Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

It had been quite a while to see a movie which is beautiful, to allow the imagination run beyond the normal boundary of life, and yet touching the heart at the same time; and still feeling lost and helpless at certain moment in time. It’s nice, it’s complex and there is a lot to ponder upon.

I like Japanese animation for a few reasons, one being the “feeling” of their art work which brought life to the simplest things, and their closeness with nature; and also it’s one of the few genre that actually inspire imagination and ideas. It’s funny, and yet could be mind boggling.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, showing us how we do stupid things by focusing on things that doesn’t quite matter; and making even more mistakes, and finally when we know our time is up, and where we got to realize what we should be doing instead. Let’s hope we still have a second chance by then, before everything is too late. At the same time, it brings back the simplest memory of childhood, and every simple and unattractive thing seems sweeter. I guess it only can happens in memory.

After listening to Steve Jobs’ Stanford Speech, I realize that death is an important element in life, where it helps us to feel the importance of time.

Time waits for no one.

Are you living without regrets?

I hope I can remind myself what really matter, and what not.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Friendship v2

Just when I felt like writing about friendship, I had déjà vu moment thinking perhaps I had done this before, and indeed I had.

Perhaps the “friendship problem” plagues everyone. We used to spend so much time together, and now we hardly have time for each other; worse still that we have nothing to share with each other as we no longer “live together”. We can hardly live without them, yet we hardly put them in the first place.

I used to think we would find our best and longest lasting friend in our secondary school, but my perception kinda changed slightly: I no longer feel the close knit, as I don’t quite know what to chat about and I don’t anything much beyond their official job description. Perhaps I lose out in maintaining our relationship through CNY reunion, as I already move out from our hometown; and the only contact I have with them is probably through wedding dinner (and I didn’t attend all of them). Slowly but surely, everything eventually felt more comfortable in memory, but not in reality. The distance is very real, and I felt it a lot. The same goes for ex-colleagues, what once seems so close had gotten so far. The only comfort is that it’s never forgotten, hopefully for eternity.

I am not quite sure what I hope for, and what I can do about it. It’s just a feeling of sadness, sad because it is no longer there. On one side I felt that it’s a natural progression, as we move on to a new chapter of our life and we meet new people. On the other side, I felt something wrong with the natural progression, yet I am not quite sure what can I do to make it better. I don’t look for them, and they don’t look for me, and everyone is occupied with their new life, and we don’t share the same things we used to anymore, except for our memory.

For out of some odd reason, we visited Christine in Hong Kong, a friend I knew through my KK trip many years back. In the beginning we have a lot to talk to each other, but then the conversation kinda faded; then she came to our wedding and became our MC, together with Terrence and Joanne. Then the friendship is “re-ignited”, or at least we found some interesting common topic again. I do feel the relationship is kinda special and fated in many ways with is logically, not quite possible. Perhaps her characteristic had a big role to play in it, where during my last visit I learned that she did indeed manage to maintain very close relationship with many of her old friends until today (we are talking about 20+ years of friendship and still going out together once in a while). I do envy their relationship and closeness, and wonder how they manage to keep close. Perhaps they meet up every weekend for Sunday sermon, but many church goers I know didn’t manage to achieve that as well. Perhaps it’s the close knitted society of Hong Kong, or perhaps she is really a people person with a lot of free time in her hands. But I do believe the magic lies with her.

Perhaps I am just too cool of a guy who didn’t invest much to maintain a relationship which is no longer convenient; or waiting for others to make the first step to “re-ignite” the relationship. I do take the friendship by heart, just that not sure how to make it “work” as I wish it would be. I know we are all busy with more personal and work engagement, but I wish I have some of Christine’s magic. As a consolation prize, at least I still manage to attend some wedding dinners, a CNY dinner session, hiking with them, and the really very occasional Yum Cha session.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Review: Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior

Today I read about “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” (I first read about from here) and found the analysis is thought provoking, and totally shed some new lights into parenting.

Today’s Chinese is not we used to be, we are influenced more by Western culture while maintaining our Chinese roots. We have a few new age concepts in mind, that’s academic isn’t everything (they don’t have to score A in everything) and to let our children to engage in activities which they like (they have choices beyond Piano and Violin). After reading the article, I was thinking perhaps we had gotten too soft and end up creating underperforming kids? Oh gosh, so much responsibility in parenting.

A few of my favorite quotes from the article:

“my daughters are NEVER ALLOWED to: attend a sleepover, have a playdate, be in a school play, complain about not being in a school play, watch TV or play computer games, choose their own extracurricular activities, get any grade less than an A, not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama, play any instrument other than the piano or violin, not play the piano or violin”

Chinese mom does not believe that learning need to be fun. And nothing is fun until you’re good at it, so it’s crucial to override their preference, fence of their resistances, force them to practice and never ever give up (or let the child give up). “Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it’s math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more..”. This is interesting: nowadays we worry that our children will commit suicide over too much pressure, that we no longer force them to be the best they could be. Once the child wanted to give up, as we could say is “you have done your best”.

The following example gets even better (I try to rewrite it to a shorter version, but it is so much more impactful to read it as a whole):

Here’s a story in favor of coercion, Chinese-style. Lulu was about 7, still playing two instruments, and working on a piano piece called “The Little White Donkey” by the French composer Jacques Ibert. The piece is really cute—you can just imagine a little donkey ambling along a country road with its master—but it’s also incredibly difficult for young players because the two hands have to keep schizophrenically different rhythms.

Lulu couldn’t do it. We worked on it nonstop for a week, drilling each of her hands separately, over and over. But whenever we tried putting the hands together, one always morphed into the other, and everything fell apart. Finally, the day before her lesson, Lulu announced in exasperation that she was giving up and stomped off.

“Get back to the piano now,” I ordered.

“You can’t make me.”

“Oh yes, I can.”

Back at the piano, Lulu made me pay. She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu’s dollhouse to the car and told her I’d donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn’t have “The Little White Donkey” perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, “I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?” I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn’t do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.

Jed took me aside. He told me to stop insulting Lulu—which I wasn’t even doing, I was just motivating her—and that he didn’t think threatening Lulu was helpful. Also, he said, maybe Lulu really just couldn’t do the technique—perhaps she didn’t have the coordination yet—had I considered that possibility?

“You just don’t believe in her,” I accused.

“That’s ridiculous,” Jed said scornfully. “Of course I do.”

“Sophia could play the piece when she was this age.”

“But Lulu and Sophia are different people,” Jed pointed out.

“Oh no, not this,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Everyone is special in their special own way,” I mimicked sarcastically. “Even losers are special in their own special way. Well don’t worry, you don’t have to lift a finger. I’m willing to put in as long as it takes, and I’m happy to be the one hated. And you can be the one they adore because you make them pancakes and take them to Yankees games.”

I rolled up my sleeves and went back to Lulu. I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn’t let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling, but still there seemed to be only negative progress, and even I began to have doubts.

Then, out of the blue, Lulu did it. Her hands suddenly came together—her right and left hands each doing their own imperturbable thing—just like that.

Lulu realized it the same time I did. I held my breath. She tried it tentatively again. Then she played it more confidently and faster, and still the rhythm held. A moment later, she was beaming.

“Mommy, look—it’s easy!” After that, she wanted to play the piece over and over and wouldn’t leave the piano. That night, she came to sleep in my bed, and we snuggled and hugged, cracking each other up. When she performed “The Little White Donkey” at a recital a few weeks later, parents came up to me and said, “What a perfect piece for Lulu—it’s so spunky and so her.”

Even Jed gave me credit for that one. Western parents worry a lot about their children’s self-esteem. But as a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child’s self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there’s nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn’t.

We all know success is a not an easy thing, which require utmost determination and perseverance, which I child might not have such quality (even an adult might not have what it takes). How much should we control and push our children towards the direction which we think is right, and that they could achieve magnificent feat when they grow up (did Jay Chow’s mom force him to practice Piano and he is thankful for her now). Did we give up too easily on our children, or do we have little expectation of them (we didn’t expect them to be someone great; but just someone nice).

How far should we go, and how much can our child take before they attempted suicide or become a very sad and stressful child. When should we give up, "knowing" there is a possibility that our child might not become what we had hope for them. After all, not everyone can be "successful" or be "great" by our definition. Not everyone can survive like Lulu and turn out to be stronger, and not everyone can be No 1.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Blink Revisited: Product Packaging and People’s Opinion

Blink: We always thought that we should conduct a testing survey to find what others feel about our product, and what could cause most of the testers fail to provide an accurate feedback. We know that product packaging is very important, but what are the criteria of successful product packaging.

Below are a few examples:
  1. A blind test shows that more people prefer Pepsi than Coke. Coke was worry and tries to create a New Coke, and testing show that people prefer a slightly sweeter Coke. Coke was so confident that the New Cake will a big success based on the testing result, but it failed miserably and people wanted the Old Coke back. How could this happen? Are the testers lying? It turns out when people prefer sweeter drink when they are taking a sip, but a whole can of sweet drinks is just too much; and real testing should happen by allowing them to bring back the product and use it like they normally do, and provide a feedback after a week or so for the feeling to sink in.
  2. Once upon of time, margarine was not selling well because people prefer butter. So they change margarine color from white to yellow (so it looks like butter), and testing show that people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference (it proves that it’s not that margarine taste bad, but people’s perception of it). Then they renamed the product as “Imperial Margarine” and put an impressive crown on it, and wrap it with foil (those day foil was associated with high quality). You don’t ask people whether they like their Margarine with foil or not, you just ask them which one test better.
  3. Christians Brother or E&J brandy taste better? Blind test shows that people like both equally. After the testers are told of the brandy’s name, they happen to like Christians Brother more. If the bottles are shown, the testers like E&J more. We need to isolate whether the product’s problem lies with the taste, name or packaging.
  4. 7-Up: if you add 15% percent more yellow to the green packaging, people report they tasted more lime and lemon.
  5. Chef Boyardee Ravioli with Chef Hector on the label. Chef Hector needs to be an easily recognizable human being, and close-ups of the face work better than full-body shots. As Hector becomes more cartoonish, the more abstract he became, and the perception of taste and quality in the ravioli goes down.
  6. Hormel canned meat: the tiny sprig of parsley between the “r” and “m” helps bring freshness to canned food.
  7. Peaches test better in glass container as compared to tin; and people prefer ice-cream in cylindrical container as opposed to rectangular packaging.
  8. Aeron Chair by Herman Miller: it was designed to be a high-tech new-age ergonomic chair. Tester doesn’t like the chair, with perception that wiry frame doesn’t hold, and said it looks weird and ugly. Eventually more tweaking made the comfort score got higher, but aesthetic scores goes from low to average. Not long after it was launch, it won a prize of its design; it became a cult object in the advertising world, and it starts appearing in films and television commercials. What was once an ugly exoskeleton chair had become beautiful. People don’t actually hate the chair, but they weren’t used to the new and unusual design: maybe ugly was just a proxy for different.
  9. A group of Jam tester’s preference result gotten quite near to the expert’s opinion. When they are asked for their reasons of preference, disaster happens. Non-expect don’t have the ability to evaluate the jam based on detail such texture, taste and smell. Do you know that there are 10 dimensions of texture (adhesiveness to lips, firmness, denseness, etc)?
  10. The Triangle Test: Pour 2 cup of Coke and 1 cup of Pepsi, and ask people to guess which one is the Pepsi. Only one-third would guess it right.
It is not that clever packaging could save a bad-tasting food; but lousy packaging could ruin tasty food. Why doesn’t Pepsi’s dominance in blind test translate to real world success? Because in the real world, no one ever drinks Coca-Cola blind. The unconscious association with Coke involves the brand, the image, and the red can and logo. Coke tries to focus on changing the product, while Pepsi focus on youth and making Michael Jackson their spokesman. There a lot to be learn about how to perform a real world testing which translate to real world result.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Smart People Bad Employees

Today I stumble upon an interesting topic, “When Smart People are Bad Employees”; which I agree, but too bad the article fall short by just categorizing the people without going into further analysis and "troubleshooting".

I guess I met a few talented or genius people in my life, and they do come in with “weird” characteristics or just plan difficult to work with. They can be 10 times as productive, or complete a task which no one else is capable of; but they are selective, doing only things they like, and in their own way (which might be very difficult for others to pick up later).

I guess we need to find a way to work with smart people, or find a mechanism to allow the superstar to perform at its peak without damaging the team too much. I guess superstar perform better in solitaire rather than team, thus he can spread his creativity and gone into warp speed 9 without any burdens and disruptions and create a wonderful product at the end. The problem? No one will be able to support the product when he leaves the company.

It might be hard to find talent, and it’s even harder to find talent that can we can milk. We need to learn what make them tick, and we might need to accommodate their needs with special exceptions and treatments. Some superstars are known to be problematic or a jerk, but they have the power to create miracle where no one else can, and hopefully he does not destroy your team in between. It’s difficult to gauge what to do, what not to do, or how to do it: it’s just a matter of how much of the price are we willing to pay in order to get the prize. Every now and then, we get disciplined superstar like Michael Jordan or Michael Schumacher; while most others become their own boss like Tiger Woods, Steve Jobs, etc. You have to admire how Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho manage their group of talented millionaires footballers; and how Google is having a hard time maintaining their talented millionaire employees.

Perhaps superstar survive better by being their own boss, thus they can set their own rules in order to perform; and hopefully will not drive their employees to madness. Talent is a powerful but unstable element, and Discipline could stabilize the element, and these two are hardly found together.

Somehow, I had chosen not to work too closely with these genius people who I had met, perhaps I couldn’t figure out a way how we can work together; the situation might turn out to be too “uncontrollable”, or everyone wanted to be in control, including me (perhaps I haven’t meet a dependable genius ). I always thought that I am smart (but not a genius), and I have higher discipline and a team player, thus I could create value for my employer. I guess I had change, as I had too much of my own thoughts and way of work, and could turn out to be a problematic employee. Nowadays, I think I can only work for a really good employer, someone who doesn’t do too many stupid things. My tolerance level for stupidity and bureaucracy had gone down a lot.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

A Taste of Success

What if you need to feel success, before you can succeed? But how can I feel success before I succeed? What if the feeling of success can be “artificially” created: a synthetic success?

I try to learn swimming for many years, but fail miserably because I can’t float properly. I know how to paddle and kick, and move my hand, but I just fail to move my head up and get air (probably due to fear) while maintaining flotation balance. I try to get professional help eventually, which helps to increase my “movement” skill, but still fail to solve the breathing problem. One day we tried a float (we didn’t use these before because these are for kids, haha), where I could breathe and float better because there is a floatation device in front of me (though it might not float every well given the pressure I put on it). With the float, I finally felt the “feeling” of catching a breath while swimming. When the float was removed, suddenly I can swim and breathe, MIRACLE! I think the rewired my mind and body when I actually succeed in swimming & breathing with the help of the float, thus giving me the “feeling” of successfully performing the action. The float is the tool to create synthetic success in swimming.

Remember when I was young, I couldn’t balance well on bicycle and was very afraid. I always need the 2 mini support wheels on the side, or my dad to hold my bike. One day, I was cycling while my dad was pushing and holding from behind, then he push and let go. I was cycling by myself perfectly for a few seconds due to the momentum. I felt the “success” of being able to balance myself properly on the bike, and I learned how to cycle.

I think success is not a constant path where we collect millage slowly every day. There is a big canyon or a very steep hill in front of us, and we only gain the feeling of “success” once we cross that; we need breakthrough, and repetitively doing the same thing for 10 years doesn’t create “success”.

How do we create breakthrough? One of the methods is through synthetic success. What if I can show you a glimpse of you future, where you had become a millionaire; and you felt it’s so real and believed that future. Will your chances to be millionaire be good? Is it hard to be a millionaire? Will a millionaire felt that it’s hard to be a millionaire? If a self-made millionaire had gone bankrupt, it is easy for him to become a millionaire again? I believe once we felt success, we already rewired our mind and body to be successful.

I had been a freelance programmer for years, and I felt it’s easy and natural. For most employed programmers, there felt it’s difficult as they don’t know where to get clients. Neither do I, but somehow it just work out through word of mouth and reference by friend and family; and I am not a guy that is good with sales either. We probably have almost the same skill level, and we aren’t good with sales and PR either? So why I can make it, while he can’t? I already felt “success” (though it might not be a synthetic one), and he haven’t. It’s natural for business to create business, and it’s natural for employees for continue work for others, because both of them had felt success in what they are doing: they learned how to do it.
If I can synthesize the feeling of success in many scenarios, then it’s possible to accelerate the success almost instantly. If you know (or truly believe) that you are going to succeed, you probably will. The question is how do you truly believe, or how to trick your mind to truly believe.

Talking about tricking the mind, I remember about the movie “The Beautiful Mind”. The guy had a problem with illusion, where he truly believed that his illusion is real. The doctors solved his illusion with medication, where his illusion stops as well as his mind, as he can’t function normally as his mind and body are always drugged. Once he stops his medication, his illusion came back (to him his illusion is a reality). Until one day he realize something, which the little girl which he had known for the past 10 years didn’t actually grow up, and he successfully rewired his mind to believe that it is indeed an illusion. Though he still had his illusion and sees the little girl, he just ignores them because he knows they are not real. It proves that the mind can be tricked, and not all problems need to be eliminated (we can find a way to live with that problem).

The human mind is very powerful, and it can achieve whatever it believes. The mind can learn, can be rewired or can be tricked to believe. A lot of time we know and understand about certain theory or concepts through logical thinking, but we just didn’t truly believe or felt the reality of that believe. How can we truly believe? How can we trick our mind to truly believe?

For every problem, there is a solution, no matter how impossible it may seem. Just like the chicken and egg problem, someone could figure out the answer. When you truly believe there is a solution, will you find it? What happens when you give up?

Sunday, January 02, 2011


I always like the beginning of the year, where it represents fresh start and new hope, and we can decide on our ambitious master plan for the year. We review what we had done, and decide that we had not done enough, and renew our interest and determination to achieve even more for the year.

Looking back at my “master plan” aka New Year resolution for year 2010, I realize I had few misses and a few changes of plan. I decide that I wouldn’t not have enough time to venture into new online creative business, where it’s better to focus on my core business plan instead. I also decided that property investment might not be ideal as it involved quite some physical maintenance, where I could achieve good return on share market investment as well (with more liquidity and flexibility).

On the bright side, I did get married and gotten myself a lovely wife and started our lovely life together in our lovely home. And I did start to donate slightly into UNICEF. For MalaysiaMostWanted, MMW Food remains the top online food guide in Malaysia, and we ventured into keeping track of historical property price.

2010 had been quite a hectic year with badly managed projects (which didn't become very profitable), marriage and travel planning, thus my business accomplishment is slightly less than desirable. This in turns serve as a reminder to get me to focus more energy and time to a more concrete plan this year.

My objective remains the same, which is to gain freedom in life (no longer be selling my time, soul and life for money). To do so, I shall achieve the following in 2011
  • To expand MMW to Travel and Price Comparison, and to upgrade existing platform in tune with current standards and expectations
  • To start mobile application development to complement MMW
  • To start an International Information Guide on Cool Products, Freeware, Comics, etc.
My business model is very simple: to create and systematically archive web information, so that it can deliver useful information to users. How do I make money? I am not very good at this yet, but theoretically, the more information I have the more powerful I shall become. It might be hard to earn millions, but it shouldn't be too hard to generate a comfortable monthly income.

I am very motivated and there are a lot to be done. It’s time to fire warp speed 9, and ENGAGE!