Thursday, November 30, 2006

Mark and Brian

During my long drive to UCLA on the 10 slowway (freeway? I don't feel free driving at 5 mph) every morning, I listen to the Mark and Brian radio program.

Since I am not a native speaker, I don't really understand many of their jokes. However, I know they are damn funny since one time a guy called them and said that he had to pull over and laugh for quite a while before he could resume driving after he listened to their joke.

I think this one with Brian imitating Michael Jackson is pretty funny, especially when he said "Whu Who" Ha Ha Ha. Enjoy :)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Do you really see the reality?

Like most software engineers, I don't really do enough exercises in my daily lives. So, I force myself to take a 30-minute walk on the UCLA campus every day after lunch.

After taking a few walks, I start to realize that the UCLA campus is actually pretty beautiful. The most beautiful part of the campus is the area from Wilson Plaza, up the Janss Steps all the way to Dickson Court.

"How come I never realize there is such a beautiful place at UCLA before?" I thought to myself.

I spent around four years at UCLA to get my degrees. During that period, I'm pretty sure that I've walked by that area a few hundreds times. However, not a single time did I have this feeling. As an engineering student, my life was just about going to classes, taking notes, looking for a good library to study, doing homework, studying in groups, etc.

Wilson Plaza was just part of my way to go to north campus from Boelter Hall.

People walk faster than me

One thing I notice from my lunch walk is that I walk slower than almost any student, including those who are shorter than me. Since my legs are longer than theirs, they must be walking at a faster pace in order to get ahead of me.

Why are they walking so fast? Of course, you only have around 10 minutes to walk from one building to another building between classes, possibly one in the south campus and one in the north campus. Do they care about how beautiful the lawn by which they pass is? I don't think so. Not even other students who pass by, unless one get bumped into a cute UCLA girl, which is pretty unlikely around the engineering buildings :P

Seeing something that doesn't exist

Our minds play a big role in how we perceive the world. In the book Sophie's World, I remember Alberto told Sophie that when a person looks for a friend in a restaurant and that friend hasn't arrived yet, what he actually sees is "Oh, my friend isn't there". He doesn't really "see" the waiters and other customers. He sees something that doesn't exist!

Perception has great influence

Talking in a philosophical way (don't yawn yet), we never really know the reality. Except the moment right after we were born, every one has some kind of memory and experience. Our memory, experience, emotions all influence how the world appears to us. Because of that, there are so many misunderstandings among people.

Three "versions" of McDonald's

To Peter, this McDonald's at the corner of the intersection is just a place where he has lunch at when his wife doesn't have time to prepare food for him. He would rush to finish the combo meal so that he has time to take a 15 minute nap before getting back to work. He can barely remember the faces of the cashiers there, thought he sees them every week.

To Mary, this McDonald's is the place where she always hanged out at with her boyfriend in her high school junior year. Now, as a successful lawyer, she doesn't really go to any fast food restaurant anymore, but she can't help smiling when she recalls that her ex-boyfriend always asked for three creamers for her coffee, which was exactly how much she wanted.

To John, this McDonald's is the first time he had a birthday party in a restaurant. His dad was awful at singing but he sang "Happy Birthday" to him in such a loud voice that every other customer could hear it. The customers were laughing at his dad while he broke into tears. His dad passed away three years ago. However, that day was like yesterday when he visits this McDonald's again.

Put yourself into others' shoes

Next time you have an argument with your beloved one, your family or your friends, try to put yourself into their shoes. When you do that, you may start to find out why their reactions to certain thing are so irrational. You may start to understand why they made such a stupid decision, to your mind.

If we hate each other because we don't understand, not because we did something bad, isn't that sad? Everybody has a story, go explore it :)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

How to Do What You Love

The following links to a very good article from Paul Graham about how to do what you love

How to Do What You Love

I think this is a very good follow-up on my previous post. Enjoy :)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Happy at work?

After I got my master degree from UCLA in 2004, the only thing in my mind is to look for a full-time job. If you are a foreign student, you would understand how difficult it is to even get an interview when you don't have much work experience. Most of the companies will just trash your resume if they know that your need sponsorship to work in the US.

As desperate as I could be, I finally got a job at a software company that turned out to be the most horrible working experience I have ever had in my life. Actually, I'm pretty confident that I will not have a worse experience in the future, since they were just extraordinary.

I remember on my first day of work, I was told by my boss to modify a little part of their software and it has to be done by the next day. Their software was written in a unknown variant BASIC called dL4 BASIC. I had never touched any kind of BASIC before, not to mention that piece of crap. So, I just tried by best and I think luckily I got it finished, not sure if it was the next day though. I felt that something was not right and later on realized that it was the beginning of my nightmare there.

The boss there was as toxic as you can imagine. Every day after he came into the office, he would check whether you were grooving on something every hour. The back of my chair faced the corridor so there was no way I could tell that he was standing right behind me and looking at my work. Besides, when he was mad (and he got mad easily), he would actually cuss at his employees. (Could you imagine your boss cussing at you??) He was impatient and conceited. The pay sucked. The computers were crappy (Pentium II) and there was not even an inkjet printer there. He actually got a printer that printed monospace character on papers with two columns of holes on the sides. (You know what I'm talking about right?) And the damn code, can you imagine that they got variables named "a1" or "b2"? I actually thought that his ex-programmers revenged on him by writing code that only compilers can understand.

Very soon, I realized why he told me that his employees kept leaving the company, and apparently he had no idea that why it was happening. I didn't expect that I would be even more desperate in looking for a job after I got a job, and as soon as I got an offer, I quited without even giving them a two-week notice. (Well I did have bad time in that new job also, maybe I will talk about that in another post)

I always thought that high salary should be the first thing people look for when they are trying to get a job. Now when I think about that experience, I can assure you that I will not work for such a toxic company even they pay me 200K a year. Well, yeah maybe you can work for them for a little while and then quited later on for the purpose of getting a high pay for a few months, but what's the point of doing that? The reason we value money so much is that it can satisfy most of our material needs, which ultimately leads to happiness. If you hate your job, is that worth the high salary?

If you need to sleep 8 hours a day, you got 16 hours left. Half of that is spent at work, and in the remaining 8 hours, maybe you spend 2 hours in the traffic, 1 hour for lunch, 1 hour for dinner, 1 hour for breakfast, brushing teeth, shaving, changing and shower, 1 hour on listening to your girlfriend's/wife's complains, and you got 2 hours left (to watch TV?). And weekends you probably need to do some housework, laundry, go to the bank, deal with some bills, go to supermarket, go get the car fixed, go shopping with your girlfriend/wife, etc. I don't see there's much time left for which you can really do something you like to do. If you are unhappy in that 8-hour period at work every day, most of your life before retirement is miserable. What good do all the greens do then?

Thinking about that, job satisfaction is really important. If you got a toxic boss like I did, or your job is boring like hell, go get a new job and work on something that amuses you every day. Life shouldn't be painful :P

Saturday, November 11, 2006


As I mentioned in the previous post, I am going to write an article about what I think the word professional should mean. I think it is worth some time to talk about it since this term is so abused that one can accuse another person as unprofessional without giving any reason these days. Looking up the definition of professional on, it gives the following definitions:

1. Of, relating to, engaged in, or suitable for a profession: lawyers, doctors, and other professional people.

2. Conforming to the standards of a profession: professional behavior.

3. Engaging in a given activity as a source of livelihood or as a career: a professional writer.

4. Performed by persons receiving pay: professional football.

5. Having or showing great skill; expert: a professional repair job.

Let us skip definitions 2 and 4 and talk about the other three definitions in the following. Definition 2 is pretty vague as the "standards" of a profession can be anything and definition 4 is actually describing some activity, not a person.

Definition 1 basically describes someone who works in a certain profession for a living. But what does profession mean? says that it is "An occupation, such as law, medicine, or engineering, that requires considerable training and specialized study." According to this definition, any job that does not require considerable training and specialized study is not a profession. Well, there are jobs like that, such as being a janitor or an office assistant. You do need to be trained somehow to perform as a janitor or an office assistant, but I guess most people would agree that one does not need considerable amount of training to do that. Following that logic, some people can never be professional, no matter how well they perform on their jobs, since their jobs by definition are not professions!

Definition 3 is pretty easy: if you gets paid by working as a XXX, then you are a professional XXX. This can coexist with definition 1 in the sense that if you work as a lawyer but you don't get paid, you are not a professional lawyer.

Definition 5 is probably the most common concept in most people's minds: to be an expert in what you are doing.

Now, my turn to say what I think about these definitions.

I am sick of definition 1. Although it doesn't say it directly, it does imply that some jobs are more superior than some other jobs. So, some jobs, like doctors and lawyers, deserve to be referred to as "professions" and others do not. Since I was small, I always hold a strong belief, which is an old Chinese saying:

There is no difference in dignity among all careers

No matter what a person does for a living, as long as s/he does not violate the laws and contribute to society in some way, s/he deserves respect. Trying to refer some careers as "professions" and some other careers as "jobs" seems to be a result of some "professionals" trying to please their own egos.

Definition 3 is common enough but I disagree with it. Those doctors who help the poor in developing countries without getting paid are still professional. To my mind, they are even more professional than the ones who get paid.

Definition 5 is right, you got to be good at what you are doing. That is kind of like one's responsibility, even we are not talking about the meaning of professional.

My definition of professional is simple enough:

1. To be good at what you are doing.
2. Respect what you are doing.

The first point is just definition 5 above, so it does not need any explanation. The second point, however, is ignored by lots of people.

Have you ever scheduled to see a doctor and you actually got to see the doctor at the time of your appointment? If you do, I am surprised, because, as far as I can remember, I have never been able to see a doctor at the time of an appointment in my whole life. (In Hong Kong it is a First In First Out system, so there is no appointment) Waiting for at least an hour in the doctor's office is pretty usual to me. If they can't make the time of the appointments, what is the point of setting up the appointments in the first place? To torture the patients and waste their time? Or they are just not competent enough to make "rough" estimate of the time it takes to see each patient? (By "rough" I mean +/- 15 minutes, I can live with that) To respect what you are doing, you got to respect your customers, if you have any. I don't feel that my time is respected at all in this case. Are the doctors professional in this case? Ah, I don't think so.

To respect what you are doing, not only do you need to respect your customers, you also have to respect your coworkers, your boss and take responsibility in whatever you are doing. Besides, take pride in what you are doing. I worked in a few Hong Kong cafes before, got minimum pay plus a little tips and got yelled by the boss all the times, so what? I take pride in that. If you look down on your own job, how do you expect other people to not look down on you? If may not like your job since it is boring or the pay sucks or the boss is a dumbass, but there is absolutely no reason that you should be ashamed of it.

Are your professional? :)

Monday, November 6, 2006

"Sir, would you like to make a donation?"

I guess most of you have had experience being asked to make a donation in some public place like restaurants and schools. Usually, those people hold a donation box and a poster that shows some starving children in some developing country. Most of the time they get rejected by the potential donors but they are persistent enough to go around the whole restaurant to ask every single customer. Did I ever donate any money to them? No Way.

Why? First of all, 9 out of 10 times I have never heard of the charity organizations that they are representing. Even I do know the organization, say, Red Cross, there is no way for me to find out if they are authentic.

"Hey this is my Red Cross employee ID."

Hey, how do I know that your ID is authentic? Not to mention the fact that I have never seen a Red Cross employee ID, even I have seen one, your ID can just be a fake one that looks very similar to the real one. Honestly, it is very difficult for one to prove that s/he is an authentic representative of some organization in a short time. If it is a person holding ID and working in a well-publicized charity event held by well-known organization, I would believe that s/he is authentic, but usually it is not the case.

If I am not sure if my money will fall into good hands or not, I will not donate even a buck. Why don't I just write a check to American Red Cross and mail it to them or donate through their website if I want to help the poor? Not to say that there is no chance that some malicious Red Cross internal employees can steal my money that way but it is quite unlikely. Because of that, I would rather give a buck or two to a beggar who holds a sign saying "Need a Beer" at the freeway entrance than a mysterious good-looking person claiming to be a representative from Red Cross. At least I know the beggar will probably use my money to buy a beer in the first case.

Talking about people at the freeway entrances, those people who sell oranges, peanuts, cherries and flowers at those places really deserve your help to my mind. Their oranges are probably not better than those from Fresh & Easy, but they try to earn themselves a living instead of getting welfare and/or foodstamp from the government and contribute nothing to society. If they get only $2 for a bag of 20 oranges, you can imagine how little they make in a day. Yet, they are willing to wait at freeway entrances while exposed to direct sunlight all day long and surrounded by polluted air from the vehicles.

If you are one of those people selling stuff at freeway entrances or exits, please take cares and watch out for dangerous drivers for your own safety...