Elizabeth Warren’s big (ridiculous) plan

Elizabeth Warren, one of the politicians who announced intention to run for the Presidency in 2020, released a blog post today outlining her plan to break up technology companies, if she is elected.

It’s ridiculous in my opinion.

I totally agree with Senator Warren on the role of promoting competition, because 1) it’s good for small-and-medium sized businesses; and 2) more importantly, it’s good for consumers. When there is competition to earn consumers’ money, it’s the consumers who reap the benefits.

Senator Warren’s whole piece seems to focus only on the first point above and neglect the second one, which in my opinion is the more important between the two. In her blog post, the Senator had a bolded claim that reads: “How the new tech monopolies hurt small businesses and innovation”. It depends on which industry she was referring to. It can be argued that Google’s monopoly can stifle any search engine startups, but it’s unfair to imply that Google can threaten in manufacturing industries and many others that are not where Google operates.

She accused tech powerhouses to use M&A to kill competition. Without Google, would Android and millions of users around the world have an established alternative to Apple today? One of the reasons why companies do M&A is to gain capabilities in a short amount of time. It’s like when you don’t know speak Japanese, instead of spending easily a decade to learn the language, you can hire somebody from Japan tomorrow and start doing business. The same thing applies to companies. Rather than spend money and years on R&D without guaranteed success, companies can acquire the capabilities available on the market quickly and reduce the risk of missing out strategic opportunities. The acquired companies can leverage resources at the acquirers to evolve to the next level. There is an argument to be made about Instagram & Facebook, Disney and Marvel, VMWare and Nicira.

Here is what she had to say on marketplaces

Using Proprietary Marketplaces to Limit Competition. Many big tech companies own a marketplace — where buyers and sellers transact — while also participating on the marketplace. This can create a conflict of interest that undermines competition. Amazon crushes small companies by copying the goods they sell on the Amazon Marketplace and then selling its own branded version. Google allegedly snuffed out a competing small search engine by demoting its content on its search algorithm, and it has favored its own restaurant ratings over those of Yelp.

There is some truth in what she said, but selling private labels and running a marketplace are two different things. If the private labels, as in the case of Amazon, are crappy, Amazon won’t be able to sell them. If Google-favored content isn’t in the best interest of users, they won’t consume it. Functioning as a marketplace, Amazon and Google generate revenue by offering a marketing channel and logistics help to vendors. Small businesses can sell goods on Amazon without worrying much about building a supply chain on its own. For many businesses, Google is the best way to reach online users. I can buy in the claim that these tech companies can be unfavorably biased to vendors which sell competing services/products, but the tech firms do also help a lot of other small guys.

Here is another point she made:

Weak antitrust enforcement has led to a dramatic reduction in competition and innovation in the tech sector. Venture capitalists are now hesitant to fund new startups to compete with these big tech companies because it’s so easy for the big companies to either snap up growing competitors or drive them out of business.

Having big techs swallow startups IS an exit venture capitalists want to recoup their investments. I don’t know if she noticed, but there have been quite many VC funds that have one billion dollars or more. This argument is pretty shaky at best.

She threatened to unwind these mergers and acquisitions if she is elected:

Amazon: Whole Foods; Zappos
Facebook: WhatsApp; Instagram
Google: Waze; Nest; DoubleClick

I can see the point behind Facebook – WhatsApp – Instagram, but I honestly don’t know her rationale behind the other two. Amazon doesn’t have a monopoly on selling shoes online just because they acquired Zappos, not does it have monopoly on groceries just because of Whole Foods. Walmart is fighting back really hard and other retailers such as Target is also expanding their footprint because they embraced the digital trend to compete with Amazon. On the other hand, yes Google has the monopoly in search, but DoubleClick is NOT all the reasons for that monopoly. And what do Waze and Nest have to do with it? Also, Google won because it offered the best and fastest search to users. Take it apart and what would that do to users?

Don’t get me wrong. I am in favor of the RIGHT regulations to keep tech companies in check. We need to step up our game to protect users’ privacy. It’s just not any citizen’s job to write regulations. That’s why we elect politicians.

The whole blog post is not a well-thought-out piece on the topic. If she really wants to break up competition, look at the airlines. Look at the credit score companies. Look at the pharmaceuticals that have MONOPOLIES over drugs for 10-20 years. How many companies do you know produce airplanes? Boeing and Airbus, the list ends there for me and likely many others. How about Comcast, AT&T and Verizon?

To tackle this problem, it’s important to look at it from different perspectives. Tech corporations are not perfect, but it will be unfair just to look at their faults and ignore the benefits they bring to our lives.

Happy International Women Day

I am still into the belief that we do not need a special day a year to treat each other well, men or women. But if we take it for granted all the time and need a reminder, well so be it.

To celebrate International Women Day, I’d like to repost an entry I wrote on Mrs B, a brilliant woman who founded Nebraska Furniture Mart, worked till she was 103 and exemplified talent, honesty and integrity.

In 1983, at the age of 89 and after putting in 70-hour workweeks for years, she sold 80% of her business to Warren Buffett in a hand-shake deal without any lawyers or auditors present. The decision to sell was to prevent domestic conflict among her children. She continued to work at Nebraska Furniture Mart till she was 95 when her family forced her into retirement. Three months after she was forced into retirement, she opened another store across the street called “Mrs B’s Clearance and Factory Outlet”. Two years later, it was profitable and the 3rdlargest carpet outlet in Omaha. Warren Buffett bought the company and merged it into Nebraska Furniture Mart. The family rift was repaired. Mrs B continued to work till she was 103. One year later, she passed away at 104.

Mrs B

Also, I came across this ads from Nike that is very powerful, yet proof that we still have a long way to go in terms of gender equality


Special thanks to all the women. You make life way more interesting, better and happier than what I imagine it would be without you

Facebook’s privacy-focused vision

Yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg released a blog post on a “privacy-focused vision” that centers on:

Private interactions. People should have simple, intimate places where they have clear control over who can communicate with them and confidence that no one else can access what they share.

Encryption. People’s private communications should be secure. End-to-end encryption prevents anyone — including us — from seeing what people share on our services.

Reducing Permanence. People should be comfortable being themselves, and should not have to worry about what they share coming back to hurt them later. So we won’t keep messages or stories around for longer than necessary to deliver the service or longer than people want them.

Safety. People should expect that we will do everything we can to keep them safe on our services within the limits of what’s possible in an encrypted service.

Interoperability. People should be able to use any of our apps to reach their friends, and they should be able to communicate across networks easily and securely.

Secure data storage. People should expect that we won’t store sensitive data in countries with weak records on human rights like privacy and freedom of expression in order to protect data from being improperly accessed.

Be that as it may that this vision can bring business and strategic benefits, meaning that Facebook has a reason to follow suit. Nonetheless, I have nothing, but skepticisms about this vision.

First of all, the majority of Facebook’s revenue comes from ads. By majority, I meant 98.5% of their revenue in 2018 comes from ads

Source: Facebook

When something is 98.5% of you, any claim that you will do something threatening that 98.5% part tends to raise genuine concerns about its legitimacy.

Second of all, Facebook’s track record on keeping its promise isn’t that great. For the last two years, it will be a hard ask to find a tech company that is involved in more scandals than the blue brand. I came across this disturbing article from Buzzfeed on Facebook. Here is what it has on decision-making at Facebook

Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg do not make judgment calls “until pressure is applied,” said another former employee, who worked with Facebook’s leadership and declined to be named for fear of retribution. “That pressure could come from the press or regulators, but they’re not keen on decision-making until they’re forced to do so.”

Buzzfeed

On Facebook’s attention to privacy

One former employee noted that Facebook’s executives historically only took privacy seriously if problems affected the key metrics of daily active users, which totaled 1.52 billion accounts in December, or monthly active users, which totaled 2.32 billion accounts. Both figures increased by about 9% year-over-year in December.

“If it came down to user privacy or MAU growth, Facebook always chose the latter,” the person said. 

Buzzfeed

On their denial to admit problems:

Other sources told BuzzFeed News that Facebook executives continue to view the problems of 2018 fundamentally as communication issues. They said some insiders among leadership and the rank and file could not understand how Facebook had become the focus of so much public ire and floated the idea that news publications, who had seen their business models decimated by Facebook and Google, had been directed to cover the company in a harsher light.

Buzzfeed

On a new feature called Clear History:

“If you watch the presentation, we really had nothing to show anyone,” said one person, who was close to F8. “Mark just wanted to score some points.”

Still, nine months after its initial announcement, Clear History is nowhere to be found. A Facebook executive conceded in a December interview with Recode that “it’s taking longer than we initially thought” due to issues with how data is stored and processed. 

Buzzfeed

By now, you should see why I am skeptical of Facebook’s new vision. We all have to take a side and so does Facebook. It just happens that taking advertisers side means Facebook is not on ours as users.

Keep it simple. It’s OK to be boring

I used to have colorful chinos and pants in my wardrobe. Blue, pink, black, red, white and green, just to name a few on the top of my head. Yup, I was a tad too much back in the day. It is representative of the old me. Now, I make an effort to keep everything as simple as possible.

I order my coffee black. Every single time. In the largest size possible. To the point now that the local shop in Old Town of Omaha knows what I order when I walk through the door. I don’t like the headache of choosing from a menu or running out of coffee while I am working.

My professional outfit now consists of shirts in white and several shades of blue + jeans and a pair of khaki + brown shoes. Sometimes I put on a blue sweater as well. But the selection stops there. Definitely a much more boring wardrobe that what I used to gather.

I like to cook…only simple meals like this one below. Roasted sweet potatoes, broccoli and rice

If you look for easy recipes, try these. They work very well for me:

Honey Garlic Shrimps

One pan honey garlic chicken

Spaghetti and Kale

I don’t own a car. My workplace is literally one block from where I live. No parking. No car insurance. No time wasted on looking for a slot

I don’t have a 3 or 5 year plan any more. I hardly plan anything farther than 2 weeks ahead. I pretty much book last minute flights nowadays.

If you and I disagree on something, so be it. I don’t psycho-analyze it. It is what it is. We simply disagree. Not much emotion involved.

There is an argument to be made that simplicity brings about predictability and predictability is boring. I get it. But for me, keeping things simple is liberating. It saves me time and energy from making too many decisions. I am content with “as long as it works/I like it/it’s good enough” approach in many aspects of my life nowadays. Much less baggage. Much more freedom.

Book: Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening

This book is an honest account of the life of the author, a Saudi activist – Manal Al-Sharif. The first chapters of the book tell the story of how she was thrown in jail for driving in Saudi Arabia. The following sections detail her life from childhood up to the time of her imprisonment. The last legs of the books are about her release from detention and life as an activist. I was a little bit impatient to read about her growing up as I wanted to know how she would fare after her incarceration. Nonetheless, it was mind-blowing to read about the horrifying treatments of women in Saudi Arabia through Manal’s struggle through education, marriage, career and life. Kudos to the author for being honest about her time as an extremist and how she transitioned from that period of her time to being a leading voice for gender equality and other causes in the country.

Some interesting details and quotes from the book:

The system says that no one can be arrested for a minor crime between the hours of sunset and sunrise

In Saudi society, a woman needs her official guardian (usually her father or husband) or a mahram – a close male family relative whom she cannot marry, such as a father, brother, uncle or even a son – to accompany her on any official business.

Even a woman in labor will not be admitted into a hospital without her guardian or at least a mahram. Police cannot enter a home during a robbery, and firefighters are forbidden from entering a home during a fire or medical emergency if a woman is inside but does not have a mahram present.

In my world, physical activity – running, jumping, climbing – was forbidden to girls because we might lose our virginity. The only games we were permitted to play involved nothing more than singing songs and holding hands.

At that time, there were no personal computers for typing my story, no home printers to print it. Since all the riyals I’d saved from my pocket money during the year went to buy books, I didn’t have the money for a new notebook, so I started tearing out the empty pages from the notebooks I had used at school the previous year. I carefully cut out the subject and date line at the top of each page. I drafted each chapter in pencil until I was satisfied and then carefully wrote over the words in blue pen. And because I loved drawing, I began to create cartoons of the people and events in my story. My greatest moment of pride was when I set down my pen after writing “The End”.

While the traditional niqab left a slit for the eyes, we were now supposed to lower our head scarves to block out this opening entirely. It was hard to get used to it on my journey to and from school. The full face covering made me almost blind, and I stumbled every day on the steps of our building. One time when I fell, our neighbors’ sons watched and laughed.

As teenagers, we also heard extensive preaching on the requirement to obey one’s husband. This, we were informed, would serve as one way that a woman could guarantee her entry to paradise. Preachers stressed the necessity of women gaining their husbands’ permission for everything, whether visiting family, cutting their hair or even performing voluntary religious fasting. They emphasized the need for women’s complete subordination to their husband in all facets of life. As one Saudi sheikh said during a lecture, “If your husband has an injury filled with pus, and you lick this pus from his wound, this is still less than what he can rightfully expect”

A young man could talk on the phone with a girl for months without even knowing what she looked like.

I couldn’t believe this was happening in Saudi Arabia. If a girl in Mecca was found to be conducting a romantic relationship – even if it consisted only of phone calls and messages – she would face severe beatings from the men in her family, not to mention very likely risk a lifelong confinement inside her home

And he said the words “You are divorced”. Under Islamic law, uttering those words is all that is required for a man to divorce his wife

In 2007, when I got divorced, the policy was for children to reside largely with the mother until they turned seven. At age seven, a girl would then be taken to her father’s house to live. A boy, however, would be asked if he wished to remain with his mother; the choice was his. Once he became a teenager, that boy would often become his mother’s male guardian. He would have the final say over whether she could work or go out, or must stay in. If a woman remarries, she immediately loses all custody of her children….A man, however, can remarry at will or even take a second wife, with no impact on his claim to his children.

The rain begins with a single drop

Weekly readings – 2nd March 2019

I spend quite a lot of time on reading or at least as much time as I can possibly afford nowadays. Long posts, interesting news articles, books or tweets. Sometimes, I share with my friends interesting pieces and reciprocally get some in return. I benefit from the exercise a lot. Since I tend to catch up on the reading during the weekends thanks to the requirements of the new job, I decided to run an experiment in which I would collect interesting content I read during a week on every Saturday, if possible. The content may not need to be recent, but it’s interesting in some aspects, at least to me. Plus, the number of links will vary, depending on what I come across every week. Let’s see how it plays out. Here is the first one:

Lyft S-1

Status as a Service (StaaS)

The questions that matter

Rightscale 2019 State of the Cloud report

The value chain constraint

Privacy complaints received by tech giants’ favorite EU watchdog up to more than 2x since GDPR

Thoughts on Dell’s position in Enterprise IT world

I like to learn about business strategies, particularly in the technology world. This post is just to put into words my understanding of Dell’s position in the Enterprise IT sphere. While I spent a lot of my free time on reading to navigate through as much as possible the abstraction and complexity of the IT world, I can’t understand the products/services as well as I do with, let’s say, a streaming service like Netflix. With luck, I may get some constructive feedback on what I might be incorrect about or what I have here is useful to someone out there.

IT is no longer a cost center to companies. It is where companies gain competitive advantages as the world goes digital. There are several notable trends:

  • While public clouds such as Azure or AWS offer flexibility, geographical reach, functionalities, quick time-to-market and cost-effectiveness, private clouds provide more control and better security. Companies need both. Hence, hybrid cloud is where enterprises are headed. Multi-cloud is a flavor of hybrid cloud in that a firm may use different public clouds. Whether hybrid or multi-cloud model works for one firm depends on the business requirements and resources available to that firm
  • As enterprises have IT footprint on both the cloud and on-prem, it becomes a challenge to manage the whole network. It’s critical to know which data travels to where and whether data is safe. The challenge compounds when the need for productivity forces companies to use 3rd party cloud applications such as ServiceNow, Box and Google Drive, just to name a few. As a result, the management a, automation and security of, as well as visibility into the network are instrumental to a successful hybrid/multi cloud.
  • A lot of companies have operations in different locations. Banks have branches. Retailers have stores. These branches are important touch points through which customers expect to have great experience and services. And these branches need to talk to data centers or cloud application providers. The network that links branches, data centers and the cloud must be secure, efficient, manageable and cost-effective.
  • Brands must release applications fast and often to continuously bring values to customers. From a user perspective, that’s why we often have to update our mobile applications, but there is a lot more that goes behind the scenes for brands to bring new updates to life. In order to have fast and continuous software releases, companies need to set up the necessary infrastructure that allows developers to do their job quickly and efficiently. Hence, software-defined data center (SDDC) and Kubernetes have become increasingly popular. With SDDC, data centers can be set up and later scale quickly as new technological advances increasingly relieve engineers of time-consuming manual workload. With regard to software development, micro-services is the de facto approach in which Kubernetes is a major component. Developers either want to build new software from scratch using Kubernetes or re-package existing applications on a Kubernetes-based platform
Google Trends Graph on Kubernetes

Dell itself

In short, Dell offers services and products that help companies build and scale data centers such as backup, disaster recover, file systems, storage, SDDC solutions such as VxRack. As the majority shareholder of VMWare, Dell integrates a lot of VMWare products in some of its own. The integration is critical to seamless connection between on-prem infrastructure and data on public clouds. For instance, if a firm builds its data center on VxRack, Dell’s SDDC turnkey product, and deploys some workloads on AWS using VMWare on AWS, the data and applications on-prem and on AWS can be set up quickly to talk to each other. Plus, the firm can manage all workloads using the same VMWare interface.

VMWare

Essentially, VMWare has built itself to be the one ingredient that companies wishing to adopt hybrid cloud need. It has built partnerships with AWS, GCP and IBM as collaboration with Azure is reportedly in the work. On top of that, through its offerings such as vSAN (storage), vSphere (compute), NSX (network), VeloCloud (SD-WAN) and a host of services designed for analytics, management and security such as Workspace One, Wavefront, AppDefense or vRealize, it is the glue that connects 3rd party applications, public clouds, private clouds (data centers) and branches.

Through its acquisition of EMC, Dell is the majority shareholder of VMWare.

Pivotal

Pivotal is Dell’s answer to the world’s current obsession with micro-services and Kubernetes. Pivotal offers services that help companies build applications better, faster and more efficiently. Developers want automation to relieve them of infrastructure-managing tasks so that they can focus on developing code, but they don’t want to lose too much freedom in development. Through its portfolio, Pivotal strives to meet those needs. Heptio is their latest acquisition and provides managed Kubernetes services. With Heptio, developers are not subject to the limitations imposed by PAS, but at the exchange of limited automation. With PAS, there is a lot of automation, but developers may not appreciate the rules that come with a higher level of automation. PKS is supposed to bring a balanced mix and the best of both worlds. I wrote a bit about PaaS vs CaaS here

As in the case of VMWare, Dell owns Pivotal by virtue of its EMC acquisition.

Security

Dell has its own security subsidiary in SecureWorks, a $1.8 billion company as of this writing. In addition, VMWare has its own security solutions that are designed to improve security as NSX with micro-segmentation or AppDefense.

Conclusion

The more I read about Dell and its subsidiaries, the more I am impressed by its strategy and growth through innovation and M&A (EMC, VeloCloud, NSX…). Based on my understanding of where Dell stands in the Enterprise IT world, it seems to have the necessary pieces to take advantage of the IT trends mentioned above.

Stop using female janitors to clean male restrooms

It’s 2019, the second decade of the 21st century of mankind history and we are still using female janitors to clean male restrooms. It’s unbelievable. It’s well-known that in developing countries, the gender inequality is more extreme than it is in developed countries. In the two books by Khaled Hosseini I read and reviewed here and here, women in Afghanistan have no say in their future and marriage. In Vietnam, even though the awareness has somewhat improved, the gender inequality is still pretty rampant throughout the country.

But right here in the US, I am still shocked at how we still have female janitors clean male restrooms. I would feel super awkward and somewhat humiliated to do the cleaning in the bathroom of the opposite sex. Even as the one whose the bathroom is designed for, I still feel awkward doing my business whenever the cleaning session is under way. But I never see male janitors clean female restrooms. Ever.

There should be a federal law in the US that is taken up by all states that mandates that the bathroom gender be the same as the gender of the cleaning workers. Progress can be easily made here.

Public library’s browser extension and e-book borrowing

Reading is awesome, but it can be fairly expensive if you buy every book you want to read. This post is about one trick I found to borrow e-books from the public library in Omaha, Nebraska, saving me a lot of money, while maintaining this rewarding habit. I suspect that the same should be similar to public libraries across the US.

I am a big fan of the public library in Omaha. There are tons of books to borrow for free. The normal process is that you go to the library’s website, log in, type in the book of your choice, place a hold, if the book is available of course, and pick it up later at your chosen branch.

I can’t recall the exact moment, but some time last year, I added their browser extension to Chrome. The extension allows me to see the availability of books right on the website where I am visiting without navigating to the library’s website itself. It’s convenient and in some cases, saved me a few bucks from buying books that otherwise are free to borrow at the library.

How the extension looks on Amazon

On the right hand side of the screenshot is how the extension looks. Immediately, I know that there are 3 available hard-copies of the book at the library and no e-book or audiobook up for grabs at the moment. One click and it takes me to the library’s website.

It’s even more convenient if you can borrow the e-books, especially when the weather outside is nasty. The process is pretty simple. Simply go to the library’s website, look for the book and place a hold on the e-book. A couple of options will appear as follows:

The “read in browser” option is quite self-explanatory. If you pick the “pick a format to download” option, there are usually Kindle or Adobe Epub format. As I own a Kindle, I go with the former. Once the option is picked, the window will appear like this:

Click on “Download Kindle” and you will be redirected to Amazon website:

Click on “Get Library Book”, open your Kindle, turn on Wifi-connection and you’ll get access to the book. To return the borrowed books, it has to be done in Amazon, according to Amazon website:

If you can support authors and pay for every book, by all means. If you read a lot and want to save money, public libraries can be a tremendous help. Don’t feel bad about free reading. Part of our taxes goes to the management and maintenance of public libraries. If you are not able to increase your income to build your net worth, it’s easier to lower expenses. This is one of the tricks I knew to limit the damages to my bank account while still enriching my knowledge and soul.

How a private sale promotion by a hotel chain works

I received positive feedback from a friend who found my post on revenue management in hospitality helpful with what he does. That means a lot to me since he is one of my best friends and sharing is one of the biggest reasons why I spend time and money on this endeavor. So I decided to write a bit more about hospitality, from my own experience. This time is about private sale in hotel chains.

Every hotel chain wants to keep guests in its loyalty program. Membership makes guests drawn more towards the brand when booking decisions loom. If you are in Marriott’s loyalty program, you are more interested in staying at Marriott properties to accumulate points and enjoy perks, if possible. To keep guests exclusive on its program and out of its competitors’, a chain needs to offer exclusive benefits. Private sale is one way to do so.

Before we go into the details of a private sale, it’s important to be aware of different rates a hotel can offer for a room on a certain date. Below is what I learned from working for Accor Hotels. I suspect that it will be the same for other chains, at least in principles.

Different rates for a room on Accorhotels.com

Following the screenshot above, it’s normal to see a few rates on a website when you book a room. The lowest one in Accor Hotels system is called R03 (Stay Longer and Save in the screenshot) while the Flexible Rate is called R01 (Flexible Rate). R03 rates are about 15% cheaper than R01 rates, but come with more restrictions such as no cancellation or no refund. B&B rates such as the last one in the screenshot are usually R01 rates plus breakfast.

A sale promotion from Accor Hotels is usually 2 weeks and can go up to 50% discount on normal rates. On the first day of the promotion, information on the sale is sent out to strictly Accor Members only. In the following 7-8 days, information will be shared with both Accor Members and Subscribers. Bookings can only take place on Accorhotels.com. After that, information will become public on online travel agents such as Booking.com or Expedia. If you are an Accor member, discount can go up to 50%. An Accor subscriber or non-member and indirect channel guests such as those on OTAs can enjoy 40% discount. That way, guests are more motivated to become members or subscribers of Accor Hotels in order to receive exclusive benefits.

Discount is applied to R01 rates, the higher tier as mentioned above, with the restrictions of R03 rates. That way, participating hotels in the program don’t ruin their Average Daily Rates or RevPar too much. On that point, if your property is in a hotel chain, you can opt in or out of a sale, depending on the state of your property. For instance, it makes no sense to participate in a sale if your hotel has high occupancy already and is expected to pick up more. Otherwise, a sale can be a good tool to fill up the rooms.