Saturday, January 22, 2011

Netflix corporate culture

Netflix is really doing a great job at the moment, finding a niche and transitioning from physical home delivery of movies to becoming one of the leaders in online content delivery. They do a great job by focusing on one thing and doing it extremely well. They also appear to have a fascinating corporate culture, worth taking a look at.

Ask yourself as you read this if this is a good culture or is it a culture that is just a bit too ruthless for long term success. Should a business be run like a sports team, where you are discarded once you're no longer useful? I don't know the answer.

From Netflix:
"Reference Guide on our Freedom & Responsibility Culture"

There is so much great content in this presentation that I hardly know where to start. They start out with a bang, by focusing on value statements. As they point out, Enron had a nice value statement, too. A lot of good it did them. According to Netflix, however, "The real company values, as opposed to the nice-sounding values, are shown by who gets rewarded, promoted, or let go."

After that great start the presentation only gets better. If I quoted all the good stuff in this presentation I'd end up quoting the whole thing. I thought it was that good.

Here's another shocker: "But, unlike many companies, we practice 'adequate performance gets a generous severance package.'" That's right, adequate performers are let go.

Apparently Netflix also allows you to take as many vacation days as you want, as long as you get your work done. But is this a good thing? I know I always have more work than time, so would this mean that I don't get to ever take a vacation?

Here is a counterpoint, from Business Insider:
"The Culture Of Fear Is So Ingrained In Netflix" by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

Here are some quotes:

"'A total fear of failure permeates the ranks.' Basically, you get one mistake, and after that you're fired."

"There are no processes for doing stuff and everybody wings it. And because firings happen so often, people basically spend their days covering their asses. And because there are no processes, employees aren't evaluated objectively, and people are fired and rewarded through politics."

Friday, January 21, 2011

Maybe money really can buy happiness

Can money buy happiness? Maybe it can! Consider these articles from The Economist:

"Where money seems to talk"

"The rich are different from you and me—and they say they are happier."

The old theory was: "Rich countries might be happier than poor ones, but beyond a threshold, the connection weakens, and more cash would not buy more happiness—so the theory goes."

"The new polls cast some doubt on that school of thought. They add weight to the contention that growth and income play a big part in boosting people's satisfaction with life and their attitude to the future."

"As Angus Deaton of Princeton University puts it, a map of the results looks like an income plot of the world ..."

"But in general, declared levels of happiness are correlated with wealth. The pattern also seems to hold true within countries, as well as between them. Rich Americans are happier than poor ones; rich Brazilians happier than poorer ones."

"Comparing countries: The rich, the poor and Bulgaria"

Why is this article interesting? It is interesting because it questions whether the relative wealth or absolute wealth is more important.

"Mr Easterlin suggested that well-being depended not on absolute, but on relative, income: people feel miserable not because they are poor, but because they are at the bottom of the particular pile in which they find themselves.

"There are now data on the effect of income on well-being almost everywhere in the world. In some countries (South Africa and Russia, for instance) the correlation is closer than in others (like Britain and Japan) but it is visible everywhere.

"The variation in life satisfaction between countries is huge (see chart). Countries at the top of the league (all of them developed) score up to eight out of ten; countries at the bottom (mostly African, but with Haiti and Iraq putting in a sad, but not surprising, appearance) score as low as three."

What does it mean? It means that absolute wealth matters. It is not just one's relative position in his or her society but the absolute amount of wealth.

Or, another possibility (and I'm surprised that these articles didn't consider this): Information changes everything. Once upon a time a poor person in a poor country who happened to be better off than his neighbors might have felt quite happy. But nowadays, with global communications reaching the furthest corners of the world, that same person realizes how little he has compared to the average person around the world. So he doesn't feel as happy as he once might have. So perhaps the original hypothesis (relative perception of wealth is what matters) still holds true, but the frame of reference has changed. People compare themselves to others around the world rather than own region.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

End the Fed ... then what?

If we were to abolish the cartel known as the Federal Reserve, whatever would we replace it with? Thomas Sowell knows. Check out this YouTube video:
"Thomas Sowell: Federal Reserve a 'Cancer'"

When asked what he would replace the Fed with, Sowell answered: "'What would you replace it' things always bother me. When someone removes a cancer, what do you replace it with?"

Great answer!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Why do Tea Partiers approve of Bush?

Okay, this is something I've wondered myself: Why do Tea Partiers generally approve of President George W. Bush? Consider this article from Campaign for Liberty:
"Why Do Tea Partiers Approve of President Bush?" by James Bovard

I agree with most of this article. Remember it was Bush who bailed out GM, not Obama (who merely continued what Bush started). Bush pushed through the first bailout. Bush imposed steel tariffs that hurt U.S. manufacturers. Bush ran up the debt. Bush increased the federal stranglehold on education. None of these things are consistent with what the Tea Party purports to believe.

The main point I disagree with is the author's stance on torture. I have never been convinced that water boarding is inappropriate.

The greater implication of the article is this: The fact that many Tea Partiers approve of Bush mean's that they do not have firm moral and political convictions. They say they want limited government but approve of someone who clearly thought government has no limits. I am sad to say this, but this makes me skeptical that the Tea Party will remain an important political force for long.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of the Tea Party and have attended a rally or two. In its short life so far it has been effective. Look at someone like Rand Paul. Never would have been elected without it. Probably the same with Ron Johnson (people like him might never have run without it). There is a group of good people who made it into government as a result of it. So it IS effective. I just don't think it will last, unfortunately.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

World's Greatest License Plate?

We've all seen examples of great license plates. But this is as good as I've seen. Unfortunately, it has been revoked. From Jalopnik:
"Virginia DMV Revokes World's Greatest License Plate"

And in a similar vein, since I joke about beating my girls from time to time:

Monday, January 17, 2011

California is crazy

From the New York Times:
"Calif. County Criminalizes Smart-Meter Installations"

I don't have much to say about this, other than to this: They sure are crazy out there in California. Have they banned cell phones? Power lines? Wifi networks? Electric blankets? Electric razors? Microwave ovens? Radar guns? (I realize that these things have different types of electromagnetic radiation.) Why single out smart meters, of all things??? To my knowledge, there are no health issues with smart meters like this. I am willing to be educated, of course. But sometimes people like to protest just because they have nothing better to do. Crazy.

What, you need more evidence? Okay, check out MISH'S Global Economic Trend Analysis blog:
"California Budget Balancer Interactive Map from LA Times Misses the Mark"

As Mish says, "Look at this disgusting list of California Agencies."
* Acupuncture Department
* Office of AIDs
* Air Research Board
* 3 different agencies for alcohol and beverages
* 2 Apprenticeship Councils
* Art Council
* Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus
* Bureau of Automotive repair
* Barbering board
* Biodiversity council
* Calvet Loan program
* Climate Change Portal
* Coastal Commission
* Cool California
* 4 Delta agencies
* Digital Library
* Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair
* Employment Training Panel
* Energy Commission
* Equalization Board
* 2 Fair Employment agencies
* Film Commission
* Flex Your Power
* Healthy Family Program
* Hearing Aid Dispensers Bureau
* Home Furnishings Bureau
* Humanities Council
* Independent Living Council
* Indoor Air Quality Program
* Economic Development Bank
* Interagency Ecological Program
* Labor and Workforce Development
* Latino Legislative Caucus
* Learn California
* Little Hoover Commission
* Maritime Academy
* Managed Risk Board
* Museum for History
* MyCali Youth Portal
* Native Heritage Association
* Natural Community Planning Program
* Naturopathic Medicine Community
* Outreach
* Peace Officer Standards Board
* Postsecondary Education Commission
* Prison Industry Authority
* Privacy Protection Office
* Psychology Board
* Railroad Museum
* Recovery Task Force
* Refugee Branch
* Regents of the U of C
* Save Our Water commission
* Smart Growth Caucus
* Status of Women Commission
* Take Charge California
* We Connect
* Wetlands Information System
* Workforce Investment Board

"California does not need ANY of those. Moreover I assure you I missed dozens more that could be cut back if not eliminated entirely. What the heck do those cost? And how much can be saved by my suggestions above."

Saving the best (worst, actually) for last, did you hear that the California Supreme Court doesn't believe in the 4th Amendment? It's true. From Switched:
"Police Don't Need Search Warrants to Read Texts, California Court Rules" by Amar Toor

"The Fourth Amendment requires all law-enforcement officials to obtain a search warrant before seizing a suspect's personal property. According to the California Supreme Court, though, the law doesn't apply to cell phones. In a 5-to-2 vote, the court ruled that police don't need a search warrant to search an arrested individual's cell phone -- because cell phones, in essence, are like clothing."

The article seemed to side with the dissenting judges in the case: "A cell phone, after all, is not just another piece of clothing. With one phone, an investigator can have instant access to a person's entire life -- including not only his text messages and phone records, but, in some cases, his e-mails, photos or videos. That's a lot of information for an investigator to seize without legal justification, regardless of the circumstances governing an arrest."

"Perhaps more important, though, is the dangerous legal precedent that California's ruling could set. In the coming years, mobile technology will only expand further, and encompass even more aspects of our personal lives. And, if police retain the right to read our text messages at will, there's no telling where their reach could end."

In closing, let's take a look at the plain language of the 4th Amendment itself to show that the California high court got this ruling wrong. Remember what the 4th Amendment says?
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

How are cell phones not included in a person's "effects"? Furthermore, with digital communications, I would argue that e-mails, texts, documents, and so forth are the modern equivalant of "papers." Therefore cell phones would be covered by the 4th Amendment, requiring a search warrant for law enforcement to search them. It's that simple. Unless you happen to be one of the exalted high judges in California. (That's sarcasm, by the way, for the benefit of my California readers.)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Latest Google Spam Technique: Invent Fake Street Addresses And Show Up In Google Listings | Techdirt

I'm getting a bit worried that the spammers are starting to get a step ahead of Google.

From Techdirt:
"Latest Google Spam Technique: Invent Fake Street Addresses And Show Up In Google Listings"

Here's another article on the future of search. Are algorithms played out? Can they all be gamed? From Paul Kedrosky:
"Curation is the New Search is the New Curation"

"There are two things that can happen now. (Okay, three. We could stop search, which won't happen.). We could get better algorithms, which is happening to some degree, with search engines like Blekko and others. Or, we could head back to curation, which is what I see happening, and watch new algos emerge on top of that next-gen curation again. Think of Twitter as a new stab at curation, but there are plenty of other examples."

Finally, some good news for Google, with a little bad news mixed in. From VentureBeat:
"Google already knows its search sucks (and is working to fix it)" by Peter Yared

The article admits that Google's search results have been deteriorating. "Search has been increasingly gamed by link and content farms year by year, and users have been frogs slowly getting boiled in water without realizing it. (Bing has similarly bad results, a testament to Microsoft’s quest to copy everything Google.)

"But here’s what these late-blooming critics miss: Yes, Google’s search results do indeed suck. But Google’s fixing it.

"The much acclaimed PageRank algorithm, which ranks search results based on the highest number of inbound links, has failed since it’s easy for marketers to overwhelm the number of organic links with a bunch of astroturfed links. Case in point: The page that describes PageRank is #4 in the Google search results for the term PageRank, below two vendors that are selling search engine marketing."

Here is the scary part:

"Facebook, which can rank content based on the number of Likes from actual people rather than the number of inbound links from various websites, can now provide more relevant hits, and in realtime since it does not have to crawl the web. A Like is registered immediately. No wonder Facebook scares Google."

The article points out that it wasn't necessarily the PageRank algorithm that set Google apart but the ability to implement it on a large scale.

So what is Google doing?

"Over the past couple of years, Google has progressively added vertical search results above its regular results. When you search for the weather, businesses, stock quotes, popular videos, music, addresses, airplane flight status, and more, the search results of what you are looking for are presented immediately. The vast majority of users are no longer clicking through pages of Google results: They are instantly getting an answer to their question."