Category Archives: Thoughts

A Broad Look into the New Star Wars Canon

*Material recent as of Oct. 27

It’s no secret that I’m a big Star Wars fan. In 1997, on their 20th anniversary release, my cousin took me to the theaters and that was the beginning of my fandom. I wrote a little bit about Star Wars recently by reposting the original Tumblr post (and if you go back a bit, I wrote reviews on a few of the other great Star Wars “Legends” books as well – Thrawn Series, Darth Bane).

Today, I want to write a bit about the new canon.  Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, and in 2014 announced that  previous Expanded Universe stories would fall into the Legends banner and not be included in the official canon. From there, with their new official storyboard team, Star Wars created a whole new canon.

First off, I think this was a great idea. Yes, we may miss out on the amazing Thrawn series, fan favorite Mara Jade, and the future of Luke and Mara’s children. We may even miss out on the Knights of the Old Republic era, or the great Darth Bane series explanation of the Rule of Two. But, we finally get a cohesive storyline (hopefully), no more retcons, and a chance to see the story expand under the leadership of Disney. If the Marvel Cinematic Universe is any indication, then I’m very excited for what’s to come.

Exploring the new canon so far (as of Oct, 2016), there’s a lot of material to digest. Between the movies, cartoons, books, and comics there’s something for every fan. There’s actually a great interactive wiki on all this, but I want to simplify and scratch the surface into each of the stories. I’ll use the movies as the timeline markers, and give my personal opinion of each.

 

[MOVIE] Episode I: The Phantom Menace

[MOVIE] Episode II: Attack of the Clones

[TV Series] The Clone Wars: This cartoon series is amazing. I felt the first couple seasons were a little slow, but it gets really good. You can binge watch the whole thing on Netflix.  It’s long (6.5 seasons – some “lost” episodes you have to watch on starwars.com), but I say it’s a must-watch.

[Comic] Darth Maul – Son of Dathomir:  If you liked the cartoon series, then this is a great way to figure out what happened to Darth Maul (note: they never finished the cartoon series so they expanded that material onto other mediums). There’s also a potential connection down the timeline in the Journey to the Force Awakens Shattered Empire comic. If you’ve watched the cartoon, then it’s a must-read. Otherwise, you could probably pass.

[Book]  Dark Disciple: Like Darth Maul, this is a fallout from the cartoon series. You’ll learn more about Quinlan Vos, and see what happens to Ventress. It’ll might be a little hard to follow if you haven’t watched the series, but if you do, then this is a must read. One of my favorite Star Wars books, Christie Golden does a fantastic job.

[MOVIE] Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

[Book] Lords of the Sith: This story is entirely about how ridiculously powerful Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine are. It’s action packed and entertaining, but (IMHO) not necessarily critical to the core storyline. Fun read, but not critical.

[Book] Tarkin: This book takes an in-depth look at our favorite Grand Moff Tarkin. We get a glimpse of him in the Clone Wars series of his beginnings, but this fills it out completely – how he grew up and how he came to be the Grand Moff. It was good, so if you’re  fan of his character then it’d recommend it, but I wouldn’t consider it a must-read.

[Comic] Kanan – The Last Padawan: If you like the Rebels Series, then I think this does a great job in settling the stage of Kanan’s beginnings and character. You get a good appreciation of what happens after Order 66. I’m a big fan so far.

[Book] A New Dawn: This book tries to set the stage for the Rebels series. It’s mostly a story of how Hera and Kanan meet. It does a good job, but unless you’re a huge fan of the Rebels series, I don’t think it’s necessary crucial to the storyline. It’s a nice-to-read.

[TV Series] Rebels: This is fantastic cartoon. The team has done a good job creating new characters (Ezra and crew), as well as mixing in nostalgia from the previous Clone Wars series (e.g. Ahsoka Tano, and Darth Vader cameos). This show tries to setup the beginnings of the rebellion in Episode IV. I’m excited to see what comes next.

[Book] Lost Stars: This is my favorite book of the Journey to the Force Awakens series (I don’t mind if it’s a “young adult” novel). It tells a Romeo and Juliet inspired story of two kids who grew up together, and eventually land on either side of the war (Empire vs Rebellion). It takes a different cross-sectional look at Episodes IV through VI, and concludes in Jakku. Must read.

[MOVIE] Episode IV: A New Hope

[Comic] Princess Leia: After Episode IV, Princess Leia goes on a mission to save Alderaan survivors. So far, it’s my least favorite of all the new  Star Wars comics book series to far.

[Book] Smuggler’s Run – A Han Solo & Chewbacca Adventure:  Another young adult novel, that more or less is what is advertised in the title – A Han Solo & Chewbacca adventure. I felt that this one was also pretty forgettable without many hints of Episode VII. I’d take a pass on this one.

[Book] Heir to the Jedi: Set soon after Episode IV, this explores Luke and his struggle/thoughts to understand the Force. Overall, of all the new Canon novels, this was my least favorite and mostly forgettable. I think this book is a pass.

[Book] The Weapon of the Jedi – A Luke Skywalker Adventure:  I thought this one was great, and in some instances does a better job of showing Luke’s struggles of becoming a Jedi than Heir to the Jedi. There’s some great references to the Clone Wars series, some nods to Episode VII, and potentially some hints of Luke’s Jedi ambitions. If my hunch is right, I think it gives of a hint of Luke for Episode VII. It’s short, and enjoyable.

[Comic] new Star Wars: With this, Disney/Marvel re-launched  the new Star Wars comics, taking over from the Dark Horse days. The series skips around the timeline quite a bit, but it’s mostly set between Episode IV and V. Some of the story arcs are pretty good (Skywalker strikes) and others are less interesting (Han Solo’s wife!?!). I would say it’s a should-read given the importance to the canon as a whole.

[Comic] Darth Vader: My favorite series of the new Star Wars comics. Tells the story from Vader’s perspective and leads to his understanding of who Luke is, as well as planting the seeds to what eventually happens in Episode V and VI. I’m a huge fan.

[Comic] Lando: My 2nd favorite of the new comics. Doesn’t really add to the storyline much, but gives you a glimpse of why Lando’s character is so interesting…and a look into the Jedi/Sith artifacts that Emperor Palpatine holds (there’s a small connection to the Shattered Empire comics). Super fun, but not necessarily a must-read.

[MOVIE] Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

[Book] Moving Target – A Princess Leia Adventure: Of the 3 young adult adventures, this might be my favorite. This is the only story that’s set between Episode V and VI so far, so there’s less hints about Episode VII but more about how they learned of the 2nd Death Star. Similar to the other adventures, it’s short and enjoyable. But by no means a must-read.

[MOVIE] Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

[Comic] Shattered Empire: This series is set days after Endor. Gives us a glimpse of Poe Dameron’s (from Episode VII) parents, and a look into Leia and Luke. (IMHO) It’s not particularly exciting, but seems important for a storyline perspective. Must-read only because of the storyline implications.

[Book] Aftermath: The beginning of a trilogy that sets the stage of Episode VII. It gives some small hints of what various key characters are doing (e.g. Han Solo and Chewbacca), and some insights into the beginnings of the Knights of Ren, but it’s mostly about how the Empire gathers itself after Endor and the fall of the Emperor. For me, I thought the story was a slow start…it didn’t pick up until halfway through the book. It was an okay story, but given the importance to Episode VII, it’s a should-read.

[MOVIE] Episode VII: The Force Awakens

So far, that’s what I have. As more material comes out, I’ll try to update my list.

As a comparison here’s an image what Star Wars released themselves a few months back at the Star Wars celebration in Anaheim:

star-wars-canon-timeline

Needless to say, I’m excited for the Force Awakens. And, apparently, it’s no different from the rest of my generation. I’m just bummed that that I now represent the “past”…let’s see if the Force is as strong with the future as well.

Introduction to Sabermetrics through edX

A few months back, I took edX’s Sabermetrics 101. It’s a BU class, taught by Andy Andres, and I had a lot of fun. I try to do one of these online classes once/year (the last one I did was the Stanford Database class) to 1) stay on top of the emerging EdTech space, and 2) learn some new things.

In this class, you’ll learn about

  • Key Sabermetrics concepts
  • A basic intro to SQL and R
  • Some really cool history surround Sabermetrics

For those that are new to Sabermetrics, this is a great way to learn about the field. A little bit of technical know-how is a nice to have, but that’s the only way to really understand Sabermetrics is by diving head-first into the data. Though, knowing SQL anyways is super useful (and something everyone can and should learn!). This class could be a great way to catapult yourself to learning more.

For me, being an annual attendee to the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, the history was probably the most interesting (as I already have a familiarity with R and SQL).  Getting a history lesson about the key figures that helped create Sabermetrics, and seeing how that influences how the game is evolving now is really cool to see. Also, looking at the background of the interviews, a lot of the industry interviews were done at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, so it was rewarding to see how the conference is helping bring these topics to more popularity.

Super pumped to see how this field grows and expands. And remember “The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth.”

Raising the Bar in your Organization

Finding top talent is HARD. Even if talent is coming to your company, and you’re interviewing them by the groups, it’s super HARD to figure out who is a good fit or not. In my 10+ years of being on recruiting teams for big companies (GE, Amazon), and smaller ones (Etsy), I’ve had the unique opportunity to do a lot of it. I’ve taught classes/sessions internally in the companies I’ve worked at, and was encouraged to share a few thoughts publicly.

When interviewing/recruiting in general, here’s a few principles I tried to adhere to, as my compass when making tough hiring/recruiting decisions.

  1. The cost of making a “mistake” is high. You’d rather “accidentally” turn down a good candidate vs “accidentally” hiring a bad one.

Taking an analytical view, the (null) hypothesis when interviewing is that the candidate is NOT a fit for your company. That’s the default. The process is a test for that the company+the candidate to prove that hypothesis wrong.  Of this “test” there are 4 potential results.

A) Best Result: The Candidate is a Fit and the Company Hires that person.

B) Neutral Result: The Candidate is NOT a Fit, and the Company does NOT Hire that person.

C) Bad Result: The Candidate is a Fit, and the Company does NOT Hire that person. This is Type 2 error, a False positive. Though, you missed out on a good candidate in retrospect, you can always go back to that candidate sometime in the future. There’s never a “never.”

D) Worst Result: The Candidate is NOT a Fit, and the Company Hires that person. Type 1 error, a False negative.  This is very destructive to the culture, and the team. The company will spend lots of resources training this candidate, only to realize they may have to let this candidate go, and taking into account the opportunity cost of not having hired a contributing employee.

2. Recruiting = Marketing

During your in-person interview you’ve realized the candidate is bad, what do you do? Abort after an hour, or “waste” time with everyone else in the loop?

Companies should go for a really good candidate experience. Word gets around, and how you treat a candidate is also representative of how you treat your customers/employees, etc. Treat them well, even if you made the mistake of bringing in a bad candidate and you know it’s not a good fit. Here, you can substitute in junior interviewers to have them hone their interviewing skills or use one interview slot to give the candidate a tour. You don’t have to stick to your “script” that you created for the candidate, feel free to improvise. Then, even if the candidate did not hired, they can tell their friends and colleagues that your company was a really cool place.

If you give a bad candidate experience, then word gets around, and that really matters since the world is small and it’s hard to hide these things. The interview/recruiting process is an intimidate 1:1 marketing opportunity, and even if a candidate doesn’t get the job, they should be able to say “wow, I was impressed by the company” even though, they did not get the job.

3. Focus on your hiring/recruiting as you would any one of your business or technical problems — aim for efficiencies.

A) When hiring, I’ve been in some organizations where everyone in the loop has to say “yes.” In small organizations I fully support this concept, but in big ones this tends to be a major time sink. Rather, it’s important to have a few key decision makers, while everyone else is influencing the decision makers. Examples include the hiring manager, and site lead. One focuses on the competencies/needs of the job, and the other focuses on culture.

B) Ensure that you have cross-functional team evaluating the candidate, so it’s not just focused on the job, but also the culture. You do not want a person hired for just a singular position, since the company, trends, market, and competition can shift so quickly.  You want a candidate that fits in the company, and will also grow/adapt/adjust with it.

C) Train your interviewers. Too often, I’ve seen people just “thrown” into interview loops. Like everything else, practice makes perfect. Make sure the interviewers have all gone through some sort of training; whether it be an internal info/training-session, shadowing other interviewers, and/or have received feedback on their interviewing style. And, make sure the recruiting/interview team is on the same page – use the same language, look for the same key values, and have a structure to measure the success of each candidate. This way, if someone in the loop is sick or on vacation, the whole process isn’t halted…rather, you can trust another’s judgement to step in their place.

D) Teamwork. It’s not just an “HR” team or “Recruiting” team or “Manager” job. It’s everyone’s. To get good candidates that fit the company culture, that will succeed at the company, that will raise the talent bar, everyone needs to get involved. From junior to senior employees, to managers to the top leaders. When candidates are waffling back and forth, it means a lot to have your VP or CEO reach out. To get good employees, the personal referral goes a long way. Scale the recruiting team from a few individuals to the entire company.

I know there are tons of books and other awesome blogs on recruiting. Here’s just a few of my own personal thoughts.

NYC $Bike-onomics

I’ve now been riding my bike in New York city for a little over 6 months , well over the entire humid summer, nice fall, and part of the polar vortex winter. Commuting to work in NYC is a very scary daily adventure. In the morning, I’m dodging massive trucks delivering fish in Chinatown, and in the early evening, I’m dodging seamless.com delivery people biking the WRONG way with motorized bicycles. It makes me appreciate being alive every day.

Outside of the risk of dying…I’ll share some of thoughts on what’s the monetary cost/benefit analysis of riding my bike in NY (versus walking, subway, and taxi).

Benefits:

To start off, what does it cost to ride the subway? List price: one-way is $2.50 per ride, but since we get an additional 5%  when purchasing $5 or more, the true cost of a subway ride is closer to $2.38.

NOTE: Since I ride my bike to and from work at least once/week, the monthly pass won’t apply to me (based on my calculation, it would take around 10-11 trips a week to make up for the cost of the monthly).

If I average more than once/week roundtrip over the year, say 60, then for the year I will have saved:

~$2.38 * 2 * 60 = $285.60 for the year.

On top of saving money, having a  bike enables you to do some events that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. Hence, its value is a non-zero health/social benefit. Examples include: going on a long-bike ride on the weekend with friends, riding events like the NYC Century and 5 Boro Bike Tour.

Let’s amount this value to $200/year – the rough equivalent would be renting a (nice) bike for these weekends/events.

  • The total benefit is  ~$250 (subway savings) + $200 (event enabler) = $450/year
  • Non-financial benefits: exercise, social/event enabler, enjoying the city, getting some hipster cred

Costs

Taking a look at entry level road bikes at REI, we can estimate to a bike costing say $900. For all the accessories (clips, pedals, shoes, lights, etc…), let’s conservatively guess a cool additional $300 investment.  Then, annual maintenance for tires, cleanings, things that break, new clothes, say $100/year (Mint blog suggests, ~$25-$60/month).

  • Starting capital: $900 (bike) + $300 (accessories) = $1200
  • Annual maintenance $100/year – $720/year (NOTE: I find $720/year absurd, even taking into account bike theft risk)
  • Non-financial: Annoyance of having to take care of it, store it, the worry of making sure it doesn’t get stolen, fear of death (i.e. getting hit by a car/taxi/seamless.com delivery person)

Citbike

In NYC, one must also take into account Citbike, the bike-share program. It costs $100/year for a membership, and again, acting as a replacement for subway or taxi rides, it’ll be $2.38/trip savings.  So you’ll need to do about 42 subway replacement rides to get your value out of it.

Myself, I don’t use a Citibike to bike to work,  it’s too heavy/slow/not as enjoyable, nor to any “events.” I just use it to substitute for the subway, taxi, or cabbing.

Summary:

Just buying a bike for commuting in NYC, may or may not financially work out depending on how much you’re spending on maintenance (and of course the bike). If my maintenance is on the lower of end of things (which is what I guess), I’ll probably pay back my investment in about 4 years considering depreciation. The non-financial benefits, for me, are pretty big and helps me to enjoy the city a bit more.

For Citibike, I’ve already gotten the full-value in the 8 months I’ve used it, I’ve easily logged over 50 rides on it. Those rides aren’t always subway replacements, some are taxi, and some are walking replacements (i.e. it just saves time).

As for time savings, it’s a wash. The subway isn’t always faster than riding into work (for me). On average it is by a few minutes, but I find the variance going to and from work much larger.

2013 into 2014

If 2012 was one of the hardest of my life, 2013 was one of the most fulfilling. When I think of 2012, my first full calendar year in NYC, I think of it as when New York hazed me to if I can handle it in the big city. 2013 then, is of acceptance, and New York giving me the nod of approval that I can indeed handle it.

For this past year, outside of writing about my Thailand trip, or what books I read, I didn’t write much…but I still have a number of fond memories to look back on, and share here:

  1. New York City Marathon – back in 2012, I mentioned that I ran the 9+1 program. That qualified me for the 2013 NYC Marathon. Up to this point, NYC was a tough place for me.  I thought people were jerks (well, they still kinda are), and just never felt at home. The NYC marathon changed this. I never felt more welcome and alive in NYC than on marathon day. Random strangers high-5ing me, cheering me, encouraging, me…one of the most memorable moments of my life.
  2. Sub-6minute Mile – In high school, the fastest I had run a mile is 6:03. Since then I had never “officially” broke that mark. Last year, in the 5th-Ave Mile, I ran a 6:02. This year I finally broke that barrier (5:54)! According to Mens Health, it’s a fitness performance standard. And, for me, it was a nice milestone to recognize that I’m not over the hill at 30 – rather in top shape. So age 40…bring it on.
  3. Hood to Coast, the revenge – a group of us, Phi-Delts, got ourselves into a 200 mile relay race lats year. This race was something I’ve always wanted to do growing up in Portland. As fun as it was, we were ill-prepared. We didn’t have vans (just mid-sized SUVs), 11 runners instead of 12, and  did not have the right preparation as it was our first time. This past year, we got our revenge. A full 12-person team, 12-person full sized vans, for a top 92nd percentile finish, 17th of 216 in our division, and 198 miles in 25:15:34 (a 7:40 pace). We beat last year’s time by over an hour! BOOM. For 2014, we were thinking of trying our hand at a Ragnar race.
  4. Thailand Trip – Go see the elephants!
  5. Favorite Books – Of course, I only write about the books I like in this blog. As it was a light year in reading, here are my favs:
  6. Etsy, Dumbo, and Appreciating Life everyday – In early 2013, I switched work to Etsy, where I am a Product Manager focusing on International Growth. One particular consequence from it, was living closer to work, and thus, giving me the opportunity to ride my bike to work. That was a life-changing event. I have a solid 5.5 mile bike ride to work from Midtown to Dumbo, where I navigate the streets of NYC. On the way to work, I have to survive the morning fish deliveries by swerving illegally parking trucks to Chinatown, on the way back, I have to survive the Seamless.com delivery bikers going the WRONG way on a one-way bike lane on a motorized bicycle. It’s crazy,  exhilarating, and helps you appreciate the gift of the present/life everyday.

New York is a crazy place. 2013 was a crazy year. New job, new adventures, pushing boundaries, failing, succeeding, and getting engaged. Let’s see where 2014 takes us.

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The WAR (Wins Above Replacement) for Talent: How Baseball Analytics can give perspective at work

Baseball season is now in full effect. The NFL draft just finished. We’re in the midst of the NBA playoffs. And the 2013 7th MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference seems like a distant memory. It was a baby of mine from 2011/2010 when I was one of the lead organizers. It’s fun seeing it grow, and get better every year. My favorite part: every time I go, there’s a renewed realization, inspiration, and appreciation of using analytics to make better decisions (in life).

Every once in a while, I try think about the concepts of sports analytics and try to apply to “business.” One particular concept that I think would be interesting to think about is WAR.

It is one my favorite metrics in baseball (or basketball);  this concept of WAR (Wins Above Replacement) or WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player). It summarizes a player’s total contribution to a team, with respect to a comparative “replacement” player. For instance, Player A could give 2 more “wins” vs the “average” player in that position, and hence that much more valuable to the team.

But, also looking at salaries, you could also see what you’re paying for that performance – to see if you’re paying over-market, or under-market. As an example, see this chart out of fangraphs.com, it shows how the cost of WAR per position by year:

war-by-position

As an example, the cost for a SS WAR is about $2.7M in 2011. So if you have a contract worth $20 for 4 years, for a shortstop with a per-season WAR of 3, then you’re potentially overpaying according to the market WAR value:

$20M / 4 years –> $5M/year. $5M / 3 (WAR) = $1.67M per WAR << $2.7M per WAR

Now, applying this lens to the “business world,” especially in tech with this war for talent going on, it is important to be able to effectively gauge your employees to see if they are giving the value that you’re providing in investment. How’s their VAR (Value Above Replacement)? (It’s odd to say “wins” since it’s harder to define it in “business” vs sports.)

If you’re paying “top” for “top talent,” are you getting the right value vs others in that position? Rather, would be more useful to invest in the team, to get faster/better tools to raise the output of everyone? Or, is it more valuable hiring two people more junior? Also, what is considered “replacement?” (Though, I would generally consider this someone in a similar position at another company.)

In baseball, we have plate appearances, steals, BA, OBP, SLG, OPS, UZR, ERA+, BABIP, FIP…and the list goes on (thank you Sabermetricians). But at a company, each product, team, and business unit is different. Speed to launch, sales, customer satisfaction, stock price, financial metrics, and even the soft skills matter – communication, synergy, culture fit, how fun to work with…it’s definitely a hard problem. But, if businesses could tackle some of these questions (one approach is here), then comparing “raw” salaries vs “experience” may not matter as much anymore, instead companies (and individuals) could better understand their relative value vs others at the same company, and/or industry, and use it better their own situations.

 

This is How I Work

I was inspired the other day while reading Lifehacker, and thought it’d be fun to write my own “This is how I work” post.

Current mobile device: Samsung Galaxy S3. Been an Android guy from my original Motorola Droid

Current computer:

  • At home: Macbook Pro 13″
  • At work: Macbook Pro 15″ + some 7-year old Wintel tower

I work: Loud and fun

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

What’s your workspace like?

Super clean and organized…minimalist. No clutter, no papers. At max, a post-it note or two. One desktop (Windows) and one external monitor for my Macbook Pro. They are also connected via Synergy.

What do you listen to while you work?

Usually one of my co-workers or someone telling me to be quiet :)…otherwise, 90% of the time nothing. When I’m having trouble focusing, I’ll throw on the popular songs from Spotify. If I’m in the “get stuff done now” mode, I may turn to classical music and use headphones.

What’s your best time-saving trick/life hack?

  • Keep my IM/messenger on busy at ALL times
  • Memorize keyboard shortcuts. Any time you use a command more than one, MEMORIZE it.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?

  • Post-it notes and a pen

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without?

Not really a gadget, but my 180 earmuffs are life savers…I probably wear them more than half the year.

What’s your sleep routine like?

From birth…I’ve always had sleeping problems (my poor mother). The only times I get good rest is if I run a half marathon or play basketball for 2+ hours…otherwise, I fluctuate between 5-7 hours, going to bed around midnight to 2am.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?

…I’m loud and talk A LOT. I like to keep things light (when possible) – laughing and smiling are good things.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

  • Doing common things give you common results…to have extraordinary results, you have to try extraordinary things.
  • Better to be lucky than being good. Luck defined as: when preparation meets opportunity.