The Rosie Project

I just finished a romance novel, recommended by Bill Gates. Really.


Are you highly organized? Do you have your weekly scheduled on a whiteboard? Do you mentally route your errand trips to optimize driving time? The main character, Don, in the Rosie Project does. And his ways of life is surprisingly (or not) a major hurdle for him to complete his “Wife Project”. Will he find the right girl? Will he win her over? Is this a completely impossible task? (Don thinks so after his calculation of the probability).

The book is a easy read. It reads like a movie with fast moving scenes. Later I found out the book started out as a screen play, written by Graeme Samsion, who was an IT guy. Go figures. I read it as my first book in 2016. Give it a try. Bill Gates and I recommend it.

Review of Speak Like Churchill, Stand like Lincoln by James Humes

When I give a speech, it is usually on a technical topic that I know well. My approach is usually "just do it" with some prep work of 3x5'ing key ideas for practice. Reading this book, Speak Like Churchill, Stand like Lincoln, completely changed my mind.

This book, written awhile back in 2002, is a little out dated in the advice of clothes (power point number 3). I wish it has more examples from women speakers (Margaret Thatcher was quoted a few times). Other then those minor issues, the 21 power tips are helpful. Number 12 is the best.

Here is a short summary of them:

1. Power Pause

  • Start your speech with a pause
  • Generate anticipation
  • Amplified authority

2. Power Opener

  • Do not starts with "It is a pleasure to speak at your event, thank you for inviting me...".
  • Start with something powerful


Churchill May 10, 1940, opened his talk to members of Parliament:

"I speak to you for the first time as Prime Minister in a solemn hou for the life of our country, of our Empire, of our allies and, above all, for the cause of freedom."

3. Power Presence

This is one of the chapter that did not appeal to me too much. It talked about choice of clothes, props and styles.

4. Power Point

  • "Find the message first and the words will follow" - Cato
  • Must find the one single key message and form the speech around it

5. Power Brief

  • less is more
  • tell a story, not a speech

6. Power Quote

  • Keep a collection of quotes
  • do not use unfamiliar quotes from unfamiliar authors
  • be comfortable with the quote
  • the name should be recognizable and quotations short, except if you frame a stage a unknown (personal?) quote
  • Cross quote (your opponent)

7. Power Stat

  • statistics, on their own, is not useful
  • reduce, round and relate the statistics
  • compare to the familiar

8. Power Outage

  • do not relying on props (slides, etc)

This is now pretty standard style as influenced by many Apple and TED talk presentations. The tips in the book is slightly obsolete, like "do not use pointers", but in general, use simple imagery with large caption/title only.

9. Power Wit

- Humor not jokes, humorous antidote good, stale jokes bad
- tell a humors story that you know, don't read jokes

10. Power Parable

  • parables provide picture of abstrations
  • stories, stories, personal stories

11. Power Gesture

This is about the use of non verbal cues, actions, or props.

12. Power Reading

The act of speaking is actually an act of conversation. Do not read, have a conversation. I got a lot out of this tip. Unless your speaking venue have very good teleprompter support, this "see, stop, say" technique is extremely useful:

  1. look down on your paper/iPad and take a snapshot of the text
  2. look up and pause
  3. say the words

This technique seems counterinituitive, you would think this makes the speech very slow and broken, but actually this is the most natural way. When people are having a conversation, they pause a lot. The "see-stop-say" rhythm is very natural.

To convince myself that this works, I had my 10 year old tried it while I video tape him, and it works beautifully. He used this in a recent class presentation and it worked wonderfully.

13. Power Poetry

  • speech is verse
  • speech is for the ear, so it has to be written, layed out on the page, in verse form, layout like written poetry
  • type out your speech in bit size phrases to help you set the rythm

14. Power Line

Here are five techniques to help craft a main memorable power line.
Use the acronym C-R-E-A-M :



  • There is only one answer to defeat and that is victory -- Churcill
  • Never leave that for tomorrow which you can do today -- Ben Franklin

Use these word pairs as a clue:

  • Present/Past (or future)
  • Beginning / End
  • Dark / Light
  • Mountain / Valley
  • Rich / Poor
  • Friend / Foe
  • Gain / Loss
  • Hope / Despair
  • Victory / Defeat
  • Day / Night
  • Win / Lose
  • Sunshine / Shadow
  • Turth / Lies



Injustice _anywhere_ is a threat to justice _everywhere_ -- Martin Luther King
Early to bed, early to _rise_, makes a man _healthy_, _wealthy_, and _wise_. -- Franklin

Rhyming Nine

These nine word parts are the easiest to create rhyming words:

  1. AME: aim, blame, claim, fame, name, shame, same, game, reclaim, proclaim, flame
  2. AIR: bear, care, dare, fare, fair, share, aware, swear, pare, declare, where, scare, prayer, beware
  3. ITE: bite, cite, fight, fright, height, light, night, right, quite, sight, write, delight, foresight, ignite, tonight "To do it right we need to keep our goals in sight"
  4. AKE: ache, break, fake, sake, shake, stake, take, make, awake, undertake, mistake  "Make no mistake, much is at stake in this new venture"
  5. OW: dough, flow, foe, glow, go, grow, know, low, show, slow, throw, ago
  6. AY: day, pray, stay, say, way, pay, play, away, stray, they, array, display
  7. ATE: ate, date, fate, great, late, state, slate, straight, wait, weight, abate, donate
  8. EEM: beam, cream, dream, gleam, steam, scheme, seem, stream, team, theme, esteem, redeem
  9. AIN: gain, pain, plain, reign, stain, strain, wane, vein, attain, retain, regain, explain, remain, sustain


Echo is powerful, lots of famous examples:

  • "Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather what you can do for your country" -- JFK
  • "The only thing we hav to fear is fear itself" - Franklin Roosevelt
  • "... that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth" -- Lincoln

Three ways:

  1. Repeat a word in the second phrase that you used in the first. e.g. "God helps those that help themselves" -- Ben Franklin
  2. Repeat the noun
    "What is our aim? I answer in one word. Victory - victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be, for without victory these is no survival" -- Churchill
  3. Repeat the verb e.g. "When the going gets tough, the tough get going."

Alliterate and Activate

Note that consonants are better for alliteration than vowels, and the best of the consonants is "P". e.g. "Thta we shall pay any price, bear any burden..." JFK inaugural

Try looking up theaurus for alternative words to build alliteration


Search for imagery in nature (take a hike), or explore the familiar, everyday routines

15. Power Question

  • A question forces the listener to *react*, whereas a declarative sentence does not.
  • use a series of questions
  • rhetorical power: "The only question left to be settled now is this: Are women persons? -- Susan B. Anthony

16. Power Word

  • stress or emphasize one word
  • use a delierate pause before the word

17. Power Active

This is a pretty standard tip: Use active voice

18. Power Dollar

This chapter is about asking for donation. No sure this fit into the book very well, but the four D's are useful:

  • Defiance: be a little cocky -- believe you are doing your potential donor a favor
  • Design: paint a picture (of the product)
  • Donation: double what you think you should ask for
  • Duel: (like a gun fight) do not ask too soon
  • Ask your prospect for advice - a way *in*

19. Power Button

* The Power button is the phrase that illuminate the power phrase that follows

20. Power Closer

For a strong ending, Churchill said you have to appeal to the emotions:

  • Pride -- pride in the company, pride in the community, pride in one's profession or occupation
  • Hope -- a vision for the future, hope for tomorrow, new opportunities, expanded horizons
  • Love -- love of family, love of country, love of god
  • Fear (sometimes) -- the disaster that might happen if stpes are not taken immediately

Some of your best closings may come from your own experience.

21. Power Audacity

  • Surprise your audience: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall! --Reagan

Book Review: The Ice Palace that Melted Away

Bill Stumpf perhaps is known as the designer of the Aeron chair for Herman Miller. In this book he addresses the decline of civility in the States and propose ways to restore them. The book is subtitled "restoring civility and other lost virtues to everyday life".

Stumpf separate his analysis of civility into three parts:

  1. things of civility
  2. places of civility
  3. paths of civility

The book is structured into three sections with short chapters explaining his concepts and thinking.

The Design of Flight

In the first chapter, Stumpf redesign the trusty 747 as an example. Our technology allows us to sanitized natural experiences. Air conditioning. Heating. Flying through the air in a metal box with enough fuse to cause a major explosion. We are safe when flying. But there is the emotion and enjoyment of flying? He reminds us that we should reunite the (positive) emotion with the experience. Bring back the pleasure of flying.

Interesting enough, he proposed giving the passenger more feedback by showing flight plans and outside views on the video monitors. Most new 747 does this now. He also propose bigger windows and seating that give better views. Star gazing. Boeing's new 7E7 has some of these ideas implemented, including much larger and taller windows. Perhaps their designers read this book.

My Dad at the Brewery

In this chapter Stumpf reminds us that we should not completely isolate the dirty part of living. Cocooning in the suburbs. Hiding the inner working of society, factories, manufacturing plants. Ignorance is bad. We should be able to see and tour these necessary part of living.

Bags and other Small Graces

This chapter is confusing to me. Stumpf's writing is reasonable simple in most cases but in some chapters he seems to be combining a few too many thoughts. The main theme I found in this chapter is the importance of small graces. He used the lowly brown paper shopping bag with handles as an example. Compare to the alternative of the plastic shopping bag. The brown bag, especially after adding the handles, is a wonder in design that enrich our lives. It is strong. Easy to carry. Hide the content. It will stand up when place down on the counter so content won't spill out. It is reusable.

Stumpf equates Grace with Civility, which I agree completely.

A Handsome Cab

Technological progress is good, but there is no reason to throw out the old completely. Good design should combine the old with the new. Retain the civil spirit with new technological sophistication. Stumpf compares the London cab (taxi). It is comfortable and roomy. Passenger sit facing each other so that one can have a conversation. Big doors make entrance and exit easy. It has character. It brings pleasure to the ride. If NYC ever were to redesign their taxi, Stumpf sketched out a new design that marry the civility of the London Cab with the new transportation technology.

An American Palace that Melted Away

This is the chapter that gave the book its name. It describes the 1992 St. Paul Winter Carnival. The city commissioned a grand ice palace design and built by volunteers. At the end the ice palace melted away of course. But the people senses that they are a part of something bigger -- a community of civilized human beings.

This chapter is about the importance of play. Rationality sometimes removes play from work. Play is important. Work for the love of it is important.

Just One for Life

Stumpf talks about making things that last. We are increasing obsessed with the next new thing, chasing fads, upgrades. Making things last is not only environmentally sound, but it let us focus on living instead of just consuming.

While I agree with point most of the time, when it comes to computers, do we have a choice but to upgrade every or every other year?

Finding Civilization in the Wilderness

This is another chapter that I find confusing. I think it is a criticism of our mass media. The new connected global village bring us too close to everything. Sometimes one can see more clearly by seeing from a distance. We need to improve the quality, not the quantity of the media.

Stumpf remind us of Carl Jung's notion of progress: Only through the pursuit of wisdom and understanding, and not merely the betterment of conditions, can we arrive at a civilized view of life.

This ends the first section of the book, talking about things of civility.

Art, Designand Harlem Prep

Stumpf uses the Harlem Prep Street Academy as an example (he helped design the school in the 60's) to show that art and design contributes to the quality of life. He laments the lack of focus in art and design in America. There are few public museum dedicated to design. We equate design with high end products only.

Instead, one should try to surround oneself with art and good design. The important of beauty.

The Red Door Clinic

Stumpf moves on to the discussion of public civility. Using a new defunct public health service, the Red Door in Minnesota as an example, he noted that compassion is a source for public civility. Personal Anonymity for clients to the health clinic is an act of public civility.

Rest Area and the Polysemous Side of Life

Using the lack of public bathroom as an example, Stumpf lightlights the fact that in the States we do not offer the public simple support for a basic human need. He said in Switzerland, the dogs have better toilet accommodations than humans in Houston. Highway rest area without toilets is another example. We have advance technology for bathrooms -- the height adjustable toilet for the disable or elderly, Japanese bidet-toilet combination that provide a paperless and odorless hygiene system exists. We need public civility.

Water Works

Another chapter on public civility, and the importance of small gestures. European often have free public access to clean fresh drinking water in public places.

The Creed of Lake Harriet

These few chapters seems to deal with the importance of community. The Lake Harriet district has a creed. It calls for each individual to take responsibility of living there, to build and maintain a civilized communities. (Minnesota nice is real). "The Beer and Bacon Sandwiches at 5:30am" chapter highlight the need for urban food markets. The "Staying Put" chapter talks about the importance of home, building roots, and hence communities. The "Min og Bo" chapter describes simple a head stone and a well design church cemetery in Copenhagen. The fact that design can help preserve civilization -- there can be civility in death.

These end the section on places of civility. The discussion is certainly shorter, most of them reflect on the need of community and public civility.

In a London Workerman's Pub

This chapter is the beginning of the last section of the book. These chapters talk about paths of civility. In this chapter Stumpf recalls his experience in a London pub. The English pub has an etiquette that when a customer leaves his seat, it is assume that he will be back and his seat is saved, unless the customer explicitly say that he is leaving. The kindness of strangers is the path of civility. The kindness of strangers helps maintain people's self esteem.

Walking Russell to School

This is another confusing chapter. I think it addresses the need for awareness of public safety and community awareness. The path of walking to school is a metaphor.

D.J. and Dursu

Stumpf references two different characters in this chapter. D.J. is D.J. DePree, one of the founder of Herman Miller. Dursu is a fictional character in a Kurosawa film, Dursu Usala. DePress apparently have a habit of cleaning up any restroom after he used them. Dursu cleans up campsite as he travels. Both characters leave things better than they found them.

This is about care-taking. One should care about, and take care of not only things that one own, but things that one share. That is another path to civility.

Lace Curtains in the Police Station

Stumpf using a police station in Europe as an example, to ponder about whether it is better to not isolate and hide the bad from the good. This echoes his earlier chapter on hiding the dirty part of living, the factories and the manufacturing plants. Is it possible to make jail and police station a part of the community. Public civility by meditate the extremes without destroying the extremes.

A Scottish Way of Retirement

Stumpf points out that retirement is not the end of living. It is possible to plan and to grow old gracefully. Retirement is an artificial marker in the path of living.

Past with the Present

The last chapter of the book takes up the redesign of the Red telephone booth in Britain as an example. We should not throw out the past because it is obsolete. He propose to retain the past grace and civil spirit when building the new for the present. This is similar to the discussion of London taxi cabs in the early chapter. The path of civility is time again? I find this chapter ends the book rather abruptly.


So what is Civility and how do we restore it? Stumpf gave the reader many examples of what is civil and what destroys it. Grace is often mentioned. When one searches for comfort, one is really searching for civility. He uses Willian Gass's definition of comfort, which is "a lack of awareness". If you are wearing a good pair of running shoes, you will not feel the shoes. It becomes part of the background.

Stumpf actually provides a nice definition of civility in the introduction of the book:

Civility is comfort, hidden goodness, social lubricant, personal worth, helping others, play -- civility is the joy we take in our human achievements and the compassion we show towards our all-too-human faults. Civility can be extended by technology and can be obliterated by it. Civility is toleration, understanding. It is the integration of differences, not the heightening of them. Civility can be found anywhere -- in the great faux city of Las Vegas and the backwaters of the Midwest.

Book Review: Tomorrow Now: Envisioning the Next Fifty Years

Bruce Sterling structured this book using the Shakespeare's All the world's a stagepassage. He matches each stage with a technology innovation and attempts to describe how it will develope and affect society in the next fifty years. He asks two quetsions: What does it mean, and how does it feel.

This book started as an easy read. I agree with most of his thoughts. He uses a lot of compares and contrasts in each chapter. Drawing on history to explain the future. From the middle chapters, the writing starts to drag on a bit. The book ends on the topic/stage of death, which is appropriate as it ends without much commentary.

I enjoy this book in the sense that it is a meta book. It contains a lot of pointers to reference materials that sound very interesting. From the Kevin Kelly book, to Emerson's American Scholar, to "things that think", etc. I will add those to my reading stack.

This writeup here is less of a review, more of my reading notes I took from the keypoints in the book for myself. You really need to read the entire book to what this is all about and judge for yourself.


All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel,
And shining morning face, creeping like snale
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin'd,
With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon
With spectacles on nose and pouch on sides;
His outhful hose, well sav'ed, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voices,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whilstles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is scecond childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

As You Like It, 2.7.147-174)

These are the first few chapters/stages and their associated technologies:

The Infant - Genetic Engineering

Stering argues against the fear of big genetic engineering -- making superbabies, the perfect human. Obsolecence is built in to the process. The superbabies of today will be sub par by the time he or she grows up. Technolgy advances. There is simply no benefits to make superbabies.

He predicts that all the action is at the single cell level. Use bacteria to make drugs. Use micro organism to grow and control the garden.Sterility is a bad word. Living bateria is your friend. He uses mitochondria as an example for useful microbes that lives inside you.

Single cell level genetics are the 21st century version of farming and healing:

Farming andn healing are two lines of human work that are prehistoric, planted at the very basis of civilization. During the whole course of history, healing and farming have been in continuous, roiling development, full of excitement and crises and massive, terrible failures, with nothing less at state than our life and our death. Genetics cannot make either of these ancient arts more stable. It will drive htem both into stampede.

The Student - Education

Learning is not the center of school life. Today's young stedents are being civilized for an older civilization than our own.

Stering makes many references to Kvein Kelly's New Rules for the New Economy. The new academia is moving too fast. There is a "canon panic". A permanent dis-equilibrium. He compares the future state to Ralph Waldo Emerson's famous speech in 1837. "The American Scholar". Emerson's canon for the American scholar is "Transcendentalism". The future is better described by Kevin Kelly.

Sterling suggest two new virtues for a twenty-first century scholar: flexibility and patiences. Flexibility because there is a permanent dis-equlibrium in the new world. Note that permanent dis-equalibrium is not something bad, terrible, and dangerous. Walking, he notes, is permanent dis-equilibrium.

Patiences, because we as human will outlast the machines and all the changes in the world.

The Lover - Man Machine Relationships

In the old world, we have John Ruskin's 19th century concept of Pathetic Fallacy : Human projects our human feelings onto symbolic externalities. The pathetic fallacy is a confusion between the powerful way we fell inside and the indifferent way that the world actually works.

In the new world, look at MIT Professor Gershefeld's "things that Think" research.

Good To Great

By Jim Collins

This book by Jim Collins is an easy read. I picked it up just before a trip and couldn't put it down. So I took it on the plane and read through 1/3 of it by the time the 7 hours flight is over.

This book struck a chord with me as I am living through the lifecycle of a maturing start-up company. I can recall examples of each point that Collins made in his book from my experience. Things that we done right, and mistakes that we made. At the end of his book, he actually bring this book, which is about going from good to great for a matured company, together with his first book, build to last, which is about new companies. He said that the principles apply nevertheless. And my own personal experience would agree.

With this type of book one can always argue that the author is just writing up common sense ideas. Of course, but common sense is hard to find sometimes. What Collins did is to study companies that made a dramatic transition. Looking at companies commulative stock returns, compare with the market and direct comparison companies, Collins identify companies that, at some transition point, resulted in great performances compare with all others. Specifically, at least three times the market performance over fifteen years.

What I have here are some notes from the keypoints in the book for myself. You really need to read the entire book to understand what this is all about !

You can real more about Jim Collins at his website. Check out his reading list -- He has set a personal goal to read 100 books a year.


Level 5 Leadership

These are the five progressive levels of leadership:

  • Level 5: Level 5 Executive
    Builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will
  • Level 4: Effective Leader
    Catalyzes commitment to and vigours pursuit of a clear and compelling vision, stimulating higher performance standards
  • Level 3: Competent Manager
    Organizes people and resources towards the effective and efficient pursuit of predetermined objectives
  • Level 2: Contributing Team Member
    Contributes individual capabilities to the achievement of group objectives and worked effectively with others in a group settings
  • Level 1: Highly Capable Individual
    Makes productive contributions through talent, knowledge skills, and good work habits.

Humility + Will = Level 5 Leadership

To achive level 5 leadership skills, one must combine personal humility and professional will:

Prefessional Will

Creates superb results, a clear catalyst in the transition from good to great.


Personal Humility

Demonstrates a compelling modesty, shunning public adulation; never boastful.

Demonstrates an unwavering resolve to do whatever must be done to produce the best long-term results, no matter how difficult.


Acts with quiet, calm determination; relies principally on inspired standards, not inspiring charisma, to motivate.

Sets the standard of building an enduring great company; will settle for nothing less.


Channels ambition into the company, not the self; sets up successors for even greater success in the next generation.

Looks into the mirror, not out the window, to apportion responsibility for poor results, never blaming other people, external factors, or bad luck.


Looks out the window, not in the mirror, to apportion credit for the success of the company - to other people, external factors, and good luck.

First Who, then What

Collins' point is:

"...not just about assembling the right team - that's nothing new. The main point is to first get the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) before you figure out where to drive it. The second key point is the degree of sheer rigor needed in people decisions in order to take a company from good to great."

The purpose of compensation is not to keep "motivating" the right behaviors from the wrong people, but to get and keep the right people in the first place.

great vision without great people is irrelevent

People Decision

  1. I live by this one: When in doubt, don't hire - keep looking. (Corollary: A company should limit its growth based on its ability to attract enough of the right people.)
  2. When you know you need to make a people change, act. (Corollary: First be sure you don't simply have someone in the wrong seat.)
  3. Put your best people on your biggest opportunities, not your biggest problems. (Corollary: If you sell off your problems, don't sell off your best people.)

Confront the Brutal Facts

The Stockdale Paradox

Retrain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties.

and at the same time

Confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

  1. Lead with questions, not answers
  2. Engage in dialogue and debate, not coercion.
  3. Conduct autopsies, without blame.
  4. Build red flag mechanisms that turn information into information that cannot be ignored.

The Hedgehog Concept (Simplicity within the three circles)

The triumph of understanding over bravado -- requires a deep understanding of three intersecting circles translated into a simple, crystalline concept -- the hedgehog concept.

The three circles are:

  1. What you can be the best in the world at
  2. What drives your economic engine
  3. What you are deeply passionate about

A hedgehog concept is not a goal to be the best, a strategy to be the best, an intention to be the best, a plan to be the best. It is an understanding of what you can be the best at.

If you could pick one and only one ratio - profit per x (or in the social sector, cash flow per x) - to systematically increase over time, what x would have the greatest and most sustainable impact on your economic engine?

A Culture of Discipline

Build a culture full of self-disciplined people who take disciplined action, fanatically consistent with the three circles, the hedgehog concept.

Freedom and responsibility within a framework -- build a consistent system with clear constraints, but give people freedom and responsibility within the framework of that system. Hire self-disciplined people who don't need to be managed, and manage the system, not the people.

Bureaucratic culture arises to compensate for incompetence and lack of discipline, which arise from having the wrong people on the bug in the first place.

Discipline means fanatical adherence to the Hedgehog Concept and the willingness to shun opportunities that fall outside the three circles.

Technology Accelerators

Technology is an accelerator of momentum, not a creator of it.

Flywheel and the Doom Loop

Sustainable transformations follow a predictable pattern of buildup and breakthrough. Like pushing on a giant, heavy flywheel, it takes a lot of effort to get the thing moving at all, but with persistent pushing in a consistent direction over a long period of time, the flywheel builds momentum, eventually hitting a point of breakthrough.