Year End Review 2004

Year 2004 is a very different year for me. I normally, for privacy reason, not talk too much about my personal life on this blog. However year 2004 has been a very personal year. After waiting a long time, I am now the parent of the smartest, cutest little baby in the world (personal bias noted). Therefore, the one big thing that is worth reviewing, is being a new parent. So here are my thoughts and observations for the year on parenting condensed down to one year end blog entry. [ Of course, the little guy has his own private blog that is available to friends and family only. If you think you should have access, send me an email] !

Late Life Parenthood

This little guy (Little G) is my first. Having little G later in life gives me the luxury of having more resources available to him. The top resource being time -- I half planned this, so I managed to take some time off work and spend about half a year with him being an almost full time parent. I am sure that this is a luxury that many parents do not have. This is precious and irreplacable time -- watching him grow day by day.

The only down side of this is that I better stay young to keep up with him as both of us gets older !

The Good and the Bad

Parenting is hard work. It is the hardest thing I have done in my life. I thought flying around the world running start-up speed software development in multiple countries were hard? This is order of magnitudes harder. In the business, and most of the time in the adult world, you can try to reason with others. You cannot reason with a baby. Luckily little G is good nature and always happy except when he is tired. He even laugh in his sleep (I am not kidding you).

The reward of parenting is, as cliche as it is, priceless. The first time he reaches out for me, the first time he cock his head to look for me when I am holding him, the first time I really make him laugh, the first time I manage to have him fall asleep in my arms...

The Deep Thoughts

Things that I think about:

  • For convinience, We are going through so much disposable products. Paper towels, diapers, trash bags, disposable bottle liners. This is not good for the environment I am sure.
  • Similarly, we have to wash cloths on average once a day, wasting a lot of energy again.
  • Should I have used boiled water to make formula? We use Brita filtered water only. It's too late now.
  • Should we have fed him only warm formula? We used room temperature. A friend said the little guy will grow up not liking hot food.
  • We started feeding him all kinds of solid food without much thought. First thing we tried was freshly squeezed orange juice, only to read that citrus juice is probably the worst juice to give him due to the possibiity of allergies. Oh well.

Year End Review 2003

At the end of 2002 I said I need to stretch more, read more, program more, travel more, and I left 2002 with a giant cliff hanger -- my Loft project. 2003 ended up being a year of major changes. The Loft project is phase one completed. Moving from the burbs to downtown, selling a house that I was quite fond of in a tricky real estate market, shedding 2/3 of my possession, are major changes indeed. While on the subject of materialism, I finally gave up on the Germans, or at least on the German cars. The Audi has been giving me silly trouble and expensive and long repairs. I switched back to the Japanese. Great value, great service.

...more to come...

Happy New Year !

Loft and Architectural Resources

Some resources for my loft design Appliances

  • People doing their job well

    It is always nice to experience people doing a good job. Today I have two such encounters. I feel much better about service in this country -- I am closing my equity loan at my bank. Arrived at the appointed time and a very young looking staff took me to his desk. He looked at most 22. I thought this is going to be trouble. He was having some small problems and questions, and started checking with his co-workers on various things. There were some language with my insurance binder. So I called my wonderful insurance agent Megan and handed him the phone. For a second he switched into "well, do what I say or else" -- but then he switched back to "be nice, let's get this done" mode. I was secretly relieved and just kept smiling to put him at ease. That part got resolved.

    So where is the "doing a good job" part? He started reviewing the documentation, and asked probably a standard sales question -- are you an existing customer (yes)? Do you want to sign up for auto deduction of loan payment? You will get a further 1/4 point reduction on the loan (of course) !. So he went to the screen, setup the auto deduction, reduced the interest rate, and printed out the application.

    It did not work. The rate remains the old rate. He asked another more senior staff. They called. They said they could changed it at HQ. So we waited. He did his training, trying to engage in casual conversation every minute or so to keep my occupied. He was doing a good job.

    Two small diversions -- His PC's screen saver came on. To log back into the system, he subtling lifted up a stack of business cards on his keyboard and peeked. There is where he keep his password. Not smart ! To have even more fun with this kid, I scanned his desk and saw a small speed dial list taped to his phone. Besides all the usual people's names, there is an entry that says "Kitchen". So, I casually asked him, "so you have a kitchen here"? He was shocked. He looked around, perhaps to see if I saw someone walking out with a TV dinner or something. "How did you know"? He asked all nervously. I wonder what he does in the kitchen when no one is looking. It was funny. I told him how I knew at the end.

    Back to doing his job well. We waited a long time. He kept checking the system. I for sure thought he was going to give up. Of course I am no way going to walk away from another 1/4 point reduction on the rate. I would have insisted. But he called HQ again, and found that they couldn't do it right away because it required HQ supervisor approval. That makes sense. So he offer to get it down asap, setup another appointment for me to go back in the evening to finish signing the forms. He even called me near end of day to let me know that the paperwork was ready and so and so will be handling it since he is leaving for the day. Nice kid. And I got my good rate at the end.

    The second incident is with my insurance agent Megan. I knew (or hoped) that she would just fax over the adjusted binder immediately and not hold up the application. That was exactly what she did. She however also left me a voice mail immediately and ask me to call her to actually confirm the changes, since she has to get more data to update the actual insurance policy. Since she was clearly nervous about it, I called her right away in my car after I left the bank.

    She asked several detail questions on the house. Luckily I had a copy of my listing sheet and package with me and it has a full floor plan. So I was reading off and calculating various things for her. Somewhere I told her I was reading the floor plan. She said "You are in your car"? (yes). Without missing a beat, she asked "Do I insure your car"? I thought that was just great !

    So, two nice people. Paying attention to their jobs. Doing it well. It is a good day.


    I watched Gosford Park last night. It got me thinking about service. First, to quote from the movie: Mrs. Wilson: I'm the perfect servant. When they're hungry, the food's on the table; when they're tired, the beds are turned down - I know it before they know it themselves. This movie is about a hunting party take place in a English country manor. In this multi day event, there are the upstairs English aristocrates, and the downstairs servants -- butlers and valets and lady's maids. The level of service the downstairs provide is simply to die for. cover

    Now fast forward 70 years to 2003, or fast forward 30 more to 2033. With the physical world (distance) getting smaller, and the virtual world getting larger, what is the general population's expectation on service? And is it the same around the globe?

    From my own experience, one end of the spectrum is Germany. A German co-worker once commented: Germany is a service dessert. Germans simply do not expects service. Any service. The other end is Japan. Service is so good and perfected. Buy a small gift that is worth a few dollars, ask for wrapping,and you get 20 sheets of tissue paper plus fancy wrapping, all for free. Buy a book and they fold a book cover for you. Then there is the restaurents. I could go on.

    Hong Kong is another interesting place for good service. In expensive hotels and restaurent the service is first rate. No surprise there. But at a street side cafe, buying a $5 lunch, and you get the full service treatment. polite, fast service is expected and given.

    How about the United States? They are somewhere in the middle? I dare to say that the in general, people do not expect good service, nor they give it. Small town America would be the exception. But if you look at major cities and urban area, the level of expectation and supply is in the middle.

    So, as the world is getting smaller. People will start experience the different level of service, and the servers will experience the different types of expectation from customer. Where will it all go? Will good service be expected and win out? I truly hope so.

    Business Use of wiki

    Wiki is open source information. That is my definition. When applied to the business world, I say wiki is open source documentation. Wiki is invented at the Portland Pattern Repository, a website and database for software design patterns. You can read its full history there. In general wiki is a web site for simple, open and unrestricted collaboration. One of the main characteristics of a Wiki is that there is no page ownership. Anyone can change anything, including deleting things. My first encounter with wiki was at the Zope site. I did not like it. It was confusing, the quality of the content was not always good. Sometime in October 2002, my sysAdmin showed me that he was using a Python wiki clone, MoinMoin, for his own documentation. MoinMoin was written in Python, my favorite scripting and text manipulation language. Because it is web based, it is always there and it makes writing documentation simple. I played with it for a little bit, and decided to roll it out for the entire company to see if it will help us document our knowledge.

    A side note, two technology that I love, Python and Wiki, were both introduced to me via Unix SysAdmins. Python was introduced to me many years ago by another SysAdmin that was working with me. What does this mean? Unix Sys Admin have good taste? and/or Unix SysAdmin has too much time to surf the web and find interesting stuff? (Sorry Ben).

    Enviornment Before

    First, some background: We currently have two internal web sites. One was maintained mostly by our internal web master. Mostly because we don't have a full time web master anymore. The content has slowly gone out of date. The content was for the general corporation.

    The other site is a simple user directoried web site on a Apache server. Each person has their own directories. There are reasonable content on these sites, and the information is almost all technical, maintained by developers themselves. The problem is that you have to either edit HTML directly on Linux, or use a PC tool and manage with FTP. Even our developer finds that a little tedious. Therefore there is little incentive to maintain the data on that site. And besides one or two brave and technically savy product manager, there are little business level content on that site.

    Wiki deployment I deploy a wiki site (powered by MoinMoin) in our Boston office. This office house primarily developers and product development people. At the beginning a few of the techies jumped on it, of course. First interesting observation -- some of the HTML savy developers started to try to format their pages nicely -- which is hard to do with the limited MoinMoin text mark up language. Hence the first advantage of using a wiki instead of a full scale CMS driven website. Once the writers decided that they cannot spend too much time on making things look good,they started to spend time on the actual content.

    Looking at just the techie group first, there are two types of people up to the pre-wiki time. Those who like to document their work somewhere (usually on our old internal website), and those who do not want to but do so reluctantly, and those who just don't want to write anything. The group that were writers took to the wiki quickly. The non-writer group remains off line. The relunctant writers are the one that changed most. They started to create more pages.

    As times go by the non writers started to contribute also. Part of this is social and process pressure. Since more discussions and documentations are on the wiki now, sometimes one do not have a choice but to participate. It gets really interesting when ''wiki'' becomes a word in our normal business discussion.

    Technical Hurdle At least with MoinMoin, the wiki that we use, there are some technical difficulties that prevent even the technical people from using it effectively. The number one problem is attachment or file sharing. Often, part of the information shared is in the form of a PDF or a spreadsheet. Unfortunately MoinMoin's way of attaching files and referencing them is difficult.

    Social Impact First, "wiki" becomes a commonly used term in meetings. "It's on the wiki, go read it", or "please put it up on the wiki", or "it's NOT on the wiki !" are the common phrase.

    Some Links

    Year 2002 In Review

    Year 2002. This is the year of the 20G iPod, the 20th anniversary for James Bond films, the ten year anniversary for Mini discs. This is the year where everyone is buying digital cameras, and we finally have more than one GSM phone network provider in the U.S. On my annual travel report, according to my American Airline account, I flew 118,785 miles -- which is a good thing, for me anyway since I actually like airports and airplanes. For the first time after all these years I got to see Cherry Bloosoms in Tokyo, first time to Kyoto, Kular lumper, and shen zhen. I also went back to Paris and LA after many years. The more I travel around the globe, the more I believe that the action, meaning growth and opportunities, are in Asia. Having spend some summer time in Frankfurt and paris, I do appreciate the European's quality of life society more and more, but that is just too comfy...

    On the negative side, this year is the year of aftershock and wasted energy, both from 9/11 and the Internet bubble. Workwise a lot of time and effort is wasted on reorganization and layoffs. I am oh so surprise by how people on either side of this process are ignorant about people's jobs and lives. From the company side, often the process is reduced to numbers and a list of names. On the employee side, people do not understand what or how to chart their career paths, how to develop skills and remain marketable.

    With all the things happening in 2002, I find myself going back to the basics. Re-centering and re-balancing. Not necessarily taking less time from work, but more time for other things.Travelling to new places is good. Health is the most important thing. I started going back to two times a week of Tai Chi sword and wushu basic training. I also started to play table tennis (not ping pong!) almost weekly with really good players. Wang-san, if you are reading this, I think it's time for some rematch !

    I started my loft project late summer. I want to move to a smaller place, a loft in the city. This will make travelling easier, and cheaper to maintain. Kill the mortgage. Save some money. However that project, which is detailed on this website else where, is still going and not ending.

    What about 2003, the year of the Sheep? I should stretch more, read more, program more, travel more, do more important things. Almost a New Years resolution !

    Happy New Year!

    Web Reading List

    I have this collection of articles on the web that is worth reading -- I don't necessary agree with them, but it is thought provoking nevertheless. It is time to try putting them all in one place, so here we go:

    Tokyo Gadget Report Dec 2002

    What's new in gadgets in Tokyo? As I always say, the only thing that is important are things that deal with the newly digital media -- MP3, JPG, MPEG -- or sound, pictures and videos. Before getting to those, do you know that it is Minidisc's 10th year anniversary? Just when you think it cannot get any smaller, Sony's 10th year anniversary MD player MD-E10 is 55g light, and 9.9mm think, looking at it seems like it is smaller than a MD itself. It is so think that when an MD is in its case it maybe thinker than the player itself. There is a corresponding Net-MD version, the MZ-N10 which allows USB transfer of songs from your PCs directly to the recorder in more than realtime speeds depending on the compression level (MDLP*), up to 64 times.

    Looking at customer traffic at retail stores, no one cares about MDs and MP3s anymore -- in Tokyo they are as common as starbucks. Besides the lighter and NetMD features (which have been around here for a while) there is nothing too exciting. All the foot traffic is at the digital camera front. There are lots of new models, but the most interested ones are the ultra thin cameras. Sure they are unnecessary and overpriced. You can get the same functions in a normally small size camera, like the Minolta DiMAGE X or the Canon IXUS 230 V3. But why won't you want a super cool credit card size Casio Exilim Wearable Card Camera? They offer both a 1 and a 2 meg pixel camera, with or without audio (audio record/playback and video record playback) capabilities. In a size of 11.3 mm thin, 88 W x 55 mm H. The video/audio ones are slightly thicker 11.4 mm. These come in fashionable red/green/white colors. The image quality is amazingly good. No zoom, but with scene management. Built in memory plus SD. They goes from 30,000 to 35000 to 45000 yen depending on resolution and features. No one needs one of these, but it is just so fashionable and cool!

    Next is the Sony Cyber-shot U10 (DSC-U10) camera. I guess this is supposed to be for kids or the fashion consious. It is shaped like one of those old disposible camera -- long and boxy but tiny. It is not cheap but oh so cute. A sliding lens cover will allow for some level of abuse. Movie mode, scene support, uses memory stick and normal AAA batteries. You can hang on your neck as fashion accessory. It comes with pink, silver and blue.

    While I was in the audio asle, I spotted this poorly made MP3 player that obviously try to copy the iPod design ! . I also took a look at the Toshiba version of the iPod, which uses a real harddisk. The unit is only slightly larger then the iPod, but feels much larger. Don't think it will make it.

    On a different note, A new sharp Zaurus SLC700 comes with a bigger qwerty keyboard, to be available 12/14.

    Fun with public PCs

    Fun with public PCs

    Most airline lounges now offer PC's with Internet access, which is great for me. I can check email, chat, shop, even code with those while waiting for a plane. But recently this gets even better for me, definitely more entertaining, when people using these PCs start to leave personal information on those machines.

    For example, my last trip I manage to first check "Bob"s Amazon shopping wish list at the Logan lounge. It contained toys (for his kids?), a few CD's, some cookbooks, and two instructional books that offer tips to improve his, well, you can guess. I couldn't help but add to his list a few healthy eating cookbook to see if that will make any difference for him.

    It got more exciting at first, as I got to Chicago. "Mike" left his outlook web access browser open. Going thru his email and contacts turned out to be quite boring. He must be a really important guy. Most of his emails are from his assistant talking about company parties and which Jaguar he is to get as a company car. I was tempted to email his assistant for him and order a mini van instead but decided against it.

    So, unless you are the sharing kind of person, don't forget to:

    1. Close all browser windows when you are done with these borrowed PC's. Not just minimize the windows.

    2. Sign-out from services like Amazon. Click links like "if you are not Mr Smith, click here" to sign out.

    3. Never check the "save password" checkbox when typing in user names and passwords. It is easy to hit that by mistake.