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January 28th, 2015

Book Review: “Creativity Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration” by Harry J. W. Percival

This is a journey of a great leader in arriving and sustaining a creative culture in Pixar, a famous movie animation studio that started out as an animation lab for Lucas Film. It was bought up by Steve Jobs after he’s been ousted from Apple.
Lots of concepts were evolved as a result of working years in a highly creative Pixar and later applying the same philosophy to Disney Animation.

My summary:

1. Processes:
a. Having an open communication in a setting like Braintrust helps everyone struggle with the story line and come up with the most creative plot and results.
b. Postmortems are one route into understand why we are not exceptional but we’re resistant to self-assessment. 90% of the value is in the preparation leading to the postmortem – pre-postmortem. Make 2 lists: Top 5 things they would do again and top 5 things they wouldn’t. Don’t trust the data again. “The first conclusions are draw from our successes and failures are typically wrong. Measuring the outcome without evaluating the process is deceiving.
c. lunch lottery that match people at random to encourage new connections and friendships, and holding cross-departmental mixers get far-flung colleagues to know each other over a few beers.

2. It’s about people and the team: “If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better.” “Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the ideas right.” “Getting the right people and the right chemistry is more important than getting the right idea.”

3. Ideas:
a. “Ideas, are not singular. They’re forced through tens of thousands of decisions, often made by dozens of people.” They are additive rather than competitive.
b. “Idea – without the critical ingredient that is candor, there can be no trust. And without trust, creative collaboration is not possible.”

4. Approaches. “The more time you spend mapping out an approach, the more likely you are to get attached to it.”

5. Leadership:
a. Reward the aspiration: “One of the most crucial responsibilities of leadership is creating a culture that rewards those who lift not just your stock prices but our aspirations as well.”
b. Demonstrate trustworthiness by responding well to failure.
c. Not to prevent risk but to build the ability to recover.
d. View conflict as essential. It’s how we know that best ideas will be tested and survive. “The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends.”
e. Hold lightly to goals and firmly to intentions/values. Goals can be shifted.
f. Have the bravery to endorse something unproven and providing room for it to grow.
g. Taking a risk necessitated a willingness to deal with the mess created by the risk. Make it safe to take them.
h. Try to understand the nature of the “unseen.”
i. Be humble: understand many of the factors that shapes our lives and businesses are out of sight.
j. Mental models are not reality but tools.
k. make your best guess and hurrying up about it so if it’s wrong, there’s still time to change course.
l. Loosen the controls, accept risk, trust your colleagues, work to clear the path for them, and pay attention to anything creates fear.
m. On hiring: give more weight to the potential to grow than their current skill level. What they will be capable of tomorrow is more important than what they can do today. Hire people who are better than you are. Always take a chance on the better.
n. Trust means you trust them when they do screw up, not just trust them not to screw up.
o. Don’t make stability a goal. Balance is more important than stability.
p. Don’t confuse the process with the goal. Making the product great is the goal.

6. Struggling with changes and randomness:
a. “There is no growth or success without change.” “The unpredictable is the ground on which creativity occurs. Let the randomness work for us, don’t fear them.
b. “Only from struggle does clarity emerge — makes many people uncomfortable.” Pick the explanation – to a good or bad outcome – that rely on the fewest assumptions and is thus the simpliest.
c. Creativity starts out working with changes.
d. Don’t resist changes and uncertainty – they are part of life. Our job is to build the capability to recover when unexpected occur.

7. Dealing with failures (a necessary consequence of doing something new):
a. Small vs. big: “There is not a bright line between small and big problems, which are in key ways the same. Don’t freak out or start blaming people.”
b. Learn from the past but don’t let it master our future. The attempt to avoid failure could make failure more likely.
c. The cost of preventing errors is often far great than the cost of fixing them.

8. Culture:
a. candor, safety, research, self-assessment, and protecting the new are all mechanisms we use to confront the unknown and keep the chaos and fear to a minimum.
b. allow smaller groups within the large to differentiate themselves and operate according to their own rules (so long as those rules work). This foster a sense of personal ownership and pride in the company, which benefits the larger enterprise.

9. Crafts vs. Art: Craft is what we are expected to know; art is the unexpected use of our craft. Art classes are about learning to see, not learning to draw.

10. Setting limits: Before we impose procedure and limits, ask how they will aid in enabling people to respond creatively. If not, it’s ill suited to the task at hand.

11. Arts vs. technology: “Art challenges technology, technology inspires art.”

12. Solving problems:
a. Don’t just focus on the problem but also look at the environment.
b. move the focus away from the notion of the “right” way to fix the problem to actually fixing the problem.
c. Engaging with exceptionally hard problems force us to think differently.

13. Measurements: Measure what you can, evaluate what you measure, and appreciate that you cannot measure that vast majority of what you do. At least one a while, make time a take a step back and think about what your’re doing.

14. Creativity in Zen: “To have a “not know mind” is a goal of creative people. It means you are open to the new, just as children are. Like Japanese Zen – having the “beginner’s mind.” We must let go of something.

15. Creative habits:
a. creative people discover and realize their visions over time and through dedicated, protracted struggle. Creativity is more like a marathon than a sprint.
b. Key is to linger between the known and the unknown where originality happens.
c. Imagining making the impossible possible.
d. Imagining – dreaming, noodling, audaciously rejecting what is true for the moment is the way we discover what is new or important.
f. Think of each statement as a starting point, as a prompt toward deeper inquiry, and not as a conclusion.
g. “Do not discount ideas from unexpected sources. Inspiration can and does come from anywhere.”

16. Directors’ rare skill:
a.pitching as a way of testing material, taking its measure and strengthening it by observing how it plays to an audience. But if the idea doesn’t fly, they are extremely adapt at dropping it and moving on. Steve Job has a similar trait and he wanted to be one in his next life.
b. Act on our intentions and stay true to our values.

17. Balance between feeding the “beast” (Profit) and coming up with the most creative products/movies.

18. Steve Jobs’ story is intriguing. He evolved as a leader and respect those who’s willing to challenge him and argue for what he believes.

This is a great book for anyone in the leadership positing trying to grow and sustain a creative organization and culture. Highly recommended.

Posted by dstsai as Book Reviews at 12:00 AM PST

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January 21st, 2015

A Day Trip to San Francisco Ferry Terminal and Sutro Baths


Family took a day trip to San Franciso’s Ferry Terminal, which houses lots of eateries and shops. We enjoyed the foods and the wonderful view of the San Francisco Bay. This is the north east side of the city. Then we drove across to the west side of the city next to the Golden Gate Bridge and the Pacific Ocean. This place is called Sutro Baths. Some rich guy, Sutro, put in a giant swimming pool back in 1894. It was demolished back in the 1960’s. Now it makes a good attraction. Really enjoyed the nice clear view and temperature in low 60’s. Nice way to celebrate MLK.

Posted by dstsai as Travels at 12:00 AM PST

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January 16th, 2015

Book Review: “Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt” by Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis has another enlightening book written with great skill such that the readers would be interested enough to keep reading about this esoteric working of the stock exchange.

Key Points:
– The Stock market is rigged. This 60-minutes segment has a good coverage.
– This book is about a journey of how Brad Katsuyama and others discovered how their trades are being front-run and manipulated and found the HFT gets ahead of people’s trades (front-running).
– Milli-seconds and micro-seconds make a huge difference: Microwave towers and fiber optics cable were used to speed up trades ahead of others.
– Spread Network builds and leases the network to the HFT for millions.
– Thor – started by Brad to synchronize the trades at all exchanges so the order arrive at all exchanges at the same time to avoid HFT.
– Flash crash can be attributed to HFT. More flash crashes will happen.
– Dark pool: dark allies to feed the customers’ trades to the HFT sharks.
– Irony: Goldman Sachs uses IEX.
– Heroes of the story: Brad Katsuyama from RBC and his new IEX. Other characters including Ronan Ryan. Michael Lewis makes them come alive and interesting.

My takeaways:
– Wall street folks are greedy driven by profit and bonus. It’s biggest casino where the rich guys play the “house.”
– Angry how they use their talents to legally con people.
Role of technology and speed play either side of the roles – faster computers, please.
– IEX works by slowing down the HFT by 350us and speed up the SIP.
– Serge Aleynikov’s “stealing” the code and getting years of jail sentence.
– Why Russian programmers are fit for HFT, because they have lived in a country where working around the system is a way of life for generations.
– Programmers should go to Wall Street to maximize their pay.
– I don’t think I’ll be able to trust the Wall Street again. Too many incentives to rig the system for their own benefit.
– eBook reads like a fiction, and flows well. Makes you care about the characters and good use of metaphors and close-up description of 9/11 event.

Posted by dstsai as Book Reviews at 12:00 AM PST

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January 11th, 2015

Book Review: “How Not To Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking” by Jordan Ellenberg

This is another book that a mathematician attempt to make some sense of the real world problems using mathematics. It’s supposed to answer people’s or his students’ question: when we’ll ever use this stuff? As an engineer, I have benefited a great deal with mathematics. Otherwise, my life could be very miserable and the world would be in a very different shape than it’s now. But this book is not for the light-hearted – unless you’re curious about some of the topics, this book could be overwhelming and hard to digest.

My takeaways from this book:

The missing bullet holes. The focus of the book is on the profound/simple quadrant.

I. Linearity:
when things are not linear, there’s a min/max – like the Laffer curve on a napkin.
a. Linear regression – each extra SAT point could cost you $28 in tuition.
b. Don’t always extrapolate linearly – obesity apocalypse (100% obese).
c. Law of large number: converges to 50% for coin toss when the number of tries go up. NBA best free shot throwers play least games – small number.
d. Large number of tries dilutes the previous results – not change of probability. Very important lesson.
e. Don’t talk about % of numbers when numbers can be negative.

II. Inference:
a. The Baltimore broker: They send you the correct stock prediction by process of elimination. By keep trimming off the mailing list of their incorrect prediction, they ensure all the remaining ones get the correct prediction. From them, they’ll have the confidence of the people and send them their money.
b. Reductio Ad Unlikely: Suppose null H is true, it follows from H that certain outcome O is very improbable (< 5%), but O is actually observed. Therefore, H is very improbable. Bible coders.

III. Expectation
a. Massachusetts State lottery: expected value should be average value. Playing the WinFall.
b. Utility: maximize the utility vs. missing the plane. Stigler's argument: “If you never miss the plane, you're spending too much time in airports.”
c. Tying geometry to picking the “random” lottery number, and hamming code.

IV. Regression
a. Triumph of mediocrity. Scatter plot of father-son height (oval shape),
b. Correlation is not transitive (e.g. blood relation).
c. Berkson's fallacy: Mean-nice vs. ugly handsome curve.

V. Existence
a. Public opinion doesn't exist
b. Bush/Gore/Nadar election: how best to elect public officials when there are more than 3 candidates.
c. Condorcet Paradoxes
d. How to be right.

General Comments:
1. eBook or hardcopy book is probably better than the audiobook. Easier to visualize on a physical book.
2. Good history of mathematicians and some of how the theorems came about.
3. Not for the faint of heart. Some mathematics are required of interest in it.

Posted by dstsai as Book Reviews, Geeky at 12:00 AM PST

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January 6th, 2015

2015 New Year Celebration in Las Vegas

Posted by dstsai as Travels at 10:10 PM PST

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December 31st, 2014

High Roller in Las Vegas


Family is spending some relaxing time in Las Vegas. This video recorded our experience in riding the new “High Roller” (Ferris Wheel) across from Caesars Palace. The short 30-minute ride gives a high-rise 360-degree view of the Las Vegas Strip. The ride was smooth and enjoyable.
Happy New Year!

Posted by dstsai as Travels at 10:31 AM PST

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December 26th, 2014

Book Review: “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” by Amy Chua


This book is about the extreme parenting style of Amy Chua in raising her daughter to musical stardom.

– Extreme parenting: the dilemma of “Chinese parenting” (parents’ choices) vs. “Western parenting” (children’s choices) in a western world.
– Some of her practices are extreme: daily music practices during vacation, lead by examples (giving practice instructions, doing the homework of finding the right teacher).
– Never give up on your kids; you know better than your kids and the kids may hate you now but appreciate you better in the future.
– Western culture favors more socialization and fun over technical drills and pushing oneself for success.
– Building a strong foundation for the kids and let go. Discipline builds confidence, which breeds success and so on.
– If you know in your heart your kids are diamonds in the rough, wouldn’t you want to polish it? It’s NOT so easy to let go for Chinese parents.
– Funny. Not as hard charging and abusive as the media portrayed it. It’s much harder to force someone to do something they don’t want to do. If it’s not out of love, you wouldn’t do it. The intentions are always good and out of the heart. But I wouldn’t surprised that there’s something to be gained in glowing over and being proud of your children’s achievement.
– I’m curious how her two daughters, Sophia and Lulu, will turn out. They seem to be thriving. Curious if they will do the same to their own children: 2nd and 3rd generation children get soft.
– Admire Amy Chua’s honesty of self-parody and her drive to instill the discipline in her kids, which Western parenting lacks. Not sure about how much of that can stymie or contribute to the creativity of the children, which the society values more.
– Katrin’s (Amy’s younger sister) undergoing bone marrow transplant (many dosages of chemotherapy) and surviving the Leukemia may have changed her perspective about raising her own daughter for happiness.
– Comparing two dogs to her two daughters, dogs just need a little love and attention and don’t require pushing due to limited potential. But children, that’s a different story.
– Personally, I don’t have a Tiger Mom and my parents were not tiger parents. I’m self driven but how would I turn out if I had a Tiger mom? I guess I’ll never know.

Really enjoyed the book. If you’re interested in how the Chinese parents raise the kids, this book might offer a glimpse of it but use it as a reference as not all Chinese parents are like that. At least not mine.

Here are some good youtube videos on this book:
Amy Chua: Tale of a Tiger Mother (1/12/12)
Today Show
Child of Tiger Mom Speaks Out
Emily Luk: A Tiger Daughter Weighs In

Posted by dstsai as Book Reviews at 12:00 AM PST

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December 20th, 2014

Book Review: “Everybody’s Got Something” by Robin Roberts


I didn’t know Robin Robert before the book since I don’t watch TV, especially the morning TV like Good Morning America. Who has time to watch TV in the morning while rushing to go to work? But it may be just me.

The book describes Robin’s going through her bone marrow transplant after acquiring the MDS (Myelodysplastic syndromes), possibly caused by the heavy chemo therapy from her breast cancer a few years before. The book went through great details of the process: finding the donor (her sister), pre-treatment to kill of all the damaged blood cells, the gradually inject the new stem cells from the donated bone marrow to propagate the healthy cells. After the heavy duty treatment (> 100 days), she finally came through in one piece.

My takeaways:
1. Learned a few things about the job the anchor person in the early morning show. Waking up 3:45am in the morning and did lots of things before any one is awake, especially the crews working overnight to prepare for the show.
2. “There should be no limit to gratitude,” her mama sets an example for treating people with utmost kindness.
3. Strong family tie between Robbin and her family, especially her mother and her sisters. This sets a person up like Robbin for success.
4. Robin seems to have fun at Good Morning America. She’s surrounded by nice and genuine co-workers.
5. Bone marrow transplant story: the pre-treatment to kill off all the old cells and transplant the stem cells to rebuild it like an infant.
6. The book’s capturing the voice of the caretakers – her partner, Amber is quite a treat for the reader to learn from their perspective.
7. Coming back from edge of death, twice, and in public eyes can really change a person’s perspective in life. Being thankful is the least one can do.
8. Great voice in the audiobook. Not like reading a book but telling a story, an emotional story.

This is an inspirational book for anyone who’s going through a serious illness or taking care of one. I recommend the book.

Posted by dstsai as Book Reviews at 12:00 AM PST

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December 16th, 2014

Door Deadbolt Lock Lubrication – How I Fixed It

Wife and daughter have been complaining about the front door deadbolt latch difficult to unlock. I sprayed some WD 40 but didn’t make much of a difference. Decided to open it up and spray directly into the lock mechanism. The lock mechanism is called “Motise” lock made by Baldwin.

Here I recorded how I fixed it:

Notes:
Installation Instruction

Posted by dstsai as Tips at 12:00 AM PST

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December 12th, 2014

Stuck Shower Doors – How I Fixed Them

A visit to my rental property showed that the shower doors were stuck. I checked it out and found one of the two rollers that hung on the track was gone. I replaced the roller and got them moving again. This is a simple repair that cost around $6 for all 4 rollers and about 30 minutes. It’s amazing how people can live with wide open shower doors and not complaining about it. It’s no wonder that they saw the water bubble on the ceiling downstairs. Is it possible that water has splashed outside causing the damage? I wondered. Here is a quick video how I fixed the stuck shower doors.

Posted by dstsai as Landlording, Tips at 12:00 AM PST

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