13th February, 2014

The 6th Worst Winter Since 1936

This winter has been tough. It feels much worse than normal but my gauge is off after living in Hawaii for nine years. So what does the data show? I downloaded a few climatological data sets from the National Climatic Data Center. NCDC, part of NOAA, has some fantastic resources and with a bit of excel and Tableau trickery I had all the snowfall totals since 1936 for Newark Airport in New Jersey (a good proxy for the NYC area but less so for Long Island). 

The Air Force’s 14th Weather Squadron has better climatological databases, but I couldn’t publish them here and these are good enough. I also downloaded all the snow fall totals from Wunderground’s daily history and discovered that even though their site shows data, they don’t have any for anything before 2006 (see here).

It turns out that the numbers agree that this winter sucks. In the last 78 years only five years had more snowfall up to 7 Feb 2014. With the today’s snowstorm we’re likely to pop into fourth place, out seating the great winter of 1948. I still remember the 1996 season (3rd worst since 1948) and the week we had off from high school. 

Precariously projecting future snowfall based on past snowfall (which has a terrible correlation but is fun to think about) predicts that 2014 will have over 4.5 feet of snow (55”). 

With 42” booked to date, we can pretend to expect another 13” to close out the season. Let’s hope they all fall today.

(PNG of the the top Tableau graph)

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4th November, 2013

My Weekend of Endless Questions with a Six-Year-Old

Subway

Look, Aba, that guy is sleeping. [train passes.] Aba, how is he still sleeping?
Miss Mary Mack Mack Mack. All Dressed in Black Black Black … [etc., ad nauseam]

American History Museum

Why is that guy dirty? Didn’t he know he was dirty? [about a caveman]
Why did they kill the Indians?
Can you pick me up, Aba?
Are we going the correct way?
Can we go to the M&M store?

Grey’s Papaya (with John Goodman)

Aba, who is John Yoodman?
Why don’t they make this place bigger, Aba?
Why is there fruit on the ceiling?

Time’s Square Toy’s R Us

Can you pick me up, Aba?

M&M store

See how big it is? Let’s go upstairs.
These are my second favorite. Now they’re my favorite too.
Look Aba! [pointing to blue and white Israeli M&Ms]
Let’s take the elevator.
Let’s eat the M&Ms but leave some for mommy, promise?

Walk to Hila’s ‘hotel’

Aba, can you pick me up?
How far is it? Two more minutes? It’s already been three, four, five …
No, Aba! The white man’s not walking!

At apartment

Aba, what can I do? Watch TV? Ok.
I don’t know why but I like to watch when they fix the house. I don’t know why.

Dinner

[whispering] Aba, the food is good but the tofu is terrible.

Cosmic Diner Breakfast

Can I play on your phone?
How many bicycles are there in the world?
No, I mean how many bicycles are there in New York City?
[ok, well how many bikes do you see outside?] one, two, … [etc.]
[how many people?] one, two, … [etc.]
[ok, let’s say there are 5M ppl in NYC and let’s say 10% of them have bikes] Hmm, Aba, can I play with your phone?
Miss Mary Mack Mack Mack. All Dressed in Black Black Black … [etc.]
Why don’t they make this place bigger?

Intrepid Museum

How long do we have to wait here?
Yes, I know what a submarine is… Wait, people lived in here?
Wait, who’s room is this? [The Captain’s] Why did he leave his glasses here?
Can we go in the elevator?
No I don’t want to see the movie [about Kamikazes]. Can we go in the elevator?
This is a runway?
Oh, that is a plane from Is-ray-al? Why do they have a plane from Is-ray-al? How did they get a plane from Is-ray-al?
How do they know what plane to take? [Who, Noa?] The pilots.
Why does that plane have teeth? To eat your country?
How many people were on the space shuttle? One, two, three …
Why do they have the Russian space shuttle here? Oh, it is so much smaller.
Why did that one crash? So they died? …Even him?
[Where are you steering us to, young lady] To Ha-why-ii.
Did they all die on the boat? [No.]
So some of them died on the boat?
Can we take a taxi?

Spider-Man

We’re early, Aba? Well at least we’re not late and missed it!

The W Hotel

This hotel is nicer than Hila’s hotel.
Can I push the button?
Can I play on your phone?
Who is Woody Allen? Want me to take a picture of it?

Starbucks

We’re almost second in line!
So you’re going to get me a big hot chocolate too?
There. I drank the small one and half of the big one, ok?
He ran the race too? [NYC Marathon] I bet he lost.

Spider-Man

Wow, look we’re all the way on the top [row Y; the end] so we can see everything! [truly happy]
Why do they call it “Turn off the Dark?”
So they’ll tell us why they call it “Turn off the Dark?”
What happened?
Aba, what happened?
So he died? Just pretend, right?
Then how did it light up?
Lots of people for the bathroom. Why don’t they make this place bigger?
Whoa, how much spider-mans are there?
Why is the scientist a bad guy?
Can I sit on your lap?
They’re just pretending to hit each other.
But why do they call it “Turn off the Dark”?

Walk to Cindy’s Party

Where are we going? [To Cindy’s party.] Did she win the race?
Is this an airport? [No, a bus station.] A bus station!
What are they doing? [Cleaning up a flea market, Noa.] But they’ll be cleaning up all night!

Cindy’s Party

Can I see your medal?
Can I wear your medal?
Can I play on your phone?
Aba, can we take a taxi?

Car ride home

Aba, can I have some M&Ms?

25th March, 2013

Doing Less with Less: A Tale of Sequestration

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I thought we were better than this.

I live in two very different worlds and my opinions are swayed by both. In one, the startup world, we believe that we get out what we put in. We believe that it is mostly a meritocracy (save for the old boys clubs). You will be washed out if you slack. We live for growth and speak in iterations.

In the second world, of steal and arms and bullet-background-papers, the mindset is different. Career paths are set – sure you can march slightly faster than the other guy, but not by too much. Work slightly less hard and you’ll get the same pension and medical benefits. Work significantly harder and the chances are that you will not get significantly more. Here we live for multiple concurrent government pensions and a way to work the absolute fewest hours for maximum pay.

These worlds are usually at odds, and occasionally difficult to reconcile. The startup/private world makes sense but, in comparison, lacks the strict formal system whose context makes the career military world make sense.

The case where official guidance is to do “less with less” – that is, no attempt to increase efficiency – is unacceptable, regardless of political pragmatism.

——

To set the stage; months ago we could not agree on how to spend the money we had, and the money we had not. Being responsible big boys, we told ourselves that we’d lock ourselves in this very room until we licked it. But we had places to go. And things to do. So we said, fine. We can leave. But we all must wear this ankle bracelet. If we do not return in time, the bracelet will cause a limp. Not to worry, we told ourselves, it will just be a  minor limp. The truth is, this is novel and we are neophytes, who knows how lame we will be.

Eventually, we forgot about the bracelet. It became unnoticeable, a chipped tooth your tongue became bored with.

Instead of returning to that very same room when the time elapsed, we nervously phoned each other about that bracelet. If it might be something bad, why did we agree to this lunacy? Silence on the line.

A vague threat is no threat at all, but we still fantasized about a mini ankle explosion. Or perhaps seeping white gas. When the time came, neither effect accompanied it, with the exception of the calls. Did you feel anything? No? Hmm. OK.

So the bracelet company returned to consider the lack of effects. They queried the effects department and were shocked with the answer. The effects department queried the sub-departments and reported back. Across the board effects were muted. The departments, apparently, are so comfortable that they can handle the prescribed pain with ease. Sure, a few desks were relocated away from the windows but no external effects would be transmitted. In fact, department heads were beaming with pride at how well they handled the pain.

The effects department fluttered with worry. They’d be out of a job if they could not affect effects so they hastily issued an all-department edict. Do not do your best, they proclaimed, do your worst. Make it hurt. Make it visible. Let there be lines!

The department heads confusedly saluted and made it happen. Processes were convoluted and productivity artificially contracted. Lines grew.

Through it all, I courageously thought we were better than theatrically faking injury like a football (soccer) star. I was somewhat shocked when the TSA ordered artificially longer lines. Compulsive and aggressive inefficiency is a clear case of (Fraud,) Waste (& Abuse). But, whatever, the TSA was always the epitome of inefficiency.

And then the military came whispering loudly. The effects are terrible, the commanders said, but we can manage the mission without interruption. Aghast, the generals ordered: No, do “less with less” (a direct quote). Make it painful. At the end of a day’s service, your troops will need to complain to their families. Complaints will grow and Horton will hear a Who from the growing din. Horton will return to that very room to remove the bracelet. After all, if we can do the same with less, then less will become the new norm, the generals said.

With the stage in complete focus I retracted and considered. Did these orders reach me directly from an Air Force general? Specifically, society is not publicly outraged yet, so you and I need to stoke it. It’s shocking to consider that our revered core values – those I memorized 16 years ago – were also sequestered and curtailed.

——

If you know me, you probably debated me on this topic and I thank you for it. The common objection is that the current federal worker efficiency is the status quo, regardless of how inefficient or efficient it is. Granted, but so what? Their potential efficiency (all else equal and barring long-term effects) is what’s important, and, specifically, how to reach that potential. Artificially handicapping efficiency for any reason, especially for political arm-bending, is an absurdity somewhat acceptable to society only by it’s extreme degree of absurdity.

Thanks to Daniel Horton and Jason Satran for commenting on early versions of this rant.

21st December, 2012

Bill Ackman’s 342 Slide Deck on Herbalife

Business Insider was kind enough to pull out all the images from Bill Ackman’s awesome presentation yesterday at the Sohn conference, but they forced us to scroll through two football fields of slides.

Here’s the deck in an easier format:

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5th November, 2012

Post-Sandy Morning Commute Roundup

1. Train is about 10 minutes late. Not bad. Freezing.
2. Got a seat! Good start!
3. Switch trains in Newark. Mass confusion with thousands of people. All terminal signs are broken. People not happy and lots of police.
4. Announcement: Train’s not coming. Sad people.
5. Announcement: Train’s coming. Happy people. More pushing.
6. Train’s here! But it’s full, sorry. Squish in side. Squish more! Most people don’t make it on. Zero seats but I have about 1/2 sq ft to my name. Success! 
7. Train’s moving, almost there! 
8. We’re stopped.
9. We’re stopped some more. 
10. Announcement: We’ll be here for awhile.
11. We’re stopped.
12. We’re stopped some more.
….
20. We’re stopped.
21. We’re moving slowly!
22. Made it to Penn Station!
23. Mad dash and push off the train. Wait, why are all the escalators flowing the wrong direction? We’re stuck down here.
24. Run to escalator. Push emergency stop button. Policeman raps  his baton on the window. Policeman runs, I run. We’re both running. He’s fat, and I got my Puma’s on.
25. I’m out! Free!
26. Resolve to work from home until all trains are working properly. 

2nd November, 2012

Your Deal-Killer is Nothing in the Rearview

If someone would have told me a week ago that we’d have to push our launch date by two weeks, I’d have thought it might be from plenty of reasons, such as a hard-won partner getting cold feet. Or a complete loss of our code, although my co-founder would likely choke at just slipping two weeks. I wouldn’t have thought the slippage might be from a silly low pressure system that should have been terrorizing blue haired ladies in Boca (and I’m an Air Force meteorologist).

If someone would have told me a year ago that I’d sell my house in Hawaii, move to NJ, and buy a moped, I’d have thought I must have gotten a divorce. I mean, NJ? A moped?

With the future omnisciently known, it’s damn hard to guess the course that brought you there. And in the roughest of courses it’s hard to be the trite water flowing through the brook. Some part of you is always smashing into a rock or flipping upside down. It’s turbulent and never calm in all places. But it all flows as one, smoothly.

My co-founder Mike and I set out nearly nine months ago on our own brook. Our goal was simple: to make it easier to find and research senior living options. We set out to make a new class of research tools and for the first time ever provide an unbiased view on different senior living communities. It might sound pedantic if you’ve never had to find care for your parent. You might expect there to be a Zagat-like service with expert reviews, or at the very least a TripAdvisor-like service with family reviews of these communities. We had the same incorrect expectations.

Our brook was rocky and turbulent, although in retrospect no more than any of yours. At times uncomfortably wide and at others equivalently narrow and fast. We hung on through plenty of internal rocks (read: f-ups), and our fair share of external ones, Hurricane Sandy taking the lox. Just two weeks ago our lead photographer was burgled and lost all her camera gear, and week of scheduled shoots. In September our mystery shopper had a death in the family. Our first NYC office didn’t believe in notification and decided to refinish the floors while we worked. Every day we’d come in and find our desk in a different place and caked with dust.

What seem like large boulders in front of you become nothing but a hump in the flow of the rearview. I’m typing this on my laptop, in the dark, on an air mattress, in my sister’s basement, with borrowed power from a Panera Bread an hour south of here. We’re sick of Wegman’s rotisserie chickens, waiting on gasoline lines, and smelling like gasoline. But all this will be a hump in the flow of the rearview in only 7-10 more days.

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25th June, 2012

I am Over Flickr, But The Alternatives Aren’t Better

I took my first digital picture in 1997 with a rented camera at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. And instantly I was hooked.

It was a Kodak DC120 touted as “a cheap megapixel digital camera. 1000x1000 pixels for under $1000.” (although it wasn’t a true megapixel camera since the sensor resolution was less than 1MP.) The very first picture:

Ever since then I’ve been snapping away with dozens of increasingly better cameras. I am the definition of an amateur photographer but I take lots of pictures. Lots.

Each picture on the DC120 was 50kB. Now I mostly use my iPhone 4 and a Nikon D5000, a Costco special, and file sizes are between 2MB - 6MB. Multiply that by lots of pictures over 15 years and I need lots of space to store it. The story of how I learned the importance of album back-ups the hard way follows — skip down to the table if you want to just see the Flickr alternatives.

By 2002 I had the foundation of a huge a family portfolio. I just moved to Hawaii and settled into a great house in Aiea Heights overlooking Pearl Harbor. It seemed like a nice neighborhood but within a week of the movers delivering my boxes of crap, they came back and stole it all. I didn’t care about much of it except for my camera, laptop, and PDA (yes I had one in 2002). This was pre-ultra-cheap external hard drives and all my photos were on my laptop. Bailey, the beagle, was still in quarantine but I think they could have just rubbed his ears for a moment and he would have acquiesced. After lots of cussing and incredulity towards the less-than-helpful HPD, I called every pawn store in town and found my laptop at one across town. The theif had to present his ID and a thumb print but HPD still didn’t prosecute. This was my first lesson in how things work on the aina.

The next day I signed up for an online photo sharing/storing site. I can’t even remember which one it was but I quickly switched to fotki. Back then, fotki looked more or else identically to how it looks today. But that was pre-web 2.0 and it was ok. It was cheap and fit the bill of unlimited storage. Over the years I added gigs and gigs of pictures. My parents and sister joined the party and added their own pictures and the pixels went forth multiplied.

Flickr wasn’t launched until 2004. After admiring their design and community I finally bit the switching-cost bullet in 2010. Fotki made it too easy to ftp in and download all original photos and folders intact. I uploaded to Flickr and we were set.

But my parents and sister hated flickr from the beginning.

They didn’t understand the difference between collections and galleries. They didn’t get how you can upload a photo to flickr and it not be in a set. It’s somewhere in the ether. My mom uploaded thousands of photos into the ether. My flickr ether is a mess. And periodically I re-explain the uploading process but it never sticks.

And flickr stagnated over the years as Yahoo sucked the life out of it.

So I’m ready for a change. Or so I thought. I researched all the alternatives I could find and compared them in the chart below. It’s a bit of an eyesore but the bottom line is that there still aren’t materially better alternative. Sure there are better ones, but there are no ideal choices. No one’s eating their cake here.

I analyzed the alternatives based on what I need for dual purpose of family sharing and the all-important off-site backup: 

  • Folders/Sub-Folder: Flickr didn’t have “sub-folders” (called galleries) until years after they launched. I can’t have all 15 years worth of albums in the root level.
  • Unlimited Space: I need lots of space.
  • Export Ease: I’m fickle and want to be able to get my photos back when I want them. Flickr is terrible at this but I can’t blame them — it keeps all of us locked in.
  • Videos: These are new over the last five years but not essential.
  • Aesthetic: Shitty design sucks.
  • Price: I’m a cheap skate.

Disclaimer: I did not sign-up for all these products so much of this analysis is from the outside in. Export ease was particularly hard to predict. It may be wrong — if you know better, just let me know and I can make a note.

I created this for my own decision tree but hope this helps you choose the appropriate service for your needs. I’m also curious to know if I missed any stellar service that I should consider — please do let me know.image

17th May, 2012

Kid tailgating.
From left to right: perturbed, poise, and spunk.

Kid tailgating.

From left to right: perturbed, poise, and spunk.

17th May, 2012

Resume Shmesume

We’ve been on the hunt for exceptional talent since even before launching Silver Living. We need highly technical engineers that are an awesome fit with the rest of the team. And we need kick-butt photographers to work remotely and who love to take photos in low-light. We’ve been very fortunate to have great interest for these positions and have seen lots of prospects.

Lots of prospects means lots of resumes, and they range from succinct and useful to just plain terrible. The objective of this post is more about what you should do rather than what not to do, but I still need to highlight some pitfalls. These might seem (painfully) obvious but they’re real-world examples.

  1. Cropped PDFs - Never send a pdf with the edges cropped to where you cannot read the end-of-line text. Especially if you’re applying as a graphic designer.
  2. Text bombs - Easy on the long-narratives. More show, less tell. TL; DR.
  3. Readability - See example below. Arrows indicate text direction. Don’t expect reader to turn the monitor.
Res2

How companies hire is radically changing. The supply / demand balance on many skill sets is way off. Resumes just aren’t that useful for these positions. Most people prefer to see what someone’s done rather than read about it. Show us the designscodepicturescompositions, applications. Show me how you grew into your latest mindset. What pet projects do you have that relate to these skills — or, even better, what passion projects?