Friday, November 28, 2008
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.”
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.