The Beautiful Candle

Michael Faraday's lectures at the Royal Institution in London - "The Chemical History of the Candle" : A candle is beautiful. "Beauty means not the best-looking things, but the best-acting thing." A candle is beautiful because its functioning elegantly and efficiently rests upon a wide range of universal laws. The heat of the flame melts the wax while drawing upward currents of air to cool the wax at the edge, thus creating a cup for the molten wax. The pool of wax remains horizontal because of "the same force of gravity which holds worlds together." Capillary action draws melted wax up the wick from the "cup" at the bottom of the wick to the flame at the top, while the flame's heat trggers a chemical reaction in the wax that sustains the flame.

Faraday said the beauty of the cancel lies in the intricate play of scientific principles upon which it depands, and in the economy with which it knits them together.

Eight Rules of Carney

The eight rules of Dean Carney, from the book Ugly Americans, The true story of the Ivy League Cowboys who raided the Asian markets for millions. The book is a light read, and by no mean true -- it's highly fictionalized, but fun to read.

  1. Never get into something you can't get out by the closing bell. Every trade you make, you're looking for the exit point. Always keep your eye on the exit point.
  2. Don't ever take anything at face value. Because face value is the biggest lie of any market. Nothing is ever priced at its true worth. The key is to figure out the real, intrinsic value -- and get it for much, much less.
  3. One minute, you have your feet on the ground and you're moving forward. The next minute, the ground is gone and you're falling. The key is to never land. Keep it in the air as long as you fucking can.
  4. You walk into a room with a grenade, and your best-case scenario is walking back out still holding that grenade. Your worst-case scenario is that the grenade explodes, blowing you into little bloody pieces. The moral of the story: don't make bets with no upside.
  5. Don't overthink. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck -- it's a duck.
  6. Fear is the greatest motivator. Motivation is what it takes to find profit.
  7. The first place to look for a solution is within the problem itself.
  8. The ends justify the means, but there's only one end that really matters. Ending up on a beach with a bottle of champagne.

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The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell

This book contains a lot of quotes and management ideas from Colin Powell, as told by the author Oren Harari. The author made it very clear in the prologue that this book is (1) not by Colin Powell, and (2) there is no official endorsement from Colin Powell. What Harari did is that he summarized his observations of Colin Powell's leadership styles and first wrote an article in the December 1996 issue of Management Review. He later expanded that material into this book.

The lesson and insightes in the book is good but not always 100% new. It's hard to find original an new ideas. However it is a great summary of a lot of sometimes obvious principles. The Powell stories behind the lesson make them fun to read. For myself I found two of the topics particularly relevent:


Vigilance in Detail

If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.

  • Master the details before and during the launch of major project. Do not make key decisions without the relevant facts and details. I like to put it as: Do your homework.
  • Stay in touch with the little things -- Don't lose touch -- especially as you ascend the hierarchy.
  • Attention to details does not mean analysis paralysis.
  • Discipline in details is discipline in strategy.

Powell's Rules for Recruiting and Promoting

Look for intelligence and judgment and most critically, a capacity to anticipate, to see around corners. Also look for loyalty, integrity, a high energy drive, an balanced ego and the drive to get things done.

  • Intelligence and judgement: People needs to be bright to handle complexity in data, people, tech, or ideas and also need to decisively choose and appropriate course of action.
  • anticipate: People who can see and understand the future, grasp emerging shifts in tech, competitors, markets, demographics, consumer needs, and launch something new based on their understanding.
  • Loyalty: This quote explains his view on loyalty: When we are debating an isue, loyalty means giving me your honest opinion, whether you think I'll like it or not. Disagreement, at this state, stimulates me. But once a decision is made, the debate ends. From that point on, loyalty means executing the decision as if it were your own.
  • Integrity: People with integrity stand for something bigger than themselves -- a purpose, or a cor set of values and ideas -- and their actions honestly reflect their convictions.
  • Drive: Find people who live urgency -- people who feel that there is no one moment to lose.
  • Balanced ego: Ego balance implies self-awareness, know when to blast ahead, know when to pause and regroup, when to enlist new allies with complementary skills.

Mountains beyond Mountains

I just finished reading Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains, a book about Dr. Paul Farmer, or Doktè Paul, as his Haitians friends and patients call him. The book is grippingly intense, showing how Dr. Farmer, with his passion and energy, changed the world for Haiti, Peru, Russia and other places, helping to cure TB and AIDs and save lifes in a global scale.

A little paragraph from the book, as Tracy talks about Farmer:

It still seemed to me that he took a stance all too conveniently impregnable. He embodied a preferential option for the poor. Therefore, any criticism of him amounted to an assault on the already downtrodden people he served. But I knew by now he wasn't simply posing. I felt somthing about hi that I'd later frame to myself this way: He said patients came first, prisoners second, and students third, but this didn't leave out much of humanity. Every sick person seemed to be a potential patient of Farmer's and every healthy person a potential student. In his mind, he was fighting all poverty all the time, and endeavor full of difficulties and inevitable failures. For him, the reward was inward clarity, and the price perpetual anger or, at best, discomfort with the world, not always on the surface but always there.

This is a story of an amazing man who changed the world. In the book, a co-worker of him quoted Margaret Mead, which is one of my favorite quote: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.

You can listen to an interview with Kidder talking about the book here on NPR.

I am spellbound

Watching a spelling bee competition is as exciting as......... the French Tennis Opens. You don't think so? Buy the DVD. This documentary follows eight kids through the 1999 National Spelling Bee competition. The kids are from very different backgrounds. Their stories are inspiring. This is a must see movie for kids and adults. Make sure you watch the DVD's extra materials. There are three more kids profiled and their story are equally interesting, especially the 9 year old.

What I like about the Spelling Bee Competition is that it is run professionally, with strict rules and regulations, without compromising the sportsmanship and spirit of the kids. The kids are more friends with each other than competitors. They all understand that being in the Nationals mean they are already winners. They seems to treat each other with respect and support and friendship. I think they are glad to find other kids that are like them. They do not need to feel special because they are smart, and studious, and focused.

Fast forward to the present, ESPN now carries the event live. I just watched the end of this years competition, with David Tidmarsh, a 13 year old winning the competition.

If you are interested in "where are they now" from the kids in the DVD, one story about Ashley White, the girl from DC, ran in the Washington Post. Some of the kids (April, Emily) are semi active on the discussion board at IMDB.

Google's Owner's Manual

I find Larry Page and Sergey Brin's Owner's Manual for Google inspiring. This is included in their S1 filling with the SEC. Download and read it. Quote: Don't be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served -- as shareholders and in all other ways -- by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains. This is an important aspect of our culture and is broadly shared within hte company.

Loft and Architectural Resources

Some resources for my loft design Appliances

  • 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:

    da me architecture

    Just started reading a very interesting book: Made in Tokyo, by Kaijima, Kuroda, and Tsukamoto. It is a bilingual book that look at the non designed but interesting buildings in Tokyo. Quoting a small passage from the beginning of the book: From <Architecture> towards <Building>

    The buildings of Made in Tokyo are not beautiful....... They are not 'pieces' designed by famous architects. What is nonetheless respectable about these buildings is that they don't have a speck of fat. What is important right now is constructed in a practical manner by the possible elements of that place. They don't respond to cultural context and history. Their highly economically efficient answers are guided by minimum effort. In tokyo, such direct answers are expected. They are not imbued with the scent of culture; they are simply physical 'buildings'.