Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Blogging Luniversary!

Readers of my blogs would have noticed that a regular feature alongside my blog articles is a black and white sketch of flowers, leaves, stems, in various combinations, and lately, animals of the feathery kind. Those are the creations of my wife, a fact that bears repeating. She has no formal training in the art of drawing. What she has is her innate sense of proportion and an ability to trace out patterns that just jive. Here I don’t mean tracing as in following a stencil, but rather the hand tracing out the mental pattern in the mind.

In one of his comments on my blog, my nephew has likened the sketches to a sedative with tranquilizing influence, shrouding him in serenity. Now he has added some color to one of the sketches. I’ve decided to put the two side by side so that readers can voice their preference. Personally, I think the black and white sketch blends in better with the blog décor that I’ve chosen, being of a light and subdued color scheme. Also, the staid look helps to accentuate the lines, the strokes, and their interweaving. In that sense, the colored sketch seems slightly out of place, seemingly usurping the limelight instead of sharing the same stage, as a husband and wife team would.

My daughter agrees with my assessment too, though I did not venture to ask for the reason. However, the episode did prompt me into learning to use Photoshop, which has been on my computer since day one. So both the coloring effort by my nephew, and its nudging me into learning Photoshop, are pleasant surprises.

Three-peat that wasn’t meant to be. Here I’m referring to an earlier blog on a series of football games on consecutive days starting last Friday. The last leg of that 3-peat was dashed when the Bucs lost in NY 3-21. So after two heart-rending wins (to the opposing teams), Bucs was back on familiar territory. I guess two out of three really wasn’t that bad. So I’m going to register this as a pleasant surprise, thus validating its inclusion here.

“Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” Sounds simple enough? Well, that’s according to Mark Twain, that quintessential American writer.

But for mortals like us, writing can be a contrived exercise in communication. Fortunately, writing skills can be acquired, good writing habits cultivated, provided we are taught by experienced teachers or at least guided by good handbooks.

In my case, I did take a course in Technical Communication while in grad school. But I felt “reined in” in a way for we had to follow strict rules of writing etiquette. So my prose writing, if I can claim that’s what I’m doing right now, has benefited from numerous authors whose books I’ve read (see a random selection from my book collection at my other blog, courtesy of LibraryThing). I’m glad that I’ve cultivated my reading habit since I was in school and that the investment has paid off handsomely in the form of my blogging activity.

More important, it has helped to sustain my writing habit, be it blogging or commenting on others’ blogs. My maiden blog was made on Sep 30. So I’ve survived a full month of blogging, averaging more than one blog article per day. For that, I’ve decided to accord a pleasant surprise to myself, not that there was ever any doubt in my mind.

May I blog for the next month, next year, next …

P.S. In case you're looking up the word "luniversary", trust me, it does not exist. I have coined the word in analogy to anniversary to celebrate the passing of one full month of my blogging avocation. It's silly no doubt but where else can you act silly and not censured except in your own blog? But I may have spoken too soon.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

From Global to Local

I chanced upon this blog, One at all-Project, while I was taking in my daily dosage of 3BT.

  • The purpose: one single person from each country. The most different cultures on planet talking about everything.

  • The rule: If your country is represented, hard luck, but you still can comment. Also, a new topic is decided by majority poll of the members every Friday.

  • The fun: a hilarious way to learn of the varying cultures of earth’s inhabitants.

  • The Encouraging Part: Only 26 countries are represented so far at last count. So the vacancy is more than 85%. I would say the odd is quite good, especially if you're from the far-flung places of the world.

So what are you waiting for?

Switching gear, this is a potential Three-peat, but over three consecutive days as opposed to the heydays of the LA Lakers in the 1980s and Chicago Bulls in the 1990s when both won the coveted NBA (read WORLD) Championships three years in a row.

But this is my version, a vicarious one. First, on Friday night, HB Plant High School beat Jefferson HS 17-13 in a thrilling high school football (the American one) game here at Tampa, winning the Hillsborough District Championship. As a parent of two Plant High students (one of them ex), I’m happy for the school.

Yesterday, the Gators overcame the Georgia Bulldogs in a much awaited clash at Jacksonville, 21-14, in a college football game. Being an UF Alumnus and the proud parent of a Gator, I’m glad for my alma mater too.

Then the Bucs will be facing off with the NY Giants at NY today. I live in Tampa and so it makes sense to root for the Bucs, who is making a nice turnaround since going 0-5 in the first 5 games of the season.

I heard some part of the first game over the AM radio but did watch the highlight at the 11pm newscast. I watched the last 3 minutes of the Gators-Bulldogs live telecast when the outcome was already settled, perhaps not in the mind of the Bulldogs fans. So I think I will watch the whole Bucs-Giants game today, barring any last-minute outing dictated by my wife.

So Go Panthers, Go Gators, and Go Bucs.

I woke out at 6.45am this morning, according to my bedside clock. Then while I was working on my computer, I noticed the computer clock was showing one hour early. Then it hit me. I’m supposed to set back the clock one hour last night.

Yipee, I have one extra hour to blog today.

That completes my daily dosage of pleasant surprises for the day, the chronicled ones anyway. And you know what, the day just got started …

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Model Blogger Bunch

After dinner yesterday, we brought our daughter to Barnes and Noble for her to buy a school-assigned reading book. As she and my wife were browsing for other merchandise that Barnes and Noble offers, I was doing my own survey at the Magazine section. I picked up a US News and World Report publication on the America’s Best Graduate Schools (the 2007 edition).

One article talks about blogging in the academe, as a relief valve for pent-up pressure from the rigors of academic pursuit. Entitled Blogging Their Way Through Academe by Carolyn Kleiner Butler, the tagline to the article states that “It should come as no surprise that young, tech-savvy graduate students with countless theories and opinions to share make model bloggers and that they're using the seemingly ubiquitous medium in ever growing numbers.”

Now it has been more than ten years since I left grad school but I still can identify with some of the tribulations experienced by grad students, especially as a SOTA (students over the traditional age), and the need to unload the “flood of malcontent” to a willing listener. But those days blogging was practically unheard of, save for communication to the then fledgling BBS and the occasional email exchanges of snide remarks and veiled disclosures. So words of mouth became the primary conduit for the free flow of opinions on all facets of campus life.

But with blogging, a prospective student has now one valuable “unfiltered” source of information right from the horses’ mouth regarding a college’s quality, both academic and social, as opposed to the glossy brochures that colleges churn out.

In this instant, one should be discerning enough to separate the chaff (personal gripes) from the straw (objective opinions, albeit sounding oxymoronic) lest the opportunity of joining a great program is missed.

The article also alludes to some professional pitfalls for job seekers in the academia whereby an applicant’s blog can be easily googled and any perceived “inappropriate personal content, misrepresented research, or concerns that such scholars might "air departmental dirty laundry (real or imagined) on the cyber clothesline for the world to see” can result in a negative portrayal.

So a blog can cut both ways. While pseudonyms are rife, they are no protection against a determined mind who is capable of ferreting out their origin with a bit of internet sleuthing. And lawsuits have been filed and won against bloggers whose “targets” have been deemed wronged by the court as I’ve blogged previously here.

As with life in general, exercise judgment in both blogging and making use of information from a blog. For bloggers, these inspiring words from Graham Walker, physician-in-training featured in the article, in relation to his future patients should strike a concordant chord:

"I want them to know that I'm a fallible human behind my white coat, not some godlike figure who can automatically heal them or give them a magic pill. I say things I regret, think things that are wrong, but through my blog, I try to analyze these things and recognize the wrong assumptions or bad behaviors so I can correct them. I think it's really important to get that out there.”

P.S. This article was actually destined for my other blog, Going Global. But it seems the alpha version of Blogger.com has some problem for a week now judging from the postings in the Help Forum. This is one instant where I'm glad that I've decided to migrate one of my blogs to the Beta version. Is this a prelude to Blogger.com phasing out the alpha version? You tell me.

Friday, October 27, 2006

That Library Thing

Reading has been my hobby since young. As with most people, I started with the comics genre, both English (Archie, Charlie Brown, Mad Mad Mad, etc.) and Chinese ("Lau Fu Zhi" or Hong Kong’s Master Q and the like). Then I moved on to serial story books like Chinese martial arts novels that I’ve blogged previously (see Knowing Made for Easy Steering under the October Archive at Going Global). In between I also picked up reading English novels, and reference books related to my professional work as an engineer.

An attendant activity to reading is buying books. My collection of books from bookstores and online purchases are not many and far in between. But I frequent used book sales especially those organized by libraries. Back home there were occasionally such events by MPH and Times Publisher. The best outing that I have had is the one by the National Library of Singapore a couple of years back. Coming home with bagful of discounted books was an understatement then.

Over here in Tampa, most public libraries have a permanent used book section either manned by volunteers or managed through a self-help honor system. You pick the books (hard cover for a buck and half of that for a paperback, regardless of the size [strike that, my wife just informed me that this is not correct as there is a higher charge for oversized books, and I stand corrected as she is the more acutely discerning one in the house]), add up your total, write the number of books and the amount on the front of a white envelope provided, enclose your payment (in cash), and deposit the envelope in a letterbox-like container on your way out. Clean and fast. No hassle.

With that kind of economic investment (the ROI is certainly staggering as reading-induced joy and sense of tranquility are truly priceless), both book storage and inventory become a headache. The former is physical in origin and is easily surmounted as long as space is not a premium. On the other hand, I sometimes end up buying the same book several months down the line as my rate of finishing a book is far outstripped by the rate of acquiring. So lately, I have started scouting around for a good way to catalog my ever growing possession of books.

I first toyed with using a spreadsheet as learning to use a dBase application software for such an amateurish purpose seems an overkill. Then there is LibraryThing, an easy-to-use, online library-quality catalog. But there is more. LibraryThing also connects you with people who read the same things. In case you forget some details of the book (and its physical location in the house somehow eludes you), then LibrayThings searches Amazon, the Library of Congress and 60 other world libraries for the details. In addition, you can put your books on your blog (in random order) by giving you the correct html script to be pasted onto your blog template, which I’ve done for my other blog, Going Global.

So if you’re into books and love sharing your opinions and getting feedback from other like-minded readers, then do your thing, the LibraryThing that is.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

'Rite R Us

Most of us are familiar with the Toys R Us store chain as a leading retailer of toys. But how many is aware that the name itself, while catchy, has been the subject of some debate by linguists and language purists? These people, some of them anyway, argue that it should have been Toys R We if you want to be grammatically correct about it.

Now there is a name that does not evoke such a controversy: WriteAbout.Us . Neither is it a household name, not yet anyway. But it’s beginning to make a presence in cyber space.

Its business model is selling space on its web site, with a twist. Unlike similar efforts that have come before them, they offer free spaces on their web site, with a catch, the catch being you need to blog about it in order to claim your space, one of the 60 available. The spaces are given out in rotation following the ubiquitous rule of first in first out. But I wonder whether they accept repeat business, meaning if you blog about it again, do you get to enjoy your moment of fame all over again? What if you’re a multi-blogger, could you write about them on every other, or every one of your blogs?

Well, these are questions for later. Now I have something more immediate to attend to, like listing the reasons why my blog should claim its rightful place in the cyber roll of honor, however fleeting that sojourn maybe, Letterman-style:

  • At number ten, I’m just about running out of topic to blog. Then this dandy offer comes along. What a pleasant surprise!

  • At number nine, like my blog, it also has won the Buzzbadge (on Oct 26), but after me (on Oct 10).

  • At number eight, it’s a freebie, and I’ve never been known to pass up on one.

  • At number seven, I love writing on something I know nothing about extemporaneously.

  • At number six, my daughter is waiting to use the computer. So I need to churn something out fast.

  • At number five, it’s always good to pause at the half-way point. But wait, this is not exactly halfway as only odd number of items have a half way point. So this is half of the half way point, the other half being number six.

  • At number four, if I can get away with what is number five, which has basically nothing to do with the why, this should be OK too.

  • At number three, we are now entering the top three reasons, this better be good. Oh yes, it’s exposure; it’s opportunity to showcase what I’ve been busy doing the past month.

  • At number two, the penultimate, today is the first anniversary of my maiden blog, or rather luniversary (as in a month) save for a few days short (my maiden blog was actually dated Sep 30 but who is counting?)

  • And at UNO, drumroll please: I don’t believe in buying a space (otherwise a frugal guy like me would never make it, and yes, there are 100 of them going for sale, but here the lowest bid will get squeezed out of the revolving door first), especially a virtual one. I believe in earning it, by the only way I know best: blogging.

Knock, knock, are you (the WriteAbout.Us guys) still there?

No? As a bonus, I'm throwing in the best sketch my wife has ever done. See for yourself. And then go back to see all the archived sketches as well as the ones on my other blog, Going Global. While you're there, might as well settle in to partake of my blog, the content that is.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Explore, Discover, and Seek to Understand

As children growing up, we explore. First in the playing pen. Then the house. And then we venture out of the house, supervised of course. That’s where we discover a whole new world, even though it’s just the immediate environs. Then we learn and seek to understand, both vicariously and experientially, assimilating the corpus of knowledge that humankind has accumulated. So we explore, discover and seek to understand as individuals, as society, as citizens of countries, and as earth inhabitants.

NASA does the same thing too, but with the entire earth as a unit, and then some when it started to deploy both manned and unmanned space missions, probing the edges of the universe that we now know to exist.

NASA, short for National Atmospheric and Space Administration, was established in 1958 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. It has pioneered aeronautical research, developed space shuttles that made space travel possible, and launched satellites into Earth orbit, helping us understand how our home world changes.

While many earth-based observatories have been established throughout the world, their views are all pointed skyward. Ever imagine how the earth looks like from a space-based observatory? Well, it seems now we can explore, discover, and seek to understand our mother earth from the confines of our house, just like we first started doing those things as children, at the Earth Observatory. Aptly named, the web site provides breath-taking images of earth processes under the categories of Atmosphere, Land, Ocean, Energy, and Life.

The images are accompanied by news-like stories that expound on the significance and ramifications of the features/processes depicted. Examples are climate phenomena (hurricanes, the expansion of the ozone hole over the South Pole), large-scale sea reclamation (Palm Islands, Dubai), and terrestrial hazards (volcanic eruption, forest fires). These are just a very very small sample of the 263 pages of images (9 per page) accessible at the site. I’m alternately awestruck by the grandeur of our home planet and flabbergasted at the large-scale destruction of earth’s habitats, all captured on the lens and now archived on this easily accessible repository for posterity.

My aim is to go through each and every image, read the story, and perhaps mull over it. I’m sure it’s going to be a marvelous digital flight over earth, each snapshot frozen in time, where varying shades of pleasant surprises would be the only constant. Bon Voyage to everyone who would like to hitch a ride!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

SEARCH: the Now and the Future

I received a personal email reply from Goodsearch upon signing up, thanking me for blogging about Goodsearch. Granted it could have been mass-generated by simply inserting my name as a field entry, it still feels good as I don’t take much to feel appreciated. So that’s one up for the little guys in this age where size matters.

As my wife was shopping in a local WalGreen store, I caught up on my reading by planting myself at the Magazine/Book section. After surveying the many titles on display, I picked up the Oct 2006 issue of the WIRED magazine. As usual, I first scanned the Contents page for interesting articles and one caught my attention: The Information Factories. I could have finished the article there and then if not for the fact that it was check-out time on my wife’s cue. Time must have flown by faster than I have imagined, lost in the myriad images that the article conjures up (Moore’s Law, Bell’s Law, Grosch’s Law) and marveled at the scale that the future holds for computing (tera-scale to peta- and exa-scale, the last being with 18 trailing zeroes).

I recall a talk That I attended in 2003 in Malaysia delivered by Dr. Ahamd H. Zewail, Nobel laureate in Chemistry for his studies of the transition states of chemical reactions using femtosecond spectroscopy. Now, a femtosecond is 15 trailing zeroes after the decimal point of a second. Remember the days when a billion seems astronomical (world population is just over 6 billions) and angstrom units and nano-seconds are really minute. So practically overnight we have doubled the order of magnitude of spread.

However, I felt a bit let down for not being able to finish reading the article. Buying it did cross my mind but I decided against it as it is not one of the regular magazines that I read. Then back home when I was surfing, I decided to do a search for the magazine and the article. Imagine my delight when I found that the online version is available (read here). Such a magnanimous act.

If you're fascinated by the impending dawn of the petabyte age where teleputers would outpace the current crops of mobile gadgets to oblivion, and would like to have a glimpse of what "cloudware" portends for netizens, the article would be a good read. Hope you'll be as pleasantly surprised as I was.

Monday, October 23, 2006

DIY Blog Design and More

For newbies to the blogosphere, reading a blog is not too taxing on one’s computer nor Internet literacy. A click here and a click there, followed by more clicks. Commenting would require more effort, but not marginally so if the blogger does not impose too much restrictions.

But to become a blogger is something else. Obviously blog hosts such as blogger.com have made the transition relatively painless, hiding most of the mechanics behind the interface. However, for those who wish to personalize their blogs, they would have to invest time to sift through the disparate sources of information that is the hallmark of the Information Highway in order to learn the “trade of the art” such as HTML and CSS scripting, and adding RSS feed.

Now help has come in the form of a book, Blogosphere: Best of Blogs, by Adrienne Crew and Peter Kuhns. Essentially a Blogging 101 or Blogging for Dummy type of DIY book, and more, it defines a blog, traces its history that has matured into the blogsphere as an exemplar of Grass Roots Communication, outlines where and how to search for blogs, and closes with the how of making a blog and more to making a presence in the increasingly crowded blogosphere.

Now on to better yet news. The authors have kindly made three chapters freely available for download at their standalone website. Named the bonus chapters, these comprisepublished additional material for Chapter 9: Environmental Blogs and chapters that we had to cut from the book” in the authors’ own words. Entitled “Environmental Blog (Chapter 9)”, “Advanced Blogging Techniques (Chapter 13)” and “Blogging and the Future (Chapter 14)”, they are aimed at enhancing your knowledge of advanced blogging techniques, especially if you use Blogger.com as your blog host as the blog (re)design uses a generic Blogger.com blog.

I would be putting some of these tips into practice in an effort to inject some of my personality into my blog, if that is possible at all. So tune in often as we await to be pleasantly surprised. Yes, me too. I want to surprise myself.

Talking about self help, the bookstore and libraries are shelf-full of DIYs and For Dummy books on practically any subject that you and I can find time for. Now there is a Self Help (and more) cyber store whose offerings run the gamut from Appliance Repair, Building & Renovation articles, Home Wiring (covering dwelling / service panels / swimming pools / garages and more), plumbing projects, radio & TV interference, switch & outlet wiring, small engine repair, to yard & garden. Created by Donald Kerr and Warren Goodrich, two ordinary hands-on guys, what is most commendable is that they both have full time employment and maintain the site on their off-work hours. But as usual, read the legal disclaimer and the associated copyright rules.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Charity Starts at Home

We always have a soft spot in our hearts for people who are less fortunate. While many of us are unable to offer personal assistance, we are nevertheless generous in our offer of financial assistance in the form of monetary donations. Thus was born an industry unto itself: charities. These are not-for-profit organizations staffed full-time by professionals who garner donations and channel them to various foundations that need funds to provide for the poor/handicapped/needy. In most cases, a certain portion of the proceeds is used to sustain this intermediary role. And that proportion can, and does, vary from charity to charity.

Recently, the Tampa Tribute, in their Oct 8, 2006 edition, reported on the results of an "investigation based on public records requests and an analysis of state and federal financial records" under the news heading “Cause for Misgivings. Among the findings are:

  • Of the 20 major charities in Florida that rank the worst in terms of using donations to help the needy, 18 say they help police officers, veterans or other public servants. Those groups - including several based in the Bay area - took in more than $24 million last year and used just $20 of every $100 in donations to help the needy. The majority of the money went to for-profit fundraisers.
  • An efficient charity spends no more than 25 percent of revenue on fundraising and administration, according to federal guidelines.
  • Analysis of the state's database shows that thousands of charities do good work with minimal fundraising or administrative costs - relying instead on volunteers and community-based fundraising, not telemarketing.

All in all, the results can be considered as a mixed bag. While there is certainly cause for misgivings, that should not deter us from continuing the charitable streak in us. Instead, we should be circumspect as statements such as "all proceeds will go to the charity" can mean that only the donations net of administrative and fundraising expenses would trickle down to the recipients.

With the advent of the Internet, similar charity organizations, the click version, have sprung up. I have described one of them, Goodtree, previously in my blog (see here). An anonymous comment to my blog pointed out that perhaps the intention of Goodtree could be less than noble and that its search capability certainly does not qualify as “being having the best of the best serves you” as I have described it.

So I did something that I should have done before I blogged on my supposedly great find: I goggled Goodtree. And look what I found: an evaluation of GoodSearch vs Goodtree.

I don’t know about you but I have already decided to switch to GoodSearch and also pick the charities I would like to contribute to with open eyes from now on. We all have finite resources and should therefore channel them to causes that would result in the loudest bang. My brother put it best: The softness of the heart must be matched with the hardness of the head to avoid pseudo-charities or for profit charities.

The moral of the story is do your due diligence, be it a brick or click outfit, and do not be afraid to change your option when what is claimed does not fit the bill or when a better alternative comes along.

And today's pleasant surprise is made possible by the efforts of the Tampa Tribune, the anonymous commentator, my brother, and Goodsearch.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Production Booster

(The above bookmark is courtesy of my youngest brother-in-law, the second one in the series.)
Most of us have dealt with over-the-counter service one time or the other. Banking transactions are perhaps the most common form for private entities while for the government sector, things like applying for a driver's license or renewing one are common reasons for making a visit to government offices.

With the advent of the Internet Age, most of these activities that used to involve personal trips have been replaced by online transactions, which is a boon to those who have access to the information superhighway.

However, for those who are still not computer literate, they still have to contend with the traffic, the long queue, and at times less than satisfactory service from the counter staff. Similarly, most services offered by government agencies, for example, renewing a driver’s license, still necessitate appearance in person for those who are non-citizens, as yet.

I’m in that boat and have spent almost half a day renewing my driver’s license last time around. So when the time for renewal came up again this time, I was prepared, both with the required set of documents, and more importantly, enough reading material to last a day.

I arrived half an hour before the appointment time of 9.50 am, and was pleasantly surprised to find that there was no queue at the outside screening counter. Perhaps it so happened that there were not many walk-ins today. From past experience, I already know that there are actually two lines: the one I just mentioned and the other one at the services counters located in an inner room out of sight from those in the first line. Usually the longer wait occurs in the inner room due to a combination of a limited number of attending officers and the need for them to scrutinize the supporting documents for completeness.

Even though it was still about 30 minutes before the appointed time, the officer waved me in to stand in the second line. A grouse that I have whenever I have to queue up for service is doing that standing up. Back where I came from, most counters have already implemented a ticketing system whereby a visitor, upon entering the lobby, would first take a number from an auto-dispenser. Then one would compare the number on the ticket with those displayed on top of the counter, thereby knowing roughly how long the wait is likely to be. Then one can either take a seat, comfortably ensconced while waiting, or even dash out to run other errands if the wait is long enough.

But here all have to stand in line, sometimes hours on end. Of course there are people who leave the line to take a seat while keeping a close watch on the progression of the line lest one is inadvertently left behind.

One reason for the difference is perhaps the line here is usually short, less than ten people at any one time (unless the line is for some concert/game tickets). Today I was sixth in the line. And the pace seemed quicker too as I could only cover about twenty or so pages of the book that I was reading.

The lady who served me was most friendly, and processed my documents efficiently even though twice she had to refer to her superior/colleague due to some peculiarities in my case involving INS documents.

Frankly, I wasn’t very sure whether I would be getting my driver’s license renewed today because of the aforementioned uncertainty. I was already thinking the worst when the lady sought advice from her superior when my circumstance was not listed in the department’s guidelines on supporting documents.

I still could not believe my good luck after I was back in my car barely after one hour in the Department’s office. My office secretary would be thinking that I was pulling her legs because I told her not to expect me back in the office until after lunch when I left the office for the appointment.

Yes, I was indeed pleasantly surprised at how smooth things went. That really put me in a jovial mood for the rest of the day. And a production booster to boot.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

People Who Never Live and Who Live to Suffer

We grow up surrounded by fictional characters. Boys have GI Joe, Superman, Ultraman and a host of other hyphenated men characters while girls play with Barbie dolls and the like. Then there are the Disney cartoon and comic book characters who are a constant source of amusement. Now Messrs. Lazar, Karlan, and Salter have written The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived, listing their nominees with strong arguments for each. You may disagree, subconsciously supplanting some of them with your very own. To each his/her own. I have yet to read the book, so this pleasant surprise is made in anticipation.

I came across a big word today, one that I’ve encountered before but have not bothered to look it up. It’s existentialism. The online dictionary defines it as “a 20th-century philosophical movement; assumes that people are entirely free and thus responsible for what they make of themselves”. To my mind, freedom and responsibility are two sides of the same coin; we cannot have one without the other.

However, Victor E. Frankl, in his book entitled Man's Search for Meaning, has an interpretation that is somewhat akin to Buddhist teaching: “to live is to suffer; to survive is to find meaning in the suffering.” This certainly rings true, albeit tinged with a tad of sorrow that life tends to throw at us. However, Mr. Frankl turns it around to admonish that we “say yes to life”. The longer version taken from his book is more revealing, explicit and easy to relate that makes it my pleasant find of the day:

Don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as an unintended side-effect of one’ personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run – in the long run, I say! – success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.”

Happiness cannot be pursued, it must ensue.” Think about it.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Treasure Hunt

The Internet is really a great place for treasure hunt; you will never know what you will end up with. We used to do the same kind of thing every weekend: hunting for great garage/yard sale items, but by car. Usually we don’t read the classified, but prefer to cruise along, keeping an eye out for those cardboard-sized announcements pinned on make-shift wooden stakes driven into the corners of road junctions. We have picked up some notable items this way: a great novel, an old CD, novel toys, not to mention some great furniture pieces, all for practically a small change.

So now I’m reliving the wild expectations, the joy of landing something totally out of this world, without having to venture outdoor or spend a petrol dollar. Today’s find started with a posting in a discussion list that I subscribe to. The post is from a UF graduate student, with his homepage url listed. Since it is my alma mater, I thought maybe I should check out what kind of research the students and faculties are doing compared to more than ten years ago when I was there, starting first with this particular student. So this guy has just passed his qualifying exam (to gain doctoral candidacy) and presented his research proposal, which is included in his homepage as a slide presentation. Interesting, using LES to look at seabed bedform dynamics under waves and currents.

Oops, sorry, I don’t mean to bore you with the digression. Then I saw the links, which, based on my past experience, are usually full of goodies, meaning access to other related web pages that could be treasure troves of knowledge but perhaps of obscure origin (partly because of my ignorance too). That’s when I discovered Google’s technology playground, Google Labs , where it “showcases a few of our favorite ideas that aren't quite ready for prime time”, exhorting visitors to “play with these prototypes and send your comments directly to the Googlers who developed them.” Examples are Google Notebook, for clipping and collecting information as you browse the web, and Google Page Creator, for creating your own web pages, quickly and easily.

There is also a graduate list (kind of like the college commencement list where those in the list are certified ready to rock the world). Examples are Google Docs and Documents and Google Video. As usual, be sure to read the Term of Use relating to (no) warranty, limits of liability, waiver and stuff like that.

Definitely the pleasant surprise of the day.

Later in the night, a friend sent me an email inviting me to join Goodtree, the homepage that supports charity. In case you’re thinking of another drain on your hard-earned money, though for a good cause, the preamble to the FAQ is quick to assure that “GoodTree is free, we have no banners or pop-ups, we will never ask you for money, will never send you spam... and we raise a lot of money for charity.” How, you may be wondering.

Well, the same page continues, “The Internet has matured into a large marketplace where brand-named vendors pay to have potential customers like you visit their websites by clicking on text and image links. They pay a few pennies per click, several billion times per month and it adds up to....” I would stop here and let it whet you appetite for answer so that you can’t wait to click on the link in my collection (hint: it’s to the left of my blog page).

So all you have to do is to follow this simple instruction: “Just use GoodTree to start your normal Internet surfing, generating pennies as you go, and the GoodTree system tracks those pennies, collects them from the merchants, and redirects them to the charities of your choice.”

But there’s more. Since all the leading search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN, and AskJeeves are listed) contribute to the search results, it’s like having the best of the best serves you.

Without hesitation, I joined, and in the process, sent the same invitation to my other friends. So if you happen to be one of the invitees, please continue the good deed. Lest you treat this like another chain letter, rest assured that there is no threat of bad luck befalling you if the chain is broken. Instead you will be as inspired as Hellen Keller. In her words as shown on the “About us” page, "I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; I will not refuse to do the something I can do"

Monday, October 16, 2006

From Butt to Bucs

Getting one’s own to read one’s blog, let alone comment, can be quite a demanding undertaking. Apparently no children like a dad who “spills his guts” in the open. Who knows, he may end up as a laughing stock, a juicy bit of fodder for after school banter or worse still, online gossip. So their reaction can range from one of feeling embarrassed to “That’s weird”.

So in my own way, I’ve been trying my level best to inject humor, to brag about their achievements, and to demonstrate PDA/PSA in order to get their attention. None worked. So I turned to reverse psychology, be an agent provocateur. Just read the comments on my previous blog, So You Think Only You Shop at WalMart, to see how that piece of brilliant strategy turned out.

But seriously, I know my children. They are all fine kids. I don’t have to resort to chicanery to find out how they feel about their old man’s blogging, or any other thing for that matter. Things may have been different a decade ago when they were young and didn’t know better. But as young adults today, they certainly have come of age. So this pleasant surprise has been a long time in the making.

The Bucs finally broke the Duck. While I have yet to become a full-blooded Bucs fan, I guess I have to root for the hometown team anyway. I watched the last few minutes of live telecast of the Bucs-and-Bengals’ game where it mattered the most. Boy was I glad I watched the game then as Clayton’s touchdown, his entire body levitated just inches above and parallel to the ground with his hand fully extended with the football just beyond the goal line, was almost dreamlike. And then I was at the edge of my seat during the entire last 35 seconds when the Bengals threatened to advance within field goal range. So that’s a pleasant surprise to the nth degree bordering on ecstasy even though I thought the Bucs should have won last week at New Orleans when Bruce Gradkowski had a near flawless game.

Oh, PDA/PSA = public display/show of affection, a no-no for today's kids. It's so very uncool.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

So You Think Only You Shop at WalMart

This is a pleasant surprise that I just have to blog right now. However, I will have to relax my original condition that it should happen to me at least, for it did not. But, it did happen to my loved ones, my wife and daughter specifically. So by extension I think I’ve every right to grant that relaxation.

Now back to the pleasant surprise.

My D (that’s the notation for daughter used when posting to CollegeConfidential, touted as the best source of college information on the Web) has just taken her SAT yesterday. From what I can gather from her post-test demeanor, she must have done better than the last time. So my wife wanted to treat her to some shopping spree. Being the mature D that she is, i.e., mindful of my wallet size, she had opted to shop at WalMart.

So today there’s where we went, but I left them at the entrance as I needed to return to the office to catch up on some work (see my previous post for an explanation).

After I was done at the office, I called ahead to announce my impending arrival, signifying that perhaps it’s time for them to wind up the shopping and meet me at the cashier. The first thing my wife said over the phone was “do you know what has happened?” How would I know? It could be a million and one thing as far as my wife is concerned. But I know it’s not something bad from the tone of her voice. So I played along and asked her to tell me about it.

“We met Travis.” Travis who? You know, the “So You Think You Can Dance” dancer, the runner-up. Oh, that Travis (that's the guy on the top right, courtesy of So You Think You Can Dance website). And they got his signature to prove it (top left: his full name is Travis Wall and if you look close enough you should be able to see that it's his signature alright). Apparently, while my wife was at the Shoes section, she spotted a guy who at first she thought was one of my son’s ex-classmates because he looked familiar. So she went up to him and said hello and was about to ask him whether he was working at WalMart (because it’s usual for high school students to have part-time jobs). For some reason she stopped short and turned to my D and asked who he was.

‘That’s Travis.” I can half imagine my D saying that in muffled excitement (because I really cannot imagine anybody feigning a muffled excitement). He kindly consented to signing an autograph, on a piece of white pocket notebook paper (lucky for her she has picked up my habit too, see here).

My wife was so enthused she related the incident to the cashier when we were checking out, but drew a blank. I guess not everybody is into So You Think You Can Dance. But my elder daughter at Oregon nearly freaked out when my wife told her about it over the phone.

So there goes My D’s first brush with an American celebrity, of sort. My wife’s too. And I’m happy for them.

P.S. Travis and the rest of the cast from So You Think You Can Dance are in Tampa to give two dance performances (today and tomorrow) as part of their round the nation tour.

The East and West Shall Meet

Last night, we continued the Dharma talk session at a devotee’s house. As usual, we arrived early and after putting our stuff (notebook, pen, lecture notes) on the table, I scanned the book shelves with the intention of doing some brief reading before the session started.

The book that caught my attention was entitled “Diamond in the Rough” by Barry J. Farber published in 1995. As I was flipping through the pages, I jotted down several snippets on motivation as follows:

  • Each of us is a diamond in the rough … unpolished stones hidden among the rubble.
  • Failure isn’t failure as long as we learn from it.
  • “Catch a passion for helping others and a richer life will come back to you.” William H. Danforth, author of “I dare you”.
  • 3Ds of positive attitude: discipline, desire, and dedication

Then I saw something that seemed familiar:

Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens as by the way your mind looks at what happens. John Homer Miller

In an earlier post, I’ve blogged about an essence of Buddhist Teaching, “The change in our inner world is brought about by our reaction to changes in the material world. Thus we are constantly in battle against extraneous thoughts that invade our mind.” Then it hit on me, the uncanny resemblance of the message embodied in the two. One is passed down through the ages dating back to the BC era while the other one is a more contemporary and perhaps secular expression of a similar thought. In order to peg a time to the Miller’s quote, I googled him. To my surprise, his is a very popular quote; almost every hit that turned up has his quote referenced; but strangely enough, none on Miller the person. Even Wikipedia has no topic on him too.

As the hits were too numerous, I started skipping every 10 and chanced upon a more complete version of the quotation, but better still, it has two dates spanning his life:

"Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens. Circumstances and situations do color life, but you have been given the mind to choose what the color shall be." JOHN HOMER MILLER (1722–1791)

So I know now that he lived in the 18th century, and that’s a bit of Internet sleuthing and pleasant surprise #1.

During the intermission (the 2-hour long Dharma talk session has a 10-min break in the middle), I continued my book scan (Oh, in case you were wondering about my “unauthorized” snooping, I did ask and get the permission of the host for doing so. This is basic etiquette). Hey, look at what I found.

In another previous post, I’ve referred to a book, the Philosophy of Being Number Two, by the Venerable Master Tsing Yun. I’ve read the original version in Chinese, and remember thinking how nice it would be if it were translated into English to benefit interested parties from the English-speaking side of the world. And that’s exactly what I found, but with a slightly different English title, “The philosophy of Being Second”. Well, different names, same context.

Believing that even a few brief words can touch countless lives, the Venerable Master has started the Hsing Yun Hundred Sayings Series and this book is one of the many outcomes of that benevolent effort.

It contains the many anecdotes gleaned from encounters during a perpetual odyssey. The Venerable Master, on the occasion of the 40th Anniversary of Fo Guang Shan Monastery coinciding with his 80th Birthday this year, has decided to undergo a one-year period of self-containment during which he would devote his sole attention to thinking and writing about Dharma matters, thus actualizing his fervent belief in the wise dispensation from the Buddha that “the day will come when the riches we donate will be exhausted. Our donation of knowledge, skill, truth, and the Dharma treasure, however, has no limit and cannot be overdrawn.” This is the message in an extract from the Diamond Sutra that states:

Merits gained from donating the seven treasures of the cosmos of the three thousand great chiliocosms will not equal the merits gained from upholding a short verse of wisdom.

The many first-person narratives are grouped into the following chapters:

  • Being moved is most beautiful
  • Endurance is power
  • Words should be like sunshine, flowers or clear water
  • Compassion
  • Reappraising value
  • You’re important, he’s important, I’m not
  • Spread happiness around the world
  • Being used by others shows ones’ true worth
  • Let’s not perish together
  • The philosophy of being second

Personally I feel that some of the English translations do not do justice to the profound thoughts and intents enshrined in the original Chinese phraseology, but reading the anecdotes therein will definitely enlighten the readers as to the truism that permeates the book: He who devotes himself to helping others succeed, even while working hard to actualize himself, truly becomes his own master. (While further clarification may seem superfluous, the male gender as used here is all-inclusive to encompass the female gender as well.)

I’ll endeavor to share some of these lessons from my own personal reading of the book in subsequent posts. For now, I’ll leave this quote taken from the Preface in the book:

"As paddies produce crops of rice and the lotus thrives in mud, the state of the environment is not nearly as important as our being a healthy seed. For only a good seed produces fruit. One must allow the nature of spring, summer, autumn, and winter, the wind, frost, rain, and snow to become the causes and conditions of one’s growth. Through all vicissitudes, we must never lose sight of growth and progress as our purpose in life."

Saturday, October 14, 2006

A Touch of Kindness

One good thing that has come out of my fledgling blogging activity is that I've managed to hook up with some old friends. It’s refreshing to be able to go down the memory lane, reminiscing about incidents that only bring forth a chuckle or two on reflection. We remind each other of the teachers that have left impressions on our then young lives. We “talk” about circumstances that led to us coming out of retirement. We share tips on staying sharp. So there goes the very first of this installment of pleasant surprises.

We usually do our grocery shopping at a nearby supermarket, this one being Kash n’ Karry. Through the years we have come into regular contact with some of the store employees: cashiers, packers, and general assistants. Some of these casual encounters have blossomed into something beyond exchanging pleasantries. Hugs become natural. Of course the turnover of the store can be high, and coupled with work shifts, we will always see some new faces on our weekly visits.

This store has recently started undergoing a retrofitting concomitant with an image uplift, i.e., to be renamed SweetBay. You know, one reason why most grocers stay faithful to a particular store is because they have the store layout etched in their minds: isle 1 is cold storage, isle 7 is where coffee creamers are at; and wheatgerm is at isle 11. Everything is where it should be, no hassle, no wasting time hunting down a particular food item.

In the process of restoration, the food items have been rearranged, and our learning restarted. This morning we could not find wheatgerm and sought the help of the first store assistant we bumped into. Apparently, the changes have impacted her as well or wheatgerm must be one of the least sought after items, for she led us through many isles, determined to locate the item for us. Then she asked us where we would be and double backed on the same trail, seemingly vowing to leave no stones, or rather food cans/jars, unturned.

While we were at our last usual stop at the Fruit/Vege sections, she reemerged, waving a glass jar in her hand high in the air and gesticulating excitedly to us. We found our wheatgerm, thanks to the persistence of the lady assistant. This must be going beyond the usual call of customer service. We both walked away, satisfied. What a win-win situation!

Then at that precise moment, a certain TV commercial sprang to mind. The starting scene depicts a guy picking up a toy on the pavement and handing it over to a lady busy attending to her baby in a pram. This is witnessed by a man standing nearby. The next scene has this man helping to upright a reclining chair on which sits a man engaged in a telephone conversation, oblivious to his precarious position. Again, a lady clerk who is behind sees the display of kindness. In the following scene, the lady clerk is seen pushing a man out of the way of a pile of falling wooden crates. And the scenes of kind gestures repeat in sequence until the last scene showing the very first man being helped. I guess the moral of the story is that good deeds beget good deeds and kindness grows in an endless chain, gradually and surely touching and enveloping individuals, groups, crowd, masses, and humanity.

But that’s not the end of the string of pleasant surprises. My wife always buys a bouquet of flowers to help brighten our home. As usual, she picked up a bouquet of pink flowers, and the attending cashier was commenting what a beautiful choice I’ve made without realizing that my flower sense is as good as my wine sense (I don’t drink liquor). Just when she was about to ring the total amount for our purchase of the day, my wife appeared with another bouquet in her hand. I could almost sense the admiration in the cashier’s face, thinking that ours must be the best decorated home. Then when the bill was paid, my wife handed the bouquet to her, saying, “it’s for you.”

She was startled, then overjoyed. My wife has just touched a heart. I’m not sure whose heart she will touch next, but she will surely touch one that I’m sure.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Buzz, Buzz, Buzz ….

I just found out that I have received my first Internet award, the BuzzBadge. That’s pleasant surprise #1. Though I know that my nephew has started the Buzzbadge blogging site, I really did not see this coming. But I accept it with humility. The award will definitely spur me on to be a better blogger, in the process making a small positive difference to somebody out there.

Then I chanced upon this treasure trove of things related to physics, Eric Weisstein’s World of Physics. Mr. Weisstein, an Internet encyclopaedist, has spent more than a decade collating the related resource on science that now stands only a click away. Covering astronomy, scientific biography, and chemistry in addition to physics, Eric Weisstein's World of Science, as stated in the “About this site” page:

“is written and maintained by the author as a public service for scientific knowledge and education. Although it is often difficult to find explanations for technical subjects that are both clear and accessible, this web site bridges the gap by placing an interlinked framework of mathematical exposition and illustrative examples at the fingertips of every internet user.”

This is most welcome as a lot of people may be put off by the overly structured and technical format in some science-related websites. And yet science is what made our modern living possible. And it would be a shame if the progress in science and the many scientists who have devoted their lifetimes to making the progress possible remain a mystery to the general populace, taking them for granted. That’s pleasant surprise #2, the science website, I mean.

And it was reported in the newspaper today that this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded to Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk. It is a surprise because it’s Turkey’s very first Nobel laureate. “How does “pleasant” feature here?” You may ask.

Well, I have a Turkish colleague who just joined my firm around the early part of this year. I’m happy for him and his country. And he accepted my congratulations on behalf of his country.

And last but not the least, today is Friday. While this certainly does not qualify as a surprise (but that it was 13th as well escaped me until reminded by another colleague), it’s still a pleasant feeling as then I’ll get to spend more quality time with my family over the weekend.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

aPleasant Surprise(s)

We come across acronyms on a daily basis. Notable examples are BBC in UK, MJ in US, UNSW in Australia, PRC for China, and UMNO, MCA, MIC, etc. in Malaysia. Even friends. I have one who is called JJ, my son has another, AJ. And one famous son of Singapore is LKY. Or maybe those are initials, not acronyms.

Then there is 3BT, Three Beautiful Things, a blog I chanced upon not too long ago, wherein the blogger records everyday three things that have given her pleasure. That got me thinking.

While “Going Global” is topical, it seems an overkill to use it twice (alpha and beta, this one), especially when the two bloggers are one, me. So in the same vein, I would like to register daily happenings that I’ve personally experienced, not vicariously, that are a pleasant surprise, to me.

However, I do not want to peg a number to it as life is too whimsical to be bound by any set number (otherwise it wouldn’t be a surprise, would it?). So I will let nature take its own course. Hence, surprise(s), meaning it could be just one, uno, ichi, or plural as in a few, several, a score, but with a finite bound, injecting a dose of reality so to speak.

As for frequency, I’m not inclined toward giving it a schedule too, be it daily, weekly, fortnightly, etc. I want it to be spontaneous, a spur-of-the-moment reaction. At the same time, I want it to be a revelation, a lesson to be learned.

My first (or rather two, but read on) pleasant surprise has quite a lengthy gestation period stretching over days. You see, I work using a computer, primarily doing mathematical modeling of physical phenomena in the water environment, at the coast. In a nutshell, physical laws describing water motion in the real world are transformed into discretized equations that apply to the computational (imaginary) domain comprising small spaces and elements. Then the awesome number crunching power of computers is used to solve these equations using a variety of algorithms. The solutions are then exported to represent the real world behavior so that humans can gauge the extent of their interventions.

Now I’ve just recently upgraded my computer to leverage on the recent enhancements in computer RAM and clock speed. Since day 1, this new computer has been behaving quite moodily. In the middle of an operation, the screen would go blank, followed by a double beep, then it would reboot itself. Sometimes a blue screen would ensue, giving dire warning that something has misbehaved.

I often do overnight run for a relatively large model. But it became a guessing game whether the computer would hum along to completion, or it would be ready to reboot come next morning. If the latter, a check on the log file would reveal that the computer has decided to abort at the wee hours of the morning when the job at hand was only half done.

But the computer has never failed to reboot. So I kind of got used to its idiosyncratic behavior. The conditioning is not unlike that of the proverbial frog in a slow boiling pot. So as the day went by, more and more data and results are stored in the computer, the idea of backing up being left at the back burner.

Then early this Monday, as I had just completed a computer run, the computer went through what by now has become a routine rigor mortis. Nonchalantly, I depressed the “on” switch and expected the computer to come to life, again, in a few seconds. But no, the Windows would not come on after the perfunctory horizontal strobe-like light motion typical of Windows starting up. Instead, the initialization was short-circuited to the beginning again, and the scenario repeated. This recycling of starting ritual continued unabated, each time giving up, I could almost sense, at the same spot of the script.

This can’t be happening. A pang of panic suddenly struck me. What if the harddisk is corrupted? My months of hard work forever locked in a flimsy disk of silica with no hope of recovery. The in-house computer experts were summoned and diagnosis made. A bad sector problem? A software glitch (all fingers seemed to point to the 64bit Windows XP)? Or a faulty cable connection?

The harddisk diagnostics only said inconsistencies in the drive. Trying to reinstall Windows (booted from the CD-ROM) proved futile as no drive was detected. I went home with a heavy heart, blaming myself for not heeding the signs that the computer was giving me all this while. As if the computer was able to sense the premature knockout and was busy beseeching for intervention while warding off the inevitable.

But at home I took everything in stride and put up a brave front, even accompanying my wife to a Buddhist talk by a visiting Master monk as I’ve earlier promised. Then the first pleasant surprise came. The theme of the talk is about the relation between the material world and our conscious inner world. The change in our inner world is brought about by our reaction to changes in the material world. Thus we are constantly in battle against extraneous thoughts that invade our mind.

In my case, I was happily engaged in my work two days ago. Then something happened to the computer. But I’m still me, the same me who still churns out the same quality of work, my ability to contribute not compromised in any way at all. There and then I felt like a big load was lifted off my chest. Serenity reigned over me, and I felt that the world has never been more beautiful, more compassionate, and more forgiving.

Then this morning my computer guy told me that the data on the supposedly corrupted harddisk was intact. And by connecting it to another computer as a slave drive, I was able to access and download the data, a slow process no doubt but none is lost.

So two pleasant surprises in a row. While mindful of the Master’s exhortation that we should maintain an even keel in life’s journey, I think I could allow myself the luxury of feeling smug on how things turned out. But just for that fleeting second.

Lest you think I’ve made a spelling error in the blog title, it is deliberate. The prefix “a” here does not connote “anti” as in atypical, but rather used in the context of algebra to mean an unknown such as let “a” be the number of apples John brought to school at the start of solving a word problem.

So for my first post, “a” equals two. Otherwise it’s a priori unbeknownst to anyone, present company included.

So there you go, my new blog title. Yeah!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Hook

This is not just any hook. It’s not the fishing hook, the kind that entices the fish into trouble when it opens its big month. Neither is it the shape of an earthly gigantic hook one sees from the air, a shoreline feature that is carved out of the land-sea margin anchored by a rocky headland, the aftermath of the incessant battle for supremacy between oceanic forces and man-backed land masses. That hook shape, which takes ages to form, is variously termed, what else, a hook-shaped bay, a crescent-shaped bay, or a zeta-shaped bay. And no, it’s not the Captain Hook who got beat by that darling of Disney cartoon characters, Peter Pan.

This hook is the mental hook, the kind that grabs your attention from the very first go. The opening line that captivates your undivided attention in a public speech. The headline that glues your eyes to the newspaper, and the one-liner that captures your spending dollar in a commercial.

In any training workshop on public speaking, closing sales, or tele-marketing, the trainer will invariably emphasize the importance of developing a hook. It could be a quote, even a cliché, but with a twist. It could be an example. Regardless, it must be able to jolt the audience into attention.

The same applies to blog titles and post titles too. It has been said that a blog is born every second. So in the span of time for me to type this line, 10 blogs would have made their debut, all contending for the netizens’ attention. And so they become a reflection of a blogger’s creativity, ingenuity, and grasp of vocabulary as well.

“Going Global”, my blog title, is definitely not a chart topper in that respect. But notice that it does not read “Go Global”, which will then sound like a-broken-record-kind of admonition. Neither is it “Gone Global”, signifying that an end state has been reached and then it’s time perhaps to go somewhere else. However, “Going Global” is action-oriented, is a journey, like success. It takes care of the present, the now. Of course in the time I’ve taken to elucidate the rationale behind my blog title, netizens have already moved on. Oh well, you can’t win them all.

Since you’ve come this far, let me share with you a quote that could perhaps be the hook for motivating a team toward a shared vision:

Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success." Henry Ford

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

“Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow”

(My thanks to my creative brother-in-law (hint: the youngest one) for the bookmark design and the message thereon. Have a great life!)

Most speakers, at least the successful ones, like to sprinkle their talks with quotes, which are concise word gems distilled from life-long experiences of astute personalities. While collections of quotes have been published, a ready source of quotes is perhaps Quotable Quotes in Reader’s Digest.

However, these verbal gems can spring up in many places. A dialogue line in a movie. A commercial over the radio. A car bumper sticker. Even a graffiti on a wall, not to mention the kind found at the most private public places: the toilet wall.

Some induce a chuckle. Some evoke a nod of understanding. Some make us ponder, perhaps mull for days to come. Some make us jot them down on any writing material we can lay our hand on, like me, lest we forget and agonize over the lost opportunity. After numerous such memory lapses, I now carry a pocket-sized book wherever I go. And here I would like to share with you some of my chanced encounters, in no particular order chronologically, by media, by category, by importance, etc. random order:

You show people the future, then they have no future.” The movie “Paycheck” by Ben Affleck’s character

Principles only mean something if you stick by them when they are not convenient.” Definitely in a movie, but don’t recall the name nor the setting. (Let me know if you recall). [My wife just told me that this is from the movie "The Contender" by Jeff Bridges' character]

Journalism is literature in a hurry.” The movie “Runaway Bride” by Richard Gere’s character

Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. The braves may not live forever but the cautious do not live at all.” The movie “Princess Diary”, the King of Genovia writing to her daughter on her 16th Birthday

The only true failure is when you stop trying.” The movie “The Haunted Mansion”, Gypsy lady to Eddie Murphy’s character

Marriage is a three-ring circus: engagement ring, wedding ring, and suffering.” The movie “A Flash of Pink”

You measure democracy by how much freedom it gives to its dissidents, and NOT to its assimilated conformists.” On a car bumper sticker

Action is the enemy of thought.” The movie “The Human Stain” by Nicole Kidman’s character

The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” The movie “Tears of the Sun” by Bruce Willis’s character (but I think he is quoting Edward Burke)

Memory is a wonderful thing if you don’t have to deal with the past.” The movie “Before Sunset” by Ethan Hawk’s character

Obesity is a medical condition, not a moral failing.” Radio commercial

Stand on the shoulders of giantsGoogle Scholar Beta webpage

As you can see, there is a preponderance of quotes from movies. But then again I'm a movie buff. So next time when you are watching a movie, be it in a cinema or at the cool comfort of home from a DVD, or watching TV in a pub, lazing at an outdoor café watching life passing by; or listening to a radio station while driving solo, be sure to catch one of these so that you could share with your friend, or the blogging community. But be sure to park at a safe place first if you’re driving. Safety always comes first.

Oh yeah, the title of this blog is a quote from a speech by President Reagan.

Monday, October 09, 2006

From Alpha to Beta: The Blogger.com Way

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Blogger.com has upgraded its offer of free blogging sites. Granted it’s still at the beta mode, but the results of the additional flexibility as regards the ability to change fonts and layout, to add elements including photos, and instituting numbering for posts all add up to a rather professional-looking blog page, I would say.

Contrast for yourself: this page, announcing the graceful pro, and the mirror page, the rather studious amateur, though not for the lack of trying. Granted that the content is important and it’s what sustains the success of a blog, one cannot downplay the significance of the attention grabber in the form of an appealing page layout.

This is really Advertising 101 where packaging comes first. In this age of instant gratification, the visitors must get the feel that they are treated to a visual magnificence such that they would make a split decision to linger on, thinking to themselves, “hey, this guy/gal is taking such trouble to lighten up his/her blog, maybe he/she does have something interesting to tell as well. Let’s give him/her the benefit of the doubt”.

To put in perspective, there are literally thousands, no, millions of bloggers out there, each spewing out their own rendition of cyber-columns on a regular basis. Yet there are only so many seconds in a day, and a big chunk of that is spent on making a real living. So realistically, one can only read about 3-5 blogs at any given time (I’m generalizing from my own blog reading capacity), which means there is a ring of truth to what was purportedly said by the CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, "The average blog has one reader: the blogger".

Remember that famous prediction in 1943 by Thomas Watson, the former chairman of IBM, that there was a world market for, maybe at most, five computers? But look around you today, what do you see? I rest my case.

So on the tiniest likelihood that Mr. Schmidt too could err due to a momentary lapse of sanity (isn’t that what attending UC Berkeley would do to you as I have been told to have happened to me, in no uncertain term?), I’ll persevere so that I would not miss out the day when, say, more than five people, read my blog on a daily basis.

So, Blogger.com, let’s bring on the gamma and the other string of Greek letters all the way to zeta.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Simplicity Galore

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler,” Albert Einstein once famously said. This has an especially poignant edge to it in this age of infoglut where cramming more features into a puny gadget is the order of the day. And yet we are unwilling to do more, preferring to stay above the interface and opt for ease of use -- no, strike that and make it -- the simplest to use. In short, we want both complexity of function and simplicity of design, the resolution of which has helped push up the stock of many a design house, be it consumer electronics, automobiles, or just about anything that has become an extension of our physical senses if not mental faculties.

At least one derivative of “simple” often connotes reduced capacity or diminished capability as in simpleton, which according to Encarta is “an offensive term for somebody regarded as lacking intelligence or common sense. Then who can forget the apparent contradiction in the refrain less is more. While simplicity can certainly evoke a sense of parsimony (less), the resulting elegance can often be awe-inspiring (more).

According to Wikipedia, “simplicity is the property, condition, or quality of being simple or uncombined. It often denotes beauty, purity or clarity. Simple things are usually easier to explain and understand than complicated ones.” No argument there, except this is where simplicity begets complexity. Charles Mingus, the American jazz bassist and composer, can certainly identify with the need for simplicity when he was quoted as saying, “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity.”

One paragon of simplicity is the Google search page where open space abounds. Google understands that simplicity is both sacred and central to its competitive advantage. In coming out with the uncluttered look, Google definitely understands and provides what we need, but at the same time does not pander to what we want as that will be endless.

Less commonly known is perhaps the so-called test of Occam's razor, which posits that all other things being equal, the simplest theory is the most likely to be true. The principle recommends selecting those competing theories that introduce the fewest assumptions and postulate the fewest hypothetical entities. This is analogous to the use of fudge factors in mathematical modeling where less, fudge factor that is, is better.

In his book entitled simply Simplicity, the world renowned motivator, Edward de Bono of the lateral thinking fame, argues eloquently for the case for simplicity and provides us with a framework to do so. John Maeda, a computer scientist at the MIT Media Lab dubbed “the Master of Simplicity”, has written a book, The Laws of Simplicity, which I’ve not read. But a glimpse of what to expect can be gotten at his blog. To name just a few that I can empathize readily:

A complex system of many functions can be simplified by carefully grouping related functions.

The positive emotional response derived from a simplicity experience has less to do with utility, and more to do with saving time.

The more you know about something beforehand, the simpler it will ultimately be perceived.

And one that particularly resonates with me:

Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, while adding the meaningful.

And to end this rambling on simplicity that I ardently subscribe to, here is a quote attributed to the German polymath, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Everything is simpler than you think and at the same time more complex than you imagine.” How profound!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Management: The Buddhist Perspective

One consequence of the influx of Chinese immigrants into US is the propagation of the Buddhist faith. Among the pioneers are the various masters from Taiwan who founded several of the local temples, some of which have progressed to become popular centers of Buddhist learning, thanks to the tremendous support, both in kind and financially, from the local Buddhist adherents.

One such personality is the Venerable Master Hsing Yun who founded the Fo Guang Shan International Buddhist Order about four decades ago. Meaning Buddha Light, the Fo Guang Shan Order has flourished to become one of the premier Buddhist organizations in US, and has been the mainstay of Humanistic Buddhism that has become the hallmark of the Master.

His followers hail from all corners of the world, all subscribing to his worldview of the global citizenry where co-habitation, mutual respect, equality, fairness, peace, and the philosophy of live and let live are paramount. The Master also writes well, and prolifically. One literary work of his that I particularly enjoy and try to infuse into my daily life is, literally translated, the Philosophy of Being Number Two. Being number two is not a relegation, but rather a vantage position to discern matters far ahead, and yet able to take in the vast space by staying one step back. A man who wants nothing is truly invincible.

Especially in the realm of management where human interaction is the key to many a success, the Master has been particularly incisive. To him, the highest level of management is learning to manage oneself well. It’s not enough just focusing on managing events and people. The Master has come to realize that Buddhism is in fact a profound field of management in itself as the following scriptures, amongst others, reveal.

The Pu Men script chronicles the best management by the Goddess of Mercy. In order to manage humanity well, She first saves the destitute so that humanity can live without worry. For example, if you’re greedy, She gives alms to help you; if you are hateful, She imparts virtue; if you’re ignorant, She applies wisdom to guide you; if you are doubtful, She induces confidence to urge you along.

Similarly, The Amitaba script is Amitaba’s management of the after-world where there are only natural environment that is serene, dwellings that are richly endowed, leisure entertainment that is wholesome, and community living that is harmonious. There is absence of all the worldly afflictions such as political persecution, economic malaise, possessive behavior, ecological disaster, epidemics, and racial strife. Amitaba has managed the inhabitants of the after-world into a model community of exemplary living. It follows that Amitaba is a manager at the highest level for he ensures safety, secures happiness, imbibes peace of mind, and provides comfort.

The hardest entity to manage is people, for people are selfish by nature. But even more so is our own pair of eyes, they defy us when we want them not to ogle the improper; our pair of ears, they love to eavesdrop on others’ secrets; our mouth, they spin tales and spread lies; our pair of hands, they take what’s not ours with wanton abandon.

Then again it is relatively easier to manage our eyes, ears, mouth and hand for they are visible, physical things. What’s profoundly much more difficult to manage is our inner self and the emotions through which it manifests. Selfishness and ill thoughts such as arrogance, envy, anger, bigotry are waves that overwhelm us. If we are devoid of profound determination, profound strength, profound wisdom and profound virtue, how could we ever manage our inner self?

To manage is not to control others, otherwise opposition becomes entrenched and impasse rules. Cordiality promotes teamwork. Self motivation and mutual reinforcement align all for a shared vision.

"Most importantly, we must think of others, cherish the public good, be virtuous, and manage self as we do others, then only can we claim the full credit of being a successful student of management," the Master intones.

Amitofo and may peace be upon you.