Thursday, December 25, 2008

Fool's Mate

A few days ago I paid a visit to Zaca Mesa Winery & Vineyards in Santa Barbara and saw a 3D chessboard there. I couldn't help but rearrange the pieces to show the infamous Fool's Mate to my girlfriend :P



By the way, Merry Christmas! :)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Against All Odds - Phil Collins


I got to know about this classic through the DDR version. Still remember the time when I competed against my buddy on this song in a DDR competition :P

This version from The Postal Service is pretty cool too :)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

How to be a responsible person: Just say NO

As discussed in my previous post, what duties you have depends on what roles you are playing.

There are some roles that are assigned to you no matter if you like them or not. For example, most people have living parents and they assume the role of son/daughter. If you live on the earth (duh), you got to be living in some country and so you assume the role of a citizen of that country and has to abide by the its laws. Although these roles carry some kind of duties also, I'm not talking about them in this post since you don't have a choice (or it's very difficult) to leave them.

Can we assume a role voluntarily? Of course. We do that all the times in our lives:
  • When you accept an offer from company X, you assume the role of an employee of that company
  • When you marry your lover, you assume the role of a husband/wife
  • When you give birth to a child, you assume the role of a parent.
  • When you buy a dog, you assume the role of a pet owner
  • And a lot more...
Except in the case of proposing to your girlfriend when you're drunk, your actions are voluntary, and so are the resulting roles.

One very common problem many people have these days is that they assume a role too easily.

A friend asks you to go to a theme park since he get 50% discount on the tickets so you say

"Why not? Get a ticket for me."

After a few days, you succeed in asking your dream girl out but she happens to be free only on that same Saturday. So, you call your friend and tell him that you're not going.

"But what about your ticket man? There's no refund on discounted tickets."

"Hmm maybe you can ask your other friends to see if any of them wants to buy it."

"Alright let me try... Maybe I can sell it on Craigslist..."

If your friend can't sell that ticket, he would have to take the loss.

To my mind, you have to buy it from your friend whether you're going or not. As soon as you say "Why not? Get a ticket for me", you assume the role of a guest and your duties are to pay for the ticket and attend the event. If you can't fulfill the duty of attending the event for a valid reason (alright, dream girl is a valid reason), you should at least fulfill the duty of buying the ticket.

In my example, you can't really predict that your dream girl is only available on that Saturday so you can't refuse your friend's invitation while you should have done that. However, there're many cases in real lives in which one can just say no after exercising a little bit of brain power.

For example, if you're already very busy with your full-time work, it'd be very difficult for you to accept a part-time volunteering work of, say, tutoring low-income students for free. Hey, I'm not saying that helping poor students isn't meaningful. You should realize though that you only have 24 hours a day. If you need to spend 12 hours at work and 8 hours to sleep, you only have 4 hours left for all the other things. Even if you're able to squeeze time out to tutor your students, the quality of your tutoring will nowhere be near good.

So, the first step of being a responsible person is to learn saying no. Even if you can fulfill the duties but the quality of your job will be bad, say no too. A little bit of perfectionism is healthy and you should say to yourself "If I cannot do this job well, I would rather say no and not do it at all".

"But then people will dislike me because I say no too often."

Well, maybe. The thing is, people will dislike you even more if you say yes and then say no later on. If you do that often enough, your friends or coworkers or boss or, most importantly, dream girl won't take your words seriously anymore.

So, know your limitations and say no responsibly :)

Previous article: "How to be a responsible person: Definitions"
Next article: "How to be a responsible person: Cut unused communication channels"

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Buy $25 gift certificates for $3 at Restaurant.com

For a limited period of time you can purchase $25 gift certificates for $3 each at Restaurant.com. Just use the offer code BELLS when you check out and you will see the discount. Too good to be true? Well you should note the following:
  • Most of the restaurants there are not very well known so you probably need to do some research to see if they are worth visiting or not
  • To use the $25 gift certificates, you have to spend at least $35 (or $50 for some restaurants) there and a 18% gratuity will be added to the pre-discounted check amount. So, if you order exactly $35 amount of food, you will pay $16.30
  • If you don't live in California, the gift certificate will expire in one year. If you do live in CA, however, it won't expire (but the restaurant can go out of business before you use it)
Hope that this is useful to you in this economy :)

Update: Not sure if you care but the offer code FROSTY will make the certificates $2, save you one more buck :P

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Some rants about the auto bailout

Alright, let me take a break from the "How to be a responsible person" series and talk about the auto bailout. After reading the news about AIG paying $4 million to retain their "important" managers, I just can't help but doubt how the automakers will spend the taxpayer's money should they receive it (which is likely now).

So, let us ask ourselves, why do we want to bail out the failing automakers?

"If we don't save the automakers, more than a million jobs will be lost!"

To make that reason valid, we have to assume that the automakers will actually survive after we bail them out. If they continuing making cars that few people want, they'll still fail and thus trashing all those taxpayer's bailout money that can find great alternative use in society (don't tell me that we don't have other problems to fix).

Do you really think that will happen? You do? ARE YOU SURE? Or you're saying that will happen with a probability of 0.01?

If you have one minute, would you take a look at GM's income statement? It has been losing huge amounts of money since 2005. We are now at the end of 2008 and there's no pattern whatsoever that shows that it'll start profiting again in the near future.

In the history of business, how many companies can actually turn around from the brink of bankruptcy and prosper again? I didn't do much due diligence but, to the best of my knowledge, only Apple manged to do it in recent history, and that's because a genius like Steve Jobs came back to rescue it. I would bet that no more than 10% of companies manage to do that.

The thing is, if the CEOs of these automakers have been idiots for years, chances are that they'll continue to be idiots in the future; tell me, how many times have you seen a moron transforming into a genius? Let me answer for you: Zero. And, you know what, even a genius would only have a slim chance of saving a company that is so huge, hairy, dumb and bureaucratic from failure.

If the odds are so freaking bad, why on earth would you all democrats bet our hard-earned money on the automakers? When they fail few months from now after using the bailout money to give bonus to their executives (look at AIG), millions of jobs will be lost anyways. You're just delaying the problem, not fixing it.

So what will happen if these three automakers go bankrupt? Maybe other car manufacturers like Toyota will purchase their assets, although that'll be pretty limited since they may not have enough cash on hand. The auto workers will be out of job and they can either try to get a job from foreign automakers (which is difficult at these times) or they'll have to acquire new skills and go to other industries.

Yes, the U.S. will have no more auto industry if this happens. I agree that this is very painful, given that the U.S. was once the leader in the world.

However, this is how the world economy works. When a country isn't competent enough in an industry, another country that is better will take over and grab all the businesses. Sometimes even you're second best, it's one place too far away from the best. Take a look at how much rice and coffee Thailand and Brazil produce in the world's market and you'll know.

If the U.S. cannot succeed in the auto industry, accept it and let it be. Times have changed. The critical thing is that you don't let other countries take over what you're best at now, or the history of these automaker failures will repeat in another industry.

For example, U.S. still lead far ahead in the software and web industry. So, don't let other countries take over Microsoft and Google. Be the best in making OSs and search engines so that other countries continue to rely on your products/services and pay you. As long as you create values for other countries, your economy and currency will be okay.

If you still think that these automakers should be bailed out, please refute my arguments. For reals, if you can convince me rationally, I'll be much happier since you democrats will probably bail them out anyways. Darn it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How to be a responsible person: Definitions

Before we talk about how we can be a responsible person, we should probably ask ourselves this very first question:

"How do you define whether a person is responsible?"

Let's take a look at some of the definitions on answers.com:
  • Liable to be required to give account, as of one's actions or of the discharge of a duty or trust
  • Involving personal accountability or ability to act without guidance or superior authority
  • Able to make moral or rational decisions on one's own and therefore answerable for one's behavior
  • Able to be trusted or depended upon; reliable
  • Having the means to pay debts or fulfill obligations
To illustrate in my own words, a person has certain kind of duties depending on what roles s/he are playing in society.

Those duties are either explicitly agreed upon or implicitly defined based on those roles. For example, a web developer may sign an employment agreement that says that s/he needs to develop an e-commerce website in PHP. Though the employment agreement does not specify what database s/he should use, it is assumed that s/he would use one that work well with PHP.

Some roles are assigned to a person because s/he voluntarily accepts it (when you accept an offer to work for a company). Some other roles are automatically assigned when one performs certain action (such as giving birth to a child).

No matter how a person feels about those duties, s/he has obligations to perform them by a certain time. That deadline is either explicitly agreed upon (e.g. written on a contract) or implicitly defined based on his/her role and abilities.

In the case when s/he is not able to do the duties or do them on time, s/he should admit it proactively and honestly and have the duties fulfilled through other means such as delegation. Moreover, s/he may, using his/her own discretion, decide not to do the duties because of some moral and/or rational reason(s).

Alright, I think I've pretty much exhausted all the possibilities. My upcoming posts will be written based on the above definitions. If you disagree with them or think that I've missed something, feel free to leave a comment :)

Previous article: "How to be a responsible person: Introduction"
Next article: "How to be a responsible person: Just say NO"

Saturday, December 6, 2008

How to be a responsible person: Introduction

Sometimes ago, I shared a post titled "大事由小事做起" ("To do great things, you have to do the little things well first") written by 黃毅力 because I really agreed with what he said. In particular, I think that it's very important for a person to be "有交帶".

Due to my poor English, I really can't think of a single word to describe what "有交帶" means. I can explain the term with a sentence though:
Follow up on things that one is responsible for and make sure that they get done
"Well, can't you just use the word responsible?"

The thing is, what I described is just one trait of a responsible person. For example, a responsible person will also admit his/her own mistakes openly.

Out of curiosity, I did a search on Google with the keywords "how to be a responsible person". Guess what I've found?

The first result is a page of the site goodcharacter.com. It is one of the "Life Skills" topic for grades K-5 kids there.

The second result is the legal definition of a responsible person, which has something to do with IRS and isn't really related to what I'm talking about here.

The third result is a social story for children with autism, which belongs to a class of tools that can be easily understood by them for the purpose of learning various social skills.

Wow, these results really surprise me.

Honestly, I think that many adults in this world need to learn how to be a responsible person. The lack of webpages targeted for adults probably imply that we are all supposed to learn to be a responsible person when we're kids. From my observation, however, many people fail to do that and that's why we have a lot of irresponsible adults in this world.

I'm not sure what your definition of a "successful person" is. If I am to define it, I'd say a person is successful if s/he
  • brings great value to this world
  • has a happy family
You may also want to say "famous, "is respected by his/her peers" or "financially independent" but I realize that if you bring great value to this world, you WILL BE famous, respected by your peers and financially independent.

Although I dare not say that I'm a successful person, I'm deeply convinced that being responsible is a necessary (although not sufficient) factor to be successful.

Because of this, I've decided to write a series of posts about how one can be a responsible person. If you don't care about being successful, just ignore what I write. If you do care, however, I hope that you will find my posts useful :)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A video explaining why you shouldn't talk to cops



This is an excellent video that explains why you shouldn't talk to the police. Let me summarize what James said in the video:
  • According to the Fifth Amendment to the Unites States Constituion, no person can be forced in any criminal case to be a witness against himself
  • It is not a shame to take the Fifth and exercise your right to remain silent
  • The Supreme Court said
    One of the Fifth Amendment's basic functions is to protect innocent men who otherwise might be ensnared by ambiguous circumstances. Truthful responses of an innocent witness, as well as those of the wrongdoer, may provide the government incriminating evidence from the speaker's own mouth
  • The criminal laws are so complicated and immense that no one can say for sure that s/he doesn't violate any of them (in his example, one can be convicted for owning a lobster shorter than a certain size as it violates some state law)
Reasons for not talking to the police:
  • There is no way it can help
  • If your client is guilty, and even if he is innocent, he may admit his guilt with no benefit in return
  • Even if your client tells the police something they already know, it can still be disadvantageous to him since if, for some reason, the police can't be a witness at the time of the trial, the case will be dismissed
  • Even if your client is innocent and denies his guilt and mostly tells the truth, he can easily get carried away and tell some little lie or make some little mistake that will hang him
  • Even if your client is innocent and only tells the truth, he will always give the police some information that can be used to help convict him
  • Even if your client is innocent and only tells the truth and does not tell the police anything incriminating, there is still a grave chance that his answers can be used to crucify him if the police don't recall his testimony with 100% accuracy
  • Even if your client is innocent and only tells the truth and does not tell the police anything incriminating and his statement is videotaped, his answers can be used to crucify him if the police don't recall the questions with 100% accuracy
  • Even if your client is innocent and only tells the truth and does not tell the police anything incriminating and the entire interview is videotaped, his answers can still be used to crucify him if the police have any evidence, even mistaken or unreliable evidence, that any of his statements are false
If you would like to hear what an officer thought about James' argument, watch part 2 :)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

One of the most "innovative" inventions I've ever seen...

"Ever feel bored running on a treadmill because you're at a static location all the times? Don't worry! With Treadmobil, you can enjoy working out on a treadmill and the beautiful scenes on the street!"



Ehhhh.... I think there's something we call, hmmm, RUNNING?

Actually, let me summarize its pros and cons:

Pros
  • The only pro I can think about this machine is that treadmill causes less stress to your ankle compared to running on the street. But a bicycle serves that purpose too right?
Cons
  • The size of the machine is pretty big so you may hit a few pedestrians during your workout.
  • It doesn't look like you can stop the machine except by running backward. Have fun on a downhill.
  • It looks kind of dumb running on it.
Guess what, they even have a patent pending for this machine :P

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Gmail Tree theme adds water droplets when it rains heavily

It's raining so heavily now and my Gmail Tree theme changes its look:

For a second I thought that those are real water droplets on my screen since they weren't there when it started raining (the water droplets appeared when it changes from drizzle to rainstorm while the raining background was already there when the rain started).

I like little touches like this :)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Promise me - Beverley Craven


Was browsing my music library and found this lovely old song. Here's its beautiful lyrics.
You light up another cigarette
and I pour the wine
It's four o'clock in the morning
and it's starting to get light
now I'm right where I want to be
losing track of time
but I wish that it was still last night

You look like you're in another world
but I can read your mind
how can you be so far away
lying by my side
when I go away I'll miss you
and I will be thinking of you
every night and day just

Promise me you'll wait for me
'cos I'll be saving all my love for you
and I will be home soon

Promise me you'll wait for me
I need to know you feel the same way too
and I'll be home, I'll be home soon

When I go away I'll miss you
and I will be thinking of you
every night and day just

Promise me you'll wait for me
'cos I'll be saving all my love for you
and I will be home soon
Promise me you'll wait for me
I need to know you feel the same way too
and I'll be home, I'll be home soon
I like this piano version too :)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Alhambra fire last night

An image I took when I was out on the street in my pajama:


Here is a link to a video from Los Angeles Times:

http://www.latimes.com/video/?autoStart=true&topVideoCatNo=default&clipId=3152121

We were very lucky that the firefighters from Alhambra and all the cities around put the fire under control within an hour. If it had spreaded to other houses/buildings, it would have been catastrophic. From the deepest of my heart, I would like to thank the firefighters for protecting our lives and properties. You have done an excellent job!

Monday, November 17, 2008

他一個人 (Lone Man) - Eason Chan


Eason performs best when he's totally "in" the song. Take a look at his facial expression and you'll what I mean :)

Friday, November 14, 2008

When everyone around is drunk and you're the only one sober

If you wonder what will happen to you when everyone around is drunk and you're the only one sober, watch this:

Yup, you will be humiliated. That sad, the brave ones will tell the truth despite such humiliation. Good job Peter.

If you're interested, here's another thought-provoking interview with Peter Schiff with Bloomberg (Part 1 & Part 2). Peter pointed out that the biggest problem of the U.S. is that people like to consume more than they can afford, which I agree and am always puzzled at simultaneously. Except housing and car (which I need), I'll just never buy anything that I can't afford and can live without. Why is it such a tough thing to do for so many people?? (~__~ )

P.S. By the way, you should probably notice that the ones who laugh at people easily are usually idiots. Take a look at those imbeciles in the above video and you'll know.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Take Me To Your Heart - Michael Learns To Rock

Just found that MLTR translated Jacky cheung's 吻別 (Goodbye Kiss) into English:



Here's Jacky's version:



Which one do you like better? :P

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Birthplace of the Internet: 3420 Boelter Hall

I've long known that UCLA is the birthplace of the Internet. However, not until recently did I know the exact location of where this historical moment happened just more than 39 years ago: 3420 Boelter Hall. As a web programmer, I feel that it is my responsibility to check it out (after all, I'll be jobless if the Internet doesn't exist):

This is the current 3420 Boelter Hall

See, it is 3420

This is the old 3420 Boelter Hall, which
has become 3424 Boelter Hall now

Someone just used a marker to make the
"0" a "4" now. Typical engineer solution...
(-___- )

Because of this notice, I think that the first
ARPANET message was sent from this
3424 Boelter Hall, not the one I showed
in the first two photos

A look of the two rooms (on the left)
and the hallway

Man, the Engineering School should spend some money to create a plaque or, better yet, make 3420 Boelter Hall a exhibition room. Come on, this is a huge thing! Can you imagine what the world is like now if this groundbreaking research project didn't succeed back in 1969? :P

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

"You should vote for this candidate."

So Obama won.

Not because of Palin's extraordinary interviews with various reporters, I really wasn't sure which candidate was better. I guess a fair thing to say is that the McCain/Palin combination can turn out to be pretty bad if McCain has any health problem. For the Obama/Biden combination, maybe it works, maybe it doesn't. I'd just say that, probabilistically, Obama has a smaller chance of screwing up. Now that they won, I certainly hope that they'll do a good job in the coming four years.

There's another thing I want to talk about in this post though: some churches told their members to vote for one particular candidate. And, if I'm not mistaken, some member actually wanted to vote for the other one but gave up because s/he wanted to conform to what "the church says".

I know one major reason the churches told their members to vote for a specific candidate is that they oppose homosexual marriage. I did no due diligence on this issue so I'm in no position to decide whether it'll be good or bad to society (Although I doubt whether it really is bad to the kids if the schools teach them about same-sex marriage. Even assumimg homosexual orientation is a bad thing, which I hold a neutral stand, not teaching it is like not letting the kids know that there're violent crimes and murdering in this world).

The thing that makes me feel really uneasy is that they told their members whom to vote for. Well, they might not explicitly tell them whom to vote for, but the implicit pressure from the pastors and other members was enough to deter them from voting otherwise.

I think that's not right.

We're not only talking about churches. Any organization, group, professional soceity can have a stand on which candidate to support. However, it should not tell or imply to the members that if they vote differently, they're betraying the organization and/or other members. While we have laws that prohibit people from bribing voters to vote in favor of a certain party, I don't see punishing a person for voting a specific candidate is anything better.

After all, what's mean by democracy? If people in some groups cannot vote for a candidate according to their free will, that's not democracy; it's just a democratic society with many little monarchies.

I know my church friends will probably feel unhappy with this post. Really, I don't want to trigger any flamewar. I merely want to bring out the following message:

No matter how strongly/religiously you believe that a candidate should win/lose, do respect your members' choices and encourage them to make their own decisions.

Respect the spirit of democracy :)

Friday, October 31, 2008

Interesting final position of a recent chess game

The following is the final position of a recent chess game I played:

Image from Facebook

My queen and two bishops were all in front of my opponent's pawns and he couldn't capture any of them. A nice finish :P

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Animator vs. Animation 2


This is a cool video my coworker sent me :) The first one is here, not as good but pretty fun too!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Okay I was wrong....

After seeing Tina Fey's hilarious imitation of Sarah Palin's interview with Katie Couric (the real one is here),



I admitted that it is, after all, not that difficult to choose the right president (as opposed in my previous post). Well, given a "not so smart" candidate and a regular candidate, who will you choose? Perhaps Palin's greatest contribution in this presidential election is to make it super easy for the US people to make an obvious choice :P

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Some thoughts on Democracy: Ethicality vs Effectiveness

Western cultures love democracy. You can tell that by the sheer number of US TV shows that involve voting:
  • American Idol? Let's vote!
  • American's Got Talent? Let's vote!
  • American Inventor? Let's vote!
  • Last Comic Standing? Let's vote!
And of course, we got to vote to decide who's going to be our president.

Why do we like democracy? One big reason is that it's fair. Thomas Jefferson wrote that "all men are created equal" in the Declaration of Independence. So, isn't it perfectly ethical that everyone should have his/her voice heard when it comes to deciding who's going to lead the country?

Yes, it's ethical, it's fair, it's politically very correct.

The sad thing is, ethicality doesn't necessarily lead to effectiveness.

"No, let me give you one counter example that fairness leads to effectiveness. The woman who won the Last Comic Standing was actually the funniest among all the other comics and she won because she got the most votes from the audience!"

Well, let me tell you: the reason we arrived at a good decision of the Last Comic Standing show was that people in general have the ability to decide, duh, who makes them laugh. It has nothing to do with whether the system is fair or not.

Now let me ask you

"The policies that Obama/McCain propose, do you think that they will be effective? If you do, why?"

I remember seeing a presidential debate between Obama and Clinton. The moderator asked Obama why he wanted to raise capital gain tax because, historically, raising tax rate doesn't necessarily increase tax income for the government. I forgot how Obama responded exactly but he implied that it is the right thing to do. Or, ethical, fair, politically correct, choose one you like.


In Freakonomics, Levitt claimed that the sudden crime rate drop in the US during the 90's was due to the legalization of abortion in the 70's. I know there's a good deal of people who don't agree with his theory and I don't have time to read about all the technical details of their analysis. However, one thing I'm pretty sure is that Levitt's theory cannot be completely wrong.

If it's not completely wrong, we've just witnessed a case in which ethnically questionable behavior (abortion) can lead to good outcome for society (crime rate drop).

The more I read about economics, the more I believe that it's very difficult to decide whether a government policy is actually beneficial to the country. A policy that sounds so good to you may well be a disaster to the economy as a whole in the long run.

Realizing it actually irritates me when the presidential candidates say something like

"We'll make health care accessible to the poor."

"We believe that everyone should get a job that pays living wage."

"We'll be energy independent."

How can you make huge promises like these? How do you know that the polices you're proposing will actually work and not harm other parts of the economy at the same time? Do you know that we don't have infinite resources to make everything wonderful?

Maybe, maybe a citizen can decide whether your polices are good if s/he
  • has a deep understanding of various economics theories
  • has good mathematical and analytic skills
  • will actually read through all the words in your policies and understand them
Do you think an average citizen has/will do the above? Tell you what, I really like reading but I still feel tired if I need to read through a long article like this one to understand the cons of the abortion-drops-crime-rate theory. Mind you, it's just one theory/policy on one potential cause. A candidate proposes many policies that affect numerous aspects of the country. No exaggerating, one probably needs to read thousands of pages just to have a grasp of what really is going on.

No, an average citizen won't/doesn't have the ability to do that. Because of this, I don't think an average citizen would make a good decision on choosing the right candidate. And, a lot of average citizens making decisions with no rational ground will just result in one final average, or, bad, decision.

That's why I think that, as good as democracy sounds, it is seriously handicapped in leading to effective decisions on complex issues such as, yup, choosing the right person as the president of a country.

If highly educated citizens in a developed country like the US may not make good decisions on choosing a good leader, how hot an idea can it be for a developing country like China with many illiterate citizens to practice democracy? I really, really doubt it.

What do I want to say in this post?
  • Be a critical thinker; ideas that sound that they work doesn't mean that they'll actually work
  • Be non-religious when situation warrants it; actions that are ethical doesn't mean that they'll lead to good outcomes
Thanks for reading :)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

原來只要共你活一天 (Just living with you for one day) - Jacky Cheung


原 來 只 要 共 你 活 一 天   凡 塵 裡 一 切 可 以 別 掛 念  
原 來 海 角 天 際 亦 會 變   原 來 生 過 死 過 深 愛 亦 無 變
原 來 只 要 共 你 活 一 天   完 全 去 把 你 所 有 都 發 現
原 來 只 要 相 信 便 看 見   原 來 給 你 真 愛 的 我 是 無 悔  
是 每 一 天

Beautiful lyrics :)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bad decisons aren't that bad after all

Some days ago I shared Seth's post "The plight (and the pox) of the undecided". Now that I read about it again, I realize that there was a third reason in addition to laziness and keeping choices open for why people don't like planning:

They are just afraid of taking responsibility to make decisions.

Why are people afraid of making decisions? Obviously, they're afraid of making a bad decision, which in turn results in undesirable outcomes.

Actually, it's not that difficult to sympathize with that fear in certain culture. In a regular Chinese elementary school, students are very much encouraged to follow orders. The teachers don't want the students to make decisions because they may very well be bad ones. Because of this, they'd rather make you follow orders, even though they're boring and can only lead to mediocre and expected behavior.

As scary as it may sound, bad decisions are often better than indecision/following order. Unless a bad decision is so bad that it leads to permanent damage (such as killing yourself or cutting off your legs), it usually is beneficial because it makes you learn something.

I think you didn't forget about Nietzsche's "That which does not kill us makes us stronger", did you?

What's so much a big deal of making a bad decision? Google screwed up the Google Chrome's privacy policy by including the wrong words in the terms of service and they quickly admitted the mistake and corrected it.

It puzzles me so much that when some company makes a big deal of it when its employees make bad decisions. In such a hostile environment, no one will take any chance and, consequently, no one will do an outstanding job either. Worse still, the employees will constantly need to be babysat by their managers and if the managers are out sick then everything comes to a halt since no one can/dare make a decision.

That reminds me of another quote:

"I have never made any mistake but I've also never accomplished anything."

How sad is that??

It's okay to make bad decisions, as long as you
  • frankly admit that you screw up
  • take the effort to avoid making the same bad decision again.
So, be confident in making a decision next time (especially, yup, if you're a guy).

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Smooth Criminal - Michael Jackson


This is the best MTV of Michael Jackson to my mind. I especially like the portion from 5:27 to 7:35; it feels so postmodernistic although the MTV was made in the 80's :)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Free ice cream at Cold Stone on your birthday

Not sure if you guys know about this already but you can get a free ice cream at Cold Stone on your birthday:
Image from Cold Stone Creamery

You can sign up here. I got mine this year and it was pretty good. Love their cheesecake flavor :)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The necessity of punishment

After the milk scandal in China, I guess almost none of you dare buy any dairy product from China right?

No, not only dairy product, it should be any food product from China.

No no no, it should be any product from China.

How sad is that?

I just can't estimate how much economic losses are resulted from this scandal. I'm not only talking about China; the countries that used to enjoy the cheap products from China have to buy expensive goods from some other trusted source now because they completely lost all the confidence in Chinese-made products.

Are all Chinese businesses evil? Definitely not. In this milk scandal, I believe that most of the dairy farmers are honest people. The unfair truth is that if only 30% of the farmers are malicious, it's enough to destroy the whole dairy industry. What can the remaining 70% dairy farmers do? Trying to claim that their milk is melamine-free? Will you trust any of them? If you're talking about the health of your kids, you just won't take any chance.

Is this tragedy a result of human greed? I don't think so. On the contrary, capitalism works because human beings are, in general, greedy. When many businesses try to maximize their profits by bringing gasoline to areas that are short of gas, not only will it drive the local prices down but it'll also bring more gas supplies to the residents there so that they don't have to wait at the gas station all day long. In other words, in a capitalist country, the process of maximizing one's benefits also maximizes the benefits of other people, so greed is a good thing.

Come to think about it, the malicious dairy farmers should know that adding melamine to the milk will eventually drive them out of business and got them busted. So, it's bad to them in the long run. However, if by doing so they can
  • Make a huge sum of money in the short run
  • Manage to get away from any legal responsibility
Then, there will be enough incentives to commit such a hateful crime.


Doesn't that sound familiar to us in the U.S.? Yes, it's just like the mortgage bankers who caused this detrimental financial crisis that shakes the world's economy by making loans that have no hope to be repaid just for the sake of those fat commissions/bonuses. One difference between the dairy farmers and the mortgage bankers is that most of the bad dairy farmers will probably be put in jail for many years while the mortgage bankers are enjoying the 700 billion bailout resulted from their absurd lending practices.

I'm not an economist, so there's no way I can predict whether this 700 billion bailout actually benefits the U.S. people from the standpoint of the economy as a whole looking forward. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't. However, if the wrongdoers who caused this humongous financial crisis in the first place were not punished, I guarantee that the history will repeat again:

If you can be a CEO of a public company who is guaranteed a multi-million severance package even if you drive the business to bankruptcy, will you be one?

"That's too good ridiculous to be true!"

Yes it is, but it's true. Welcome to the business world of the U.S.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Bionic Burger

Just saw this post on Eileen's blog and found this video on YouTube:

It was hard to believe at first but then I believe it's true. I probably will buy a hamburger from McDonald's to try the experiment myself..

Related links:

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Funny counterfeit brands

Just saw a lot of counterfeit brands made in China on this page and can't wait to share some of the funny ones that are familiar to the Americans with you :P

All images are from 6park.com



Tids



Okay... so it should be okay to use it right?



Sprite (the left one is counterfeit, note the difference
between the first Chinese characters; the one on the left
means "cloud" while the one on the right means "snow")



Cala-Cala


Three "Oreo"s competing in the Chinese market


Nokla cell phone

Oh, that's IV, so it's IVIKE, not NIKE


Almost forgot the "a" man

avivas...

adadas...

adidos...

adibas... Man how many variations of adidas
do you have?

The cougar has a punk hairstyle for the
Punk brand, that makes sense :P
How did the cougar "evolved" into a bear?

And the bear becomes a tuna for, duh, Tuna

Pama.. Look likes a "pa pa" (dad) cougar?

Bessie

And last but not least, try our KFG chicken :)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

You And Me - Lifehouse


One of my favorite scenes in Forrest Gump is the moment when Forrest met Jenny again in front of the Washington Monument (at 1:00 of the video). Nice song :)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Buy one entree and two drinks and get a free entree at Marie Callender's

Buy one entree and two drinks and get a free entree at Marie Callender's:
Image from mcpies.com
Or you can get 20% off you total bill too. See this coupon for details :)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Overpriced stuff

One time, a friend asked me why I don't order alcoholic beverage at restaurants. To start with, I don't really like alcohol. The real reason, however, is that they're seriously overpriced.

If you buy a pack of 30 Budweiser beer at some supermarket, it probably costs you less than $1 per can. Get it at a restaurant like Yard House? It'll cost you at least $5 per glass. That's a 500% increase in price.

Well, in a free market, price is determined by supply and demand. How can something be overpriced?

That's true in a market with competitors who can compete freely. When you're having dinner at some restaurant, there's no way you can go to the Albertsons next door to buy your own beer. The restaurant has basically become a monopoly in the dining area "market"; if you want a taste of alcohol, you gotta buy a glass from them.

There are many examples of these artificial monopolies in one's daily life like:
  • Coke and popcorn in a theater
  • Drinks and dessert at a restaurant
  • Fast food at an airport
  • Parking at some event/fair
  • Any food in a theme park
I know that you're not only paying for the beer but also the service, environment, atmosphere etc. of the restaurant. Still, when you overprice the products to a certain degree, I just can't help feeling ripped off when I pay you. In general, I consider something as way overpriced if you're asking for 100% more than the average price. 500%? Forget about it.

What actually puzzles me is that many Americans are happy paying for all these overpriced goods (using their credit cards probably). If they're not doing that, these businesses may be forced to lower their prices and thus benefiting more people.

You may say that these are just different ways of marketing. Business A sells cheap and profit from quantities while Business B sells way high and profit from the large margin. At the end, both Business A and B make the same amount of money so they're even, right?

To me, there're at least two advantages for Business A:
  • You create good will because your customers don't feel ripped off; in fact, most people are happy when they think that they get a good deal.
  • If you're talking about food business, Business A's food will be fresher since it's not kept long before it's sold to the customers. For non-food businesses, I believe that Business A has a more flexible cash flow.
I've yet to see a theater that doesn't overprice their drinks and snacks. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn't; it doesn't sound so bad as a new business idea to try out though, right? I promise I'll grab a bag a popcorn for my next movie if you try that :P

Thursday, September 18, 2008

1995 MTV Video Music Awards Performance "Dangerous" - Michael Jackson


One day I saw this performance by Michael in Fry's Electronics and that was when I began to like him. I actually bought his DVD that day (trust me, I very rarely buy DVDs). Enjoy :)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Bird's Nest

A senior Wahyanite Peter gave me this photo of the Bird's Nest that he took during the Beijing Olympics and it's one of the best gifts I received in many years. Will need to buy a photo frame for it. Thank you so much Peter! :)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

You think that the noises of your motocycle make you look "cool"?

I really hate the loud noises produced by some motorcycles such as those made by Harley-Davidson. Every time one of those noisy monsters goes by the street it will
  • trigger the alarm systems of all the cars
  • shake the windows in my home
  • wake me up from my sleep
What's up with those guys?? Do they really think that the freaking loud noise of their motorcycles make them look cool?? To me, they're nothing more than some stupid teenagers trying to annoy their neighbors with super loud music while they're doing it as a grown adult.

If you like riding motorcycles, no problem, get one that's quiet such as those made by Yamaha. Loud noises only make you an inconsiderable moron instead of "tough" man.

Note: If you're also a victim of noise pollution caused by motorcycles, you may want to read this page at NoiseOFF for more information on this problem.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Holding a Mii in the air


Do you guys know what happens if you hold a Mii in the air? It "dances"! :P

Sunday, September 7, 2008

"We don't give out our prices"

Let's imagine this scenario:

One day, you're shopping at Best Buy and an nice desktop catch your attention. You like it pretty much but you can't find any price tag on it. So, you ask a nearby salesman how much it costs.

"It's only $750 sir. If you want a wide-screen 20" monitor it's going to be $100 more. You can also add $50 to get this nice Epson printer. Of course, this set of wireless keyboard and mouse from Logitech is yours if you're willing to pay just $40 more. It's a very good deal!"

Hmmm, sounds like a lot of optional accessories. You think that it's probably wiser to find out how much Amazon and Walmart are selling them.

"Would you give me a price sheet with the costs of all those optional accessories?"

"No. We don't give out our prices."

"What?? But you just told me about them!" You exclaim.

"Yes but we don't give those out on paper."

"..........."




How will you feel about that?




I don't know about you, but for me, I'll immediately feel that a scam is going on. How can I not feel like that if you have something to hide?

No kidding, I just personally experienced this last week. Not at Best Buy though (they'll be dead if they've such a practice). This happened in a Chinese dentist's office; I asked them for a price sheet of their services and they refused. It was as if they were so afraid that I'd compare their prices with the ones of other dentists (which was what I was going to do).

The Internet, especially Wikipedia, has forever narrowed the gap between experts and laymen. Much of the knowledge (such as public companies' financial data) that's not easily accessible 20 years ago can be brought to your fingertips within seconds by Google.

The funny thing is that many industries (dentistry in this case) still don't realize this fact (or, they realize it, but choose to deny it and continue dreaming) and think that they can overcharge you by keeping their knowledge and prices secret. This is not only unethical but also stupid.

Come on, we live in a capitalist country. No matter what business you want to do, competition is inevitable. I can't find an accurate word to describe how naive it is to try to avoid competition, and, very ironically, this is practiced by some so-called highly educated people like dentists.

Hammer said that

"中國人做生意,大慨都以為講良心是白痴﹗"

which translate to

"Chinese think that it's stupid to be conscientious in the business world."

Alright, if you'd like to cheat your customers, no problem, be damn smart at doing it so that no one in the world can discover it. Otherwise, you really are very stupid when you got caught by normal people like me because your tricks are just too obvious.

Trust me, even you just care about your own benefits, it's much easier to do business with honesty and transparency than cheating customers. Why not spend time on thinking on how you can improve your services/products instead of trying to design the next new trick to cheat people? (~__~ )

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Thriller performance from CPDRC inmates


An impressive performance of Thriller from the inmates at CPDRC (Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center). I think it's a good thing that the Philippines government is willing do let people in jail do this. Oh that "woman" is really funny hahaha :D

Sunday, August 31, 2008

"Judge me by my accomplishments, not the number of hours I spend at the office."

Dilbert.com

Hehe nice joke :) That's why the folks at 37signals only work 4 days a week and still accomplish so much more than software companies that are double or triple its size (I think 37signals still has no more than 20 employees).

One major reason why management doesn't like this idea is that they just don't have a reliable and consistent way to measure accomplishments. Yes, if we can't measure accomplishment, this concept won't work.

However, one thing we should be crystal clear is that even if there's no such good measuring method, it doesn't change the fact that accomplishments matter much more than hours. So, the job of management is to figure out a way to measure them instead of denying this fact.

From what I know, at least Best Buy and 37signals figure a way to do this. So, I don't think it's an impossible task :P

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Would you give me back a Nokia 5190?

Honestly, I start to miss the days when I used Nokia 5190 as my cell phone.

"What? Nokia 5190? Is it similar to to Nokia 5310? Probably a little bit older (5190 is just a bit smaller than 5310) right?"

No no no, I used a Nokia 5190 almost 10 years old. If you're curious, here's how it looks

photo from Wirefly.com

"Come on, you must be kidding right? That phone is freaking ugly!"

No, I'm not kidding, I'm serious.

Back in those days, cell phones don't really have any feature:
  • No color screen
  • No email
  • No calendar
  • No web surfing
  • No music
  • No camera
  • No video
  • No Bluetooth
  • No GPS
  • No 3G
Darn it, it almost has nothing! (I almost wanted to say "No Game" but Nokia 5190 has the snake game!) And yet, I can't really recall any unhappy experience about using cell phone back then.

Fast forward to 2008. What do we have now? Wow we have the amazing iPhone! Even 3G! Twice the speed for downloading a file? Awesome!

The thing is, I don't really give a dime.

My primary use of the cell phone is, duh, just to talk on the phone. If you don't do this thing right, even you phone has zillions of super-cool-must-have features on the 5G network, there's no point for me to buy it.

I'm sure you've watched enough ads of "fewest dropped calls" from AT&T and "can you hear me now" from Verizon. Have you thought about why we don't have ads like those in the 90's? That's because we rarely have dropped calls and usually have good signals back then!

Alright, I know the network plays a big role on dropped calls and coverage area. Still, I think that the cell phones we have nowadays perform no better (if not worse) than an ancient Nokia 5190 in terms of the talking experience.

People from Nokia, Motorola, Ericsson, Samsung, LG, Siemens and all the other cell phone companies, please listen: if you can build a cell phone with
  • Strong reception (I mean really strong)
  • Good voice quality (so that I don't have to say "Say that again please")
  • Long battery life (I don't want my battery to die in the middle of the day like the iPhone 3G)
  • A phone book (well, I can't remember that many phone numbers)
  • A reasonable size (as big as the Nokia 5190 is okay)
  • A slot for plugging in a hands-free headset (not that I want but it's required by the law)
  • A number pad and all the necessary keys (duh, this is a phone)
I swear I will buy one from you. Take my words.

Alright alright, within a reasonable price too :P

Monday, August 25, 2008

My avatar from Face Your Manga

Elizza made an avatar using Face Your Manga and I tried making one for myself too:


However, I still think that the Mii image looks more like me:


That Face Your Manage one is too cute :P

Saturday, August 23, 2008

"The vaccum is too heavy for me :("

Recently read a little story about how a woman (let's call her May) made his husband do housework:

May's husband grew up in a male dominant culture where women are supposed to do all the housework. Because of this, May was so tired everyday as she had a full-time job PLUS all the housework at home. She tried talking to her husband about it but he just wouldn't help. Then, she came up with an idea.

One day, she told her husband that she was going to return the vacuum she bought not long ago.

"Why are you returning it? It looks like a good vacuum."

"Oh the vacuum is just too heavy for me :(" she said hopelessly.

"Come on, how heavy can that be?"

And her husband got up and showed her how light it was and vacuumed the whole sitting room easily.

"Yeah I don't have as much strength as you do. I guess you're the only one who can handle it in our home. Let's keep it then :)" she said with a smile.

After that incident, her husband vacuumed their home every week without her asking for it but she always appreciated him afterward. Later on, he agreed to do some other housework too.

I'm sure many of you heard about story like this before but few women can manage to pull this off. Men are really that easy to be manipulated sometimes and, guess what, they are happy to be manipulated this way. Well, they probably don't feel manipulated; it just satisfies their macho minds since they're able to do something useful for their wives and be appreciated.

So, when you on the verge of shouting at your boyfriend/husband next time, be a wise woman and pet his little ego :)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Sunday, August 17, 2008

About claiming the copyright of your content

Sometimes ago I noticed that all the videos of the Yellow River Piano Concerto performed by Yin Chengzong were removed by YouTube and felt quite sad about it.

Yes, I know that companies like Amazon sells audio CD that contains his performance and it potentially hurts their interest to let the videos be so easily accessed by the public on YouTube: if people can listen to it on YouTube, why would they buy the CD, right?

Honestly, I can't argue about that. The videos are created by them (I don't know who they're actually), they own the copyright, they can do whatever they want, especially when money is involved.

Nonetheless, I really want to point out one thing:

If you claim the copyright of your content, make it super easy for people who're interested in it to pay for it.

I tried to search on Google to see if there's any way I can purchase the videos but I couldn't find any. All I could find were the audio CD of the performance and two YouTube videos of the performance with very bad audio and visual qualities. What I mean by "super easy" is that your "Buy it now" page should be among the top 10 search results in Google. Or, you can post a shorter version of your video on YouTube and include a link to your "Buy it now" page instead of removing it altogether. If you can't do that, people just can't give you money, and why are you claiming the copyright in the first place?

Well, maybe there are reasons other than money? Maybe you just don't want it to be shared in the first place?

If the content is an intrusion to someone's pivacy, I can understand. However, the content I'm talking about is usually some kind of great performance in which there's no privacy issue involved. If I'm a producer of, say, a music video, aside from making money out of it, I would like to share it with the world because I think that it's great. In fact, the latter reason can be more important than money; what a great feeling it is to produce something that people appreciate!

So, to various content owners/prodcuers: if you want to monetize your content, no problem, make it easy for others to pay. Otherwise, just be generous and share it with the world. It's really sad for some great performance to become inaccessible while they can delight the lives of many.

By the way, you can use the content on this blog any way you want as long as you're not hurting others (I won't define it here, use your common sense) and give proper credits to me :)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Realizing that you're not here (原來這裡沒有你) - Eason Chan


Like this line of the lyrics
舊日尚未盡力共挽手到未來,今天終於分開未說出應不應該
In the past, I did not try my best to build the future with you; today, we are finally breaking up and I dare not say if it is a good ending for us

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sea World San Diego trip

Went to Sea World this weekend and want to share some photos with you :)




The killer whale was scratching its skin against the rock.



Scratching in action



Killer whale spinning!

I wonder how fast a killer whale has to swim
to be able to jump out of the water considering
how heavy it is

A cute picture of the killer whale :)


This fish held a little ball-like thing
in its month
See the teeth of the shark... (~__~ )

A cute picture of a sea lion :)

This fish looks kind of dumb

A fish with a little horn on its head

Is this a sea urchin? I think sea urchin
doesn't have eyes right? The one in the
picture does

A squid-like fish called cuttlefish. Its look
is really funny!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Is Ivy League always good for your kids?

I'm sure you have heard stories about the tremendous effort parents are willing to put into helping their kids to get into elite schools. To those parents, getting in elite schools is almost like a ticket to success for their kids.

Is that so? I don't think it's that simple.

My little story

My high school was one of the most famous ones in Hong Kong. Because of its fame, the admission competition is quite fierce (I've heard one student saying that it's happier to be admitted by my high school than winning lottery). Naturally, my classmates were all pretty smart.

I was kind of an average student back then. Instead of studying, I spent a lot of time playing Chinese chess. As you know, the more one works on something, the better s/he gets and the more confident s/he feels in that discipline: a positive feedback loop. I even managed to win a few prizes in some joint-school Chinese chess tournaments. My academic performance? No, it wasn't that good.

After I came to Los Angeles, I went to a so-called below-average community college to continue my study. It's not as bad as some outsiders think actually (I had one of my best teachers there). Compared to other nearby community colleges, however, the courses were relatively easy, and the students weren't as smart as my classmates in my high school.

Consequently, I got good grades for most of my courses and maintained a decent GPA. I started to believe that I could do well in academics and my interest in math grew a great deal during those days. Finally, I was admitted to UCLA as an engineering student and finished my graduate study there.

During all those years, my intelligence didn't change; I was just as smart (or as dumb, if you wish :P) as I was before. What changed a great deal is my confidence in academics, the belief that I wasn't that bad after all.

My story was by no means a rare case. A friend of mine had a similar story: she did pretty well in her first year in high school. Because of this, she was transferred to an elite class and suddenly she became the student with the lowest grades. She was then "thrown" back to the original class and has lost confidence in academics since then.

As you can tell, confidence is extremely important for one to succeed in any discipline, even much more important than his/her talents.

How does confidence form though?

That's a good question. My answer:

We become confident in something if we think that we are good at it and can continue to do a good job.

"How do we know we are good at something?"

That's even a better question. Although I can't deny the fact that people have the innate ability to appreciate the quality of things (like artwork), we usually conclude that we are good at something because we do it better than others.

I always think that I type pretty fast. According to a Facebook game, my top typing speed is 107 wpm. That sounds pretty good? Well I've seen quite a lot of people typing over 130 wpm before. I would say that I'm above average but not very fast. You just don't know how good you really are until you compare your work with others'.

Is it morally correct to build your own confidence by comparison? I won't try to argue on that since that's not the point of this post. The point is that we often do build our confidence that way.

If we do build our confidence by seeing worse performance from others, "helping" your kids to get into an elite school will probably destroy his/her confidence altogether when s/he realizes that s/he doesn't really "belong there". And, as s/he feels bad about him/herself, s/he will tend to perform worse, and s/he will feel like trash. You can see how it is going to end.

To be honest, my argument should be some kind of cliche; how can no one thinks of this before? Nevertheless, when I see how competitive the admission process is for all those top schools in the nation, I highly doubt if those parents have given a second thought to whether those "top" schools are really good for their children or not.

Everyone is talented in certain area to a certain degree; the job of education is to discover and nuture it instead of burying it by destroying students' confidence and making them feel that they're worthless. Your thought?