Month: May 2013

The One Number We Need From Insurers

When you get a loan, they always give you two numbers: the (nominal) interest rate and the APR. The first one takes into account only the interest you pay the bank, while the second is supposed to include fees and other items that get tacked on. Since banks get creative with their fees, you should always consider the APR more important than the nominal interest rate: if a loan costs you 1% up-front, that’s a lot of money to add to a potentially enticing interest rate!

When you get an insurance, you don’t really get anything. There is a ton of paper that explains what exactly you are insuring, and to what extent, and an incredibly long list of things that the insurance company decides it will not consider reasons for a payout. Some of them seem reasonable (for instance, if you have a term life insurance, there is always a suicide clause). Others are a bit iffy (no examples here, just look at your phone insurance for examples).

What is really strange is that banks are mandated to include fees in the APR, while insurance companies are not mandated to really do anything. The government prefers to deal with insurance, apparently, on a case-by-case basis. Certain practices are banned, while others are allowed. Some practices are allowed sometimes, others are forbidden on certain days of the month (just an example).

That makes it almost seem like there is no easy number that insurance companies could give us to give an indication of whether it’s worth it or not to get the insurance. Or is there?


My Memories of Yahoo!

Y!I used to work at Yahoo! for a very long two and a half years, from mid-2001 to the end of 2003. It was a strange period, with monumental shifts in the Internet. Yahoo! was a the center of it all, but the other players were rapidly rearranging themselves. Microsoft, for the longest time the bane of Yahoo! (more accurately, Microsoft’s MSN division, later Live, later Bing) was rapidly driving itself into irrelevance. On the other hand, the tiny upstart Google was starting to bite at its former master’s heels as it managed its entrance into the email market and other derivative of popular and lucrative Yahoo! products.

Things went horribly wrong at Yahoo! When I left, in 2003, the company was doing very well, but the seeds of destruction were visible everywhere. I left because I didn’t believe the company was pursuing the right strategy, and was deploying the wrong processes, and focusing on the wrong people. My bet was expensive – my stock was only half vested, and I left the other half on the table.

After I left, though, there were tons of articles about what had gone wrong at Yahoo!. All of them were written from a specific, political point of view. Essentially, the author was blaming everybody else. There was an article by Brad Garlinghouse, now gone from the Internet, about how the problem at Yahoo! was the IQ of its developers (especially compared to Google). Another article by Caterina Fake highlighted how she perceived Yahoo! fumbling the Flickr acquisition. Caterina was one of the founders of Flickr, and in her generous (to herself) memory, Flickr stood poised to become the company that Facebook became. Oh, if only Yahoo! hadn’t been so short-sighted!

I was surprised by these articles, and by comments made by other colleagues, because they seemed to focus on a single issue, as if addressing it would have completely changed the fate of the company. Instead, I felt that the reasons for the failure were as numerous as the failure colossal. It is a testament to the company’s greatness that it survived the many self-inflicted wounds and is still alive today. But let me enumerate for thee:


Sunday Sesh

Scripps at end of dayI was looking at the surf reports this morning. Surfline color-codes surf quality: grey means nothing going, blue means don’t go, green means you can go, and orange means you have to go. As soon as color codes were handed out, an ocean of green was staring at me. We don’t have these days often, so I packed my stuff and headed out.

I decided not to try my local break, Pacific Beach, because on Sunday mornings it’s incredibly crowded. That’s still better than on Sunday afternoon, when it’s impossibly crowded, but not exactly what I was looking for. So I headed over the hill (Mount Soledad, although it really is just a hill with a pretentious title) and parked at the Shores lot. I thought I’d walk to the Scripps Pier from there.

As I changed, I saw the waves. They looked plenty big, and Scripps was going to be a lot bigger. Also, the crowd at Shores was not the usual mass of people, so I thought I could tough it out. I hopped in the water, took advantage of a lull, and paddled out into the lineup in no time.

The waves were friendly. There were few of the typical beach break closeouts, and most of the surf was peaky and fun. I looked around, checked what everybody else was doing, and noticed we had a really friendly crowd. The longboarders were close to the shortboarders, which indicates consistent breaking, and all of us were drifting North (which explains why the crowd was spread).


Amazon Pilots: Zombieland

Imagine an office. Two co-workers chatting over some tiny calorie-counting lunch. He is complaining about trifles and trivialities like the world is falling apart. She is listening empathetically, as if she could possibly care.

The two, for mysterious reasons, have a window office. For even more mysterious reasons, they are eating their lunch facing away from that giant status symbol of a window. And while they spoon their sugar-free yogurts and leaf away at that non-fat ranch dressing salad, mayhem ensues just outside the window.

It’s hard not to burst out laughing when the guy complains about a nothing while someone is being hacked at with a chain saw in the background. It’s absurd, it’s unexpected, it’s glorious. Unfortunately, it’s the funniest part of the episode, and the rest doesn’t quite match up.

Maybe you have seen something similar. When I went to watch the original Ice Age movie, that little squirrel had me rolling on the floor, laughing. Everybody else felt like that in the theater. We were not expecting that. The movie after that was not nearly as funny. It was a good movie, but compared to the squirrel bit, it disappointed.

Zombies are everywhere, and our four heroes march around Los Angeles in search of a safe spot. They are guided by the Onstar lady, who seems to know where they can find colonies of the uninfected, as well as struggling stragglers around town. Our heroes try to find more members to their party (not sure why), but fail at every turn.