How Not to Peel a Garlic in 10 Seconds

This video from has been making the rounds on the Internet. It is entertaining, but really?

  1. If you following his directions, timing yourself, you will find that it took more than 10 seconds
  2. If you have a tight counter, you will spend time cleaning up after you smashed the garlic
  3. Do you have two big metal bowls?
  4. Add in the time it takes to pick each clove out of the bowl
  5. and what's wrong with garlic hands? I love garlic, and the small of it.

I personally prefer the way of smashing each clove with the side of chef's knife and hand peeling each clove. Much more satisfying to be "one with the garlic"...

Agile in China, Stand Up Meetings

As the start of a serie of articles on Agile in China, this is a some what lighter first post.

I send this to my teams today:

Better Stand Up meeting for scrum

Last week I attended a very good seminar by an international Agile expert. He says it is very important to keep stand up meeting short. He said one good way to have shorter meeting is to stand on just one leg during the stand up meeting.

I know this is not easy but we should try. It will also give us stronger legs. Good for soccer (or dancing! )Let us try this in today's stand up meeting.

(Bad Chinese translation:)

上周,我参加了一个国际敏捷专家的研讨会。他说,保持站立会(standup meeting)议短这是非常重要的,一个好办法是用一条腿站立。 

我知道这并不容易,但我们应该尝试。它也会给我们更强的腿。适合足球 ! (或跳舞?) 请大家在今天的站立会试一试。



If you have read this far, I hope you are laughing rather then shaking your heads. Humor I believe is part of having an agile and growth mindset. My teams, unfortunately for me, was not tricked by this all.

Barcamp Shanghai 2014

One of the best way to meet interesting people is to attend barcamp. I went to the first barcamp in Boston 7 years ago. In fact 2014 is likely going to be the very first year I am going to miss attending BarcampBoston 8 because I am in Shanghai.

Luckily there is barcamp Shanghai 2014 ! I went yesterday. Met a bunch of interest people. Gave a presentation on my experience in creating and running an after school Scratch club. These are the slides:

The video that I showed is here, originally created for the MIT ScratchEd site:

Raspberry Pi gets a Real Sound Card from Wolfson and Element14

I have been a big fan of the Raspberry Pi. It brings easy, affordable, high level computing tinkering to the masses. It is great for makers, educators and tinkerers. Today it gets a new sound card with lots of features from Element14. From their website:


  • 3.5 mm jack (4-pole) for a headset/boom mic combination for gaming or VoIP applications
  • 3.5 mm jack for microphone input
  • On-board MEMS microphone
  • 3.5 mm jack stereo line input for connection to devices such as digital audio players (iPod etc.) or mobile phones
  • 3.5 mm jack stereo line output for connection to devices such as external stereo amplifiers or powered speakers
  • S/PDIF input and output
  • On-board class D power amplifier for external speakers, with connection to external power source if needed.
  • Small pin header for extra functions if they are low cost, already on-chip, and don't require any further components
  • Raspberry Pi form factor

Note very important note is that this Wolfson Audio Card is only compatible with Raspberry Pis which feature the P5 pads, which can be found on Revision 2 Raspberry Pis onwards.

What makes this bitter sweet for me is that I am really into computer music. After I built my first "computer" when I was in high school, the first addition to it is a sound card. The computer is based on a SC/MP MK14 board. The "sound card" that I designed and built is based on the General Instrument AY-3-8910 chip.

Now years later, my kids can do the same with slightly more powerful hardware and software.

Teaching Younger Kids Programming using Scratch

IMG_3452Learning to code is all the rage these days.  While I do not completely agree with teaching programming for programming sake, I strongly believe that computational thinking is a crucial skills for children growing up in the 21st century. Scratch from MIT is a platform designed to effectively teach kids, including college students, computational thinking via programming using Scratch. But how young can you start? After running after school Scratch classes for a few years with K-6 kids, this is what I found about getting younger, 6 -7 years old, to use Scratch:

Attention Span

Any parents of a 6 years old can tell you, getting a 6 years old to sit down and focus for more than 20 minutes is difficult. Doing scratch at home actually is easier as there are less distraction. But do not count on being able to create a large Scratch project on one sitting.

Reading Skill


Scratch is very visual, and most basic blocks are color and shape coded. So one does not have to be able to read all the text on the blocks to use them. However it can get slightly frustrating if a child cannot find the blocks that she wants to use. One way to help is to prepare some basic blocks that the child may need, either by dragging them into the scratch area, or by printing them out on a piece of paper so that the child can just visually try to match the blocks.

Explain and re-enforce the color coding scheme: Block for movements, purple for looks (say blocks), etc will help.

Writing Skill

Similarly, if the child is going to have her characters say things (which is a good idea), she needs to be able to type, and spell. Some children gets frustrated, especially if they are aware that they “need” to spell the words correctly, when typing. Most often the parents get more frustrated as they see their children struggle to spell. My recommendation? Does not matter. What’s wrong with a character saying “trhjhirj ffweg3sffs” !!?

Mousing Skill

This can be a problem. Scratch is very much drag and drop. Depending on the amount and type of computer usage the child already has, using the mouse can be challenging. Drawing with the mouse is another skill that a child may not have developed. Here, Macs and one button mouse have an advantage. But a child will learn very quickly.


For younger kids, sometimes just drawing sprites using the built in costume editor is fun enough. In a Scratch class, I usually get one younger kids that end up just using Scratch for drawing 90% of the time, and that’s fine.

Story Telling

The next step from drawing can be just adding say and wait blocks to their sprites. This way, one or two characters in a Scratch project can act out scenes, sometimes from their favorite book or TV (yikes) shows. At least this makes the child a digit content creator instead of a content consumer.

Scratch Cards

The Scratch team at MIT created a series of one page handouts called Scratch Cards. They are designed as mini activities that can be used in Scratch workshops. Because the activities are short, and usually the blocks are printed on the cards, they can be a great resource for quickly doing some project in Scratch. It always, always bug me that they do not just sell physical versions of these cards. Instead you need to download the PDF, print and laminate them. But they are very useful.


A great way to learn Scratch, and it is built into the philosophy of Scratch, is to learn from each other by remixing each other’s project. Remixing is built into the Scratch platform. The only downside of learning by remixing is that often a child will get caught up looking for fun games to play on the Scratch website and forgets to remix. Especially for younger children some supervision is advised.



Lego sells a set of kits under the name WeDo that can be programmed using Scratch or their own software. I highly recommend this as another activity for learning to use Scratch. Unfortunately all the cool Lego stuff are only available from their education division. ( )But individuals can buy directly from them. The kits are expensive, but they are good. One small catch right now is that the new version of Scratch, because it is web based, does not yet work with WeDo. So you have to use the older version (1.4) if you want to use WeDo. See some examples in this video, pass the 2 minutes mark.

Learning to Learn

So there you have it. I have seen many young kids starting off struggling with Scratch at 5 or 6 years old, and turned into a very competent Scratchers in one or two years. The skills and fun they acquired make it all worth it. One of the most important skills a child can acquire is to learn to learn:

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. ” - Alvin Toffler

Squarespace has a URL formatting problem

I really like Squarespace. Their support of many of my favorite podcast (penaddict, ATP) helps. I have started to recommend and use Squarespace for many of my nonprofit websites (Fiske School PTO). Recently I started to convert some of my other blogs ( over. Immediately I run into a big problem. When Squarespace import (or create) a blog, it requires the blog entries to live under a suffix within the site's URL scheme. For example, the default suffix is "blog". This means all the blog entries will be of the form:
... etc ...

There is no way to not have the /blog/ or /anything/ suffix, for example the following URL is not possible:

Currently most blog based website removes the suffix and use some sort of date notation only in the URL. The site of Matt Mullenweg, founding developer of Wordpress, is a good example. Squarespace however cannot serves blog pages using this convention.

URL Mapping

Squarespace does have a URL mapping settings, where you can map one URL to another. However the mapping is a literal mapping. It does not support wildcard. i.e. you have to manually enter each page name. So you have to create a long list of URLs and issue permanent redirects for them one by one using this setting option. This is the only solution.

Customer Service

Squarespace always have great customer support. They respond to email or chat inquiries very quickly. This time is no different. I have to give kudos to the customer service reps that handle my inquiry regarding this bug. Stephanie D took my issue and spent a lot of time trying to get a definitive answer to whether this can be avoided with their tech team.


It is time to get rid of the floppy disk icon metaphor

floppy_disk_iconI was viewing a PDF in google chrome and wanted to save the PDF to my local drive. Hovering over the document, a icon bar popped up. To save the PDF obviously I press the floppy disk icon, right? I used floppy disk when I was in college. I remember Apple uses it a lot in its user interface. But I can tell you that my elementary age children have never seen a floppy disk in their lives and would never have guessed the meaning of the icon. It was more ironic to see this used in Chrome. Surely many of the young engineers at Google has never really used a floppy disk either, right? Apple is working hard to make the "Save to Disk" action unnecessary. So who is going to come up with the next great metaphor for "save" while we still need it?

1Q84 and Math

I made the "mistake" of picking up ichi Q hachi yon by Haruki Murakami. Of course I cannot put it down. Here is Tengo on Math:

"Math is like water. It has a lot of difficult theories, of course, but its basic logic is very simple. Just as water flows from high to low over the shortest possible distance, figures can only flow in one direction. You just have to keep your eye on them for the route to reveal itself. That's all it takes. You don't have to do a thing. Just concentrate your attention and keep your eyes open, and the figures make everything clear to you."


CustomMade and 18 Million

What can CustomMade do with it's new round of financing, 18 million dollars? a lot. I am lucky enough to experience the inside view of a large funding round like this for the second time. The first one, AdvisorTech Corp, was during the Internet Bubble years. 20 millions were nothing to talk about. This time around, the market conditions are much more realistic, and the CustomMade round is well deserved and it is a vote of confidence by the markets. One of the main success factors for CustomMade is the pairing of co-founders Seth Rosen and Mike Selguero. They have complimentary skills in a way that I have not seen for a long time.

Another factor of CustomMade's success is the first mover's advantage. While being first does not guarantee success, being first and having a team that have worked and worked to understand the customer gives CustomMade a tremendous advantage over any competitors. Any two sided market place business is difficult to understand. Which side of the market should subsidize the transaction (makers)? How to deal with competition within one side (how to encourage maker participation without shrinking the maker pool by favoring high performers)? How to match make between the two sides (customers and makers)? The CustomMade team has built up a lot of internal knowledge of how to make this market work.

But remember, to quote Mike quoting Seth:

A dollar raised is a dollar not earned -- Seth Rosen

This is a beautiful insight into the truth about startups -- Having raised this large round of financing just means that we are in the hot seat to delivery value to the investors by multiplying those dollars into revenue growth.

Here is a picture of @pks, @MoonlightLuke and @markstenquist working hard with their pen and paper... (We were signing forms for a welding class, to understand how to custom make objects!)

Review of Delineato Pro, a light weight diagramming tool for the Mac

I came across Delineato Pro almost by chance while browsing the App Store. A quick googling around, after reading the developer interaction with his users on macrumors forum, I bought it just to try it out. I wrote the review with it as you can see below. For the search engine: I recommend giving a try, especially if you are frustrated with the complicated feature set of OmniGraffle, and find pure mind mapping tools too restrictive in terms of layout.

Reviewing the perfect Hi-Tec-C pen, the Render K

I love fine point pens. All my fountain pens are either F or EF nibs. I use Sharpie F points. But I never gotten excited about the Hi-Tec-C and I never knew why, until this week.

After hearing Brad Dowdy and talked about the Render K many times on the Pen Addict Podcast, I decided to get one. Hoping on the  Kara Kustoms website, I saw that they have some limited editions available. Somehow the Raw stock version seems to be the most authentic version for a pen like the Render K, so I ordered one.

The Render K is everything it is suppose to be. A beautifully created pen with all the right lines and precision construction. I popped an old Hi-Tec-C refill that I had into the Render K, and I suddenly find myself loving the Hi-Tec-C ink. Then I realized why: I really dislike light weight pen. The standard Hi-Tec-C is the worst -- both light weight and thin. That is the reason I never liked it. Now with the weighty Render K, I really like writing with the Hi-Tec-C 0.4 mm refill now.

Note that this is a special raw stock edition. The body is deliberately not polished. I happen to like the look. When you buy a regular Render K from Kara Kustoms, it will look beautifully polished.

Story Telling and Game Making with Scratch

This March I started a new Scratch class for K-6 at Einstein's Workshop (formally known as H3XL). Here are the class materials for the class so that parents can follow along at home if they wish.

Session 1 Introduce Yourself

Activity: The first session consists of two related activities. First, create a Scratch project to introduce yourself to the rest of the class. Second, create a Scratch project to tell a joke, possibly with two characters.

Learning Objective:

  1. Sharing projects onto the Scratch website (saving the project), need to know how to enter user name and password
  2. basic drawing skills, drawing a picture of yourself or something that represent yourself
  3. basic Scratch concepts: what is a block, what is a sprite, scripts, costumes
  4. import a sprite from the sprite library
  5. use the say and the wait blocks to coordinate telling a joke

Scratch Blocks

Example Program:

See my Hello project, and the knock knock joke project.

Session 2 Let's learn to fly!

Activity: Create a Scratch project to fly a plane (or other character) around the screen.

Learning Objective:

  1. A simple understanding of the Scratch stage coordinate system (x,y)
  2. Use the "click" trick to fill in (x,y) value in any movement block
  3. drawing background onto the stage

Scratch Blocks

Example Program

See the flying around project.

Session 3 Simple Racing

Activity: Create a Scratch project to "race" two characters on the stage.

Learning Objective:

  1. How to tell a sprite to do someone over and over again (using the repeat block).
  2. optional: collision detecting by checking to see if one sprite touches a specific color
  3. drawing background onto the stage (finishing line)
  4. Start to incorporate knowledge of blocks learned from previous sessions.

Scratch Blocks

Example Program: See the simple racing and the racing with finishing line projects.

Stop Whining, Marissa Mayer is right

I agree with Mayer. Stop whining. The media is quick to jump on the band wagon and proclaim Mayer is heading backwards in time. Not true.

  1. Not allowing working from home full time is not the same as inflexible work arrangement
  2. Nothing can substitute for in person communications (read up on Sherry Turkle's work)
  3. Would you rather never see your adult children in person? No more family gatherings for life? I don't think so.
  4. People who claim working from home is more productive is missing the point. Personal productivity is a very narrow measurement of success.
  5. Virtual team has to be built from in person connections

I am all for flexible workplace. Having to work with many different people in different stages of their lives, this is what I do:

  1. allow for flexible work time, but require core time block when everyone is in the office, say 10-3 M-Th
  2. allow people to start the day early and leave early -- great for parents who need to pick up their young children, and start the day late and work late, for the stereotypical techie
  3. allow for a comfortable work place, access to food/drinks/support services and R&R spaces (a given in tech companies)
  4. allow for short Friday's as long as work is done M-Th

Most importantly, stop whining. If you are unwilling to get dressed, commute into the office to work with your peers just because you feel like you work better at home? What else are you unwilling to do?

PK 2012 year end review

First Things First

Last year the world lost Steve Jobs. This year Stephen Covey passed away. I have long been a fan of his views of life management. If you have not read his work, you should.  First Things First, while relatively less famous, is a much more important book than the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

I do try to balance my life across the different roles I have and leveraging the interdependence between them. Here is a short summary for 2012.

Back to School (again)

Sharpen the saw is an important and often neglected part of  one's life. Working with different startups with the latest web technology requires some level of learning. Heading back to school part time however made it official. The process actually started at the end of 2011. I decided to apply to the MIT advanced study program, designed to let working professionals take graduate courses at MIT part time. Application forms, transcripts, letters of recommendation. Remember those?

The MIT "kids" are great. They are intelligent, creative, attack everything with a passion. It is very refreshing to be able to work with them. Since my part time MBA experience was pretty much show up for lectures in the evening, this is the first time I have a view into normal college life in the U.S. It is very different from the more structured style at Imperial. Think of this as long term planning so that I understand college life for my kids when they get there.

Work Life

We have continued to work on new and old projects at Imperial. We have done more work with Wordpress integration, as well as entering into the IOS world. There are a few exciting new projects that I wish can be finished soon so that we can talk about them in public, but that's the down side of operating in the start up world.


I talked about this each year . Move away from the city? More living space, saving money from switching to a public school, clean air and backyard. This year we did it. An offer for our loft got the process started. I left the loft in Boston and moved back to Lexington.

The moving process was difficult. I moved six times in my adult life prior. I thought I have this down to a science (link). But that was before children. We had 100 boxes of stuff packed, about three times more than what I had before. I took the opportunity to donate, sell and discard most of my own belongings. I like to think we have a minimum amount of toys for the kids, but still it took up a lot of space.

The process was difficult because, for three months I could not find a single house to move to in Lexington. A lot of people are doing the suburban migration. Lexington is one of the hottest market. Houses were either too small and too old, or too large and expensive. We were close to panicking, but the end result is great. It was real serendipity how I found our new home, materials for another blog post.

Our new home fits us wonderfully. Walking distance to all things Lexington Center, open floor plan, 11 foot ceilings, walls of windows, We basically brought our loft and city living to Lexington.

New Communities

Luck would have it, The town of Lexington runs a Lexington Citizen Academy in the Fall of each year where interested residents can attend. For one night a week, in eight weeks I learned about all operations of the town. I now have a much better understanding on how Lexington operates, and I am continued to be impressed with the town. One of the reason for Lexington to run the "academy" is to recruit new volunteers. I joined the Citizen Advisory Committee for the Lexington Library as the library is working on its strategic plans for the future.

New School

A major reason for moving is the public school system. So far our experience has been great. We have dedicated teachers, modern facilities, a strong PTO. Of course I am working on starting a Scratch Club. Meanwhile I am running the Science and Math clubs with a few other like minded parents. More importantly, the kids are loving their new schools and new friends. Going to a neighborhood school we runs into other families more often in after school activities, something that is new to us coming from the Boston private school scene.

Martial Arts

The suburb move is the catalyst for so many things. A wonderful Martial Arts teacher happened to start a new school in Lexington soon after we moved into town. Now not only the kids can start on their martial arts practice, I can add to my regular Tai Chi practice. Sword and Bagua are just a few of the new things that I get to restart.

Other Notables

The Dalia Lama was in Boston, and I got to attend one of his talks! While he was at least 100 feet away (we were in one of the largest conference space at a Boston hotel) and we were mostly watching him on two giant projection screen, you could feel his presence. He speaks with both authority and a genuine child like sense of compassion and openest that is amazing. I am certainly inspired by him and try to carry his philosophy with me as we cross over to year 2013.

Why naming your child Hashtag is a bad idea

#FAILED By know you have read the news, some parent named their new born baby girl Hashtag. This is a really bad idea but not for what you think. It is not that the child may be teased, or confused, or her future cost of therapy. The reason that this is a bad idea is ironic:

If the parents named their child hashtag because they like social media, the name actually completely disadvantaged their child in social media. What do you the child can use as a name in her online identities? dashtag may well be a reserved word. How about her personal brand? I would suggest "". Because if I were to look for her, and perform a web search for "hashtag smith", do you think I will find her easily? Or would I get a thousand result pages talking hashtag the social media term instead?

Boston's new Lack of Innovation Center

[gallery] I love Boston. I lived and worked here for 20 plus years. My own little office has been in the Seaport district and South End for the last 8 years. Open loft office, bad HVAC ,cheap rent. It is, or rather was, a place for small start up companies to live. But developers are always looking for the next big thing. These areas are being bought up and developed into condos and apartments.

Reading Scott Kirsner's article this morning sadden me. He is right of course, as he is well plugged into the start up ecosystem in the area. This new "Boston Innovation Center" is just another insult. It is not cheap office space for start ups. It is a conference center and a restaurant. But wait -- is there not a beautiful and mostly unused conference center across a few block? How about asking the Boston Convention Center to contribute part the space for used by smaller businesses? A quick look at their schedule shows that they are not that booked up.

If the city actually meant to foster innovation and small business instead of pander mostly to large real estate developers, they should try the affordable housing model. Each time a developer gets approval to put up any new buildings, they have to contribute to a portion of low rent office space elsewhere.

The City's responsibility is to bring infrastructure to these low rent office space areas to help them thrive -- we need:

  • affordable and working transportation
  • parking and bike lanes
  • high speed internet connection (city of Boston is one place where you cannot get cheap FIOS)
  • cheap food and cheap rent

As a bonus if you target problem areas in Boston, it will help energize the neighborhoods. Except sadly I know this will not happen without some new innovation from the top.

Amazon shuts down Special Occasion Reminder, adding birthday to address app in OSX

I received an email from Amazon at 3 am EST this morning telling me that they are shutting down the Special Occasion Reminder service. They are converting these reminders to their (new?) Friends & Family Gifting service. I understand that they are trying to encourage people to buy things from Amazon for these birthdays as gifts, but do they have to externally rename the service? If you have been a long time Amazon customer like myself, some of the very old reminder setup did not have a marker to say that the reminder is for a birthday. Those older reminders will not be converted. What to do? I can add those reminders back to the new service, or I can add the birthdays to my address book database on my Mac. I updated my address book on the Mac. This is how:

Adding Birthday field to the Address book app on the Mac

  1. Go to the Preferences menu
  2. Click on the Templates button
  3. Click Add Field and select Birthday
  4. Voila ! Each contact in the address book now has a birthday field