Monday, December 26, 2005


Post from Xooglers on the brilliance of the founders of Google:
"First, I accept that Larry and Sergey really are brilliant. I'm sure that on IQ tests, they're off the charts, but that's not the kind of brilliance I mean. I mean brilliant in the sense that they have a vision that burns so brightly within them it scorches everything that stands in its way. The truth is so obvious to them that they have no patience for the niceties of polite society when bringing that vision to life."

Wow, can you imagine having that much conviction about something?

A vision that burns so brightly within them it scorches everything that stands in its way.

I wonder how long Google will let Xooglers keep up his blog? Or do you think it's Google-approved?

Friday, December 23, 2005

Jellyfish T-shirts!

Hey everyone,

Check out these blue jellyfish t-shirts from Threadless!

$15 for a guy shirt and $17 for a "girly" tee.

Get one today! :)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

links for 2005-12-22

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

links for 2005-12-21

Greed is good?

Greed is good for you? [Economist]

"So what lessons can ordinary mortals glean from the Krocs and the Kerkorians? First, be your own boss—then nobody can sack you or force you to retire. Voters and managers, who control the fates of politicians and of ordinary workers, are foolishly susceptible to ageist prejudice. Shareholders, by contrast, don't care how wrinkly a chap looks so long as he delivers the dividends. Second, never retire—it rots the brain. "

Sounds like sage advice.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

How cute!

Baaaaaby Animals blog

Also see Cute Overload


Check out this web-based IM aggregator called Meebo.. IM your friends anywhere, without downloading software! Cool.

Founded by some kids I knew in college. Wow!

Update - they've just been funded by Sequoia. Whoa!

Friday, December 16, 2005

links for 2005-12-17

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Links for Wednesday

Wayfaring Map - Christmas Trees in New York City
Make your place festive with a Xmas tree!

Interactive Transit Map for NYC
Another Google mash-up. Tell it where you want to go and it will tell you how to get there, barring a strike of course!

How to Split a Shared Cab Ride - Economists Weigh In
If you've ever been confronted with this dilemma, you'll find this link pretty interesting. Unfortunately, it seems a bit overly complex with all these economists' views!

Showtime may rescue 'Arrested Development' - Yahoo! News
Hurray for Arrested Development

Num Sum: web spreadsheet
Cool web spreadsheet program.I've been looking for something like this!! Unfortunately, it's not responsive enough for my taste.

Can This Man Reprogram Microsoft? - New York Times
Ray Ozzie - leading a revolution at Microsoft? And is Google going to roll out a killer $200 thin-client computer?

MacGyver Tip: Remove lint with a FedEx airbill pouch - Lifehacker

Eight Life Hacks for Health, Wealth, and Happiness :
Some advice on simplifying

Blockbuster Introduces MovieSuite
29.99 per month for online DVD rentals, 2 coupons for in-store rentals AND 2 tickets for the movie theatre... seems like a good idea, if you actually use it, unlike me who pays Blockbuster $16 per month for the pleasure of holding Big Lebowski and Blue Velvet - Uggs Again? What Last Year's 'It' Gift Does for an Encore
I just bought some Ugg boots last week. They are super duper comfortable and VERY warm, even if they don't look very attractive

Calculation of NPV of MBA
Is an MBA worth it? Note that the author assumes 10% earnings growth post-MBA and 7% earnings growth without an MBA. I think the earnings growth should be about the same, but maybe the starting point would differ?

The Consumerist: Shoppers Bite Back
Interesting new blog from Gawker Media for consumers -- watch out for scams!

theory.isthereason » From to WordPress: How to automatically post daily links
Guide to posting links to Wordpress blogs using Del.icio.ous... pretty easy and hopefully it will work!
Update: It didn't work.. I did this manually today, but last night it looked like Delicious was "down for maintenance." Hopefully it will work today :(

Thursday, December 8, 2005

Yahoo Answers

Yahoo has come out with a new service called Yahoo Answers. Looks pretty interesting... the new site is a community based Q&A forum.

Basically anyone can type in any question and any user can submit an answer. So in some respects, it's like Wikipedia or eHow or How-To By You (an experimental website where anyone could answer how-to questions, looks like it's down now), where you leverage the knowledge of the community to find answers.

As this recent NYT article, "Snared in the Web of a Wikipedia Liar", notes, though, information posted by users online may not be accurate or reliable.

I think Yahoo Answers is interesting, but another challenge might be the ease by which users can find information. I hope they've set up good categories and contexts. For example, what if questions are related to NYC and services -- say I want to find a good hair-dresser or a reliable petsitter. It would be nice to have a good place to ask these questions, sort of like Chowhound's message board, except for everything instead of just food.

Here's a couple links to information services/resources:
  • Go Ask Alice - Columbia University's health Q&A service
  • Flyer Talk - for travel information and deals by frequent travelers
  • Judy's Book - a new service that seeks to help you find good local help in your community. "Does someone know a good plumber?"
  • Gothamist Forum - for NYC related discussion and sometimes good advice
  • Google Answers - if you're willing to cough up some dough

Hmm, there was a NYT article discussing the rise of these answering services, but I can't seem to locate it. Furl's search function really sucks!! Does anyone remember that article? There was also another article in NYT (or was it the New Yorker?) discussing the researchers behind Google Answers... ordinary people who like to sleuth around on the Internet for answers to questions.

Monday, December 5, 2005

Grim Slide

Instant millions can't halt winners' grim slide [NYT]"

"For Mack W. Metcalf and his estranged second wife, Virginia G. Merida, sharing a $34 million lottery jackpot in 2000 meant escaping poverty at breakneck speed.

Years of blue-collar struggle and ramshackle apartment life gave way almost overnight to limitless leisure, big houses and lavish toys. Mr. Metcalf bought a Mount Vernon-like estate in southern Kentucky, stocking it with horses and vintage cars. Ms. Merida bought a Mercedes-Benz and a modernistic mansion overlooking the Ohio River, surrounding herself with stray cats...

In 2003, just three years after cashing in his winning ticket, Mr. Metcalf died of complications relating to alcoholism at the age of 45. Then on the day before Thanksgiving, Ms. Merida's partly decomposed body was found in her bed."

How sad!

Thursday, December 1, 2005

Minimal Marginal Cost

It seems like all companies with products where the marginal cost to serve is minimal are struggling with their business models -- look at drug companies, film companies, music companies. It costs quite a bit to develop the product upfront, either through R&D or costs to film. But once the product is developed, the cost to distribute another item is pretty inconsequential.

That's why you get 90% margins on some drugs or 90% margins to print another DVD. But the cost of creating the product isn't encapsulated in the physical components of the product -- it's in the intellectual content needed to make the product.

Is there a solution to this dilemma?

External link:
Through Charities, Drug Makers Help People - and Themselves [WSJ]

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


Read in a New Yorker article on typefaces ("Man of Letters":
"Any misjudgement multiplies its effect as he continues... Somehow you have to develop judgement... Before you have a body of work, you have to learn from others. You have to force yourself to form an opinion. If you haven't got discernment, you simply repeat what you're used to."

Monday, November 21, 2005


New travel search site funded by Sequoia Capital -
The site only searches, but then you can book directly with the provider.

Check it out. The interface looks nice and simple -- which is pretty refreshing compared to the clutter on most travel sites.

Saturday, November 19, 2005


"The keenest sorrow is to recognize ourselves as the sole cause of all our adversities."
-- Sophocles

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Benefits of Technology

Hmm, it's interesting to think about benefits of technology. People have no money because the people who own the machines and benefit from them are few and far between. They need others to "buy" the products the machines produce, but few people can, since they have nothing to trade.

But, shouldn't the people doing nothing be doing something else? It seems like having machines would free people up to pursue other things, coudn't they sell or trade these things? Shouldn't the free time give people more opportunity to be creative and entrepreneurial? Or is there too much fear? Perhaps our schooling system focuses too much on people who are good at following rules. When there are no clear rules, people don't know what to do.

See the quotation below:
Technology making things worse?
"Benefits Of Technology Thwarted By Our Attitude To Employment

My job for fifteen years (1975 - 1990) had been to write computer programs to make people redundant. I was not alone; throughout the western world an army of programmers have been working night and day to get rid of as many jobs as possible. Each job discarded meant improved productivity, and reduced costs. Because of our work, businesses throughout the world have become much more efficient, able to supply better goods and services, at a cheaper price. However it would seem we have wasted our time. Industry and commerce can't utilise our improvements because there is no demand. There is no demand because people have no money. Nobody has any money, because so many people are out of work."

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A Shortage of Engineers?

The WSJ article (subscription required) describes the false shortage of engineers felt by companies:
"Amid rapidly changing technology, the engineers employers want aren't necessarily the engineers who are available. And companies often create the very shortages they decry by insisting on applicants who meet every item on a detailed list of qualifications... Despite the numbers [of available engineers], employers say they struggle to find the right person for openings... Companies often draw up extremely narrow job descriptions, recruiters and staffing managers say, causing searches to get drawn out. "

Shouldn't there be a greater focus by companies on training people to develop the skills that you are looking for? Why do companies expect the talent to just be ready-to-go on the field?

People are pretty adaptable, trainable and smart. Why not give them a chance? I suppose companies are afraid of investing in people that might not pan out later...

As a worker, how are you supposed to anticipate what will be in high demand later?

"The basic difference between Wildfire and 2000i is not that significant," says Mr. Sylvester. "I say smart people can learn sister applications, but there is reluctance among hiring managers to see that. If they use a SAP database system, they won't even look at someone with experience with a PeopleSoft system. There is a major fear of having to bring someone up a learning curve. They want them to hit the ground running."

""Getting engineers who have the type of talent you need, quickly -- a great background, very well-educated, mobile -- has become more important over the last few years," says Jane Leipold, vice president for human resources at Tyco Electronics, Harrisburg, Pa., a unit of Tyco International Ltd. "The demands are different. The advances in technology mean you need very specific talents."

I think this is probably most important for engineers and frankly, any person:
"One employer demand that flummoxes many engineers is the need for "soft" skills -- working in groups, communicating and writing."

Technology changes quickly, but people skills are indispensable. Unfortunately, it doesn't sound like companies are going to become more flexible.

Monday, November 14, 2005

A Job You Love

"Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your
– Confucius

Friday, November 11, 2005

Fat Fingers

Find cheap stuff on ebay - take advantage of misspellings:
Fat Fingers

How to Fold a Shirt Beautifully Video and commentary.. umm, looks confusing. I wish I could do it though! Will experiment at home later.

Old version of programs -- because bloatware sucks!!

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Low light plants for cats?

Okay, anyone have any ideas for low-light plants that aren't toxic for cats?

My apartment is sort of dim, since I'm in the back of the building and all the plants I buy *always* die! It's sort of depressing. Even the "fool-proof" aloe plant died! :( My friend was shocked to hear that.

And, on top of that, I have a cat that loves to eat plants. Right now I've switched back to bamboo plants, since they are basically indestructible.. Well, indestructible at least from owner neglect. I'm not so sure my bamboo plants are tough enough to withstand my kitty's proclivity for chewing on leaves. Maybe that's why my cat keeps throwing up? What is she eating?!

Anyway, any ideas for easy, pretty plants that can survive with little light and withstand some light chewing (okay, maybe not-so-light)?

I looked into the peace lily, but apparently it's toxic for cats. And I would love to get a parlor palm, but I can't find one. Any other ideas?!

I wish that Home Depot and other plant stores would label their plants better. Usually there's just a whole bunch of tiny plants in pots without names or anything, except for something vague like "fern." What if I'm a plant novice and don't know how to care for the plant? Or need to know the light conditions? Or want to check if the plant is toxic?

I've taken to carrying plant lists when I go plant-shopping, but even doing that, it's nearly impossible to locate the proper plant. Maybe I should carry a plant *book* with photos or something.

Can someone save us urban, amateur "gardeners"?!

Fun with Gift Organizer launched a gift organizer feature yesterday, and it's so much fun!

I've already gone through connected all the things I've ever bought at Amazon with the gift recipient. I love how I can see what I've purchased since 2001, although I realize I've bought maybe too many things for myself! Hehe.

In any case, this organizer is *perfect*, since just yesterday I was starting to put together my holiday gift list. This year, I plan to be organized and buy everything ahead of time online. Usually, I procrastinate until the last minute and usually spend Christmas Eve at Border's buying books for everyone I know. It's quite stressful.

This gift organizer thing is *so* much better. You can scan through gift idea lists and add your gift ideas to a special "gift idea list" for each person. It's great! The only problem is that I can't quite figure out how to add an item directly to someone's gift list. I can't find the button!

So to get around it, I've been adding things to my wish list first, then moving them to the gift recipient's list. It's sort of annoying!!! But, oh well, at least I can track ideas more beautifully and graphically on Try it, it's so much fun!

It's also fun to see the "most wished for" items and the "most gifted". I am such a sucker for most popular lists!!!

Healthcare and Human Nature

But isn't it just human nature to want to pay for things when you have to? And not want to pay for "preventive" type things that will *prevent* huge, but uncertain expenditures down the road?

U.S. Lacks Vaccines, Antibiotics [WSJ]
"Michael Kremer, an economist at Harvard University, says under the current incentive system, drugs that treat disease are more lucrative than vaccines to prevent it partly because people are more inclined to pay for a medicine that treats a condition they already have. In one economic model, Dr. Kremer and a colleague concluded that revenue from drugs to treat AIDS would be twice as high as from vaccines to prevent it. Also, Dr. Kremer notes, a successful vaccine may devour its own market by eradicating the disease it protects against."

Thursday, November 3, 2005


by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Don't let consumption consume you

Rule of the day: Don't let consumption consume you.

I like shopping. I mean, I don't like going to retail stores, but I like doing research when I'm about to make a purchase, I like to consider all my options and preferences. I like to ponder what I'm going to buy. But, I realize that my apartment is filled with all sorts of cool things that I never use. Like that Braun hand blender. Or that Foodsaver vacuum saver. I mean, those are awesome tools, and I used them a ton when I first bought them a year and a half ago, but now they are sad appliances lying lonely in the kitchen. They haven't felt my caress in over a year.

Poor things. Should I toss them? I like to throw things out, but I think I tend to swing from one extreme to the next. I either hoard everything (e.g. my 4 pints of Haagen Dazs Almond Hazelnut ice cream) or throw things away/donate that I need (my favorite grey pants).

Is there a way to enjoy the act of shopping without actually buying more stuff? I have so many pairs of shoes, but I still want to buy those Camper boots I saw last weekend and a big white puffy jacket for the winter. Oh and rain boots and a trenchcoat for when it's pouring outside. I feel like my "to buy" list is never-ending.

Can I get my mind out of the shopping gutter?

Last night, I saw a 300 GB hard drive for $40. Even though I don't need a hard drive and I have plenty of space, I still thought seriously about buying it. I mean, $40!? Then I started to wonder about SATA versus IDE, and decided I didn't feel like going through the brain damage of figuring it out.

And do I really need both a Spud Trooper *and* a Darth Tater? Even if they are really cute pieces of plastic?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

To test or not to test?

When I consider healthcare now, I see something now that I didn't see before. Doctors are *most concerned* about liability (e.g. negative to the doctor), not incentives to make money (positive to a doctor). Since American society is so litigious, doctors order a battery of tests, needed or not, because they do not want to be sued in the remote possibility that the tests detect an ailment.

It makes so much sense now!

The provision of healthcare is by its very nature an assessment of risk. Doctors and patients have to trade-off the risk and the benefit of expensive tests and treatments.

In a hypothetical situation, let's say a patient goes to a doctor feeling sick. The doctor examines the patient, and based on physical symptoms and descriptions by the patient, the doctor makes the judgment that the patient has a low chance of having a terminal, life-threatening disease. Say a 1% chance. However, the doctor cannot be 100% certain, unless he or she runs a battery of expensive tests.

Since the doctor (1) wants to make sure the patient is healthy and (2) is worried about *not* detecting a potentially serious and being blamed by the patient and subsequently sued, the doctor will order the expensive tests.

The first result (health of the patient) can probably be determined most cost effectively through doctor's own training and experience assessing the potential for disease. But as in most situations in life, nothing is 100% certain, and there is a risk the doctor could have made an error. Since the doctor is afraid, he or she will choose the sure thing, the no-blame course of action, and order the tests. The benefit to the doctor personally far outweighs the costs of the tests, since he or she is *not* going to pay for the expensive (and potentially unnecessary tests).

The patient just wants to make sure he or she is really okay. That there is nothing more serious wrong. As long as the tests are not too arduous or difficult, the patient will likely agree to taking additional tests to *make sure* nothing is wrong. Even though, the doctor might be 99% confident, nothing is wrong.

For the patient, the benefit of taking the test (more certainty around disease status) far outweighs the benefits of not taking the test (saving money and time). The doctor feels the same way.

I don't believe this is the only reason that healthcare costs are skyrocketing, but I do feel it is one reason. As more and more advanced tests become available, able to detect a myriad of rare diseases, don't doctors have a *responsibility* to check their patients in the remote possibility the patient has the disease?

And wouldn't patients prefer to take the tests themselves for peace of mind?

Even if the tests are not really effective or accurate or even better at detecting a disease than simple analysis, the doctor can say, "Hey, I gave the test. Nothing was wrong. I did my duty, so you can't blame me if something was wrong."

There is no incentive for the ones spending the money to reign in these types of costs.

Nothing in life is 100% certain, where do we draw the line at acceptable risk vs. unacceptable risk? At what cost?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Feed the Hungry?

In the WSJ today, an article discussing potential plans to shift spending of the food-aid budget to overseas goods to feed starving foreigners. Today, food-aid programs are required to buy produce only from American farmers.

Charities and U.S. farmers (obviously) are opposed.

"Charities fear that slashing funds spent on U.S. commodities would erode the farm sector's interest in food aid. They doubt they could win as much congressional support for their efforts solely on the principle that fighting famines is important."

But it's shocking that they are...
" Andrew S. Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, which oversees the food-aid program, calls the opposition "morally indefensible." He asks: "If you can get more food for the money, why not do it? Just to protect the cartel?" The opposition from religious-based charities is particularly galling to the administration, which had assumed their support."

Shipping food from the U.S. is expensive!
"75% of food aid must be shipped on vessels owned by U.S. companies -- a sop to that industry, which charges some of the steepest prices on the high seas."

"Most aid organizations acknowledge that buying food locally could help feed more people in times of emergency. But they're only willing to back Mr. Natsios's proposal if it's funded by additional spending, rather than a cut in the funds spent on U.S. commodities. To preserve funding for the food-aid program, the charities believe they must take into account the financial interests of farmers at home."

This is so stupid. Charitable organizations have no incentive to promote efficiency. Any efficiency gains result in budget cuts, and if you are an organization, why would you want free money to disappear? I understand the farmers' and shippers' interests, but it's sort of shocking that charitable organizations won't support the initiative.

"Distributing U.S. wheat, corn and beans is an important operation of their [charity] activities abroad. For Catholic Relief, donations of commodities and transport costs, which come largely from the U.S. government, totaled $281 million, or just over 50% of its fiscal 2004 budget."

So they spend our donations inefficiently to transport expensive food from the U.S. that could be purchased much more cheaply in Africa?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Cheap Financial Institutions

I'd like to complain about online statements from credit cards, banks, whatever. It is so annoying how institutions typically don't make more than six months worth of statements available to you. What if you were busy and didn't have time to download the statements? Does that mean that you don't deserve a copy and have to now pay a *fee* for this information?? I would imagine that the institutions have to keep these records *anyway*.

For example, American Express only provides six months and they definitely charge a fee for statements prior to that. What irks me even more is that providing these things electronically are so cheap for the banks! They don't have to mail letters anymore! They don't have to pay for the paper! Couldn't they at least make the data available longer?!

Another gripe is that a lot of the "online-only" statements are formatted poorly and only available as html files. So if you want to save them down (which you likely will have to do anyway since otherwise they will - poof - disappear in several months) the only way to get a good copy is to pdf the files. That in and of itself wouldn't be a big deal, but the pdf file looks a lot less professional than a properly formatted statement. Usually, the text gets mangled, line items cut off inbetween pages and sometimes things even get cut off! (BTW for a cool free pdf-printing utility, try Primo Pdf.)

Call me anal - yes, yes I am being anal - but shouldn't the banks, etc. provide a "printable" version in pdf? That is something that American Express does, which I definitely appreciate. Citibank, however, *does not* do this, and it's incredibly annoying!!!

Giving Credit Where It's Due

Giving proper credit... so earlier, I commented on the incredible ability of Google Desktop search to locate scanned image files. I had given credit to Google for creating such an amazing application that could search scanned documents, however, on further investigation, I've discovered that the true reason that I can search my files is that my Canon LiDe 30 scanner creates "searchable" pdf files when I scan! (I still think GDS is quite cool, though. And they *are* partnering with OCR guys who will recognize characters in scanned files.)

But, I should give credit where credit is due. Thank you Canon and thank you Adobe!

Also, let me tell you about one more neat thing I discovered with Adobe Acrobat. If you take any scanned document, you can go to the "Document" menu and select "Recognize Text using OCR" and it creates a searchable pdf file!!

I'm not sure if this feature is available for Acrobat Reader, but it certainly is available in Standard (version 7.0). What an incredible and useful feature!!

I wish I had figured this out earlier!

Okay, sorry for all the exclamation points. I just can't control my enthusiasm!

Here's a link to a Dummies site that discusses creating searchable pdf files.

Giving Credit Where Credit

Giving proper credit... so earlier, I commented on the incredible ability of Google Desktop search to locate scanned image files. I had given credit to Google for creating such an amazing application that could search scanned documents, however, on further investigation, I've discovered that the true reason that I can search my files is that my Canon LiDe 30 scanner creates "searchable" pdf files when I scan! (I still think GDS is quite cool, though. And they *are* partnering with OCR guys who will recognize characters in scanned files.)

But, I should give credit where credit is due. Thank you Canon and thank you Adobe!

Also, let me tell you about one more neat thing I discovered with Adobe Acrobat. If you take any scanned document, you can go to the "Document" menu and select "Recognize Text using OCR" and it creates a searchable pdf file!!

I'm not sure if this feature is available for Acrobat Reader, but it certainly is available in Standard (version 7.0). What an incredible and useful feature!!

I wish I had figured this out earlier!

Okay, sorry for all the exclamation points. I just can't control my enthusiasm!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Bagel Dreams

The WSJ profiles a Japanese computer software programmer who pursued her bagel dreams (subscription required). Miho Inagi apprenticed at a NY bagel shop and opened her own place offering the "real thing" in Tokyo:

"The bagel store was an unexpected career change for Ms. Inagi. After studying computer sciences in college, she joined a software subsidiary of electronics giant Hitachi Ltd., where she hoped she'd be able to hone her programming skills...

But then in December 1998, she was visiting New York with college friends and had her first Ess-a-Bagel -- a plain with raisin-and-walnut cream cheese. She was instantly enamored. "I just didn't think anything like a bagel could taste so good," she said.

A year later, she flew back to New York. Unfazed by her limited English language ability, she persuaded Ms. Wilpon to let her spend a week at Ess-a-Bagel to get a taste of the business...

Determined to learn the trade properly, Ms. Inagi talked her way into an apprenticeship at New York's Ess-a-Bagel. From 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., she took orders, cleared trays and swept the floor. On Saturdays and Sundays, the shop's exacting owner, Florence Wilpon, let her make dough. Six months later, when she felt she had the hang of it, Ms. Inagi returned to Japan."

How inspirational! We should follow our dreams!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

A Small Group of Thoughtful People

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world: indeed it's the only thing that ever has!"
-- Margaret Meade, anthropologist

Friday, October 14, 2005

Earnings and Fridays

Interesting NBER paper on Fridays and earnings releases:
"Do firms release news strategically in response to investor inattention? We consider news about earnings and analyze the response of returns to announcements on Friday and other weekdays. Friday announcements have less immediate and more delayed stock return response...
We also document that firms release worse announcements on Friday. Friday announcements are associated with a 45 percent higher probability of a negative earnings surprise and a 50 basis points lower abnormal return."

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Smart Economist!

More interesting insights from the Smart Economist... note that you have to get a login to the site, but I would highly recommend it:
  • Why were there so many corporate scandals in the U.S., but not in Europe?

    "Suppose a CEO held 2 million options on his company’s stock that was trading at a price-to-earnings ratio of 30. If the CEO were to prematurely recognize earnings that led to a $1 increase in earnings per share, they would induce a $30 increase in stock price and a $60 million windfall for the CEO. Even though this price increase was unjustified - and untenable in the long run - the manager would be able to bail out before the stock price reverted to its true value. In fact, previous studies have found that the managers of companies issuing fraudulent earnings statements held options worth 14 times more than the managers of companies not issuing restatements."

    Aah, terrible! Misaligned incentives!! Is there a way to set up power and influence among shareholders so that if you have been a shareholder for a long time, you have more power? As in voting power, some other kind of influence? It seems like dispersed ownership results in some problems...

  • Explaining the rise of fund of funds (e.g. funds that invest in private equity funds

    "In particular, the author finds that investors with weaker governance structures tend to outsource more of their investments to FoF. For example, government institutions - whose governance is likely more influenced by politics than by performance - tend to use FoF more than performance-based institutions such as endowments. Investors with weaker governance may see FoF as more attractive since their use can help “shoulder the blame” in the case of poor performance. "

    Blast those incompetent governmental organizations again!
  • Do family firms outperform non-family firms?
    "In general, family firms exhibit better performance than other firms. However, this result mostly appears to be true because the firms in which the founder is also CEO or Chairman of the Board do particularly well. When subsequent generations enter the firm, their contribution usually appears to be negative. The presence of arrangements that give the family excess control - such as dual class shares or pyramid schemes - has a negative impact on these firms’ stock market valuation. This indicates that such arrangements are a tool used by controlling families to subtract value from minority shareholders."

    Shame on the second generation!
    "When the founder of the firm is directly involved in the management, as CEO or Director of the Board, the firm’s Tobin’s q is actually the highest... The opposite happens in the following generations, particularly the second. When the second generation gets involved in management, the likely effect is a destruction of value. "

Why do Europeans get so much vacay?

Interesting discussion of why Americans work so much more than Europeans. Researchers at Harvard and Dartmouth took a look at the issue and reason that differences in unionization and regulation are drivers of the differences (in addition to taxes)..

So is intervention in a free market a good thing?
"Economics preaches that interfering with competitive markets is welfare reducing; however, it may be beneficial when externalities are involved. This would be the case should the utility of taking a vacation increase when other people, like the vacationer's spouse or friends, also go on vacation - an example of positive externality of leisure. In this case, there would be too many working hours in a competitive economy, since it is difficult for workers to coordinate their actions and go on vacation all at the same time. A union constraining everybody to work less may therefore make everybody better off. It is difficult to empirically assess the merit of this argument, since leisure externalities are difficult to measure, but it may undoubtedly be true."

(BTW, the site Smart Economist is a great site that attempts to take recent research findings and translate them into something comprehensible by ordinary citizens. Check it out!)

Bills Bills Bills

Why is healthcare such a mess in the states?

The NYT has another article on the nightmare that is patient billing. I can heartily agree with most of the things the article describes! Any simple visit to a doctor or hospital results in bil upon bill without indescribable and unclear codes and messages... and scary dollar values.

From the article:
"Walk into any drugstore, and the next few minutes of your life are fairly predictable. After considering the choices, you make your purchases and head for the cashier. Seconds after the transaction, you are handed a receipt that reports to the penny what you paid for each product, along with its brand, its size, and the date, time and location of the purchase. But become a patient, and you enter a world of paperwork so surreal that it belongs in one of Kafka's tales of the triumph of faceless bureaucracies. And although some insurers and hospitals are trying to streamline and simplify bills, the efforts have been piecemeal."

Another analogy:
'"Suppose you walk into a restaurant," he said, "and you don't get a menu, you don't get any choice of what food you'll eat, they don't tell you what it is when they're serving it to you, they don't tell you what it's going to cost."

"Then, weeks or months later, you get a bill that tells you all the food you ate and the drinks you had, some of which you remember and some you don't, and although you get the bill, you still can't figure out what you really owe," Dr. Brailer said.'

I just can't imagine what it would be like to have to deal with all of it if you are sick on top of it. How terrible!!!

Why can't everyone in the U.S. pay a set dollar amount per month for healthcare? And let the rest be free. Yes, yes, I know there is a problem with over-utilization, etc. etc., but most patients really *don't* want to be in the hospital and likely would prefer not to get more and more treatment. Who checks into the hospital for fun?

So I'd say patients incentives are not skewed towards over-utilization. Yes, patients probably want more tests, because they want to be sure they aren't sick. And maybe they just want to see their doctor regularly or see a specialist if they have a problem...

But doctors, while they are incented to make sure their patients get well, they have an incentive to sell more services too. What if doctors were paid fixed dollar amounts, regardless of the number of procedures they performed? I think that would create a dis-incentive to do an excessive number of procedures. But then, I guess you run the risk of a doctor not doing *any* procedures at all. Is this likely? Probably not, if you assume that individuals who choose to become doctors likely were motivated by factors other than compensation. (Wouldn't they have gone into investment banking? Or something?) And it doesn't make sense to compensate doctors based on patient outcomes -- or does it? I mean, it seems like there would be a lot of things influencing the outcome for a patient that outside of a doctor's control. Did the patient take the medicine he or she was supposed to? The list of outside factors goes on and on.

And finally for the payors -- the insurance companies -- they have an incentive to pay as little as they can. They want to make sure they are *not* overbilled, and probably having complex billing reimbursement procedures results in some lost "claims" which would definitely help their bottom line, right?

Is there a way to create an incentive structure which will result in a win-win for everyone?
  • Efficient and reliable care for a patient, at a set price
  • Decent salary for a doctor and less time devoted to admin and more time to seeing patients
  • A reasonable level of profits for managed care companies

Sigh, with so many opinions, it will be hard to come to an answer.

Oh, and I forgot another stakeholder. In the case of U.S. healthcare, a big stakeholder are U.S. corporations. And they are ones who pick the insurance company. What are the things they look for when choosing an insurance provider? Probably good service.. maybe price, although that in itself is confusing. Most likely a good partner to sort through the troubles of gaining access to a healthcare network and managing the billing process itself...

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


One gripe about most online stores or providers of "intangible" services (e.g. software, services) online -- they often don't provide enough information about their product or service before taking you to a shopping cart of checkout form. Why can't shops be more like and provide people with a lot more information for research before forcing them into a credit card entry screen?



Here's an article confirming that, yes indeed, Google Desktop Search can read scanned pdf files!

Monday, October 10, 2005

Social Logic of Admissions to Elite Universities

Another incisive article from Malcolm Gladwell. This time, he tackles the question of admission to elite universities:

Why are elite universities in the U.S. concerned with more than academic ability, while top schools in the rest of the world often consider solely test scores in admissions?

On what Harvard is looking for:
"It is a wonderful thing, of course, for a school to turn out lots of relatively happy and successful graduates. But Harvard didn’t want lots of relatively happy and successful graduates. It wanted superstars, and Bender and his colleagues recognized that if this is your goal a best-students model isn’t enough."

Why are former athletes so highly desired in business?
"One of these characteristics can be thought of as drive—a strong desire to succeed and unswerving determination to reach a goal, whether it be winning the next game or closing a sale. Similarly, athletes tend to be more energetic than the average person, which translates into an ability to work hard over long periods of time—to meet, for example, the workload demands placed on young people by an investment bank in the throes of analyzing a transaction. In addition, athletes are more likely than others to be highly competitive, gregarious and confident of their ability to work well in groups (on teams). "
(Bowen and Shulman)

"It was his job to protect his client from the attentions of the socially undesirable... This is, in no small part, what Ivy League admissions directors do. They are in the luxury-brand-management business, and “The Chosen,” [a new book by Jerome Karabel] in the end, is a testament to just how well the brand managers in Cambridge, New Haven, and Princeton have done their job in the past seventy-five years."

Moreover, universities focus on rewarding customer loyalty:
"In the 1985-92 period, for instance, Harvard admitted children of alumni at a rate more than twice that of non-athlete, non-legacy applicants, despite the fact that, on virtually every one of the school’s magical ratings scales, legacies significantly lagged behind their peers."


Thursday, October 6, 2005

Cars Designed with Pets in Mind

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Minute Clinic!

I think this is a brilliant development -- convenient walk-in clinics for patients with minor health problems:
"They offer patients fast access to routine medical services such as strep-throat tests, sports physicals and flu shots. The clinics, which typically charge between $25 and $60 per visit, don't require an appointment and are open during pharmacy hours including evenings and weekends."

The WSJ has an article on the development (account required).

I do think it's unfortunate that these clinics are staffed by nurse practitioners instead of doctors -- are real doctors just too expensive?

However, I think it's great that technology is being used to increase efficiency:
"The clinic model relies heavily on technology to increase the efficiency of care. When patients arrive, they check themselves in at a touch-screen computer terminal -- much like an airline self-check-in kiosk -- where they can swipe a credit card and enter basic information about their symptoms and family history... If the nurse practitioner disagrees with a computer-generated diagnosis, he or she can opt to override the system. When a prescription is written, it will be transmitted electronically to the store pharmacy, or another pharmacy. The system will also create an electronic medical record for each patient that can be transferred to a primary-care physician."

This goes along with my rant from a couple of days ago on urgent care clinics.

I'm not sure if the for-profit model is the way to go, but certainly for-profit organizations tend to be more efficient than not-for-profit counterparts. I'm also not sure if Target or Walgreens is the place for these types of clinics, but I do agree there are synergies with the pharmacy counter. Intriguing idea...

A couple links:
I wonder who funded these guys? Looks like Bain Capital Ventures, Axcel Partners and TGap Venture for Minute Clinic and I would guess that Take Care Health is self-funded -- the CEO sold his travel firm to American Express for a big price several years ago.

Articles on Minute Clinic:

A Year of Magical Thinking

The NYT reviews an utterly depressing book from writer Joan Didion on two tragedies that occurred within 5 days of each other:
  • The illness of her daughter, Quintana
  • The sudden heart attack and death of her husband, John, five days later

Per the article:
"Life changes fast," Ms. Didion would write a day or two later. "Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends."

Aaah, poor lady!

In her devastating new book, "The Year of Magical Thinking," Ms. Didion writes about the year she spent trying to come to terms with what happened that terrible December, a year she says that "cut loose any fixed idea I had ever had about death, about illness, about probability and luck, about good fortune and bad, about marriage and children and memory, about grief, about the ways in which people do and do not deal with the fact that life ends, about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself."

Something to add to my reading list, although it sounds like it will mirror 102 Minutes in its feeling of tragedy...

Monday, October 3, 2005

Was reading the Freakonomics blog today, and I had like fifty entries to go through.

In any case, one entry in particular interested me about waiting hours in the ER:
"Emergency rooms serve as the front lines in the world of medicine. Many (most?) visits to ERs are not emergencies at all, but rather, routine visits by people with limited access to health care. As a consequence, waiting for hours to be seen is not uncommon. Forced to take all patients, the ER raises the "price" by making you wait."

(As a side note, the blog entry highlights a study that showed that ER visits drop when championship baseball games are played.
"An obvious conclusion is that people would rather watch a good baseball game than go to the emergency room. Also obvious is that some people who go to the ER could just as well visit their doctor. "

I have no doubt that emergency room visits are one reason why health care costs are soaring in the U.S. (along with a host of other inefficiencies.)

How many times are there when an unexpected health issue crops up -- unexpected, but maybe not URGENT exactly, but you want to get it taken care of right away, because when you aren't feeling well... who wouldn't want to feel better soon?

Why aren't there more "urgent care" centers for non-emergency care, but where you can drop in for a quick visit to get something looked at? Like if your throat is killing you, and it's obviously not life threatening, but it would be great to have someone look at it.

I do have a primary care doctor, but how many of us have established relationships with our doctors?

It seems that having a mix of real emergency issues and not-so-urgent issues all dealt with in one place causes a lot of inefficiency and results in additional costs for everyone (monetary and not.)

Friday, September 30, 2005

Rent or buy?

The never-ending question, is it better to buy or rent?
read this NYT article

As much as I would love to own my place, with prices sky high, things just don't seem affordable...

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Dire News

A New Deadly, Contagious Dog Flu Virus Is Detected in 7 States [NYT]:
"The virus, which scientists say mutated from an influenza strain that affects horses, has killed racing greyhounds in seven states and has been found in shelters and pet shops in many places, including the New York suburbs, though the extent of its spread is unknown.

Uh oh! Watch out!

Jet Blue flight from Burbank to JFK almost crash lands [Newsday]

It could've been me on that flight!!!
Yikes. Bravo to the pilot.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Google Desktop Search

Have you tried Google Desktop Search?

It's actually pretty cool.. I installed it on my machine at home a couple of weeks ag, and one especially neat thing it does (beyond finding lost files on computers) is it optically recognizes scanned documents!

So for example, when I lost my one-year Metrocard, I was trying to find the statement that came with the card when I first got it. I had scanned it, but as a pdf file, so normally it would be a huge challenge to find (since obviously the scanned document is just an image.)

Well Google Desktop Search found it! It recognized the words in the document and pulled it up as a result when I searched for "Transitcheck."

Isn't that awesome?!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Another Startup?

From Google to Noodles: A Chef Strikes Out On His Own [NYT]

The NYT reports on the chef who left Google is planning to open a healthy cafe offering sustainbly farmed food near Stanford. Wow.

"Mr. Ayers has worked at expensive restaurants and middle-brow chains, cooked privately for families and ran the prepared foods department at a Whole Foods Market. But it is his Google friends - lawyers, business development professionals, engineers and financial experts - that he expects to draw on most of all.

Born in Chicago and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Mr. Ayers had a varied résumé even before he started cooking for Google. His love of music led to behind-the-scenes cooking jobs at various music festivals, and Google says on its Web site that Mr. Ayers formerly cooked for members of the Grateful Dead. (It was after Jerry Garcia's death, when the band dissolved, Mr. Ayers said.)"

Sunday, September 18, 2005

A girl and her therapist

A Girl and her Therapist [NYT]
"Susan Mae Polk was 15 when she visited a therapist, 16 when they had sex, 25 when they married and 44 when she killed him. "

Friday, September 16, 2005


"Without optimism, you're not going to make it. You're just not. I don't think you can acquire it. I've always been optimistic, and not fearful. Don't be afraid to walk across that board across the ravine. And don't be afraid to carry a gigantic bowl of water. Figure out how you have to do that... You never look at the bowl -- look at where you're going and you'll get there."
-- Martha Stewart

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Sunday Times

The latest Freakonomics article -- about a self-experimental professor [NYT]
Hmm, this professor found the solution to weight loss as being taking a couple tablespoons of unflavored oil or sugar water several times a day:
"The results were astounding. Roberts lost 40 pounds and never gained it back. He could eat pretty much whenever and whatever he wanted, but he was far less hungry than he had ever been."

Sounds interesting.. if you're struggling with weight loss, I guess it doesn't hurt to try this.. except for drinking oil (which on the face sounds like it would be bad for you) -- maybe it's worth an experiment? I suppose if you drink olive oil, you could even argue it might be beneficial! :)

Suddenly those Solar Panels Don't Look so 1970's [NYT]

Two small literary-intellectual magazines [NYT]

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Tragedy in Washington Heights

Man Stabs a Baby Girl in Her Stroller [NYT]


"A man with a knife walked up to a nanny pushing a 10-month-old girl in a stroller in Washington Heights last evening and plunged a knife into the baby's stomach, critically injuring her, the police said...

The nanny, a 20-year-old woman, according to the police, screamed for help and cradled the baby, who was bleeding profusely, in her arms. She flagged down a car and was about to get in when a police cruiser arrived and drove them four blocks south to NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia hospital."

Goo, nanny! What a hero!

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Lucky Peach!

Went to Momofuku a couple of weeks ago -- the ramen is delicious! Okay, well you can't really think of it as ramen, because if you do, you will be disappointed. The noodle soup they serve is *not* ramen. It's just pork noodle soup, but they use Berkshire pork and Berkshire pork is soo good. The noodles they use aren't ramen noodles! They are like regular Chinese noodles...

Their BBQ pork buns are yummy as well.. sort of like eating Peking duck, but with with Berkshire pork instead! Aaah, good food.

I have to warn you though, the food at Momofuku isn't very affordable though. But they do provide a LOT of noodles.. which is pretty unusual I think. So if you are a carb-lover, this is a good place to go. But watch out for the sodium levels! They are high!

Oh and check out the peaceful wooden decor. Very relaxing.


Friday, September 2, 2005


Newest Export From China: Pirated Pay TV [WSJ]
"China has become the hotbed of a new technology that distributes live television signals over the Internet, exposing the world's pay-TV operators to the kind of online piracy that has plagued the music and movie businesses.

The technology, called peer-to-peer, or P2P, streaming TV, enables viewers anywhere in the world to watch cable, satellite or broadcast TV on the Web free of charge. Pirate services offer the programs to anyone equipped with a high-speed Internet connection who downloads some simple software.

The most active of these services are based in China, where a rising number of people are using them to watch channels such as HBO, ESPN and MTV. Now, the practice is spreading to Europe, where users have begun tapping into the Chinese services to watch European soccer matches unavailable on their local TV channels. Much of the programming is in Chinese, but HBO, ESPN and some other Western cable channels offered on the mainland are in English with Chinese subtitles."

If they could figure out a way to do this legitimately, I think it could revolutionize the way content is distributed. Can you imagine? Any user with high speed Internet would be able to access any TV channel from anywhere in the world!

Castles in the Air

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them."
- Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Queen of Practice?

"Deliberate practice is not mechanically repeating tasks that come easily, but rather targeting and attacking specific areas that need improvement..." - Psychology Today article

"I had an inner drive. I think that is the difference between the very good and the best."
- Susan Polgar 4-time World Chess Champion

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Drug Mix-ups

Watch out! Some medicines sold in the U.S. are sold under different names abroad [WSJ]

"In Brazil, for example, the brand name Dilacor refers to verapamil for irregular heart rhythm and hypertension. But in the U.S., Dilacor is a blood-pressure drug known generically as diltiazem. And in Serbia, Dilacor is the brand name for digoxin, used to treat heart failure...

It isn't known how long such name-sharing has been going on, but the problem came to light only recently after a serious mix-up was reported at a hospital in Michigan. Because there is no regulatory body that keeps track of names globally, there is the potential for more and deadlier cases to occur."


A Flying Goat!

Plane Food

Ever wonder what the food will look like on your next flight? Well... this website is devoted to photos of food served on airlines!

Assembling food assembly line style.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Moody Links

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Fat Man Walking

Fat man
This 350 pound guy is walking across the United States to lose weight! And chronicling it on his blog... craziness!


Thursday, August 11, 2005

Places to Eat and Dot-Bombs

Flickr Fun and Another Food Battle

Roald Dahl and Your Restaurant Check

Starfish Banner

Gorgeous photo of a starfish by macca.

The Economy as a Food Court

Super interesting essay that compares the economy to a food court:
"Coming into the Food Court each day are consumers, who want meals. At different times of the day, these same consumers work in the Food Court, earning income to pay for meals.

When the Food Court economy was relatively undeveloped, there were only a few recipes. They required a lot of work to prepare, and the meals were monotonous, low in nutrition, and not very tasty. Over time, however, people discover new recipes, which add variety, efficiency, and pleasure to the Food Court. This is the process of economic growth...

Capital markets will have emerged in the food court economy. There are a number of reasons for this.

First, some of the recipes are complicated, requiring many steps and taking several years. Some people are willing to wait, and others are less willing to wait. Those who are willing to defer consumption today in order to enjoy a better meal tomorrow make loans to those who prefer to eat more today.

New recipes do not come free. There is a price of progress. It takes time to invent and test recipes. While entrepreneurs are working on new recipes, they need to borrow from people who are willing to defer consumption.

New recipes are not without risk. Tests may reveal that the recipe fails to achieve the hoped-for combination of taste and nutritional value. Another risk is that while an entrepreneur is developing and testing a recipe, consumer preferences change or new competitors emerge that make the recipe unprofitable even if it produces the expected results in terms of taste and nutrition."

What a simple way to describe something very complicated!

The author continues on to discuss the concept and importance of intellectual property:
"Fifty years ago, economists saw the economy as like the steel industry -- a collection of gigantic factories housing powerful, expensive machinery, producing output measured in tons. The new paradigm sees an economy that looks more like the pharmaceutical industry or the popular music industry. In pharmaceuticals, as in our Food Court economy, the capital needed for production facilities is relatively unimportant. Much more capital is absorbed in the process of searching for new compounds and testing their effectiveness on diseases."

What is the best way to deal with something that costs little in materials to produce but much in development?

This essay is the second in a series.. check it out, it's super interesting!

Just a little break

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Panda Cam

Panda cam!

So cute!!

Wednesday Reading List

  • Man dies after 50 hours of video games
    28-year old "Lee had recently quit his job to spend more time playing games, the daily JoongAng Ilbo reported after interviewing former work colleagues and staff at the Internet cafe."

    Oh no!

  • Some Question 3rd year of law school
    "If so, it could encourage less-indebted new lawyers "to pursue some ideal other than the highest pay," said Harvard Law School graduate William Strauss, who has spoken out against the third year. According to the ABA, the median debt for 2004 graduates of private law schools was $98,000; at public schools it was $67,000. The organization has concluded two-thirds of law graduates cannot afford to take lower-paying public interest jobs."

Linklicious Thursday

  • "Light" summer reading recommended by the Edge

  • Blog about newspaper design
    Interesting.. how can layout be created to make things more easy to read?

  • Interesting post from Cafe Hayek on sweatshop wages

    "The apparel industry, which is often accused of unsafe working conditions and poor wages, actually pays its foreign workers well enough for them to rise above the poverty in their countries. While more than half of the population in most of the countries we studied lived on less than $2 per day, in 90 percent of the countries, working a 10-hour day in the apparel industry would lift a worker above - often far above - that standard. For example, in Honduras, the site of the infamous Kathy Lee Gifford sweatshop scandal, the average apparel worker earns $13.10 per day, yet 44 percent of the country's population lives on less than $2 per day."

    What do you think?

  • Posting on How to Travel Well [Heading East]

    #1 thing to do? "Go someplace that scares you a little"

    And here's a link to his chronicle of a two month trip to Western China

  • Update on the going-ons with Memoirs of a Geisha

  • Link to e.encyclopedia co-created with Google. What is it?

    "e.encyclopedia combines the best of a traditional encyclopedia with an extra digital dimension"

    Not totally sure if I "get" it, but I think you have to buy a book that goes with it?

    Is it fun to go back and forth become computer and book?

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

Someone to Applaud

Costco's CEO, Jim Sinegal, is a hero! The NYT had a recent article on the wonder that is Costco.

"Despite Costco's impressive record, Mr. Sinegal's salary is just $350,000, although he also received a $200,000 bonus last year. That puts him at less than 10 percent of many other chief executives, though Costco ranks 29th in revenue among all American companies."

Why does Wall Street think that it's okay for CEO's to make millions and millions and that wages for the employees of the company -- the people who really make the company function -- should be paid low wages?

"Emme Kozloff, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Company, faulted Mr. Sinegal as being too generous to employees, noting that when analysts complained that Costco's workers were paying just 4 percent toward their health costs, he raised that percentage only to 8 percent, when the retail average is 25 percent."

The Analysts are upset (and short-sighted) since they feel Costco pays workers too much:
"Costco's average pay, for example, is $17 an hour, 42 percent higher than its fiercest rival, Sam's Club. And Costco's health plan makes those at many other retailers look Scroogish. One analyst, Bill Dreher of Deutsche Bank, complained last year that at Costco "it's better to be an employee or a customer than a shareholder."

What does Sinegal have to say?
""I've been very well rewarded," said Mr. Sinegal, who is worth more than $150 million thanks to his Costco stock holdings. "I just think that if you're going to try to run an organization that's very cost-conscious, then you can't have those disparities. Having an individual who is making 100 or 200 or 300 times more than the average person working on the floor is wrong."

And even Mr. Dreher himself admits:
"... so many people love the company. "It's a cult stock," he said.

Is the purpose of a corporation only to make money? Why can't a company also provide useful services and products to customers? Provide a livelihood and purpose for the employees? And make the company a better place, while also making enough money each year to continue along sustainably for many years to come?

More from Stephen Covey

"Most all creative endeavors are somewhat unpredictable. They often seem ambiguous, hit-or-miss, trial and error. And unless people have a high tolerance for ambiguity and get their security from integrity to principles and inner values they find it unnerving and unpleasant to be involved in highly creative enterprises. Their need for structure, certainty and predictability is too high."
- Stephen Covey

Hmm, seems like you could apply this to many things, career choices being one example.

Wouldn't you say that private equity firms require structure, certainty and predictability in their investments?

Thursday, August 4, 2005

Unsatisfied Needs

"Satisfied needs do not motivate. It's only the unsatisfied need that motivates."
- Stephen Covey

Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Considering Goals

Some quotes from Flow, which I finally finished very recently:
"Goals can lead into all sorts of trouble, at which point one gets tempted to give them up and find some less demanding script by which to order one's actions. The price one pays for changing goals whenever opposition threatens is that while one may achieve a more pleasant and comfortable life, it is likely that it will end up empty and void of meaning...

Goals justify the effort they demand at the outset, but later it is the effort that justifies the goal...

There are simply too many goals competing for prominence, and who is to say which one is worth the dedication of an entire life? ... The wealth of options we face today has extended personal freedom to an extent that would have been inconceivable even a hundred years ago. But the inevitable consequence of equally attractive choices is uncertainty of purpose; uncertainty, in turn, saps resolution, and lack of resolve ends up devaluing choice."

It is interesting to think about cause and effect relating to the importance of goals. Is the reason for all the effort required because the goal is so important? Or is the goal made important as a result of all the effort required?

Effort therefore valuable goal? Or goal therefore supreme effort?

What makes a goal important?

Friday, July 29, 2005

Contacts Contacts

I've been trying out Plaxo the past couple of days. I am an extremely lazy person when it comes to updating my address book and I usually just try to label emails with "Contact Information" if I get an address update. And I have a stack of business cards with a rubber band around them in my desk drawer at home..

Otherwise, my contacts are all over the place, in my email, written on scraps of paper, etc.

I also use Yahoo! Address book,but again, I'm super lazy about updating it.

So I decided to try out Plaxo, since I've heard good buzz about it and I'm not totally happy with Yahoo.

I only used the online version of Plaxo. I know the intent of the application is to have a downloadable toolbar that sort of adds on to Outlook so that you can sync your contacts with Outlook, but I don't really like to mix my work Outlook and my personal address book. Obviously the worlds collide very often, but I would prefer not to put the contact information of my best friend from elementary school into work Outlook.

So I imported my contacts into Plaxo from Yahoo! and the cool thing was that it immediately found about 20+ contacts and updated their information. That's really cool -- for example, some people that I had totally forgotten about had changed jobs or whatever and now I have their latest information!

Unfortunately, I'm not sure if Plaxo is the tool for me. I like to scribble little notes about contacts in my address book. Since I have a bad memory, I'll write down things like how I met the person, what I thought of their service (if say it is a dentist or something)... but Plaxo Online doesn't let you search your notes!

For example, I'd labeled several people "headhunter" or "recruiter" by typing that in notes, but when I searched for "headhunter", nothing came up.

Another feature I wish Plaxo had was the ability to group contacts into categories, similar to what Yahoo can do. That way I can have a group for say "health services", "moving services", etc.

I'm not sure that Plaxo was built with these features in mind, but since I'm looking for the ideal address book/information manager, I guess I'll have to keep looking.

I am now considering switching back to Yahoo, since even though it's cumbersome to manually update contacts, at least I can group contacts and search easily.

How do you manage all your contacts? Is there a quick and painless strategy?

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Theory vs. Practice

"In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. But in practice there is."

Cool Shirt

  • Limited edition shirts [NYT]
    New York Times comments on the trend of one-of-a-kind, limited edition t-shirts with cool expressions... I feel like ordering some more t-shirts!

    A cool t-shirt site is Threadless.. they host ongoing t-shirt design contests and have pretty neat designs! I also really like the look and feel of their site. You can definitely tell some website designers were behind this company!