Sunday, 30 September 2007

Today I boarded the wrong flight

Yes, I mean what you understood. I walked through the gate and got into the plane, but it wasn't the right one. Fortunately, another passenger had the same seat; otherwise, I would have flown in blissful ignorance, while my baggage was being unloaded from the right flight, searched and probably destroyed.
It was a short hop, Dublin to London City, traveling by Air France. I went to the gate and found an Air France flight leaving at the same hour and same plane model. I gave my boarding pass to the stewardess at the gate, and went through. I realized that it was a different gate, but heck, same company, same destination, same plane; gates change, shit happens.
I was about to sit down, and I found this other guy at my seat. We checked both our stubs, and both had the same seat. The plane was empty, so I asked the stewardess if I could change my seat (come on, seats might get double assigned too). At first, the stewardess looked baffled at the other guy's stub, since she was not used to see that kind of stub, but after a brief check, she started looking at what codes that flight had (at least two codes). Suddenly they realize I was in the wrong plane. I disembarked and everything went well; I just wonder what might have happened if the seat was empty (and if the destination weren't the same)
PS: part of this post was written on board the right plane

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Saturday, 29 September 2007

I've been positevely commented in Google

I wrote in a public mail thread in Google, suggesting some ideas, and someone actually wrote mentioning that my ideas were good; not only that, he even used my name. It inflates your ego quite a bit when one of the best people in the market makes a positive comment on your ideas.
So, I hope somebody bursts my ego, otherwise, I'll be a pain in the neck.

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Friday, 28 September 2007

Living in Google

I wrote a few articles about working in Google, but there is a fact I have not mentioned: you not only work at Google but you also live in Google.
So, let's take this weekend as an example: on Thursday I went to the gym (in Google), worked, had lunch at Google, got together with a colleague for dinner. On Friday, we had our TGIF, then went for Dinner with some nooglers, and finally, a housewarming party from another noogler; amazingly, in this party, there were a few (like almost 5!) non googlers, so it was a chance to get in contact with the outside world. Today, Saturday, I got together with our board-games group, and spent the full day playing games in the office (we didn't have time for XBox or stuff like that, though). However, I guess it can always get more immersive, especially if I apply for a position in this office.

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Thursday, 27 September 2007

I will not write anymore about the French

My page visits were rising until the last two articles; suddenly, they bombed, and dropped to half the number of visits. I used to have visits from India, Indonesia and Canada, and now they are gone. I will not write anything else about the French.

Update: Great, now the French, embraved by their new president, are coming to lynch me. YAIC (I don't mean Yet Another Interpreter Compiler, I mean Yet Another International Conflict)

By the way, when I was researching this post, I discovered that Sarkozy's father was Hungarian, and his mother was of French and Jewish Ottoman descent, quite weird for a French president, isn't it?

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Wednesday, 26 September 2007

If a tree fallls in a French forest, does it make any sound (or does it say "Oui")

Being ready is always good (always ready, boyscouts, forest, ok, stop the free association). And it is specially good when you are in a foreign country and you are the only one who speaks the language.
Once I was working for a project, and we visited the factory in French. It was a Japanese company, and people stayed late. However, our French colleagues left at 20:00 so the only remaining people where my Japanese bosses, an Englishman, me and 200 factory workers. As you can imagine, the factory workers didn't speak English. Suddenly, with my rudimentary French, I was everyone's translator. That single day proved how right I was trying to learn all the variants of each verb.
Even though I am not very good at languages (unlike a friend of mine whose name I won't mention who speaks perfect Hungarian, English, German and Spanish, or this other woman who Speaks also Spanish, Catalan, German, English and French), I enjoy learning French and Italian, quite easy for me, and German, which is almost beyond my possibilities. I want to learn a few more languages (you never know when they might become useful), and I was thinking about Portuguese to relax, or a tough one, like an Eastern European language, or Hebrew. Anyone who wants to comment (or cheer for their favorite language), be my guest.

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Monday, 24 September 2007

The mistery of number 42

OK, I have to apply for a job writing misleading titles; I just wanted to get numerologists to read this article.
I have finally found one advantage of having multiple measurement systems: you can break arbitrary barriers twice as easily if you have two systems. For instance, i am trying to lose weight. Today, I've broken the 200-pounds barrier, so I am elated. In a few days I'll probably break the 90 kg. barrier, so I'll be happy again (of course, I'd be happier if I weren't dieting).
In related news, the EU has dropped it's plan to force UK to use the metric system. On the practical side, it is quite a loss (I don't think anyone can say the imperial units are better). In the legal side, even for a staunch unionist like me, it was crossing the line a bit too much, especially since there are laws already in effect for that in the UK. Finally, from a traditionalist point of view, it is a pity to see these quaint measures disappearing (good luck trying to change the pint for beer).

Oh, about the number 42, it is the point where Celsius and Fahrenheit degrees are the same (to be exact, is minus 42, but it makes a less striking point). In addition, it is the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything (check with Google if you don't believe me), and is the result of 6 times 9

PS: I am a pretty sorry case

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Esperanto as a victim of network effects

Esperanto was a good idea. A really good idea, as the Euro was a good idea. However, while the Euro is thriving, Esperanto is spoken by very few people (I wouldn't dare to compare the number of Esperanto speakers to the number of Klingon speakers). One big problem with Esperanto is that it suffers from large negative network effects; if many people speak Esperanto, it becomes useful, and so, more people learn it. However, if very few people speak it, it is not useful, and therefore, very few people (just curious ones) will make that big effort.
In addition, Esperanto suffers from a lock-in problem: people have spent a lot of time learning English and maybe some other language; they've become proficient in them. So, the utility of learning Esperanto should be larger than the effort they must make in order to reach the same level of proficiency than the other languages.
This is another example of systems theory: those two effects are trivial to prove in systems theory, but quite hard using any other model.

PS: I have found a similar article from Semisane

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Sunday, 23 September 2007

Management in Google

Frederick P. Brooks wrote in The Mythical Man-Month that managing engineers is like herding cats. However, if you take that to Google, you have to think in a different scale. You are not herding cats; you are herding hyper-developed mutant felines who are more knowledgeable than the herder. However, managers in Google are extremely effective; they simply trust their people and let them loose, they just get rid of the stones in the way. Of course, this takes a lot of courage; Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister described this as an Open Kimono policy in Peopleware . I didn't believe this could happen, but it does. It certainly shows that Google not only hires class A engineers, but also, class A managers.

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Saturday, 22 September 2007

Counting in French

Opinions about the French are quite divided: some people hate them, others, like me, love them. They are different; they know that and are proud of it. It begins at the very basics. When you learn to count in different languages, you usually start with small numbers, and then go up to the tens. Usually, there are some special cases in the 11-20 area, but then it becomes quite regular, each group of ten starting with some variation of the first number and then, the second number is regular.
So, you are quite jolie learning numbers in French, you reach soixante-neuf (69) and you go to septante.
Arretez! All your instincts are wrong: It is soixant-dix. Yes, sixty-ten. And as if this weren't fou enough, how do you say eighty? Quatre-vingt; exactly, four times twenty (and don't get me started on ninety three)
This post was inspired by a colleague who explained me that accountants actually use the other form, more traditional in other languages in order not to mix numbers, but you would never use them in the street. After some research, I have realized that these numbers might be used in Belgium and Switzerland, but I didn't experience that first-hand. If you click in the links (come on, do that, I spend a lot of time linking), you can see that other European languages use these vigesimal numeration; really mainstream languages like Basque and Gaelic . Just opposite of what Asterix said, Ils sont fous ces gaulois! (and I love them for that!)

PS: cheap Google ad, it is really fun when your colleagues explain these strange things!
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Friday, 21 September 2007

Using genetics for diagnosing diseases (and insurance purposes)

The Economist had an amazing note about genetics for diagnosing illnesses, and the privacy concerns (mainly, how it could be used by insurers to raise rates).
However, there is a systemic consequence if insurers use that information. Let's make a Gedankenexperiment (oh boy, how I love that word). If an insurer could know exactly what genetic diseases a person will get there will be three kinds of costs an insurer will have to cover: amount every person spends in health every year amount that some people might spend and others not amount for genetic diseases

The first amount is a small amount, but since every person uses that amount, it doesn't make sense to have insurance for that (since every person spends that amount, rates should include that amount and a small extra for administrative costs, so it is not convenient for the client to be insured for that, and in a competitive environment, it is not convenient for the insurer, since higher rates means clients going to other companies). I.E. large loss insurance condition is not satisfied in these costs, and that's why health insurance policies usually have deducible clauses.
The second amount is a variable amount that insurers will always cover, where there is variability among individuals. This is why insurance exist: due to the law of large numbers, risks will average among these individuals, so what could be ruinous to one person is distributed in time and among different people, making it affordable to the group.
The third amount is currently inside the second, but insurers would like to split it, so "genetically healthy" people pay less than "genetically unhealthy", giving better rates to a group and attracting more clients. However, this could be ruinous to insurers. They will insure only the small costs, not the large ones, where profits are, turning health insurance into a cheap commodity. If a disease is certain, you'd be better off saving money for the covering the costs yourself rather than giving it to insurers, since you will be saving the administrative costs. In addition, not only it would be bad for particular insurers, but for the industry. You'll have low cost insures, with thin margins, who only take "genetically healthy" clients, and all-inclusive, who theoretically will take all kinds of people, but since it is more expensive, only genetically unhealthy people will go there.

Don't you love systems theory?

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Thursday, 20 September 2007

Living in a Campus (or a ghetto, as you prefer)

As some of you may know, I have a new apartment, quite close to the Google office. I went there for a visit when I received my keys, and I crossed 3 different Googlers. When you consider that I am not a very sociable person, that I have been in the city for 3 weeks and that I am an engineer, so I don't meet every single person in the company, you can guess a certain amount of Googlers live in the area. It is almost like living in a campus, great social life, lots of activities and, this being Ireland, lots of drinks.
If you have a pessimistic outlook, you can also say that it is living in a Ghetto, where Googlers gather and defend themselves from the worst elements of society: drug dealers, rapists, and, God save us, Microsofties

PS: some readers told me there are worse things than Microsofties: Microsoft lawyers, RIAA lawyers and the Nazgul
PS2: If you know BOTH main meanings of the Nazgul without checking the Wikipedia and not including rock bands, you certainly are a geek (link here for your convenience)

Update (22/09/2007): I have met two more colleagues living near my building: one is living next to my apartment block and the other is living in it!

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Wednesday, 19 September 2007

The power of linking

I didn't believe it; I really didn't believe it. If you check my previous post, I described that my blog was included in the list of Blogs by Googlers on September 14th. How much did my visits increase? Almost nothing, 100%. According to Google Analytics (did I say it was fantastic?), this jump is just the visits coming from Google's Official Blog. My second referer is Mariana Riva's blog (another link).
So, if you have a blog, and you want to make it popular, you must certainly have lots of links to it. No other options are available.
Update: Yesterday (Sept. 17th 2007) my visit count went through the roof (ok, only 28, but it was almost twice as much as the day before), reaching the highest ever.

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Tuesday, 18 September 2007

I officially have a "Blog by Googlers"

Google official blog has links to blogs written by the smartest people in the business. And, for some reason, it also has a blog written by me!

PS: The reason why the blog is there is because I am a Googler. The reason why I am a Googler, well,... only the gods know (meaning Larry and Sergei)

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Monday, 17 September 2007

Tall buildings representing the city main business

Every city has tall buildings representing its main business. New York has the Empire State, that represents the trading performed in the city. San Francisco, being the Wall Street of the West, has the Transamerica Center and the Bank of America Center. Frankfurt has the Commerzbank Zentrale, a landmark in the banking center of Europe.

Dublin has the Guiness Storehouse.

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Saturday, 15 September 2007

Watching a Rugby match in Ireland

Or any sports in general, means beer. Lot's of beer. Every pub becomes crowded, and everybody watches the match. The Irish, not a people keen on violence (no matter their viking origins), don't get aggressive while drunk, so it might even be fun seeing them. And, surprise, surprise, who sponsors the national Irish Rugby Team: Guiness.

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There already are non-scarce goods

In my previous post, I wrote about a world where you don't have to work. There are already some goods that are free (as in free goods, not as in gratis).
There are three kinds of free goods:
Goods so abundant that we don't need to pay for them
Goods that are a by product of another good, and nobody really wants it (waste)
Ideas and inventions reproducible at free cost

Of these three, the first one is just that nature provides us with more than we need. However, it is not true that it will always be like this. When I was a child, water was considered a free good. Now we know that it is not, and we don't treat it like that. Air is becoming polluted, and in order to avoid pollution we have emissions trading, that literally places a price for clean air.
Waste is a by product; not really interesting, nobody wants it. The cost of using it is higher than its value.
Finally, information is the interesting free good. It wants to be free. Once information is available it is impossible to stop it from being copied (if it interesting); just check how much the RIAA and the MPAA are fighting against that, and losing. Information reproduction's costs are almost zero; producing costs are way higher. How will artists recoup their production costs? That is a subject that is interesting, since it might illustrate the future of the world economics. Most artists would need to earn their income from live shows, and distribute their music as a sample; maybe they will even collect donations. Even though this seems OK for music, what happens to movies? Since no lives performances are available, is this the end of the next "Titanic", "Terminator 2" and all high-cost blockbusters, since the investment won't be recoup?
We live in interesting times, seeing a transformation that didn't happen since Gutengberg times, and then, it happened in one century; now we'll only have 20 years.

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Friday, 14 September 2007

Fresh news about Google

As I said there is a replica of the SpaceShipOne hanging in the roof of Building 42 in the Googleplex.
Now I learn that Google will fund a moon prize with thirty million dollars. That's why I like working in this company. However, every single day Scott Adams gets closer to reality even in his craziest jokes!
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Thursday, 13 September 2007

Working at Google VI: It's the people, stupid!

It is great to work with great people; isn't it? Then it it follows that it is amazing working with amazing people...
In Google everybody is great; they are amazing and friendly. Actually, you can see that in the hiring web page: "world class programming skills", "Are passionate about their work and are great colleagues". And it is important that it is not strong programming skills: they are "world class" programming skills. "Passionate about", not "self-motivated". "Great colleagues"; maybe you have seen "team players" in other companies, but "great colleagues", who can support each other, who can undermine their management, that's outright subversive.
If you read closely the two last posts, you might always find some comment about the people. Your colleagues are another advantage of working at Google. You will always learn something AND have fun. And they are not petulant or trying to show off... they are so good that they don't need that. Actually, every single person in Google I've met is friendly, nice and very simple... So simple that they might trick you in judging the book by the cover. But inside you will always find Kafka, T.S. Elliot and Borges together, in the best ensemble you can think of.

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Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Working at Google V: Evilness is in the eye of the beholder

I guess this title could be used for some deep thoughts about serious issues like the Iraq War, terrorism or such.
Instead, I will post about how Google gains some good Karma (or loses it, from my point of view): the Gym. As you have read in my previous post, the food is great, abundant, etc. (most probably you knew about that, but I was running out of subjects). However, something has to be done in order to battle the weight gain. And the Gym is the best way to do it. I guess in the grand scheme of life, it is a good thing. However, due to my personal preferences, I'd rather consider that evil. In addition, what else could be said about a place with sweaty engineers exercising (I shriver just at the thought)? They might be computer whizzes all of them, great fun, but none will be featured in Playboy (another awful image, engineers in Playboy, I won't be able to sleep tonight).
On other news, Google has another method of fighting weight gain: the conference bike. Since everybody knows that meeting are a waste of time, at least you can exercise (if something important were to be said, there will be an e-mail later anyway).
PS: no link to Playboy in order to avoid angry parents whose kids have read by blog and found about Playboy.
PS2: that's a Gedankenexperiment! Thinking that somebody with a computer doesn't know about Playboy

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Working at Google IV: The free food

Yes, there is free food; yes, it is amazingly good. Last wednesday, for instance, I had oysters. Unless you've been to a school in the Swiss alps, I guess no other canteen will serve oysters. And of course, you put on weight. It is so common that it even has a name: Google 15 (the imperial impaired say the Google 5, since the Google 6.80388555 don't have such a hit, or the Google Stone, those who are really into measures).
But this being Google, it is part of the world's information, and has to be organized (and Googlers really like to code). The result: The Google 15 Weight Tracker. I rest my case.

Next installment: how we battle the bad karma (Gaining weight is evil)

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Monday, 10 September 2007

Working at Google III

Mariana Riva wrote a link in her blog about my posts on working in Google, and I have realized I didn't write anything about that in a long time.
The first thing that I found interesting were the interviews. I won't go into details; needless to say, they are gruesome. But I had fun, since my interviewers were really smart guys. Of course, even I know that my concept of fun is a bit weird, in the same way that a SM concept of pleasure is kinda strange.
I remember I once had fun sitting for my Data Structures exam. There was a problem that required a mathematical proof about data structures; it had been an exercise left to the during the classes but it was so esoteric that we skipped it, considering it useless.
It was a written exam, but the professor asked oral questions afterwards; therefore, we had as much time as we needed. Since it was a challenge and I had time, I set myself to solve the problem. I started the exam at 8 a.m., finished at 2 p.m., had great fun in between (and got an A+!).
If you are this kind of person, you will excel at Google (and certainly pass the interviews; most probably, you have even solved the famous billboard). If you are not working in Google already, I certainly encourage you to submit your resume.

More to come in my next entry...

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Sunday, 9 September 2007

Finally Back in Dublin

It's nice to be back in Dublin. Amazingly, even a short time driving in Ireland (5 days) really screws your driving instincts. In California, where you MUST drive, I was all the time wondering whether I was in the right side of the road. Amazingly, it took me 2 days to get used again in Argentina, but the association English_Speaking_Country-Driving_on_the_Left is forever screwed.
In addition, an Irish colleague of mine proved his linguistic (and national) ties with Oscar Wilde by stating that he prefered Irish weather to Californian: "It is not so boring; in California you always know it will be sunny"

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Last day in San Francisco

Today is my last day in the city. It is really a beautiful city (just check the pictures). If you ever want to follow my steps, just use the link.
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Saturday, 8 September 2007

Friday, 7 September 2007

German trains might not be what you expect...

A surprising fact is that German trains might be unpunctual; that's not really what you expect. I once boarded a train 10 minutes later than expected, in a 2 hour trip. In addition, S-Bahn (commuter trains) are really bad in Munich. They come every 20 minutes, but after heavy snowing they can be delayed almost 15 minutes!
On the other hand, subways are precise. I still don't understand how, but the time table is precise to the minute, and you are certain that the subway will be there at that time. I used to take the 8:42 S-Bahn, and I had a 6 minute trip in the underground plus 2 minutes for walking between them. Every time I managed to arrive to the subway station at 8:32, I got to the S-Bahn in time. If I arrived 2 minutes late, I missed the 8:33 subway and was only able to catch the S-Bahn if I ran and nobody was standing in front of me in the escalators.

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Thursday, 6 September 2007

A world without work...

As you can see, one of my hobbies is economics (it takes all kinds...). So, one of my favorite Gedankenexperimenten (it sounds so much better in German, even though I have no idea if the plural is correct) is to imagine a world where computers have all the jobs. And I mean all the jobs (from collecting fruit to administering justice), so people can just use their leisure time for whatever they want, as the greek citizens did (of course, in ancient Greece, for every Aristotle there were thousands of slaves). I don't mean a world after 29th August 1997, 2:14 a.m., where Google^H^H^H^H Skynet becomes self-aware, but a kind, gentle version where a computer takes care of all the needs.
What happens if scarcity is still around (and it will, no matter how much machines produce there won't be two Mona Lisas)? How do we assign economic capacity? Should we live in a communist state, where a computer decides how much each good is worth, and how much each person can have?
And what happens if there are still some disgusting jobs that still have to be done by humans (i.e., garbage collectors)? How do we compensate this poor individuals who have to perform such disgusting task? Or do we have a draft where everybody should do this for one year? And what about people who are willing to sacrifice some goods in order to avoid this draft (certainly, some people may consider that extra goods are worthy doing this jobs for a couple of extra months, and from there, it is just a question of supply and demand)
Comments are welcome

PS: After my small typo (I swear I meant Skynet!), further posts will be written clandestinely, since only this strange guy with a funny accent who says he will be the governor of California stands between me and a certain death by a liquid metal terminator.

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What's good about working in Google...

The people.
Yes, the people.
They are absolutely brilliant. Last week, one of my co-workers discussed about a site he created, a slang dictionary. Today, I look for a word and his dictionary is the second entry, just after Wikipedia!
I guess I'll start looking for my colleagues in the list of Fields Medals, just in case.
Disclaimer: The fact that I work there is certainly the result of a bet, most probably something akin to Trading Places

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Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Green America?

I have to say I am quite surprised I am writing this post, but in this visit to the US there certainly is a green trend over here. So far, I have seen lots of bike roads, made by narrowing streets (you can see the old lanes before). In addition, I have seen thousands of Prius in the streets and in Google's parking lot, my rough estimate is one out of three. In addition, CalTrain and VTA seem to work quite well (maybe not up to German Standards, but there is quite a large network).

Note: My estimate about the Prius in the car park is mine and mine alone; I have not checked if there was any internal data and anybody can see that by checking the parking lot.

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Tuesday, 4 September 2007

If you go to San Francisco, be sure of...

be wearing flowers in your head? No, that's SO demode. If you go to San Francisco, actually, there are some things you will certainly do:
Go to Alcatraz
Go to Chinatown
Cross the Golden Gate
Go down Lombard Street (Herbie went down that street in The Love Bug, and the fact that I remember watching it projected from film, not from a computer, gives further support to my previous post)
Visit Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf

Howerver, there are a few other things really worth doing:
Going up the Coit Tower
Going to the Financial District
Walking under the falls in Vaillancourt Fountain (also called Quebec Libre!)
Going to the Muir Woods
Having a Shrimp dinner in Bubba Gump (it certainly takes some courage to make a Forrest Gump themed restaurant)

You know, Mama said San Francisco is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you are gonna get...

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Sunday, 2 September 2007

You are old...

...when the stuff you used at university is already in museums (not to mention half of your childhood).

PS: This is the museum link.
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Solving the turnover problem

In a company that I've worked there was a huge turnover (around 60% per year). This is a huge problem, as you can imagine. So, in order to improve this situation this company decided to avoid having pictures in their passes (used to open the doors), so when an employee left the company they just removed the label with the name from the pass and gave it to a new employee, with his own personal $0.01 label.

Maybe this offers some insight why there was such a high turnover?

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