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Tag Archives: stories

  • The Lost Party
    Talks a bit about the Republican nomination in advance of the Michigan primary (which Romney eventually won). Since I haven’t been paying attention, this was a good primer on the other candidates (Gingrich, Santorium) and the problems the Republican party has been having this go-around.
  • I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave
    Every time you order something online, your product is being picked and shipped from some warehouse; but what is it like to be one of those pickers?

    The gal conducting our training reminds us again that we cannot miss any days our first week. There are NO exceptions to this policy. She says to take Brian, for example, who’s here with us in training today. Brian already went through this training, but then during his first week his lady had a baby, so he missed a day and he had to be fired. Having to start the application process over could cost a brand-new dad like Brian a couple of weeks’ worth of work and pay. Okay? Everybody turn around and look at Brian. Welcome back, Brian. Don’t end up like Brian.

  • Those Fabulous Confabs
    The story of the TED conference and the general popularity of “Big Idea” conferences.
  • On The Market
    While the title is a bit ambiguous, this article is unintuitively about working at the Sotheby’s auction house in New York. Another great article looking in on a lifestyle and career that I’m not familiar with.

    These girls seemed immune to New York’s damning seasons, which always threaten to expose one’s tax bracket, especially if it is low. The summer sun didn’t melt their makeup, and the winter wind didn’t mar their manes. They were driven in cars and cabs that were kept at a constant 68 degrees. At night and on weekends, they attended galas, museum openings, and brunches in East Hampton. But during business hours, they went on client visits, consulted on prices, and tirelessly secured property. They were friendly on the phone, enthusiastic about the art, and harder working than people who look and talk like that usually need to be.

  • The Man Who Broke Atlantic City
    When you hear a gambling story with a title like this, you immediately think a con or the MIT card counting team. Not this one though, this is a story of a guy who strategically won over $10 million using his smarts and declining economic conditions for the casinos.

    But two years ago, Johnson says, the casinos started getting desperate. With their table-game revenues tanking and the number of whales diminishing, casino marketers began to compete more aggressively for the big spenders. After all, one high roller who has a bad night can determine whether a casino’s table games finish a month in the red or in the black. Inside the casinos, this heightened the natural tension between the marketers, who are always pushing to sweeten the discounts, and the gaming managers, who want to maximize the house’s statistical edge. But month after month of declining revenues strengthened the marketers’ position. By late 2010, the discounts at some of the strapped Atlantic City casinos began creeping upward, as high as 20 percent.

First there was a story about how a UW grad contributed to Wall Street’s downfall, now here’s another story about a computer program which blinded the traders to the volitility of CMOs

Within a year, we had sold it to four large investment banks; by the end of 1997, we had fifteen. We were it! By the end of ’98, we had 25. If a firm wanted to be in the mortgage business, they needed us. Instead of hiring a large staff to write the software, you could buy it from us, at half what it would cost you to create it from scratch. Price per copy was $500,000, plus annual maintenance. Not only did the big banks buy, but major mortgage servicers decided they could end-run the banks by taking the loans and ramming them through the grinder themselves.

For a decade, every firm had written its own proprietary structuring tool for securitizing mortgages. Now we had commoditized it. Firms liked using the same piece of software. Intex became the King of Mortgages. Bonds were traded without showing up on the Bloomberg screens!

It seems I share a lot of similarities with the events that lost you a lot of money!

Bill Gates’ finally steps down from being the chairman of Microsoft this week. I don’t have anything to add on the technology outlook or implications, but thinking about him reminds me of the several times I was a stone’s throw away from him a couple of summer’s ago.

At Microsoft, it’s not rare to see him speaking or presenting, but there was definitely a sense of anticipation and excitement whenever we did get to hear him. I don’t have the same feeling here at IBM (although the most prominent person I’ve heard speak is Steve Mills, the head of the software group and reporting to our CEO Sam Palmisano), although it may have been the intern exuberance. I wonder if FTEs at Microsoft are like that? The most prominent event is the famous Bill Gates’ BBQ hosted at his house. When I was there, it was only open to people in their graduating year in order to limit numbers. Even then, there was a huge number of people.

The event was pretty crazy, and not just because of the numbers. We had to take coaches from around the campus to a local church to pass through a security check (metal detectors). The organizers were adamant that you could not bring anything metallic so I had to leave my wallet, watch, cellphone, camera, keys, in my office to pick up later! After passing through the metal detectors, we went on smaller shuttle buses, which had their underbelly examined by mirrors before departing to Bill Gates’ house.

The BBQ isn’t even IN his house. It was in his backyard on Lake Washington. Of course I wanted to see in his house after reading about it in The Road Ahead so I went in to “use the washroom”. Alas, there’s actually a conference center in the back so all I ended up going to was the washrooms that executives use (no bidet).

Bill Gates made his appearance about halfway through the evening, and everyone migrated towards him. There were your usual geek-guy-trying-to-be-smart type questions, but really, he’s just a normal executive guy. I was surprised that he didn’t have bodyguards (for ninja interns) or snipers on the roof (for XXX agents coming off the lake). I didn’t ask him any questions, nor did I really feel the need to, because even though we were invited to his house, we weren’t able to connect with him. What I got out of it was this memory that I was *that* close to him and was a Bill Gates Groupie for a night.

Did you know that you can’t book Westjet flights on Expedia even though they list them? I tried this a couple of days ago when I was looking for some plane tickets. I wanted an early morning flight, meaning something like 9am-ish. There were a bunch of cheap prices for flights at 7am-ish on Westjet and Air Canada, but Expedia had a flight for the same price at 8:45 on Westjet! Pretty weird that it wasn’t listed on the carrier’s page but whatever.

So I checked things over and booked that flight. Now I must have looked at it 5 times before I realized that the flight I booked was actually for 8:45 at night rather than the day. Oops! It turned out that because the results were ranked by price, there just happened to be an evening flight right after the early morning flight. Anyways, that kind of sucked because I booked it already and it was one of those can’t-change-anything flights. Plus, that’s basically a day lost in the schedule.

This problem wouldn’t have occured if Expedia was using 24-hour time; I thought the entire airline industry did this. It’s not good usability when you deviate from tradition. Also, it took me like 10 minutes to login to Expedia through my Passport account, but I digress.

Anyways, as luck would have it, when I was surfing around my profile, it showed that there was a problem with my booking so I gave them a call. A bored, and not very helpful support technician answered my call and basically said that Expedia can’t book Westjet flights, so my flight didn’t get booked and I had to book again. Lucky me!

I went over to the Westjet site and booked the early morning flight at a cheaper cost than I would have paid AND I got double the Air Miles (compared to the 0 I would have gotten through Expedia). So it ended up being a win-win situation except for the fact that I have to wake up an hour and a half earlier now.