Book Review: “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” by Bryan Stevenson

Mr. Stevenson should wear a cape or win the Nobel Peace Prize (My prediction). He’s like a modern Atticus Finch as in the novel “To Kill a Mocking Bird.” He saved many people from the death rows unjustly convicted because of the sloppy police work, being young and ignorant, mentally retarded (like Horace Dunkins), but mostly being poor. “The opposite of poverty is not wealth but justice,” as he’s often quoted. He wants to do more than Atticus Finch accomplished, where the jailed black man in the novel did not have a good ending.

My key takeaways are:
– The Walter McMillian case is an epitome of the racial injustice in this country especially in the south like the state of Alabama. It can be attributed to the prevailing racial bigotry against blacks especially ones that are relatively successful, uneasiness about interracial relationship (he had an extramarital affair with a white woman), and the legal maneuver of the over zealous prosecutors without concerns for the truths, and inertia of the legal system to not “rock the boat” or boosting the judges’ chance of being elected by acting tough and winning the votes. Of course, the biggest contributor to injustice is their poverty – not having enough money to get proper legal representation. Sad to see attorneys fighting over the budgeted $1,000 legal fee for a capital (death-sentence) case.

– Mr. Stevenson makes very arguments about turning away from executing juveniles in capital cases and reducing the sentences of the juvenile non-capital cases. Yes, we were all young and stupid in our youths. For those unlucky ones not having the proper adult supervision, they would go astray and got themselves in huge troubles. They deserve a second look and mercy.

– For the past years, I myself have gradually moved away from believing in capital punishment to one against it. In addition to legal costs, the margin of error is simply too large for this legal system, despite being one of the best in the world. Of course, this means the innocent ones may get locked up for life without the news focus of death sentence.

– The books are relative lopsided on the side of the unjustly accused and punished. Would be good for Mr. Stevenson to present the other side – those that are justly accused – to be more impartial.

– Mr. Stevenson is very good at telling stories. The book reads like a novels, full of intrigues and twists.

– This is an excellent book on show how disadvantaged a person can get in trouble in this legal justice systems especially if you’re poor, young without supervision, being a women and just being black, or in his words – “broken.” I’m not sure he and his Equal Justice Initiative can save all but he’s making a difference in turning the tide.

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Clean Coffee and Tea Stain from Mugs / Cups – A LearnByBlogging Quick Tip

Instead of using baking soda or other abrasive tool to remove coffee and tea stain, here is a quick and simple tip to keep the mugs and cups clean. The same technique can be used on cast iron pots with ceramic coating or even the smooth surface of the stove top / tiles, granite counter top.

Where to buy:
The Melamine Sponges can be bought from the below links or Daiso Retail Stores

Mr. Clean Magic Erasers

Book Review: “How Google Works” by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg

Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg were the early hires of Google. Eric came to provide the adult supervision as the CEO before their IPO and Jonathan came to Google to manage the product offering. This book is the combined perspectives of how Google get things done in terms of their hiring, culture and history. It’s a good read if you admire and want to join Google or you’re starting your own company some day.

My key takeaways:

1. Having the “moonshot” or 10x improvement as the goal. Ask what could be true, not what will be true 5~10 years from now.
2. Focus on the end users, not profit or partner’s profit, money will follow.
3. The distinction between the “knowledge workers” vs. “smart creatives.”
4. Optimize for scale, not revenue.
5. Hiring the learning “smart creative” not just experts. Use a committee.
6. We all need a coach if the world’s best athletes need coaches.
7. Review yourself.
8. Do trip reports in the staff meeting.

1. Introduction:
The new era with three technology trends converging: 1. Everything is online, 2. mobile devices are ubiquitous, 3. cloud computing puts practically infinite computing power and storage at everyone’s disposal. As a result: a. Speed of changes is increasing: b. product excellence is paramount. c, consumers have abundant choices, d. cost of experimentation and failure has dropped sharply, e. faster product cycle and flexible process. The contrast between “knowledge workers” and “smart creative” at Google: not confined to specific tasks, unlimited in computer access, not averse to taking risks, not hemmed in role definition or organization structures, don’t keep quiet when they disagree, get bored easily and shift jobs a lot. He/she is an expert in doing – doesn’t just design concepts, she builds prototypes. A power user, she understands her product from the user perspective…

2. Culture – Believe Your Own Slogans:
Smart Creatives place culture at the top of the list in choosing his work. To be effective, they need to care about the place they work. Define the culture you want at the onset of your company. Don’t listen to the HIPPO (Highly-Paid Person’s Opinion). Rule of Seven: Minimum of 7 direct reports per manager. P&L business units should be driven by separate external customers and partners. Do all reorgs in a day. Organize the company around the people whose impact is highest. Give people responsibility and freedom to manage their own time: work vs. life. Establish a culture of Yes. “Don’t be evil” as Google’s mantra.

3. Strategy – Your Plan Is Wrong:
Business plans are often wrong. Invest in the team, not the plan. Have the “foundation blueprint”: “Bet on technical insights (not market research) that help solve a big problem in a novel way, optimize for scale, not for revenue, and let great products grow the market for everyone.” “Tail is wagging the dog when market research becomes more important than technical innovation.” Scaling up platforms (a set of products or devices that bring together groups of users and providers to form multi-sided market) needs to be the core in the internet age, at the expense of profit. Find ways to specialize in areas that has the potential to expand, as Google does in searches. Default to open, not closed. “Open” harnesses the talents of many. Exceptions including Google’s search algorithms, to avoid people’s gaming the system. Don’t follow competition – leads to mediocrity because you can’t deliver anything truly innovative. On Strategy Meeting, start by asking what will be true in five years and work backward. The responses are different if you’re incumbents vs. challengers.

4. Talent – Hiring Is the Most Important Thing You Do:
“Herd effect” = great employees attracts more great employees. Passionate people don’t use “passionate” word. Hiring learning animals not just an expert in one area. Check the “character” by doing the “LAX test” (OK to be stranded in LAX for 6 hours). Interviews: 30-minute long and by committee, hiring packet (with best/worst answers, grades from each interviewer, school GPA and etc.). On retention: trade the M&M’s and keep the raisins (keep the top performers’ jobs interesting. Do’s: hire people who are smarter and more knowledgeable than you are, will add value to the product and culture, will get things done, enthusiastic, self-motivated, and passionate, inspire and work well with others, will grow with your team and company, well rounded, with unique interests and talents, ethical and communicate openly. Hire only when you’ve found a great candidate. Don’t settle for anything less.

5. Decisions – The True Meaning of Consensus: Using the decision to exit China, decide with data, beware of the bobbledhead yes, know when to ring the bell (biased for action), maker fewer decisions (push down decisions to lower level), meet everyday (dictate the calendar), “You’re both right” (win the hearts, not just arguments – Oprah’s Rule). About good meetings: every meeting needs an owner. The decision-maker should be hands on. Manageable in size <=8~10. Attend the meeting - don't use laptop for other purposes. Decision on spending time: spend 80% of your time on 80% of your revenue. 6. Communications – Be a Damn Good Router: Default to open – board presentation is shared with all employees in weekly TGIF meetings. Every employee shares their OKR (Objective, Key Results). Know the details and truths. It must be safe to tell the truth. Weekly “Dory” Q&A sessions with Larry and Sergey at the TGIF meetings. Start the conversation (open office hours). Repetition doesn’t spoil the prayer: ask 1) does it reinforce core themes that you want everyone to get, 2) effective, 3) interesting, fun or inspirational, 4) authentic, 5) going to the right people, 6) using the right media, 7) tell the truth, be humble, and band goodwill for a rainy day. Break the staff meeting monotony with a humble trip report. Review yourself: make sure you would work for yourself – initiate criticism of yourself gives others the freedom to be more honest. Email wisdom: 1) respond quickly, 2) every word matters, and useless prose doesn’t. 3) clean out your inbox constantly. 4) Handle in LIFO (last-in, first-out), 5) Ask who else to route the email to, 6) Don’t BCC except to a large distribution. 7) Don’t yell. 8) Forward to yourself with keywords for future search. Have a playbook. Nice 1on1 format: 1) performance and job requirements, 2) relationship with peer groups, 3) management/leadership, 4) Innovation (best practices). In board meetings, noses in, fingers out. Discuss strategies and products, not governance and lawsuits. Deal with partners like diplomats and deal with press interviews by having a conversation, not message. Have relationship, take the time to know and care about people. And don’t forget to make people smile. When praise is deserved, don’t hold back.

7. Innovation – Create the Primordial Ooze: 3 criteria to determine if Google would pursue an innovative idea: 1) addresses a big challenge or opportunity, something that affects hundreds of millions or billions of people. 2) an idea for a solution that is radically different form anything currently in the market. 3) feasible and achievable in the not too-distant future. 4) technology, how it will evolve. “Innovative people do not need to be told to do it, they need to be allowed to do it.” – needs to be evolved organically. Focus on the user, not customers, then the money will follow as in the case of Google Earth. Think Big. Think 10x. 70/20/10 resource allocation: 70% related to core business, 20% on emerging, and 10% on new things with high risk of failure. Ship and iterate like Chrome. Fail well like Google Wave. Morph ideas, don’t kill them. Management’s job is not to mitigate risks or prevent failures, but to create an environment resilient enough to take on those risks and tolerate the inevitable missteps. A good failure is a fast one. It’s NOT about money.

Conclusion: Imagine the Unimaginable: We’re in a world of “platforms” (back-and-forth relationship with consumers and suppliers. A lot more give-and-take.) instead of “corporations” (more of one-way street from production to consumers). At the corporate level, most innovative new things look like small opportunities and people aren’t rewarded for taking risks and opt for safety. Ask the hardest questions. Understanding what you do about the future, what do you see for the business that others may not, or may see but chose to ignore? (e.g. Google+) Ask not what will be true, but what could be true. What thing that is unimaginable when abiding by conventional wisdom is in fact imaginable?

Book Review: “One Nation” by Ben Caron, MD

Dr. Ben Carson came up with this book hoping to change this great nation for the better. He argued and prodded for the involvement of the citizens to do the best we can to save America’s future from the same fate of the Roman Empire, Great Britain, Egypt and Greece. I took away a few good points:

1. 10% flat tax rate just like Tithe. Dr. Carson is a religious man. He draws on the Bible stories/examples quite a lot. But 10% or some kind of the flat tax seems to make sense without the loopholes. Of course, this means a lot of CPA, accountants and bean counters will be out of their jobs.
2. Forced to read books and write reports since childhood for his illiterate Mom, he acquired great knowledge and wisdom. This is the reason I’m doing this kind of blog.
3. The action steps at the end of each chapter calls the readers to action.
4. Dr. Carson likes to quote proverbs. There got to be some other wise persons than King Solomon.
5. His self-funded health care spending account plan makes sense as it puts the people back in the driver seat. But it’s hard to implement.
6. I agreed with him the politic correctness has gone overboard. But there is fine line between overly political correct and being empathetic toward others.

Short Summary:
1. Saving for the Future: He outlines the reasons to save our nation in the areas of education, moral decline, national debt (Obamacare), lack of compromise, and other illnesses.

PART I Causes of Disunity And Decline

2. Political Correctness: Dr. Carson argues against strict political correctness because it stifle dialogue and restricts our freedom speech, which is fundamental for democracy. “We must learn to engage in civil discussion of our differences without becoming bitter enemies.”

3. Elitism: The elite class makes liberal policy to get the poor subservient to them instead of lifting them out of poverty. This can be solved by education.

4. Ignorance and Forgetfulness: We seem to forget the advises the wise people in the past like Martin Luther King, John Adams and the founding fathers of this country. The history is sometimes revised or selectively ignored to serve a certain purpose. Whether you agree or not, the author suggest we do not forget the past lessons.

5. Bigotry: The author touches on racism, religious bigotry, sexism, ageism, and homophobia. Dr. Carson’s answer is that we “adhere to the creed of ‘one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”

6. No Winners in Political Fighting: The two parties are turning into opponents instead of teammates with different approaches to the same goal – “My way or highway” mentality. The favorite tactics are “demonization,” or cite an example and claim “this is what they would do to you,” demagoguery (false statements about their opponents), quoting out of context. His answer is to remove the party label on each candidate and leave it to the votes for decide on the merit of each candidate and debate the issues in a civil manner.

7. Enslaving Our Children – Don’t Sell The Future: He talks about the nation debts and how the young generation should participate more in the political process to change the course.

PART II: Solutions
8. Pushing Back: The author suggest that we push back peacefully and consistently against the “media bullies,” political bullies,” “academic bullies,” “Bullies in Business,” and “Unintentional Bullying.” Stand up to them and know who they really are.

9. Respectful Disagreement: pro-life vs. pro-choice, welfare, doctor vs. patients, the rich vs. the poor. Strategies for cordial disagreement: compromise, focus on the big picture, concur on what’s important to both parties.

10. The Art of Compromise: timing (setting a deadline), start with small issues. Opportunities for compromise are: gay marriage, national debt. Is there too much pride and arrogance?

11. Becoming Informed: Education is the foundation of our government and democracy. Get to know the record of your representatives instead of voting according to party affiliation. Don’t replace your brain with a computer. What an educated citizen knows: history, geography, household economics, finance, state and national representative, nutrition and disease management, traffic rules, math involving percentage, read at 8th-grade level. With education, you won’t be fooled by media. There is a long way to go on this.

12. Wisdom and Knowledge: The difference: knowledge is knowing the facts, wisdom is having the common sense. Have the humility to recognize that one does not know everything. It makes sense to me of the two points of healthcare reform: stop the rapid rise of costs (tort reform), make sure everyone has access to basic health care, restore the doctor-patient relationship and put patients back in charge of their own health. He advocated national health savings account (HSA), which motivates people to shop for the best care.

13. My Brother’s Keeper: This is a chapter discussing welfare, how to fund it in capitalism instead of turning into socialism. He advocates that we roll back welfare and have people (not government) helping people.

PART III: Who We Are
14. Without A Vision: Use the constitution as vision: to protect the rights of the people and not the rights of the government to rule the people. It restrains the natural tendencies of the government to expand (Utopian vision?). He advocates that we have a constitutional convention, revere it and vote for it all over or confirm it again.

15. Role Models: Pick for yourself a good role model (not Miley Cyrus), his Mom, teachers, the inventors, and some contemporary ones.

16. The Origin of Morality: We may not know of the origin of morality but we should know the sense of morality – a strong sense of right and wrong.

17. Take Courage: Ask yourselves the 4 questions: what’s the best/worst thing that happens if I do/don’t do it? This is his last call-to-action: be courageous.

Overall, this is a good book to understand where Dr. Carson stand now he’s running for the Presidency. Would I vote for him? He’s high on my list. At least we know where he stands but I don’t think he can out maneuver the professional politicians.

DIY Codling Moth Traps – How I Made Them

Last year, I made some codling moth traps and I went from almost 90% codling moth infestation the year before to roughly 40% infestation. This year, I’m doing the same thing. In addition, I have sprayed neem oil a couple of times since the end of the last season. I’m hoping for 0% infestation this year. We’ll see.

I have learned from the below youtube videos:

Trap Recipes

Other options:


Learn by Blogging (and Sharing) – Derek Tsai's Personal Blog