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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

2012 Book Reviews



    Review: The Good School

    I came to The Good School as a foreigner who's never been through the american K-12 system. I read an excerpt about how class sizes didn't matter as much as you think they do, and nodded to myself. I personally grew up with class sizes of around 40 students to 1 teacher.

    The first thing that made me realize that this was a high quality book was that the research results were impressive and surprising. For instance, right out of the first chapter on academic pre-schools: Researchers showed that the academic approach created students with more emotional problems, had more acts of teen misconduct, and lower academic aspirations than kids who attended a playful learning program. She tend goes on to detail Tools of the Mind, which was described in Nurture Shock.

    One of the things that stands out to a non-American is that the American educational system is bat-shit insane. For instance, tests in Singapore are graduated, which means that you start with easy questions and move on to tougher and tougher questions that require deeper and richer understanding of the material. Well, that's not how Americans do it. The standardized tests are designed so that 40-60% of kids will get it right, in a statistically defensible pattern. WTF! That makes no sense! As a result, questions that nearly everyone will get right are banned, as are questions that nearly everyone cannot answer, since those add no value to the test. I remember my SATs, and they were somewhat graduated, but frequently had a lot of repetitively similar questions, and this explains why.

    The section on class sizes is interesting, as I never understood why Americans obsessed about it given my experience in Singapore. Then I realized that students are not sorted in the American system! In Singapore, each year's report cards would be used to stream students into classes with other students of similar ability. As a result, the teachers have the relatively easy job of teaching students who are all more or less at the same level. In America, students are all clumped together and then the teacher is expected to be able to give the laggards or the brilliant ones individual attention. It wouldn't be a surprise to you that that doesn't work.

    They cover two big topics: reading and math. Apparently, learning to read English is so well understood that experts agree that there's only one way to teach it: Phonics. But in their survey of school literature, apparently most schools do not teach reading that way, which means that many students fail. Teaching how to read English is much easier than teaching how to read Chinese, so you can imagine my jaw dropping when I read that.

    Math, of course, is something Americans are famously bad at compared to the rest of the world. There are two big differences between Americans and the rest of the world. Elementary school teachers in America come from low performers: while the rest of the world gets its teachers from the upper 30% of the class, many American elementary school teachers say things like: "I don't like Math." Secondly, unlike Asians, Americans don't believe that Math is something that can be worked on and believe that you either have a talent for math or not. What results is that the math curriculum is set politically rather than by experts, and as a result, America's math textbooks are confusing and badly written.

    The surprising antidote turns out to be Singapore Math, the math studies system I grew up with. I'm surprised that the system isn't just imported wholesale into the US given how much more effective it is than what's in place right now. Apparently, there are school districts that have switched over to it, but it's apparently not something people are pushing for. (By the way, Singapore Math gets you Calculus by the time you hit grade 10, and you're doing simultaneous differential equations by grade 12)

    All in all, this book is an eye opener if you grew up outside the American school system. I used to think that Americans are badly educated because the culture here doesn't prize academics but prefers to worship Britney Spears and sports stars instead. Now I know it's not just the culture, but also the system which seems to be put together by people pushing political agendas rather than try to teach kids. If you're used to Asian educational systems, you need to read this book to get an idea of how American schools are different (and probably much worse) than what you grew up with. Recommended.

    Monday, November 28, 2011

    2011 Books of the Year

    This year, I read 53 books, of which 4 were Hugo nominees that weren't really novels but novellas. Unlike previous years, however, the standout book this year isn't non-fiction. I did ponder giving Presimetrics a nod for the book of the year, but instead, the book of the year really should be The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. To me, it reinvents fantasy boldly, and does all of the intended themes justice. For a first time author this is nothing short of outstanding, and I'm going to read her other books as well.

    Strangely enough, this was not a good year for novels. The only other two notable novels were The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and Surface Detail. Both were fun, but neither earth-shaking.

    Non-fiction, however, had a lot of great books to choose from, though Presimetrics really stood out. The Box, The Victorian Internet, The Party: The Secret World of China, and Peopleware will delight the geeks amongst the readers of this blog. Finally, I also went on a baby book binge (for the obvious reasons), but the reality is, most baby books are horribly written, and the only one that I would recommend is still Brain Rules For Baby. I have no idea why baby books are so badly written. I'd imagine that moms are so busy that books for them would have to be well-edited and tightly written, but that's definitely not the case.

    Finally, graphic novels have been relatively disappointing, though once again, Fables comes recommended. If you haven't already started reading it, I urge you to do so.

    Sunday, November 27, 2011

    Review: I'm Feeling Lucky

    I never encountered Doug Edwards in person at Google, so when I'm Feeling Lucky hit the shelves, I took my time getting to it, since I was familiar with many of the details behind the story.

    Well, I finally checked out the book from the local library, and I'm glad I did. First of all, it's cool to see names and people you're familiar with. For instance, upon request, Edwards provided a pseudonym for a well-known engineer, "Claus." Well, as a Googler, it would take you all of 10 pages to figure out who "Claus" was, so what's anonymous for others isn't anonymous for you. Secondly, as a Googler, some mysteries are solved through stories from the old days. For instance, if you've always wondered why a certain executive is hated, this book explains why that person wasn't just hated by his/her reports, but also by other functional teams. It even explained to me why a certain engineer, despite his critical role in the company (and was one of the first ten employees) was denied refresher options and essentially told to leave. If you're a current or ex-googler, this sort of gossip is fun and explains certain behavior that has roots somewhere in the murky past and which makes no sense today and (in many case) didn't even make sense back when I joined in 2003.

    This is primarily a book written from a marketing person point of view. Furthermore, it's written by Google's brand manager. You're not going to find the sort of nitty gritty technical details that would please someone whose life was devoted to Hacker News, for instance. On the other hand, the business milestones are documented in great detail: the AOL deal, the Yahoo deal, and the various Overture deals. Unfortunately, you're not going to get a lot of strategic insight: Edwards wasn't privy to those, and a 20 minute conversation with PengToh would do you a lot more good than reading this book if you wanted those.

    Nevertheless, Edwards does provide some insight into the engineering organization. For instance, Google is famous about not providing positive feedback inside the engineering organization. I've met retired ex-Googlers worth multiple tens of millions in net-worth who still seem emotionally scarred by the experience of doing amazing stuff that never got any recognition. What I didn't realize at that time was that this is part of Google's engineering DNA, buried deep inside its founders and early employees. If you hire former Google engineers, read this book, and you won't be as surprised as some Facebook managers who told me, "I thought I was getting a good engineer, but I wasn't prepared for how political Google engineers got as a result of their never received proper recognition inside Google and having to fight for any sort of recognition as a result." That makes the book well worth reading for this insight alone, not just in case you happen to hire Google engineers, but to also ensure that your engineering culture doesn't end up like that, because while obviously it didn't hurt Google, there was no need to do this to otherwise valuable people.

    All in all, I think this book is well worth reading, and definitely worth paying the Kindle price for. If you're affiliated with Google at all, I would encourage you to read this book. If you've got even a modicum of curiosity about Google, this book is so well-written that you will not feel like you've wasted your time. Recommended.

    Tuesday, November 22, 2011

    Review: Facebook Groups

    Some companies just never get good press, no matter what they do right. For instance, in 2006, I switched from Mac OS X (Tiger) back to Windows XP mainly because Tiger did not remember my password, so every time I connected to my NAS I would have to retype it. Windows did so with no trouble at all. Ironically, the very next release of Mac OS fixed the problem, but by then I had already reformatted the hard drive and had no desire to go back. That same machine is still happily running XP over at my parents'.

    Similarly, Facebook's in that purgatory today. No matter what they do right, very few people say good things about them. Well, recently, Facebook Groups fit our needs in a way that nothing else really does. Not wanting to turn my blog/delicious shares/picasaweb album into a free for all kiddie posts, I wanted a way for XiaoQin and I to share the pictures/videos with our friends. Google groups didn't cut it, since it doesn't really integrate with Picasa. (Does anyone use Google groups any more?) Google Plus doesn't let two people share the same circles (circle sharing only shares circles at one point in time), nor does it let two people administer one circle.

    Facebook Groups, however, lets you create a group, provide admin privileges to as many users as you like, and then share photos/videos all to the same group. All the usual Facebook commenting happens there, and users get a friendly notification whenever new content shows up in the group, but you don't get your feed spammed with each new post/photo/video. This is clearly the right thing to do. There are a few glitches. The first big glitch is that the Facebook Android App doesn't know about groups, so if you take a photo with your Android phone, you have no way of uploading to any Facebook group! If I was the kind of person who shot photos on the phone instead of on a real camera, I'd be very pissed, but as it is, it's not much of an annoyance. The second glitch is that you have to have a Facebook account to participate. That's not a big deal --- even my mom has a Facebook account nowadays, while she's always had trouble with following me on Picasa. To be honest, that was the biggest feature: the Grandma has no trouble using Facebook.

    After using this set up for a few weeks, I'm pretty impressed. First of all, I had no idea there were that many people interested in my baby pictures. And there's enough feedback that I'll keep posting to the group. I used to think that Google Wave would address such needs, but having seen what Facebook Groups is doing, I'd say that it's definitely doing a better job than Wave would have. Recommended.
    (Disclosure: I own both Facebook and Google stock)

    Monday, November 21, 2011

    Review: The Cold Commands

    After reading The Steel Remains, I read that author Richard Morgan intended the story and the universe he created to show how you wouldn't want to live in the typical fantasy universe. One of the big schticks in The Steel Remains was that the major protagonist, Ringil "Gil" Eskiath was gay, and indulged in as much debauchery as he could get away with. Lacking that surprise, The Cold Commands reads as a much more pedestrian work.

    The Cold Commands can easily be read as a stand-alone novel. I barely remember the plot of the previous novel, so it's nice to see a trilogy that allows you to jump in in the middle without feeling like you're missing much. Even the protagonists are all re-introduced, and since what they start out doing has very little to do with how the previous novel ended, there's no context lost.

    The plot runs in three separate strands, coming together only very late in the novel. Morgan takes the opportunity to do more world building, and it really is made clear that the setting is only a sort of fantasy: these is a science fiction world as well, with some of the various races involved in the big story-line being aliens.

    Unfortunately, there's no real character development, and not even a lot of blood and guts. Other critics make a big deal out of an early-scene rape scene, which shows how nasty one of the protagonists actually is, but Morgan even took the sting out of that one --- it certainly doesn't have the shock impact that Lord Foul's Bane had, for instance.

    All in all, while the book satisfied any desire I had for more Richard Morgan, it's definitely not him at his best. I still refer people to Altered Carbon instead. If that doesn't make you a Richard Morgan fan, for heavens sake, don't bother with The Cold Commands.

    Saturday, November 12, 2011

    Review: Motorola Baby Monitor 3.5

    For my birthday this year, my brothers gave me a Baby Monitor. I was real skeptical when this showed up on my door step. $240 and it doesn't export to the internet? What use is it?

    Well, we've been using it for a week now, and so far, it's been surprisingly good. The best feature is that it's really easy to set up. Plug in the camera, plug in the screen, turn on the screen (the camera never turns off), and instant picture time. The microphone on the camera picks up sound really easily, and you can turn up the speakers on the screen if you want to hear every toss and turn. Yes, it's that sensitive. The battery life on the screen is pretty lousy: it advertises 3 hours, but in reality if you keep the screen on (that's the point of the monitor --- I can hear the baby crying from all over the house), you won't get much more than 2 hours. The screen turns itself off after a couple of minutes to save battery, but if you keep the screen plugged in, then it'll stay on.

    What was surprising to me was that the entire setup is easy enough that grandma and granddad just picked it up and immediately knew how to pan the camera, turn up the sound, etc. You can also talk back to the baby if you like, but that feature rarely gets used, and frequently we forget it's there even when it'd be useful to have an intercom system to the baby's crib. The picture quality is good enough that granddad would be fascinated by it throughout dinner. Night vision mode automatically turns on and it provides a nice black and white picture that still looks pretty good. There's a USB port that supposedly lets you export to some sort of computer, but no accessories can be found to use it.

    The biggest problem so far for me is that the system doesn't seem designed to mount say on the side of a crib. There are no suction cups or obvious places to tie the camera to velcro, for instance, making jury rigging mounts much harder than expected for something that you would want to mount out of the way once the baby gets big enough to explore the entire crib.

    From what I read of other reviews of baby monitors, it seems like the combination of reliability (both the screen and the camera's been dropped multiple times with no sign of damage) and ease of use is hard to find. Therefore, despite my initial impressions I have to recommend this monitor.

    Friday, November 11, 2011

    Tips for Surviving Childbirth

    These are a few notes that I hope are helpful for those dads-to-be who plan to be involved with the childbirth process. There are plenty of resources focused on moms-to-be, and to be honest, moms have the much tougher job, but there are a few things that dads can do, mostly because they'll actually not be exhausted from 24 hours of labor (plus possibly a c section).

    The biggest tip I got and was very grateful for was to stay flexible. Yes, you can write up a birth plan. Yes, you can say "I support breast feeding and my wife is into it 100%." But when your wife comes out of the delivery room pumped full of anesthetics and is too exhausted to breast feed, it is absolutely not a crime to feed baby from a bottle. You can generally tell the kid's hungry if you're holding him and he's arcing his neck and head going for your breasts. That's a pretty good sign of desperation and hunger, especially if he just came off from mom's breasts, for instance. (Incidentally, one dad told me he got a bottle of formula into the baby while mom was sleeping just so that everyone could sleep)

    The second tip I have is to make sure you have a camera handy. That means that if you're toting a super-duper SLR, make sure you also have a point and shoot. Here's why: if there's an emergency c section, and you have to put scrubs on, then that SLR probably isn't going into the operating room with you, but the point and shoot can and should. That means that all your batteries should also be charged prior to the big day.

    Keep an eye on both the health of the baby and mom! Baby needs to be watched for signs of hydration. One of XiaoQin's friends left the hospital with a dehydrated child because she listened to the "breast-only" nazis and they told her that baby doesn't need that much food for the first few days. Well, the problem is that if you don't feed baby anything, he's not getting food or water. In my case, XiaoQin complained of an itching feeling near her c section wound. When a nurse and doctor checked her, it turned out to be an infection that required a couple of weeks of pretty strong anti-biotics, and regular draining and cleansing. Yes, it was gross.

    Expect to be the person changing diapers for at least the first 24 hours. Mom will be out of it (and if she has any energy it should be spent resting/sleeping, breast feeding and feeding herself). Track all activities like pooping, feeding, urine, etc. That'll be very useful for giving you an idea of what's normal and what's not in the future. Pummel visiting doctors with questions, and feel free to ask for help with all basic issues like breast feeding, swaddling, etc. Most folks at the hospital have done everything tons of times, and now's your chance to learn all the little time saving tips.

    If you can, have other people come in and help. We had 3 grandparents visiting and 2 helping. This let me run out to get food, catch up with sleep, and other things. If you don't have other family around, pay someone to take care of mom and baby for at least 4 hours every day so you have time to sleep and eat.

    Finally, don't panic. Everyone keeps telling you how much work the initial experience is. It's a lot of work, but it's not worse than digging trenches in the army.

    Review: Steve Jobs

    When I read that Walter Issacson was asked by Steve Jobs to write an authorized biography of his life, I assumed that it was to be a sycophantic white-washing of everything Jobs did. But excerpts from the book led me to believe that Jobs did not ask for control over the content, and that the book would cover all aspects of him, not just his crowning achievements. I checked the book out from the library and found myself consumed by it.

    Much of the story has already been told. For instance, Wozniak's book was written mostly because Jobs had taken so much credit for Apple, leading many to believe that Jobs had a key role in inventing the earlier Apples. Sure enough, Issacson covers that portion, including several folks explaining how Jobs tends to take credit for other people's ideas without apology.

    The first third of the book covers Job's early life, his adoption, and his college days. There's a section about how he picked up his charismatic approach to talking to people from another college student, but taking it one step further. This is good because many assumed the Jobs' ability to charm was innate.

    The second third of the book covers the early Apple years. It is here that Issacson seems to show a lot of Stockholm syndrome. At times the book reads like an apology for Jobs as Issacson points out all the things Jobs did that created the company. This was a bit distracting because most of those things were something anyone with a business background could have done, but without screwing his partners, his friends, and in general pissing off everyone around him. The section ends with Wozniak explaining that while he still considered Jobs a friend, he questioned his integrity. If you know anything about Wozniak, you'd know that's probably the worst thing he could say about somebody, but Issacson lets that go without comment.

    The final part of the book covers the wilderness years and his triumphant return to Apple. I once said that I'm not qualified to write a book about politics, but if you want to know how to do corporate politics well, here's a great tutorial on the topic, though most people probably wouldn't have enough of a Narcissistic personality disorder in order to pull it off. Issacson points out all the obsessive attention to detail that Jobs brought to the table, along with Jonathan Ives. While I'd heard about these details (mostly from Apple fans), this book covers all the details closely, and is worth reading for that section alone. While I have respect for all the work that goes into making these details, as a user I've frequently found that Jobs' approach frequently eschews function over form. For instance, laptop batteries are subject to abuse by most consumers (myself included), and it's not unusual for laptop batteries to die within a couple of years of purchase. Designing a laptop with a non-user removable battery for the sake of aesthetics seems lame to me. Obviously, the market for Apple machines doesn't agree with my evaluation of aesthetics versus functionality, but I'm also one of the people who gets asked to fixed such things. To his credit Issacson does mention this particular problem in his book.

    The last section was obviously rushed into print, and reads a lot like a bunch of notes all strung together without any attempt to weave a narrative around it. Nevertheless, the lack of polish allows us insight into a man who transformed the industry in many ways, and despite my immense dislike of Apple products, gave me insight into why he did what he did. Despite the rush to print, the book's extremely readable, and easy to plow through.

    Recommended even if you dislike Apple products. If you like Apple products, you probably bought this book before reading my review.

    Monday, November 07, 2011

    Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

    I'm of two minds about The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The book has two themes. One is the triumph of science in being able to replicate and culture an immortal line of human cells (albeit one that's cancerous). The other is the story of Henrietta's descendants (and some of her ancestors), whom despite being part of the genetic line that powered many of the modern advances in medicine, cannot afford American healthcare.

    The first story is really interesting, though not being much of a scientist, Rebecca Skloot spends as little time as she can on this part of the story and skips all of the interesting nitty gritty research work that enabled scientists to get to this point. What's more, while she passes on popular science stories, "Her cells have been to space!", she doesn't cover much else. She does, however pause to discuss the story about cancer cells being injected into prisoners (all volunteers) to see if they get infected by cancer. Skloot raises interesting questions like whether or not consent is required in order for a patient's body tissues to be used for experiments in furthering science. She explores a few other cases, and points out that the courts have never ruled in favor of the patients.

    The second story is purely a human interest story. We get to see the conditions under which Henrietta's descendants were brought up in: under-educated, under-fed, and without access to healthcare. Unfortunately, Skloot spends way more time on the reportage and investigation than on either story, which leads to what feels like an overly padded book by the time you get to the dreary end. Worse, with all this emphasis on narrative, one would expect to get a resolution on some of those threads, but of course this being real life, there isn't any satisfactory resolution. Lacks' descendants never get to point of challenging the system or gaining any understanding that Henrietta actually isn't immortal, in any real sense of the word.

    I'm not inclined to recommend this book, even though it does raise many interesting questions. Probably the best approach is to borrow it from the library and skim all the parts that don't interest you.

    Product Endorsement: Wealthfront

    Andy Rachleff gave XiaoQin and I a presentation four weeks ago on their latest wealth management product, and just lifted the embargo on me writing about it on my blog. I walked through the demo and worked through various scenarios, and I'm impressed.

    Those of you who've been to my talks or read my financial posts know that I dislike wealth managers, and traditional banks that take your money and charge you huge amounts of money (usually 1% of total wealth) for what could easily be done with a spreadsheet or computer program. But there are people who can't manage their wealth themselves, either through lack of interest, inability to deal with the numbers involved, or (most common among engineers) lack of emotional control, which has very little correlation with intelligence or success in other areas of life.

    What Wealthfront has done is to write that computer program. The result is one that interviews you to figure out your risk tolerance, then does Mean-Variance Optimization (MVO) and provide recommendations for performing asset allocation. There are many MVO programs that exist, but the biggest problem is actually getting the data: Wealthfront pays about $300k/year to get access to historical data so the MVO actually isn't garbage-in/garbage-out. This is the kind of stuff you get if you got William Bernstein, for instance, to manage your money.

    What's more, the output isn't just provided to you with no context. You get an explanation of why the program picked certain ETFs, and you get to over-ride the results of the risk-tolerance analysis if you believe that the interview did not provide correct/optimum results. The service does automatic rebalancing, automatic accumulation of dividends to as part of the rebalancing scheme, and might in the future also offer automatic divestment of company stock. This is excellent stuff, and stuff I tried to get the Google Finance team interested in doing instead of creating yet another day-trader web-site.

    The fee for all this? They've decided to go with a Freemium model: free management up to the first $25,000, and 0.25% for all money above that. (Yes, you can run A-B comparisons between your wealth manager/spreadsheet against Wealthfront to see who does better --- note that if you do that, you should take risk into account! A riskier portfolio could out perform Wealthfront, and if you have a good few years you could be fooled into taking more risk than you desire) More interestingly, past a certain level, they'll offer access to alternative assets such as hedge-funds and the absolute-return funds that university endowments get access to, which is responsible for much of their outsized returns in recent years.

    Even better, if you choose to do it yourself, you can use their website to gauge what your efficient frontier is and then execute those trades yourself manually without paying wealthfront. The risk in doing that is that you won't have the emotional control and financial discipline to rebalance your portfolio, which is critical for high performance and wealth preservation. In that area, Wealthfront actually does something real nice, which is to accumulate dividends so that transaction costs are minimized and do the rebalancing all at once. Yes, they also take into account taxes, and so won't do small transactions that cause you to have a tax reporting headache. If you don't already have a legacy portfolio, these are the first wealth management folks that I am willing to endorse. I am not an employee, shareholder, investor, or otherwise compensated by wealthfront for making the above statement. In fact, I do occasionally get paid as a financial adviser for high and medium networth individuals to manage their portfolio, so in some sense I'm working against my self-interest --- people paying them certain won't be paying me!

    Visit Wealthfront's Beta site so you can get an access code.

    Sunday, November 06, 2011

    Independent Cycle Touring featured in the Mercury News/Oakland Tribue

    Several weeks ago, I was interviewed for a cycling article that appeared last Sunday in the Mercury News/Oakland Tribune. I had other things occupying my mind on Sunday, so didn't get around to reading it today.

    As far as free publicity goes, it's pretty good: the article mentioned my web-site, and plugged my three favorite cycling clubs in the Bay Area. As for effectiveness: I did not sell a single copy of Independent Cycle Touring as a result, reflecting that mass media is not a good way to launch a very niche publication, as you might expect.

    Nevertheless, the article does quote me, so I've used up my quota of 15 minutes of fame for the rest of my life.

    Piaw's Feed Survey Results

    I want to thank everyone who took the time to fill out my Social Network News Survey. I was very curious to see how many people care enough to fill out the form on a Saturday, and how the various networks ranked against each other. This was a self selected survey, so I don't really expect it to be representative of the web in general, just my readers (who seem to be largely associated with Google, understandably).

    85% of people used Google Plus as a social news site. 70% named Google Reader in second place. Not surprisingly, the same 70% said RSS input was important to them. 60% would prefer to read my feed on Google Plus, but 70% would take RSS (75% would consider Google Plus acceptable). 50% don't use Facebook.

    Unfortunately, Google Plus is extremely unfriendly for sharing. You first have to +1 every post (which is stupid, because I might share articles I disagree with), and secondly, there's no RSS export, which means I can't with one click share to Twitter, Friendfeed, etc. This is a fatal flaw which I don't expect Google Plus to fix any time soon, since it's central to their "we want to be Facebook/Roach Motel" strategy. However, Delicious does support RSS export, has a bookmarklet that's not insane, and does allow me to comment, though it doesn't allow general replies, etc.

    As a result, from now on, you can find my feed here on delicious. Maybe someday there'll be a reasonable write API to Google Plus, or Google Plus will support RSS output. (As well as a bookmarklet that's not insane)

    If you want raw data, you can view it here. Thanks to everyone who participated.

    Saturday, November 05, 2011

    Hoisted from one of the Buzz comments

     I have the suspicion Job's deathbed advice to Larry Page was actually his revenge on Google for "stealing" Android. It was terrible advice, partly because Page doesn't have Jobs' taste, and partly because Google's web products are fundamentally different than Apple's consumer products -- Google's products can iterate in real time. As a result, when they work it is because they are much more about experimentation and listening to the user. Lose that, and you've lost Google's magic
     This was in response to the recent series of Google UI rollouts. Google Reader lost information density and all of its useful features. Gmail's losing information density and becoming actually less pleasant to use (we'll see if I end up using IMAP and Thunderbird). And of course, we've all heard about the iPhone Gmail App fiasco. I used to joke that Microsoft's forgotten that the word "upgrade" is supposed to have a positive connotation. It seems like Google (at 30,000 employees) has caught the same disease at approximately the same number of employees.