Monday, December 29, 2008

A Chilean Summer (Won't the sun go down, please?)

The first three days in Santiago, Chile have been a delightful whirlwind. The weather has been nice (mid-80s, low humidity) and the long hours of sunlight (6 am to 9 pm) have expanded our window for sightseeing.

My first days in Santiago have been pretty relaxed. Marisa had the foresight to keep the pace of our trip slow at the start. I appreciate the ability to get over the jet lag and to acclimate myself to S. America.

The people here in Santiago have been very nice. Everyone has been both welcoming and patient (with my poor Spanish skills). Yesterday, we had attended services at Marisa's church and everyone was quite kind and welcomed me as if I was one of their own. Marisa's host mother, Ines, has also been gracious with her hospitality and has taken great care of Marisa over the year.

I'll keep this blog post short because I've already been on the Internet long enough. We'll probably have some photos to share soon. Here's a short list of the highlights:

- Belly Dancing performance and "Arabe" food

- Tour and tasting at one of Chile's oldest wineries

- Chilean bus drivers who consistent drive like Keanu Reeves in 'Speed'
- Updating Facebook and watching a bowl game far away from home

- The 'completo' that we had for lunch today

Tomorrow, we're off to beautiful Valparaiso where we'll be celebrating the new year. It is 8pm and the sun still fills the sky. Things could be worse. :)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Year in review

This year was definitely one that was filled with great moments and its challenges. Being "alone" for most of the year was tough but has made spending time with Marisa in S. America even more special.

Here's a quick recap on some important events from 2008.

Jan - Celebrated the New Year with champagne, paper cups, at Pier 39 (where are the crowds?)
Feb - Bid Marisa farewell over board games and shots (thanks, Al)
Mar - Went to Shanghai - did my best to play Liar Dice when drunk
Apr - Helped launch a "viral" video (thanks for your contributions) / Hung out with Kaba Modern and other famous Asians @ the Asian Excellence Awards
May - Started my weekly drives to Mountain View for basketball (at the height of gas prices)
Jun - Enjoyed a (perfect day) at the Cal Football Fantasy Camp - (who is up to do it next year?)
Jul - Started to say goodbye to some important elders
Aug - Got back into volunteering and co-emceed another wedding (time to retire)
Sep - Actually won a contest... with a really cool prize - a Crunch gym membership
Oct - Attended an outlandishly posh wedding at Yang Sing
Nov - Went on a cruise with my extended family
Dec - Crossed off another continent from my to-do list, explored Chile with Marisa

Thursday, December 25, 2008

off to South America...

So I'm off to South America (Chile and Argentina) tomorrow. I'll be gone for a couple of weeks and will be reuniting with Marisa, who has been in Chile since February. It promises to be the vacation of a lifetime! Feel free to send me an email or leave a comment!

This is the spot to watch for updates from our travels.

I had been counting down the days with limited success. My Twitter stopped updating Facebook and I'm sure a lot of Facebookers were annoyed by the updates. Here's a recap of the countdown list if you missed them...

feels ridiculous when he stands on the scale and lifts up his luggage (#1)
got a travel towel and some dry-fit shirts on sale at REI (#2)
collected some travel around money from the bank (#3)
got some orders for postcards (#4)
cleared out his wallet of non-essentials (#5)
is proud to carry a Liz Claiborne suitcase (#6)
got some toffee to bring to S. America (#7)
checked the forecast for Santiago and Argentina (#8)
got a super heavy dictionary from (#9)
is packing his desk (#11) and working on his endurance (#10)
is reading about Pinochet (#13) and finding people to cover my work when I'm gone (#12)
has a trip shopping list - jello, CDs and bottles? (#14).
is taking orders for Argentine beef (#16) and longing to hold marisa (#15)
needs some guidebooks (#18) and needs to figure out how to watch a slingbox from S. America (#17)
is looking over his itinerary (#19)
needs to pick out his "summer hiking wardrobe" (#20)
thinks he might have access to a HD camcorder (#21)
is breaking in his new hiking shoes (#22)
updated his credit card company on his travel plans (#23)
has time to read his guidebooks (#24)

is starting his 25 days of terrific twitter (facebook) updates

Cities in our journey:
Santiago, Chile
Valparaiso, Chile
Coyhaique, Chile
Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
Ushuaia, Argentina
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Santiago, Chile

Friday, December 12, 2008

Gran Torino (are the Hmong ready for the spotlight?)

This week I had a chance to see the new Clint Eastwood film, Gran Torino. Despite his place as an American film icon-- Eastwood has received criticism from the Asian American community-- most prominently for the use of term "Chinaman" in Absolute Power.

When I saw the trailer for GT, I was curious to see how Eastwood (who also directed the picture) would portray the Hmong community central to the film. I came away from the screening moderately disappointed. Eastwood is strong as in his role as a Korean War vet tormented by his past and unimpressed by his present. Recently widowed with a spoiled batch of kids and grandchildren, Walt lives in a Detroit neighborhood that has seen better days.

Detroit's automotive jobs are gone and the neighborhood is now a ghetto -- with a growing Hmong population. The movie follows Walt’s relationship with his new neighbors after the a local gang begins to pick on his new neighbor, Thao. The two lead Hmong characters, played by newcomers Bee Vang and Ahney Her do a fine job but Eastwood doesn't really spend any time on the plight of his Hmong neighbors.

The portrait of the Hmong is instead done with short, broad strokes -- they eat exotic foods, hardly speak English, and in the case of Thao (who Walt begins to call Toad) they can't find a job or get a life. I really hoped for a depiction that would help shed light on a community that has been underrepresented in Asian American and American media.

Critics will laud Eastwood for his performance and for his storytelling. I only wish he had given more depth to the Hmong Americans.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Farewell to 'The Shield'

I said goodbye to an old friend on Tuesday night as I watched the finale of The Shield">. Although there are other shows that I have also loved (The Wire, The West Wing), no show consistently kicked me in the throat quite like the Shield.

To be honest -- I was late to the party on both The Wire (watched it in its entirety this summer) and The West Wing (thank you, Bravo reruns). I was able to watch The Shield from the very beginning and have done my best to keep up with the show on a consistent basis over the years.

It was with mixed feelings that I said goodbye to the show. I think that some parts of year 4 and 5 got a little stale with the "strike force" seemingly always one step ahead of the consequences of their actions. On the other hand, the performances from the ensemble cast were always terrific. If you haven't had an opportunity to watch this series -- I strongly encourage buying or borrowing the DVD sets.

Writer Shawn Ryan did a great job tying the show together -- with every character facing being forced to consider their fate after six years on the job. Immediately after the show I found myself checking the Internet for audience feedback on the end of the show. There are some particularly good articles from and the New York Times (watch for spoilers!)

FX also did a great job creating both one on one and cast conversations from the cast and crew. There's a lot of great stories in this collection (I spent the better part of Wednesday listening to this clips). Sometimes the brilliance of a show can be seen by the respect that a cast has for one another. I loved when the West Wing cast talked about the family atmosphere on the set. Here is a great one on one between two castmates and friends, Ken Johnson and Walton Goggins. Thanks for the memories and for paving the way basic cable dramas.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Max Zhang post (the future of Cal Basketball?)

If you've been following Cal Basketball over the past decade you are probably familiar with former Coach Ben Braun. His tenure was marked with relative mediocrity (although he did win Cal a "National Championship") and a knack for signing players international players. Some would be good contributors (Richard Midgley, Amit Tamir) while others (Saulius Kuzminskas, Shahar Gordon) were total busts.

One region that Braun never tapped was Asia. Although Ma Jian had a standout career at the University of Utah -- there had not few if any Chinese nationals to play NCAA basketball. After the first Chinese players entered the NBA (Wang, Bateer and Yao) I thought that Cal would be uniquely positioned to recruit collegiate Chinese basketball players.

  • Cal's large Chinese American student population
  • The Bay Area's strong Chinese American community
  • Top basketball competition in the Pac 10 conference
  • Cal's worldwide academic reputation

It seemed clear to me that if China was going to allow its players to play collegiate basketball that Cal would be the perfect place to go. There have been many stories written about how China has hundreds of top basketball players within its sports academies. Market research has shown that basketball's popularity has grown rapidly over the past decade and some think that China is the next basketball powerhouse.

Enter Max Zhang. The 7-3 center was the last member of Braun's recruiting class and many saw the move as another desperate "project" recruit. Zhang, who would be the tallest player in Cal history was admittedly very raw. He had only played the game for 5 years and did not have the strength to play right away. Braun's critics were very focal with their discontent.

I think this was a brilliant move by Braun. If Zhang could develop into a serviceable NCAA basketball player -- Cal could have a pipeline to the burgeoning Chinese talent pool. St. Mary's University has become a top 25 team by recruiting Australians. If Cal can recreate this model -- the future for Chinese basketball players in the US could be very bright.

Max was more of a curiosity than a basketball player in his first year. He sat out the season to develop physically and adjust academically. Although Braun was fired after season's end, new coach Mike Montgomery has been very complimentary of Max during his tenure. Next time we'll discuss Max's on-court progress.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Crunch update #3

Here's another update:

10-17: Elliptical machine (30), StairMaster (20)
10-20: Chest/arms/legs (45)
10-23: Chest/arms (30)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Crunch update #2

I've gotten some good feedback so here is the second installment of this feature:

10-7: Elliptical machine (30), StairMaster (10), stationary bike (30), treadmill (20)
10-9: Elliptical (30), treadmill (20), bike (30)
10-13: Chest, arms (40)
10-14: Elliptical (30), Spinning class (60)

My chest is starting to feel better now after Monday's butterfly exercises. Spinning was something new. I'll need to bring more water with me next time so I can avoid passing out. ;)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Crunch update #1

Thanks to the Coen Brothers (and their new picture Burn After Reading) I am one of the newest members of Crunch Gym.

I have to admit that the facility (New Montgomery in SF) is much nicer than the 24 Hour Fitness gym that I've frequented in the past. Towel service, clean facilities and available machines make for a better experience.

Here's a recap on my activity for the last week (starting Monday and ending Sunday)
9-29: Elliptical machine (30), running (15), stationary bike (30) plus chest and arms
9-30: Bike (25)
10-3: Elliptical (30), bike (30), stairs (10), chest, arms
10-4: Elliptical (30), walking (30) - Van Ness location

I've still got a big bruise on my shin so I'm not going to do any lifting with the legs yet. So far, so good.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

With just two days left in the semester (the summer to-do list)

I think this is going to be my most productive summer ever! I only have two days left of class before my "summer vacation" begins and I think I will be more productive if I document this list for all the world to see.

Back up and organize my computers and assorted digital media: I'm long overdue to index and clean up my files. If I don't do it now I'm just asking for trouble.

Purge and reduce my "footprint": Do I really need my notes and homework assignments from high school & college. No, I don't. I may scan some of the more interesting stuff but the rest needs to be recycled. I'll find a way to give away my old books (, anyone?) and read the stuff that has been piling up.

Ebay, Ebay, Ebay: I've got a ton of stuff that I've been waiting to sell. This is the time to get rid of my old clothes, equipment, and junk that I've collected over the years. This is my chance for a fresh start!

Get some projects off the ground: Professor's Aaker shared some insights about how doing work that we're passionate about can bring us fulfillment. I'm going to test that by starting in earnest some 'pet projects' that I've been interested in. (And putting it down here and writing about progress updates is additional incentive)

Twice a day: I already take my vitamins and brush my teeth (at least) twice a day. It is an ambitious goal but hopefully I'll be at the gym twice a day during the summer.

Ok, that the first draft of the list. I'll be adding new things and revising it as I go. Unfortunately, I've still got two days to complete before we can tackle this list!

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Shanghai hustle (my mastery of the two-step)

After the Cheung Kong mixer, the group decided to head down to the Bund, the famous riverside area of Shanghai. As was typically the case it was quite a trial to get enough cabs for our group. Of course, the standard way of travelling anywhere via cab was by showing the cab driver the guide book (the Chinese characters specifically) or having the hotel staff write up the address where we wanted to go. (The key here is not getting your cards mixed up but that's a different story for a different day)

We decided to meet at a historic spot named Bund 18. The landmark bar, Bar Rouge, was under construction so we went to Lounge 18 instead. The place was very impressive and clearly designed for an expat crowd. The walls were all marble and the walls were impressively upholstered. The drinks were about $10 US and seemed a little rich for my blood. I was more interested in walking the Bund and exploring rather than a mellow lounge scene (that was mostly empty).

Adjacent to the Bund is Nanjing Lu, a busy street with shopping and neon lights reminiscent of Times Square. Some classmates and I headed down the street but I grew impatient with waiting for them after the first two blocks. I knew that I wanted to see some specific stores (Li Ning, Nike vendors) and that they shops would be closing soon so I started to distance myself from the pack.

Because I've spend some time in Asia, what happened next wasn't a terrible surprise. I started to get approached by vendors of every shape and size. Vendors selling toys, vendors armed with little cards with watches/purses on them, and finally vendors offering 'beautiful girls'. Now I wouldn't recommend walking alone by yourself in a shady area but I felt comfortable to walk through one of the busiest areas in Shanghai on my own.

I was now in a situation where every male on the street who was "hanging out" was now offering me 'girls'. What was worst was their persistence. Even though I was ignoring them they continued to walk next to me for 2 minutes a piece sharing whatever English they had learned to convince me to join them. I knew that this was a good opportunity to think outside the box.

I started to observe that they would always approach from the side and then pursue in a 'chase' position walking directly alongside. I decided to use some basketball skill and begin to walk directly towards the tout.

The first tout that I approached was clearly unsure how to walk with me and started to backpedal as I got closer. Right before reaching him I took a sharp step to the side leaving him moving in the wrong direction. It was a beautiful thing. Time after time I was giving them the two-step and reducing my time with the touts from minutes to seconds. A couple of them were clearly annoyed with my tactic but I didn't care.
I was able to see the Nanjing Road and the Bund with minimal disruption after that.

My uncle says your laundry is ready

On the agenda after our trip to Metro was a mixer with the current Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business students (CKGSB) that took place in a building adjacent to the hotel called appropriately enough, the White House.

The room itself was kind of funky with furniture that didn't quite fit and was hard to move around but the company was good. CKGSB is unique from many other Chinese business programs in two ways, first, it is a one-year intensive program and second, all of the classes are taught in English. The CK students who attended were eager to engage us about our backgrounds and expertise in the U.S. I think they were also interested in engaging with native English speakers.

Like my CK peers I wanted to practice my language skills -- but this meant speaking in Mandarin. I did my best to have cross-language conversations with a couple of students and it was a great exercise. Obviously, their English skills were better than my Chinese but I think my language skills were beginning to improve (the Tiger beer could not have hurt). A lot of the students were applying to an exchange program to Berkeley and were very excited about the prospects of studying in the U.S.

One of the best parts of the evening was meeting a student named Iris who had spent a lot of time in Guangdong, the province that my family is from. I was really interested in her background and experience as a tour guide as she was one of the few CK students who had been to the U.S. When she discovered that I spoke Cantonese we started our own sidebar conversation.

One of the gems was her assertion that all the people from my home village of Toishan are laundrymen. She asked me in a joking tone if my uncle had finished her laundry. She killed me with that comment as my grandfather did in fact own a laundry in San Francisco and that I have several uncles who made a living working as laundrymen. I told her that her laundry was ready for pickup and that we had lightly starched her shirts just like she requested. :)

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Staving off hunger in Shanghai

(Detailing some of the events of March 24th)
Although I slept like a baby, I was rearing to go for our first day in Shanghai. I felt like I had to check everything out -- the campus facilities, the hotel buffet, the hotel gift shop. My anticipation for the trip and the international seminar was running high.

I was pleasantly surprised by the buffet breakfast. In my experience, complimentary U.S. hotel breakfasts usually equals pastries and cold cereal. In Europe it is more typical to have hard rolls and tea. In Taiwan it means some white rolls with porridge (eggs and pork sung if you are lucky).

Our hotel, however, was more like a Vegas buffet and was I ever excited by it. They had hot food (noodles, sausage, bacon, eggs, etc), pastries (chocolate croissants), an omelet station, a won ton soup station, hot soy milk, smoked salmon a full assortment of fruits and juices. I was now confident that no matter what we were served during lunch and dinner -- no one in our group would go hungry. There was too much good stuff to eat at breakfast. (Editor's note: yes, I hate pretty much the same thing everyday and I never missed breakfast -- no matter how tired or hung over. It was that good).

After breakfast I made my way up to the Cheung Kong campus, which was literally two levels above the restaurant where breakfast was served. They had been kind enough to create name cards for us and I brought up my computer to make sure that we had internet access from the classroom. Because Sprint doesn't have service in China this was my chance to get connected to the Internet. I was plugged in and ready to go for our lectures.

Our first lecture was was a discussion of marketing in China and was very well received. The professor had spent time teaching at Rutgers University and did a great job in outlining the market conditions for large Chinese multinational companies (Huawei, Lenovo). He also addressed the growing "wealthy" class of Chinese citizens and their growing consumer demands. It was great for us to get a sense of the challenges that packaged goods companies are facing in China.

After lecture we had about 45 minutes to get lunch before our bus was to leave for our first company visit. I had become a little tired of the "group" dynamics of finding restaurants and making food decisions (yes, this is day one of the trip) so I deviated from the group and picked up lunch in the hotel lobby.

I purchased a cup of dry noodles for twelve yuan ($1.50) and was good to go. In my room, I used the water kettle (essential in China) to prepare the noodles and ate while watching a Warren Buffett special on CNBC Asia. The noodles took a little longer than I liked (I had to boil a fresh pot of water) but I got to save some Yuan and relax in the room a little longer.

Lunch of Champions
The lunch of champions

The bus ride to our first visit to Metro gave us a chance to see Shanghai during the day. We got to experience the "free" flow of traffic and the congestion that fills the highways. The bus ride also gave us a chance to meet classmates which is always a benefit of long bus rides.

Metro is an European based cash-and-carry company that provides supplies (food and non-food) local businesses. This was the first business of its kind in China and served an important need -- it allowed small businesses/grocers/restaurants to source all of their goods from one place - instead of working with multiple vendors and making multiple stops to buy inventory. After a substantial question and answer session with the store's general manager we got a chance to walk the floor. It was a mix of Costco and Wal-Mart with apparel and electronics rows away from produce and live animals (the frogs and eels were especially popular among the Haas contingent). After a little while, we decided that we should probably stock up on goods while we were at Metro and a mini-shopping trip spontaneously developed. Several bottles of wine were purchased (for tour bus consumption) and the prices at Metro were right.

I picked up the following: one liter of bottled water (1.8Y), a box of coffee soy milk (14Y), some rice cake snacks (8Y) and a power converter for my room (21Y). I guess I splurged -- I spent five whole dollars. Nice.

So much for chewing gum (debunking intelligence ideas)

This month's Wired Magazine has a feature on Intelligence and methods of improving cognitive abilities. Among the "myths" that the article claims to debunk are that chewing gum doesn't help brain power by increasing blood flow to the brain and that games like Brain Age don't help sharpen the brain.

Talk about a buzz kill. Check out the issue on newsstands or this link to find out the "proven" ways of increasing your brain power and creativity.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

One last night of AZN (excellence)

I made a special trip to Los Angeles last week. It was both a reunion and an opportunity for me to say goodbye to an important period of my life.

It had been announced several months ago that AZN Television, my former employer, was going to be taken off the air. I had felt disappointment when I heard the news but admittedly knew that it was inevitable. We have never gotten traction in the advertising community and despite our best efforts the business model didn't make sense.

On Wednesday, the network's flagship program, the Asian Excellence Awards, was filmed at Royce Hall on the campus of UCLA. I had been part of the inaugural awards show two years ago and saw this as my chance to say goodbye to the network and to my ex-coworkers who would be traveling to Los Angeles for the event.

It was a great production filled with celebrities and great performances. (The program is airing on E! Television on May 1st and will also be available on-demand in Comcast systems). The after-party was terrific and I enjoyed the opportunity to rub elbows with some celebrities. Among the distinguished guests? Members of Jabbawockees and Kaba Modern from MTV's America's Best Dance Crew, Quentin Tarantino, Rob Schneider, and Kelly Hu. I have to admit I let out my inner groupie. Chances to get this close to "celebrity" don't happen very often for me so I took full advantage.

I had a nice conversation with Kelly Hu about her participation in the Obama campaign and got some photos with other celebs (to be added later). The best part of the evening? Catching up with my old clients and my coworkers. It felt so natural to be in that environment again, spending time with my IC/AZN family. It just reminded me of how much I missed them all.

Bill, Jeff, Karen, Mike, Shelly, Ruby and the rest of the crew... it was great to see all of you. I hope that we will be able to reunite again soon. AZN, I'm sorry that you didn't get real chance to change the market. Hopefully, our community will get another chance down the road.

Update: a photo with the talented and gracious ladies of Kaba Modern.
Kaba Modern Cindy Minowa and Jia Huang

Adjusting to Shanghai

(From the events of March 22-23, 2008)
Arriving in Shanghai didn't turn out to be too bad. As I left my seat the back of the airplane and proceeded though to the baggage claim, I was glad to be standing erect. Jet lag has always been hard on me and I was looking forward to getting to the hotel and trying to get some rest.

Upon collecting our bags some of our classmates started to partner up and look for cabs. Josh and I had discussed taking the Maglev train into Shanghai previous and deviated from the rest of the group. The Maglev is a train that runs at exceptional speeds (300 mph) using electromagnetic force. Although we knew we would have to grab cab after reaching the destination station we had to experience the Maglev for ourselves. The fare was 50 yuan or about 8 dollars and was a pretty awesome experience. The video below shows the Shanghai landscape fading away and cars that can't keep up with our pace.

At 50 yuan, only the richer expats and tourists can afford the Maglev. It was the first of many experiences in Shanghai that demonstrated the disparity between economic classes. In talking with a friend after my China trip I discovered that the length of the track was based on the minimum length needed to for the train to hit its top speed -- and it was built as "demonstration" of the trains capabilities in other markets (read: they didn't really need it but they thought it would be cool to have one in Shanghai).

After lugging our bags off of the Maglev and waiting in a short cue for a cab we made our way to the hotel. We arrived literally as our classmates who had taken cabs directly from the airport. Although they spent less (split cab fare among 5 per cab) we had already taken one item off our 'Shanghai to-do' list. Plus we got into the hotel first which meant that they had to wait behind us to check in. :)

The hotel was pretty nice at first view. Although it was pretty far from everything else, the check-in area and rooms were pretty decent. After dropping our bags and taking a short break the more adventurous segment of the group were off to the French Concession to find some dinner. We ended up at a Peking Duck restaurant and our experience was underway.

Ordering when no one speaks especially good Chinese can be quite frustrating. I was the only Mandarin speaker of the group and did my best to both collect orders and communicate them to the wait staff. (Mind you, restaurants are often over staffed with people who avoid making eye contact as they know they will have to provide customer service if they acknowledge your presence).

The food turned out to be good -- but I think most of the group got filled on Heineken. Better to stay with something reliable than to try something new right? (Note to self, only order beer after you've confirmed that it is a brand that they refrigerate) Dinner turned out to quite cheap with all of the beers that we had finished.

After we finished dinner we went for a walk and a search for some nightlife. We found a couple of bars that catered to an expatriate crowd, Sasha's and Zapata's. Because it was a Sunday night both places were pretty quiet.

We engaged some women from the UK at Sasha's that was entertaining for a short while but when they started to blame us U.S. foreign policy they began to wear out their welcome. After about an hour at Sasha's (which had some entree items that were over $60 US) we moved to Zapata's which had a vibrant dance floor. My classmates remarked that all of the Chinese women were dancing with 'non-Chinese' men. I wasn't particularly surprised as this was a club that targeted a non-Chinese crowd.

After a short stay we found our way back to the hotel. Although the best way to fight jet lag is to immediately sleep at the "normal" time for the destination time zone I had a hard time keeping my eyes open during dinner. I fell immediately to sleep when my head hit the pillow. The first night of our trip was over.

Think Gum and 'context based' memory

I came across something on the news that made me reflect back to this post about my creative flow. A former Cal student (and current Stanford grad student) has invented a product called "Think Gum," which promises to help boost the brain activity of those who chew it.

One important element of the way that the gum works is called "context-dependent memory". The following is quoted from the Think Gum website:
One principle this functional gum relies on is called, “context-dependent memory.” This is the idea that if you learn something in the presence of a certain stimuli then when you are in the presence of the same stimuli later, your memory of what you learned will be stoked. A good example of this phenomenon is the aroma of pumpkin pie. The smell makes people happy, relaxed and just plain gushy inside. However, smell doesn’t “do” anything to you. It simply elicits the good thanksgiving memories that are ever so closely linked with the scent of pumpkin pie.

I think this is an excellent explanation to why music and the rhythm in my head coincides with when I'm successfully writing or taking an exam. Because I often study with music I'm building a "memory track" for the studied material and the tunes. Cool, explanation, eh?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Paddle for Life

Some classmates and I are helping to support a local event that raises money for cancer research and support for cancer survivors. Please watch the following video to learn more about Paddle for Life. Show your support by making a contribution towards this great cause and by forwarding this to your friends!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Departing for Shanghai

(From the events of March 22, 2008)

Ok, I've clearly overpacked. It has been a couple of months since I've been on a plane and I've loss the packing skills that I honed while I lived in Los Angeles (where I was probably averaged two or three round trips a month).

For a seven day trip to Shanghai, I had clearly packed too much. Even though the Haas sponsored trips included formal corporate visits (and the requisite business suits) I think taking three business suits may have been too much. My overpacking nature is confirmed when I see my classmate Michael who has packed everything he needs for the week into two small carry on bags. Doh.

Although I like to think of myself as low-maintenance, I had a couple of luxuries that probably could have been left at home. My brand new USB bluetooth adapter and headset for Skype in China was only used once and my new Motorola Q9c was basically an overpriced brick in Shanghai (thanks, Sprint). Although being without a cell was liberating for a week -- it made coordinating and finding my peers (via SMS) much more challenging. Carrying my laptop for the lectures was necessary but still a cumbersome load.

The flight to Shanghai went relatively without incident. I picked the seat 59F from the chart at, a site that shows the best and worst seats on any particular commercial plane. My seat which was toward the back had some additional room between the seat and the window and is a favorite because it is in a row that only has two seats (one less person to get through on the way to the bathroom). The problem with this plane was that the movie monitors weren't mounted on the headrests but instead on the old-school projection system.

When you're stuck in the back corner it can be tough to get a good view. I was going to throw something at the woman who decided to stand up to watch the most suspenseful parts of No Country for Old Men. Unfortunately, she was no where to be found when Alvin and the Chipmunks were on.

The food on the flight wasn't bad -- we had an entree of chicken and rice, a 'cup of noodles' snack (oddly small with weird tofu stuff) and a hot turkey cheese sandwich (although some of the paper got stuck to the hard bread). My can of Sprite Zero that was bottled in Hong Kong inspired the soft drink from my Competitive Strategy class. It is always fun when you see instances of case work in real life.

Tips to remember for future flights:
  • If someone has their window open and the sun is at full intensity (no cloud cover), politely ask them to close their shade. Ignoring the sun by covering your face with a blanket should only be attempted when window shade is broken and all other seats are taken.
  • Bring disposable reading material - airport magazines are for suckers (unless you are Tommy Lasorda, in which case airport magazines are awesome)
  • Swollen feet don't slide easily into leather slip on shoes (especially when you are scrambling to get off a plane).
  • Noise reduction headphones are no good if you leave them at home.

Channeling some creative energy

So I'm behind on a couple of week's of blog posts. It appears that I haven't had a chance to recap my Spring Break trip to Shanghai, China nor the transformation of Cal Basketball. More on those subjects in future posts but I want to touch on my personal creativity tonight.

In a recent class we were asked to think about the times of the day where we are most productive or creative. Although getting up in the morning has never been my strong suit, I feel like I'm often most productive between the hours of 7-10 am. For some reason I always seem to 'charge it' (a Feliton saying) once my blood gets rushing. Whether it is knocking out errands on a weekend or getting my work to-do list-- I always feel like I've got the most energy in the morning.

I've never been particularly good at cramming or working deep into the night. I've been known to sleep soundly through allocated 'study' time. If I've got a deadline, I've got to have some hours in the morning to whip things together. There's nothing like a deadline and adrenaline to crack a bad case of writer's block, right?

Creativity for me is a different story -- I think that I often associate the hours following work as my "thinking" time. I think that most of my most creative thoughts come to me when I'm alone with my thoughts and that a lot of my solo time is spent commuting to work or heading to class. This quiet time gives me a chance to be with my thoughts, evaluate the day and plan or the future. I think my frustrating N Judah street car rides have probably hurt my creativity in the past year. My creative focus is probably wasted on staying upright on the ride home.

Just one more note on this subject. My productive and creative "flow" has always been enhanced by music. When I'm feeling particularly inspired I've found my leg or knee bouncing -- usually to a tune or song that is in my head. One explanation may be that my brain works well with rhythms and when my mind has that rhythm -- everything seems to flow naturally. On a related note, most of this blog was brought to you with some help from John Legend and his Once AgainCD.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Back from Shanghai

Back from a week long study tour in Shanghai. I had a terrific trip and will be outlining all of the key observations and learnings on the blog soon. Stay tuned!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

More on the Chinese consulate

An incident like this isn't going to make the lines at the consulate any slower. Now I know why they've got security staff and steel gates in place.

Chinese consulate attacked

This could be related to Tibet or human rights violations. Then again they might just be upset about the $130 charge for a visa.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Firefox for me?

I've been on the Internet for a while. I can remember back to 1993 when I got my first email account (it was a California Technology project email). I used the original Mosaic browser and had gotten used to using Fetch to grab information from electronic databases.

I had a love affair with Netscape. The stars scrolling above the 'N' logo was like magic to me as I spend my days writing HTML and experiencing the early web. I was sad to see the company's fall (at the hands of Microsoft) but I didn't hold it against IE for long.

I've been open to trying new browsers -- I used code from the Mozilla project before Firefox -- but I wasn't impressed by Firefox 2.0. I felt it was a memory hog and although I liked tabbed browsing everything seemed slow. I've been pretty happy with my IE 7 experience despite everything and my work systems are primarily IE based so its been my browser of choice.

But I'm willing to give Firefox another chance. We were lucky enough to have Asa Dotzler from the Firefox community visit us yesterday and I was really impressed by the way that the community has grown. I've been a big believer in the power of open source. Although I've never been a contributor to open source I'm going to look for ways to help out. Asa promises me a better product with more security. Time to give it a shot. At the moment I'm writing this entry on a ScribeFire plug-in (integrated into Firefox) and I'll report back and let you know how things are working.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

My new baby...

As a late adopter (maybe an intermediate adopter is more appropriate), I'm usually a step behind with my gizmos and cell phones. I did recently take the plunge and get a 'smartphone' after a couple of years without one (although I was happy to give my old company their HUGE Blackberry back).

My new phone is the Motorola Q9C. Yes, I know I could have been trendy and gotten an iPhone but that would have meant changing networks and giving more of my hard earned money to Steve Jobs (for the record, I've never owned an Apple product and the iPod I owned was one manufacturered under license to HP) or I could have gotten a fancy touch screen HTC Touch. Palm was attractive to me but I worry about their long-term viability.

I went with the old standby, Motorola, and the Windows Mobile OS. It has been a dream so far. I've been able to check my personal mail, make calls and surf the Internet at great speeds. I've even found a great home screen for my phone.

So, what do I have running on it? Here's the list:
Skype (which works remarkably well)
Wall Street Journal news reader
Messenging application (AIM, MSN and YM)
Flash player (YouTube, anyone?)
MS Office suite

I even got my first Bluetooth headset for this phone. I'm fully committed to it! Now I just need a browser like Opera or Cellfire to speed up my experience and some MP3s to listen to on the device.

Sunrise in the Sunset

Seen outside my home on February 25th.

Gifts will get you the world

In my entreprenurship class last semester we had a guest speaker from the company Lexy. Although he couldn't tell us much about the product (stealth mode) it sounded interested and an innovative way to leverage the millions of cell phones around the U.S.

I sent him an email and asked to be a Beta tester for the service but nothing much came out of it. I tried it a couple of times but without a network of people to share it with some of the early collaborative features were kind of useless to me.

Out of the blue I get an email from Lexy asking for my home address because they wanted to send me a t-shirt. Look what arrived yesterday.

Talk about sweet! The package was sent priority mail and was nicely wrapped up for me. I was really impressed and immediately called the service to try it again. I shouldn't talk that much about the functions but you can find out more from (Beta site). Perhaps if this blog takes off I'll be getting a lot of other assorted schwag. One can only hope!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Starbuck Observations

So I took some time out on Saturday to visit my local Starbucks. I figured it would be a chance to get some reading done and to absorb some of the 'power of Starbucks'. As someone who doesn't drink coffee, I do not have a daily latte habit (nevertheless, I waste my money buying tickets for Cal Basketball) so visiting SBUX is a rare treat for me (Treat times include: desperate for a clean bathroom, away from home with 30 minutes to spare, etc)

The Irving St Starbucks was definitely different. Located on a busy intersection off of 19th Avenue, the store picks up a lot of food traffic. During my visit there was a constant stream of people and the spectrum of people frequenting the Starbucks struck me as odd. Unlike other locations, there were literally people of every size, shape and color coming through the doors (the Sunset district is not generally that diverse). There were even some patrons who appeared destitute but had saved enough cash for a good cup of java (or maybe the transformative Starbucks "experience".)

I thought it was odd that this Starbucks had a set of bins dedicated for children. The colored bin was filled with coloring books, toys and other assorted kids products. Starbucks is often considered a haven for people -- a place that people can escape their daily stress. I thought it was funny that kids (often the source of much noise and stress) were embraced at this location.

My visit took place a couple of days after the well-publicized Starbucks 'shutdown' project and I think some of the after effects were still visible. The employees I saw were friendly and more importantly appeared to be having fun with one another. I witnessed several 'baristas' having whipped cream (within appropriate levels) fights and lots of friendly joking. I think the shutdown was a brilliant move. Shutting down for three hours gave the company a chance to celebrate the importance of their 'associates' (they aren't called employees at SBUX), they got some great media coverage (as every media outlet covered the news) and reinforced that they are a company that does business differently.

Although their growth has slowed recently and they've had some recent stumbles-- the company's unique culture still shines through. They did a nice job on my Vanilla Bean frappucino too.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Random moment of happiness

On Saturday night when I drove home from the gym, I saw a road sign that was a little different from the norm.

The sign read, "Happy Birthday Rochelle". I'm sure that some one's birthday was made a little brighter with that surprise.

Hope there weren't any consequences for the person who programmed the sign. :) As for random moments of happiness -- I'll share more about that perspective later.

Six word story

As an exercise in creativity and brevity -- famed writers like Hemingway have written six word stories. (Hemingway's -- "For sale: baby shoes, never worn") Here are some more examples (Smith Magazine / Wired)

In class we tried to come up with a six word story description of ourself. It isn't as easy as it looks. Below I've listed some attempts. I reserve the right to edit this list or to add new ones as I find inspiration.

Despite efforts, still searching for success (the one I came up with in class)
On journey to find Asian America
Applied fingerpainting to everything in life
Always ready for a laugh and smile

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Quote in the Chronicle

The newspaper industry has seen difficult times with the growth of the Internet and online services. One of the few things that newspapers can offer is local coverage and a deep relationship with their readers.

I have been a participant of the SF Chronicle's Two Cents feature which collected opinions and feedback from readers on articles and subjects. It was a nice feature that allowed for real feedback before the widespread use of in page "comments" that are rage in web 2.0.

Interestingly enough, the Chronicle is using its comments feature to integrate feedback into its print editions. I left a comment about San Francisco's MUNI system and was surprised when a Chronicle editor asked if they could use it for publication. Papers may find using technology can help them become more relevant.

Here's the short blurb for your reading pleasure.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Director of Ideas... that would be cool on a business card

Saw this job posting today and thought this might be a fun job that involved creativity and innovation. On the other hand it could just be a fancy name for the advertising agency's 'creative director'. Wouldn't it be cool if the position was a different title for their 'strategy or innovation director'?

JOB OPENING: SVP IDEA DIRECTOR/SAN FRANCISCO, CA: Drive exploration of consumer insights - focus on the creation new, bleeding edge media ideas and approaches.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

My trip to the Chinese consulate (or what how could you improve the chinese consulate experience)

I'm off to Shanghai, China at the end of March for a school-sponsored trip. Imagine lots of lectures at the local Chinese business school mixed in with company tours and karaoke and big banquets. Sounds like a fun way to spend spring break, right? Look for entries from China soon.
In order to get to China though, I had to apply for a Visa through the local consulate office here in San Francisco. (Although I've been to China twice before I've never went through the visa application process myself). Because Monday was President's Day and the Chinese government doesn't fawn over American presidents-- the office was opened and I made the consul my first errand of a busy day.

When I arrived at 9:30 I figured that there would be a short line-- I was quite mistaken. I entered to find a room that was completely packed with people waiting their turn to drop off their visa applications or to pick up their visas. I picked up my number (distributed neatly by a computerized machine) and began to 'case' the joint.

Some observations:
- About 40 mounted chairs in the main area of the room. These seats faced the electronic notification boards that alternated between instructions on the visa application process and status updates on what number was being called to which window.
- There was a separate area for picking up applications and filling them out (complete with applications in various languages). A tip for those of you are planning on applying for a visa-- download a PDF and do it at home first.
- There was a crowded information area which served dual duty as a passport photo station - There were about 9 windows, 2 dedicated for pickup and the others assigned for application drop-off.
- Office hours are from 9am to 3pm but between 12-1pm, the staff take a lunch break

All in all it took me an hour to drop off the application. I came across some other Haas students and was able to help them reduce their wait by submitting all of our applications together. The wait would have been 1.5 or 2 hrs for them. Interestingly, it only took 4 minutes to turn in our paperwork once we got the service window.

Understandably with the Summer Olympics in Beijing, there is probably abnormal demand for visas this year. There are vendors / travel agents who offer to assist in the visa processing system (a quick Google search shows the prices range from $20 to $150 for the convenience). Sounds like a business plan that I might have to explore some more.

Some tips for improvement... (putting on my operations / innovation hat)
- Add a system for estimated wait time
- A television system (tourism clips, anyone?) to distract the room from the length of the wait
- Make a formal queue system for the 'free-for-all' information area
- Have a food/tea cart outside (they don't prohibit food inside the office but there were no nearby businesses)
- An online reservation system -- this has worked well for the DMV, I think it could also work well for the visa process. In many cases, acquiring a visa isn't a last minute thing.
- Creating a priority (premium priced) line -- wanna skip to the front of the line? Pay $50 and jump to the front of the line. Maybe they could use those funds to lower the average visa request ($130 now)
- Extending hours - I'm sure the consulate has statistics on the number of patrons served per hour-- but I think that expanding the business hours would probably shorten wait times.

As a final update, I picked up my visa 4 days after dropping off the application. I arrived twenty minutes before the 'lunch break' was over and got my number (not the one below but very similiar). The pickup line moved a lot faster so I was done after 40 minutes of patient waiting. Unfortunately for the people who were looking to drop off applications, there were only three windows open. I'd have to estimate that the majority of the room was looking at wait times of 2+ hours. Ouch!

I didn't have much interaction with the Falun Gong protestors as my goal was getting my visa approved with as little hassle as possible. :) That's the same reason I didn't take any pictures of the office. Photos and videos are strictly prohibited.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

President's Day @ the airport

So I spent President's day at San Francisco International Airport trying to catch moments of 'happiness' in a mundane place (think baggage claim). Armed with cameras and a camcorder our team "attacked" the airport in the hopes of good grades and our own little piece of happiness.

After spending about 5 hours talking to people flying home though SFO we got our fair number of happy (back from a long weekend in Vegas), sad (bags from New Orleans were no where to be found) and indifferent (some baggage claim staff).

I think we did okay. My own personal happiness at the airport can be summed up by the following two pictures -- sitting on the baggage claim (and not getting yelled at) for the first time ever and running into my pal Howie in the International Terminal (what are the chances of running into someone I know-- pretty darned good with my network, apparently).

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Fast Company's Most Innovative

In the past three years I've tried to pare down my magazine subscriptions but I still appreciate the value of Fast Company. The magazine generally does a great job of detailing the interaction between brand, innovation and management. As I read this month's issue on Friday I couldn't help but think about all of the stories that related to my strategy and marketing class.

This month's cover story is the magazine's list of most innovative firms with Google topping FC's list again. I think that by remaining 'open' and using a creative approach to challenges and opportunities -- innovative companies place themselves in the best possible position for success. Powerful companies will continue to be outmaneuvered by fleet competitors or humbled by industry changes (see Borland, Kodak). The best they can do is stay focused on their competitors and flexible through innovation to survive.

The article poses an interesting question for the Google team-- if you could do anything for the world at Google-- what would you do? We addressed that question during our Six Thinking Hats marketing exercise last week and I think it must be really excited to work at a place where making a difference is a priority. As an additional bonus the magazine featured a great photo of Cisco's director of user experience, Irene Au, covered with colored post-its. The effective practice of 'brainstorming via post-its' at its best.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Bittersweet Valentine's

I've only had a handful of meaningful Valentine's Day experiences but this year promises to be a meaningful one for years to come. Receiving this beautiful bouquet of flowers at work was certainly special but it only made me miss M even more.

I haven't written many entries here in the last few years but I think that this is the start of a new batch of entries. I've got several reasons for sharing what's on my mind and I think I've got some interesting thoughts to share. I hope you'll send me feedback along the way.