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April 26th, 2015

Cherry Blossom Festival in Cupertino

Once a year, Cherry Blossom Festival is held in Cupertino. This year the festival took place on 4/25/15 and 4/26/15 and my wife participated in the Ikebana flower arrangement exhibits. I recorded this video to highlight her work and many fine work by others in this community event.

Posted by dstsai as Travels at 9:36 AM PDT

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April 23rd, 2015

Book Review: “How I Got This Way” by Regis Philbin

Before reading this book, Regis came across to me as a normal talk show host who would make a big deal out of trivial events to fill the time and did it in such a dramatic way. After reading this, I came to appreciate his true talents that he’s always doubtful of himself throughout his career.

Like a good talk show host, he introduces in this books lots of people I’m not familiar with like:
1. Jack Paar: a big-time Tonight Show host before Johnny Carson who he tries to emulate and had a close relationship with until Paar’s death. I had to watch some old Youtube videos to see what’s he like.
2. Joey Bishop: a talk show host who Regis was his sidekick in the Joey Bishop show, competing with Johnny Carson on ABC network. Regis appeared to be not too crazy about Joey because Joey forced him to pretend quitting/walking out the show to get a jump on the rating. But Regis was appreciate of his giving him a break. He looked like a boy in those days.
3. John Severino: a revengeful boss who gave him a middle finger early in Regis’ career and later offered him the Live with Regis talk show in New York after he defected to ABC.

Some facts that I learned from this book:
1. Regis started the red carpet show on Oscar night before anyone else.
2. How accurate this astrologist, Sydney Omarr, predicted his success in 20 years which turned out to be true when he got his gig New York talk show more than 25 years ago.
3. Jack Nicolson is such a private person and has never been interviewed except for this one time he phoned Regis to invite him to a Lakers game.
4. George Steinbrenner’s superstition that caused him a lot of bladder pain when he had to stay while the Yankees went into over time and won the game. Funny story.
5. Dean Martin is someone he literally worshiped and admired as someone with so much talent and grace, working with Jerry Lewis. Dean’s spontaneity and great voice were still legendary. His last encounter with him in a Beverly Hill restaurant is something of a sad ending and yet he reminisced.
6. Regis had a lot of self doubt in the beginning of his career because his perception of “lack of talents” after seeing Steve Allen’s setting the high bar.
7. Regis has a strong tie with his alma mater, Notre Dame, which seemed to bring him lots of consolation during his lull.
8. Steven Spielberg was a young man who choked when interviewed by Regis.
9. Howard Stern was such a gentle soul when you live next to him and have a share the same elevator like Regis did.

At the end of each chapter, there are a couple of paragraphs on “what he took away from it all.” They are very true and sometimes funny. A couple of quotes here:
a. “To specifically label what you do best is to unfairly limit what you can do best.” “Just make sure you know what you absolutely cannot do. And don’t be afraid to admit it.”
b. Go ahead and take a chance on doing surprising things at work (as I did in the piggy bank story). Attention will be paid.” “There is no such a thing as a lowly job when you start in a particular business where you’ve always dreamed of succeeding.”
c. “Great things can happen much later than you might have hoped. But even then, great things are great – and always worth appreciating – so don’t give up.”
d. “Never stop saying thank you to the people who’ve made the biggest differences in your life. No matter how much it embarrassed them.”
e. “Learn what you can from old mistakes, but don’t dwell on them too long or you may miss out on truly great opportunities.”
f. “Loyalty to others tends to ensure that your loyalty will always be returned in kind.” “Know how to take a ribbing, especially from people who obviously care about you – as well as those who do it for a living and mean you no harm. (Don Rickles). It’s really a compliment that they though enough of you to talk about you in the first place.”
g. “In business, think first with your head, and soon enough your heart will follow the same path.”
h. “When difficult times arise, don’t lose sight of how far you’ve already come and of all the better times that have helped sustain you along the way.” “After a terrible setback, the true test is how you face the next day: Get up, show up and I promise you you’ll soon begin to cheer up.”
i. “Get yourself near people who exude great enthusiasm and watch how it rubs off on you.”
j. If you approach any task with perfection as your goal, it will always bring you that much closer to truly achieving it.”
k. “To become big, you cannot be afraid to play big – and to dream even bigger.” “Always keep self-doubt to yourself – as best you can. And never buy into it for very long.”
l. “The bigger you build your dreams, the more likely you are to take heat from detractors. Forget about the heat and just keep building.”
m. “Helping others will, more often than not, help yourself find a greater sense of fulfillment.” (Charles Grodin).
n. “Those who’ve shared the same health scares as you and eagerly comfort you along the way are the realest friend you can find.” (David Letterman)
o. If you are lucky enough to find the right one, you’ll know it. Then just hang on for dear life. Dearer life, really.” (Joy Philbin)

I really enjoyed this memoir. Regis is truly an icon who shared his life on live TV and shared his life lessons in this book. He’s a generous man.

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

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April 18th, 2015

Sony Studio Tour

For many years that I lived in my parents’ house in West Los Angeles, I heard about the Culver City Studio but I never bothered visiting or taking a tour of the place. During the spring break, I decided to check it out and took my daughter to take the tour.

This ex-MGM studio was where “Wizard of Oz,” “Dancing in the Rain,” “Air Force 1″ and many of the old movies were filmed. Currently, the famous game shows “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy” are still be recorded there. We were able to visit the Jeopardy studio and the studio of “The Goldbergs” sitcom. Most of “stages” were off-limit to tourists though.

My daughter and I were glad to take 2 hours visiting this place. It brought back lots of memory and gave us a glimpse of the not-so glamorous back stages. This was educational.

Posted by dstsai as Travels at 12:00 AM PDT

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April 16th, 2015

Malibu Beach and Santa Monica Beach

The family took a day trip to Malibu Beach and Santa Monica Beach during our spring break vacation visiting my folks in Los Angeles.

Having spent most of my early life in Los Angeles, I never got sick of visiting the beaches. They are why southern Californians love living here. But believe it or not, this was my first time visiting the Malibu Pier. Had fun watching the people fishing from the pier and was pleasantly surprised by the sighting of dolphins.

The Santa Monica Beach was a quick 3 blocks away from the 3rd Street Promenade – an outdoor mall spanning across 3 huge blocks. I managed to take a short break from our shopping to enjoy the beautiful sunset.

It was a warm and beautiful day. What a treat!

Posted by dstsai as Travels at 12:00 AM PDT

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April 3rd, 2015

Book Review: “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End” by Atul Gawande

This is an awesome book for anyone with dying loved ones or those dying. For everyone, because we all will be dying some day.

The author, being a surgeon himself, discusses about what’s best for a person to end his life journey, whether due to aging and illness, and how a doctor and his/her loved ones should help.

Need to think about the end goals – what matters at the end: short quality time, less suffering, ability to “watch in front of TV football game while eating chocolate ice cream.”

Several touching stories in the book: a new mother, an old independent man, his daughter’s piano teacher, and a few others. But mostly, his father’s story really hit home and is most touching.

He touched on nursing homes, assisted living, and others in between to help the old living out their end of life with autonomy and without the constant risk of falling or missing medicines.

He advocates the use of hospice to help making the last days of life worth living. I got to know how the home hospice care work. Spelling out the goals and writing down what’s needed: funeral home to use, when to resuscitate and etc.

Human remembers mostly of the peak pain and the pain at the end – our remembering self. The average of the pain experience that we experience is normally not important to us because they don’t make good stories. When it comes to handling losses (like fighting cancer), we tend to take excessive risk without considering the quality of life at the end.

This is a great book. You’ll need to read it sooner or later. Read it now.

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

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March 26th, 2015

Book Review: “The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change” by Al Gore

The six drivers of the future according to Al Gore are:

1. Earth Inc. – a deeply interconnected global economy that operates as a fully integrated entity. Robosourcing and technology-induced job losses.

2. The Global Mind: the increase in interconnected world that produces “intelligent beings” that surpass our intelligence. Our brain capacity got extended by the Internet that benefit the democracy movement worldwide. Pitfalls of the internet including education, security, privacy, and frauds.

3. Power in the Balance:shift of economic and political power from the east to the west and to the large corporations. In the west, he warned about the power of the corporations and their lobbyists.

4. Outgrowth: unsustainable growth of human population and resource consumption. Growth of mega cities from the exponential growth of population means more hunger and obesity, mass marketing, waste and pollution and longevity, which contributes to the growing pains that include migration, refugees, endangered ground water, top soil, and over exploitation of ocean.

5. The reinvention of the Life and Death: breakthroughs in materials science and biological and medical advances may redefine how we evolve. He argued against patenting of genes, human cloning, antibiotics usage in farm animals. And he touched on the upcoming technological singularity, creation of new body parts, fertility, lifespans or “healthspans”, GMO and etc.

6. The Edge: our new relationship between human civilization and the Earth’s ecological systems – the environments. As expected, Al Gore goes through lots of details on global warming, CO2, methane gas under the icecaps, and it’s depressing, coral reefs for fish habits are dying. He goes into the politics of global warming which is very insightful. He warned about the danger of fracking. He advocates cap and trade.

Key points:
1. Love the mindmap in the beginning of each chapter.
2. Lots of history if you enjoy it. In a way, he’s extrapolating the future from the past/history.
3. Depressing state but hopeful.
4. China’s determination to become the superpower in application of genetic and life science analysis.
5. Call to the US to lead the world.

Overall, it’s a pretty good state of the world now and his projection of the future may well be true.

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

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March 12th, 2015

Book Review: “The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon” by Brad Stone

I listened to the audiobook in some random order for some reasons. This is the first time that happened. Don’t know why. In any case, I was confused by the sequence of event in this memoir. I had to go back to the hardcopy and reread the book.

This book is all about Jeff Bezos and the rise of his grand Everything Store, Amazon. You get to know a little of the history of Amazon and a little of this man Jeff Bezos, his working styles and visions for the company.

What gets me is that he was already pretty well off as an investment banker in a “quants” shop and he decided to quit it and start this company from scratch after catching the Internet fever. Very gutsy!

Something about Jeff Bezos
1. Jeff’s being passionate being customer-centric is admirable. However, convincing the investors to stay with him while he scaled the company up does take some persuasion and good sale job.

2. He flexed his muscle with strong tactics in driving his competitors into being bought at a bargain price when it most counts.

3. His biological father lost touch with him since young age and wasn’t reconnected until after he became famous. He had the same laugh as his father.

4. He burned out many of his early executives because of his hard driving management style and possibly the lack of stock appreciation in those days due to the dot com bust.

Interesting company cultures:
1. Being “cheap” and thrifty sets the tone of the company like Walmart.
2. Reading prose/write-up instead of listening to PowerPoint presentation in a meeting.

3. The interaction with eBay (trying to buy eBay) and Walmart (sold to Walmart) were possibilities that never yield fruits.

4. The Amabot replaced the editorial staff. Why do you need the editorial staff when you have all the customers do the work for you.

In handling the “narrative fallacy,” I believe the author did a pretty good job in presenting the material in the most objective way. The book is worth the read if you want to know what it takes to start a company and make it to a behemoth while facing continuous criticism from the Wall Street about profitability.
I got to know Jeff Bezos, this amazing person.

A fairly good read over all.

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

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March 3rd, 2015

Pre-Spring Garden Update – 2015-03-02

Posted by dstsai as Gardening at 12:00 AM PDT

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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 PDT

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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 PDT

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