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

For a limited period of time you can purchase $25 gift certificates for $3 each at 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
  • 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 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 :)