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!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Braveheart Conclusion

We continued debating whether Braveheart had the moral right of way to knock up a French princess after vowing to love his wife forever.

Niniane: I don't know if he said the "till death do us part" line.

Peter: I'm going to check this.

He begins to watch the video, rewinding and forwarding to find the scene in question. I leave the room. A minute later, I hear a muffled anguished groan from the computer room. Tom and I dash to the room.

Me: What, what?

Peter: Okay, watch the scene.

The scene shows William Wallace standing with his dark-haired love at their secret wedding, as a priest wraps a cloth around their two hands.

William Wallace: [solemnly] I will love you for all my life.

Me: All his life! Not her life!

Tom: He doesn't say he won't love oth --

Peter: There's more.

William Wallace: [looking intensely into his bride's eyes] You and no other.

Me: Bam! How can it be more clear than that? You and no other! No wonder I was pissed off at this movie.

Tom: [looks very nonplussed for a minute] Hmm... [scratches head] ... [realizes there is no loophole through this ironclad agreement] ... [shrugs] Well, not my problem! [jaunters off]

Friday, November 25, 2005

Post-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving

Today I woke up at 11:55am (before noon!). We ate lunch at the Paris buffet, then visited the Wynn Collection.

The Wynn Collection is a beautiful dark blue room with 10 paintings, followed by a red room with 5 paintings. An audio track describes each masterpiece. There were 3 Picassos (two of his 22-year-old mistress, painted when he was 51), a Matisse still-life of a woman in a Persian robe (Peter's favorite), a Monet water lily scene, and my favorite -- a Renoir painting of a woman in her garden.

I learned from the audio track that Picasso started painting when he was 7. He never used posed models, but instead painted his mistress who is also his muse.

When we got home, Peter popped in a DVD. "You'll like this. It's about a writer."

The movie is Secret Window, a suspense movie. I jump every few minutes as the antagonist looms out of shadows during ominous music. Halfway through, I get so scared that Peter has to come and hold me.

The movies I find most frightening are ones that depict people in their own houses, being assulated by spirits or robbers, because I can relate to it happening. This movie was one of those.

"I can't believe you! A movie about a writer? That's like saying, 'Honey, you like houses, right? Let me show you this movie. It's called Poltergeist'!"

A quarter of the way into a movie, I whispered to Peter my theory to explain the plot -- the antagonist is a figment of the protagonist's imagination. A little while later, I amended it to add that the bodyguard was another figment of the protagonist's imagination.

Tom: "I don't believe it! I'll bet you a dollar."

Me: "Okay, a dollar betting that the essence of my theory is correct."

We shake on it.

At the end of the movie, dramatic twists reveal that indeed the protagonist and antagonist are the same person.

Me: Haha, I win!

Tom: No, your amendment was wrong.

Me: The essence was correct!

Tom: That's - that's like saying the essence of the Constitution doesn't include the Amendments!

Me: That's right!

Tom: Fine, then you just lost yourself the right to vote.

... Moments later...

Peter: What movie should we watch next? The Mexican? Braveheart?

Me: I hate Braveheart! When he marries his wife, he swears he's never going to love another woman. Then what does he do? He knocks up that other woman!

Tom: His wife died!

Me: So? He said he's going to love her forever. There was no clause about dying!

Tom: Except the vow ends with 'till death do us part'.


I want to buy this dress but it doesn't come in my size! It's marked down from $270 to $126.

I also am very tempted by this dress, but it might be too long for me. The web site does not list the length and this model looks tall:

Shopping online has its downsides.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

My Google-Video cameo

I went to the Google video site, and one of the "popular" videos on the homepage happened to be 2 Googlers during the company Halloween costume contest.

I have a cameo! See if you can spot me:


Saturday, November 19, 2005

Walking back from Harry Potter 4

"Why do they call him Dumble Dwarf when he's so tall?"

"It's not Dumble Dwarf, it's Dumbledore!"

"Oh, but he's the really tall one with the bushy beard, right?"

"No, that's Hagrid!"

Sunday, November 13, 2005

I owed one of the Google recruiters a favor for backing out of the Waterloo/Toronto tech talks, and she called it in a few weeks ago by asking me to fill out a list of questions for a Q&A article. Since I love writing, I was happy to do it, and didn't think much of it afterwards.

Earlier this week, I started receiving emails daily from strangers who saw the article and are now inspired to apply to Google. Some of them seem very capable, and others less so. But the article is doing its job!

Today one of my ex-coworkers from Microsoft told me that the interview was sent around the Flight Simulator team.

"How can it be getting around to so many people?" I wondered. So just now I went to and there is a blurb about it on the front page! See if you can find it:

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


I have now spent until 4am Shanghai time reading about the Chinese "American Idol" winner 李宇春. She's fascinating!

Chinese Idol

China held its own "American Idol" recently, but only for women. The winner is a very tomboy-ish girl with a low voice. Her singing skills are so-so, but she is very cool on stage and dances well.

It's odd that in China, a relatively conservative culture, a girl who has a so-so voice and looks like a man would win. The third-place is a beautiful girl with an absolutely phenomenal voice:

Consensus is that 李宇春 won because many teenybopper girls treat her as a boy and have crushes on her, so they voted for her.

I like her stage presence and confidence. I read an interview with her. She has a natural performer ability, and onstage she becomes a different person -- outgoing, basically a rock star personality. This caused her to become an idol in her middle school. When she got to college, she fell behind her peers due to lack of musical training. After a pivotal conversation with a teacher, so she decided "Screw it" and began participating in tons of contests even though she didn't place.

Through interviews, you can tell that she has an attitude of "I'll do what I please". It's the same as J. Lo had about her ass, and Angelina Jolie has about everything. It's very winning. I like it.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Murder mystery weekend

Last night, billionaire Brighton Standish was discovered murdered in his estate. Police officer Columbo quarantined twelve members of the Standish estate for questioning. Whodunnit?

Was the murder committed by the shoe closet maid, Monique, whose modeling dreams were crushed when Standish blackmailed her with a few nude poolside photos?

Standish just fired his personal trainer Tyne last week for designing a faulty exercise program -- was she out for revenge? He forced his cowboy business partner to sell out half of the Beef-Ka-Balls restaurant chain -- did he resent it enough to kill?

His butler is 99 years old but wields a hefty silver tray! His wife was just back from a gala, driven by the large-assed chauffeur. And there's always the pool boy... They all wore smiles when they found that Standish was out of the picture.

After learning about each other and discovering the motives ...

clues were uncovered...

dinner was served...

and love was in the air.

Three teams raced against each other to find the culprit.

After a restful night's sleep, the teams discussed their suspicions over waffles and fruit.

and the guilty party was taken away in handcuffs, restoring peace and justice to the land.

(Compliments to Madison Street Inn.)

Saturday, October 01, 2005


Today I got a facial from Destino Spa.

Getting a facial has some similarities to going to the dentist. They examine your face under a bright light. They poke you with sharp metallic objects in a painful process. They ask about your daily treatment, and then talk about the terrible things that will befall you (teeth falling out, wrinkles) if you don't go through a particular maintaineance routine every day (brush and floss, cleanse and moisturize).

With a facial, there's also the lavendar / eucalyptus aromas, the hydrating face masks, and the neck massage.

Destino is voted best spa in the South Bay, with good cause. Julie the facialist added in steps as necessary, and didn't push products on me.

My face is smooth now and porcelain!

Next Saturday I am going back to get my eyelashes curled. It's my first time! Apparently it's like getting a perm, but for your eyelashes.

Monday, September 19, 2005

the Met

I spent 4 hours at the Met on Sunday. First, the medieval wing, with stained-glass and ceramic figures (yes, those are women with the bodies of beasts!):

Then, a variety of very lovely settings of what living rooms would've looked like, in the Victoria era. I love the different colors of walls.

I purchased the audio guide (because Dan did). Some of the paintings didn't impress me overly at first, but became more intruiging when I learned their story. The one below was commissioned by a woman who had the romantic favor of the king. She wished to keep herself in favor by sending him these enticing portraits, but keeping her mystery via the little corner of cloth that drapes over her nether regions. Apparently this was only sufficient for 6 years, and then he lost interest.

I liked this painting of Washington crossing the Delaware. It was wrong in all sorts of ways, such as:
1. They are crossing in the wrong direction.
2. The water is filled with icebergs which would've made it impossible to cross.
3. It would not have been possible to have horses and cannons in the small boats.
4. The boats are floating too lightly for that number of men.

but the spirits shows through! I recently read a biography of Washington in Newsweek which made me marvel that history was not more fascinating when I learned it in high school! Because this account of George Washington was riveting! On Christmas Day, they crossed the Delaware, becoming so tired and soaked that their guns didn't even work and they just stabbed the British with their bayonets. They were 4 hours behind schedule. But that's not what history remembers! The flaws are forgotten in the glory.

It reminds me of how things look so grand and magical from the outside, but they are so fraught with mistakes and peril from the inside. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo was wracked with weariness, fear, grumpiness, but later his deeds become an epic song. This is the way with actual life as well. Google looks so impenetrable to some outsiders, so miraculously able to deliver innovative products on a very rapid schedule. But on the inside, it is actually quite imperfect.

I also enjoyed how the Met has a mezzanine in the American Wing which is just crammed with objects. An entire row of silverware. Another entire row of portraits. This is the secondary collection, the less-important works which would probably be prominently displayed at any other museum but which are crammed along with hundreds of other similar objects at the Met.

Lastly, I like this picture. I can imagine being an early pioneer (glorious from the outside, but probably filled with fear and flies at the time!) and coming upon this scene.

I would have liked to live here: