What Makes A Great Company?

Posted in Business and Economics on July 11th, 2014 by Peter – Comments Off

I recently stumbled across an article, albeit a bit old, that highlights four things that make a company a great place to work. I’m posting it here because it pulls together and provides structure to a lot of thoughts I’ve had on the subject.  The four attributes are:

  • A strong positive culture, firmly grounded in a meaningful purpose
  • Real chances to grow professionally
  • The opportunity to work with people you like and respect
  • Work that requires you to stretch your brain and skills

There’s two observations I’d add.  First, different attributes are going to be more important to different people.  The idea of working with people you like and respect – especially fun, engaging people – is incredibly important to a friend of mine.  It’s important to me as well, but speaking with her helped me realize that things like a strong positive culture firmly grounded in a meaningful purpose and work that forces me to stretch my brain and skills are more important – and that I tend to think that the former follows the latter two.

Second, the idea of fulfillment (rather than simply obtaining sustenance) through work is a relatively new phenomenon, at least in it’s breadth of applicability.  When the majority of the population was engaged in subsistence farming, or even in repetitive assembly line tasks in the union heyday of yore, I don’t think people used the four criteria above in determining what was a great place to work.  Instead a great place to work was probably “somewhere that lets me feed my family on a fairly consistent basis.”  It’s worth pausing to think how incredibly lucky we are to live in a time where we can afford to consider things like “a strong positive culture, firmly grounded in a meaningful purpose” in selecting a place of work.


Posted in Personal on November 25th, 2013 by Peter – Comments Off

Over Veteran’s Day weekend Lisa Ng and I went backpacking in Desolation Wilderness, a mountain cathedral of “carved granite, alpine forests, and pristine peaks.”  On the shore of Lake Aloha in the serenity and solitude of the Sierra backcountry we both love I asked her to marry me.  Despite dragging her out in the cold of late Autumn, she said yes!

There’s a lot of changes over the horizon for the two of us.  I recently accepted a new position with AT&T in Atlanta as Director of Strategic Pricing for our Consumer Insights business – AT&T”s business to externally monetize what we know about our customers.  So come January I’ll be picking up my life and moving it to Atlanta, into a condo that I just purchased.  Lisa will be teaching as SF State for one more semester before following me to Atlanta, where we are excited to explore a new part of the country and embark on many new adventures together.

Yahoo Shuts Down Astrid

Posted in Computers and Technology on May 9th, 2013 by Peter – Comments Off

Not content with merely providing users with a portal that sucks, Marissa Mayer has taken to trolling the mobile sphere, finding good companies, and closing them down.  Yahoo recently acquired task management software Astrid.  Now I love Astrid, and while I was a little nervous about potential changes Yahoo might make, I was hoping for the best when I first read the news.  So what are Yahoo’s exciting plans for Astrid’s four million users?

Over the next 90 days, Astrid will continue to work as is, and we will no longer be accepting new premium subscriptions. To make future changes as easy as possible, we’ll be in touch with users shortly to share how to download data.

That’s right folks, Mayer is going to shut ‘er down.  Absolutely no attempt will be made to retain those users or convert them to Yahoo’s portfolio of suck.  Acquire the team, shut down the product, and leave the users hanging – thanks Marissa!

Samsung Galaxy S4 WiFi Auto-On

Posted in Computers and Technology on May 6th, 2013 by Peter – Comments Off

I just got my new Galaxy S4 last week after over two years of living on an HTC Evo.  The Evo was a good phone, but ultimately aged poorly – becoming slow, lacking new OS features, and a short battery life that became increasingly irritating.

With half of its built in memory already used for new whiz-bang features that I don’t really need (e.g. eye-tracking scrolling that never really works), I’m thinking the S4 may also suffer the same flaws.  In the mean time, however, the most noticeable thing is that Google and Samsung have raised the creepyness factor a notch.  The phone knows where I live (by tracking my location), and even has a “feature” where it automatically “remembers the locations where you spend the most time and turns on Wi-Fi when you are near those places.”

This is called “SmartMode” and it’s my new pet peeve (there’s not enough documentation to tell whether it is a Samsung or Google “feature”).  What’s interesting is that it doesn’t just turn on WiFi for locations where you have previously connected – it turns it on anywhere you have high dwell time.  So for example if you are in your office, and your office doesn’t have WiFi, the S4 will turn on WiFi anyways.  No matter how many times you turn it off, it will turn it back on seemingly every five minutes.

To disable go into Settings -> Connections -> Wi-Fi -> Smart mode.

“No Dogs or Chinese Allowed” – Bringing Discrimination Into the Modern Era At America’s Elite Universities

Posted in Public Policy on December 20th, 2012 by Peter – Comments Off

The New York Times has a nice debate about the fact that while the percentage of Asians in the general population has steadily risen, the percentage gaining acceptance into the elite Ivy League universities has hardly changed at all.  To receive equal consideration by elite colleges, Asian Americans must outperform Whites by 140 points, Hispanics by 280 points, Blacks by 450 points out of 1600 on the SAT.  To me, the point here is that racial discrimination is always wrong – even if you give it a sweet name like “affirmative action” or “holistic application review.”

The chart below – which compares Asian-American population growth, Asian-American admissions at race-blind CalTech, and admissions at the elite Ivy League schools, provides strong statistical evidence that something squirrely is happening.  Borrowing the Supreme Court’s “two or three standard deviations” standard, I think it’s irrefutable that there is some sort of discrimination happening.

Ron Unz, who prepared the above chart, writes:

After the Justice Department closed an investigation in the early 1990s into charges that Harvard University discriminated against Asian-American applicants, Harvard’s reported enrollment of Asian-Americans began gradually declining, falling from 20.6 percent in 1993 to about 16.5 percent over most of the last decade.

The last 20 years have brought a huge rise in the number of Asians winning top academic awards in our high schools or being named National Merit Scholarship semifinalists. It seems quite suspicious that none of trends have been reflected in their increased enrollment at Harvard and other top Ivy League universities.


Postscript:  It would appear that the “No Dogs Or Chinese” sign alleged to have been at Public Park in Shanghai, China is apparently a myth - the sign actually put it much more politely as “The Gardens are reserved for the Foreign Community.”  The image above is actually from the Bruce Lee movie Fist of Fury, which depicted the sign at the entrance to the park.


Posted in Public Policy on October 15th, 2012 by Peter – Comments Off

Yes, please:

It would be nice if people started with the presumption that the world is not run by an evil conspiracy, and then required strong evidence to falsify it, rather than the other way around.

I think this every time someone talks about a government or large corporate conspiracy.  Having worked for both the government and a large corporation, I can tell you that at the end of the day both are staffed by people.  Normal, ordinary people who would response to an ethically outrageous conspiracy the same way as you, your friends, or any of the normal people to whom you spin your conspiracy theories.  No organization has managed to cull together 1000s of evil, cackling geniuses, all equally committed to carrying out and keeping secret some grand scheme to deprive you of your liberty or happiness.

The United States Marine Corps

Posted in Points of random interest on July 9th, 2012 by Peter – Comments Off

Marines are a little off.  There’s a certain intensity, a certain feel you get when interacting with a Marine that sets them apart even from their peers in the other services.  Much of this comes from their structure as a bottom-heavy light infantry force, but a lot of this is from their original created purpose:  amphibious assaults.  The thing is, when you get off a ship onto an enemy beach, you quickly find yourself committed in a way that you don’t want to be if things go poorly.  “Do or die” isn’t just a nice motto – it’s traditionally what has actually happened in most amphibious assaults.

Of course, much of this is reinforced by their bottom heavy structure – it’s much easier to maintain harsher standards at the bottom ranks when your pyramid narrows more quickly.  Either way, Marines tend to have a special intensity that the New York Times captures well in their window into the Marine Infantry Officer Course.  The course begins with the Combat Endurance Test:

After a lieutenant completed each leg of the test, the captain said, there would be another instructor who would explain the next task. The test was timed, but the lieutenants would not know how much time was allowed for many events, or over all. This uncertainty was intended to force every student to go as fast as he could, never knowing how much energy and food to conserve.

Outside, Major Cuomo walked the trails in the heat, watching the lieutenants and occasionally offering encouragement. He explained what the course’s role meant to him: providing enlisted infantry Marines, who bear the brunt of war’s risks and privations, with officers they deserve.

He pointed at a lieutenant ahead, his uniform blackened by sweat and dirt, headed uphill. He appeared to have entered a slow-motion mental zone. He was weaving on shaky legs, but progressing.

“There could come a time when the Marines in a platoon will look at that man, and say, ‘I don’t know where he came from, and I don’t know what he knows, but we are in a big mess and he is going to do the right thing right now and make this right,’ ” the major said. “That man needs to be up to that task.”


At another point, the lieutenants found themselves at an obstacle course, which they had to complete multiple times. One officer lagged, staggering. He stopped, continued, stopped. It did not look as if he would climb the last lap’s last rope. But he did. He shuffled past Major Cuomo, fell to a knee and vomited repeatedly. At one point he dropped to all fours. Medical staff watched him. It looked as if he might pass out, but a few minutes later he was standing. A captain pointed to another card.



In Defense of the Oxford Comma

Posted in Points of random interest on June 26th, 2012 by Peter – Comments Off

From a WSJ article on grammar in the workplace:

Leaving it out can change the meaning of a sentence, Mr. Kamenick says: The sentence, “The greatest influences in my life are my sisters, Oprah Winfrey and Madonna,” means something different from the sentence, “The greatest influences in my life are my sisters, Oprah Winfrey, and Madonna,” he says. (The first sentence implies the writer has two celebrity sisters; the second says the sisters and the stars are different individuals.) 

Internet Explorer Fail

Posted in Around the Internet on April 23rd, 2012 by Peter – Comments Off

Say what? Why is this ok?

Comparing Ron Paul and Louis Farrakhan

Posted in Politics on January 3rd, 2012 by Peter – Comments Off

Ta-Nehisi Coates offers up some beautiful prose comparing Ron Paul and and Louis Farrakhan:

As surely as Ron Paul speaks to a real issue–the state’s broad use of violence and surveillance–which the America’s political leadership has failed to address, Farrakhan spoke to something real, something unsullied, which black America’s political leadership failed to address, Both Paul and Farrakhan, in their glamour, inspired the young, the disaffected, the disillusioned.

To those who dimly perceived something wrong, something that could not be put on a placard, or could not move the party machine, men such as this become something more than political operators, they become symbols. Substantive charges against them, no matter the reasons, are dismissed. The movement they represent means more. But as sure as the followers of Farrakhan deserved more than UFOs, anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories, those of us who oppose the drug-war, who oppose the Patriot Act deserve better than Ron Paul.

 The full piece is well worth a read.