Stepper’s Foot

That’s when your foot goes numb while using a stepper, stair master, elliptical machine, or even stationary bicycle. I paid no attention to that about a month ago, thinking I pinched a nerve sitting too long on the stationary bike. But when it persisted even on the elliptical machine, I got a bit concerned. Of course, I Googled.

There are several possible causes. The repetitive motion could pinch a nerve near the ball of the foot. There could be some kinds of blood flow restriction to the leg from the exercise. And it can be a form of the tarsal tunnel syndrome. What to do? What to do? …

Since these exercises are not new to me, I suspected my shoes: a relatively new item to the routine. I notice this pair is wider, which I thought better for breathability. Good thing I always have a spare pair, so I experimented. The new pair fit snuggly. I can exercise almost without tying the shoe laces. And the numbness stopped.

I surmised that I over-tied the shoelaces to accommodate for the width. That restricted the blood flow when the exercise became vigor.

Lessons learned? Don’t ignore the discomfort and root cause it early. Having a spare pair was a good idea. Stick to the same brand/style of shoes, stop experimenting or bargain hunting.

And I did learn about Stepper’s Foot, really never heard of it before.

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Leavenworth, WA

In the 60s, the rail road company moved about 20 miles to Wenatchee. Losing its largest, and probably the only, employer, this city was to become another rail road ghost town. The mayor went to Solvang, CA, and the new Leavenworth was born.

What exactly is Bavarian, I mean, as a theme for a city?

The mountain setting, similarity in climate, architectural style, murals on the walls, town center, street signs, authentically brewed beers, bratwursts, pretzels, and all the German styled foods. And, of course, Bavarian attired serving staff. It worked! Leavenworth is now a thriving tourist destination. In the winter time, it is supposed to be a ski resort serving several slopes nearby. But this year, strangely, it is a destination for Seattleites seeking sunshine on the other side of the Cascade. People were literally sun bathing in Leavenworth, ice cream cone in hand.

On your way to Leavenworth, or Steven Pass, from Seattle, you must pass the city of Monroe. Not much to see, keep on driving. But just out of the town on highway 2, look out for two school buses parked on the other side of the rail road. That’s the Old School BBQ. It will be wise to arrange your trip so that you can have a meal there. (We skipped the reptile museum and the espresso stand, on the same parking lot.) What I yelped:

The host greets you from the window. Her Texan accent wins you over. Then you see the smoker emitting aroma that envelops you. Your saliva started to flow. Hmm, this is a good start!

But which to order? 4-meat combo it is. The brisket is as advertised to be tender, juicy, and flavorful. The ribs were heavily smoky that I can smell in 4 hours after I have eaten there. The pull pork was good. The sausage kind of average. There were three kinds of sauces and all good, but I like the original spicy best.

This place managed to thrive as a permanent food truck, from two school buses, on a parking lot with the “Reptile Museum” that is out of no where. Talk about low over-head. If you are on your way to Stevens Pass or near Monroe, this is a must-eat.

Of course, just for those BBQ enthusiasts

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Ears on the Walls

Back when cell phones were novel, it is a common treachery for eavesdroppers to park near a highway and listen to all those people talking while driving. Soon, the new generation of cell phones scramble all transmissions. Fast forward a few years, we learned that hackers would turn on the microphone and/or camera on the laptop. It is bad enough that the vendors fail to deploy strong mechanisms to protect us. We will be livid if they volunteer our private information to third parties without our consent.

And that appeared to be what Samsung did with their SmartTV. What were they thinking? Really!

Apparently, Samsung’s SmartTV is always recording whatever audible and transmitting them out. The TV must be attentive to whatever sound in the room, lest a command was uttered. It also must learn your voices to tune its voice recognition feature. The unintended consequence is, obviously, the blatant violation of your privacy. Worse, they do this without telling you first.

As a network security person, I am always amazed that how little engineers considered security when they design their products. Yes, security makes everything harder. But that’s only a matter of design discipline: one extra constrain for engineers to deal with — not being convenient has no bearing on this.

Consider security as part of the design, there is no dropping this. When do so, find a real expert. Amateur computer security is usually worse than not having any.

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Vaccination Decision

I have a very strong position on this question. But this blog is not about the medical merits of vaccination. It is about risk assessment and decision making.

We human beings are not capable of evaluating very small probabilities. For example, if I offer you the choice of a lottery ticket that has a 0.0001% chance of winning $100 million or $50 dollar cash. Which would you choose? If, instead, I try to sell you that ticket, how much would you pay for it?

The majority of the people will not make the mathematically correct decision. (Go ahead, ask someone.)

Let’s assume that getting the vaccination carries a risk that’s harmful to the children (or self). But not getting the vaccination carries the risk of getting infected. Since one must make a decision on this matter, the rational call is to choose the less one. The argument of “it could be harmful to my children” is not rational, unless it is “more harmful than my children getting infected.” Since both risks are extremely small. Some of the brains got lost and chose wrongly.

In making decisions that involve extremely small probability (less than 0.1%). First arrive the correct decision mathematically. Next use emotions, examples, or other human perceivable forms to persuade the constituents; never numbers. Unless, of course, that your audience is all scientists, engineers, or robots.

The ticket is worth $100. So, take the lottery ticket unless the cash is more than $100, or pay for it if the price is less.

Get the facts straight for all matters first. When in doubt, use Occam’s Razor, select the side that made the fewest assumptions.

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SuperBowl Decision

Yes, I was shocked. Why would Pete Carroll make that play call and lost SuperBowl 49 for SeaHawks? Wouldn’t it be obvious to use the “Beast” to punch through Patriot’s wall and score the game winning touch-down? What was he thinking?

This is called the 20-20 hind-sight wisdom. It is a known fallacy in decision making.

The quality of the decision is not necessarily related to the outcome, particularly when random factors play a role. Pete Carroll has basically two options: use Marshawn Lynch to ram through, or use a different play that Patriots do not expect. Facing New England’s defensive team, Marshawn Lynch may very well be stopped with several inches short. The alternative approach may actually have better odds. This decision could be a sound one. What happened next could be just bad luck.

If there is a lottery with 10% chance of winning and the pay-out is better than 10 times the ticket price, then the rational decision is to buy the ticket. If the ticket does not win, it is simply bad luck.

Don’t learn the wrong lesson.

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Point of Impact

“Is that any good?” I asked my fellow traveler holding Sniper’s Honor. I always favor books reviewed by an actual reader, instead of professional critic. “It’s a good travel book,” he said and I understood perfect. “It is a series and a movie was made from one of them.” Hmm…

It was Shooter, a movie by Mark Wahlberg that I enjoyed. Generally, a good movie leads to better reading experience. But vice is not versa. So I got the first of the Bob Lee Swagger series: Point of Impact by Stephen Hunter. The book was published in 1993 and movie made 2007.

As I read, scenes from the movie flashed back in my mind and that was quite fascinating. I noticed the adaptations and actually appreciated them. Like always, the book gave depth, contexts, and richness. The movies the faces, feelings, and emotions.

As the first of a series, this book ended cleanly. I wonder if the rest of the series is equally good.

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Uber Controversy

Had a lively debate over Uber’s legitimacy the other day.

There are two primary points against Uber:

  1. Uber evades taxes. The government collects fees and taxes, excessively in some cities, from the taxi industry. These costs are generally transferred to the consumers in the form of higher fares, with the assumption that taxi customers are mostly out-of-towners and it is OK to tax them more. Uber, or similar ride-sharing businesses, under-cut this revenue sources.

  2. Uber is dangerous. The customer is most vulnerable in a car driven by a stranger. The government regulates and tracks taxi drivers. People should feel safer.

There are disagreements from the other side of the table.

  1. So what!? Taxation is a form of wealth redistribution. The same customers who use taxis will spend the same money on the same society. Uber, if thriving, will generate wealth in the society. If not, it does not matter.

  2. Really?! Can someone produce evidences that taxi is really safer than Uber? All we have is theories and sensational news stories. People get robbed by taxi drivers everyday too. With Uber, the customer knew the name of the driver and his/her rating before he/she gets into the car. That feels safer to me.

Government does not protect any industry or a group of people, it exists for the most good for the most people. Any change, progress or not, disrupts some existing businesses. Several years ago, Shanghai taxi drivers protests that subways are hurting their business and people thought that’s OK. Why would Uber be different?

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Life After Life

The brilliant Andrew K. said this book was brilliantly written. He is well read with a good reputation for book recommendations. I put it on my reading list – only to found a long queue at the library for the same. Many must’ve agreed with Andrew.

It was brilliant! Kate Atkinson is a British academic who debunked the saying of “those who can’t…”

Mild spoiler alert. I will hint at the structure, which is part of the brilliancy.

Ursula Todd gets to live her life over and over again, each time with only the gut feelings and vague senses of déjà vu. Yes, she practiced, and made perfect, of her life.

The book, therefore, is a series of restating the same story. After a couple of “WTF how come the there is no plot?” chapters, I got the idea. Her first several lives ended tragically and quickly. Each death, however, made the next one better and longer, alas creating new opportunities to end her life in a new way.

Ursula was born in the winter of 1910 and would have lived through both world wars in Britain, largely London, and the continental Europe. The wars provided many miseries. Her “inexperience” of living and general stupidity of being a teenager and a young adult made death come easily. It must have taken many, many lifetimes to acquire the wisdom.

Kate Atkinson toyed us by killing her differently and showing us her awkward, and sometime failed, attempts to survive. (Man, it took her 20 some years to live just a few minutes longer!?) I rejoiced when she found happiness and saddened with her inevitable losses, some of them brutally. Kate Atkinson can, hence the brilliancy, weave many stories and shape the protagonist’s character multiple times in the same book. Does Ursula gets to die one last time, with some kind of purposes fulfilled? (You really don’t think I am going to reveal that. Do you?)

What if we are all Ursula Todd and living this life just the last time of many? What if wisdom is simply from the increase number of dying, or reincarnations? (You are stupid because you haven’t died enough times.) How Buddhism.

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10 Tips for Better Email at Work

For 2015, try this for resolution: “Always edit your email at least once.” And its corollary, “Never send out email right after writing it.”

  1. Have an informative signature text that includes your full contact data. Avoid Latin quotes, political or philosophical statements. If you are plugging for something, make sure it is short. Edit your mobile signature text. This is a place to be informative, not thoughtful. People generally don’t need to know your message came from whatever device.

  2. The first paragraph of the message should be less than 5 simple sentences, preferably 3, in active voice. Each of the “simple sentences” has 2 to 5 words.

    This first paragraph is the “summary” of your message. If the recipient stops reading after this paragraph, not much would be lost.

  3. If you found the first paragraph empty of actions or decisions. Consider not sending this message. The exception is the “acknowledge” message as in “Got it. Thanks.”

    Consider seriously to delete everything after the first paragraph.

    If not, provide supporting facts, rationale, arguments, etc. in the following paragraphs. If there is an attachment, mention or list them as the sole purpose of the second paragraph.

    These days, it is better not to reply “inline.” Instead, reply point-by-point and quote the original text verbatim at the end.

    Remove unnecessary quotes or forwarding texts, particularly long signature blocks.

  4. No matter what, limit your entire email message to 5 paragraphs. If you absolutely cannot finish within 5 paragraphs, state this fact in the beginning of your second paragraph (“I apologize for the length of this message.” Or something like that.)

  5. After writing the body of the message, examine the subject and consider its appropriateness. The subject line serves two purposes: giving your message a “punch line” and helping the recipients to organize the message under the same thread.

  6. Take a very close look at the list of recipients. Why does each of them need to read this message? Consider revising the recipient list.

  7. If the message is humorous in nature. Be conservative. When in doubt, make sure you deprecated only yourself. Generally, don’t do it.

  8. If the message is to dole out accolade, gratitude, or appreciation, spend a bit more time to make it heart-felt by adding some details or personal connections.

  9. If you want to express anger, disapproval, or any negative emotion, save the message in the draft folder and wait minimally 24 hours before you send it. When you are about to send it, read it over again. If you have any doubt, wait another 24 hours.

  10. If you are replying to a thread that has gone back and forth several times, stop. Pick up the phone and call the person, or arrange a meeting.

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My 2014

Facebook has “my year” automatic services. This is the same 2014 retrospective, the hard (manual) way.

This year saw many new babies and firmly established my “grand uncle” status. I tried to train every grand nephews/nieces to call me “Xiao Ming Shu Gong” — a continuation of the tradition of their parents calling me “Xiao Ming Shu Shu.” Of course, these babies must acquire vocal control first, that could take several years.

Kids settled into their routine, knowing quite well that stability is not for their changing ages and generation.

2014 entered our 5th year in Seattle, elevating Emerald City to our third longest staying locale, followed by Silicon Valley and Taiwan, surpassing China. Our feeling of being a local is getting stronger every year. I like the cooler climate, the slower pace, and the more spatial feeling. Of course, coffee, beer, and wine are critical factors too. I continued to explore the greater Seattle area, albeit quite slowly.

I travelled nearly 20 times! Many were day-trips or over-nights. Four times I went to Asia, mostly greater China and there were several east coast trips. Those, mostly business, trips were exhausting, but have the nice side effects of providing times to read, catching up with movies, and keeping long-distant personal connections.

I have long fully converted to eBooks. After losing my, beloved, Kindle Paperwhite, I switched to an Android tablet. For the year, I read 34 books, 9 of them non-fictions. Among the fictions, fantasy, SciFi, and thrillers are my main genres. Orson Scott Card’s “Mither Mages”, Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy, Haruki Marakami’s 1Q84, Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy are my recommendations. The non-fiction favorites were Taylor Clark’s Starbucked, Mike Brown’s How I Kill Pluto, and Michael Ruhlman’s The Soul of a Chef.

I worked out more regularly and frequently: on average 5.1 times per week, up from 4.5 last year. My routine is mostly at night, alternating among elliptical, treadmill, stationary bike, and lap swimming. On weekends, when the weather is nice, I jogged outdoors. To battle those muscular atrophia, I do weights probably once in 4 to 6 weeks. I continued to lose ground on the war against cholesterol and blood glucose, only slowly. That was probably related to genes, aging, and my failed attempt to get my BMI down to 25 (from the current 26). Guess I should really have fought harder by indulging less on foods and drinks. Sigh…

Job-wise, like last, this has been a tumultuous year. As a crew on this big boat, I am in for the wild ride. The hope is a reasonable success within a couple of years and that means, yes, I will be in this Emerald city for a while still.

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