The Beginning of Corruption

You have a decision to make and you did. Vendor A has practically won in all aspects. The next step is to award the contract. You decided to pay them a visit and shake hands. They went all out and entertained you thoroughly. At the end of the day, you told them, everyone toasted and was happy. You came home. There was nothing inappropriate. Those entertainments did not influence your decision.

There was a power asymmetry and both sides knew it. You exploited that asymmetry. That was the beginning of corruption, not just for you, but for your whole organization.

Many senior managers enjoy the authority that came from their position. In fact, I observed that the majority of them are really motivated by power: the ability to control others. Quickly, they learned the special treatments that come from having power. Then, they demanded those special treatments: not wait in the line, a personalized service, extra portion, etc. When not getting them, they wielded their power.

The decisions influenced by these factors are usually sub-optimal. Soon, these plays filtered out the best decisions or the best people. What’s left are those who are willing to play the game that is not meritocratic, at least not 100%. At the end, the whole company lost its edge and competitiveness.

Be aware of the asymmetric power structure. Use it for the company, but not for yourself. It is hard to resist, so you will need to be extra vigilant.

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Divergent Trilogy

Teenagers are hormonal, cruel, and irrational. They tend to make bad decision in a rush. Got that. Pains come with bodily injuries. We got that too. It is not cool when your friends were killed. OK.

In this future world, all 16-year old must take an aptitude test and choose a faction to live off his or her life. Each of the four factions adhere, nearly religiously, to a set of values: truthfulness, courage, benevolence, selflessness, etc. But Beatrice’s aptitude test came out ambiguous. She couldn’t choose. She is a Divergent.

That’s the first 10 pages of the first book and I finished it in a hurry. Then I got the second book and devour it too. Took no break, I dived into the third and burned several near all-nighters. One word of caution, be prepared to read all three books, in the right sequence. They are really just one book, a long one. Too long, really.

The plot is relatively clever by mixing several obvious themes: races, prejudice, family, friendship, and teenage love. At the end, I categorize it to be a social SciFi with too many subplots. In this age of self-publishing, authors use the first volume to hook the readers for subsequent ones. Maybe this is the trend of mass market publishing.

I still recommend the books. But I have not and do not plan to watch the movies.

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Learning the Ropes

Summer nears, thoughts shift to sailing. I found myself staring at the lake and tracing those triangular shapes. That afternoon, I took out a piece of rope and started practicing the knots.

When I learned sailing, I thought the common phrase “learning the ropes” meant the names of those ropes on a boat (they are called sheets or lines). To operate a sail boat, one must pull ropes decisively. A delay, hesitation or, worse, mistake will possibly capsize the boat, miss the turn, or, minimally, lose the speed. The captain’s job, essentially, is to time and coordinate all those rope pulling activities. They give commands that are precise, terse, and understood to all those well versed in sailing. I am still “learning the ropes.”

Sailors must pull the right rope at the right time. There is no time to untangle first. They must, therefore, be able to tie and untie ropes all the time. And they must trust these knots. Once tied, they must be secure, wet or dry. They also must be able to untie all knots quickly, also wet and dry. One of those knots is the Bowline. As I practiced it on a piece furniture, I found it beautiful — and not just this knot, all the knots used in sailing.

And I admire the beauty, in its design, simplicity, and effectiveness, of this Bowline. I realized that this is another aspect of learning the ropes: the knots. I thought of centuries of sailing and all those wisdom passed from generation to generation. And I smiled, “this is pretty cool.”

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Differentiator: the Holy Grail

Every entrepreneurs and enterprise executives wants the differentiator: that one thing that sets us apart from the pack; one pain point that has been under-served; one unfair advantage not duplicatable by the imitators. We read books, we attend seminars, we study cases, we go on pilgrimages, we hire expensive consultants. We need that differentiator.

It’s right here.

A friend of mine is a yoga master. She tours around the world to demonstrate, perform, and teach yoga. But her journey began humbly. About 10 years ago, she was very sick. She went to a beginner yoga class to build some strength back. She attended the class regularly and gradually advanced to intermediate, advanced levels, and eventually private lessons with her master. Then the studio offered her to be a part-time instructor. When her classes got full, she she opened her own yoga studio.

In short few years, she gained a differentiator from the general population. Several years later, she differentiated even among the yoga professional. She is now competitive and profitable. There is nothing uncommon about her journey. Tenacity!

The demise of the business frequently rooted from the lost of will to build that differentiator. Too many entrepreneurs or investors sought the first-mover advantage or a green field with no competition. They are to create a new industry, open a new era, and redefine a paradigm. History showed that Google was not the first search engine, Microsoft did not create the first office suite, Apple was not the first MP3 player or smartphone, Intel was not the first CPU maker.

If something cannot possibly succeed because someone is already very good at it, then there will never be new novels, music, or movies.

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Getty Villa

What is it like to be so rich that money no longer matter? That’s J. Paul Getty, an oil person that was the richest person in the world in 1957.

Getty Villa is part of the Getty Museum whose other site is Getty Center. The admission is free but tickets are required. This villa nestled at probably the best corner of southern California. For $15 of parking, it is a pleasant excuse to visit the Malibu beach and soak in some fine culture. Of course, the wonderful combination of sun, beach, and sea breezes is an additional attraction.

Getty Villa is all about ancient Greek and Roman arts and antiquities. The center piece is the Lansdowne Heracles, the Greek version of Hercules. Paul Getty spent hundreds of millions collecting these arts but died before the center opened. There was an extensive renovation and it was re-opened in 2006. A casual walk-through takes about 90 minutes.

Unlike Getty Center that should be a destination, Getty Villa is more a worth-while detour. The garden and the architecture are no less parts of the collection and make sure to linger to appreciate many finer points of them.

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The Demise of Pluto

The planet, not the cartoon dog.

Kid actually took Mike Brown’s class and learned about the drama first-handedly. Years after she told me the story, I bumped into this book. Could it be nerdy and boring?

I smiled, laughed, and chuckled. My eyes misted several times. I couldn’t put it down and finish the book in 4 days. For an academic geek, Mike Brown is a talented writer and probably a good teacher and, by definition, an entertainer.

The Solar system has eight planets, an asteroid belt, and a Kuiper belt very far away. That Kuiper belt has many objects of various sizes and shapes. The largest one, discovered long time ago, is Pluto. Mike Brown discovered several more, including Eris, once considered another planet. But is it? Or even, are they? No. They are not planets, just larger members of the Kuiper belt.

I was once fascinated by the starry sky. I bought paper-based star charts and stared at the sky for hours. I have never graduated to telescopes, mostly for financial reasons and also for not having lived without severe light pollutions. What would happen to me if I grew up in a rural area? Would I grew up oblivious to those light dots, or an astronomer?

I would have never known. Is it fate that Mike Brown, and many other astronomers, was born the right place and right time? Otherwise, the celestial objects wouldn’t have shown up, or the technologies wouldn’t have matured enough. Mike Brown is probably more brilliant as a software engineer than an astronomer.

The best parts of the book were about Lilah, his new born daughter who were taught sign language. When they were watching the moon at night, a cloud briefly obscured the moon, Lilah asked her dad to bring it back. When the moon came back out, she thanked her dad for it with a smile, all in signs. I was smiling so wide reading that. Hey, I am a dad with daughters too.

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Best Sushi in Tokyo

“It’s the best Sushi in Tokyo,” our host boasted. “That’s a bold claim.” We both thought that’s really more of a personal opinion of our host than an unbiased journalistic assessment. Our expectation, nevertheless, heightened as we took in the Ginza streets.

Celebrities and luminaries frequented Kyubey (九兵衛), a Sushi bar elevated to international fame by Wall Street Journal years back. Patrons sit at the sushi counters shared by slightly more than a dozen and face the sushi chef no more than 2 feet away, smiling with two long and sharp knives. Soon, seafood, mostly raw, transformed into visually appealing and appetizing forms appear on the plate in front of you. The chef would suggest “to dip or not to dip” into the sauce soy saucer and I found it rewarding to oblige.

Sake bottles kept on disappearing. Bite-size pieces came endlessly. Never have I imagined the varieties of fish and their complex texture and flavor combinations. I soon ran out of adjectives and praises for the chef, “It’s very good;” “Oh, this is very good;” “Delicious;” “Oishii desu;” and my lame joke, “Delicious desu.”

Finally, misu soup came and we let out a happy sigh. As we walked out, wait, really, no kidding, geez, should I grab my camera? Yes, it was Lionel Richie himself with a very gorgeous companion. Quick! Which Lionel Richie song came to your mind? “All Night Long” was mine.

I cannot tell if this is the best sushi in Tokyo. I would definitely testify it to be the best I remember in recent life. The damage? Our host said US$750 for three of us. Worth every penny, particularly when he paid.

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How Clean Is Your Drinking Water Supply?

Portland, Ore., dumped 38 million gallons of drinking water because of a urinating teenager.

That teenager’s pee added about 0.01 PPM (part-per-million) of pollution to the water supply. That more than 200 times less than the allowable amount in drinking water. Oregon official admitted that they sometimes found dead animals in the reservoir but that never triggered the dump. Because, “no one want to drink pees.”

We drink pees all the time. Earth’s water is a close system. Every drops of water has a contamination from some animal pees sometime. For the Oregonian reservoirs, they get bird poops probably every day. Their sources also collected animal pees on their ways to the reservoirs. Modern water treatment facilities can rid pretty much all those pollutants and deliver safe drinking water to households. Minimally, they must be compliant to the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act and various local regulations.

A normal person uses about 100 gallons a day and most of them for flushing the toilets. 38 million gallons will serve about a third of the Portland population for a day.

The water in the reservoirs was naturally collected and has not been treated. So it is essentially free. If the officials are reasonably smart, they will dump the water on a tributary that will lead the water back to other reservoirs. Even if they really dump it to the wild, there is really no harm done. All water on earth are recycled, there will be no loss of water in the system.

Yep, much ado about nothing. Except for annoying Californians who are parching from a historical drought.

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Discovery Park

I can only hear my own foot steps. The soft and soaked dirt squealed on my every steps. The sounds were delightful to this lone walker. I knew the physics of the sounds, but cannot help thinking the trail is trying to talk to me.

Loop Trail is a 2.8 miles easy hike, but my goal is West Point Lighthouse. I parked at the north parking lot, got on Loop Trail, and branched onto Hidden Valley Trail. From there I passed the West Point Water Treatment plant and found the beach.

Like other parks in Seattle, the trails were well maintained, well marked, and easy to navigate. There were loners like me, couples, families with small children, joggers, and dogs. The trees were tall, mosses green, water trickling, and dirt soft. I passed by people chatting in all kinds of languages, some I recognized and most don’t. I was at peace with myself, working up a light sweat.

Next time, I will try the South Beach Trail, heard the view is better.

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Foundation Trilogy

I cannot believe that I never read Foundation Trilogy. I have been an Asimov fan forever and read many of his works. Well, they were indeed master pieces.

For historical references, Asimov originally wrote the Foundation Trilogy as “Foundation“, “Foundation and Empire“, and lastly, “Second Foundation.” He then wrote two prequels and one sequels to complete a 6-book series. If you wish to read them in the time-line of the event, you should begin with “Prelude to Foundation.”

Psychohistory applies high mathematics to sociology. Hari Sheldon was the best psychohistorian and was able to predict the future of any society with very high degree of accuracy. He foresaw the fall of the First Empire and established two Foundations to take over in a thousand years.

Really? What kind of math can predict the future of a galaxy a thousand years into the future? What kind of brilliance? Mind you, the subject to the plan, the population and the leaders of the Foundation, knew only the existence of the plan and not the plan itself. The premise is then Hari Sheldon seeded the Foundations and, with his brilliant math, set things in motion for the next one thousand years without the need to reveal the plan to those in Foundation.

I did not believe. The third book to figure out how he did it. I won’t ruin that for you.

The entire trilogy is a must-read for all SciFi readers.

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