Let’s be like Swiss

A young man, long time acquaintance, talked about his recent 6-week Switzerland stay. He talked about the spotless cleanliness, the high-quality and near free public transportation, the harmonic social order, and the excellent welfare system. It is an exemplary government that others should learn from.

“It is a relatively small country,” I said. “What’s the secret that their citizens are so much more productive than other countries’?” My friend pondered, “It’s not their citizens are better. They are the bank of the world. So much money flows into Switzerland, so profitable.” “Oh, so it is like Alaskans getting money from the state,” I said. “The productivity is basically natural resources. For Switzerland, it is a WWII era strategy that is still paying off for the country. Handsomely!” He nodded. We both thought, “Can this be duplicated?”

Governments, big and small, wish to give citizens what they want: high-quality life-style and even better ones for their descendants. Other than Bhutan, GDP per capita seems strongly correlated to the “life-style” ask. Boosting GDP, therefore, becomes the goal. (It’s easier than distributing the wealth. Enter tickle-down theory.) History showed that productivity is fundamentally a function of natural resources, population, and geography. What can a country do? Most are stuck with these factors.

Government can also just print money and give citizens the illusion of better income. Many did just that. Printing money is government borrowing money from its own citizens. It is an illusion of wealth. That’s our own money from the future.

If you cannot afford it now, you won’t in the future. Boosting global competitiveness is the only way to improve general quality of life for the long-term. This is particularly true for smaller countries — Singapore, Korea, Taiwan, etc. — that rely more on global competitiveness to survive.

Learn from Greece.

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The Passage Trilogy

Finally, the third and final book is here. You may start now. Get all three and brew a nice pot of coffee. It is about a girl who saved the world.

In not so distant future, an obssessive scientist discovered a virus that transformed man into a vampire. Unbeknown, they were telepathic and therefore broke away. They killed off nearly the world population, by either infecting them to become vampires or simply killing them. The survivors garrisoned themselves into pockets of fortresses. A century passed in this stalemate.

Amy, a little girl, was part of the original experiment but she did not transform. She eventually arrived one of those fortresses and began the epic battle to save humanity, as a little girl.

I waited for the second book, then so long for the third. This is not the Twilight kind of the vampires. They are nasty monsters that violently torn people apart while devouring them. This is also not your Dracula derivatives. I think Justin Cronin intended the biblical parallel, just much more violent than Noah’s flood.

I do appreciate Justin Cronin’s vigor. The third book tied up all the loose ends and re-told the origin of the epic catastrophe that I have long assumed won’t be explained. The satisfaction of closure — ah, that’s how they knew each others — was very nice. The wrap-up was nearly a short story with a new set of characters. I felt that was not really necessary.

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Un Bien

On a whim, on this lazy summer Seattle Sunday, I decided to take the bus to Ballard to try out Un Bien. The story began with a legendary sandwich shop in Fremont, Paseo. People, seriously, described the sandwiches with words typically reserved for deity or unadulterated teenage love. For the years I lived here, I have not once gave Paseo a try. There was always the next weekend. Then it closed!

The scandalous closure of Paseo sent shockwaves across its huge fan base. It also saddened me for missing the chance to experience the legend. Of course, capitalism prevailed. The former employees re-opened Paseo and the original owner opened Un Bien in Ballard. Both offered pretty much the same Caribbean sandwiches.

They are both too far away for me to bother. Really how amazing can sandwiches be? Well, today, I found out. As sandwiches go, it is near perfect.

The #1 on the menu and best seller — Caribbean Roast (Pork shoulder coated in marinade and slow-roasted until it falls into succulent morsels) — was indeed delicious. The meat was tender and flavorful. The baguette bread toasted lightly to provide the texture, structure, and the absorption for the juice, the sauces intense and flowing, the condiments (onion, veggie) added the extra dimension. It was an elbow-dripping messy and oh-so satisfying sandwich experienced.

The also famous Fire-Roasted Corn featured small-kerneled corn that really served as the vehicle for the insanely unhealthy and delicious aioli. I finished it pretty much in 1 minute.

Was it worth the trip? The answer is really the same as Ding Tai Feng. There is an art-level of comfort foods whose craving is hard to quench once it hit you. At that moment — like Harry and Kumar go to White Castle — a great level of effort seemed well justified.

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Orange Pu’er Tea

Pu’er Tea 普洱茶 has been in rage for the past decade or so. It is a fully fermented tea produced in the Yunnan area, usually packed tightly as bricks. Some made the bricks into an art form, most assumed the simple circular or rectangular shapes. The well aged ones are so highly prized that many treat them as investments.

Lately, I received a gift that is a variation that I have never encountered. I learned that people have been drinking this tea for a very long time and the specific brand, XinHui Tang 新寶堂柑普茶, is highly reputable, essentially the standard for the category. This tea, however, is quite hard to find. The gifted, I believe, got it from Hong Kong.

The laborious process to make this tea begins with the unpacking of a high-quality Pu’er tea brick into loose leaves. Next stuff the leaves into an emptied orange — only the peel left that formed a spherical bowl. The orange is of a very specific varietal and chosen for the ripeness, shape, and size. After the stuffing, the whole thing is dried then packaged.

My mother’s hometown, FuZhou 福州, is known for producing this medicinal dried orange peels. In Chinese herbal medicine, dried orange peels cure coughing and hypertension. Pu’er tea is also well known for its medicinal properties: calming the nerves, melting away body fat, reducing blood pressure, and even slowing down aging. Drinking this orange pu’er tea is therefore doubly healthy.

I enjoy pu’er tea pretty much only for its strong aroma and flavors. Natural tea aroma is preferred, but those infused with Jasmine, Chrysanthemum, Osmanthus, or even rose buds are enjoyable as well. I am not sure about the claimed medicinal values. Chinese has been drinking this for a very long time, it cannot be bad for me.

Internet emphasizes the proper steeping method: take both the orange peel and the tea leaves, discard the first pouring of just boiled water, steep the 2nd pouring for 20 seconds and drain to the cup promptly, repeat 3 to 5 times with progressive longer time until all flavors are extracted. Do not prolong the contact time of the tea leaves and hot water.

We drain the 2nd and 3rd pouring into a cup and drank it. It was strong, rich in flavors, and nicely for the nose. The 4th to 6th pouring went into my standard and favorite jar-size cup. I drank it slowing through-out the evening, way after it has cooled down. This tea is good. I like.

To health! Take another sip.

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Mither Mages Trilogy

For 1,500 years, the Olympic Gods, as those in Greek and Roman mythologies, were stranded on earth. Their descendants gradually got weaker in their mythical powers as depicted on those myths. Soon, they might became just like us drowthers (muggles as in Harry Potters), unless a gatemage emerges. A good gatemage can enhance their power and make them rulers of the earth again. Danny North was one such gatemage, in fact the greatest ever.

A gate can instantaneously transport any object from one location to another — violating rules of physics. If the object of the transportation is a living thing, it also restore it to perfect health. A capable gatemage could create such things at will. A Gatefather can create many such gates. This is like the movie Jumper.

Orson Scott Card was actually disappointing. The story line and characters were creative and great. But he went overboard in the philosophical department. He theologically re-interpreted God, Satan, devils, and afterlife. He indulged in teenage silly verbal jousting. The love and other emotions were superficial and shallow. If you expect a repeat of Ender’s Game, this is not it.

It is a good library borrow over a lazy weekend. Don’t forget that there are three books in this series. You would want to finish all three in one sitting.

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Cupertino 5K Jogging Path

Jogging outdoors is a event rarely happened in Seattle. When it does, many unreasonable conditions must be met: the the weather being nearly perfect: clear day and between 65°F and 80°F; asphalt or well paved paths; a loop, instead of out and back a path; few traffic lights and no fighting cars; flat paths; and, lastly, not crowded by many fellow joggers.

Summer mornings of northern California are just perfect. I discovered this jogging path only recently. This loop that starts at the intersection of De Anza and Stevens Creek crosses the fewest traffic lights and mostly through the residential area.

The best part is the Creekside Park tucked along Miller. It’s a big swab of green paved along the perimeter. The path pretty much is going for it as the destination and coming back.

Back to the treadmill in the gym when I go back to Seattle.

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Jack Reacher: Persuader

I read fictions only from the library. I figured the good ones will eventually work their way into the system. The popular one all have long waiting lists. I would request them, and patiently waited my turn, sometimes for months. While I am “between books,” I simply checked out one of those mass market series. There are many prolific authors who cranked out many books with very consistent style and format. Some call them the travel books: the one you buy at the airport bookstore and discard at the hotel when you are done. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series is in such category.

Although the plot largely predictable, I enjoyed reading every Jack Reacher so far. I guess I identified with the protagonist: a modern lone ranger who wandered into the small town and took care of people from the big bad wolf.

This time, however, he was a revenger: getting back to a big bad guy who wronged him 10 years ago. The general weakness of this book is Lee Child developed the story line too slowly, almost as if he added the flash-back subplot as an after-thought.

Several fight scenes were excellent, the fist fight with Paulie being the best.

Highly recommended for your next trip to wherever.

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Red Rising Trilogy

In the distant future, Luna colony rebelled and ruled the Solar system. They abandoned the concept of “all men are created equal” and created a genetic caste system: the Gold would be on the top of the pyramid to rule, Red the bottom for hard labors, and many other colors in-between. Specialized training, implants, and genetic modifications were common for the colors to perform their jobs better. And 700 years passed.

One of the Red, Darrow, rebelled and started an epic struggle of the lone lowest against the Olympic gods. The books carved human spirit, love, brotherhood, power, and greed. It threaded betrayal, wars, martial arts into the story arcs. They were addictive.

They are also bloody and violent beyond the “young adult” level.

Pierce Brown clearly shares my taste of whiskey. Chuckles.

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Development Methodologies

Modern software is a very unique art form that is similar to creative writing, yet different in scale, volume, and the number of people that must work together to produce it. Imagine a fiction 100 times larger than the encyclopedia (yes, a fiction) and written by 500 authors. Not only the story needs to be compelling and the style consistent, there is also essentially zero tolerance on errors in spelling, punctuation, gramma, or word usage.

So called software methodology exist mostly to deal with “programming in the large” — that a large number of people must collaborate to do software. If we only employ small teams, then the methodology is no longer an interesting concept.

Few software company can afford the pace of George R.R. Martin.

With the goal of selling for money, instead of a single fiction that large, what if we change to 500 short-stories that are related in plots. Each independent author will announce his/her plot idea and characters before he/she start and proceed to write the story without more interaction to others. The new story will become part of the big story to make it richer and deeper. It can also become the basis for more short stories to follow.

Oh, at anytime, we can choose to re-write or even remove one or more of the short-stories. Either the original authors were not creative enough, or the sub-plots do not fit the whole anymore.

I am now part of this “methodology experiment” by being in charge of several short-stories whose plots are tighter related. My authors are bright and the plot ideas are good. Let’s see if we can publish faster with this unique way of developing software.

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iPhone’s Irking Ringtone

Like you, I got used to having my personalized ringtones. Also like you, I don’t want to pay for them. I have a large collections of songs and I don’t want to pay for a snippet of things that I already own.

On Android phones, that I have used for all these years, the process is easy. Find a way to slice the MP3 to the part I want, save it as a new MP3 file, and select it as the ringtone. The slicing took time, since I need to listen to the song multiple times to choose the exact segment.

Then, not completely voluntarily, I switched to iPhone. Not that I am a novice to iOS devices; I had many. I just never used iPhones. The switch over was uneventful. Transferring various data from Android to iPhone was cumbersome yet not technically challenging. iCloud was a necessity.

The ringtones stumped me.

After slicing the MP3 segment to less than 30 seconds, I needed to convert the song to AAC, rename the to M4R, move it out of iTunes (!!), play the file from Finder (by iTunes, which will now know there is a new ringtone), then sync my iPhone. After all that, the ringtone will magically appear from the selection. Oh, I have yet figured out a way to remove the ringtones that I accidentally created.


There is an easy way. I could have hack into the iPhone and drop the sliced MP3 into the tones folder. Oh, you did not think this is easier?

Apple. Com’on!

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