Saturday, June 23, 2007

GMAT and MBA admissions

I've been corresponding with a student who asked for GMAT and MBA admissions advice. Here's my reply:

I took the GMAT in October of 2005 and applied to Oxford, Cambridge, Emory, and Northwestern by January 2006. I interviewed in February and March and was accepted to Oxford in early April. Thus, if you're just starting the GMAT, I would suggest that you shoot for the 2008/2009 school year, as it's too late to complete the GMATs and put together a well crafted application for the 2007/2008 year (I spent about 4 months on my essays and applications).

My GMAT score was 720 (96th percentile); 45 verbal (99th percentile), 44 quant (73rd percentile), and 5.5 essay (88th percentile). I used the Princeton Review book 'Cracking the GMAT'. I highly recommend this book, as it goes into great detail on the structure of the exam. This is a crucial aspect which is not covered well in most other books. I studied for two weeks, took lots of practice exams, then took the test.

If English is your second language, I would recommend improving your language skills and taking the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) prior to taking the GMAT. The TOEFL is virtually always required of non-native English speakers and the practice will greatly improve your GMAT performance.

In selecting a school, it'll be up to you to decide what fits your life best; full-time or part-time, day or evening, distance or class taught, one year or two. For me, the Oxford one-year full-time MBA fit best. I only lost one year of wages versus the standard two year US program, the reputation of the school is excellent throughout the world, and the tuition is relatively low. All in all, it was a great value for the money. Again, though, you must weigh all the factors and decide what fits best for your life.

As for admissions, keep in mind that the admissions process is the method by which schools maintain their quality (once admitted, schools will do everything in their power to ensure that a student does not fail). Three things are critical; GPA, GMAT score, and work experience. If you're weak in one of these areas, then you need to convincingly explain why in your admissions essays. My advise would be to take the GMAT and look at MBA rankings such at the Financial Times and The Economist Which MBA? to get a feel for the average GPAs and GMATs of accepted students before applying.

Good luck!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Summer at Google!

Well, I'll finally break my silence on my summer plans. I'll spend the last week of June with my fiance in LA, then I start a two month internship at Google in Mountain View. My role will be as a retail sales associate. I'll be gathering market data to support the ad sales team within the retail vertical. I'm really excited about this opportunity and can't wait to work in a company with such a unique culture. My other plans include a weekend in Utah with my fiance, a trip to the NW to fix up my Mom's house, and a weekend in SoCal to celebrate my niece's birthday. This is going to be a fantastic summer! Post graduation, I'll likely join my fiance in LA and hopefully land a position at Google's Santa Monica or Irvine offices. If not, then I'll be hunting around for a marketing position within the media, high-tech, or medical device fields. So, if you know of any interesting opportunities coming up, I'd love to hear from you.


My best friend is doing a study abroad in Athens this summer. Unfortunately, I missed her when she flew through London, so I took a short trip to Athens to say hello. The last time I was in Athens was 2003. At the time, I found the ramshackle, chaotic nature of the place to be a bit disconcerting (too many easy comparisons to Tijuana). However, I really enjoyed the city this time. The 2004 Olympics left Athens with vastly improved infrastructure. The airport is new, the subways have been renovated and extended, and the tram cars are modern and efficient. The city is still ramshackle and chaotic (every building is in a state of perpetual construction, the swarms of motorcycles, the total lack of sidewalks), but it's easier to enjoy when you can reliably get from point A to point B. The food was great, the people were nice, and the relaxed vibe of the city on a warm summer night was just what I need after the endless assignments of Trinity term. For now though, back to the books.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Sailing in Oxford

Today I went sailing with a couple of MBAs and the Oxford Sailing Club on a little reservoir just west of the City. The boats were two person dinghies and we got paired with experienced sailors. This meant that I got to spend a few hours on the water with students from other majors. I had a great conversation with a computational statistician (think building the models run by financial services firms like hedge funds) who was also a die hard sailor. It was a really great way to spend the afternoon, but it certainly makes me regret not getting involved in more activities during my short time here. Message to the class of 2008; a year goes by really quickly, so make some memories outside of the classroom.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Services I disabled in Windows Vista

One way to speed up Vista is to disable all the services that Microsoft dumps on your system. Here's my list of disabled services. I haven't noticed any functionality difficulties with this configuration, but that may vary from system to system. I hope this helps some of my fellow frustrated Vista users. Good luck!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Office 2007 and Vista are HORRIBLE!

I'm feeling a bit nostalgic now that my computer runs like it's 1998. What total crap.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Dinner with Chris Sacca

Last night was one of those surreal and amazing Oxford nights. I was invited to a dinner to welcome Chris Sacca, Head of Special Initiatives at Google, as an Associate Fellow of the Said Business School. Chris has become very involved with SBS over the years, particularly in the annual Silicon Valley Comes to Oxford event. He's also an all around smart and genuine guy who always has something interesting to say, so I was really looking forward to the evening. There were thirteen guests in all, including Professor Colin Mayer, Dean of SBS, Professor Roger Cashmore, Principal of Brasennose College, and Dr Chris McKenna, Linda Scott, and Jonathan Black, lecturers at SBS.

The evening started out with some light drinks in the principals lodge. It was strange to be a student amongst a group of faculty and high level administrators, but the conversation flowed smoothly and I relaxed a bit. Chris McKenna, Linda Scott, and I talked a bit about the surveillance society and how many pragmatists (myself included) have traded a bit of privacy for the safety and convenience it brings. Though virtually every step one takes in the UK is recorded on video camera, this really does nothing but to generate countless hours of mundane tape of people going about their everyday lives. No big deal if you live your public life as if it was public, but maybe a bit more sensitive when it comes to public political actions like protests or sensitive personal events like family planning. Chris showed up along with Fiona Reid, Director of Entrepreneurship Said, and the conversation turned to Chris's blog ( and gun violence in America. However, we were soon directed to the Tower Bursury for dinner.

This is the room (just above the entrance hall in the picture above) where the college administrators used to count the money collected from students and farmers who rented college owned plots of land. The setting was amazingly ornate; wood paneled walls, ancient college crests, silver candelabras, and a long dining table decorated with 17th century silver pieces.

The food was great, but the conversation was really the highlight of the evening. Chris McKenna spoke of how every city has a question, such as How did you get here? (LA) What college did you go to? (Boston) How much is your rent? (NYC) Where do your children go to school? (London) and East or West? (St Louis and Jerusalem). The questions vary, but the underlying quest to develop a shorthand for classifying people remains the same.

The conversation then drifted to the neurological roots of racism and terrorism, specifically the role of mirror neurons in creating deeply embedding empathetic responses to images of suffering. Thus, highly educated, wealthy Arab men who have not directly experienced oppression can empathize so deeply with the perceived suffering of Palestinians that they feel justified in retaliatory acts of aggression. This is an interesting explanation of terrorism, but also raises questions as to the power of media to encourage or discourage these kinds of deep empathetic responses.

In the case of 9/11, each victim was brought to life in the media. We learned of their families, their hopes and dreams, and developed an understanding that the world was a lessor place due to their tragic loss. The American public has a deep empathy with the victims of 9/11, and when politicians invoke 9/11, the emotional response is so powerful as to override the intellectual response. However, what of the soldiers in Iraq? My opinion is that they've generally been abstracted to mere numbers. As Stalin said, one man's death is a tragedy, a million dead is a statistic. Does the lack of depth, of humanization of the suffering of soldiers and Iraqis, lead the American public to a certain callousness? Does 9/11 trump any debate on Iraq because of a lack of empathy? These are interesting questions.

Anyhoo, back to the dinner. I talked with Chris McKenna a bit about whether we lived in a time similar to just before the outbreak of World War I; a time of massive, yet fragile globalization and tectonic technological shifts in the way we organized our daily lives. Could globalization be halted or reversed? What of the falling dollar? Again, interesting questions and interesting conversations.

The evening wound down with desert and several rounds of wine and port from the Brasenose cellar. We bid farewell and I wandered out into a beautiful Oxford night, my mind swimming with ideas and a certain thrill of being here, now.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Involuntary upgrades

This is PartitianMagic from Norton. This nifty program helps you to slice and dice your hard drive, for when you want to do stuff like load up a Linux operating system on your machine.

This is Ubuntu, a Linux operating system being sold on new Dell's. It comes with it's own word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation suite, and it's completely free. Seems like a fun thing to try. However, it's not as easy as that.

First, I ran PartitianMagic to carve out a cozy home on my hard drive for Ubuntu. Then I loaded up all the files, and used PartitianMagic to redirect my boot.ini file to look at the Ubuntu drive for all the files it needed to load when it started up. I rebooted and then...nothing.

I didn't load the Ubuntu files properly, in part because I'm a novice and in part because the community generated user manual are written by techies with no consideration for what non-technical readers might actually find useful. I consider myself advanced enough to at least attempt Linux, but still, it'd be good to generate consumer focused manuals to ease the switching process for newbies. Apple comes to mind as a good example of easing the transition.

Anyhoo, everything I threw at my laptop failed to bring it back from the dead. Further, I didn't have a Windows XP disc to reload the operating system, because Dell doesn't give you a Windows disc. Lame. After a day of frantic searching for a solution with a looming homework deadline, I ended up buying this:

So now I'm the proud owner of Vista, thanks to my failed attempt to upload Linux. Not exactly what I envisioned, but at least my computer boots up.

My grades

OK, first a few words about the Oxford random number generator. First off, the percentage range is radically shifted. In the US, anything over 70% is generally considered a pass and anything over 90% is an A. In Oxford, the pass line is 50% and anything over 70% earns you a distinction (and this is a real challenge, not the easy A grade inflation of many American universities).

However, grades are also adjusted to a curve, so the actual performance band is narrower still. The lowest passing average for the MBA for the past seven years is 52% and the highest is 69%, with an overall average of 61%. Thus, the entire range from failure to exceptional performance is only 17%, versus 30% in the US. Grades roughly fit a normal distribution, so the vast bulk of MBAs cluster around the 61% average. So, how did I do?

72 Decision Science (distinction!)
59 Developing Managers
66 Finance I
71 Financial Reporting (distinction!)
67 Managerial Economics

68 Strategy
66 Entrepreneurial Project (counts as two courses)
66 Entrepreneurial Project
63 Finance II
69 Financial Management (so close...)

65 International Business
55 Marketing
59 Operations Management
68 Tech Strategy

My average is 65.29%, so I'm well above the 61% class average. Translating this to an American GPA is quite tricky though, since I must assume a normal probability distribution as well as the number of standard deviations encompassed by the range of scores (ie, how much are scores clustered around the center). Crunching the numbers under different assumptions, I get GPAs of 3.52, 3.65, 3.76, and 3.84.

Thus, my best guess GPA is 3.69, the average of my four scenarios. Under all of my assumptions, though, I'm comfortably within the top quartile of my class. Not bad, but definately a change from the American system, where I got a solid 3.95 during my business courses.

Oxford MBA college selection advice

To the 2008 MBA class:

Congratulations on your admission to the Oxford MBA! I'm sure you'll find your year here to be both challenging and immensely rewarding.

I know how stressful it can be to select a college and to make arrangements for life in Oxford, and I hope that I can be of some use in easing your transition. As for selecting a college, I understand how frustrating the apparent lack of clear information can be. Fortunately, I can provide some guidance on the most important facets of the selection criteria.

Surprisingly, there isn't a significant difference between the various college. All of them have long and prestigious histories, grand and inspiring buildings, and a wonderfully diverse student body. So, how to choose? The factors that seem to matter most to MBAs are the size of the college, location, and the accommodations they offer.

My college is Keble, one of the largest college in Oxford. We have 435 undergrads and 226 grad students. Amongst the grad students, we have 14 MBAs. Thus, our MCR tends to be fairly lively, with lots of pub crawls, movie nights, and other activities.

The college is located fairly close to the center of Oxford. The city is small enough where you can reasonably walk from one end to the other, but some colleges, such as Templeton, are far away from the city center. This map offers some good guidance: The business school is right next to the train station on the far left, and it's about a 15 minute walk from Keble to the business school.

As for MBA accommodation, I think Keble has a distinct advantage. MBAs are housed at Acland, a former hospital converted to graduate dorms. On the map, we're right across the street from Green College. The dorms and clean and well appointed. Each room has an ensuite bath, a bed, desk, bookshelf, and wardrobe closet. There are several large, communal kitchens and regular housekeeping service.

Realistically, most MBAs spend the majority of their time at the business school as the intensity of the MBA program often prevents MBAs from becoming deeply involved in their college life. I rowed for Keble the first term and some row throughout the year, but MBAs often run into serious time constraints, especially during Hillary term. The common refrain at Keble is that the grads see the MBAs for the first few weeks, then we disappear for the rest of the year. Thus, the choice of college is a lot less important than many admits realize.

I hope this is useful in your college decision. Once again, congratulations on your admission to the Said Business School!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

A good general contractor for Vancouver, Washington

Just a shameless plug for a great local company. James at Elite Construction, (360) 798-4007 or (360) 834-6103 is awesome. He redid the roof at my mom's house and repaired some structural carpenter ant damage. His crew is dependable and experienced, and I'd highly recommend Elite Construction for your general contractor needs.

Friday, June 1, 2007

AppleSoft and TED

So what's up with Apple? For a company with the public image of being the David versus Microsoft's Goliath, are they really that different?

Take iTunes and .mp3s; my fresh out of the box Nano skips when playing variable bit rate .mp3s. Ditto with the Shuffle. These are the same .mp3s that worked great on my previous Mini. After some extensive research, I've concluded that Apple has known about the problem for a long time, but has done nothing to correct it as a way to drive users towards it's proprietary AAC format. So, I've had to recode all of my songs into unprotected AACs, and now they work fine. However, this has been a horrible experience and makes me very leery of buying an iPod in the future. I love my iPod and iTunes is great, but this kind of explicit lock-in is stifling and claustrophobic. At least Microsoft's Zune can play my friggin .mp3s (and unprotected AACs for that matter).

Next case, iTunes for Linux. Why does this not exist? I'm been eyeballing Ubuntu ( for my next OS, but this may be a deal breaker. My theory is that Apple wants OSX to be seen as the only viable alternative to Windows and it's leveraging its killer ap to attract customers through a halo effect while locking out Linux. Ditto for the lack of Zune for Linux. Lame.

Lastly, Apple's new 'DRM free' iTunes tracks come with a watermark of your name and email address. This makes sense to a certain degree. DRM has been a complete failure and watermarking allows copyright holders to track the pirating of their material. However, Apple wasn't transparent about this technology with the public, and thus looks more and more like big brother than a hammer toting rebel.

Meanwhile, The Stranger ( linked me to TED (, the annual Technology, Entertainment, and Design conference in Monterey, CA. Their site is crammed full of fascinating speeches by bright minds including Chris Anderson (The Long Tail), Jeff Bezos (, Bill Clinton (Oxford), Richard Dawkins (Oxford author of The God Delusion), Dan Gilbert (Stumbling on Happiness), Jane Goodall, Al Gore, Bjorn Lomborg (The Skeptical Environmentalist), Burt Ratan (XPrize), and of course Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google fame. I cannot plug this enough. These are some really thought provoking videos and a wonderful way to look a few years into the future.

Symbian and a good night out

Another week has now passed by. In just a month, Trinity term will be over and I'll be back in California. Come September, I'll officially be an Oxford MBA. My time here has just flown by. I kind of regret spending so much time with my nose in the books, working hard on assignments instead of going out and enjoying the city. I also regret not taking more pictures of my classmates and everyday routines. Sigh, so it goes.

On Tuesday the CEO of Symbian, Nigel Clifford spoke to my marketing innovations class. He was a really interesting, engaging, and intelligent speaker and shared his views of what it takes to build a successful high tech company. In general, Symbian has succeeded by aligning the interests of the major players in its industry and encouraging the development of an ecosystem of complementary assets. Nigel explained this as functioning within a two sided market; you increase your revenues by developing a part of the market that will indirectly increase your value to your customers. Similar to Nintendo collaborating with video game makers.
On Wednesday I uploaded assignment number five for the week and finally had some time to relax, so I did a pub crawl with a handful of MBAs. It was a fantastic night, though I was a little worst for wear the next day.