Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Response to "Hacking" Story

To whom it may concern,

I would like to respond to the following lawsuit and Bloomberg story alleging LinkedIn hacking into users’ email account, citing a three year old sentence in my LinkedIn profile as support:

Before I say anything else, I should say that I no longer work for LinkedIn - I left LinkedIn on good terms in May 2012. Whatever I say here represents my own personal view only, and does not represent the view of my former employer.

Firstly, I think the suit - Perkins v. LinkedIn Corp., 13-cv-04303, exploiting an understandably common fear of digital privacy invasion, is baseless. I am confident that after the dust settles, and clearer heads have a chance to examine the claims and all relevant evidence, it will be dismissed and LinkedIn proved innocent.

However, I feel compelled to respond to the the following line in the class action document that was repeated in the media - “LinkedIn software engineer Brian Guan described his role on the company’s website...” - citing the following section on my profile:

Principal Software Engineer
LinkedIn February
2010 – May 2012 (2 years 4 months)
... still devising hack schemes to make lots of $$$ with Java, Groovy and cunning at Team Money!

I was in shock when I read this in the story on Friday Sep 20th after a friend forwarded the Bloomberg article to me - it is a misrepresentation and a farce. The implication is that I broke the law with my employer’s endorsement and openly bragged to the world about it… seriously, guys?

I must point out that the word “hack” has more than one meaning in the high tech context.

The lawsuit and article seem to assume that “hacking” means “gaining unauthorized access to other people’s system and data.”

Among software engineers, the word “hack” carries another less nefarious meaning: clever and skillful programming. See some of the definitions in Wiktionary’s entry. Hacking in this sense often carries a humble, self-deprecating tone of done-fast-and-on-the-cheap, using shortcuts. A “good hack”, in this context, exhibits a certain poetic aesthetic and showcases technical wizardry.

This usage is the one I meant in my own job description. It is so popular among technologists that many others use it in their profile too. A casual search on LinkedIn or any other internet people search engine with the keyword “hacker” will bring up thousands of engineers and designers, currently “hacking” at Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Yahoo, Microsoft, e.t.c.

This positive “hacking” spirit is so celebrated that these highly respected and successful companies frequently host events called “Hack-Days” or “Hack-a-thons”, where engineers get together to compete at coming up with cool and innovative technical solutions and product ideas, often as cheaply as possible, and sometimes done for laughs - but no unauthorized “break-ins” were ever conducted at such events!

This use of the word “hack” is prevalent. The prominent high tech venture capital company Y-Combinator runs a popular blog call “Hacker News”, a co-working and learning space for technologist in Silicon Valley calls itself “Hacker Dojo”, thousands of open source software projects hosted on GitHub use the H-word in their project descriptions, and many successful fund raising campaigns on KickStarter use it to describe all kinds of widgets… Facebook even purposely named their headquarter address to be “1 Hacker Way”!

As for the rest of the sentence - “... making lots of $$$ … for Team Money!” - it was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek line, in the style of hip-hop artists talking about bling while brandishing a gold chain with a big dollar sign hanging on it. “Team Money” is the internal nickname for the Monetization Team responsible for developing and maintaining revenue generating products for LinkedIn. You will find this team described in a very positive light (and with a link to my profile) in a BusinessInsider article published last year.

My tenure at LinkedIn was a high point in my career. I worked with many talented and passionate engineers, designers, managers, and business people, all with utmost integrity, many with whom I have formed lifelong friendships. I was fortunate to join LinkedIn during its early years. I never personally worked on the email address book and invitation features questioned in the lawsuit. However, I had the pleasure to work on the conception of other innovative products such as Recruiter, which I believe provides a valuable service to job seekers, recruiters and employers, and is changing the recruiting industry for the better. When I wrote the offending “... hack … $$$ ...” line, I was feeling a sense of pride in Recruiter’s commercial success back in early 2010, despite its shaky “hacky” beginning when we had to cut some technical corners, in order to get version 1.0 out the door and into the hands of early adopter customers. A common story no-doubt familiar to the startup world.

Now that I have explained myself... Peace out.

- Brian Guan, hacker, the good kind.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Group Social Event Scheduling App?

OK, this week's simple idea.

I wonder why there is no app / website to help us coordinate social events?

One that is better than Evite and not requiring everyone to have all their events on some online calendar?

I am imagining an app that:

  • allows the event instigator/organizer to poll the potential interested group for idea(s)
  • with or without preset dates, but allow people to specify their preferences (strong or weak) beyond busy or available slots e.g. on Thursday afternoon I need to drive my kids to soccer but if it is the only time we can get most of the group to come I will ask my spouse to do it
  • with or without preset venues e.g. I prefer noodle bars, but I can do burger joints
  • present and rank possibilites by attendance 
I know scheduling is a "hard" computer science problem.  All the better.  If it is easy someone might have done it already.

The user interface may be a challenge too, how should one express fuzzy preferences effectively?

Anyone, just another week's thought.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Professional Sports Model Applied to School

Hi to my less-than-numerous readers,

Yes, we are back from our 2 months trip to Asia, and the kids are now back in school.  With all these new found free hours, I have no excuse but to start blogging again :-)

Since I have no new idea this week, I am gonna write about an old idea of mine that I discussed over lunch with a friend of mine today.

In the US, professional sports is fed by a pipeline of talent, with eco-system of scouts, coaches, scholarships starting from high school thru college, supported with incentives and contracts.

I wonder if we can apply it to schools in general?

Agencies (talent companies) can invest in promising young people who shows strengths and intelligence, but may lack resources or come from less than privileged background.   Such agencies can line up coaches and scholarships to help kids along the way, and shepherd them through a multi year process to realize their full potential.  At the end, either they are either honor bound or contract bound to work a job for the highest bidding company for a number of years that the talent agency has secured, hopefully benefiting all parties financially and professionally. 

Some might say this is some form of indentured servitude.  So is varsity and professional sports.

In fact, this system is used in many countries, though there is no middleman agencies, instead big companies sponsors kids directly.   By introducing a middleman, it allows smaller, younger companies to participate as well.  Grooming a talent takes years, think of it like futures contract.  So a younger company willing to take a chance on younger talents can go to agencies to see if they can take over some contracts about to mature.  Also investors can buy up promising young contracts to trade later.

Applying Capitalism to help fund Education to produce skilled labor force for the Knowledge Economy!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Solar powered Scarecrow and First Run Movies at Airports

This past week was super busy, packing for our 2 month trip and preparing the house since we are renting it out...

Anyway, I didn't have time to blog in details, but ideas are still flowing...  Just to name a few:

  • Solar powered scarecrow - we have random birds pecking our roof and it is annoying.  I am imagining something like the Roomba with solar panels and motion detection (and wireless webcam).  I heard other people have similar squirrels, raccoon problems too...
  • My wife Alison's idea making a guest appearance:  Theaters showing first run movies at the airport after security checks!  Encouraging people to arrive at the airport early to catch a movie as well as a flight!  For our non-US friends, we are urged to arrive at airport 3 hours before international flights and we usually just check-in and clear security and sit around the departure gate for an hour :-(

Monday, June 11, 2012

Taichi Push Hand Dummy

I somehow thought this week my creative juices will slow down, and I was really looking forward to use it to document some of my older wacky ideas like my con-lang viz-fon that I dreamed up when I was a teenager, my various mouse replacements like chair mouse, butt-pad, exercise ball gyro etc.  Boy I was wrong.

So, this morning's idea: Taichi Push Hand Dummy.  I even drew a draft on my notepad at 4am this morning!  

Taichi Dummy Draft at 4am...
Steam Punk Robot?
Those who've known me for a while probably know that I am interested in martial arts, and have been studying Chen-style Taichi under Master Zhang Xue-Xin for quite a while.  Master Zhang is one of the best Taichi master alive, and at age 85 he can still neutralizes any of our sucker pushes or random locks and throw us to the ground with ease, while maintaining a look of calm disdain.  The problem is, I still can't do any of that, even after over a decade of practice.

One of the many missing components in my practice is that I don't do push-hands with a partner enough.  Mostly due to my own timidity due to my low level of Taichi, but the reality of life definitely plays a part. Taichi is definitely not a popular sport among my age and social group.

So I thought I should make myself a push-hand partner.

The idea of practicing martial art with a roughly human size prop is nothing new.  Heavy bag for punching and kicking, Makiwara for Karate, the newer incarnation of the heavy bag - Bob, various MMA grappling dummies, but the one that has always captured my imagination is the Wing Chun Wooden Dummy木人樁  (Cantonese: muk yan jong/Mandarin: mu ren zhuang), first introduced to the masses by the late Bruce Lee.   Here's a link to an excellent Youtube video of a Wing Chun master practicing a traditional routine using a wooden dummy:

Wing Chun Mok Yan Jong
There are even wacky/cool robotic Muk Yan Jong that will punch back!

Taichi push-hand is traditionally practiced with a live partner, or less effectively with an imaginary partner.  No equivalent of a heavy bag or dummy practice exists, as far as I know.

You may asked: "Why not just use the wooden dummy, or some heavy bags with strap on appendages for Taichi practice?"

I think the main difference is that push-hand is mostly a close quarter sticking/following, push/shove, neutralize, throw, shoulder/body checks practice, and Chen style has more elements of grappling and joint locks, leg/knee techniques mixed in.  See this excellent video of a great example of push-hand:

Great Push Hand Video

As one can see, punching, kicking, and hard blocks are not central to push-hands.  Therefore heavy bags and wooden dummies are really not adequate.

Some design goals:

  • It should resemble a human body with arms and legs - like life size mannequins used by artists 
  • It should weigh like a grown up - say 150 to 250 pounds
  • It should be a free standing but stable structure - I want to be able to give it a good shove to send it sliding/bouncing backwards by a few feet and the structure should still be standing.  Hence the multiple legs
  • It should have movable joints resembling hip, knee, back, shoulder, elbow, wrist, that can return to a natural configuration after manipulations.  Hence the ball joints and spring coils
  • It should have rotatable waist and shoulder. Hence the ball bearing chest and abdomen
  • It should have detachable arms (and may be detachable legs) to allow for different configurations, with options for punching arms, double forward push palms, circular "ward-off" arms, long extended soft bendy arms
  • It should have padded surface all over just for good-ole whacking and kicking, general entertainment after a bad day
If we make it this far, a natural extension would be to somehow add programmable robotic automation for the circular arm movements, arm configurations from push to circular block, weight shifts, light to heavy resistance, reaction by touch etc.   That sounds like 2 to 3 order of magnitude harder than a static dummy though.

There, do you think it is worthy of a Kickstarter and/or Maker Faire project?

P.S. I doubt I will get many views on Apple's 2012 WWDC first day, not that I am getting many views to begin with :-)  But man, I want those new Macbook Pros!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Politics without Ideology

(This week's crazy idea...)

One of the handful of common feelings shared by everyone across the political spectrum is that we all share our deep mistrust and dislike for politicians for their partisanship and seemingly unfounded/irrational ideology!  It is getting more and more about us vs them, rather than about the common good.

Necessary evil of democracy - or is it?

I would rather abandon this whole idea of parties all together, like what our founders intended.  But that is probably a little too improbable just yet...

For now or the near future, I wonder if it is viable to have a party with no ideology, with candidates running on the sole platform that they WILL make decision on any public issue solely based on their constituencies wishes - using social media. (hey, I am limited by my own experience and imagination, OK?)

The gist:

  • All voters in a district are highly encouraged to register themselves on some site - or convince someone like Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, (SurveyMonkey?) or brian' to operate it...
  • Once elected, the official will run a survey on ALL "public" issues (at least those that has some lead time like 72 hours or more...) that he or she needs to make a decision on and broadcast to registered voters via email, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, SMS etc
  • The elected official will make the decision solely based on the result of such survey.  If there is no critical mass, say 50% of electorate, or if there is a statistical draw, he or she will vote absentee or take no action if allowed to
Yawn.  You might think should someone even win an elected office on such a stupid platform, most voter will not bother to take such surveys or even qualified to wade through supported documentations to understand the implications.  I think so too.

But hear me out...

    • The voter can pre-select people during registration whom they trust so to auto-"follow"/"mirror" the trusted sources' responses in the event that a voter didn't respond to a survey directly
    • If none of the designated trusted sources vote directly, their trusted sources' vote will be followed
    • The voter can choose to be notified whenever his/her first line trusted voter has voted or not, but will NOT be able to see which way they voted
    • If the voter choose to take a closer look at a survey and still decide not to vote, he/she can also pick another voter to "follow" just for that issue
    • A refinement could be to designate trusted sources by some categories e.g. for local issues, I trust John, but for national+taxation+economics I trust Jane, and for all others, I follow Jon Stewart, then Stephen Colbert
    • Thus a web of influence is formed - classic Social Network applied to Politics!
    • Voters can also see how influential they are by the number of followers they have, or number of actual decisions they actually influenced
    • Major influencers can also be identified and be approached for early feedback, advise, or lobbying?
    • The elected official will publish his/own decision against the result of the survey, with aggregate data to allow public analysis, but individual voter's response will be made anonymous and protected, with individual actual response available to that individual (or whenever there is some criminal investigation with court subpoena ?)
    Obviously this works only for highly online constituencies like Silicon Valley, where the percentage of electorate with reliable Internet access is very high.

    However, I don't think I will bother to investigate such data today, because that sounds like work.  Putting ideas down in a blog is already taking too much of my day dreaming time :-)

    Health Nut Insurance

    One of the less fun aspect of not working for a paycheck is that you need to (and you should) find medical insurance for yourself and your family.

    My former employer LinkedIn do offer some great plans under COBRA, but when you actually have to pay for all of it yourself, it is - uh - pricey.

    So I looked around for alternatives and no surprise, as an individual buyer, your options are limited, and the prices are even less attractive!

    I thought there might be some ways to join (or form) a non-employment based group to gain group bargaining power with those mighty insurance companies, and even asked a question related to that on Quora - see

    I got a few views, but no answers, yet.

    This got me thinking, and the idea of Health Nut Insurance is formed.  The gist:

    • It is a regular insurance plan (e.g. PPO, say 70% co-insurance, low deductible, low copay...) that anyone should be allowed to buy in, even with questionable health, and the starting premium will be HIGH, say $1000 per individual per month (but hear me out...)
    • subscribers can then "earn" kickbacks or discounts for their monthly premium based on verifiable healthy behaviors captured with some bio-metric gizmo (wristband + bathroom scale + pee sampler?) connected to your smart phone - you do have one of those don't you? For example:
    • Every mile you run you earn $5
    • Every 5 mile you ride your bicycle you earn $5
    • Every 10 minute you swim you earn $5
    • Every 10 minute you do Yoga or Taichi or meditate you get $5
    • Every day you weigh in and show that you are maintaining your weight, or safely lose some if you are a little overweight like me,  or safely gain some if you are a little underweight like some skinny ex-super model or recovering patient, you get $5
    • If you are overweight, skip a meal to earn $5 (up-to say 3 times a week)
    • If you maintain ample and regular sleep you get $5 per week
    • ... so on and so forth ...
    So with healthy life style you can cut your monthly premium to affordable level, like $100 per month, while having a great health insurance plan.

    There is MORE...
    • If you drink alcohol, ingest 5 cups of coffee per day, take questionable substance, as captured by highly encouraged weekly pee sample data, your premium goes UP! 
    • If you do nothing or didn't bother to gather and send bio-metric data, every month you will be reminded with high insurance premium
    • If you miss your mandatory annual check up you might even lose your coverage.  
    Wait, there is EVEN MORE!
    • You get to brag about your great achievements on social media Facebook, Twitter, Google+

    This way, reasonably healthy and responsible people get to enjoy affordable high quality coverage, and the pool grows bigger and healthier as a result!

    I am not sure if this is acceptable under current laws, but I think it is worth a blog post...