Hiring for culture fit can have unintended consequences

An interesting post on “culture fit.” I’ve been catching up on the SAASTR podcasts, and a lot of the interviewees sound like they’re falling into this trap. I agree with Matt’s assertion that by trying to hire people that you would want to hang out with, you will end up hiring a lot of people that look like you. Instead, you should focus on culture agnostic characteristics:

  • Are they kind and empathetic?
  • Do they care about their work?
  • Do they have good communication skills?
  • Do they have good self-management skills?

Finally, also look for “Do they bring a valuable new perspective?”

Dabbling in Bitcoin

I picked up another bitcoin this week. I had originally wanted to buy when they were worth  < $100. Now they’re bumping up against $1000. I’m not too worried about them gaining or losing value, I just really wanted to see how they work.

The hardest part has been for normal users to convert dollars into bitcoin. They’re just not the easiest thing to purchase. You’ve got to do a bank transfer to someone that can handle it for you. Trusting some 3rd party on the internet with any bank details whatsoever is always a bit of a leap of faith. I set up an account on Coinbase, which keeps the process fairly simple. The only downside is that it can take almost a full week for your purchase to go through.

Once you have a few bitcoins in your wallet, it becomes clear how revolutionary the system is. You can quickly bounce it around different wallets, in increments worth fractions of a penny. Bitcoin or a system like it is definitely going to take off, there are just too many advantages for it not to.

One last note, Jaimie just found a very good / simple explanation of bitcoin here.

Money in Politics

This article on CNN today expresses a lot of the reasoning behind why I created MyElectedRep.

With 3 of the 4 Republican candidates for President being heavily sponsored by single donors with $100+M in assets are you feeling more or less confident that after the next election cycle our elected officials will represent us and not the super wealthy that paid for their campaigns?

The only way we can keep our Representatives accountable is if we vote and show them how we want to be represented.

We need a place to point to, where we can show elected officials that they’re not doing their job. A place where we can show that on a certain item a district wants to vote one way. Then we can score our Representatives on whether or not they listened.

By measuring the votes that each Representative makes, it becomes less important to control the money that they receive.

Android isn’t open source

There’s been a lot of discussion over documents coming out about Google’s strategy with Android. Google wants to use a Carrot and Stick strategy with Android to try and maintain control of the platform. This involves giving hardware manufacturers that behave early access to new code. It also meant that the code is developed in private and only released after the fact.

I don’t care what Google or others say, this isn’t open source. This is published source. There is no way to see bugs, contribute a patch, or take part in discussions on development. The only saving grace is that Google is publishing their code with a fairly unrestrictive license.

What this situation is screaming for is to have someone with a desire to actually behave in an open source manner to come along and fork the code. Then allow developers to contribute to that branch and let Google go it on their own. My hope is that Amazon will do exactly that with their fork of the Android code base.

My Own Search Engine

I guess every software engineer should be writing their own competitors to Google and Facebook in their garage (in a future post I’ll include pics of our garage data center).  Because of issues I saw with Facebook, I created ReadPath. A social network with more of a focus on privacy and news sharing. It’s currently about 70% done. UI still needs lots of tweaks and there are some features that need to be completed.

One nice bonus of running ReadPath, is that it is constantly spidering content from RSS feeds for the news reader. The other day I realized that I’ve now stored a full billion content items going back several years. So of course having that much content I had to create a search engine to mine it. So, I created MiniSearch to play with different concepts involved in running a general search engine. There are a lot of things that turned out to be a lot harder than expected.

Currently the index is in the process of being built and only includes 20% of available content. There is also a lot of work to be done with ranking still. I’ll post again when I think it’s in a more usable state.

Playing with ESXi

I had to test out a desktop virtualization product (Pano Logic) this week and as part of the installation I needed a VMware ESX base system. I’m a huge user of their Workstation product, but I had never used the ESX line since it used to be so expensive and required certified hardware. Things have changed though and it’s now possible to download a copy of ESXi for free and to run without a dedicated SAN.

One of the difficulties with VMware is that their acronyms can be very difficult to wade through. ESXi is what they refer to as a hypervisor. This essentially is a very cut down operating system that is designed to only run other Virtual Machines. There are some requirements to running ESXi, I had to go through 3-4 servers before I found one that the installer had all of the drivers. I finally got it to run a server I had picked up from Penguin Computing (2x dual core Opteron with 4Gb mem and 250Gb hard drive).

Once I found a server that worked, the system installed quickly. The next problem was that you need to download the vSphere client to administer the server which is windows only (there are command line clients for other operating systems, but I wasn’t ready for that yet). I didn’t have a windows box laying around (all linux and mac), so I had to launch a WinXP VM in workstation on my linux desktop to administer my ESXi server. Amazingly everything worked great.

The next issue that I ran into was that I already had a large number of VMs created that I was using on workstation, but I couldn’t see how to get them on to the ESXi server. In the vSphere client there are clear instructions on how to create a new VM or download an appliance, but not how to import an existing VM. It turns out that VMware has a very simple way of doing this using the VMware Converter. This product works as a switchboard allowing you to convert or move VMs from one place to another, a really handy tool.

Overall ESXi is a great tool for running a whole bunch of server VMs. VMware offers a huge number of management products in the vSphere product line for managing load and moving VMs in a datacenter. But if you just need to run a few VMs on a single server I would definitely recommend looking at ESXi.

Just ordered a new kindle

I just placed a pre-order for Amazon’s newest Kindle the other day. This one is to replace Jaimie’s Kindle since she was still using the very first generation model and there are quite a few updates in this newest version. Supposedly much better battery life, better contrast, and faster page turns, all great things for a power reader.

We also decided to go with the wifi only model, which is cheaper, but most of our book reading is at home where there is total coverage. If we’re out and about we read on the iPhone and then sync back to the kindle to continue reading at home.

Hopefully this latest version will arrive before the next round of books that we’ve been waiting for. I’m waiting for The Evolutionary Void and we’re very happy that MockingJay will also be released in a kindle version.

I was happy to hear that Bezos was focusing on creating the best book reader instead of chasing yet another tablet.

Trusting Facebook

There’s been a lot of discussion on the web over the last several weeks on how much trust we can put into Facebook when it comes to handling private data. They’re making a play to be the primary repository of identity on the web. The hub that other web sites link off of to determine personal connections and demographics for a user. Facebook already has a huge lead in this area with 400+ million users that are using actual names instead of screen names.

It would be nice to have a place where we can set up who our friends and coworkers are as well as what we’d like to share with them. Having to recreate this network each time we want to use a new site is a complete pain. But who can we trust to store this valuable info?

Leo Laporte has mentioned in his podcasts that for some reason he just doesn’t trust Facebook as much as he would trust a company like Google to fill this role. I agree wholeheartedly that it’s risky to trust Facebook. For me, the core of this mistrust is that I feel that Facebook hasn’t yet found its truly profitable niche yet like Google has. Google makes so much money in search ads that it can afford to not make money in other areas and take the high ground when it comes to privacy and openness. Facebook doesn’t have this profit center yet to support the other areas of its business. The scary part is that the data that Facebook collects could be quite valuable. It’s really going to come down to where they decide to draw the line on how to use our data. And because this is still unknown and they’ve taken several missteps in the past, it’s difficult to really trust Facebook.

Thoughts on Goldman Sachs Testimony

I’m watching the testimony live on Bloomberg TV right now and a couple things are sticking out.

  1. The question is coming up about the ability for a party to be a market maker and to also take part in the market. With highly liquid stocks, it seems like this is OK since there is a fair amount of visibility into the market. There isn’t an information gap between different parties. But with illiquid assets like the CDOs, knowing who is involved and moving in which direction gives you a huge advantage over other players. It would only take a little bit of info to shift the advantage dramatically. If the Senators are smart they’ll see that with these types of assets market makers shouldn’t be allowed to take part in the market. It’s back door insider trading.
  2. There is another line of questions on rating the CDO. Goldman Sachs is sticking with the line that everyone was a big boy and should have been able to look at the security and determine the risk. The problem is that this has been proven to be completely false. No one was able to accurately determine the risk of these items. The fact that they allowed Paulson to pick the contents and then short the CDO gave him a huge advantage in the deal. Whether this was illegal or not isn’t clear, it should not be allowed to happen again.
  3. The Goldman Employees referenced the mathematical models that allowed rating agencies to take BBB+ sub-prime mortgages and rate them as a group as AAA. It’s shocking how far from reality this model was. It’s these types of models and economic thinking that has spurred my interest in this area. How can the supposed top economic minds get things so wrong?

TV news is no better than following twitter

Saw some blog posts today discussing the provably wrong statements that Guiliani is making on the TV news stations and it’s led me to belief that TV news is no better than following twitter. It’s not real journalism. There is no control for making sure that the statements made are accurate. You’ll probably getter a more accurate, broader view of what is going on in the world today by watching raw twitter updates.

Maybe live TV is just not conducive to news. The excuse that the host just doesn’t have time to fact check everything that is said has just gotten old. Every day, lie after misstatement after miss characterizations are made continually. How many times does the Daily Show have to embarrass them before they listen?

If as an agency you can’t control the quality of what is being said, then maybe it shouldn’t be shown live. What would stop the stations from filming an interview with different talking heads and then having the interns fact check what was said. Why is there the need to let someone who once did something a long time ago spout off live on TV?

Of course the problem may be that it was never really news to begin with.

Journalism Isn’t Dying, Newspapers Are

journalismI just finished reading the article “The Story Behind the Story” in this month’s Atlantic Magazine where Mark Bowden goes through the backstory and context of the videos of now Justice Sotomayor. The article takes on the fall of real journalism and its replacement with political hit jobs. As someone raising an infant at home and often having the news channels on during the day, I can definitely attest to the fall in quality at the 24 hours news networks. All of them can best be described as News Entertainment rather than any type of real journalism.

In all of the discussions I’ve read about the death of news, journalism, and newspapers the argument seems to be that if these businesses die, then no one will pay for journalism. That without a newspaper, there is no way we could get the real story. I don’t think that this is necessarily what needs to happen though. As the big media companies race to the bottom and look more each day like an episode of Jerry Springer, there are real journalists out there that want to search for and print the truth. These people have the highest standards and will continue to do their craft long after the newspaper has shut down or moved entirely to tabloid coverage. The good news is that these determined men and women are finding ways to get paid to do the work that they love.

What I see as the issue today is that in the past we could pick up the New York Times and know that we could trust the reporting within, the people that wrote there were held to the highest standards, we didn’t even have to really think about it. However as the unit of journalism moves from the newspaper to the actual journalist we need a way to quickly transfer that same level of trust of what we are reading. What I’m proposing is that to manage the need for a transfer of trust that a body of respected journalists, either through a journalism school or a group of professional journalists, creates a set of standards for professional journalists. This group would then accredit individual writers that met the standard of professional journalism.  Accredited journalists could be local bloggers reporting on the local government meetings or large columnists that have found it more to their liking to strike out on their own.

As the internet has given everyone a printing press, what we need is a way to quickly determine who is worth reading. Writers could begin to publish and as they reached a level of published content they could ask for accreditation and if received post this on their site. Each individual writer could determine how they wanted to get paid for their work, whatever made sense for them, it could even be working at a newspaper. This would not inhibit others from publishing whatever they wanted, but if you wanted to get accreditation and keep it, you must hold yourself to the standards.

Of course the running of the  journalism board would cost money and have its own issues, but I’m sure that there are some people out there that would be willing to pay for such a service if it meant that high quality journalism could continue.

Energy Independence

powerI’m really happy to see all the work that has gone into getting conservation into people’s minds when they go through their day. Everyone is now talking about electric cars and plugin hybrids. In the long run though, I’m not nearly as interested in energy conservation as I am in new renewable energy sources.

I don’t really want to use compact fluorescent light bulbs everywhere, although the new LED lights look great. I’d rather be able to have a great home lighting setup with more light bulbs than you can count and leave it on all day. I want to be able to have my garage datacenter with 5 full racks of servers humming along all day and not have to worry what the power bill will be or the impact on the environment.

I’d really like to have the core of my home electrical system be a pluggable switching system where many different types of energy generation and storage systems could be plugged into. Something that would allow for remote monitoring and charting of energy generation and usage and handle balancing swings between energy sources. The local Frys outlet is now selling solar panels and wind turbines which I’d love to be able to try out and play with. Or to be able to experiment with different types of energy storage solutions.

Everyone has come to the realization that there isn’t going to be a silver bullet when it comes to getting off of oil and coal. Energy independence is going to be built off of hundreds of technologies and we’ve got to lower the cost of trying out new ones.

The Myth Of The Rational Market

financeI just finished reading an excellent book on finance, The Myth Of The Rational Market by Justin Fox. This book will blow away a lot of what you learned in Econ 101 or have heard on the news. It turns out that many of the core ideas and theories of finance and economics have been under fire for decades.  The issue is that several of these core ideas were easy to conceptualize and remember, like the efficient marketplace, but have been shown to be oversimplifications and poor models of reality.

Definitely worth a read if you have any interest in the history of financial theory.

I had started studying finance because I was curious about why different stocks had different values. It appeared to me that certain stock’s values were solely based on the “Bigger Fool Principle”, that the only way you could make money was if you could find a bigger fool than yourself to take if off your hands. With billions at risk in different markets I felt that there had to be more to it than this. How could growth stocks with no plans of ever returning profits to investors be worth the multiple that people paid for them.

This led me to the capital structure irrelevance principle as what appeared to be at the root of my confusion. This theory was initially proposed by Modigliani and Miller in 1958. The first part asserts that the value of a corporation is unaffected by the source of the corporations finance. So if a corporation needed money it didn’t matter to the value of the stock as to whether the company sold more stock or borrowed the needed money. This part seems to make sense, I can understand why if a corporation all of a sudden needed new financing that that could affect the price of the stock, but not which source of money it decides to use to fill that need.

But a second part that came out of the theory had to do with dividends and that the value of a stock was independent of the dividend plan. So according to Modigliani and Miller, a stock’s value was not connected to whether it paid out profits as dividends. This just didn’t seem correct to me at all and I kept searching and searching for something that would refute this. However, it appears that this aspect of the theory is still standing.

As a very simple model I can see how you could say that it wouldn’t make a difference if you distribute profits to investors as dividends or you use those profits to fund further growth. In fact I think Warren Buffet’s life makes an incredibly compelling case that in the right hands keeping free cash flow within a corporation and using it to fund future growth is advantageous. However as an investor this assumes that my goals and the company’s goals are aligned.  But if the goal of an investment is to use profits to fund some other aspect of my life such as buying a house or paying for college for kids then the simple return of a dividend is more advantageous and valuable. But more to the aspect of the theory it makes the assumption that managers of a company, given profits will be able to turn them into more profits or that the company will even continue to exist. I believe that there is risk in putting off returns for greater future returns that doesn’t seem to be calculated correctly into current stock prices.