shmula
LendingTree
3.31.2006
lead aggregator & job interview with lowermybills
the lead aggregator business model is pretty cool. it works like this, generally: the free service works by enabling the consumer to enter particular information, which is then used to match the customer with the companies that will best meet the customer needs. lead aggregators typically offers savings across categories such as home mortgage, home equity loans, purchase loans, debt consolidation loans, credit cards, auto loans, insurance and cell phones.

basically, lead aggregators such as fastfind and lowermybills are passive collectors of pertinent information used to qualify or disqualify a customer from receiving the service they are seeking. lead aggregators are paid by the company, not the customer, and their payment is based on either volume of qualified leads and/or quality. here's an example:

joe mortgage wants to buy a home. he goes to a lead aggregator because it's easy, free, and they effeciently broker or matche the customers with the appropriate servicer. joe mortgage fills out the online forms, typically 4 or 5 screens, the 5th screen asking for the social security card. then, through some matching algorithm that is set-up by the servicer and the lead aggregator, the consumer (joe mortgage) is rendered servicers willing to service him. that's it.

what is cool about this model is that if a consumer fills out 4 of the 5 forms, the lead aggregator gets $x. if the consumer fills out the 5th form, then the lead aggregator get more, because the 5th screen typically allows the lead aggregator to better qualify the consumer via credit reporting checks with the social security number. it's a passive, efficient, and easy model. also, from what i learned (read experience below) -- companies in this space are cash cows.

i interviewed with lowermybills back in 2005. they are based in santa monica. i interviewed for a director-level position, reporting to the vp of product. the vp of product was a really cool guy who recently joined lowermybills from overture (yahoo!). i liked him; a recruiter from lowermybills found me on linkedin. it sounded interesting enough and i wasn't happy working at kaiser permanente, so i agreed to interview.
i woke up really early in the morning, knowing that i'd catch the infamous los angeles traffic. i got on the road on the interstate 15, then to the 10, then on to santa monica. all in all, the drive really sucked. i got stuck in traffic and i arrived in 3.0 hours from the san diego area to santa monica. i arrived sweaty and smelly and i didn't look like interview material, for sure. i pressed on anyway and walked into the building. in that office park, red bull,
edmunds.com, and hbo are housed. pretty cool. i walked into the building and sat in the lobby. minutes later, i met my hr guy, he gave me a mountain dew, then i met the vp of product. he gave me the run down on the business and the recent acquisition by experian. interesting stuff. i then proceeded to speak with 5 people that day. nothing remarkable at all. people were nice, but they weren't stellar. one guy came in -- a marketing guy -- and i had to silently chuckle: he walked in the interview room with really tight jeans, a thin, tight shirt with chiffon, fluffy sleeves. his hair was dark, curly, and very styled. he sat in his chair with flair and style. i felt like throwing up. he was a cheese ball and his interview questions were lame. this was a guy who didn't know much of anything, but he looked fancy.

my last interviewer was the vp of product. he said the day went well and that he'd like me to come back to meet with the senior team and the ceo. i proceeded to talk salary and i named my price -- i erred toward the really high end of the scale. he said it was high, but we could negotiate that later.

i then went home and plugged through the traffic.

one day after, i called the vp of product and declined the 2nd round. i told him that even with the high salary, i couldn't support my family (wife + 5 great kids) in santa monica. we looked at homes there and the price we paid for our house in the temecula/san diego area would've bought us a 3 bedroom condo in santa monica. it didn't seem worth it to me.


key takeaways from this experience: i learned more about the lead aggregator model; i made some friends at lowermybills.com; i learned once again that los angeles traffic really sucks.
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3.30.2006
moved a lot
in our 9 years of marriage, we've moved several times. yes, it's my fault. the phrase "mover and a shaker" not only means moving vertically in your career, but also geographically. in my case, i mostly moved geographically. i've done okay, career-wise, but we sure have moved and lived in several places.

we started in utah where i attended undergrad. we then moved to chicago for grad school. we worked there for a while, then we moved to oklahoma for work. then, we moved to nevada to work for amazon; i was based there but i traveled to the other facilities also -- at the time, amazon had 13 fulfillment centers. after amazon.com, we moved to corona, california to work for kaiser permanente. we sold our house there a few months ago...

we're now in utah, working for a good company; i'm planning on staying for a while i like where i work and see a lot of potential here. i'm fortunate to have been and worked at where i've worked. i can always go back to amazon.com -- my boss is now the head of world wide fulfillment & customer service -- he says there's an open door. amazon was so fun and such a great place to work. i'll share later why i left.

the tool above is from frappr -- a very cool tool, currently in beta; it's got some bugs, but it's fun to play with and rudimentarily works.
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pictures
ever since i discovered pixoh, i find myself using it regularly to enhance my images. this is a cool tool from an innovative company.
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lockedown, blast door
last night's episode of lost was so good. here is a picture of the blast door that locke saw during the power outage in the hatch. there are several latin terms that on the map. here are their translations:

* Aegrescit medendo - The disease worsens with the treatment. The remedy is worse than the disease
* Sursum corda - Lift up your hearts (to God)
* Credo nos in fluctu eodem esse - I think we're on the same wavelength
* Malum consilium quod mutari non potest - It's a bad plan that can't be changed.
* Cogito ergo doleo - I think therefore I am depressed
* Ut sit magna, tamen certe lenta ira deorum est - The wrath of the gods may be great, but it certainly is slow
* Hic sunt dracones – Here be dragons

i'm so stoked for lost. it just gets better, but more complicated. next week we learn more about henry gale, his lies, and his potential relationship to the "others".

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3.29.2006
my interview & job offer from google
back in october 2005, i interviewed with google, for a position with google print. my interview was over 2 days, on 10/12/2005 and 10/13/2005. i didn't do much to prepare for the interview, except read-up on all the google print controversy regarding the n lawsuits against google print. unlike most companies that fly their candidates out for an onsite interview, google's policy was for me to pay for my flight, hotel, and food, but that they would reimburse me later. i thought that was lame and unprofessional; after all, they are the ones that contacted me for an interview and i never applied for a job with them. luckily, i was going to be in that area anyway for business, so i just scheduled my business trip for that week.

day 1, 4 interviews:

in the lobby reception desk, i typed my name on this little widget and signed the dotted line. then, this little widget prints a self-adhesive name tag with my name, google, and my location. i gladly took that self-adhesive and put in on my shirt breast. then, i met with the hr people, both of whom were very nice. they were very, very late, but i had fun hanging out in the lobby of 1625 charleston road, building #44. in the lobby were 4 refrigerators full of odwalla drinks; i helped myself to a couple. on the wall was a large flat monitor that showed, in real time, the current google searches. this was really amusing. i remember the following searches:

* size d bra
* how to make a bomb
* osama
* italian mob + hbo
* catholic anger

this was really cool. finally, the hr folks were ready and brought me into a room next to the korean and chinese speaking engineers. my first interviewer came in late and was really sweaty. he had just ridden his bike to work. he was sorry he was late. he was super nice and his questions were easy. the next person was a little tougher; she had been with sun microsystems for several years and was in charge of their warehouse and distribution side. she asked some tough questions, was very open about her frustrations with google, but ended up very nice to me. the next person came in had a background in library science and an mba from michigan. he was really nice too and asked fluffy questions. he wasn't an engineer and i don't think he knew what to ask me, so he asked me lame conversational-type questions. i don't think it was a fit interview either; i think he was just clueless. the next person i interviewed with was sharp; he was a stanford mba and had been in the print industry for a while. he wasn't quantitative at all, but was nice. he asked me hypothetical questions about potential problems that they face in the print group. the problems were very interesting. there is true innovation going on at google, for sure.

that was it for day 1. there was no lunch, but i was free to raid the fully-stocked kitchen whenever i wanted to; i helped myself to a healthy dose of mountain dew and stopped by the cafeteria for a veggie sandwich. the atmosphere there is very cool and i felt energy and could visually see the innovation going on. very cool.

that evening, i went to my hotel and did some work for the company i was with at the time.

day 2, 7 interviews:

i did the whole self-adhesive, name tag thing again. got an odwalla (2 of them), then waited. eventually, the hr people came and got me. this day was much tougher than day 1. my first interview was with a former nasa scientist-turned googler. my interview with him was fun and interesting; he proposed several real case studies and problems that they face in the print team. my second interview was with another engineer; he asked me basic questions and one brain teaser. the brain teaser goes something like this, if i remember it right:

you are at a party with a friend and 10 people are present including you and the friend. your friend makes you a wager that for every person you find that has the same birthday as you, you get $1; for every person he finds that does not have the same birthday as you, he gets $2. would you accept the wager?

i had fun trying to solve this one. the answer has to do with the number of days in the year and the probability the person's birthday falls on the same day as mine (without replacement). i eventually solved it, but it took time learning how to apply probability with no replacement. i tried using 10! (factorial), for some reason, but that was totally the wrong approach. we ended the interview; i didn't feel as good about that one, because i struggled a little bit through that brain teaser.

my next interviewer asked a lot of algorithm questions. he made me write pseudo-code for a binary search; he had me uml a system; he made me explain cron, diff, the permission system in unix, and had me write a bunch sql queries. this guy was a scientist at epson, the printer company. he was sharp; quantitative but warm. i liked that interview.

my next interview was with a nice lady who had been with google for a few years. she was cold, but not mean; observant, but not expressive. i felt that i answered her questions fine and our interview was done.

my next couple of interviews were with people that i had interviewed with the previous day, in day 1. those went fine and uneventful. but, by this time of day, i was getting really tired, physically and just tired of interviewing.

alas, the last interviewer came, the head of global operations for the google print team. he was very nice, open, and direct. that interview went fine and he openly shared his strong interest in my background and said that i'd be a great addition to the team. he also shared how living in the bay area is so nice and seemed to be trying to sell the location and the company. i saw this as a good sign. our time ended; i left, but before i walked out the bulding, i managed to steal a few more of those odwalla drinks.

i drove to the san jose airport, caught my flight, and went home.

many weeks later. . .

the hr guy called and gave me an offer! but, it wasn't what i was expecting. i was excited for the google stock units (gsu) and the phat salary that would barely keep me alive with the bay area cost of living, but that's not what i got. instead, google offered me a contractual position, with a very high hourly rate. of course, because it was contractual, there would be no benefits or google stock units. on the phone, on the spot, i declined the job offer. moving to the bay area wasn't that appealing to me, especially if the job didn't have google stock units and benefits. the cash was good, but my family needed more than that.

all in all, the experience was okay. there is certainly more hype about google than i believe it really merits. true, they hire sharp -- really sharp people; i felt a lot of energy and could see the innovation happening there. but, the people i interviewed with didn't seem happy to me. they looked tired and grumpy. i didn't get a feeling that google treats their people very well. i'm glad for my decision not to join google. but, i'll always wish i had free reign on those odwalla drinks :)
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3.28.2006
wall street journal & disambiguation
i am a regular reader of The Wall Street Journal. the online version is cool and it's much easier to read and search than the print version. but, i think the The Wall Street Journal can add more value to the reader if it hooked-up with findory to personalize the layout and content. findory is very cool.

automated personalization used to be the holy grail of search. personalization is an automated way for a system to serve-up or render relevant data or information based on historical, implicit, previous decisions or gestures made by the user. it's based on a neural-net approach; more specifically, it's based on unsupervised learning methods.

my thesis at chicago was on this topic. specifically, i was interested in something called analogical modeling for a problem in language called the word-sense disambiguation problem. essentially, words have senses -- "the center for the los angeles lakers" -- is a phrase that can point to several objects, given it's utterance in time (it can point to abdul-jabar or o'neal). similarly, if i said "i fell on the river bank" and "i deposited cash at the river bank" -- these two statements use the word "bank" in two different senses. for humans, it is easier to distinguish between senses; but, how would a machine do that? how would a search engine disambiguate in an automated way? it's a tough problem and i certainly didn't solve it; but, i had fun explicating it and testing the analogical neural-net model. i developed a neural-net in python. it was fun.

i think tagging will help add context to the disambiguation problem; tagging is scalable and self-organizing; some call it a "folksonomy", as opposed to a "taxonomy". i really enjoy tagging and see it as a huge breakthrough in search, language, and meaning. services like de.licio.us, tagalag, digg, and flickr add intelligent context to the web and, as a consequence, add meaning for the users.

personalization is over-rated. tagging is the best blend between the intelligence of the human mind and the convenience of technology. meaning: humans are and will always be much better at that than a machine.
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3.27.2006
new house
after several months of living in corporate housing, we finally moved into our new house. we all love it and we feel very blessed. the home-buying process for this one was not pain-free: this is a great, brand new home, that is seriously undervalued --

it is a short sale, which means that the owner is selling it for much, much less than what is owed on it. it's a great deal; there were over 10 offers on the house, but we got it in the end.

there are many other undervalued homes on a site called realtytrac. there are awesome bank-owned, pre-foreclosure, or foreclosed homes on the site. check it out.
we're so excited that we got the house; our church is great; the neighborhood is great and we are really happy to be in utah. home buying can be a pain, but i can see myself as a real estate investor, especially if i find more undervalued properties like this one -- we recently got an appraisal on the home and it is valued at much, much higher than what we paid for it.

to help me get more organized, i bought a new FranklinCovey Planner. i figure it's about time i get something to help me be more organized.

our house is situated in an old neighborhood; it's a brand new house and we love it. because it is so new, comcast didn't extend their cable lines to our house. so, i had to get dsl from qwest dsl. we are very happy with qwest. it's fast and does the job. i even considered peoplepc below because it looked like a good deal:

but i decided to go with qwest dsl.

the kids love our house and the neighborhood. we're pretty excited to be living here. we're very fortunate.

we also got the the dish and blinds installed.
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3.26.2006
canker sores
i had issues with this for a few weeks. in fact, it got so bad that i couldn't eat and, as a consequence, i lost some weight. i used to think that acidic foods were the sole cause of these irritating and painful epidermal terrorist but, according to webmd, it's not the only cause. perhaps someone, someday, will find a cure and help me out.
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massively parallel & strong bias for action: https://www.linkedin.com/in/psabilla


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