to hear the end of it.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Bloggers Unite For Human Rights: Refugees
A few times a year, Blogger's Unite asks us to write about an issue of global importance. This year, it's a discussion about helping refugees.
It comes at a time when tempers are flaring in Easter Congo as rebel and government forces are on the verge of seeing their cease fire wither and die. The implications are far more than just political. They become personal. For the 50,000 people living in the Kibati refugee camp near Goma. There's a cholera outbreak. They can't leave or shouldn't. Can't work. They sit and wait for the world to come to their aid. And who knows if it will? There was a genocide just a few years back in Rwanda. And it's looking eerily similar to the situation we have today (here). And these refugees will certainly suffer the most.
Living in a refugee camp can be sheer hell. Patrolled by troops, many of whom are unsympathetic to the plight of his/her own countrymen. Or the country he's invaded. Drunken soldiers firing their guns. Torturing, raping, and killing refugees at will.
It's an overlooked issue. I know there are lots of issue plaguing our world, but refugees get very little attention. So take today to think about refugees. Think about your own experiences learning about the plight of refugees. And if you don't know anything about it, read up a little on it today. It only takes a few minutes to get educated. And that alone can make a difference.
UK Refugee Services
Lutheran Refugee Services
Aotearoa-New Zealand Refugee Services
United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrant Children
Church World Service Immigrant & Refugee Program
Women's Commission for Refugee Women & Children
Sunday, November 9, 2008
The US Automobile Industry - To Save it Or Not? That is the Question.
Now they're asking for a $50 billion bailout. It was just $25, but why not double it?
I was talking to my roommate last week about this and initially, I thought the industry should be saved. The big 3 are icons in America and across the world. Ford and the assembly line. Muscle cars. The Corvette and Mustang. Like a Rock. All iconic. And all American. But he said something that resonated with me. Haven't they had enough opportunity to save themselves? I reluctantly agreed. And now, after thinking about his rationale, wholeheartedly agree.
And here's why?
In my lifetime, the US auto industry has gone from bad to worse. To maybe a little bit better in recent years. In the 80's, American cars were built like crap. And Japanese auto makers began to erode the market for US autos. Japan built cars that lasted. The US built cars to sell. It was obvious to me then and obvious to me now that either the US automakers didn't care or couldn't create them. I think they didn't care, because, like the financial institutions, they didn't have to. They were still selling lots of cars (and making money).
When US automakers finally started improving on quality, the Japanese were one step ahead with style. While just a minor point, if you look at cars over the last twenty years, you'll notice that US cars lost their iconic advantage. The Ford Taurus? The Dodge Neon? Even the Mustang suffered during the 80's and 90's. The T-Bird? US cars were built like crap and looked like crap. Whose fault was this?
When US automakers finally started improving aesthetics to entice new buyers, the Japanese were building more efficient cars. Efficiency is both fuel efficiency and manufacturing efficiency. Obviously, the Japanese are way ahead in mileage efficiencies. Take a look at hybrids or electrics. All pushed to US consumers by Japanese automakers. What did the Big 3 do? Nothing. They didn't have to, because they were still selling cars. Big cars. SUV's and Hummers.
How about manufacturing efficiencies? Well, that's a no brainer as well. The Japanese began building plants in the United States and even engaged in joint ventures with US automakers to build plants here in the States. I guess the US couldn't keep up or didn't know how to. Or didn't want to. Because they were still selling a few cars. Not as many. But still making money.
It's Finally Caught Up
For years Congress has been lobbied by the Auto industry not to pass higher MPG standards. Why? Because that would cost them money. Or they've lobbied Congress not to force them to include air bags or other safety systems. Why? Because that would cost them money. Take a look at the MPG regulations in the image above. It's ridiculous. China, a developing country, has higher fuel efficiency regulations than us. And yes, I did see this in an Inconvenient Truth (I was forced to watch it on Friday night even though I have a rampant distaste for Al Gore. But I have to say, it did it's job - and I'm glad he made it. I'm a huge fan of saving the environment, so if it raised awareness, I'm in.)
Well sure, things do cost money. But in the end, complying or willingly improving your product will provide a higher ROI. Competition never ends. If your successful, you'll always have people gunning for you. And, as the US auto industry has proven, you can certainly run out of luck. If the US were building great, fuel efficient, reliable automobiles like they should have been, we wouldn't be in this predicament.
Save them? Why? Will we lose jobs? Yes. But we're resilient. And innovative. And I'm sure we'll create jobs elsewhere. If we don't, well, maybe we'll have to.
And I'm certainly looking forward to the demise of the UAW union. Unions were great during industrialization. Now? They just seem like they hamper progress.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
Selfishness vs. Selfessness
I originally wrote this post on 10/12 - but just realized when I published it last night that it didn't show up as the first post here, so I've had to update the date.
I've had quite a few conversations over the last several weeks that all converged around a central theme. They weren't related, contextually, but they were all tied to how people live their lives – and whether people are generally in it for themselves? Well, let me tell you this. From my research, there’s a much larger cluster of people who are selfish. And this begs yet a further question. One which I'm afraid I don't have a good answer for yet. Is the reason because people think it pays better to be selfish? I'm going to lean towards a yes. So what about you? Generally selfish or selfless?
THE SELFISH ECONOMY
Lots of conversations have revolved around the economy. Because, shit, who isn't thinking about it right now? It started with tracing the root of the current mess. And it all led back to selfishness. Big, fat, corporate greed. Remember Enron? Nobody gave a crap about Enron until they collapsed. Why? Because everyone was making money, hand over fist. And nobody pursued further investigation of corporate America, beyond firms tied to Enron. Sure, maybe it was naivety and maybe nobody thought it was widespread. But how could the people involved with, say, the global financial markets, really not know there were problems in their industry? Or maybe, just maybe, there were happy making money.
I was watching Jim Fuld, CEO of Lehman brothers, get grilled before Congress. And at no time did he appear to be genuinely apologetic about his actions. He said a few things, like it was weighing on him. But if you looked in his eyes, you knew he didn't give a shit. And it was pathetic. Because he walked away with about $450 million after running Lehman into the ground. I'm sure he was bummed it went bankrupt, not because of his employees or his clients, but because his legacy will now be tarnished.
In a world where CEO's can pull in half a billion dollars, I think it speaks volumes about priorities. Especially when you get paid regardless of your performance. Where's the incentive there? On the other hand, I'm more than ok with someone like Jack Welch getting paid a gazillion dollars. He ran an incredibly successful ship at GE and created tons of real shareholder value. But when you're making gobs of money creating fake wealth or bilking investors, or not even making money for your company, I have issues with that.
I had a different conversation about Alan Greenspan, the man who was Chairman of the Fed for almost 20 years. I have to admit, I've been a fan of his for a while, but I remember thinking that his departure from the Fed was a little suspect. Why would you want to leave that job if you're an economist? That's the peak. The Mt. Everest of jobs. And then he continued to make public comments about the economy after he left. Anyway, if he was such a great economist, didn’t he see this mess coming? Did he see an impending failure of the global economy? And if he did, is that why he got out? Because he knew his legacy would take a beating? Selfishness? Just something to think about. And...while I've been thinking about it for a while, he came out recently and said that just maybe, he screwed up a little (here).
Next up: The US Auto industry.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
A Vyoo Update
I just arrived on the East Coast. This isn't a vacation - but at times hopefully it will feel like one. I came out to visit an old friend of mine but find myself in my usual location - a Starbucks. Yup. I've chastised Starbucks a lot. But I find their free wi-fi (since I'm an AT&T customer) unbeatable. And I like to do work places where there's some ambient noise (customers, music) and minor distractions. If I work at home - I tend to get cabin fever rather quickly and find anything to do to distract me. Like eating. Or whatever.
As promised, we've launched our alpha site several weeks back. We're not really open for business for anyone (because our algorithm isn't entirely plugged in), but we've got a dedicated server and full build/deployments going on. We're testing/fixing bugs and moving along. I've come to find that my obsessive nature in dealing with the website will need to take a backseat or at least chill out at some point. I cringe at releasing a product that has bugs. It's inevitable, but it scares me. I feel like a new website has pretty much one shot at capturing its users - otherwise, they ain't comin' back (or at last it'll be pretty hard to get them back). For a large company with marketing dollars behind them, well, it's a whole lot easier. I've even thought of trying Chrome again, because, well, Google is behind it. And I'm sure it's working better now. But there are more than a few startups/products I visit or try, with high hopes, never to return to.
One of our current issues that we're dealing with is handling the data interchange between our algorithm and our database. Our algorithm guru works in Python while we're in Rails. Problem 1. He also works with CSV files and we work with relational databases. Problem 2. Running our algorithm on the fly - quickly. Large problem 3. This will be the most challenging. And it has nothing to do with Rails - so stop your drooling over thinking you can call us out on that.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Economy Beat And My First Interview
I made it to the Economy Beat talk today put on by Venture Beat and a few others. I'm glad I went for a few reasons. First of all, it was good to see some optimism in the valley since Sequoia's apocalyptic talk which got all the news last week.
John Doerr. This guy is a genius. If you haven't seen him speak or listened to any of his words of wisdom, look into it. At the end of the VC panel, he outlined 10 things an entrepreneur/CEO can do during this downturn (see list here).
Ron Conway. Another really bright investor. His words of wisdom for the current economy - renegotiate everything. Even your rent.
While the VC's were optimistic and claimed they still are investing in things - the seasoned entrepreneurs added some reality to the matter. They claimed that the VC's aren't investing like they used to. That they're only investing in their companies that show progress. VC's will always tell you what paints them in a good light. Take it with a grain of salt.
What I really liked about the entrepreneur panel, was seeing Max Levchin speak. Now if Doerr is a genius from VC, Max is an entrepreneurial genius. I didn't know much about him before this, besides that he co-founded PayPal and founded Slide. But he was engaging and incredibly inspiring. He moved to the US when he was 16, from Russia, to start companies. That in itself is pretty amazing.
Some words of wisdom from Max:
1) Hire employees that think challenges are interesting
2) Don't listen to anybody - be a contrarian
3) Be quiet publicly
4) It sucks to be the only founder
Words from Nirav Tolia (ePinions.com)
1) Running a lean company should be a mindset
Jason Calacanis (Mahalo)
1) Focus on product
Some additional words of wisdom that I can't attribute to anyone, because honestly, I can't remember who said it. Prepare yourself for refreshing your employee IQ. Basically, hire and pay people who bring high intellect to your company. Do what you can to make sure your star employees are happy and contributing. You'll have to constantly work to make sure this happens.
The biggest highlight though, was my first interview. Fast forward to the end of that video embedded above....and enjoy. Yea, it's not perfect, but cut me some slack, it was my first time on camera.
While I spoke a while back about doing less and spending more time on product, these high value talks have proven they're worth their weight in gold.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
EconomyBeat: "How to manage your start-up in a downturn"
I think I owe you all a Vyoo post sometime soon. But first, here's an event I'll most likely be attending on Wednesday: EconomyBeat: "How to manage your start-up in a downturn". It looks promising, with a great lineup of speakers. John Doerr, Max Levchin, Ram Shriram, Ron Conway, and Matt Cohler, among others (here).
If you know me and you're interested in attending, send me a private email. There are a few tickets available for entrepreneurs at a discounted rate through BASES - The Business Association of Stanford (http://bases.stanford.edu/). Yes, I'm a Cal grad, but we're all entrepreneurs anyway. Also, you guys should join the BASES group on YouNoodle to stay up to date on worthwhile events - http://younoodle.com/groups/bases.
About the event, from BASES:
Start-ups will not be spared the effects of a recession, but what this means for entrepreneurs is an open question.
That's why VentureBeat has invited some of the most experienced and respected business leaders in Silicon Valley to debate the fallout and provide advice to start-up founders and executives about how to manage the mess we're in.
The event will take place at the Stanford Park Hotel between 8am-12pm on October 29th.
The format will be two roundtables, one for investors and one for entrepreneurs.
* John Doerr, Kleiner Perkins
* Ram Shriram, early investor in and founding board member at Google
* Max Levchin, Slide founder and PayPal co-founder
* Nirav Tolia, Epinions co-founder
* Matt Cohler, Benchmark Capital
* Jason Calacanis, founder of Mahalo
* Kittu Kolluri, New Enterprise Associates
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