Skip to content

Archive for June, 2007

Life at Google: The Microsoftie Perspective

I, like everyone else, am enjoying reading this post of pseudo-Q&A with an engineer who worked for Microsoft, then joined a startup that got acquired by Google. Not sure how legitimate it is, but everything in it rings true. Lots of insights into the Google culture, as well as some of the innovations they have made to really prioritize employee efficiency.

Here is one of my favorites, a description of Google Tech Stops:

Google has the concept of “Tech Stops.” Each floor of each building has one. They handle all of the IT stuff for employees in the building including troubleshooting networks, machines, etc. If you’re having a problem you just walk into a Tech Stop and someone will fix it. They also have a variety of keyboards, mice, cables, etc. They’re the ones who order equipment, etc. In many ways the Tech Stop does some of what our admins do. If your laptop breaks you bring it to a Tech Stop and they fix it or give you another one (they move your data for you). If one of your test machines is old and crusty you bring it to the Tech Stop and they give you a new one. They track everything by swiping your ID when you “check out” an item. If you need more equipment than your job description allows, your manager just needs to approve the action. The Tech Stop idea is genius because:

1. You establish a relationship with your IT guy so technical problems stop being a big deal – you don’t waste a couple of hours trying to fix something before calling IT to find out it wasn’t your fault. You just drop in and say, “My network is down.”

2. Most IT problems are trivial when you’re in a room together (“oh that Ethernet cable is in the wrong port”)

3. The model of repair or replace within an hour is incredible for productivity.

4. It encourages a more flexible model for employees to define their OWN equipment needs. E.g. a “Developer” gets a workstation, a second workstation or a laptop, and a test machine. You’re free to visit the Tech Stop to swap any of the machines for any of the others in those categories. For example, I could stop by and swap my second workstation for a laptop because I’m working remotely a lot more now. In the Tech Stop system, this takes 5 minutes to walk down and tell the Tech Stop guy. If a machine is available, I get it right away. Otherwise they order it and drop it off when it arrives. In our current set up, I have to go convince my manager that I need a laptop, he needs to budget for it because it’s an additional machine, an admin has to order it, and in the end developers always end up with a growing collection of mostly useless “old” machines instead of a steady state of about 3 mostly up-to-date machines.

This struck a chord with me, particularly as I reflect on time working at two large companies (Apple, eBay), a startup (Preview Systems), and a venture capital firm (Atlas Venture). In every environment, IT was optimized not around the convenience or efficiency of the employees, but around minimizing overhead & cost, and occasionally security.

You have to wonder how expensive the overhead is for the Google Tech Stops, and how much benefit they reap from it in productivity and employee morale. I can tell you one thing, having to fuss with IT about updating hardware is one thing that can really sap the energy of an employee in seconds.

US 24K Gold First Spouse Coins: Dates for Jefferson & Madison

Well, as you now know, the first two First Spouse coins for Martha Washington and Abigail Adams sold out in about 2 hours on the US Mint website.  The coins are now trading for between a 50-150% premium on eBay, and they haven’t even shipped yet.

So, the question you might be asking is:

What date is the US Mint releasing the next First Spouse coins?

I found the answers here, in this US Mint press release.   The dates are:

  • August 16th, Jefferson’s Liberty (he had no first spouse)
  • November 15th, Dolley Madison (not the baked goods)

Block off the dates.  I’m not sure at this point if the site will carry the coins at 9am EST or 12pm EST.  Hopefully, that will get announced ahead of time.

I Declare Monday, June 25th, 2007 Scary Fire Day.

Monday, June 25th, 2007 is now Scary Fire Day.

Today, there was a 128-acre fire that burned a large area known as “The Dish” at Stanford.  This is a large area of open foothills that features a radio-astronomy satellite dish (hence the name), open to the public.  Carolyn & I will often take the kids in a stroller to “do the dish”, a nice 3.5 mile walk up and around the hills that offers great views of the Valley.  My parents live within minutes of the Dish.

At the same time, up in Tahoe, a huge fire burned out of control in Desolation Wilderness, a large state park within just a few minutes of Stanford Sierra Camp.  The camp is a set of lodge cabins for alumni families to visit with kids during the summer.  Carolyn & I go up to the camp every summer in August, just a few weeks from now.  The fire was so bad that they evacuated the camp, not giving people time to even collect belongings from their cabins.

Just a little too close to home for my taste today.

Are You Saving Too Much for Retirement? Vanguard Responds.

On January 29th, I wrote this article asking the question of whether or not we are over-saving for retirement.  It was based on a fairly interesting New York Times piece on January 27, 2007 on the topic.  Since then, I’ve seen this topic appear fairly often in the personal finance press.

As a reminder, this graphic sums up the issue: spending in retirement is not level, so planning for a steady “80% of your pre-retirement income” may be overly conservative for many.  This graphic does a fair job outlining the issue:

Anyway, Vanguard has recently posted their take on the issue, and it’s worth reading.

Look, you could be cynical and say that Vanguard has every incentive to encourage people to over-save.  After all, they make money on the amount you have saved with them.  However, given Vanguard’s reputation for low costs and history as a staunch consumer advocate for savings, that’s an unlikely scenario.

Vanguard’s response to this issue is really basically the following:

  • It doesn’t take a significant savings rate to accumulate significant retirement wealth
  • It is better to over-save than to under-save, all things considered

It’s the second point that I really believe is the most material.  Look, I wish we lived in a country where everyone had been acting like good little ants, storing away food for the winter.  But that just isn’t the case.  The average retirement account has approximately $56,000 in it, and that isn’t going to cut it.

The WWII generation had three legs to their retirement system – social security, pensions, and savings.  Social security is evolving to a cash-starved system that will only really be there for people with modest means.  Anyone with significant savings will see their social security benefits means-tested and taxed at fairly high rates.  Pensions are also gone, for the most part, largely because the only institutions that can afford them are governments who don’t have to do proper accounting.

So that leaves saving.  As a result, I’m inclined to think that while the argument that common financial planning goals are too conservative might be interesting in theory, it sends the wrong message at the wrong time.  It’s like we’re telling an addicted gambler in Vegas that whoops, we made a mistake, and their savings account isn’t totally tapped out yet.

2007 First Spouse Coins a Sellout. Prices Jump on eBay. News at 11.

Who would have thought?  Gold coins with Martha Washington & Abigail Adams that cost $400+ each sell out within 2 hours at the US Mint.  40,000 coins per first lady, and apparently that wasn’t enough.

Unbelievable!

Here is a search for individual first spouse gold coins on eBay. It filters out the people who are selling all four coins at once (or tries to). Some of those sets have been selling for $4000! Right now the price seems to be climbing, but is between $650 – $800 per coin. Amazing.

I have to remind myself that the coins don’t ship for another two weeks (July 5th according to the US Mint).

I caught this article from Dave Harper today on Numesmatic News. While I think it is interesting that it has become well known that eBay is influencing the popularity and monetization of coins in the US, I disagree with his conclusion completely.

Dave argues basically the following:

  • The US Mint is producing “instantly popular” coins by limiting mintage.
  • The fact that households can buy 5 coins each means that a relatively small number of buyers can “clean out” the inventory of the mint, creating the illusion of popularity.
  • These buyers are really just waiting to flip the coins on eBay for a profit.

So far, so good. In fact, this is one of the things I have noticed as well. More issues from the US Mint are selling out quickly, and that’s because I believe that people have discovered the online site and they are able to often sell the coins on eBay for a profit to people who either don’t know about the site, or who miss the launch window for the coin.

But then Dave kind of goes off the deep end a bit with the conclusion:

Now I know sellouts are in the financial interests of the U.S. Mint. The possibility of profit is the only reason the Mint sells coins to collectors at all. However because this sales approach is so exclusionary, perhaps the Mint should sell all of the coins itself in online auctions. The windfall profits would then belong entirely to the government, and theoretically at least, a piece of the profit would accrue to all Americans as a few dollars less in taxes that would have to be paid.

Sporting events don’t sell all of the tickets directly to scalpers. They at least try to achieve some semblance of fairness. The Mint should reflect on what it is doing in this light.

Huh? What?

I had to read it again to make sure I understood what he was saying. The analogy with tickets made no sense to me juxtaposed with the idea for the US Mint to auction off coins.

Most concerts and sporting event venues try to ensure that “true fans” will have access to tickets. While I find that argument fairly specious, their solution to the problem is to sell the tickets at a fixed price, and start the sale at a public time, limiting the number of tickets any individual can buy.

That is exactly what the US Mint is doing!

They have a fixed price ($429.95) and they publicly announced the fixed time (June 19, 2007) when the coins would go on sale. They then limited each buyer to 5 coins each.

How is that not fair compared to ticket sales?

I myself posted the date and time on this blog weeks in advance – the US Mint has been advertising it for quite a while. The people who cared went to the site and bought the coins. I didn’t exactly camp out either – I flipped to the site when I had a spare moment, 52 minutes after the coins went on sale, and I bought a couple myself.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love auctions. I think that they are a great way to ensure that the people willing to pay the most get the goods, and that sellers get the most for their goods. It is literally supply meeting demand.

But it’s hard to argue that if the US Mint auctioned these coins off that it would be better for the individual investor.

It was not a given that the First Spouse coins would sell out. Believe me, I’ve purchased supposedly hot coins at the US Mint, only to see their value drop over time due to lack of interest and demand years later. The supposedly collectible nickels from 2004-2006, for example, aren’t exactly trading for a premium.

In fact, I believe I argued on this blog that the First Spouse coins would not be popular – who is going to pay over $400 a coin for a series of over 40 first spouses ($16,000 total), when most of the women featured are literally unknown to 99.9% of Americans?

Now what Dave should have argued for is a lottery. The US Mint could have reserved some coins to be distributed, not based on first-come, first-serve, but based on a lottery across interested parties. You’d put a small deposit down, to ensure only real buyers, and a valid form of a payment. Then the US Mint could collect names for weeks, and pick winners who would then get the coins.

Oh well. Count this buyer happy.

2007 Presidential $1 Dollar Coin Proof Set Now Available (US Mint, June 21)

June 2007 is a busy month for the US Mint.

Two days ago, they released the first two 2007 First Spouse 24K Gold coins in proof & uncirculated versions.  To my suprise, they sold out in just 1.5 hours, and the waiting list is apparently over 35,000 coins.  Thank goodness I got my order in early.

Today, the US Mint has release the proof set for the 2007 Presidential $1 Dollar Coin Program.  4 Coins total.

Now, I personally collect the US Silver Proof sets every year, which will also include the new dollar coins.  But for people who just want the Presidential dollars, this is a beautiful set.  Because the coins are not made of gold or silver, they are reasonably priced – only $14.95 a set.

Get yours here.

By the way, if you want to stay up to date on US Mint releases, it’s very easy now.  They have enabled the US Mint website with RSS Feeds.  Here is the feed to get their product introduction announcements.

New Feature: What I’m Reading (Shared Google Reader Feed)

I’m trying out a new idea, borrowed from My Blog Utopia, Randy Smythe’s blog.

A couple months ago, I realized that I was accumulating far too many blogs to read through the My Yahoo interface.  Over 100 at last count.  I needed a blog reader, and based on popularity of the blog readers hitting this site, I went with Google Reader.

Google Reader has been fun, especially with the Firefox modification to make it look and feel more like Mac OS X.

Well, on Randy’s blog I saw that he had a widget that showed the blog articles that he was reading.  I have seen this type of “clipping feed” on several other blogs, but WordPress doesn’t seem to have that feature.

Then I noticed it was generated by Google Reader, and I thought, “Maybe there is a way to get Google Reader to spit out an RSS feed, and then I could put it into a sidebar widget on WordPress.com”

Turns out, it just works.  I figured out how to flag a blog post as “Shared” on Google Reader, and now, on the left-hand column of this blog, you’ll see the last 10 blog articles that I have flagged.  Should be fun, since it saves me from just posting “read this” type of articles.  I can focus just on areas where I have more significant commentary.

So check it out… it’s on the left side, under the header “What I’m Reading”

Let me know what you think.

The 2007 24K Gold First Spouse Coins Are Now Available

Break out the plastic, coin collectors. The new 2007 24K Gold First Spouse coins just went on sale at the US Mint today at 12pm EST.

Right now, there are four available:

  • Martha Washington, Proof
  • Martha Washington, Uncirculated
  • Abigail Adams, Proof
  • Abigail Adams, Uncirculated

Here are the proof & uncirculated versions, for comparison:

From the US Mint website:

This year marks the inaugural year of the First Spouse Gold Coin Series, the United States Mint’s first coin series to feature our Nation’s First Spouses.

Four, one-half ounce, $10 24-karat Gold First Spouse Coins will be minted and released annually in the order the spouses served in the White House. The coins will be minted in proof and uncirculated condition and are available individually. Each First Spouse Gold Coin will coincide with the release of the four circulating Presidential $1 Coins annually. In 2007, the United States Mint will release the first four coins in the series which include: Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Thomas Jefferson’s Liberty and Dolley Madison.

Martha Washington: The obverse designed and sculpted by United States Mint Sculptor-Engraver Joseph Menna, is inspired by Martha Washington’s portrait by Charles Wilson Peale. The reverse, designed by Susan Gamble, United States Mint Artistic Infusion Program Master Designer, and sculpted by Don Everhart, United States Mint Sculptor-Engraver features Martha Washington sewing a button on her husband’s uniform jacket.

First Spouse Gold Proof Coins are available in limited mintages. Each 2007 First Spouse One-Half Ounce Gold Proof Coin is packaged in a custom-designed domed-chest, highly polished lacquered hardwood presentation case and accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity signed by the Director of the United States Mint.

Martha Washington Coin Maximum Mintage: 40,000 across all product options

Each is one-half ounce of 24K gold, with a face value of $10. The proof coins sell for $429.95, the uncirculated coins for $410.95. You can buy them at the US Mint here, shipping date is current July 4th, 2007, although that will push out as they sell.

They are limiting mintage of each first spouse to 40,000 coins – interestingly, that is across both proof and uncirculated versions, so the ratio could be heavily skewed.

Assuming that you wanted to collect all of these coins, you’d be on the hook for nearly $32,000 over the next 10 years at these prices. I’m guessing that most people won’t go for that.

The hardest choice here might be whether to buy the proof or uncirculated versions. Given the low differential in price, it might seem like the proof coin is the most obvious choice. Aha, but that’s the problem! If everyone buys the proof, and no one buys the uncirculated, guess which one will end up the winner in collectible value?

Comment here if you collect coins… are you going to buy this set? Proof or uncirculated?

Update (6/21/2007): Wow. The coins sold out in approximately 2 hours on the US Mint website. Crazy. I’ve written a post about it, the current prices on eBay, and some of the commentary about it.

Update (6/26/2007):  I’ve posted the planned launch dates for the next two First Spouse coins at the US Mint.  Mark your calendars!

The LinkedIn Blog: My First Post

 

I’ve mentioned the official LinkedIn blog here before.  Well, as of today, I now am one of the contributors to that blog as well.

Check out my first post.

Yes, I know that readers of this blog will recognize the joke about my Mom being on LinkedIn.  What can I say? I think it’s really interesting how excited she is about LinkedIn and connecting with all of her professional contacts.  In fact, last night, she was already explaining to me all the new features she wants for the site.

This is surprising to me, since even after 4 years at eBay, I was unable to ever get my Mom to successfully bid on an auction, or buy an item on eBay Express.  But LinkedIn for some reason has grabbed her, and I think that speaks to the power of connecting with people.

I really love the fact that LinkedIn has an official blog.  Now that I’ve been blogging here for almost a year, I really regret not having official blogs at eBay for the products and teams that I was responsible for.  It’s such a great way to tear down the walls that normally separate people creating products from the people using them.  It makes the web more human, and I think that type of open communication really benefits both the community using the product as well as those working tirelessly to improve it. 

In any case, I’ll now be posting from time to time on the official LinkedIn blog about new features or about new ways to use LinkedIn.  As always, I’ll be keeping this blog to primarily personal content.

Father’s Day 2007

June 17, 2007.  My third Father’s Day… well, as a father at least.

For this post, I thought I’d just put up some pictures to reflect on.  I’m very lucky.  I have two wonderful boys, and my father & grandfather both live nearby.   Very lucky, indeed.

Here are some recent shots of me with Jacob & Joseph (May 2007):

 

Here are some shots of my Dad with his grandsons, Jacob & Joseph:

 

Here is a picture of my Grandfather, with his great-grandsons, Jacob & Joseph:

 

And here are some nostalgia moments, pictures from Father’s Day 2005 & 2006:

  

So Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there, and a special thank you to Carolyn & my boys for making this my day also.

Finding Adam Nash: Google, ZoomInfo, LinkedIn

I’ve been thinking a bit about how people find people online.  To sample, I tried three different services: Google, ZoomInfo, and LinkedIn.  I wanted to get a sense of three different approaches to online people search.

Let’s start with web search!  Google doesn’t really focus on people as a first-class entity, so it basically just aggregates web pages based on its algorithms for content relevance.

When I search for Adam Nash on Google, I get the following:

The results are pretty good… for me, at least.  4 of the top 5 links are actually my pages.  The top two are this blog.  The fourth is my old homepage at Stanford, and the fifth is my current personal home page.

Of course, none of these pages would give you excellent data about me, really, but they all contain pointers to good, deep information.

Next up, ZoomInfo, and the magic of web scraping & aggregation.  I did the search and was surprised to find 52 reconds for Adam Nash.  Even more surprising, 6 of them look like they are pieces of my history, but in a mish-mash that combine strange pieces of data.  In some cases, my data is mixed with someone elses.

Here are the 6 versions of Adam Nash in ZoomInfo that I can verify should really be one version: me.

What a mess.  It’s not that the information there isn’t partially correct, it is (or was), and it’s interesting to see some of the articles scraped together.  But the fragmentation is terrible, and I’m almost offended to see my picture on top of information for someone else.  Certainly, anyone looking for me on ZoomInfo would have a very hard time figuring out who I was, or what I was doing with any accuracy.

Now, of course, our user-generated content site, LinkedIn.  Here is the search I get back when I’m logged onto the site:

Ok, Ok, that’s cheating :)  But that’s close to what anyone in my broad network would see (over 1.4M members).  The data is correct and up-to-date.

How about a public search on LinkedIn, with no LinkedIn account at all?  Also good:

The first link there is mine.  Clean results, correct information.  You can’t beat my public profile for accurate and relevant professional information.

Not surprisingly, I think this indicates the strengths of the different mechanisms for finding people online today.  Google, representing natural search, does a decent job focusing on existing content.  LinkedIn, representing user-generated content, does a fantastic job of accuracy and relevancy.  ZoomInfo, representing aggregated web scraping, seems to have a ways to go before it will a trustworthy directory.

As always, your mileage may vary.

Missing eBay Live 2007 in Boston

This is the first time in four years that I’m not at eBay Live, and I have to admit, I’m missing it.

Well, of course the eBay Chatter has a play-by-play on their blog, and there is a website that is hosting a replay of the 2007 keynote.  But it’s not like being there.

My first eBay Live was in 2004, in New Orleans.  I was helping out generally, working the Business & Industrial and Sports category booths, and teaching classes to sellers interested in selling in bulk lots on eBay.  I had just delivered some key platform enhancements in this area, and was very excited to be giving my first eBay Live class.  Imagine my surprise when over 300 people turned up for the first session (standing room only!)   The funniest moment was two minutes before we were about to start, Jeff Jordan walked in the room and looked a little surprised.

“What class is this?!?” he asked me.

“Buying & Selling in Lots on eBay” I said.

“Really?!?”

:)

The secret to a great class at eBay Live was focusing not on what eBay wanted to tell members, but about what members wanted to hear from eBay.  Selling in bulk was something that many sellers at the time were experimenting with at the time, and for good reason.  It was a way to source supply, a way to move out stagnant inventory, and a way to potentially sell new classes of inexpensive goods on the platform.  You’re not going to sell 1 can of tennis balls on eBay, but you might sell a case of 24.

I taught classes at eBay Live 2005 in San Jose, and at eBay Live 2006.  Of course, for me, 2006 was the highlight, as we rolled out eBay Express broadly to the community.  In fact, I believe the 2006 eBay Live class on eBay Express is still available online, right here.

Lara Housser & Christophe Gillet are giving the eBay Express classes this year, and there is a lot of great material in those classes.  I think a lot of people are going to be surprised with the success-to-date for the site.

Despite the incredibly long hours on your feet, and the incredibly early mornings and late nights, there is a bit of magic to eBay Live, and I have to admit that I’m missing it this year.

Of course, that’s the trade-off you make when you take on a new opportunity – you have to leave another behind.  I can’t tell you how excited I am about my new role and my new company.  The opportunity at LinkedIn is incredible, and the people are amazing to work with.

But I’m feeling nostalgic tonight, so good luck to the eBay team in Boston this week.

P.S.  In a weird twist of events, “Lara Housser” has become one of the top ten search queries leading to this blog.  Lara, if you are reading, you may want to update your LinkedIn public profile… people are clearly looking for you.  :)

The US 50-State Map Renamed For Countries with Similar GDP

OK, this is a little geeky, but I found this map really fun.


(click for larger view)

Sometimes it’s hard to appreciate how big the US economy really is compared to the rest of the world. This map does a good job of showing the scale of just the individual states, replacing each state with a country that has roughly the same economic size as that state.

And yet, wile a per capita GDP might give a good indication of the average wealth of citizens, a ranking of the economies on this map does serve two interesting purposes: it shows the size of US states’ economies relative to each other (California is the biggest, Wyoming the smallest), and it links those sizes with foreign economies (which are therefore also ranked: Mexico’s and Russia’s economies are about equal size, Ireland’s is twice as big as New Zealand’s).

I think the reason this amuses me so much is just the strange geographic overlay. Try playing red-state, blue-state with these country names. I was even imagining the civil war played out on this grid.

Here is a link to the full article.

Battlestar Galactica: Ronald Moore Talks about Earth

Very long and detailed interview with Ron Moore on Crave Online about Battlestar Galactica, including a lot of his thoughts about season 4.

Battlestar Galactica: Ronald Moore Talks About Earth

One of the questions I like has Moore reflecting on what he believes is the most interesting about science fiction:

CRAVE ONLINE: A lot of viewers see very specific metaphors in the show for what’s going on in the world today. Do you ever feel like fans get too literal in their own interpretations, and do you ever wish that people would just relax and enjoy the show on its own merits?

RONALD MOORE: Part of the point of science fiction, at least in its roots, was always to give the audience an allegory to present a metaphor for what was taking place in the culture. I think we’ve always enjoyed, and taken a certain satisfaction in, the fact that there are those who watch the show and assume that there is a liberal bias and those who watch the show and assume there’s a pro-military bias, and that’s how it’s supposed to work. You’re supposed to bring your own point of view to it, and then be able to extrapolate out whatever messages you want. The show tends to not be terribly definitive. We were pretty clear from the outset that this wasn’t going to be about protagonists espousing lessons and rules, and arriving at the end to save the day and tell everyone what was right and what was wrong. The line separating the protagonists and antagonists would often blur with the audience often asking themselves if they’re rooting for the right side. There’s always going to be a question mark of sorts at the end of most stories, and I think that applies to the political element as well. There really isn’t a definitive answer to anything that’s being espoused by any given story. It’s more just about the idea that there are two sides to every equation.

This is interesting to me, in particular, because this is why I’ve always been drawn to science fiction. So much of political and moral debate can unwittingly be shaped by assumptions about technology. It’s always fascinating to see how different assumptions about what is and isn’t possible can shape debate about very real human issues.

Supergirl to Join Smallville in Season 7

Is this worth blogging about? I don’t know.

Supergirl will indeed be a new character in Smallville when it returns for Season 7. More on this at SyFy Portal.

Clark’s cousin Kara “was sent to Earth in a ship that arrived at the same time as baby Kal-El’s,” executive producer Al Gough told TV Guide. “But there was a problem and she’s been in suspended animation for the last 16 years. We’ll find out in the season premiere that the big dam break in last season’s finale is the reason she’s finally awoken.”

I have a special place in my heart for truly awful movies… and the Supergirl movie from 1984 is one of the worst ever. Unbelievably bad.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 10,980 other followers