A Sense of Well Being

After such a crazy year, this 2 week holiday break has been much anticipated and it didn’t disappoint with 3 more days to go. Things started mellow out a week before the holiday break began. Many people have taken off then, the office was getting quieter and quieter by the day. The sense of wellbeing started with a simple meal.

As i mentioned before the cafe in my building was considered by many to be too healthy. It became my default cafe to grab lunch because there would never be a line even during peak lunch hour. However, there will be days even i would avoid it. The cafe only has one main meat dish a day. I am not picky but i draw the line when it comes to turkey. Holiday season usually means lots of turkey. So i had to branch out.

Unfortunately the other two cafes in my office complex both are extremely popular which means super long lines between 12-1. But there is other ways to avoid the lines. One of my co-workers would opt to get noodle soup which never has a line. I found something else. One of these cafes always put out two extremely great pasta dish every day, one meat, one veggie. Some sample entries to give you some idea how great these pastas are:

Day X:
* Whole Wheat Saffron Tortiglioni with Creamy Butternut Squash Puree, Toasted Walnuts & Citrus Zest
Whole Wheat Pasta (Whole Wheat Flour, Semolina Flour, Egg, Saffron), Squash, Cream, Walnut, Onion, Carrot, Canola Oil, Salt & Pepper, Parsley, Thyme, Wine, Cheese, Corn Starch, Lemon, Mild Pepper
* House Made Spaghettoni with a Braised Veal Ragout & Caramelized Shallot
Semolina Pasta (Semolina Flour, Egg), Beef, Onion, Celery, Carrot, Shallot, Wine, Chicken Stock, Cheese, Tomato, Sugar, Thyme, Citrus, Corn Starch, Canola Oil, Salt & Pepper, Parsley,

Day Y:
​* Whole Wheat Pasta with Grilled Endive and Beurre Rouge
Whole Wheat Pasta (Whole Wheat Flour, Semolina Flour, Egg), Endive, Pequillo Pepper, Onion, Butter, Red Wine, Butter, Garlic, Citrus, Canola Oil, Salt & Pepper, Bay Leaf, Parsley, Sage,
*​ House Made Angel Hair with Mussels in a Bacon & Mushroom Cream Sauce
Semolina Pasta (Semolina Flour, Egg), Mussel, Bacon, Cream, Wine, Mushroom, Shallot, Garlic, Corn Starch, Thyme, Canola Oil, Salt & Pepper, Parsley,

Day Z:
* Whole Wheat Penne with Sauteed Arugula in a Crimini Mushroom Cream Sauce
Whole Wheat Pasta (Whole Wheat Flour, Semolina Flour, Egg), Arugula, Cream, Mushroom, Butter, Cauliflower, Wine, Canola Oil, Salt & Pepper, Parsley, Thyme, Corn Starch, Cheese, Truffle Oil
* House Made Buccatini with Braised Pork Belly in a Roasted Garlic & Tomato Sauce
Semolina Pasta (Semolina Flour, Egg), Pork, Tomato, Onion, Garlic, Canola Oil, Salt & Pepper, Parsley, Basil, Oregano, Thyme, Sage, Sugar, Corn Starch, Cheese

Incomprehensibly there was never a line in front of the pasta station. So i would load up in both pastas, then get a soup and a salad. It reminded me of those days traveling in Italy.

One such day right before my holiday break, i got my lovely pasta and a great salad with all kinds of green, walnuts, and pears. This simple yet delicious meal made my day. Not only the tasty pasta reminded me of our happy travel days in Italy, but also the greens reminded me how we craved for fresh veggie and fruits while we were in Paris one Thanksgiving holiday. Whereelse could we be blessed with such abundance of fresh foods if not in the Bay Area, in the dead of the winter?

Things only got better since then. Watched good movies in the theatre, did some shopping, took Noah to all kinds of places that I haven’t been for a while, the Sutro bath ruin on Ocean beach, the Flora Grubb nursery in Bay View, an empty playground in a rainy day, the local library, our farmers’ market (again loaded with all kinds of fresh fruits: apples, persimmon, all kinds of oranges, grapes, avocado, and even raspberry), or just a walk around our neighborhood blocks. It also didn’t hurt that Noah has been so cooperating, he seemed to enjoy these activities as much as i did.

This afternoon when Noah and ZM were napping. I took the car out for an oil change. Read a surprisingly entertaining article in the latest New Yorker magazine while i waited for the car to be ready. As I was driving home, after days and days of continued rain, the sun broke through, and the blue sky started to show. That moment of bliss seemed so complete. I thought, “This is it.” Everything was in balance in my life. My world is a perfect circle.

I will try to remember that moment when things get tough again.

Third Try is the Charm

My first encounter with a tablet was over a year ago. It was a Galaxy Tab 10.1″. I was intrigued by this new toy. I was coming up with all kinds of theory why tablet was popular, and i thought it all made sense. It is mobile, and it is perfect for browsing.

The honeymoon lasted for about two weeks. Then it just sat there collecting dust. Because whenever i wanted to look something up, i would always opt for my mackbook air. The Air was just as light and it had a keyboard. Just for light reading, i much prefer my kindle. The Tab’s 10.1″ formfactor seemed clumsy and awkward. I was also turned off by the Android OS on the Tab, the fact it never updates with the latest Android OS release seemed backward and frustrating.

Then Nexus 7 came out at Google IO, and i thought, perfect. It was smaller, and it would always have the latest Android since it is part of the Nexus family. When it arrived, played with it for about an hour and i realized it was again a mistake. I quickly sold it to a co-worker who wanted a Nexus 7 without the 7-10 days wait.

Could it be Android vs. Apple? Maybe i should try an iPad and then i would know. But some of my co-workers said they had both iPad and Android tablet, but they didn’t really use either on a regular basis. The weight of iPad also turned me off.

Maybe there were tablet people and laptop people. and I happened to fall into the latter category?

Another Nexus 7 materialized in my hands this Christmas as a gift. I tried it again, who would have known? I’m now hooked.

The reason is a single piece of software: Flipboard.

The browsing experience was so pleasant on Flipboard that I don’t want to read anything outside of Flipboard. When a link led me to a web browser, i would immediately close down the browser(mainly cuz most web page looks hideous on a tablet, especially when you just left something as gorgeous as flipboard). It was like a drug. I also loved the fact that so many popular Apple applications have been ported to Android: Flipboard, Zite, Pocket, Instapaper.

I’ve only had the new Nexus 7 for less than a week, but i’m already gravitating toward it whenever i am about to read anything longer than a tweet. My only complaint now is its weight. I wish it could be as light as my kindle, which is the perfect weight to hold in one’s hand for a long period time/read.

So it seems when it comes to consumer (this one in particular) satisfaction. Hardware, OS are all less important than the application that eventually runs on it.

Joseph Kennedy, ‘Patriarch’ of An American Dynasty

It was a very interesting freshair interview yesterday: Joseph Kennedy, ‘Patriarch’ of An American Dynasty.

I didn’t know much about Joseph Kennedy at all. This interview was a great history lesson for me. Two things stood out for me.

One is that Joseph advised all of his nine children to go into public service, instead of going to business. “I’ve made all these money for you so you don’t have to. Give something back to the public, instead.”

Another is his remark to Churchill at the end of WWII, “what good did it do [referring to US entering the war]? now we have Stalin instead of Hitler? Both are threatening capitalism. One is no better than the other.”

The latter was such an interesting question. Indeed, why is Stalin better than Hitler? Is it because a cold war is still miles better than a hot one? Stalin won’t openly invade Europe like Hitler had?

Chairman Mao’s Great Famine

Gui left a pointer to this New Yorker article on Chairman Mao’s Great Famine. It is a very interesting read.

The main theme of the article seems to be how wrong the west has been about China. From their judgement on Chinese famines in the past to the vitality of today’s communist party. Although on the surface it is supposed to be a book review on two recently released books on Chinese’s Famine during the Mao years. One is an English (abridged) translation of a research published by a Chinese journalist Yang Jisheng–“Tombstone” and another by Alexander V. Pantsov and Steven I. Levine, “Mao: The Real Story,” draws on Russian archives.

The opening paragraph of the article described the “Incredible Famine” happened during Qing Dynasty, between 1876-1879. 13 million perished.

…according to the British-owned North China Herald, an influential mouthpiece of the Western business communities clustered in Shanghai, the famine was proof of the folly of big government — the Qing imperial administration. A fatal Chinese indifference to science, to railroads, and most important, to laissez-faire economics was to blame. The famine and the many deaths in China would not have occurred “in vain,” the Herald editorialized, if they could persuade the Chinese government to cease its paternalistic interfering in the laws of “private enterprise.”

Never mind that more than twelve million people had died during the Madras Famine of 1877, even though India had been equipped by its British rulers with railroads and a free market in grains, or that Ireland, during the Great Potato Famine, thirty years earlier, had suffered from Britain’s heartlessly enforced ideology of laissez-faire. The herald deplored the “antiquated learning” of the Chinese, and described the heroic figure who could rescue China from misery: “The man wanted in China now, as in its early days, is a patriotic engineer,” someone “single-minded and energetic” and possessing “commanding energy and resolution.”

In due course, China got just such a big-thinking, single-minded “patriotic engineer.” His name was Mao Zedong.

That’s one fantastic piece of writing! Even though I won’t ever characterize Mao as an engineer.

The article went on to conclude that the West continuous to underestimate Chinese communist party’s ability to learn from lessons of their own and the rest of the world, and their ability to adapt and adjust itself to today’s world.

It reminded me of what Peter Hessler has noted in his first Book from his China trilogy, ‘River Town – Two Years on the Yangtze‘。

He was the only student who has anything like a dissident, and I remembered how I had imagined those figures before coming to Fuling. I had always assumed that they were noble characters — charismatic, intelligent, farsighted, brave. Perhaps that was the way it had been in 1989, and perhaps it was still like that in the bigger cities; but here in Fuling things were very different. My best students — Soddy, Linda, Armstrong, Aumur; the ones who were charismatic, intelligent, farsighted, and brave — those were the ones who had been recruited long ago as Party Members. If you had any talent you played by the rules; being a Party Member was good for your career, and in any case all of the students seemed to think that it was good to be patriotic in the narrow way that they were told to be. The image i had once had of the Chinese dissident had no reality in Fuling.

All I had was Rebecca — he was the only one, and he was a loser. He was a bad student, and he was socially awkward. He had no friends. He had a girl’s name. Some of these characteristics had conspired to set him apart, and in his bitterness his ideas had undoubtedly swung even further from the Party line. If there were big changes in China’s future, it was hard to imagine them coming from people like Rebecca, or, for that matter, from any of my other students.

Back to 1942

On Chinese cyberspace, people have been raving about Feng Xiaogang’s new movie “1942” (English title was “Back to 1942”).  I was envious of people in China who could watch this in the large screen and bitterly resenting the fact that we had to wait it comes out on bittorren land, and watch it in our small screen at home.

Then i accidentally saw it is currently playing in a Cinemark theatre in the bay area! Afraid it would be moved off the theatre’s play list soon, we rushed to watch it this afternoon.

It is one of the best movies come out of P. R. China in the last few years. A very well told story, extremely moving without being overly sentimentalized.  Good staging, custom design, and epic style cinematography over the rugged landscape of northern He Nan province. It’s a kind of “Schindler’s List“ for Chinese people.

I was surprised by how diverse the elements involved in the story was: the peasant, the corrupted officials (from army to civilian, from the governor circle to the local township), the grand display of Nationalist central government in Chongqing, the Japanese (again from the strategist to the foot soldier), the American Journalist from Time Magazine, the Priest (One American, One Chinese), and the Nationalist armies(again from the foot soldier to the top generals). Everyone has its place and role, they each help the story to unfold. Adding their own shade to further the misery of the refugee fleeing from the famine.

ZM told me of 1942 before its release. He said it really should have been called 1962. The people who made the movie couldn’t make one about the great famine in 1962 under the communist rule, so they chose the famine 20 years earlier under nationalist rule. Surprisingly, the movie was allowed to show in China without getting killed by the propaganda department.

3 Million people died in the 1942 famine, ten times of that died in 1962.

On our way back to the city, i asked ZM, “If communist party had been in power during the japanese war, do you think they will do the same by retreating from He Nan, so they could hand off the starving He Nan people to Japanese?”  ZM was quiet for a long while. First i thought maybe he was thinking of an answer. Later i realized he was just dumbfounded. He couldn’t believe i would ask such a naive question and he was trying to figure out whether i was joking. Finally he said, “they would only do worse. and they had. Just look at 1962.”

I knew he was right. But somehow i thought a government tends to be much worse during a civil war than when it was fighting a foreign power. Somehow the brainwash i have received since i was young in mainland china still left its mark. I somehow still think communist party would care about its image more than the nationalist and they won’t dare to be found out they have abandoned their own starving people. Maybe that fear will hold them to do the right thing.

On the other hand, the movie portrayed Chiang Kai Shek as someone who was extremely calculating and shrewd.  Then i realized that being calculating and shrewd is the easy part for a politician. The hard part is for people in power to have a principle in mind, to try to do the right thing even when it doesn’t agree with the calculation and common sense politics.  From that sense, communist party is even more reckless and has less (zero) sense of morality than the nationalists. They couldn’t care less about right and wrong.

They learned from all the Nationalist Party’s mistakes and made sure no one could interfere with their famine in 1962. There was no journalist(foreign or native) to create troublesome investigation report.  Communist party didn’t even allow people to flee the famine. Instead they were forced to die locked in their barren homeland.

In the movie 1942, the small band of refugees were given some kind of hope throughout of the movie, even at the end, there was a flickr of hope remain.  In 1962, there would be none. We’ve all read Yu Hua’s novel depicting that time “To Live”.

Not sure i would ever want to watch a movie about 1962 if anyone ever managed to make it.

I realized that my rant made this movie seemed really depressing. But in fact i was surprised at how restraint the movie has been. It didn’t really try to sensationalize the tragedy. It just tried to tell a story, and it did, very well. The diverse elements of the story makes it an interesting one. It is a good movie.

Some reference material i dug up tonight about the events depicted in the movie:

– Theodore White’s chapter on “Honan Famine” in his book “Thunder out of China”
Theodore H. White and Journalism as Illusion
Photos accompanied Theodore White’s March 1943 TIme article on Honan Famine.

Skyfall

Sean Connery’s 007 was before my time, I don’t even remember if i’ve ever watched them.  I’ve watched Pierce Brosnan’s 007 movies, they were entertaining. Until I saw Casino Royale, then i suddenly understood what it was like to love a 007 movie. Daniel Craig is totally my favorite 007.

I don’t remember how many times i’ve watched Casino Royale.  I loved the title sequence, loved the actors, loved the lines, loved the plot, loved the action, loved the scenery, loved the heart-breaking love story, loved the chemistry between Bond and Bond’s girls.

Then i watched Skyfall.  I don’t remember i’ve ever watched a more beautiful title sequence. It gave me the goose bumps just thinking about it now.  I want to watch the movie again. It would be worth it to just experience that five minutes of the title sequence one more time.

The first half of the movie was pure bliss.  The cinematography was gorgeous. The action sequences were breathtaking: Istanbul, Shanghai, Macau.  The story went flat once the plot reached England. The subway chase and the final shoot out at Skyfall just seemed too long. I simply lost interest.  But the first half was so good, that one would forgive its faulty 2nd half.

Motorcycle chase seems to become really trending these days.  Bourne legacy ends with a super long and boring motorcycle chase scene in Manila. Dark Knight Rises has some decent motorcycle chase scenes in the middle (after the stock exchange “robbery”).  Skyfall opens with a fantastic motorcycle chase in Istanbul.

One detail really bothered me. M’s decision at the beginning of the film. She later told Bond that she was deciding between one agent’s life against all those agents’ whose names were on that Harddrive (people still use harddrive? what happened to cloud computing?). But that was such a false argument. At that moment, the real decision for M was whose skill she trusted more: Bond’s ability to get the job done, or that girl’s marksmanship (ability to take a shot at two guys fighting on a moving train).  Apparently M trusted the girl’s ability with the gun more than she does Bond. Which seemed rather odd.  But then as one reviewer said, logic has never been a strong suite for 007 franchise. I shall not be so picky.

A bit of gossip behind the scene, apparently Daniel Craig recruited both the director Sam Mendes and Javier Bardem for this movie.

It mattered that it came from him,” says Mendes. “I don’t think I would have done it without Dan. It’s much easier going to Javier or Ralph knowing they’re already into the franchise because of Daniel. He’s made it cool in a different way.”

 

Craig also approached Bardem, a selective actor whose performance in “Skyfall” is already being considered among the best Bond villains.
“I asked him as well,” Craig confesses sheepishly. “Overstretching my job description. You’re an actor! Stick to f(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk) acting! You can’t go hiring people.”

“Obama Won!”

On the Chinese social site douban.com, a girl living in Boston said she went to watch the movie Argo last night. The theater was pretty much empty. Half way through the movie, the girl who was manning the popcorn stand burst into the auditorium and announced very excitedly to the audience, “Obama won! Obama won!”

So Obama won.

Before i was about to regain my confidence in the democratic process and the people of the USA, i remembered that GWB also was elected to his second term in 2004. How bad a president do you have to be before you are denied the 2nd term? Maybe we should all have seen this from a long way off, like Nate Silver has. Maybe all these drama was nothing but hot-air artificially drummed up by the media and talking heads.  Closely contested race makes better entertainment and ratings.

But then, maybe election has nothing to do with the job performance. Maybe it is all about the ground game, as depicted in this New Yorker article by Ryan Lizza: Obama’s Ground Game.  Apparently the President’s campaign team has been working on the ground for the last five years. They meticulously collected data, analysed the potential demographic that they could persuade, and they did the tedious and hard work of knocking on as many doors as they humanely can, doors that met the demographic need their data analysis told them to target.

And it worked.

Maybe that was how GWB won his two terms too. But this year the Republicans got lazy, they decided to throw hard cash at it, instead. Apparently hard cash can’t beat face to face human interaction.

Maybe it doesn’t really matter what the message those people peddled, the key is to perform that peddling face to face. The key is to talk to those voters face to face and have them feeling guilty if they don’t go and vote.

How else would you explain no one talks about white Evangelical now? While that was all the rage during GWB’s terms? Did all those powerful Evangelicals disappear into the hot air behind the middle class women who happens to be latino this year? It is like the marry go around, who will be the next hot demographic group in in 2016? Probably depends on what the winner of 2016 will be peddling. If you believe the talking head on TV, you would have to believe the country has, overnight, turned from extreme religious zealots into thoughtful middle class who cares about the environment, wants the congress to work together, and to redistribute wealth. :-/

In Chinese, we say 成者为王败者为寇。”The Winner Became the King, the Loser Became the villain. ” Same goes for the message they peddle. Whoever wins the election gets to broadcast their message in the main stream media.

While the real show happens behind the scenes, on the ground, face to face between a campaign volunteer and a potential voter in a county of a swing state that could contribute to the 270 electoral votes statistically.

The New Yorker Digest: Sept. 10, 2012

It is another issue I read cover to cover and love every article.

First off, the cover. Noah has taken an interest in the magazines lying around the house. Sometimes, he would pick up a copy up, flip through the pages, and “read” for a few minutes. Mostly he was attached to a commercial insert of on the back covery, e.g. a close up of a classic watch, or some celebrity’s portrait. But this time he saw me reading it at the kitchen counter, and fell in love with this cover. He spent a good 2-3 minutes studying it, very seriously. ZM and I were amazed, wondering what he was thinking, what aspect of this cartoon that drew the attention of a two year old?

I started reading this issue on the night when Bill Clinton gave a speech during DNC. Naturally i started with the first article The Political Scene – Let’s Be Friends – Barack Obama and Bill Clinton reconcile. It is okay. Informative. I found the Fresh Air interview with Michael Lewis on “Obama’s Way” more interesting. Michael Lewis is the author of “Big Short” and “Moneyball”. He spent lots of time following Obama around for a few months and wrote this piece for Vanity Fair. For me, the most interesting tidbit from the interview was that Obama learned that one’s ability of decision making degrades as the number of decisions one faces increases. So he eliminated lots of trivial decisions from his daily life so he could concentrate on the decisions he had to make on the job. Trivial decisions example: which suit to wear every day (Obama get rid all of his suits except the black and blue ones),

“Check, Please” – The challenges of fine dining. It is about the owners of Eleven Madison Park a four-star ranking in the Times and three stars in the Michelin Guide. Innovation of changing restaurant protocol to meet the bottom line. Apparently the single most important factor that contributes to a restaurant’s profitability is how fast it could turn over a table to the next guest.

 – “Beyond the Matrix” – The Wachowskis take on “Cloud Atlas.” It is no longer “Wachowski Brothers. Because Larry Wachowski has became Lana Wachowski during the shooting of The Matrix III. Reading this made me so looking forward to the upcoming movie “Cloud Atlas”, and also wanting to read the 500+ pages novel beforehand.

“High Rise” – A young architect’s building boom. Profile of a Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, thirty-seven years old. He is living in NYC right now to oversee the construction of this apartment building in Downtown NY.

 As cool as this building looks. Ingels’ first apartment build “8 House” in Denmark seemed even more impressive. “a figure-eight path on the exterior ‘lets you walk and bicycle along the rowhouse gardens all the way to the 10th-floor penthouse so you get this intimate, spontaneous social interaction on all levels—just like a public street…'”

 

The New Yorker: The Throwaways – Pawns in the War on Drugs

John Irving is one of my favorite authors. With the exception of his most recent three novels, I’ve read all his works. He once summarized the essence of a bunch of his novels. One of those comments stayed with me till this day. “…that’s what A World According to Garp is about — a father’s fear”.  I couldn’t explain why that particular comment left such a strong impression with me. I wasn’t a parent then.  Unlike Hotel New Hampshire, A Widow for One Year, or A Prayer for Owen Meany, A World According to Garp was not one of my favorite Irving tales.  I hardly remember its story line.  But i remembered his summary, “a father’s fear”.

This morning I had half an hour to finish reading this article in Sep. 3rd Issue of The New Yorker:

The Throwaways

-Police enlist young offenders as confidential informants. But the work is high-risk, largely unregulated, and sometimes fatal.

by Sarah Stillman

It made me angry, dumbfounded at how awful the law enforcement can be, how untrustworthy the machine of government can be. It also reminded me of John Irving’s comment about “a father’s fear”. Of course it also offered a flicker of hope, one advantage of a democratic society. It was fortunate that The US society have parents like Rachel Hoffman’s, who would try to make things right after they lost their daughter. While they themselves were left in the shadow of the tragedy still.

The article was very well written. The ending made me cry.

Living without the Cloud

Trying to work from China is such a bizarre experience.  The Cloud I have been taken for granted simply doesn’t exist in China.  While on-site in our business partner’s office, we would be lucky to have minimum internet access (http/https). VPN was not allowed. So we are subject to the full brutal force of the Great Firewall. No Docs, Sites, Google+, Twitter, Facebook, flickr.com. Gmail is intermittent, trying to download anything from a gmail attachment is hit and miss. Search on Google was unbelievably bad.  We happened to be in Chongqing during the same week of the carefully orchestrate murder trial of Gu Kailai. As a result, the word “Chongqing” became a “banned” search keyword. Trying to search anything contains that word will result in “connection reset by peer” (classic indication you’ve been GWFed).  So i had to use Baidu even when all i wanted to search for is as political as a “good restaurant”.

One of the first thing i did was to purchase a Chinese SIM loaded with data plan. I have a Galaxy Nexus, and used to getting HSPA+ connectivity in the bay area on T-Mobile’s network. With a CMCC SIM, the best connectivity i got was Edge.  Then with the often blocked Google.com connection, i felt like i was dropped back to the days when one has to use modem dialup connection to the internet.  Everything became excruciatingly slow.

Eventually i got so sick of watching the little spinning wheel indicating the never ending loading process, I avoid using the internet all together when i’m not in the hotel wifi range.

I understood the value of native applications.  They  provide a semi-sane user experience and the illusion of connection to the outside world. I used off-line Gmail on my desktop, Gmail app and Google Reader App on my phones.

But overall, i felt a strange sense of isolation. The world in the Cloud faded into the distance. Even more interesting was i stopped using the Chinese sites that i now have full access to (there is a reverse Great Firewall effect you don’t hear people talking about, for Chinese site with sensitive contents on them, trying to access them from outside of firewall will also result in “connection reset by peer” error).  I couldn’t explain the reason. As if accessing the consolation price only intensified the feeling of isolation.

All the while, the Chinese society kept on bustling along. All these people were happily enjoying the limited internet without the strong sense of loss and withdraw that i was experiencing. Even more admiringly, there were people “climbing over” the Great Firewall on a daily basis, merely trying to get to all these trivial content that we have been taken for granted.

Now i’ve been back in the comfort of highspeed Internet connectivity of Silicon Valley. Everytime I heard people say the word “Cloud Computing”, I would shudder and remember that little spinning wheel on my phone while i was in China, and the despair I felt then.

Magaret

Heard this interview on Freshair yesterday. ‘Margaret:’ Inside the ‘Fall’ Of a Teenager. Really interested in watching the movie. The director Kenneth Longergan also directed another movie that i loved, “You Can Count on Me”

The poem that was mentioned in the interview and apparently the reason of the title of the movie:
Spring & Fall: to a Young Child
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By & by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep & know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Chocolate, Santa Cruz

Unless a restaurant we used to love had gone downhill, I rarely bothered with the ones we didn’t like. But this experience was so jarring, I felt the need to warn all parents with young children to stay away from this place.

There should have been a sign up front the restaurant that stated “No kids allowed”,  then i won’t have come in to experience the single worst restaurant encounter ever.

We were on our way back from a long weekend in carmel. It was a Sunday, we decided to grab a bite in Santa Cruz. We arrived around 1pm. and Chocolate happened to be the first restaurant we saw, we liked the menu and we walked in. The place was mostly empty, only 20% of the tables were occupied out in the patio. Inside it was nearly empty. We were a party of 4 adults plus our 2 year old. Anyone who has been close to a 2 year old knows that they are never easy. Especially when they are hungry.

Shortly after we sat down, the curtain rod crashed down on top of my son! These were the lacy long curtains draped over the seat, maybe he accidentally pulled on it as he stepped over the seat. Thank God, my son wasn’t hurt! The waitress was very quick to pick up the curtain and the rod, she said “don’t worry about it, it happens all the time”.

The food came, my son sat down and started eating quite properly. When we just started to enjoy our meal. the most unbelievable thing happened. The owner marched to our table and started scolding us for “pulling” down the curtain. Shouldn’t we be the ones complaining them having unsafe decoration that fall on the top of a toddler?! I would imagine any other restaurant owner would be most concerned with the wellbeing of the child!  This owner has the guts to whine to us how difficult it is to put the curtain back up! Then the owner proceed to complain our son made too much noise.

If Children is not allowed, WHY didn’t this place has a sign up front? It is a restaurant. If i want quiet and peace, i would either eat at home or i would shell out $300 to eat at French Fucking Laundry.

We’ve eaten at far classier places with Noah in and around San Francisco and have never had such an awful experience.

I’m never coming back to this place, with or without my son, ever.

I don’t believe the owner of this place understands the meaning of “hospitality”. He has no business running a restaurant.

I always thought people in Santa Cruz are those who are into peace and love. In reality, i guess maybe it is just snobbery in disguise.

What a shame!

Euro Crisis

In the midst of Euro 2012 Championship, but all the media attention were focused on Greece’s potential withdraw from Euro.

Germany is trying to save Euro single-handed-ly. Or i shall say the US is trying to ask Germany to save Euro on its own.  TV pundits are trying to predict the doom of Euro, and the hardship ahead for Europe.

I couldn’t help remembering the book “Guns, Germs, and Steel”. The ultimate answer i was seeking while reading that book was, why did China fall behind while Europe blossomed in modern history.

“It[China] also led the world in political power, navigation, and control of the seas. In the early 15th century it sent treasure fleets, each consisting of hundreds of ships up to 400 feet long and with totla crews of up to 28,000, across the Indian Ocean as far as the east coast of Africa, decades before Columbus’ three puny ships crossed the narrow Atlantic Ocean to the America’s east coast. Why didn’t Chinese ships proceed around Africda’s southern cape westward and colonize Europe, before Vasco da Gama’s own three puny ships rounded the Cape of Good Hope eastward and lauunched Europe’s colonization of East Asia? Why didn’t Chinese ships cross the Pacific to colonize the America’s west coast? Why, in brief, did China lose its technological lead to the formerly so backward Europe?”

The book revealed its conclusion at the end, and it made perfect sense to me then.

“…precisely because Europe was fragmented, Columbus succeeded on his fifth try in persuading one of Europe’s hundreds of princes to sponsor him. Once Spain had thus launched the European colonization of America, other European states saw the wealth flowing into Spain, and six more joined in colonizing America. The story  was the same with Europe’s cannon, electric lighting, printing, small firearms, and innumerable other innovations: each was at first neglected or opposed in some parts of Europe for idiosyncratic reasons, but once adopted in one area, it eventually spread to the rest of Europe.

These consequences of Europe’s disunity stand in sharp contrast to those of China’s unity.  From time to time the Chinese court decided to halt other activities besides overseas navigation: it abandoned development of an elaborate water-driven spinning machine, stepped back from the verge of an industrial revolution in the 14th century, demolished or virtually abolished mechanical clocks after leading the world in clock construction, and retreated from mechanical devices and technology in general after the late 15th century.  Those potentially harmful effects of unity have flared up again in modern China, notably during the madness of the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, when a decision by one or a few leaders closed the whole country’s school system for five years.

Europe’s disunity has been its strength!  So Greece’ breakaway from Euro is no accident. It is burned into Europe’s DNA.  Germany, as always trying to play the unifying role. But Europe, being the diverse Europe, doesn’t want to be China.

In the long run, it might not be a bad thing.

W Taipei

Staying at W Taipei is like participating in a scavenger hunt without realizing it.  One continues to make new discovery of the amenity of the room.

On my second night, i was staring at this wall of white blocks, thinking to myself, what a waste of space. If this had been a regular residential room, what a lovely shelf space it would have made.

Then i walked closer and noticed the shelf right below the red dianosour seems to have a gap that is hinting at a door. I pushed the front of the shelf, viola! Coffee presser and electrical tea kettle!

When i shared my discovery with my co-workers at breakfast the next morning. One of them just made exactly the same discovery and the other was pleasantly surprised. He even complained of the lack of a tea kettle in the room on his survey after his last stay! Ha, i wonder what percent of patrons actually find the kettle.

Then yesterday evening when we were meeting up in the hotel bar after work. The conversation topic shifted to how nice the shower head is. I was puzzled. i thought the shower is fine, but nothing to write home about. One of my co-worker has this grin on his face, “that’s because you haven’t discovered the shower head on the ceiling!”

There is a shower head on the ceiling?!

Sure enough, there is! and it is HEAVENLY! Next time i renovate our bathroom, i’m putting one on the ceiling too! 🙂

This morning when i walked out the room to check out, i was wondering to myself how many hidden gem were left undiscovered as the door closed behind me…

New York City Trip Highlights

Gui said once that the biggest advantage of living in SF is you rarely gets “post-vacation-blues” because this is such a damn beautiful city. No matter which vacation spot you just returned from, SF is so unique and lovely that it could always hold its own ground.  The only exception will be during the summer of SF. 🙁

For the first time in his 22 months of living on earth, Noah tasted the sentiment of “home sweet home” last Saturday night when we got back. He stepped into our living room and started screaming in joy to be reunited with his old toys and familiar surroundings. I figure he probably had no idea what had happened in the last week while we were in NYC. Maybe he thought we have moved to NYC for good.

Chatting with Gui on the phone this morning, she laughed, “my apartment looked so NEW!”  I nodded in agreement, “yeah, our place has so much SPACE! and my roses are blooming like crazy in the BACKYARD!”

Before i’m settling into the comfort of San Francisco living. I want to record a couple of more highlights of our trip.

1. High Line Park in Chelsea

I’ve seen lots of photos of High Line park on the net, i’ve heard the rave review of its design. I had very high expectations of this park.

High Line Park Photo from the web.

High expectation usually means disappointment when one sees the real thing. But not high line park. It exceeds even my hyped up expectations. It is original, creative, and such a perfect fit for New York City. When design is done right, it not only provides pleasing and original visual, but it is also highly functional.  It is such a perfect park for this metropolitan.  Even for visitors like us, we thoroughly enjoyed it during our short visit.  The elevated pathway gives every visitor more space to breathe and a different perspective of the city.

Pictures don’t do its justice. One has to experience High Line park by being there to appreciate it. The environment, the sound, the various aspect of the neighborhood as you stroll along the park pathway from 14th street all the way to 30th.

Noah Loves Highline Park

so did i…

2. Met Opera

I’ve only heard of Wagner’s The Ring Opera series from serious Opera lovers. When Gui suggested Siegfried as pat of our NY trip. I happily agreed. Even though it is five hours long. I haven’t seen an opera for over three years. It was such a treat. Not only the stage design and lighting were creative and beautiful, but also the story line and music were rich and full of twists and turns (unlike most typical opera’s story line that just goes on and on about some silly love story).  Not to mention the thrill of being entertained by real actors for such a long stretch of time!

Watching this in New York City added another layer of attractiveness to the whole experience. It is one thing to drive home after a show like we do in SF. It is totally different to walk into the warm night, catching a subway train at Columbus Circle, surrounded by the still alive nightlife of a big metropoli. It makes the whole experience more “alive”. It made me feel part of a city–an almost alive organism that has its blood running 24/7.

We loved Siegried so much that we wanted to watch the next and final opera of the series which was scheduled to show on the Thursday of the same week and it is six hours long! But all the sub-100 dollar tickets were gone by then. We didn’t want to shell out $250 per head. Maybe next time when it comes to San Fran…

3. Metropolitan Museum

I forgot it was supposed to be the Louvre of the States until i saw the room after room filled with Van Gogh, Cezanne, Picasso, and Monet. Until we asked a gallery attendee 10 minutes before closing time, “Vermeer?” and he replied, “We have five Vermeer…” FIVE!!

What a treat!

Vermeer @ Met

Picasso @ Met

Modigliani @ Met

Madly In Love with NYC

Three years ago, Mi and I visited Alice in Seattle over July 4th weekend. We had a great time. But i thought Seattle was way too homogenous comparing to SF, too clean, too new, too YUPPIE. SF was a lot more diverse and gritty than Seattle. I was very proud of our little city by the bay.

The past Sunday we landed in NYC for our first vacation with Noah. and for the first time i realized the hugh contrast between SF and NYC. SF is too homogenous, too clean, too new, too YUPPIE.  Mostly it is too filled with the same kind of Silicon Valley people.  But NYC, OMG. all the bibles i’ve been reading on city planning, on how to create a vibrant and energitic city. They were all written based on NYC! They are living it!

The amount of energy is contagious. So many people, so many shops, so many neighborhoods, so many stories happening, 24/7. Gui and Matthew came with us this time, too. They were equally impressed. “It is like Europe and China combined, but better”. “it is a truly urban cosmopolitan.”

London, Paris, and Rome were all once the cosmopolitan center of the world. Now they are still great urban cities where people have been enjoying urban living for centuries. But they are no longer as diverse as they used to be. Like Paul Theroux said in “The Pillars of Hercules”:

The great multiracial stewpot of the Mediterranean had been replaced by cities that were physically larger but smaller-minded…they…had sorted themselves out, and retreated to live among their own kind. I had yet to find a Mediterranean city that was polyglot and cosmopolitan.

Even under the Ottomans, Smyrna had been full of Armenians, Greeks, Jews, Circassians, Kurds, Arabs, Gypsies, whatever, and now it was just Turks; Istanbul was the same, and so were the once-important cities of the Adriatic..It was hard to imagine a black general named Othella living in Venice now, though there were any number of Senegalese peddlers hawking trinkets there.

Certainly London and Paris are better than the current port cities of the Mediterranean. But when it comes to diversity they can’t hold a candle to New York. I met a British trador on my 3 weeks Ecudor trip, and we became really good friend. She blurred out once at dinner during our trip, “i’ve never met a Chinese person outside of a Chinese restaurant while i was in Europe.”  That was 2002. Things must have improved in the past 10 years. But the US have at least a few decades ahead of Europe in that respect.

Not sure if i’m crazy, but i’m seriously tempted to move to New York for a year or two. Just to experience such a great city first hand.  It is amazing it takes me this long to appreciate it.  I’ve visited NYC after i graduated from College. One would have thought being young, i would have loved the fast pase and the aggressiveness of the city. But it only intimidated me then.  Somehow, walking the same street, watching the same fast paced city living around me, i’m no longer bothered by its aggressiveness or its fast pace.  Maybe it was like swimming in treacherous river.  On one hand, i’ve learned a thing or two about myself and the world, so i could navigate it better. On the other hand, i also felt more grounded that I am no longer afraid of being sweeped away by the current.

Oct. 2002, when I visited Mi in NYC for the first time, he took this photo of me in the Temple of Dendur.

Nine and half years later, May 2012, he took this photo of me and Noah at the same place in the Metropolitan Museum. 🙂

Bees! Bees!

Coming to work today I got a couple of warnings from facility about thousand of bees swarming in a corner of our building complex. Our building cafe’s chef even did a special post about “swarming behavior“. Basically a beehive split into two when a new queen bee leaves and takes thousands of worker bee with her.

So this new group of bees coming out and doing house hunting in our neighborhood yesterday, and they decided to settle on a flowering tree in the front of our building.

The looped off area is on the right hand of the photo. In the center of the looped off area is the said flower tree.

I snapped the photo above from my window. It is raining and i saw people walking by and taking photos of the flowering tree with their cellphone.

Here is a close up photo our cafe chef used in his post:

Closeup on the bees on the tree trunk

Facility is trying to figure out how to gently tell the bees that this real estate is not for rent and they  have to move.

We’ve all heard all the cellphone towers have reduced bees population lately. And there happened to be a few mobile carrier’s cell installed on top of our building. We are wondering if the bees are attracted to these signals in the air?

Update: A little more research on Colony Collapse Disorder in bees, turned out the cause are not cellphone related, but more to do with infections or chemicals.  So our little plaza may not be a bad place for them, afterall, except all the foot traffic…

 

Mystery Orchid #2

Eight years ago, when I first tried my hands at keeping orchids at home. I came across the orchid community on orkut.com. I used to browse that forum full of admiration, watching those orchid expert describing how excited they were cuz the dying orchid they picked up from a-store/a-florist/a-side-walk were finally about to bloom and they had no idea what it looked like.

At the time, orchids that i bought just withered away after their store-bought bloom were spent.

Then, things change, and I learn.

Two years ago, I witnessed my first mystery orchid bloom, it was every bit as exciting as those orchid people described in that orkut community.

Today, the second mystery is solved. The process of waiting for it to bloom is like reading a very slow going novel…that has a very satisfying ending.

Dtps. I-Hsin Sun Beauty ( Phal. Salu Peoker x Dtps. Leopard Prince)

Mom picked this one up from the garbage dump of a florist near her work place. I’ve had it for a little over a year, i think. It grew two new leaves in that period. Originally mom suspected the entire batch (there were three of them) were the most common kind white moth orchid. But as the flower stem developed this winter, the colorful dots hidden inside become more and more prominent.

Looks like mom’s first orchid, a birthday gift from my sis back in 2002.

Siena 2009

During our trip to Italy in the Fall of 2009, we fell in love with Siena at first sight. Finding the couple of images from Siena for this new WordPress theme brought back flood of fond memories…

Piazza del Campo

Biccherne Covers

Gui suggested Siena as we were planning our trip. She reminded me of its appearance in the book we both loved: “Winds of War” by Herman Wouk.

He took a bus to Siena, a three-hour run up a rutted scary mountain road. Twice before he had visited the bizarre little town, all red towers and battlements and narrow crooked streets, set around a gaudy zebra-striped cathedral, on a hilltop amid rolling green and brown Tuscan vineyards.

Since the fourteenth century – so Byron had learned – nothing much had happened in Siena besides the Palios. A rich city-state of the Middle Ages, the military rival of Florence, Siena in 1348 had been isolated by the Black Death, and frozen in its present form as by a spell. A few art lovers now drifted here to admire the fourteenth-century paintings and architecture. The world at large flocked to Siena twice a year to watch the mad horse races, and otherwise let the bypassed town, a living scene out of an old tapestry, molder in the Tuscan sunshine.

Coming from the tourist swarming Florence, we loved seeing all the university students and locals walking around town when we got off the bus at Siena(an hour and 15 minutes bus ride away from Florence). We loved going into churches and museums and finding ourselves the only visiters and we could linger in peace without being asked to pay at every door way like in Florence.

The only drawback was our visit coincide with a sudden chilly spell that literately froze the town. It was not so bad during the day when the sun was out. But in the evening, the temperature dropped to 2-3C. The first night we put on every single piece of clothing we had in our luggage and braved the evening streets. We quickly admitted defeat. Grabbed two sandwich from the nearest deli and returned to our hotel room for some warmth.

We also encountered our first pleasant surprise of the trip: Biccherne Covers at “Archivio di Stato Siena” (Siena State Archive).

Biccherna is the Italian term used to describe small painted panels, named after the chief financial office of Siena, were initially created as covers for the state ledgers or administrative balance sheets between the 13th and 17th centuries. The biccherne provide a fascinating window into the daily life of an Italian city-state and evolving republic at the dawn of modern economic thinking.

In 1257 the Office of the Biccherna, …inaugurated the custom of commissioning panel paintings from the best artists in the community to function as the covers of its semi-annual collection of public ledgers.

The layout of the boards remains unchanged: at the top there is the painting and at the bottom the inscription bearing the date, the names of the main components of Biccherna, the arms of their families.

We first encountered these covers on our first walk to the Duomo (the “zebra-striped cathedral” described in Winds of War). A young man sitting in a small shop painting his version of these covers. They were fantastic. I then found out about the free tour at the State Archive where hundreds of such cover has accumulated and being preserved.

I loved the combination of the painting, the inscriptions, and the binding materials: gold plate mixed with jet-black inky background, metal studs, leather strips. They looked like those magic books from Harry Potter! ZM loved the varied and vivid arms from different families.

Who would have thought something so beautiful could have been created for tax records! Only in Italy!

The two books on the left were from the State Archive. The two on the right were done by the young man in the shop.

No photos allowed during the tour, so i only managed to snap a couple of not so well preserved books in the display case prior to our tour.
No catalog of the covers can be found in any of the bookstores in Siena. I only managed to get a thin little book with Italian and some small photos of these covers before we left Siena.
But i managed to find a few more digital copy of the cover (most of them are not of very good quality) and made a Picasa collection. It is a shame this treasure remained so little known:

Biccherne Cover – Siena

Here are a few more photos from our trip.

People enjoying the sun at Piazza del Campo. I loved this Piazza, it is so airy, lively, and peaceful. It reminded me of the square in front of Pompidou at Paris.

I loved this photo that ZM took at the back of the tower of Siena. Real people actually live here! It is the biggest disappointment we had of Florence, there don't seem to be any real people living in the center of town anymore. It feels like a theme park.

We were the only visitors to this Church on top one of Siena's three hills: Santa Maria dei Servi. We ran into an old couple from New Mexico on our way out. They insisted on taking this photo for us.

"The Zebra-Stripped Cathedral"

One of many pathways leading to Piazza del Campo

A good meal at Antica Trattoria Papei.

Our hotel receptionist recommended Antica Trattoria Papei to us. It is one of the local’s favorit restaurnts, too. The meal was good. The view was fantastic. It was tucked away in the back of the Campo, but it has a view open up to the valley and half of the town below. On our second and last night in Siena. We walked across the Campo, through the narrow medieval path way, toward the open terrace where the restaurant was located. I loved the church bell echoing through the valley. The bell tolled for the slightly fading dusk light, for the green valley opened up in front of us, and for the last shade of pink in the horizon.

I love Siena.

The 84th Oscars

As per our tradition, we had Gui and M over for dinner + Oscar viewing last night. Unfortunately Noah was in one of his fuzzy mood. But thank to M’s astonishing ability to keep Noah entertained, I actually managed to watch most of the show.

Most of the dresses are not bad looking this year, which is a vast improvements from previous couple of years. maybe it is another sign the economy is indeed picking up? Ugly dresses == recession?

The first surprise for us was how much Billy Crystal heavily made up face looked like the Chinese actor who used to play Mao Ze Dong.

Funny quote from David Denby at the New Yorker “Culture Desk”

Angelina Jolie, mounting her own pedestal as America’s sex symbol, thrust a very powerful right thigh out from a slitted black dress (the rest of her looked as lean and steely as a piece of gym equipment; you saw the skull beneath the skin). A bit later, one of the screenwriters on “The Descendants”—Jim Rash, slender, bald, and bespectacled—did the same thing with his tuxedoed leg, a neat bit of parody. Rash has been around a long time, essentially as a TV scriptwriter. With that spirit, someone should turn him loose with a movie of his own

A funny tweet from someone i’ve never heard before

Chris Rock, stop being genuinely funny – it’s very jarring.

Here is Chris Rock’s bits that comes so natural and so funny comparing to the rest of the show:

“I love animation,” he says. “I love animation because in the world of animation, you can be anything you want to be. If you’re a fat woman you can play a skinny princess. If you’re a short wimpy guy, you can play a tall gladiator. If you’re a white man you can play an Arabian prince. And if you’re a black man, you can play a donkey, or a zebra. You can’t play white, my God!”

Rock has done his fair share of animated work, including a zebra in the “Madagascar” movies. He would like you all to know that it wasn’t difficult. “I hate when people go on TV and tell you how hard it is to do animations. ‘Oh, Jay, it’s such hard work.’ No no no, UPS is hard work. Stripping wood is hard work,” he says, explaining that for animation, he just had to go into a studio and read his lines out loud.

“And then they give me a million dollars,” he added.

The Cirque du Soleil show was very cool! Almost made me want to watch a Cirque Du Soleil show live…

I’m happy that Meryl Streep won the best actress award. Apparently she hasn’t gotten one since 1982 (Sophie’s Choice). Even though she is the most nominated actor for Academy Awards (total of 17!) The New Yorker did a good summary of all the wonderful acceptance speeches she has been given at various award ceremonies. Her last night’s addition to the collection is equally funny and moving: “A Meryl Streep’s performance condensed in three minutes.”

As for the ultimate price — the Best Picture award — I don’t feel strongly about any of the movies (even though i’ve only seen half of the nominated films). I did see both Hugo and The Artist. Personally I like Hugo a little more. Kinda like last year’s oscars, The Social Network would have been my pick because it is a more interesting movie.

China Best-Selling Novels, A Suicide and a Trial, A Bronx Bakery – New Yorker Digest

CV1_TNY_02_06_12Blitt.inddThe New Yorker magazine has been great lately. They are putting out one great issue after another.

Interesting Read from the issue of Feb. 6, 2012.

1. Working Titles by Leslie T. Chang, Best-sellers for a busy nation

What do the Chinese, some of the hardest-working people on the planet, read in their spare time? Novels about work.

2. The Story of a Suicide by Ian Parker, a gay freshman and the online world

I didn’t have an opinion about age limit or the lack of from all the big sites: Google, Facebook, Twitter. Until i read this article. The story illustrated a regrettable tragedy that could have been so easily avoided only if people involved actually “TALK” to each other instead of just living their life on line…

Given the fact that teens are cruel by nature, and they don’t understand their action will have consequences. The web just magnified the destructive force of their words many folds, maybe age limit is not such a bad thing, afterall?!

3. Out of the Bronx by by Ian Frazier, When private equity bought the bakery

Lastly, the cover is pretty funny. Its title is “The Big Game”. 🙂

GroupThink, Obama’s Presidency – New Yorker Digest

Jan. 30, 2012

Jan. 30, 2012Just

Just finished reading the latest issue of New Yorker. Really enjoyed two articles in particular.

1. Groupthink by – The brainstorming myth

First half of the article explained why brainstorming (w/o criticism) doesn’t work, but brainstorming with debate does.

Even when alternative views are clearly wrong, being exposed to them still expands our creative potential.  In a way, the power of dissent is the power of surprise.  After hearing someone shout out an errant answer, we work to understand it, which causes us to reassess our initial assumptions and try out new perspectives.  “Authentic dissent can be difficult, but it’s always invigorating,” Nemeth says. “It wakes us right up.”

The 2nd half is about how buildings make a group more creative. Examples including Pixar building designed by Jobs, and Building 20 of MIT.

The lesson of Building 20 is that when the composition of the group is right — enough people with different perspectives running into one another in unpredictable ways — the group dynamic will take care of itself.  All these errant discussions add up.  In fact, they may even be the most essential part of the creative process.  Although such conersations will occasionally be unpleasant–not everyone is always in the mood for small talk or criticism –that doesn’t mean that they can be avoided.  The most creative spaces are those which hurl us together. It is the human friction that makes the sparks.

2. The Obama Memos by Ryan Lizza, The making of a post-post-partisan Presidency.

Obama was learning the same lesson of many previous occupants of the Oval Office: he didn’t have the power that one might think he had. Harry Truman, one in a long line of Commanders-in-Chief frustrated by the limits of the office, once complained that the President “has to take all sorts of abuse from liars and demagogues. . . . The people can never understand why the President does not use his supposedly great power to make ’em behave. Well, all the President is, is a glorified public relations man who spends his time flattering, kissing and kicking people to get them to do what they are supposed to do anyway.

Obama didn’t remake Washington. But his first two years stand as one of the most successful legislative periods in modern history. Among other achievements, he has saved the economy from depression, passed universal health care, and reformed Wall Street. Along the way, Obama may have changed his mind about his 2008 critique of Hillary Clinton. “Working the system, not changing it” and being “consumed with beating” Republicans “rather than unifying the country and building consensus to get things done” do not seem like such bad strategies for success after all.

“Genius…, is supremely normal.”

“The normal is what you find but rarely. The normal is an ideal. It is a picture that one fabricates of the average characteristics of men, and to find them all in a single man is hardly to be expected.

“It seems to me that what makes genius is the combination of natural gifts for creation with an idiosyncrasy that enables its possessor to see the world personally in the highest degree, and yet with such catholicity that his appeal is not to this type of man or to that type, but to all men. His private world is that of common men, but ampler and more pithy. His communication is universal, and though men may not be able to tell exactly what it signifies that they feel that it is important. He is supremely normal.

–W. Somerset Maugham, “The Summing Up”

I read Maugham’s little autobiography of a book “The Summing Up” in early 2009. The quote above struck me as unique and amusing. Late 2011, when i was reading Jobs biography, i found myself kept on returning to this quote.

The world’s perception of Apple’s recent success (starting with ipod) was due to Jobs’ design genius, and his consideration for his users. But reading the biography, one realized that is a lie. Jobs couldn’t care less about users. 99.9% of us are nothing but moron’s in Jobs mind anyways. So how do we explain this conflict of superb received design and Jobs condescension of common men?

The only explanation i can think of is that Jobs wasn’t designing for the users. He was designing for himself, period. And it just happened, his taste has the mass appealof a genius. Using Maugham’s metaphor, most of us have our own little quirks. What we like don’t translate to what most others will like. But Jobs happened to have the “appeal that is not to this type of man or to that type, but to all men.”

On top of that genius, Jobs is probably the most persuasive deal maker silicon valley has ever seen. iPod, even with its gorgeous design and superb craftsmanship, would have still failed if Jobs weren’t able to secure those deals with record companies. That kind of deal making is what makes Apple stand out among all other tech companies.

The rumored Apple TV would be a good case to watch. I dont’ doubt Apple has the technical ability and design talent to make their TV a beauty. But the key is whether they can make the required deals with media companies like Jobs did for iPod.

Oh yeah, and the “rebel” image Jobs put up with the 1984 Superbowl commercial? That’s a lie, too. Jobs was probably the biggest control freak who won’t be out-controlled by anyone else. So if you think the deal he signed with carrier is meant to liberating the users, think again. Users are just being locked up by Apple instead of carriers. Pick your prison. But don’t’ delude yourself thinking you are free.

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