Monthly Archives: April 2007

Corporate HR gone awry … Microsoft bans photos of dogs

Poker
In the “another reason to work at a start-up” category, Microsoft has an official HR policy that no photos or paintings of dogs can be displayed in its office.   The reason?   Apparently, a small number of people (humans) are so sacred of dogs (canines) that they freak-out when they even see a photo of a dog.      

While I wasn’t able to confirm that this is a world-wide policy at Microsoft, it certainly is the policy of their Mountain View campus.   

In more corporate HR craziness: A person I met at IBM printed the hobbies of the members of his team on their business cards.   This was a huge hit among the employees and among the people they met … and it increased moral for no cost to the company.   A really great out-of-the-box idea … until corporate HR got a hold of it and made him shred all the business cards.

book: Dreaming in Code

Code_cover
Dreaming in Code: Two Dozen Programmers, Three Years, 4,732 Bugs, and One Quest for Transcendent Software

by Scott Rosenberg

Software is hard.   really hard.   Having been involved in creating complex software for the last twelve years (first as a developer, then as a VP Engineering, and currently as a CEO), I can attest that things are always much harder than they seem.   

The book follows the creation of "Chandler" — a be-all personal information manager developed by some of the world’s best software developers (and led by Mitch Kapor) that was supposed to take the world by storm but instead was never completed.

the book interweaves some of the history of software and some ideas from best practices (like from Joel on Software).   

Anyone undertaking a big software project should read this book and do your best to learn from the mistakes of others.   

my take-aways on some best practices for software development:
– hire a smaller team that really works well together
– focus on rapid iteration
– avoid all the software development fads of the day and be highly skeptical of any silver bullet
– ensure your engineering managers are meeting their peers in other companies to share best practices on how to manage a complex project

book: Competiting on Analytics

Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning
by Thomas H. Davenport, Jeanne G. Harris

This book was referred to me by Silicon Valley super-angel (and Rapleaf board member) Eric Di Benedetto.   It is a good book that reveals to power of analytics and value of making decisions with deep data.   It is kind of like Moneyball for businesses.    It is a good book, very quick read, though not a lot of surprising content if you are in this space already.

Book: A History of the Middle Ages

A History of the Middle Ages
By: Crane Brinton, John Christopher and Robert Wolff

This book is kind of the sequel to Charlemagne and gives a good course overview of the Middle Ages (very euro-centric).   Unlike the horribly dire picture presented in A World Lit Only By Fire, this book paints a Middle Ages which is much more progressive than the time before it.

I listen to the audiobook (very long but worthwhile if you are an insane history buff).

How common is adultery?

In the Economist a few weeks ago there was a review of a book about different nation’s notions about adultery.   According to the book the country with the highest percentage of males committing adultery is Togo (37%) and the two countries with the least adulterous males are Australia (2.5%) and Switzerland (3%).

In the study, the percentage of men are those who are married and who have cheated on their spouse in the last 12 months.   It was determined through extensive surveying and might be flawed.   

The numbers seem scary.   Take Australia, the "best" nation with only 2.5% of men committing adultery in the last 12 months.   Is it me, or does 2.5% seem alarming?   Imagine, in the very best place for fidelity in world, 1 in 40 men still cheat every year!  Really unbelievable.   I would hope it would be more like 1 in 200.   am I just naive?   

math and shakespeare

I was at a dinner party not too long ago and one of the other attendees did something very interesting … he chastised one of the guests for not really knowing Shakespeare.   Then, a few minutes later, this same chastiser was bragging about how little he cared for math and science — he said other people could focus on that.

Shakespeare
Is Shakespeare really more important than math and science?
Maybe.

Too often people think what they know is REALLY important and what their ignorant of is something easily done by others.

As the dinner progressed, I asked a question to the other nine guests: you roll 5 dice, what is the probability of getting at least one four.   Turns out, no one knew.   Now granted, it is actually a hard question for someone that hasn’t studied probability … the smattering of Stanford B-school and Harvard Law School grads hadn’t studied math and statistics in college like I had.   And one can get through life fine without knowing simple probability … just like many get through life without knowing Shakespeare.   

Whether it is the Monty Hall problem or the Birthday problem, people have a real lack of understand of their chance of something.   Maybe that explains gambling.   Or playing credit card roulette.   it seems math and science is quite important for any learned person to master.

Now I don’t know much about Shakespeare … but it isn’t something I brag about.   In fact, I see that as one of my deficiencies that I’m not proud of.   So I get taken aback when people feel that what they know is so much more important than what they don’t know.