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July 28th, 2014

Old Drywall Screw Holes – How I Fixed It

I replaced the drapes pole and ended up with a few empty holes left over from the previous drape brackets. It’s ugly and I need to patch them up. In this video, I recorded how I applied Fix-It-All Patch Compound to the holes and sand them and applied the touch-up paint.

Posted by Derek Tsai as Tips at 12:00 AM PDT

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July 24th, 2014

Book Review: “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman

This book shines some light on what make people tick – makes judgments and decisions. Too many concepts were presented and require lots of time relating our current life. I listened to the audiobook twice. The first time was more than a year ago. The second time wasn’t sufficient without reading the book for this review. By the way the Kindle version of the book is selling for just $3. What a bargain for a rich book like this!

My key take-aways:
1. Thinking statistically is really hard and maybe the way to avoid falling trap into our own System 1.
2. Planning fallacy really hit home in my career. I like the remedy of applying past statistics and adjust from there.
3. The use of “premortem” (Part 3) to counter group think is brilliant. I think it’s a great way to think about one’s big personal decision. Ask yourself, “Imagine X years into the future and you have failed. Write a brief history of your failure.” Wow, that’s powerful.
4. WYSIATI (What you see is all there is) lies in the basic theme of System 1. We can only decide based on what we perceive at that moment, mostly from our intuition or System 1.

Overall, it is a very good book if you’re interested in understanding human nature and the conflicts we often found in ourselves.

Here is a quick summary:

There are two systems and two selves in each of us:

Part 1 goes in System 1 and System 2.
System 1: Fast and automatic, with little effort and voluntary control.
System 2: Slow, effortful and attentive – articulates judgments including mental activities and makes choices but if often endorses or rationalizes ideas and feelings that were generated by System 1.
Priming effect is due to System 1. Whatever is easier like what’s easier to pronounce, or rhyme due to cognitive ease. Explaining away the coincidence like the “Black Swan” event, halo effect, and jumping into conclusion are what System 1 is good at, assisted by System 2. System 2 plays the “apologist” role for the emotions of System 1 then a critic of those emotions – an endorser rather than an enforcer.

Part 2 talks about the heuristics vs. thinking statistically, which system 1 lacks. Small samples do to lend to statistically meaningful conclusions – fooled by small samples. Also we’re subject to anchoring for something we have no reference of, like “Is the tallest redwood tree taller than 1200 ft? What’s your best guess?” The availability bias makes us think things are more frequent if we can recall most instances like consecutive plane crashes. “Availability Cascade” is attributed to the limitation of our mind to deal with small risks: we either ignore them altogether or give them far too much weight due to viral news spreading. The sins of representativeness: excessive willingness to predict the occurrence of unlikely (low base-rate) events. Both System 1 and 2 may be guilty of incorrect intuitive judgement. System 1 suggested the incorrect intuition and System 2 endorsed it and expressed it as a judgment – due to ignorance or laziness. 2nd sin: insensitivity to the quality of evidence. Leverage Bayesian Statistics and anchor your judgement of the probability of an outcome on a plausible base rate and question the diagnosticity of your evidence. Conjunction fallacy as in the “Linda” example highlights the laziness of System 2 that breaks the statistical logic – less is more – a more plausible story that appeals to System 1. People often don’t learn things from statistics (especially the base rate) until they can derive causal interpretation from them. This is where Bayesian Statistic is important. Also grasping the concept of regression to the mean is difficult because of the insistent demand for causal interpretations by System 1.

Part 3 describes the limitation of our mind and over confidence in what we believe we know. Hindsight bias leads observers to assess the quality of a decision not by whether the process was sound but by whether its outcome was good or bad. Outcome bias is when the outcome is are bad, the agents get blamed for not seeing the handwriting. Illusion of validity is acting like as if each of our specific predictions was valid, for example, author’s predicting the solder’s future performance and the fund manager in finance. Experts are often inferior to algorithms because experts try to be clever, consider complex combinations of features in making their prediction and humans are inconsistent in making summary judgments of complex information. Only trust those with two basic conditions for acquiring a skill: an environment that’s sufficiently regular to be predictable, and an opportunity to learn these regularities through prolonged practices and feedback. Planning fallacy describes plans and forecasts that are unrealistically close to the best-case scenarios, and could be improved by consulting the statistics of similar cases. We tend to exaggerate our forecast ability which fosters optimistic overconfidence. Optimistic bias is what drives the entrepreneurs who drive our economy. Use of “Premortem” procedure – when a group almost come to an important decision but has not formally committed itself, gather a group of people knowledgeable about the decision and ask “Imagine that we are a year into the future. We implemented the plan as it now exists. The outcome was a disaster. Please take 5 to 10 minutes to write a brief history of that disaster.” The premortem legitimizes doubts – not suppressing healthy amount of doubts and paranoia.

Part 4 challenges the rationality assumption in standard economics. The author debunked the Bernoulli’s utility theory by arguing that it doesn’t take reference point into account. Starting from $4M to $2M vs. from $1M to $2M would have different utility curves. A person become risk seeking when all his options are bad – the basis for author’s Prospect Theory. Endowment effect explains why you tend to value more of what you own and less of what others own because of different reference point and loss looms larger than gain – unlike a trader. Possibility effect places a heavy weight between 0% and 5% probability and certainty effect places a heavy weight between 95% and 100%. In the author’s Fourfold pattern, people tend to be risk adverse when there is high probability of gain and low probability of loss (insurance), but risk seeking when there is high probability of loss and low probability of gain (lottery). People tend to over-estimate the probability of rare events and overweight their probability. The emotion of regret is more felt to an outcome that is produced by action than to the same outcome when it’s produced by inaction. By anticipating the regret before your decision, you may minimize the regret.

Part 5 describes the two selves: the experiencing self and the remembering self.
When it comes to pain, the following were observed: Peak-end rule – worst pain and the pain at the end dominates. Duration Neglect: the duration of the procedure had no effect whatsoever on the ratings of the total pain. Is the experience or the memory of the experience that matters? We’re often confused by it – cognitive illusion. Pain is preferred to be short and pleasure long but our memory, a function of System 1, has evolved to the remember the peak (pain or pleasure) and at its end and neglects its duration. We have an experiencing self and remembering self, which we seem to care more as demonstrated in the “amnesia vacation” example.

Posted by Derek Tsai as Book Reviews at 12:00 AM PDT

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July 20th, 2014

Buried Bokashi Revisited

I was curious about how long does it take for the Bokashi turn into a full-fledged fertilizer. I dug out one buried Bokashi that I buried 3 months ago and another one 2 months. Below is a video for it:

Conclusion: It’s about 3 months when the Bokashi is fully composted at this time of the year.

Posted by Derek Tsai as Gardening at 12:00 AM PDT

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July 17th, 2014

My “Puppet” Trellis System with PVC Pipes – How I Built It

I have been challenged by the difficulty of trellising container tomatoes this season. I want to have a trellis that’s easy to assemble and disassemble when the season is over. I don’t want to spend a lot of money and yet not having it too aesthetically challenged. I built a simple trellis system using the leftover 1×2 wood. I called it “puppet” trellis because it looks like a controlling mechanism for a puppet. It worked well when staked in the ground. But for the container gardening, the ground is normally hard cement. I decided to try building the “puppet” trellis with PVC pipes and stake the pipe into an old umbrella base. I recorded a video of my “Puppet” trellis system here:

It’s possible to build the base of the trellis with more PVC pipes. It will be one of my future projects.

Posted by Derek Tsai as Gardening, Tips at 12:00 AM PDT

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July 14th, 2014

Drip Irrigation Pipe Leaking – How I Fixed It

I noticed my drip irrigation pipe was leaking a few months back. I was too lazy to fix it but now we are in a middle of severe drought in California, I thought I should take care of it to avoid wasting our precious water. Here I recorded a video on how I fixed it:

Here are the lessons I have learned:
1. 3/4″ PVP pipe is NOT exactly 3/4″, neither are 1/2″ and 1″ pipes or any of the PVC pipes. In fact, the 3/4″ pipe has an outer diameter of 1.05″ and inner diameter of 0.82″. The number represents roughly an average of the inner diameter and outer diameter, depending on what type of PVC pipes (Schedule 40 vs. thicker Schedule 80). See here for the actual measurements.
2. PVC pipes are very inexpensive and easy to put together like Lego blocks. The 10′ 3/4″ PVC pipe cost me just $2.50. This gave me lots of ideas how to use it for other purposes. See future blogs on the other uses of PVC pipes.

Posted by Derek Tsai as Gardening, Tips at 12:00 AM PDT

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July 12th, 2014

Don’t Try to Predict the Future; Be a Now-ist

Joi Ito strikes a chord with me and the central theme of this blog on how to deal with the complex world we’re living today by “having a compass and know where you’re going” then “focus on being connected, always learning, fully aware, and super present.” Don’t try to predict the future. Experiment, learn and improve continuously. Be a “now-ist.”

This is one of the great TED talk videos:

Posted by Derek Tsai as Geeky, Self Development at 12:00 AM PDT

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July 9th, 2014

Say Hello and Goodbye to My Acer Chromebook – Why I’m Ditching It

Lately, I’ve been hearing so much about Chromebooks, I even played with it at Best Buy (thanks to their “Showrooming” ;-). When their prices dropped below $200 for a brand new Acer C720, I decided to get one to play with it. I read all about its limitations and the potentials for the expanded capability after installing Ubuntu through Chroot (Crouton) and dual-boot (ChrUbuntu) methods. I have used Enterprise Linux version at work and would like to try the “client” Linux like Ubuntu for the fun of it. Because I knew I wanted to play with Ubuntu Linux so I decided to buy a used 32GB (vs. standard 16GB) flash storage version from eBay for $169. By the way, 32GB is needed if you want to run ChrUbuntu since a full Ubuntu by itself would probably need 24GB on its own if you plan to keep the Chrome OS as a dual-boot.

Since I received the Chromebook on 6/27/14, I have spent numerous hours playing and hacking it. My impression of Chrome OS is that it’s really for the consumers of digital contents due to its limitations. Here are the pluses and minuses:
1) Fast boot and wake up from sleep (almost instantaneous like a tablet).
2) Excellent browsing experience. The two-finger scrolling and three-finger flipping through the browser tabs are nice. Of course, having a physical keyboard makes a big difference as compared to browsing on an iPad. And the trackpad on Acer C720 works really well with sufficient immunity from accidental palm touchings.
3) Most apps are responsive and fast, thanks to the Intel Haswell Celeron 2955U 1.4 GHz CPU, 2GB DRAM’s and 32GB flash drive.
4) Seamless integration with Chromecast. (More on Chromecast on a later blog).

1) No email clients like Thunderbird except webmails like gmail, which works very well but not good enough for work-related emails.
2) No use of OpenOffices.
3) No IPsec VPN (the one my employer uses)
4) Can’t run Java apps. Java plugins cannot be installed. I sensed some bad blood between Google and Oracle such that Google refused to put Java on Chromebook at the time of this writing.

If you don’t plan to do lots of emails and are mainly browsing the web and run only Chrome Apps, then Chromebook may be the right laptop for you as a supplement to your tablets. Since the #1 and #3 minuses are show stoppers for me, I need to add on Linux to mitigate them. There are two options: Chroot and ChrUbuntu.

I first installed Chroot to enable running Ubuntu along side the Chrome OS in “Developer” mode. This was ideal as I would have the best of the both worlds: Chrome OS and Ubuntu – switching back and forth with simple CTL-ALT strokes. The only problem was that I couldn’t install VPN properly on it – neither Cisco AnyConnect nor OpenConnect. I suspect that the Chrome OS, running in parallel, may be causing conflicts. I gave up on it after 3 days of intensive hacking.

Then I decided that install Ubuntu as a duel-boot partition. I followed the installation directions here. After a couple of hours of downloading and installation, I was able to boot to Ubuntu and installed Cisco AnyConnect VPN. I was now in business.

Then after playing with the Ubuntu on Chromebook, I discovered a few quirks that really got me to wonder why I bothered with Ubuntu.
1. Some system settings don’t work right, like disabling the mouse while typing to avoid cursor movement. I had to type in a command to enable it manually (“/usr/bin/syndaemon -i 1.5 -K d”) and I had a hard time putting in the autostart service.
2. Locale issue: Constant “Locale” warnings popped up when running a shell. I fixed it with this locale tip.
3. Font sizes: I had a hard time fixing the font sizes on Ubuntu. It was either too small or too big.
4. The touchpad no longer works after I accidentally disabled it and wasn’t able to bring back the driver. Sigh! (This was fixed by following the directions in this link).

So at the end, I started to miss and appreciate Microsoft’s Windows 7 or even Windows 8. With Ubuntu on Chromebook, I would be wasting lots of my time fixing some minor Linux issues which seem to pop up here and there, unless I revert it back to the standard Chrome OS Chromebook, which would not do better than an iPad or an Android tablet. Then I looked around and found that for an extra $20~30, I could have bought a cheap full Windows laptop instead!

My conclusion is that, at this time, Chrome OS Chromebook and Ubuntu Chromebook are not ready for prime time. I like the pluses but the minuses are too great for me to ignore. I will most likely be reselling my Chromebook on eBay…

Posted by Derek Tsai as Geeky, Tips for computer at 12:00 AM PDT

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July 6th, 2014

July 4th Celebration and Firework at Capital Club, San Jose

My wife arranged this July 4th Celebration at the Capital Club San Jose with a party of 16 friends and their families – celebration for the independence day of this great country and my birthday. Yes, I was born on July 4th. I was destined to be part of this great country.

There were BBQ buffet dinner, wines – great food and great company. The highlights were the San Jose firework just outside of the balcony that made the evening so wonderful.

Here is a short video introduction of Capital Club, its view and a much condensed version of the 25-minutes firework started at 9:30pm. Hope you enjoy it.

Posted by Derek Tsai as Travels at 9:28 AM PDT

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July 3rd, 2014

Book Review: “An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist” by Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins is a well known author and atheist. I first read his “God Delusion” book back in spring, 2007. See my review here. I was since impressed by his passion for evolution and debunking of creationism. In his young tender age of 71 now, Richard Dawkins decided to write a memoir about himself and described how he became who he is. There aren’t that many great scientists would venture to write a memoir for himself but Richard Dawkins are no ordinary scientist, his arguments for evolution are all very compelling. I am sure he has pushed many people on the fence over to the side of evolution, myself included.

In this book, he went through his childhood and upbringing and growing up in Africa and various countries around the world. This might have made him a rebel and yet very adaptable to strange places include the one full of right-wing extremists. His move to Berkeley, California, in the 1960′s might have reinforced his rebellion mentality. His eventual tenure at Oxford legitimized his place in science and specifically atheism.

A few takeaways from the book:

Dawkins, as a zoologist, designed lots experiments to understand the animal behavior to determine the natural and nurtured behaviors like chicken’s response to light shone from the top vs from the floor.

A penchant for computer programming: Dawkins was so adept in computer programming, way ahead of his time, such that he designed several programming languages to suit his needs.

We stand on the shoulders of many giants so we can look farther. Dawkins attributes his success to Charles Darwin and a few college advisers and professors.

I need to read the Selfish Gene book. He described many of the details how he arrived at the Selfish Gene book he wrote more than 30 years ago. In essence, the gene or a well evolved gene would propagate in the selfish manner to extend its immortality. Otherwise, they would go extinct. We humans are here because of our human selfish gene.

As a true evolutionist, Dawkins questioned whether he could become who he became without having to lived and evolved through his life environment. I cannot help think that at this moment the world is still evolving and my actions and thoughts may have an impact to the process. And in many ways out of infinite possible ways we all do.

There are so many videos I recommend about Dr. Richard Dawkins’ view:
Militant Atheism.
Why the universe seems so strange
Best of Richard Dawkins Arguments

This book gives me a glimpse of the making of a great scientist. It takes courage, tenacity, and constant questions about the status quo and an appetite for wonder.

Posted by Derek Tsai as Book Reviews at 12:00 AM PDT

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June 30th, 2014

A Quick Visit to Ridge Winery in Cupertino

To those who enjoy good wine, visiting a winery with good wine and a beautiful 270-degree panoramic view of the San Jose South Bay area can be quite appealing to your palate and your visual senses. We visited the Ridge Winery in Cupertino or the Monte Bello Mountain today in this warm 85F weather – a 15-minute drive from home. I took this 270-degree panoramic picture below (click to zoom in): To the left, I could almost see the high rise in San Francisco city. Directly in front of me was the San Jose downtown and the San Jose Airport Runway: What a beautiful scenery!
Ridge Panorama View

I took pictures of a couple of the grape plants that were bearing the small-size grapes, normally used for wine making (not table grapes).
Grapes plants
Grape Plants 2
There were grapes plantations all along the mountain road and beyond.

We tasted six different wine offerings including chardonnay, zinfandel, merlot, cabernet and etc. When done sampling, we even bought a half bottle of the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate so we can enjoy the wonderful wine on top of the mountain with the wonderful scenery. We are truly blessed with so much abundance around us. It still amazes me that the various kinds of grapes and turn into something so rich in flavor and has been a source of pleasure for human kind.

Posted by Derek Tsai as Travels at 12:00 AM PDT

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