Confessions of a Failed Programmer

I love to write code. That is not a good news for a CEO who has a business to run, but I just cannot stop loving writing code!

Why?

The story started in 1986, when I was in grade three in primary school. There was a small computer calendar booklet in my home, among tones of others on electronic engineering.

I read it and was amazed by the idea that computers were so smart that they can calculate 1000 times faster than human brain, but at the same time, they were so stupid that they could only do very limited plus calculation at the bottom. That was the early years of my exposure to computer. The lesson learnt is, if you want your kid to grow into some type of people, just buy some books on the topic and put it within the reach of the kids. See what happens!

I first seriously learnt BASIC when I was 12 years old, taught by my older brother Jianzhao in winter of 1989. BASIC was not that hard to learn for a kid, although the concept

i = i + 1

was actually a valid expression puzzled me and almost failed my math test. I went to my parent’s office to use the IBM terminal to run BASIC programs during the summer holiday. The green characters on black screens were just amazing. When I understood that the terminals were all hooked into a central computer 10 floors down the building, and the CPU time was allocated to each terminal in very fast circles, I just feel like, in Matrix!

Although my chance to use computers ended from that winter, I just kept writing code on papers days and nights for the coming summer. I still have a big box of paper with all the BASIC codes on it – pages after pages. Those codes were never run on real computer, but I read it and run them on my brain again and again, just like people reading novels today. Among them, the most complicated one was a computer game “Policeman vs Thief”. The game was re-written in C 10 years later on a rented PC in my dorm, which Wendy praised: “Cute!”.

The passion for programming was pressed in middle school when getting into university was the only goal. I lost 6 years of golden time that may be valuable to become a great hacker. Lesson learnt: Why there is no Linus, or Jobs, or Gates in China? The most creative and passionate time one can have for one thing, say, piano, drawing, writing, or in my case, programming, was wasted to compete with each other to get the keys to secure a job!

The renaissance of programming came when I got to university. I spent hours in computer labs, skipping a lot of classes, programming in C and IPX/SPX protocol. In my graduation essay, I choose to write a workable SQL database starting from SQL parsing, to storage, and a little bit indexing and serving. The professors never got really interested in what the hack the 300 pages of paper were. I am equally not interested about they said. I did just for fun.

But, I have to say, university was just too late for anyone to grow to be really good hacker. I went to work for Microsoft for few years, where I think the best programmers in the world gather at that time (1998), but that was not the case. Till now, I would say, I am still an OK programmer at most, despite of the passion. The lesson is, programming is also like piano. It must start early, and to spend enough time before university. Now, I am still very attracted by python, and similar code, but it is more like my own way of enjoy life. Drawing and coding are my equivalent of movie, massage, watching TV or reading novel.

That is my brief story of coding – a failed case of someone who loves code but switched path along the way, and failed to be a great hacker. Here is the lesson I learnt and I hope it can be helpful to build a great hacker.

  • Give kids the opportunity to expose to as many things as possible
  • Do it in small ways, like throwing a book on the floor. A rat will bite the cake, and a cat will be attracted to fish. You don’t know what your kid is.
  • Release the pressure for near future, so the kids have time to work on life long goals.
  • If you have something you love to do, stick to it, and be confident that you are right. Others are just not you.

 

Losing by Spending Money

When we spend money, we thought we bought something. But recently, I realized it may be losing, in many cases. Here are examples.

Buying a Car

Ever since I bought my car, I felt more and more disconnected with this city. I don’t talk with people on the way home, and I don’t see anything new. I don’t observe, and I don’t hear anything. I am losing many things.

Hiring a driver

I hired a driver to send me to work. I started to lose even more. If I want to, I can argue that my life is no difference from a prisoner commuting from one cell to another, with just void in between.

Hiring an Ayi

With an Ayi, you don’t need to do the household work. You don’t clean the house, and you don’t need to cook – the best time for the family to chat, and to exercise.

Buying An iPad

Great, right? But you lose much more time living in real world. The game on iPad seems more interesting in physical games, and the email, twitter message and pictures are much more interesting than the world around you.

Sometimes, buying just means losing. Consider twice before you buy.

Why I WILL Return my MacBook Air

The topic of buying a MacBook Air, and Why I Won’t Return my MacBook Air is getting more and more interesting. When I am thinking through it, I surprisingly find how a single decision relates to a broad range of topics, including the valuation of time, decision making process, losing face, desire for the better. Let me examine these one by one.

The Value of Time

The key reason I won’t return the MacBook Air is about time. Waiting for another two weeks, and also bear the risk of initial shortage of supply, or even longer if I want to ask someone to buy it from Palo Alto and bring it to Shanghai to save about 10%? Or imagine enjoy the new laptop right now at desk of my hotel, at SFO airport, on plane (I heard the battery last for 7 hours which fit into my schedule), show it off to Wendy and try to hide it from the sight of Yifan?

Hmmm… It is so appealing the happiness NOW, is more valuable than the happiness of tomorrow. (An experiment from another psychologist shows that people generally value $100 right now, v.s. $1000 the same day after 10 years).

It leads to the broader question: what is exact the value of NOW, vs even few hours later. A typical example is about buying a book. You enter a bookstore and you see a really good book. You know it for sure that Amazon offers 20% off of the same thing. Still, there are a lot of people (including me) want to buy it now, v.s. wait for its delivery even the second day. If the difference is, let’s say, 1 dollar, most people don’t bother. Just buy it. If the difference is $20, not sure. The different becomes $200? Most people would buy it online. Why is that? Shall I see the value of NOW vs 24 hour later is $20 on average? Where does this price comes from? Proportional with daily salary, or anything else? I am just very curious.

OK. That is factor #1. As a rational decision, shall we take the dollar amount cost of “waiting” into consideration and compare it with the value a better processor brings?

Decision Making Process

Another interesting finding I got was, the time and energy needed to make a decision does not vary too much for things with different dollar value. Choosing the flavor of ice cream is as time consuming as choosing a MacBook, and not proportional less easier than choosing to buy a house, a round of corporate financing.

Rationally, I understand that buying a house is a bigger decision. Sometimes, just because I like the shape of window, or it is 2 miles nearer to work, we’d choose a house over another one, which easily cost us the money to buy a MacBook every month for the next few years. But the decision to choose which model of MacBook is equally time consuming. Why is that? Is it because the human brain develops without the concept of money 1 million years ago so it does not have that function (without good training on that)? Or is it because both decisions cost the same circle of CPU time of our brain, regardless of the value?

A lot of people choose to form some “my favorite …” to help on that. “My favorite is strawberry” – that helps me a lot in choosing my flavor for ice cream, and that is the tendency I squeeze myself into just a small corner of the world, with no chance to explore the chocolate flavor, or the land at the other side of the sea.

What bothers me is, why I spent some much time on this decision at the first place.

Losing Face, or Mianzi

I agree that there are some type of feeling losing face involved to claim I won’t return it in the last blog. I actually thought it was not a factor at all, but after deeply replay what I thought, I admit it was a factor. However, with just marginal impact.

People know me I openly admitted a lot of thing that makes me to lose face on this blog. I enjoy the fact to discover how stupid I am, because I am just a human. Just like life is perfectly imperfect, I am perfectly stupid a lot of times. Let me share something embarrassing that I didn’t tell in the last post. I actually visited the Apple Store the last night in Palo Alto, and wandered in it for half an hour, and still didn’t make up my mind to return it. I called Wendy and shared how embarrassing I was to spend so much time on such a simple decision, while I can make a decision worth of few million USD, in an hour.

But, I don’t feel bad about it. Benjamin Disraeli said “Fear makes us feel our humanity.”, my incompetency to make a decision quicker also makes me feel my humanity, and I am genuinely curious about why is that.

The Desire for the Better

Well. I admit if I had known about the news, I won’t buy it. I just didn’t know. Why? Just because lack of time and energy to track the new tech stuff. I didn’t open the box of MacBook Air not because I don’t see the value of NOW, as I just mentioned, it is because I think it is a bad idea to open the box to check out what’s new at 3 am after finish some important documents. I already regretted to open Nexus One at Night during my last trip in 2010.

The deeper reason why I didn’t trace the technology trend as I did when I was college graduate is, I started to find more source of happiness, and think it is less and less important for my life (a sign for aging?). I chased Intel 8086, 286, 386, 486, Pentium, Pentium II, Windows 3.2, 95, 98, Me, 2000, XP in my old days, and I chased the release of many product, but my recently ignorance of technical trend actually made me feel better.

I didn’t notice the slowness of iPhone until someone tells me how powerful the future iPhone will be. I didn’t complain about not able to share the photo wirelessly to my iPad until I watched the launch of iCloud of OS 5. “Stupid!” I should NOT have watched, which let me aware of how out-of-date my current iPhone is, even before OS 5 is available.

That desire for the better aligns our desire to get a bigger house, a better car, more money in the bank account (how strange it is that most people think bank account balance more important about the quality of the breakfast before their face). Shall we simply get rid of the desire, or at least constrain it a little bit by focusing on just a few desire, not everything?

I WILL Return my MacBook Air

After thoroughly examine what I thought, and explorer the reasons behind every thought, I felt great satisfaction about know the humanity of myself better. The value of getting a MacBook Air right now is not that important to me. I still want it, but I can wait for another month. I will return it on the way to Stanford fireworks tonight, with peace in my mind.

If you have another reason that I should or should NOT return it, please leave a comment. It will increase my level of happiness if you share this article to your friend (my humanity also include certain level of vanity).

Why I Won’t Return my MacBook Air

Here is an interesting story, the most interesting one I got in the last few days.

I bought myself a MacBook Air. I was happy, excited, and cannot wait to open the box, and use it. I posted a blog article, and happily fell asleep. The second day, I wake up, only found the crucial truth, which my readers told me in my blog comment section: “wrong decision”, “stupid”, “return it to store”….. Not because of the product is not good, because a new version of release of Apple MacBook Air is expected to release in two weeks! The new model comes with Thunderbolt, faster CPU, and Mac OS X Lion operating system.

Apple is kind enough to offer a two week return service. I can simply send it back to store (I didn’t opened the box), and get the money back. Wait for another 2 weeks, and get a brand new MacBook Air.

Well. When I hesitated about whether I should return it, another factor came out. The California State cut tax rate by 1 percent point. That is 10% saving on tax, resulting to about $15.77 saving. That started just two day after I made the purchase.

Should I return it? Surely I should!

Why I Decided Not to Return my MacBook Air

The direct reason is, I am evaluating the happiness I get to use the new laptop now, and the happiness I may have to wait for another 2 weeks, and getting a better one. In Daniel Gilbert’s book Stumbling Upon Happiness, the both are called synthetic happiness – the happiness people imagined. Unlike nature happiness, it is the happiness we *think* will be, and most of the time, it is pretty wrong (I buy in the idea of Daniel a lot).

Most people will believe the later version (better laptop after two weeks) is happier. I think so too, but the experiment in Harvard warned me, the truth may be different. Look at this experiment Dan mentioned in his popular speech Why are we happy?:

Here’s an experiment we did at Harvard. We created a photography course, a black-and-white photography course, and we allowed students to come in and learn how to use a darkroom. So we gave them cameras, they went around campus, they took 12 pictures of their favorite professors and their dorm room and their dog, and all the other things they wanted to have Harvard memories of. They bring us the camera, we make up a contact sheet, they figure out which are the two best pictures, and we now spend six hours teaching them about darkrooms, and they blow two of them up, and they have two gorgeous eight-by-10 glossies of meaningful things to them, and we say, “Which one would you like to give up?” They say, “I have to give one up?” “Oh, yes. We need one as evidence of the class project. So you have to give me one. You have to make a choice. You get to keep one, and I get to keep one.”

Now, there are two conditions in this experiment. In one case, the students are told, “But you know, if you want to change your mind, I’ll always have the other one here, and in the next four days, before I actually mail it to headquarters, I’ll be glad to” — (Laughter) — yeah, “headquarters” — “I’ll be glad to swap it out with you. In fact, I’ll come to your dorm room and give — just give me an email. Better yet, I’ll check with you. You ever want to change your mind, it’s totally returnable.” The other half of the students are told exactly the opposite: “Make your choice. And by the way, the mail is going out, gosh, in two minutes, to England. Your picture will be winging its way over the Atlantic. You will never see it again.” Now, half of the students in each of these conditions are asked to make predictions about how much they’re going to come to like the picture that they keep and the picture they leave behind. Other students are just sent back to their little dorm rooms and they are measured over the next three to six days on their liking, satisfaction with the pictures. And look at what we find.

First of all, here’s what students think is going to happen. They think they’re going to maybe come to like the picture they chose a little more than the one they left behind, but these are not statistically significant differences. It’s a very small increase, and it doesn’t much matter whether they were in the reversible or irreversible condition.

Wrong-o. Bad simulators. Because here’s what’s really happening. Both right before the swap and five days later, people who are stuck with that picture, who have no choice, who can never change their mind, like it a lot! And people who are deliberating — “Should I return it? Have I gotten the right one? Maybe this isn’t the good one? Maybe I left the good one?” — have killed themselves. They don’t like their picture, and in fact even after the opportunity to swap has expired, they still don’t like their picture. Why? Because the reversible condition is not conducive to the synthesis of happiness.

So here’s the final piece of this experiment. We bring in a whole new group of naive Harvard students and we say, “You know, we’re doing a photography course, and we can do it one of two ways. We could do it so that when you take the two pictures, you’d have four days to change your mind, or we’re doing another course where you take the two pictures and you make up your mind right away and you can never change it. Which course would you like to be in? ” Duh! 66 percent of the students, two-thirds, prefer to be in the course where they have the opportunity to change their mind. Hello? 66 percent of the students choose to be in the course in which they will ultimately be deeply dissatisfied with the picture. Because they do not know the conditions under which synthetic happiness grows.

Is the return policy really increase people’s happiness? It helps the sales, of cause, because that is what people want. But on happiness, maybe not. People don’t know what makes them happy eventually.

The One I Own is Best

The brain immune system automatically protects itself, by thinking the item you already own is the best. After owning the MacBook Air for one night (for as short as one night), my immune system started to work, and believe the very MacBook Air on my hand is better than others, even the one on the stack with exactly the same model. Do you also have the same experience. It is so at least for me. That is exactly why the ‘bring home now, and return it any time” policy work to drive sales – few people will dislike what they bought home already.

Although I acknowledge the fact that this is not a rational decision, it is just the illusion of my own brain, and my brain is cheating me, I am still incline to flow with it, since it brings more happiness. This is how brain works.

Choices Makes us Unhappy

Because of the choices, if there is anything goes wrong with the exchanged new laptop in the future, even for a little bit, people may started to think about fact that it is returned, and may wonder if I make the right choice. That makes people painful. If there is no any chance to change, people are generally happy.

For example, you will feel better to sit at airport doing nothing waiting for flight, than sitting at coach of sofa at home doing nothing, when there is nothing hold you back – you have to go and do something. If whatever you do does not make a difference (like when the flight arrive), the pressure go away. For something you completely have no control with, like weather, you feel happy about most of the weather. What a chaos, and how painful it will be if everyone have to choose a weather everyday!

For the Sake of Happiness, I Deny Common Sense

I believe to keep the current one keeps me happy, and for the sake of happiness, I won’t return it, and see what happens, and how I feel after few days.

Surround Yourself with Passionate People

I first read this sentence in Zen Habits. Leo, the writer of the blog, is obviously a passionate person.

I had a good conversation with Ann in Starbucks at Liangyang area. From time to time, I meet with people like her, and get excited myself, even when talking about my own stuff. For example, Bob Kagel is one of them. When talking with him, well, to be more exact, to be talking to him, and with him listening and asking questions, you get passionate about what you are doing. That is a magic. He once mentioned that the less control you seek, the more powerful you are. It is that type of passionate people. Mark Zurkerburg is another type of passionate people that you don’t feel it when you talk with him. He is so shy, just like Ben of MovableType. But that type of person also impress me a lot by how “insistent” he is for certain things, which he has passion in.

Pattern #1 – Passionate People

In VC world, there is a term of “Pattern Recognition”. People don’t know future, but the successful pattern repeats itself, all the time. The type of feeling I have when talking with great people has emerge as a pattern, that I can recognize.

I often talk with people that I believe has great skill, or with high titles. But I don’t recognize the pattern, and I just feel it may be waste of time in the future, if I do not feel the passion from them about what they are doing.

When I do the reflection, I feel Yifan, and many other children are very passionate people themselves. He is passionate to stepping into water after rain, and he is so passionate to cars, and tracks. That is also a pattern, that can be recognized in adult – as passionate as a child.

Remember that pattern, and repeat that pattern in the future, just as we did in the Design Pattern in computer programs. I need to prioritize my life around spending time with passionate people.

P.S. You can’t discover new lands until you have courage to lose sight of the shore…

I Went to Karaok

I went to Party World (originally the Cash Box) with the team tonight. OMG. When was my last time to visit Party World? I suspect it was in 2002 – about 9 years ago in Puxing Park. After that, I don’t remember I have went to sing Karaok. It may be too far memory for me.

For the songs, I don’t know most of the songs people sang. “When did this song come out?” Often the answer was “Last year”, or “2008”… I am not interested in songs. Does it mean aging (while, just a little bit?)

Kids

Looking back, there are some big life changer. Having a baby is definitely the biggest change about 4 years ago. That is the good bye to party life, and even to friend’s world. To some extend, that is also the end of the two-person world, and become a one person world – Yifan’s world. Night means at home, seeing Yifan play, and send him to bed. Night, is no longer the time to kill with many different ways.

Marriage

Marriage is another smaller life changer. It means the end of life surrounded with friends (either female or male). It is a new journey. That means most of the friends of both world come to emerge into one big circle – I know many of the friend of Wendy’s and she knows mine, and to find the perfect circle of knowing everyone is harder.

Keep Younger

I am excited to be surrounded with college newly graduate. It was my situation about 12 years ago.

Does it explain why my friends who don’t have a child in their life (late 40s, 50s) are still pretty young? It is not related to physical change – it means people have about 10 years of uninterrupted time of being young, being party animal (when their peers are baby sitting), and be surrounded with really young people (when their peers are surrounded with too young baby).

One question: can people with a kid can still live like those without? Possible?

Curiosity Keeps People Happy

I am generally happy in 2011, from the first few days of holiday and the first day of working. At night, Wendy and I went downstairs to the Paris Spring shopping mall for a cup of coffee. Two interesting things happened.

Starbucks!

To our greatest surprise, a section of the shopping mall was under construction. On it hangs big Starbucks logo, and big “OPENING SOON”. Below it was “We look forward to serving you amazing coffee, we just have a few things to take care of first.”.

Great! I finally have a Starbucks store that I can walk into from my bed room in 2 minutes. The store is just outside my reading room window.

I started to walk to all Starbucks store in a day in 2003. There were just 12 of them. Then it grew to 117 in 2010. Now, it is coming to Pudong near my home.

I am a big fan of Starbucks. I hear you, their coffee may not be the best. I personally prefer Coffee Bean and Tea Leafs too. But I like the store.

Where is it?

About 5 years ago, Eric randomly pointed to a Microsoft ad and asked Which subway station was the picture taken?. That led to an interesting journey of searching, blog posting, comment reading and replying, and finally result finding.

Today, I did the same thing. At the basement floor of the shopping mall, on the wall, there was a big photo of an Europe architect. On the architect, it showed something like this:

TIS XII PONT. MAX. …. MDCCLXII

I know MDCCLXII = 1000+500+100+100+50+10+1+1 = 1762. What the rest means?

By doing a simple Google search in my iPhone, I learnt that the whole sentence should be:

POSITIS SIGNIS ET ANAGLIPHIS TABULIS IUSSU CLEMENTIS XIII PONT. MAX. OPUS CUM OMNI CULTU ABSOLUTUM A. D. MDCCLXII.

It is carved on the Trevi Fountain, one of the most beautiful fountains in the world, in Rome, Italy.

Let me quote what I wrote 5 years ago on curiosity of life here again:

This is a vivid example of curiosity for life – the rational motivation for many things we did. I enjoyed the time to search for the answer for the simple question “Where is this station”, and enjoyed the excitement when I happen to see the picture on my dinner table. The research time and the excitement moment are quite rewarding to me. It brings something new to life, so the life is not boring at all. Sometime the reason we travel, ask, research, and study is simply out of curiosity. Curiosity is the genuine human being’s instinct that must be satisfied. The city life, sometime, has killed the passion so people feel boring, while there are millions of poorer people who are happier.

The World of Leadership of Management

I was in the world of Linux, and C.

Then I entered the world of Windows and project management.

Then the current world is about leadership and management.

I shifted in these worlds consistently, and frequently.

My friends change along the way.

I had Linus, Apple, C++ as my friends,

then I had new friends named MSDN, Don Box and TechNet.

In the recent years, on my bookshelf are Druker, and Welch.

They are all great minds in this world.

That’s my world, changing world.

Useless Time

Zhou Guoping is a wise man. Wendy bought a book of him, and I am reading a piece of it. He described the value of “useless things”, and “useless time”.

A story was about parents playing with kids on the beach. The traditional view is the parents is accompany the kids, but his view is, the kids are guiding the parents to discover happiness – the water, the sand, the grass, and the ants! Children are really good at enjoying themselves for something that is perceived by adult as useless, but it is those stuff that people often enjoy themselves best.

Wendy and I were very tired this year. Why? Maybe too much time was devoted to do useful things, like work, and personal financing. Even watching DVD is classified explicitly as “entertainment time” with a goal to relax. When was the time that we were so really relax? The time that we feel worthless. When we are in university, we had nothing, just endless time to kill! That is maybe the least productive, but happiest time in recent years. The happiest time in my whole life is maybe the pre-primary school time. Not productive, either.

I wrote an article named Ability to Make Impact is the Cause of Pressure. Now, when we grows older, we feel the ability to make impact. We understand a small change in the setting in bank account may cause twice as much as monthly spending as when we were in university. Then what? Pressure, and no time to enjoy the life.

Zhou is really wise to point it out that doing something useless actually is the way to enjoy our lives.

Overestimation of Bad Things

In my favorite book “Stumble Upon Happiness”, Gilbert described an experiment seeking for the answer of this question: “Whether people are happier to lose one leg, or winning 1 million prize in lottery”. The result seems to be obvious, but objective survey of people who lose a leg in car accidents, and people who won lottery after one year show the difference is not that obvious (with people losing a leg just slightly unhappier than the lucky winners). Why is that?

We often over estimate the impact of bad things, because when we think about it, it seems to be the whole of our world, but actually it is just a small part of it.

Breaking Angle?

Taking my recent experience as an example. I have my ankle broken, and the foot cannot touch ground for 3 months. I have to use crutch everywhere I go. Isn’t it bad? It is bad but not that bad. When I sit down at my desk, my foot, both feet, actually, is out of my conscious world. I can reply emails, I can write blog and reply comments, and you know what, I even can watch a video clip! At night, I enjoy good sleep without worrying about my foot, when I started my sweet dream. There is nothing to do with my foot 23 hours out of the 24 hours of my day. When I do have to pay attention to the foot (like at noon time when I worry about my lunch), I was taken very good care of by people around me. To me, it is not that bad.

Blind?

Imagine what if someone got blind. Isn’t it bad? Yes. But we can hardly understand that the world is not just about seeing things. You have radios to listen to, and you still have thoughts going on in the brain. The kids are still talking with you all the time (so you want to shut them down with a button). All these happiness are actually has nothing to do with eyes!

Inspiring Disabled People

It is so inspiring to see people who don’t have legs and arms – I saw one, but he is still so happy! With a little bit help, he can still enjoy great DVDs, and delicious food, and become a thinker! I was so inspired to see sisters connected with each other – they share everything except two heads. They are still very happy people, because the great things normal people can do, at the end of the day, are just very small part of the life. The majority of the time was spent on something body actually does not matter too much, like talking or reading, or watching video, or just close eyes, and hmmm… sleep.

Loosing part of function does impact the other parts too much.

A Country with Bad Sides

As a country, it is the same. Just as the great discussion we had in the last few days. We see areas to improve on political systems, and we see the dark side of the country (along with great side), but what I believe is, never let the bad things destroy our hope and our happiness, and even further, do not stop improving where we live because of losing hope of the political system.

A democratic and real republic political system, or justice, and freedom are just one aspect of this country. Even with it, it does not help on many things:

There are still car accidents (no matter in capitalism, or socialism, democratic, or dictatorship, or whatever -ism countries). Improving the safety of transportation need people’s hard work, no matter what happens in Beijing.

There are still be unhappy people. Leaving along adults, kids are always unhappy if the parents put them into bed at night! Can democratic process solve this problem?

There are still economy problems, even art problems around. In a more fair society, people still need to compete. There will always be poorer people and richer, in whatever society. That does not solve that difference problem, too. Oops. We did try to make wealth evenly distributed across the country in China in the 50s and 60s. What a great success!

My Hope

If you read my recent discussion and comments, you may feel that I am not as hopeful to this country as before, and I am not happy. No. No. No… The impression is wrong. We need to understand the importance of improvement on political system, but meanwhile, there are many other ways to help. Running a successful classified site also means a lot. Multi-party system does not solve the problem that people cannot trade second-hands, does it?

In short, I am full of hope for China, and knows there are many things to do including but not limited to political improvement.

Make My Blog Faster

In day one, my blog was very fast. These days, I don’t feel it is as fast as it was long time ago. I started to add more and more elements to this blog, and unfortunately, it slows everything down a bit at a time, and now, it is not as fast as before.

At the same time, I am working very hard in my company to make Baixing.com even faster. These two things can be done in parallel, and I can use some tips and learning from this site and apply it to my blog.

I am a fan of Steve Souders, and reading his book High Performance Web Site, and his blog. I will apply those technical to this blog, and then report the result to my readers.

Here is a rough plan:

  • Setup metrics – using Google Analytics to track time used on each page.
  • Remove stuff – the less stuff on this page, the better
  • Optimize CSS, and JS to ensure I am a minimalist
  • Check data to see if it faster or not

I will keep updating this page (not new pages) about the progress, so you can check from time to time to know the progress.

Update May 5, 2009

Today, I added the tracking code to the individual archive page, so I can keep measuring what is happening to my network speed. Here is the code I used:

  1. Immediately after <body> tag, add the following

    <script>var t_start = Number(new Date());</script>

  2. At the end of the file, add the following:

    <script type=”text/javascript”>

    window.onload = function() {

    var t_end = Number(new Date());

    var t_duration = t_end – t_start;

    var lc1 = Math.floor(t_duration/1000);

    var lc2 = Math.floor((t_duration % 1000)/100);

    var lc3 = Math.floor((t_duration % 100)/10);

    var lc4 = t_duration % 10;

    try {

    var pageTracker2 = _gat._getTracker(“UA-XXXXX-3”);

    pageTracker2._trackPageview(“/speed/” + “/” + lc1 + “/” + lc2 + “/” + lc3 + “/” + lc4);

    } catch(err) {}

    }

    </script>

    UA-XXXX-3 is my profile ID in Google Analytics. If you read the code more carefully, you see it generally calculate the time from the start of parsing the page (t_start) to the end of the page load (t_end or window.onload event), and then turn it into a folder structure and record it in Google Analytics. For example, 3402ms will be recorded as /speed/3/4/0/2, and thus I can do more analysis in the future.

It is always a good idea to setup measurement before doing anything (that is important), since it helps to guide you through a more certain road, than just wandering around, and run back and forth.

Enjoy the Beauty of Life

I live far away from office, and it costs me one hour to get to where I work. That is one of the key painful things I have in my life. Wendy and I tried many different solutions from waking up earlier, to looking for an apartment to rent in nearby places, and other ways.

Finally, we give up the idea of buying or renting an apartment near where I work. We decided to really think about what we have today, and appreciate what we have, instead of pursuing what we don’t have. I loved to discuss about the meaning of happiness, but from time to time, we just lost in our own puzzled life, and forget it.

P.S. Update about A H1N1 Flu

This Sunday, Wendy, Yifan, and I went to IKEA. It is the first time I saw people wearing masks in the store. Swine flu has already hit Shanghai with one pass-by passenger confirmed to be affected in Hong Kong. It reminds me of the SARS period of 2003. So far, Shanghai is fine. We are not the epi-center anyway this time.

Breakeven Happiness

I got a new term called break-even happiness from MC today. Very nice term. Just like a company that can either be losing money or break-even or profitable, the status of break even happiness means the status of not having obvious pains, and no things that trouble you too much, and you don’t have too much extra than that.

That is a nice state to get for any one in a startup company, and that is what we want to archive first. Although there are big return in the future in terms of stock options, we want to make sure everyone is at least happy about their life – to lead a reasonable good life with dignity, and don’t have to worry too much about their family and personal life. So people can be patient with the growth of the company. Nice term! It is nice to apply that to daily life.

P.S. Another interesting term I learn is local maximum. It is a mathematics terms, but can describe a lot of situation like in someone’s career, or the state of a company. Thanks, MC.

Cannot Measure it, Cannot Improve it

Found a famous quotation, that within Microsoft, people use very often. But this time, saw it on Google’s website:

If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it. by Lord Kelvin

This is for many times proved to be true, and I believe it is also the foundation principle of the modern science. Fengshui? Or Chinese Medicine? That does not include measurement yet. Don’t have measurement does not necessarily means that they are not effective, but it is maybe one of the key distinguishing characteristic of modern science and others. The other is religion – you just cannot use science to explain religion, just like you cannot use English to exactly explain Chinese.

So, recently, I wrote the following question on the notebook I brought with me: How can we measure happiness?

The conclusion was, no, we cannot measure happiness, especially after I re-read Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness. (BTW, fanatic book on what happiness is. It seems to be particularly written to ENFP people like myself).

Since we cannot directly measure happiness, this afternoon I told Wendy that I am going to do something else. I will write down scenarios that I typically feel happy, and then count the number of times that I run into that scenario. By counting that number, I can have a proxy to measure whether I am happier this week than the last week, or not. (Jinshengtan has a famous 33 happy moments. Everyone should have a simliar list)

Even better, if we can develop a common check list about what happiness means for us as a family, we can collectively measure how happy we as a family are.

Sunday Morning Session

My morning started again from a meeting in the cafeteria of Pudong Shangri-la Hotel, followed by a meetup in Starbucks opposite to the Bund with friend from Baidu, Inezha, and Shopex. Then we had a lunch at nearby Italian restaurant with Hengge from blogbus. How long has been the last Sunday morning meetup like this? I think it is at the end of 2004. It seems really good ideas and high quality meetups only happens during bad ecomony times. It always seems to be that ideas comes from, then company and then capital, and then competition, and then, many die, and the process start all over again. I think it is a great idea to have regular (by regular, I mean not more frequent than monthly or even quarterly) Sunday morning meetups.

“We Thought…”

In the gray cloudy Saturday morning, I sit down with Elliot Ng, and other friends in Meeting Place: Starbucks at Jinyan Road, Pudong for some free chat. For some reason, we talked about contrast of people’s belief and the reality of this world.

“We Can Change”

To better understand the different, I found by adding “We Think …” to whatever statement twist the meaning a lot. Even more interestingly, adding “We thought …” to any statement is even more clear about the difference.

We talked about Obama’s slogan: “We can Change.” By adding “We Think”, it becomes

We think we can Change

By adding “We thought”, it becomes

We thought we can change

(No offense at all. I am not joking about the slogan itself at all. Using it is just because it is so famous and widely spread out.)

The idea is, by adding something like that helps us to really understand the difference between what we believe and the reality, and face the fact that we don’t want to admit: What we think is not always what the reality is.

“Is this what they told you?”

Another interesting story is about how to distinguish what we were told and the reality.

Long time ago, when our close friend Clair left Shanghai for a small town in France to join the nuclear power station, we had a dinner to say good bye to her. Naturally, we worried about the safety to work in a nuclear station.

We asked: “Is it safe there?”

Clair answered with full confidence: “No worry at all. The radiation level in the nuclear plant is less than 1% of a normal X-ray check. Blah blah…”

Someone looked at her with full sympathy and asked: “Is this what they told you?

Pretty embarrassingly, Clair admitted that this was what she was told…

I am not saying nuclear plant is not safe at all. The point is, sometimes, by asking “Is this what we were told?” to many questions helps us to understand the difference between the information we get, and the difference of the reality. Although many times, the two fit each other, most of the time, they don’t, at least not in full.

Be Sensitive to What We Think, and What We Were Told

What we think comes from what we see, and what we were told. What we see or touch or smell is also just what we were shown (by people. or by the nature). Be careful to use our perception and the reality.

A Blogger at a Media Event

What happens if a blogger attend a media conference designed for journalists? This was what happened today, when I was invited to join the Australia Pavilion Foundation Completion Ceremony. Here is my observation.

Amateur vs Professional

It seems everyone in that room was there simply because it was their jobs.

There are officials from both Australia and Chinese government – should be pretty routine job for them to participate in events like this. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean it is not important, but to do ceremonial thing again and again may cause people lose the real passion doing that – just holding wedding ceremony many times may cause the bride and groom to lose their passion for love at the moment of exchanging finger ring.

There are PR agency, food vendor, logistic vendor, venue service people there. They are doing their job (well done,BTW). They are professional. All the attendants: journalist and camera men all went there for work. They are professional. It seems I am the only person who are there just because of curiosity (with a warm invitation).

This is an interesting contracts for me and inspired me to really think about the line between amateur and professional about doing anything.

Working people

Amateur with Attitude of Professionals

Sports, for example, are often amateur for most people. However, I found people who do it with the attitude of profession enjoyed it much more than others. People like running get nice running shoes, and record how long they run, and do many research about it (like guys Yiqipao). We are amateur in most things – there should be only one or two things we think we are professional (the things we do to make a living). In the end, the line between professional and amateur is really blurred.

Professional with the Passion of Amateurs

The more interesting thing I learnt from today’s event was about doing professional things with the passion of the amateur. Look at the people who participated in the media conference. I am sure if I have to attend all the similar events and have a pretty big news report waiting for me to write, I will lose my passion too. I won’t do what I did today. (I used the stair to go to every floor, and examined every corner I am allowed to in the building).

Looking at what we do in offices! We are profession, and we do it professionally. But if we imagine we are just the walk-in stranger, and we can discover much more of our daily life than otherwise.

The Right Combination

To combine the attitude of the professional and the passion of the amateur may be the best case possible. Thanks for the opportunity today to be a professional amateur, and an anmateur professional.

“I have a Name Card”

Mr. Wu is a vendor outside the Shanghai Jiao Tong University campus. He bakes corns, and sweet potatoes. That is very typical eatery in north China. Although people generally doubt whether the food is clean, it does not prevent people from lining up to get one.

The interesting stuff is, Mr. Wu, as shown in the photo below, recently moved his business to mobile based.

By request of his customers (typically girls in office buildings), he printed out some name cards, and started to distribute to potential customers.

Photograph by Jian Shuo Wang. Contact information in courtesy of Mr. Wu

On the card, it reads:

Baked Corns, Bakes Sweet Potatoes

Mast Wu

Welcome to try. Quality and quality Guaranteed.

Mobile: 131….

People can call him, and he can provide delivery service.

e Commerce? Phone-Commerce

When we are moving our business online, we sometimes forget the basic principles of business – it is still business, no matter how you conduct it. It is just like Mr. Wu. He just catch up the tide of telephone based commerce. Congratulations!

It also reminds me that the whole society is involving constantly, but slowly.

BTW, his potato is very nice.

To be a Good Man

Once upon a time, we asked ourselves – are you going to be a good man or a bad man? All movies, and all novels are telling the story again and again about how important it is to be basically good, and how to be good. It seems to be a question that have absolute right answer. However, it is not that easy to answer sometimes.

I met with a Singaporean today, who is really bad. He didn’t follow the contract and didn’t show sorry about that. To be honest, I feel very good about people in Singapore, and still respect. So I felt so shamed that the guy with name Chen comes from Singapore… I didn’t get angry for years, but today, I am really angry. (What about the last time? When my car was scratched by a drunk driver)

For get about the story. I start to think how important to follow the rule of being a good person. It seems not so easy.

What is Good?

Thanks to novelists and artists who hold mirror for the society and people can see themselves, and get a better sense. I’d like to thank Shakespeare to show us the story of Romeo and Juliet. When we read the story, everything thinks he/she will be on the side of Juliet, and Romeo. The fact is not.

I seriously doubt with the limited information I get, I would be one of the people vote against their marriage if I were born in the age of the story. So whenever I saw a negative story on newspaper, and everyone reading the story will be angry, I start to think, well, there is possibility that we are the angry people in the Juliet and Romeo story. The worst thing is, you may never have a chance to know that you are wrong.

The Romeo and Juliet of the Current Age

A story gave me strong impression. It was a sad story, something like Juliet and Romeo story. Meanwhile, it is a true story.

The story is about two persons falling into love. One of them is a super star in Hong Kong. They deeply love each other, but the public does not allow them to be together. The public, everyone, thinks it is not proper for them to love each other.

They found every single chance to meet, and to stay together, despite all the media negative reports, and huge pressure from their families and friends.

Finally, one of them just jumped from the top of the building at April 1, 2003, and died. The whole Chinese world was shocked about the death of the super star…

If the story ends here, readers will say, why stop them, why not them follow their love? It seems we would not be part of “the public” in the story.

Think twice… Are you so sure?

The man is Leslie Cheung 张国荣. His partner is also a man….

We are not that Sure

In the story, when we hide the names, and more importantly, when we hide their gender, people would say one thing. After the how story is revealed, we are not that sure.

Not every story is told in its logic order. Not everyone can get enough information from newspaper. We are in the same situation in my daily life. Our story is not told in a way that we see in movies. In movies, or novels, when person A talked with person B, and it will show you what happened after person A left B, and show you again what A and B talked when they met again. If we are the B in real life, because of the absence of the part between the two meet up, we never be able to act fairly. When this happens, B may be a bad guy in A’s eyes.

That is how this world works.

To be Fair, To be Good

I have made up my mind to be a good man. It means you need to do your homework to understand others, and don’t take it granted for not understood.

Knowing that we are only part of the story, and can only see part o f this world, I believe we can form a better idea about this world.

Keep Doing, and Its Meaning

I believe keep doing, doing and doing for some meaningful thing is important. I don’t think anyone would argue about this. However, what is meaningful will bring a lot of argument.

Why You Blog?

In a Kijiji event in Shanghai University tonight, students asked why I kept blogging for more than three years. “What makes you keep doing that?”

I think it is a great question to ask me, or ask anyone who kept doing.

Does Consistency Helps

Many people started blog but quit after three weeks. Someone decided to recite all the words in an English directory, but quit when they encounter “B”. More people make up minds to start running, but stop after five morning exercise.

People believe the reason they cannot keep doing something is due to lack of consistency – consistency means the firmness a of people’s mind.

I don’t think so. I don’t think I am a person of consistency, and have the ability to do anything longer than a week. It has nothing to do with consistency.

It must be Meaningful

I believe you have to find out a reason to do something. As long as the reason is still valid, and you can feel it is valid, you keep doing. If you don’t think it is still meaningful, you may quit. I do.

Most Confusion Time

For this blog, it has millions of page views every month. If you know more than one thousands people are waiting to see your article today, do you see the value of keep blogging today? Maybe you do. I do.

However, when there is no one visiting your site, do you still think it is meaningful to do that?

Back to the end of 2002, I was confused sometime. At that time, the server is still in my reading room in my home (the reason I didn’t remove the home part from my blog URL http://home.wangjianshuo.com). When I blog everyday, and see the access log, there are only 20 to 100 page view that day. At the first month, out of excitement of trying new stuff, you may want to keep the server up everyday. However, after the excitement went away, I start to think, does it make sense to keep the server up 24 hours day, consuming electricity and making big noises in my home?

That is the hardest time in my 3 years of blogging. I can keep doing something for a long period of time, as long as I still believe it is meaningful. In my blogging case, what is the meaning to still keep blogging once everyday?

Finally, I thought of the reason – to keep accumulating my thoughts on daily bases. It may be a big boook one day.

As soon as I realize to have visitors or not is not the meaning of my blogging, I feel happier. Only after I realized to write for myself, instead of for visitors, and page view is more meaningful to me, I found the reason to keep blogging. So I kept doing that.

In the last three years, I always keep the belief, that at first, I write for myself, to accumulate my life experience. Secondly, if it can help someone out there (maybe after one year or two), that is better. As long as these two points still make sense for me, I will keep blog. If one day, I found it is not meaningful for me to blog, I will also quit (hope there is always reasons to keep blogging).

Why People Quit

Some people start out of curiosity, and don’t find any reason why he/she start to blog. Well. Good. Just quit. Good for him/her.

Some people admire others’ high page view and blog for page view. They quote all interesting articles others wrote, and think hard about what attracts users most. If they can keep doing that, it is good. But the problem is, it is too long for them to see the result. For me, it takes two – three years. If there is no other reason to keep doing that, they will quit. They quit not because they are lack of consistency, they quit because they didn’t feel any sense of connection between what they are doing (blogging) and what they think is meaningful (page view).

It is the same for running. If someone just enjoys running very much, they keep doing that. If someone hate running, but only do that to improve health, they quit because they cannot observe the difference after running for three days, and start to doubt whether it is meaningful to run. The same as reciting a directory (which I never think meaningful as a way to learn English).

Passion for Contribution, and Confident for Return

The other day, I read an article about Contribution and Return. The article said: visionary, and successful people in history are so passionate about their contribution, meanwhile be confident for the return they can get. The unsuccessful people are doing the other way. They care too much about return (in terms of $$$), and have no interest in contribution. Just like a good writer only cares about writing good article (contribution), while don’t want to pay attention to manuscript fee. Bad writers only cares about how much they can make, and don’t care about how good he/she writes. That is the difference between good writers (who becomes better and better) and bad writers.

So Bill Gates do care about its contribution, so does Edison, the two founds of Google, and lots of successful business owners. They do care about what they can do to help. Although they are confident about return, they don’t do business just for the return. (Of cause, things changes after a company goes public).

If the reason to do something is to contribute, and you are satisfied with your contribution, you can keep doing that.

If the reason to keep doing something is to get return, chances are, you cannot get return as you expected, and you stop.

That is my thoughts about reason to keep doing something or stop.