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.

William Kentridge: Five Themes @ SFMOMA (2)

Went to SFMOMA again this afternoon. Turned out it is a “family day”, i.e. free admission to all!

Finished watching the remainder of “Soho and Felix” series, and watched “HER ABSENSE FILLED THE WORLD” again.

Walked through the entire exhibit from beginning to the end a couple of more times, spent time looked at the final drawings, browsed through all the series again, including some of the films.

Realized that another powerful element of all of his work is the music. Really great music that matched the story telling on the screen really well.

My least favorite of the five series is “the Nose” on Soviet, cuz it seemed the most abstract and too slogan-like. The one touched me the most is “Soho and Felix”, it is the most personal and romantic. The funniest and most enjoyable and lighthearted is “Artist Studio” – while paying tribute to movie techniques, i think his presentation was the most clever and varied. “Shadow Procession” was beautiful to watch from artistic point of view, but the subject is too brutal and harsh for a second viewing, i couldn’t bear it. “Magic Flute” was thought provoking, but similar to “Shadow Procession”, subject is too heavy, that i couldn’t watch it again, especially the “Black Box” piece.

A New York Time article on the exhibit and William Kentridge at large: Nosing Around in Many, Many Forms . In addition to the article, it listed a few video clips that are worth watching.

Bought the exhibit catalog. But haven’t watched the DVD yet. I think i’m a little over-dosed on all of his arts and ideas. Would need to take some time to get a little distance before diving back in again… When i do, there will probably be a third installment on William Kentridge.

William Kentridge: Five Themes @ SFMOMA


I just spent three hours in SFMOMA, until the final minute before their closing time. I was literally chased off the exhibition floor, because i had four more short films to go in the final theme “Soho and Felix”. What made leaving most agonizing was they kept showing the remainder of the films as they started chasing people out, why couldn’t i stay? just 20 minutes longer?!

Luckily our membership will last till summer. So i think i’m going back tomorrow to finish where i left off and maybe watch some of my favorite segments in various themes again.

Today is the first day of the opening of the show. Luckily many people are like me, they probably never heard of a South African artist called William Kentridge before. It was not crowded.

ZM stumbled on the exhibit by chance yesterday when he took his group of friends from New York there and it happened to be member’s preview day for the show. He came home all excited and told me to go, “So creative! Fantastic! Unbelievable work! We didn’t want to leave.”

It is probably one of the best exhibits I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world. My degree of enjoyment of the show is comparable to how i felt after seeing the Matisse-Picasso exhibit in NY MOMA back in 2003. The content are drasticaly different between the two. But my feelings were equally high, mesmerized, and satiated.

The material itself is mixed media, mostly animation films involving charcoal drawing, puppet, real footage, shadow play, and music/opera. There are also final drawings on display, as well as etching, collage, sculpture, and installation. The subject has a wide range, from lighthearted materials such as artist self-portrait, humor, love story, to sober political topics such as apartheid, soviet union’s prosecution, migration, and colonialism.

The diverse media, the fantastic imagination, and the cleverness sprinkled through William Kentridge’s works reminded me of Dali Museum in Figures outside of Barcelona, Spain. This is the kind of work that i think Dali would be creating if he was alive today.

I love how he left charcoal smudge after he erased what was there before. It looked like the mark of memory in time, shadows of what had been when all things had passed… Then i read what William Kentridge had to say about these smudges.

The imperfect erasures of the successive stages of each drawing become a record of the progress of an idea and a record of the passage of time. The smudges of erasure thicken time in the film, but they also serve as a record of the days and months spent making the film – a record of thinking in slow motion.
– SF Chronicle, “William Kentridge: Five Themes at SFMOMA

I love the three films in the Magic Flute theme. The operatic music, the miniature stage sets, and the mechanic controlled puppets taking turns came on stage.

I love the way he present multiple installation in each theme, and you have to watch all of them to see the multiple facets he had intended to tell one story. I’ve seen other modern art installation with multiple screens, but no one had mastered the interconnectedness as well as William Kentridge, and no one had made the experience so intriguing, enjoyable, and sometimes, beautiful.

I love the title of one short film in the theme “Soho and Felix”, when his wife left him, Soho’s empire started crumpling physically (this film was made in 1991 i think, but the crumpling of tall building eerily resembled 911). At the end, over the flat world filled with ashes, stood Soho alone, and the sky was filled in with big block letters, “Her Absence Filled the World.” It almost made me cry. Just almost.

will try to write tomorrow after i see the remainder of the show… The SF MOMA site did a good job presenting this exhibit as well. The interactive feature is especially interesting.

Just found the press release from SFMOMA regarding the exhibit. It is organized by SFMOMA and Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida. After premier at SFMOMA, it goes to Fort Worth, WEst palm Beach, New York, Paris, Amsterdam, Vienna, and Jerusalem in 2009-2011.

Don’t know why it has to hide in such a pdf instead of on the site page itself, but the Five Themes are:

  • Parcours d’Atelier: Artist in the Studio – it contains multiscreen projection “7 Fragments for Georges Méliès(2003)”
  • Thick Time: Soho and Felix – contains nine short animated films made in 1989, 1990, 1991, 1994, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2003 (this is located on the opposite end of the exhibition floor, i almost missed it. Ended up watching this at the end.).
  • Occasional and Residual Hope: Ubu and the Procession (1996, 1999). One of the hardest one to watch because it is about apartheid.
  • Sarastro and the Master’s Voice: The Magic Flute (2003, 2005, 2006, 2007). My favorite!
  • Learning from the Absurd: The Nose. On Soviet Union.

The exhibition catalog will include a DVD containing films by Kentridge and some background on their making.
It will also contain comments on his work never published before. Kentridge turns out to explain his art as brilliantly as he produces it.
– SF Chronicle, “William Kentridge: Five Themes at SFMOMA

Definitely getting the exhibition catalog! 🙂

Quality of his video on youtube is not very good, these two are less shaky so you won’t feel dizzy watching, might gave you some idea on some of his methods.


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. 🙂