“Well-run societies don’t need heroes”

Came across this fascinating article by Zeynep Tufekc, “a Turkish writer, academic, and techno-sociologist known primarily for her research on the social implications of emerging technologies in the context of politics and corporate responsibility.-wikipedia”.

The Real Reason Fans Hate the Last Season of Game of Thrones -It’s not just bad storytelling—it’s because the storytelling style changed from sociological to psychological.

Zeynep thinks GRRM’s original writing employed sociology style of story telling, while the show runners style is psychological story telling.

One clue is clearly the show’s willingness to kill off major characters, early and often, without losing the thread of the story. TV shows that travel in the psychological lane rarely do that because they depend on viewers identifying with the characters and becoming invested in them to carry the story, rather than looking at the bigger picture of the society, institutions and norms that we interact with and which shape us. They can’t just kill major characters because those are the key tools with which they’re building the story and using as hooks to hold viewers.

The appeal of a show that routinely kills major characters signals a different kind of storytelling, where a single charismatic and/or powerful individual, along with his or her internal dynamics, doesn’t carry the whole narrative and explanatory burden. Given the dearth of such narratives in fiction and in TV, this approach clearly resonated with a large fan base that latched on to the show.

In sociological storytelling, the characters have personal stories and agency, of course, but those are also greatly shaped by institutions and events around them. The incentives for characters’ behavior come noticeably from these external forces, too, and even strongly influence their inner life.

She then moved on to more personal scenario which i also found fascinating.

When someone wrongs us, we tend to think they are evil, misguided or selfish: a personalized explanation. But when we misbehave, we are better at recognizing the external pressures on us that shape our actions: a situational understanding. If you snap at a coworker, for example, you may rationalize your behavior by remembering that you had difficulty sleeping last night and had financial struggles this month. You’re not evil, just stressed! The coworker who snaps at you, however, is more likely to be interpreted as a jerk, without going through the same kind of rationalization. This is convenient for our peace of mind, and fits with our domain of knowledge, too. We know what pressures us, but not necessarily others.

The hallmark of sociological storytelling is if it can encourage us to put ourselves in the place of any character, not just the main hero/heroine, and imagine ourselves making similar choices. “Yeah, I can see myself doing that under such circumstances” is a way into a broader, deeper understanding. It’s not just empathy: we of course empathize with victims and good people, not with evildoers.

But if we can better understand how and why characters make their choices, we can also think about how to structure our world that encourages better choices for everyone. The alternative is an often futile appeal to the better angels of our nature. It’s not that they don’t exist, but they exist along with baser and lesser motives. The question isn’t to identify the few angels but to make it easier for everyone to make the choices that, collectively, would lead us all to a better place.

This resonated with me strongly because i’ve been reading up on the three Punic wars during Roman republic time. The first Punic war was played out very different from the second. The Romans fought the first Punic war as a republic, but shifted its style in the second. I’ve been wondering about the difference lately.

Zeynep’s article moved on to more interesting territory and gave me an ah-huh moment.

In German playwright Bertolt Brecht’s classic play, Life of Galileo, Andrea, a former pupil of Galileo, visits him after he recants his seminal findings under pressure from the Catholic Church. Galileo gives Andrea his notebooks, asking him to spread the knowledge they contain. Andrea celebrates this, saying “unhappy is the land that breeds no hero.” Galileo corrects him: “Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.”

Well-run societies don’t need heroes, and the way to keep terrible impulses in check isn’t to dethrone antiheros and replace them with good people. Unfortunately, most of our storytelling—in fiction and also in mass media nonfiction—remains stuck in the hero/antihero narrative. It’s a pity Game of Thrones did not manage to conclude its last season in its original vein. In a historic moment that requires a lot of institution building and incentive changing (technological challenges, climate change, inequality and accountability) we need all the sociological imagination we can get, and fantasy dragons or not, it was nice to have a show that encouraged just that while it lasted.

During the first Punic war, the Roman society was well-run. It was smart and the senate could always make the right decisions. The consuls change every year, but the senate worked together with each new set of consuls managed to defeat Carthage. There was no heros, but the society grew stronger, and everyone else benefited around the Mediterranean.

But the success was their downfall, power and prosperity corrupted Roman, by the time second Punic war started, the society moved toward one that need heros. In responding to Hannibal, Roman got their Scipio. Roman empire started forming then. The rest is history.

“May the force be with you.”

Noah’s initial encounter with R2D2 happened a couple of weeks ago, when he has yet to be introduced to Star Wars story line. I set off to correct that right away.

So far Noah has watched the first two episodes from the original trilogy–“Star Wars” and “The Empire Strikes Back”. R2D2 becomes his favorite character. He knew who Luke is. He was mesmerized by the ending sequence when Luke and his comrades piloting fighter jet to destroy death star. He laughed when Yoda appeared for the first time, and quickly commented that “he was hungry” when Yoda sneaked a bite off Luke’s food. He knew Luke got the saber from “the good old man 好人爷爷” (obi one kenobi). He was very troubled when i first tried to explain the revelation that Darth Vador (“The bad guy 坏人”) is Luke(“The good boy 好人小哥哥”)’s dad.

When i watched the two episodes with him, I sometime would repeat the line “May the force be with you” when the heroes going to battle. Noah never repeated after me. If he understood what it meant, he didn’t let it show. I just thought it went over his head. Whenever he talked to me about the movie, he usually talks about R2D2, explosion, spaceship, etc. Never “the force.”

Last night after dinner. We sat together on the sofa and flipped through a few issues of recent “The New Yorker” magazine together. Noah liked its cartoon cover and the cartoons inside. He especially liked a recent cartoon depicting Mrs and Mr Potato Head, whom he had known from Toy Story trilogy and his own toys.


Then i flipped past a photograph of someone wearing a long black robe standing in the dark. Noah said, “May the force be with you.” I couldn’t believe my ears and doubled back, “what did you say? say it again.” He repeated it, “May the force be with you!” I was astonished! ZM didn’t understand what it meant (he never watched Star Wars before i showed it to Noah recently), so i had to explain to him. Noah listened with a knowing smile on his face.

Now Noah is a true star-wars-fan. “May the force be with you!”


Saw this outside a cafe at work

A Satire of SF & One of NYC

Someone in the name of Peter Shih wrote “10 Things I Hate About You – San Francisco Edition” on Aug. 14th, last Wednesday.  I learned of its existence the next day on Twitter, where it was causing lots of anguish and harsh words. Shih tried to soften the tone of his article by adding a clause claiming it is satire, and also removed some of the most offending clauses, these all happened on Thursday.

I told ZM about this incident over the weekend. Today ZM sent me a Chinese news article talking about Peter Shih! and the Chinese news article also indicated that Shih has removed his essay and apologized! wow!

Apparently the Shih Storm is all over town (literately) and all over the news.

So i went back to reread the screen capture of Shih’s original article.  To be honest, quite a few items he listed are very true, such as how bad SF’s public transit is, how monotonous SF is comparing to any real city.  I remember commenting to friends after watching Billy Elliot on 2000, that it was so depressing to be born into a mining town and all you are expected to do is to be a miner. My friend Jennie at the time laughed at me, “and how different do you think the silicon valley is?”

What surprised me was Shih liked NYC, while complained about the various shabby elements in SF, such as transvestites, homeless, and unsafe areas.  I asked ZM, who lived in NYC for nine years, isn’t NYC even more dirty and dangerous and has more weird people than SF? ZM said NYC is larger and more segregated(gentrified?). Just like Shih said, an uptown guy doesn’t have to mingle with the shabby elements if he chooses.  But in San Francisco, such a compact city, everything is jumbled together. People like Shih couldn’t live in a bubble even when he has lots of money.

Shih is also correct about San Francisco’s nightlife (or the lack of).

This whole incident reminded me of the famous monologue delivered by Edward Norton in “25th Hour”.  ZM and I watched that movie in a little theatre off Union Square in NYC. That satire monologue was even more extreme than Shih’s “hate -list”, it was about NYC.  And while we were in that NYC theater, that monologue earned a standing ovation from the crowd. Everyone was clapping, laughing and cheering.

When i told ZM about 25th hour, his first reaction was real life is very different from the movies.  I made him read the monologue and suggested, “could it be possible that New Yorkers are more secure than San Franciscans?”  ZM contemplated a bit and reluctantly agreed, “maybe. Maybe because New Yorkers are a much more diverse group. While San Franciscan are mostly of the same type.”

I thought ZM had an excellent point. Basically we are back to monotonousness vs. metropolitan.  San Francisco has a limited categories of residents, while New York City has many. Going down the list of Norton’s 25th Hour monologue, i could safely say none of the guys listed in Norton’s list are watching that movie in that theater, or very few.  In other words, Norton’s list didn’t make a left-wing liberal a target, who is probably the target audience of that movie.

But Shih’s attempt at satire was met with a much limited audience as well as resources. He didn’t have much choice at who to pick on.  And whatever he picked on happen to belong to the group of people who is reading his publication.

I happen to love both cities: San Francisco and New York City. I wish San Francisco will grow into a real city some day, with great public transportation, a functional public school system, and the diversity of New York City, while keeping our great weather, interesting architecture, and our nice parks. I wish San Franciscan will become more secure and tolerant of people with different opinions. Next time when someone deliver a Norton style monologue about San Francisco, we can have the confidence to call it a “love letter”, give it a standing ovation, instead of threatening to chase him out of town.

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.

“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.

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.

Amazed and Surprised

If you are like me, having spent better half of your working life being told to tame your “tactless communication style,” “try not to upset anyone this time” “why do you always have to get into a fight?” Imagine how surprised i am when i’m sitting at my annual review meeting with my new boss and being told specifically, “I’d much rather you stay animated than not.  Sometimes it is no avoiding upsetting people, and that is okay.”

It is like sitting an alcoholic at an open bar. My jaw dropped to the floor.

I couldn’t think of anything to say until much later.

I wonder whether it is because my previous bosses have curbed my “tactless communication style” so much that my new boss had no idea which kind of liberty he just give me. Has he any idea what kind of spectacular “shock” i am capable of unleashing?!

but it is a refreshing point of view. Having been working for so long and having been through the same old annual review for so long, i’m surprised to learn that “it is okay to be yourself.” I have to admit i like the sound of it.  I had the urge to just get out and pick a fight.

Just kidding. 🙂

What a Week!

It is Noah’s first week at day care.
Winter storm started on Monday ended our shortlived(barely 2 weeks?) Indian Summer.
Apple announced IPhone 4S which was largely criticized as underwhelming.
Then the real big news hit everyone by surprise: Steve Jobs, the star of our century, Passed Away.

Shortly after i started on my first job, one evening as i was leaving, i found a graphic artist friend was also working late, we started chatting. He was telling me about the new documentary on “BLUES”. We started talking about how great the beginning of 20th century was, with all those stars born, all those exciting social changes and the World Wars were brewing. I remember myself sighed, “We live in such boring times, comparing to that.”

Soon after that conversation, dot com boom was in full swing, then the bust, then the election drama that got Bush in the office, then 911, the wars, Obama, Steve Jobs announcing ipod, iphone, ipad, macbook air, the financial crisis, the rise of China, etc. etc.

I couldn’t dream of a more exciting time to live.

“Be careful what you wish for…”

Comfort Zone

Had to do some UI mockup at work, after trying out a few UI mock tools, i finally pulled out emacs and started code them up myself. I did a few years of web UI coding in my last job. Many many times i had the urge to throw my monitor out of the office window. Learning javascript does that to you. But now, for some strange reason, i felt immense comfort to be back in the UI land, tweaking the elements on a page, learning new css, jquery tricks. Even the frustration generated by javascript felt somehow familiar, and comforting.

In my spare time i started re-read Peter Hessler’s China trilogy. Good writing always put me in a good mood.

So here i am, good reading plus css make me feel a gentle kind of happiness that i haven’t felt for a long while.

Shows how much i dislike working with hardware. ha.

Shuttle Roulette

We’ve been planning Friday evening dinner with friends on a very adhoc fashion. When deciding the actual meeting time, I always start from the point i get home, then determine the travel time from home to the restaurant. Since i take company shuttle, we had to plan our dinner based on the shuttle schedule.

Not until a few weeks ago did i realize i don’t have to plan everything based on the limited shuttle time that reaches my neighborhood. Instead i could take advantage of all these shuttles that reache different neighborhood of the city and just meet friends in the said restaurant. duh!

But one drawback is i often underestimate the effort required to walk one block of San Franciscan street, especially when steep hill is involved. Last time we met in Zarzuela. I got off the shuttle at Van Ness and Union, and had to pick up my jaw from the floor. The “only 3 blocks to Hyde on Union” happens to include two consecutive steep hills. I really earned my dinner that day.

Today in a minor panic i realized i just missed the Noe Valley shuttle i meant to take. ZM was going to pick me up from the shuttle stop and go north to Chinatown for dinner. Quickly i glanced the upcoming shuttles in SF. and realized there are 3-5 shuttles coming a few minutes apart that will drop me along the way from Noe to North Beach.

I could just play shuttle roulette. Whichever one i happened to catch, there is a way for me to get to dinner on time.

I wonder if an European style public transportation will damp my admiration for our shuttle system someday… I pray that day to come sooner…

Kindle Screen Saver

丰子恺 - Kindle Screen Saver

丰子恺 - Kindle Screen Saver

Over the weekend, i just jail-broke my kindle to install a Chinese themed screen saver. During the process, i learned that previous Kindle edition allowed user to customize the screen saver with images of their choice. With Kindle 3 (even Kindle 2.x?), however, the screen saver is locked down. One has to jail break it before installing her own screen saver.

It seemed a silly product decision.

Until this morning when i read this: Amazon to Sell the Kindle Reader at a Lower Price, but With Advertising Added.


Contacts Sync for iPhone

One major pain of changing mobile phone used to be the difficulty of contact syncing, until Android came along. We are all started building up our contact info in the Gmail Contacts. and switching phones requires zero effort to get the same group of contacts show up instantly.

Well, until you have to switch to an non-android phone. Noah has been chewing on my android so much that it finally gave in. Today i had to switch my sim back into the Iphone 3G i have been using around the house as a clock. I was so shocked to find out i had zero contact when i tried to call Gui this afternoon. Then i remembered iTune updated my iphone recently.

After being spoiled by Android for so long, i had no plan of entering my contact by hands back into a phone. So i found out about this: Macs inside Google: OS x.10.5.3: Sync Google Contacts.

Worked like a charm.

“The Pulse and Shadow of the Fan”

Electric ceiling fans always remind me of romances in the tropics, like scenes in sepia tone from movies such “The Lover” or “The English Patient”. With phrases such as “They lie in each other’s arms, the pulse and shadow of the fan on them.”

In reality, they totally don’t look the part.

Our current house comes with an electric ceiling fan and lights combo installed in the master bedroom. When we moved in, we took one look at the thing and thought that was the first thing must go. They look UGLY! Then we procrastinated, and the fan stayed till this day.

When the first heat wave hit earlier this month, during the hottest day of that wave, when the evening stood steaming in the breezeless night, we were wondering how the three of us would fall asleep in the heat. I remembered the fan! The cool breeze felt like magic.

Now we are at the supposedly the last day of the longest heat wave i remembered in San Fran, we’ve been using the fan whenever we were in the bedroom.

Yesterday afternoon, both ZM and I were taking a nap with the baby in between us. I woke up for a brief moment. The bedroom was in a golden hue even with the curtain drawn. Setting sun drew large bright square on the curtain, there was a little breeze coming from the open window, the curtain sway in it slightly. The fan was on. It was like a scene from a movie… and it was romantic.

Introducing Baby Noah

July 15, 2010

It is 1:44am, i’m writing a blog entry in my PJ, wide awake even though i haven’t really slept for more than 3 hours in the past 24. Living on something a little more than adrenaline: we now have a new member in the household! 🙂

Tonight was the first night this week any of us has slept at home.

I plan on start a new blog for all Noah related writings so i can keep my current blog(s) still about me.  But setting up a new blog will take a little more time than i could spare at the moment. And a few of you out there has been wondering what has happened.

So here is a quick intro, and hopefully “Jean’s Weblog” will resume its usual random program when life becomes more sane.

It has been a roller coaster week. I had no idea how we had managed to pull through all these so quickly. Luckily we did and things are looking up (at least at the moment, i’m in the optimistic cycle of the mood swing).

Noah has been a model baby. Even nurses in the hospital were telling us how calm and pilot Noah has been. He rarely makes a fuss about anything and the only thing really bothers him has been hunger, even that he protests in a very restrained way.

He has this amazing highly choreographed facial expression plus elaborate hand gesture reflex that totally blew us away.  80% of his time since being born has spent with an IV tube taped to his left hand. So we always thought he only had a single hand gesture routine, which often mimic either a passionate speaker or a symphony maestro. What he couldn’t talk, he made up using his facial muscle and intricate finger language. I often said he had an obama routine where you could imagine an Obama speech was given.

But since last night when his left hand was also freed from the iv, we realized it was really a double hands gesture routine that he was excelling at. definitely a maestro.

Tonight i discovered something else, he can pull a super vivid and accurate marlon brando Godfather routine with his facial expression and his hands and shoulder. And he only does that when he was pooping.  It was hilarious.

Unfortunate Noah has been a complete night owl, to witness any of these performance, you have to be present around 2am.

July 18, 2010
There are so much i wanted to write, only if there is some kind of thoughts->words program so i can dump everything in my mind in words without actual sitting down and typing them out…

Since Thursday night, i’ve been struggling between co-oping with Noah’s feeding schedule and keeping my own sanity by sneaking in as many naps as possible. I’ve realized that if i wait till i have enough time to make a proper introduction and recording all the little things i want to say about Noah since his birth a little over 6 days ago, i would have to wait for a long long time.

so here are some vital stats:

Noah Tian-Yi Zhou (周天翼)
Born on July 12th, 2010, 15:05
Weight: 3.895Kg (8lb, 9.39 oz)
Height: 54.6cm (1’9.5″, i.e 21 and 1/2 “)
APGAR (okay, i know this is too “typical asian parent” to include such stats, but just for the fun of it. I will try not to do it again):
one min: 7
five min: 9

Since Thursday night, he has been doing better at waking up occasionally during the day too. So to give Grandma Aiqi a glimpse of what he looks like when he is happy and awake!

Holding Noah in my hands, i am still awed by this reality, it still feels like a miracle. Surreal.

A Million vs. A Billion

Was clearing out closets over the weekend, and uncovered a past issue of New Yorker. Before discarding it to the recycle bin, i browsed through the content and read one article: “Heroes and Zeroes”. It is a book review on “Lords of Finance” which is about the world first batch of central bankers from countries like USA, UK, Germany and France.

The book and the review both sound just okay. But one sentence in the reviewer’s 2nd paragraph caught my eye. John Lanchester was trying to illustrate a point of how hard it is for ordinary people to grasp the difference figures in millions, billions and trillions.

A million seconds is less than twelve days; a billion is almost thirty-two years.

I think that’s by far the best illustration i’ve heard on the delta between a million and a billion.

Now that issue of New Yorker can go in the recycle bin. 🙂

Working with the Right Coast

As it happened, most of the time i need to work with people in the Far East. It exacerbates my tendency to follow a night-owl schedule: sleep late and get up late.

Recently I had to work with people on the east coast instead. Slowly I had to change my sleep pattern to be in-sync with the Right Coast. This morning was especially bad. Started dealing with emergency after emergency starting at 7am. By 11am, i already felt exhausted. The good thing about working in early morning was the entire campus was so quiet. I could concentrate on tasks at hand without disturbance. Soon I happily realized something else: that i had the entire afternoon to myself cuz the Right Coast has gone home! I went to a couple of training instead. It was kinda nice. Feeling a sense of accomplishment by noon and stay relaxed for the remainder of the day.

I could get use to this Right Coast schedule.

Speaking of the Right Coast, it is pretty freaky what happened today with the stock market!freefall

140 Characters – Random Thoughts on Twitter

1. SMS
140 characters limit starts with SMS.

My first encounter with SMS was at Beijing, China, 2006. Sister was visiting China a few months earlier. She loved the SMS experience so much that she bought a cheap Nokia GMS phone and told me to use it when i was there.  After she returned to the States, she tried very hard to figure out a way to SMS Chinese back to her friends in the Mainland from the US. But it didn’t work. (even today, we still can’t SMS Chinese from ATT to T-Mobile, US Carriers are so awful!)

SMS in Chinese totally rocks! Not only that everyone there SMS each other (cuz SMS is so much cheaper than a voice call, you rarely hear people yapping on their cell in public like in the US. Instead everyone was heads down doing the finger dance on the phone), but also the fact that you could pack in so much more information in 140 Chinese characters than in 140 English characters. It also helps that cellphone coverage is truly ubiquitous in China, no matter how remote you are, you are bound to have cell coverage, very unlike our experience with ATT here in the US.

I remember visiting the forbidden palace on a snowy day. Maybe because of the bad weather, the enormous palace ground was mostly desolate, hardly any visitors in sight. It was such a rarity to find oneself all alone in a place so famous! I Texted a friend in Shanghai about the atmospheric experience as i was wondering from empty courtyard to empty courtyard. She texted back her agreement that winter time is the most romantic to visit Northern China; while the south is much better during Spring time. The texting experience made that trip a lot more interesting because i could have a real time discussion with someone who was not physically present but totally understood how i felt.

Later when i met up with a friend of my sister, she showed me some SMS she saved, the ones my sister sent her while she were in Beijing during previous summer. Some were beautifully written, some were hilarious. Together they added another dimension to sister’s trip. It was like pieces of jewels in the form of words. The best part about SMS was they were spontaneous, and you often get real time response/reactions from the recipients. And the convenience of sending one SMS to a group of friends made it even more interesting.

Organizing group outings, which is almost a daily event in beijing, is also incredibly easy with SMS. Instead of yelling at your cellphone to give the address of a place 15 times, you just text it to everyone needs to be there. Piece of cake.

When i got back to the US, the SMS favor sorta just died. I couldn’t convince any of my friends or family to pay more money for SMS service. They all thought why not just pick up the phone and call? And SMS in English is not quite the same either. The ROI is drastically lower because you couldn’t pack in as many meaning to 140 characters. Also the fact most people don’t use public transportation cut down the time you really can use SMS. Because it is harder to type a msg while driving. and when you are not driving, you often have access to a computer, where you could Email or IM.

Later when i heard of twitter, my first reaction was, ah, that’s like public SMS.Since i can’t convince my friends/family to join SMS, twitter is also out of the question.

2. small groups of think-alike vs. the masses
i read about Jason Byrne’s ah-ha moments on twitter(http://isaa.ch/1b). One of his major points was revolved around getting to know a small group of people who has similar taste. he is worried that as subscription size grow, that intimacy and dynamic will be lost. a trendy place can remain trendy only when it is relatively less known. once your granny heard of it and started going, then it is no longer cool.

i knew exactly what he meant, because i have already experienced the full cycle of elation to disappointment on a different site, where i joined during its initial launch, met quite a few like minded people from all kinds of geo/profession, the percentage of high quality people was really astonishing. What’s more, most of them were content creators, and they generated interesting/original content. then the word got out, the site became popular, the average quality of people dropped, most of these new comers were pure consumers. Dilution of people’s quality and interests changed the dynamic, most of the old-timers remained subscribers, except they are now less active, and become consumers too. The only difference is whenever they do create something, they are still of higher quality than the masses. It is a pity that somehow facing the massive incoming consumers made originally active creators dormant.

I don’t think this is a unique problem to twitter. All the web 2.0 sites face the same issue. I wonder if there is a way to keep these small active group’s spirit intact within a massive popular site, kinda like keeping a small community/neighborhood intact within a metropolitan. Both are hard problems that currently dont’ seem to present a solution.

In the physical city, once a neighborhood becomes interesting, say after a group of artists moved in, yuppies will follow and the housing price rise and the original artists got priced out while they were the ones who made the place interesting in the first place. i.e. Gentrification.

On the web, it is not housing price that forced out the original voices. It was more like the “noise” or the “clutter” of less-interesting voices that silenced people.

3. Local news
This is what i find Twitter so unique: “Real Time Search-Twitter FTW“. It is a new form of media platform for the masses to report news around them. Things that major news outlets aren’t interested, and local news outlet doesn’t have enough bandwidth to cover 24/7.

That’s also why i think of twitter less like a social platform.

The New Apple Hype(updated 4/6/2010)

For anyone who reads anything at all on the English speaking web, yesterday was a day of bombardment of the new Apple Hype – the iPad (i’ve finally become desensitized when reading it on the screen, but i still cringe when hear this word pronounced on TV, what an awful name).

I remain skeptical. For all those who are hailing this product as revolution and life changing, i have one simple question. Other than making the internet more like TV, what else does it do? In other words, it makes the “consuming” act of web surfing more pleasurable (maybe, since it is so big i still can’t imagine carrying this everywhere i go).

What exactly does it do to help people CONTRIBUTE to the web? What exactly does it help people to CREATE something for the web?

My biggest frustration with all these new devices, iphone, android, or kindle has been the awkwardness of “writing”. I want to be able to jog down notes, thoughts, and compose something on the go. So far none of these super popular devices have provided an acceptable means for that. A notebook, a paperback and a pen have still been the most convinient, light-weighted, and versatile tools.

Instead, i find myself more and more like a “walking potato” holding these devices, consuming, consuming and consuming, while producing little. It is passive and encourage laziness and lame complaints of being bored.

When writing i still need to turn to my laptop keyboard. Writing makes me feel active and it energize me.

Until someone can prove to me that iPad can revolutionize the “production” part of the web, all i can say is …

Update 4/6/2010: Quite a few interesting discussion on this topic in twitter land. Check out some of them from http://twitter.com/stop on 4/5/2010. The conclusion there seems to be iPad is not designed primarily for content creation, but for content consumption. But that doesn’t mean people can’t create content using iPad in some form. It also has dependency on the type of content you would like to create and your preference with tools. As Zeze pointed out in the comment, she could use iPad to draw sketches freehand because the screen is bigger. and http://twitter.com/ahbei mentioned he prefer touch UI for jotting down notes.

So i should qualify my argument to my own preference, which is physical keyboard. Because i type so much faster than writing using a pen. So touch UI is not for me. Also i’m mainly a writing person, not a drawing person. I should adopt @stop’s point, “Given the circumstance that I prefer to use computer as my web content creation tool, and my content creation is mainly limited to photo editing and blog writing; I’m not in iPad’s target audience.”

Warm Rain * Lost & Found Umbrella

Wake up to a rainy morning, soft warm rain. Forecast is promising many sunny days after this rain cloud passes. Shuttle driver is joking about reindeer. happy morning.

Turned out it was only raining in the City. It was dry when i got off the shuttle and promptly forgot my umbrella on the shuttle.

My small “London Fog” fold up umbrella with black, white, blue and pink cats. I’ve had it for over four years. It went with me to Paris and Pompeii.

As I walked over to our evening shuttle stop and wondering whether i should call ZM to come and pick me up when i got home since it is raining in the city again. I saw the shuttle driver from my morning bus, he was walking into the “Lost and Found” office, with my umbrella! 🙂

All is well ends well.

Web Surfing vs. Reading

I am acutely aware that many hours when i used to read have now been taken up by web surfing.  This simple substitution tends to mislead me in thinking only the access point of information has shifted, from a paper based book to a computer screen, everything else stays the same.

But that’s not true.

When it comes to the recipient’s mental state, web surfing resembles television more than it does a book. It is passive rather than active.

90% of the things i come across during my web surfing leaves my mind, at best placid, at worst a complete blank; while 90% of my book-reading fascinates me and gives me the urge to write something, to note down something, or to express something. My mind is so much more active while reading than while web surfing.

Why is that?

Is it because web publishing is easier, so the content are largely blah? While paper publishing is much more demanding, and as a result, most of things on paper are more condensed, more precise, better written, more interesting?

Or am I better at identify good readings on paper than on the web? as a result i spent more time browsing blend content on the web?

Or maybe the internet simply resembles TV program more than it does a book. It is more varied, with lower quality, but more addictive than a book.

DNS Poisoning

This morning while waiting for shuttle, after checking work email, I made my usual rounds of douban.com, friendfeed, and twitter. Everyone of them was filled with angry rants in Chinese. Turned out GFW of China just blocked google at its entirety, not just search, but gmail, reader, docs, etc. The blockage lasted for 1~2 hours for some, but longer for others. Mobile was impacted too. Apparently Opera Mini came to the rescue for some nokia users (i wonder how that works?).

Later during the day, the word was out that it was “DNS Poisoning”. Interesting. In the past, GFWoC has always been using RST to cut TCP connections. So user will see “Connection Reset by Peer” error on their webpage. “DNS Poisoning” is a new tactic. GFWoC is stepping up its game!

DNS cache poisoning is a maliciously created or unintended situation that provides data to a caching Domain Name System server that did not originate from authoritative Domain Name System (DNS) sources. This can happen through improper software design, misconfiguration of name servers, and maliciously designed scenarios exploiting the traditionally open-architecture of the DNS system. Once a DNS server has received such non-authentic data and caches it for future performance increase, it is considered poisoned, supplying the non-authentic data to the clients of the server.
-via Wikipedia.org

When a single user does this, it is called a cyber crime.
What do you call a country systematically does this to its own people? Internal affair? or crime against (cyber) humanity?

June 4th, 1989

This Thursday will be the 20th “June 4th” after the Spring of 1989.

20 years is a big deal.

The whole country is waiting in anxiety. I’m sure the upper management of all the big Chinese internet companies such as Sina.com, Baidu, Sohu, Tianya, etc. are all sitting on the edge of their seats, praying for June 5th’s peaceful arrival. So are the leaders of China, and local government of Beijing.

As a prelude, both blogger.com and blogspot.com were blocked by Great Firewall of China since mid-May. Rumor goes that other Google services such as docs, picasa, image search etc. would soon to follow. For the communist party, Google has always been the poster bad boy, whenever they have a need for a public flogging, Google has always been the default choice.

My usual routine is a lot less dramatic. It constitutes of digging up what i wrote down in 2004, re-read it and try to remember that Spring in Bejing one more time. Then maybe feeling a bit sad of how the Chinese youth born after the 80’s or 90’s have no knowledge of that Spring because the government has done such a thorough job of suppressing the past. Then i put that piece of writing away, and continue with my current life.

But 20 years is a big deal. I’m forced to think a bit more, not just because the usual angry youth in Chinese BBC protesting the locking down of service, or the ever expanding banned word list used in the crack down on line. It seems that I’m not the only one who is thinking a bit more this year. I’ve read some interesting discussion on various Chinese BBS.

Both on-line and off-line discussion around me seem to conclude that the generation that felt the strongest impact of the Spring of 89 was the generation that was in high school and college during the crackdown (that would including me, i.e. my generation). We were completely disillusioned. Before the crack down, this generation was very enthusiastic about politics, about the fate and future of China and its people. After the crack down, we turned cynical, we looked elsewhere. Most concentrated on getting rich. Many left the country.

The single-mindedness of today’s China, its sole focus on money and nothing else, had a lot to do with my generation’s shock therapy received in the Spring of 1989.

Another interesting side effect of the complete suppressing of the existence of that Spring is that the newer generations know no fear. They had no idea what consequence of speaking their minds would result in. In that way, they grow up more healthy. Maybe when they do decide speak their minds in a grand way, reception they receive will be warmer. That was largely what happened to my generation too, up till the night of June 4th. All of us had heard warnings from our parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents. They had seen their own share of crack downs, they knew what would come. We didn’t. Now we do.

Let’s wish today’s China is confident enough and brave enough to listen to what they had to say, let’s wish the newer generation will never know what would have come.

Looking for a Tree…

Last night, on the phone, Mom and I were doubting the forecast of a heatwave this weekend, while it was foggy and cold in San Francisco, not much warmer in the south bay.

We woke up to a beautiful hot day! It was in the high 80’s but it feels like 90’s in San Francisco. The lemon tree’s flowers fragrance suddenly turned super strong in the heat. Almost overwhelmed by it while standing on the balcony enjoying the, rare, morning heat.

Loved the hot and dry sunlight in the farmer’s market just now, I was looking for a fig tree that i could plant in the back yard. Maybe it was not yet the right season, we saw some baby olive trees for sale instead.

In the 80’s there was a Taiwan writer – San Mao, whose work was very popular in mainland China, largely due to her exotic bohemian life style. She traveled widely, wrote essays and songs beautified bourgeois aspect of her life. She and her Spanish deep sea diving engineer husband lived in the Western Sahara, then later the Canary Islands.

Before her collection of travel essays hit China, a song called “The Olive Tree” was a big hit.

Ask me not where I am from. My hometown is far away
Why do I wander, wandered so far away, wandering
For the free flight birds in the sky, for the gentle brook in the mountains,
For the vast grassland, I wandered wandered so far away
Oh, also for the olive tree in my dreams, olive tree

Ask me not where I am from, my hometown is far far away
Why do i wander, wandered so far away,
For the olive tree in my dream, Olive Tree…

For a whole generation of youth who grew up with that song, olive tree turned into a symbol of the beauty and mystery of a faraway land.

2004, when we were traveling in Turkey, we saw the olive groves blanketed dry hot hills along Turkey’s Aegean shores. “Olive tree?! This is it?!” ZM was thoroughly disappointed.

For the longest time after our trip, i often pointed out the olive trees lined Haight-Ashbury in our then neighborhood just to wait for ZM’s expression turned bitter, ‘Not good looking at all!’ (一点都不好看)

I on the other hand think the unique look of olive tree was not that bad. As time gone by, ZM seems to have softened his dislike of it. Today, looking at the baby olive trees for sale, we were debating whether we should consider an olive tree instead of a fig. “How long will it take to bear fruits? Maybe we could get one if it would bear fruits in a couple of years.” ZM said. “Why? You don’t even like olives.” I was surprised.

Just checked on-line, turned out an olive tree could bear fruits in 4 years. As i just announced that fact to ZM, he seemed to be very interested.

I still want a fig tree.

After reading Fig hunting in Napa by pastry chef Shuna fish Lydon, i’m dying to get a fig tree.
Figs in Coastal Southern California

Emotion vs. Logic

ZM downloaded an odd movie a couple of weeks ago, and we watched it with the Gui’s.

None of us bought into the argument of the movie. My comment was, this felt like a movie made by Google people, because it is so single-minded about being scientific, worshiping logic. Gui’s comment was, this made the same mistake that economists made about economy, both assumed people are rational beings, while in reality people are not rational at all.

Today i read this interesting article via Isaac’s FriendFeed – “Goodbye Google | stopdesign

Yes, it’s true that a team at Google couldn’t decide between two blues, so they’re testing 41 shades between each blue to see which one performs better. I had a recent debate over whether a border should be 3, 4 or 5 pixels wide, and was asked to prove my case. I can’t operate in an environment like that. I’ve grown tired of debating such minuscule design decisions. There are more exciting design problems in this world to tackle.

Later, there is a followup article “Apple Is a Design Company With Engineers; Google Is an Engineering Company With Designers“.

This is, I believe, why Google’s products (many of which are great and innovative—I remain a devoted Gmail fan, for example) will always fall short of achieving the emotional connection that people feel to an iPhone. There’s no one with real power there who has a good sense of what makes a product beautiful or when it feels “electric.” You can’t quantify that sort of thing through study or harness collective brainpower to coerce it—someone just has to know it when they see it.

I couldn’t make up my mind whose side to take.

Both methods have its merits, obviously, both companies are super successful. From the outside, one would think Apple would be more human more interesting and cooler. But if you ask me which company I would rather work for, i would have to say, Google.

Because being emotional and human has its drawbacks. Rationality and data-worship has the advantage of all democracy, sure, it is not as glamorous and couldn’t put up jaw dropping performance as a dictatorship or authoritarian government (think 2008 Olympic opening ceremony), but it has its nicety and peacefulness. It is reliable, reasonable, and repeatable.

But what i couldn’t decide is which method produces better product. Or whether Google’s obsession with consensus means death by committee, or the grave for creativity?

i can’t think of evidence of either. Just like what Doug Bowman said in his original farewell message. “I can’t fault Google for this reliance on data. And I can’t exactly point to financial failure or a shrinking number of users to prove it has done anything wrong.” Sure, Google’s product couldn’t “achieving the emotional connection that people feel to an iPhone”, but the appeal of Google’s product is its utility, its usefulness. A lot more people needs tools that work than the tool that looks cool, right?

but it sure is nice to look cool too…

still debating…

——Update an hour later—-
Started reading Doug Bowman’s twitter. It is the best twitter stream i’ve ever seen. suddenly i understood why i had been so against twitter before. The many @blahblah reply drives me nuts. It made twitter stream completely unreadable, for person who is not that “blahblah”. One thing i like about Blog was the fact you could browse back and read about a person’s way of thinking, views, and interests, like a novel or a collection of essays. Twitter sprinkled with all these random @blah reply always broke that continuity. And the fact i care about author A’s thoughts doesn’t mean i would care for all of her friends’ thinking too… But Doug’s twitter has very few such interruption, which made his twitter stream enjoyable to read.

saw this from him, and i think i start to lean toward his side.

# Argh! Visual design by committee NEVER works; you end up with mediocrity every time. When will my colleagues learn this?5:07 PM Oct 17th, 2008 from twitterrific

A recent experience at work, trying to put together a presentation by committee also had the same effect. design by committee is similar to doing things follow a process, guarantees mediocrity. but what about teamwork? and when everyone pitches in, result is always better than my doing it on my own?!


——Update six hours later—–
Was talking to Gui about this over dinner. She has read the original farewell msg, but she didn’t see the other one about Apple versus Google. When i told her my thoughts on democracy versus dictatorship. She laughed, “what democracy? isn’t the difference between Apple and Google really just the difference between the founders? Steve Jobs versus Larry and Sergey?”

Good point.


I’m fortunate that my best friend from high school remains my best friend till this day. While we were in highschool, she often had to remind me “Change Gears! You are walking way too fast and wasting energy!” It was a joke between us till this day.

Turned out that was the most useful lesson i learned last year, and remained the one lesson that had the most impact on my professional life since I graduated from college.

Last week i wrote to my ex-boss out of the blue and thanked him for all the advices he tried to give me while he was my boss, i refused to listen then but i remembered them, and when i tried to apply some of his advices, the result was astonishingly good.

One of them was similar to my best friend’s exclamation, “Change Gears! You are too fast!” Translating to work term is this, “do not try to do everyone’s job for them, when you think they are not fast enough or good enough by your standard.”

In reality, when everyone pitches in, the result is almost always inevitably better than if i tried to do it on my own(hehe, that was a line from another ex-boss of mine. I’ve had the good fortune to have really wise bosses.). Even though in the short term, it might have seemed my way would be more efficient or faster. In the long term, it was bad for the morale of the team–because everyone wants to feel useful and to have ownership, it could be bad for the actual outcome too–because more people will paint a more thorough and complete picture so the solution at the end often would be better than my own.

The only price i had to pay is the time, what i learned in 2008 was the realization that i don’t have to drag everyone at my speed. Allow people to work in their own pace, even when final result is a little later than expected is usually acceptable. Lastly but not the least, i suddenly have more time to do my own share of the work because I didn’t have to do 2 or 3 people’s work at the same time. What a deal!

The funny thing is the only reason i allowed myself to follow this particular advice from my ex-boss last year was because i was in the lowest point of my career since i joined my current company. I felt mentally defeated after i did two difficult projects using my way and the results both came back disappointing. At the time i was very skeptical and depressed about work. I was in this “i do not care anymore” stage. So i let people go off and do their own thing. I wasn’t energetic enough to try to pick up their “slack”, “why bother?” i thought to myself. When the end result turned out to be so good, i was shocked! How could that be?

Then i realized what had just happened. Subsequently i realized the brilliance of my ex-boss and my best friend’s advices to me all these years.

The catch is once things are going well, i’m happy and excited about my work again, then i tend to forget. Since i don’t always have Gui with me, i need to remind myself ‘you are too fast! STOP’

This is what is happening right now actually. We were in the middle of final field test of a product. The test result came in the middle of Friday afternoon. I sent it over to the team, but didn’t hear back from them within an hour. I got impatient and examed the result myself and spotted some issue. Sent the team my finding, hoping for some confirmation. Heard none after another hour, i got impatient again and went ahead and sent the issue i found back to the customer. Turned out some of my findings were wrong (duh!) and for the ones were real issues, customer came back with an explanation. But i don’t know whether it is a legitimate excuse. By then it was midnight Friday. I told the customer we won’t have an answer till Saturday the earliest.

This morning, no answer from the team. I got impatient again, just when i about to go dig the source code and read for myself, i saw this huge ‘STOP’ sign in my head. So i stopped and waited. We have a really really good team. I should let them do their job. It is a weekend, everyone (including the customer) will understand if the turn around time is a bit slow.

Sure enough, just when i’m typing this, one of our team members sends in his suggestions/questions from his mobile phone. It is something i hadn’t thought of. I happily forward the msg along to our customer. I feel so relieved that i had waited.

While i was waiting, i surveyed everything else i ended up taking on during the week (it had been a hectic week) and realized i could hand off another Q&A session from our European office to a Hongkong colleague, who worked with me on the same project and was an expert on the subject. So i did and a few hours late when Asia woke up, i saw a reply came back from HK, a lot more detailed, insightful and i imagine a lot more useful than anything i could have come up with if i had spent the Saturday afternoon digging around and piecing puzzles.

i need to go and steal a real STOP sign and put it in my cube, and maybe even put a little STOP sign on the edge of my laptop screen. 🙂

Who Has Been Lifting Up My Zebra?

At work, we move to a new building almost once a year. After each such move, we often were given a little stuffed animal as a “welcome to your new home” price.

The theme of the stuffed animal differs from year to year. One of them was African animals, and i end up with a zebra.

During one particular not-so-uplifting moment, i left my zebra face down on my bookshelf, legs spread out on four directions, as if it just took a fall. A few days later i noticed someone had lift it up to stand on all fours. I thought maybe someone was in the cube talking to my cube mate and took pity on the poor zebra? Out of mischievousness, i returned my zebra back to the “splash” position, and a day later, it stood up again! This little game has been going on for months. The duration it took for it to stand up seems to have pro-longed, but it always always stood up.

Quite amused. Who was it? Was it one person (janitor?) or random people who walk by and all happen to have the same reaction? Should i put up a webcam to figure it out?