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March 3rd, 2015

Pre-Spring Garden Update – 2015-03-02

Posted by dstsai as Gardening at 12:00 AM PST

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March 2nd, 2015

Another Water Burst in My Drip Irrigation System – How I Repaired It

Last Friday (February 20, 2015), we drove out a big banquet right after work to celebrate Chinese New Year – the year of Ram/Goat/Sheep. Upon coming home and getting ready to sleep, I heard the sump pump underneath the bedroom was activated on and off. It hadn’t rained for several weeks already, how could there be enough water for the sump pump to turn on, I asked myself. My heart just dropped when I thought of the word: “burst.” Is it another water pipe burst? It’s the horror of most homeowners as the consequence is normally some kind of serious water damage and a huge water bill. I took my flashlight out to investigate in the cold night in my pajama.

To my relief, there was no standing water outside next to the house but the flower bed was very wet and the lead hose that connects to the drip irrigation valve came off – disconnected. The water had been shut off. Wonderful! The good news was that this happened outside the house – no water damage to the house. The bad news was how long was the water running before it was shut off.

Mmmm, did my good neighbor shut it off? I walked to the front door and saw a note attached to the door handle. Sure enough, my good next-door neighbor had shut it off after seeing the water flowing to the street, pumped out by the sump pump. On the next day, I walked over to thank my good neighbor of the good deed. I would’ve done the same for them too.

In this video, I went over how I re-arranged the sequence of the irrigation valve, the anti-siphon and pressure regulator. Hopefully, this configuration would keep me from encountering the dreaded water burst again, having learned the expensive lesson.

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

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February 19th, 2015

Book Review: “Yes, Please” by Amy Poehler


A few good quotes:
“We should stop asking people in their twenties what they “want to do” and start asking them what they don’t want to do.”
“You tell people the good things. Diaries are for the bad things!”
“Decide what your currency is early. Let go of what you will never have. People who do this are happier and sexier.”
She joked that an SNL hairstylist once told her, she “had a great place for wigs.”

Great at improvisation and writing. “I was never too this or not enough that. Every week o SNL I had the opportunity to write whatever I wanted. And then I was allowed to read it!” “Writing gave me an incredible amount of power, and my currency became what I wrote and said and did.”

Her gynecologist died the day before she went into labor. How ironic. She did the Hillary Clinton vs. Sarah Palin SNL sketch and the Sarah Palin rap the week she gave birth.

A few inserts by her friends like Seth Meyers about the SNL sketch with Sarah Palin rap and her mother about her birth. Nice perspectives from other people.

Comedy is hard work. “Doing comedy for a living is, in a lot of ways, like a pony and camel trying to escape from the zoo. It’s a ridiculous endeavor and has a low probability of success, but more importantly, it way easier if you’re with a friend.

As a comedian, she occasionally went overboard and had to apologize like the case about a disabled girl. “A word about apologizing: It’s hard to do without digging yourself in deeper. It’s also scary and that’s why we avoid the pain. We want so badly to plead our case and tell our story. The bad news is that everybody has a story. Everyone has a version of how things went down and how they participated. It’s hard to untangle facts and feelings.” How true! “Every performer has to to figure out what feels right.”

About divorce, she quotes Louis CK “divorce is always good news because no good marriage has ever ended in divorce.” She referenced a few of her favorite books about divorce. She didn’t talk much about her own divorce of her 10-year marriage though.

On aging, “fighting aging is like the war on Drugs. It’s expensive, does more harm than good, and has been proven to never end.” “Getting older makes you somewhat invisible.” – so you’re better observing a situation. “The moment people start looking at you less is when you start being able to see through people more.” Learning from the “older friends”: “I am interested in people who swim in the deep end. I want to have conversations about real things with people who have experienced real things.” “Young people can remind us to take chances and be angry and stop our patterns. Old people can remind us to laugh more and get focused and make friends with our patterns.”

Taking improv lessons from Charna and Del Close. Met Tina Fey in the class and performed “Women of Color.” Did her work touring as Second City member across Texas and many town with low pay and Upright Citizens Brigade. “We were young and foolish and didn’t know what we were up against.” “Being foolish was the smartest thing to do.”

Amy had lots of imagination since childhood. Living in a normal, loving middle-class family, she needed to create her own drama like handcuffing herself with a friend at fourth grade.

She enjoyed reading “tragedy porn.” “I would read terrible stories to punish myself for my lucky life. Some real deep Irish Catholic shit.”

Amy was hired on Saturday Night Live in August, 2001, just a month before 9/11. She was forced to do comedy in a city that was “battered and still on fire… while avoiding being killed by Anthrax.”

About being a mother, Amy complained about people’s asking her, “I don’t know how you do it.” She heard “I don’t know how you COULD do it.” – making her feel guilty and overwhelmed. I never thought of it that way. She did disclose she’s got a full time nanny or “wife.”

On sex, she gave a few advises. I like #6, “get better at dirty talk.” and #11 Laugh a lot and try new things with someone you love.”

Awards or “pudding” were elusive to her in the beginning. I like her practical joke of organizing every nominee in the category to fake winning the award. Have fun anyway whether you win or not.

Amy has worked so far throughout her life including serving ice cream in a local parlor, waitressing. “How a person treats their waitress is a great indication of their character.” This was followed by doing gigs as a comedian before her career took off on SNL.

“Treat your career like a bad boyfriend.” “Good or bad, the reality is most people become “famous” or get “great jobs” after a very very long tenure shoveling shit.” The reality is that most career advancement is from referrals. “Try to care less. Practice ambivalence. Learn to let go of wanting it. Treat your career like a bad boyfriend.” “Career is the stringing together of opportunities and jobs. Career is something that fools you into thinking you are in control and then takes pleasure in reminding you that you aren’t. Career is the thing that will not fill you and never make you whole.”

But distinguish it from creativity. “Creativity is connected to your passion, the light inside you that drives you. That joy that comes when you do something you love. The small voice that tells you, ‘I like this. Do this again. You are good at it. Keep going.'” She drew analogy of “creativity” to a really warm older Hispanic lady who has a beautiful laugh and loves to hug.

“Ambivalence is the key to success.” Wow, that’s powerful and so true. “You have to care about how good you are and you good you feel, but not how good people think you are or how good people think you look.”

She talked a lot about her role in “Park and Recreation” series and how it came about after the end of SNL career. Because of this book, I actually a few episodes on Netflix. She went a step further talking about the show business – the pros and cons of all the players: actor, writer, director, and producer. Nice insight.

She offers some tidbits about time travels (and she does in her own way), using drugs, her two boys and being a “moon junkie,” her charity involvement in WWO visiting orphanage, and ended the book on her love/hate relationship with the cell phone.

This is a good book to read if you like comedy and curious about how a comedian become success or you simply like the story of a hard working woman doing what she loves with great passion and creativity and succeeded in it. You’ll get some laughs too. Why not?!

Posted by dstsai as Book Reviews at 10:25 PM PST

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February 10th, 2015

Book Review: “Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us” by Michael Moss


My key takeaways from this book:

1. Bliss point – precise amount that makes the food and drink more enjoyable – the inverted U-shape in pleasure vs. quantity of sugar.

2. Grouping data into “light,” “medium,” and “strong” coffee drinkers. Gladwell’s TED talk about Ragu’s grouping into extra chunky and 35 other kinds of spaghetti sauces. Sugar is the second critical ingredient after tomatoes.

3. We are driven to eat or crave certain food other than the emotional needs, tastes, followed by aroma, appearance, and texture. Sugar does it all.

4. Use of DOE (Design of Experiments) to come up with most appealing taste in carefully orchestrated taste tests across the country to engineer a food product.

5. Convenience is the key, e.g. Jello remade to jell within 5 minutes. Thanks to more women working. For convenience, lots of additives were added. Among them, the biggest one is sugar. Tang orange mix was created in the lab trading off all other vitamins except Vitamin C.

6 Food companies deploy an army of home economics teachers to teach cooking classes using their ready-made mix, and create a fictitious chef celebrity like Betty Crocker, and infiltrate the home economic associations.

7. Cereal should be considered as “candy.” They are laces with sugar for quick fixes.

8. Good history of the processed foods like cereals, Dr. Pepper, and chips.

9. People are eating more snacks and less or skipping main meals.

10. People can exercise their own will but can they if they’re “addicted” to the salt, sugar and fat.

11. Lots of repetition since all 3 ingredients combined pack the biggest punch.

12. The CEO’s or product managers of their own food category do not eat their own foods to keep off the salt, sugar and fat.

13. It’s sad to see that in pursuit of ever time and cost efficiency, people are replacing normal healthy home made foods with those processed foods that would eventually put them in the chronic illness like diabetes, heart diseases, high blood pressure and others.

Sugar:
– Cola war story of Jeffery Dunn, repented – now selling carrots.
“Sensory-specific-satiety” explains why people are addicted to Coca Cola because of it’s balanced taste – no lingering edginess, the aroma of vanilla and the citrus, and whole family of spices, like cinnamon and nutmeg, then you have the sweetness and the bite of phosphoric acid, and the tingle of the carbon dioxide bubble – all the parts of the flavor construct.
– Self imposed curb of marketing to children under 12. But local stores are magnets for kids to consume soda. Teens spend less and visit stores more often.
– Story of “Tang” mix: designed artificially to mimic oranges but have to add in Vitamin C only to keep the good taste.

Fat:
-Mouth fullness feeling from fat. But it has no tongue receptor. Gives cookies more bulk and a firmer texture. Has not bliss point – the more the better – no negative feedback from the brain.
– Fat has a narcotic effect on people. Ice cream makes people happy.
– Hard to replace as people can taste the difference – “mouthful” feel.
– Fat is often linked up with sugar in candy bars. Majority of calories (60~80%) come from fat.
– There is no cheese in Cheez Whiz.
– Krafts’ American Cheese is the “processed cheese” left over from bottom of the pot after stirring the cheese. Enzymes are added to speed up aging and flavoring process.
– Surplus milk was converted to cheese.
– Story of Lunchables – from Oscar Mayer, started by Bob Drane.
– The making of the “pink slime.”
– Government agency including USDA helps promote meat, cheese, and milk inside and outside the country.
– Correlation of saturated-fat diet to lung cancer. For Philips Morris, this could be another nicotine problem like in the cigarette.

Salt:
– Sodium in salt pulls the fluid from our tissues into the blood which raises the blood volume (high blood pressure) and forces the heart to work harder.
– Most of the sodium/salt consumption comes from the processed foods, as people are cooking less at home.
– People don’t just love salt, they crave (or addicted to) salt . It’s one of the hardest thing to live without.
– Makes the wet-dog-hear meat taste more tolerable.
– More salt makes people less sensitive to salt, hence eating more of it. After being cut off, the sensitivity to salt can be enhanced and need less.
– In bread making process, salt keeps the huge, spinning mixer machines from gumming up. Also salt slows down the rising process to keep up the pace.
– Salt can help the “warmed-over” foods taste better.
– Cargill, one of the biggest supplier of salt and other farm-related products, is an extremely profitable private company.
– Potassium Chloride could be substitute for salt but tastes bitter.
– Potato chips are a source of heavy salt consumption. Call them “toasted” not “fried.”
– Baby Boomers are aging and eating less potato chips but more salty foods in general due to more snacking and reduced home cooking.
– Different crystal formation of salt can be customized to each form of food. Fine crystal for potato chips to produce the maximal effect.

In summary, this book serves as a wake up call to the readers/consumers the danger of submitting oneself to the seduction of salt, sugar and fat in the processed food. The food companies will do their best to pander to the customers even if the products are not good for our health. Being educated is the best weapon to protect ourselves from the harmful effects of the processed foods.

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

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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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