Friday, December 30, 2005

Built to Flip

Reading an article in FastCompany called "Built to Flip" about how the new economy is also about making a quick buck instead of creating sustainable value. The article was written in March 2000, just before the dot com bust, but it's still true today.

I feel its tug within myself, not so much for money but for significance to the company and recognition. Do I want to fight the hard battle and work on the project that I love dearly and think could change the world but that is risky with naysayers, or should I work on the obvious things that everyone knows should be done and are central to the company's current model and have little risk of failing?

When it emerged in the early 1980s, the new-economy culture rested on three primary tenets: freedom and self-direction in your work; purpose and contribution through your work; and wealth creation by your work. Central to that culture was the belief that work is our primary activity and that through work we can achieve the sense of meaning that we are looking for in life. Driving the new economy were immensely talented, highly energetic people who sought a practical answer to a fundamental question: How can I create work that I'm passionate about, that makes a contribution, and that makes money? By fostering a culture of entitlement, Built to Flip debases the very concept of meaningful work. And, as is always the case with any form of entitlement, it ultimately debases the person who feels entitled.

Even for those with exceptional talent and drive, money seems to have become the central point of it all. The poster children of the new new economy are people like Jim Clark, the founding genius of Netscape, who is vividly portrayed in Michael Lewis's riveting book "The New New Thing" (W.W. Norton, 1999). Despite his impressive résumé, Clark comes across as a man who is stuck on a monetary treadmill: He seems addicted to running after more and more, and then more still, without ever stopping to ask why. Late in the book, Lewis describes a scene in which he presses Clark on this very issue. Earlier, Clark had said that he would retire after he became "a real after-tax billionaire." Now he was worth $3 billion. What about his plans for retiring? "I just want to have more money than Larry Ellison," he says. "I don't know why. But once I have more money than Larry Ellison, I'll be satisfied."

But Lewis pressed further. In about six months, Clark would surpass Ellison in terms of net worth. Then what? Did Clark want more money than, say, Bill Gates? Lewis writes, " 'Oh, no,' Clark said, waving my question to the side of the room where the ridiculous ideas gather to commiserate with each other. 'That'll never happen.' A few minutes later, after the conversation had turned to other matters, he came clean. 'You know,' he said, 'just for one moment, I would kind of like to have the most. Just for one tiny moment.' " In the biggest flip of all, by running aimlessly on the new-wealth treadmill, we have come to resemble previous generations. In the old economy, our parents got jobs not because of the work itself but because of the pay. In the new economy, we got jobs not just for the pay but also for the chance to do meaningful work. In the new new economy, we've come full circle. This time, though, the drive for money is not about putting bread on the table (in other words, achieving comfort and security); it's about getting a bigger table. It's about keeping up with the Ellisons.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Savage Love this week

Savage Love this week features horror stories of how readers lost their virginity. My favorite reader story:

After the stereotypical first fumbling experience, which lasted about three minutes before I shot my wad, I laid down next to my girlfriend (failing to notice how very disappointed she looked), stroked her hair, and asked, "How many times did you come?"



Walking into Disneyland, I noticed that in addition to the long lines for rides such as It's A Small World, there are now equally long lines to get an autograph from a costumed character such as Snow White.

"Well, that's silly," I thought to myself, "Who's going to stand in line for that?"

The answer, I learned a few minutes later, was ... us!

For Peter's sister Nicole, Disneyland was all about the princesses. Cinderella, Snow White, the Little Mermaid, Belle (from Beauty and the Beast). We even bought an autograph book so that she could consolidate the autographs in one place.

We queued next to the castle for 15 minutes waiting for Snow White, only to have her go on break with no advance notice. Nicole was quite distressed by this.

The racket of being a sweet princess requires that Snow White cannot say or do anything to deny these kids, thus a purple pageboy was employed to disappoint the children.

"These princesses, they're finicky," he recited in a high-pitched voice. "But you can go to Ariel's Grotto. It's a restaurant in the Paradise Pier zone of the park. You're guaranteed 5 princesses, 5 autographs."

We trundled for 35 minutes to Ariel's Grotto, a restaurant with a large blue neon sign next to the man-made Disneyland lake.

"We're booked for the evening," they informed us, along with several groups of distraught parents behind us. "NoooOooo," said my internal voice. We then had to face the unpleasant task of explaining this to Nicole, which we had unwisely already informed of the expected 5 princesses and 5 autographs.

She was very disappointed.

My favorite part of Disneyland was also the princesses. Not the fairy tale ones, but the little girls who were visiting the park, 4 or 5 years old, in pink ball gowns with gauze, and tall cone hats.

I loved seeing burly men in button-down flannel shirts and shaved heads, carrying little pink princesses on their shoulders, and applying their macho problem solving toward negotiating with their daughters. "We need to leave Main Street and go to Fantasyland if you want to meet Mickey Mouse, honey. We have to go now. We'll be back later to get a picture with Cinderella."

I managed to snap a photo of my favorite example. Look at the man in the center of the photograph, standing in line to buy a bottled water. He's a biker with a shaved head, tank top, gold chain, and sunglasses. And on his back? A pink Barbie backpack.

By the way, you might wonder how everyone in the picture is looking to the side, while the biker stares straight into the camera. This is because I ran back and forth taking pictures of him for 2 minutes leading up to this photo, optimizing for the best angle where he's in clear view and not obstructed by anyone else.

Thursday, December 22, 2005


I normally don't think of dogs often, except to eat them.

Actually, I've only eaten dog meat once, but Peter has turned this single incident into a big deal. "You puppy-eater!" he accuses.

The story happened during my family's visit to China on vacation last December. Taxiing past numerous restaurants, we saw banners listing their specials, often proclaiming, "Hot pot dog meat here! Only 12.95 for a pot!"

As a child reading martial arts stories, I read many a scene of the hero stumbling in the snow, at last coming upon a roadside shack offering rice wine and dog meat. Happily warming himself near the fire and gnawing on his dog drumstick, his heart would sing with joy. Thus I wondered at the flavor of dog meat.

One cold night, we had just gotten to Nanjing on the last leg of our tour. Our guide had forgotten to pick us up at the train station and we were left standing there with our bags in the rain. We managed to bum along with another tour group and get a two-star hotel, but it was past 9pm by the time we ventured out to find a restaurant. We were cold and hungry.

The perfect setting for coming upon a small family-style restaurant with dog meat hot pot. "Is it a live dog?" I asked out of curiosity. The restaurant was a hole-in-the-wall eatery, and I wanted to know if I'd be consuming month-old cured dog, or canned dog.

"The dog is alive in the kitchen right now!" the owner (doubling as waiter) affirmed passionately. "小花狗! A spotted puppy! Do you want to see it?"

"No, I believe you. I'll get that dish then." I turned back to the table just in time to see my brother's look of dismay.

Soon it arrived, a steaming bubbling pot of dog meat which caused my brother to sadly boycott all dishes meant for the hot pot (even the cabbage and tofu intended for dunking in the hot pot, which had not yet touched the dog meat).

I found it quite delicious, if a bit chewy.


Today I came across this story of how the phrase "man's best friend" came about:


George Graham Vest (1830-1904) was born in Missouri and practiced law there. He also was a US Senator from 1879 until 1903, and was known for his skills in oration and debate.

Early in his legal career he took a case in which he represented a client whose hunting dog, a foxhound named Drum (or Old Drum), had been killed by a sheep farmer. The farmer had previously announced his intentions to kill any dog found on his property; the dog's owner was suing for damages in the amount of $150, the maximum allowed by law. During the trial, Vest stated that he would "win the case or apologize to every dog in Missouri." Vest's closing statement to the jury made no reference to any of the testimony offered during the trial, and instead offered a eulogy of sorts:

Gentlemen of the Jury,

The best friend a man has in the world may turn against him and may become his enemy. His son or daughter that he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name, may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it most. A man's reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads.

The absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is his dog. A man's dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master's side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer; he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in love as the sun in its journey through the heavens.

If fortune drives the master forth an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him, to guard him against danger, to fight against his enemies.

And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes his master in its embrace, and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way; there by the grave side will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad, but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true, even in death.

Vest won the case.


Ah, dogs. Good for company, good for eating. What more could you ask for?

Friday, December 16, 2005

London Dialogue, part 2

Cambridge's lawns are breathtaking.

The signs declare, in 3 languages, that "Only senior members of the College may walk upon the grass."

Later we visit Trinity College Library, where Newton had lived as a student and later taught as a professor. We saw Newton's original notes on gravity as part of a letter to Hooke:

My dad: "Did Newton count as senior enough that he could walk on the grass?"

Me: "Only after he discovered gravity."


My dad: Britain sure likes to talk about World War II. The Imperial War Museum, HMS Belfast, Churchill Museum, ...

Me: Well, it was their "finest hour". All those other countries fell to Hitler, but Britain held out for years before the US even joined the war.

Dad: I bet if we visit France, they won't have any museums on World War II. The country was taken over and occupied. What is there to say?


The British Museum contained a story of a man inviting centaurs to his wedding feast. Since centaurs are half man and half horse, their human sides allowed them to comport themselves civilly and arrive at the feast bearing gifts.

During celebration, the groom opened a flask of wine. When the centaurs became drunk, their animal natures took over and gave all the guests a sound beating.

This sculpture makes me think of the quote: "Can't we all just get along?"

Thursday, December 15, 2005

How to make your museum the best museum

1. Allow non-flash photography.

Winner: Metropolitan Museum in NY, who does.

Second place: Apsley House

who does not but who only employs 3 guards for the entire museum (two of whom were deeply in conversation with each other), effectively fulfilling this rule.

Last place: Queen's Gallery, where the boyish guard in the last room caught me taking a photo of the ceiling, and said dourly to me, "Madam, photography is not permitted, so I shall have to ask you to delete the picture you took." I obeyed, then quickly turned the camera away to avoid him seeing the 37 pictures I already took without him or the other guards noticing.

2. Provide comfortable seats in every room.

Winner: Apsley House

for the soft seats that match the decor of each room.

Loser: Tate Modern

3. Beep at the end of each recording on the audio guide to indicate the ending.

Winner: Imperial War Museum. Crisp BEEP.

Second place: Apsley house. A three-toned quiet bip-bip-bip.

Loser: EVERY OTHER MUSEUM. I should be looking at your exhibits, not at the audio player to see if the track is finished!

4. Display the art in rooms that have beautiful colored walls and high ceilings.

Winner: Metropolitan:

Second place: Queen Gallery:

Loser: Tate Modern.

5. Make the audio guide fascinating. Add humor, stories, dialogue with accents.

Winner: Churchill Museum, for doing such an amazing job on this rule that it wins my heart as my favorite museum in London, despite having failed on every other rule.

Loser: Tate Modern. No background music. Commentary: "This piece shows the artist having dissected his ideas on human existence and presented it for us in quite an intriguing manner" and on in this manner for 2 minutes. You could hardly know that they're describing Picasso's painting of his mistress, nude, with her back melding into mountains and her rear into wind!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Events from the UK, part 1

1. Spotting a painting in the National Gallery with luscious colors. Going up to it and discovering ... it's a painting of Jesus being circumsized. Can't the guy get a little privacy?

2. Churchill was depressed over losing the 1945 General Election by a landslide, after working himself to the bone to win World War II for the UK. He went on holiday and did painting for a few months. Then he came back to become Prime Minister again in 1951.

He served in Parliament until he died at age 90. By that time, he was hugely popular. He received 300,000 birthday cards for his 90th.

Morals from this:
A. Sometimes people are ungrateful bastards.
B. Eventually they come around.

3. Paddington Bear at Paddington Station. So cute. Where is my bear?

4. Oxford: Effortless beauty is when you can pick any nondescript church on a corner, and it looks like this on the inside:

5. Royal London:

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Louis Vuitton

In Vegas, when we were walking through the glitzy shopping mall of the Paris casino, we spotted a Louis Vuitton shop.

Tom: Louis Vuitton luggage! That should be on a spinning dais!

Peter: Why, are they expensive?

Tom: Are you kidding me? They should have it next to a Ferrari, with a sign: "This Ferrari comes as a gift with the purchase of a Louis Vuitton luggage set."

Me: [laughing]

Peter: But luggage is so easily scratched up!

Tom: Exactly. You'll probably see the owner going up to the baggage care person, "Please take special care of this Louis Vuitton bag." The baggage person will say (mimes salute) "Yes ma'am". Then (pretends to toss the bag casually aside) whump!