13 posts categorized "Life"

December 29, 2008

Underachievement

My parents recently purchased a vacation/retirement condo in Florida. All the family members reunited for the grand opening earlier this month. I was very impressed. The floor is all marble. The walls facing the Atlantic Ocean are completely glass window, and the curtains are shaded, so that sunlight does not come through, but the ocean view is preserved.

Miami (22)  Miami (21)

Miami (26) Miami (27) 

The balcony...

 Miami (29)Miami (31)

There is a beautiful beach, conveniently located behind the condo, and a golf course and tennis court.

Miami (36) Miami (32)

Mom suggested that I move in the condo (or in the regular home) rent-free, because it is absolutely crazy that I am paying rent to live in Seattle. It's something that I am considering, but am not likely to choose, because doing so would present a fixed moving cost as well as the opportunity costs of leaving Seattle. Our regular home is also very nice, traditional and rich in little detail.

All of this adds to the very palpable gap between my lifestyle as a software developer and that of my family and friends all, who are all in the medical profession. The circle of people I was around were all highly educated and successful, but I never thought of myself or my family as being exceptionally well off. My father is conscious about each dollar, seeking value without lowing his standards; we do normally fly coach. At every family vacation, he surprises us with an over-the-top experience to exotic locations.

I am not very attached to material things, but tend towards minimalism. I could never appreciate the advantages of an expensive car over a regular one; the expensive car sometimes had broken window and a missing radio. But, I still have in me a persistent sense of underachievement relative to my father and siblings.

My father always seemed to aspire to an aristocratic sense of being. I am reminded about this Slate review of the film Metropolitan. My father only listens to classic music and only watches the classic films and operas, while deriding modern movies as devoid of substance. As youngsters, my siblings and I were forbidden to wear jeans, tattoos, and other symbols of the working class. My parents speak of noblesse oblige and etiquette.

My father was disappointed that I did not continue on to graduate school to pursue a PhD, all the more so because of the social barriers introduced by my race and his full coverage of my tuition. My father would regularly remind me that my salary was "peanuts," and that just to maintain his home each year was $100K. His early (but since evolved) impression of the MBA degree was that it was similar to a vocational degree, but this is due to the deep French bias against the merchant class.

November 24, 2007

Triple Nine

Sorry for this self-indulgent post. It will probably be of interest to only 0.1% of you.

I have been interviewing high schools students applying to Harvard College for the past three years. There are twice as many applications today as there were in my day, and the admittance rate has correspondingly dropped by half. None of the applicants that I previously interviewed were accepted, and only one, the top student in a class of 600, was wait-listed. All of the applicants though were very talented and qualified as if the weak students self-selected themselves out. In my past MBA life, I have also read applications for the business school with a similarly low acceptance rate and only one of the 15 applications I examined was accepted.

A new student I just interviewed is promising... She has all the right ingredients and knows how to market herself. I googled her on the Internet and found a web trail of achievement starting from middle school. I probably connected with her because of her perfect ACT score, which she claimed only one in the state and 22 in the nation. I checked this statistic on the ACT website and there are actually 500 perfect ACT scores (or 1 in 4,000) in the nation, so the rank was probably just on the instance of the test.

I scored the equivalent of a perfect 1600 in today's SAT, which bests Bill Gates's own 1590. Before the 1995 recentering of the test from an average score of about 900 to 1000, the SAT was scored more stringently with an average of seven 1600s out of over a million in the nation per year (getting a perfect score then made the news); nowadays, it is closer to 700. I also scored a 790 out of 800 in the GMAT, which was the single highest score of my MBA program in my year and subsequent years (except for the most recent year in which an 800 was recorded).

My high school maintained anonymous scores for the past four years, and my score was the highest among a total of 1,600 student's across all those years--an outlier among outlier scores-- despite my school admitting the top third based on a competitive examination. It also was substantially above my Harvard class average.

With a 99+ percentile ranking for both sections of the test, it was clear to me that I made a triple nine (99.9% or 1 in 1000 in my composite score and probably in my individual ones as well).  A triple nine is equivalent to a IQ of 149 (std 16); a double nine, 137.

I had taken a college statistics course at Columbia University during my last year of high school, and attempted to see if I made a quadruple nine (99.99% or 1 in 10,000; corresponding to 160 IQ) by computing a percentile from my composite score by assuming a normal distribution and estimating the variance and correlation of math and verbal scores. A normal distribution was a fair assumption because of how questions are "normed" from similarly distributed populations from past tests. I learned that was right on the threshold of a quad, but that the result was extremely sensitive to my estimates.

I decided after the interview to use the web to conduct my research, which was not at my disposal in 1990. Unfortunately, the recentered perfect score tops out at 99.98% or 2 in 10,000 (the original SAT topped out at 99.9995%), so I have to use my original scores.

I decided to look up the qualifying scores for various intelligence societies for the elusive 1 in 10,000 indicator. I was never really impressed with Mensa, because it used scores at the 98th percentile, which are below the average scores of the top public and private schools in the nation, but there are several intelligence societies with more stringent limits.

The intelligence society, Mega Society, which takes one in a million, obtained from an ETS statistician an actual histogram of SAT scores from the five year period between 1984-1988, of which one of the scores is my own, from which I can calculate my actual exact percentile. The process unfortunately is a bit tedious and not worth that much to my ego.

Fortunately, I can let others do the work for me. The Triple Nine Society publishes qualifying scores for various tests. I meet the bar for triple nines for both the SAT and GMAT, each by a wide margin. There is no society which admit members exactly at the quadruple-nine level. The Prometheus Society admits those who meet 1 in 30,000 or roughly 4 sigmas. I am lower than their cutoff but still within the range of statistical insignificance. (Fig 8.3.3)

It doesn't matter that my scores are high, since people still assume I am an idiot. It's also not really satisfying knowing that the tests are inherently flawed and not just for the limited material tested. For instance, I know many non-native English speakers, generally intelligent and gifted in math, feeding the bottom with dismal verbal scores.

Distractions, II

I just finished my move and am developing again. I was away from my computer and the Internet for over a week as I focused on getting the move behind me.

Right now, I have to make up for lost time. This move was unplanned and forced upon me by my rather unusual living situation and some opportunism. I lived in a house, which I sold to my ex-wife, for seven years.

I lost almost two months worth of significant productivity in anticipation and completion of this unnecessary move ahead of my product release.

October 21, 2007

Mom

In an article "How Far Behind Is Linux" in the Wall Street Journal, Lee Gomes interviews Linus Torvald and learns that his own family members in his native Finland don't use Linux.

Among Microsoft's customers, concedes Mr. Torvalds, are his father and sister, though Mom has managed to resist the allure of the dark side.

The mom bit was interesting to me. We have all heard the saying that software should be made easy enough even for Mom to use, but it was only a few years ago when I really begun to appreciate the mom phenomena.

Back around 2003, when I visited my parents back in New York, I resolved to teach Mom how to use the computer or more specifically the Internet.

I showed my mom how to use AOL to access the Internet. I found websites that I thought she would be interested in, like switchboard.com(?) for searching phone numbers for all of her friends around the country. The people search feature piqued her interest, but I never succeeded in getting her to befriend the computer. Instead, when Mom is interested in knowing the whereabouts and contact number of someone, she calls me so that I can look it up on the Internet.

Later, I discovered how much of an extreme technophobe my mom was. She never even used an ATM machine. She always meets with the bank teller to deposit and withdraw money. Everyone else in the household uses a computer, and I always assumed that she encountered computers when she used to work.

I wonder if there is still an hope for her. Perhaps, something like WebTV (now it's called MSN TV) would help. AOL still has too many steps for beginners.

October 29, 2005

50 Years From Now

I was speaking to a woman in her 80’s, and it was remarkable hearing about a different age in which she lived through World War II as a young adult. Fifty years from now, I will be over 80 and living in a changed world that will be every bit as different 1950’s were from today.

These are some of the published differences in the makeup of the US and world population. The world will look very different from today! What is shocking is the advancement of third-world and developing countries and the relative decline in Western countries.

  • The top ten most populous countries will consist largely of new countries such as Indonesia, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Bangladesh. The only countries expected to remain on the list will be China, India and a United States; India and China will swap places. European countries will fall out of the list because of the low birth rate; most won’t even make the top twenty.
  • Muslims may eventually outnumber Christians in the planet. By 2050, the Muslims will rise to about 28% of the world’s population versus 20% today while Christians will fall to 30%. The crossover point will occur soon after that due to the higher birthrate of Muslims. The growing proportion of Christians in Africa and South America means that Christianity will become less of a Western religion.
  • Whites will become a minority of the population in the US in a few decades. (Despite this, Congress will probably still mostly be white males.)
  • The Chinese economy will have surpassed the U.S. economy in a few decades; however, the average Americans will still be four times richer than the average Chinese. The advancement of China mirrors the emergence of the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and its eclipsing of the two major economies, Britain and Germany, at the time.

I do think that a country’s population is the best indicator of its long-term potential, so both China and India will do well. Countries with a large population have a significant advantage in that its domestic market is sufficiently large to allow domestic manufacturers to survive and grow without expanding internationally. The US benefited from both a common language/culture and a larger population, compared to its European counterparts. (Language is an important factor, as some economists have pointed out that the world will become increasingly divided into affluent and more advanced Anglosphere—English-speaking countries—and everyone else.)

Globalization is also reducing differences in living standards between countries. One professor noted, that one hundred years ago, differences in living standards between the states of the union were very pronounced like those among countries in the world today, yet, in recent times, these differences became minimal because of the effects of common currency and free trade with the U.S. An UN report predicted that the conditions of poverty, hunger and disease in Africa may be eliminated in fifteen years. While such predictions have occurred repeatedly in the past and proven to be excessively optimistic in the time frame suggested, I do think the conclusion may be inevitable.

Developing countries are also able to leapfrog developed countries in several technologies. The new world is increasing based on information technology, which is far easier for a developing country to catch up in like India and China. Ireland went from one of the poorest countries in Europe to an above-average country in over a decade because of its focus on IT training of its citizens. China, in just over a decade, went from graduating a fraction of the engineers that the US does to a multiple of around five. Wireless technology means that developing countries can forgo the heavy cable investment of richer countries in the US with very inexpensive technology. The lack of IP protection in Asia, particularly India, has given rise to a new crop of pharmaceutical companies, selling patented drugs freely within their native countries without incurring the R&D investments cost of American drug firms.

In software, Microsoft sees eventual challenges in its application and operating systems business from nascent companies in China and India with their low-cost and abundant software engineers. Software will eventually mature over time, allowing these challengers room to catch up. (On the other hand, free software may also mature, leaving no room for budding challengers.) We are not quite there at the point of maturation, because incorporation of AI as a pervasive software technology allows plenty of growth for the foreseeable future and Moore’s law hasn’t matured yet.  But eventually, Microsoft may then have to follow IBM’s transition from a technology to a service company.

January 08, 2005

Google - Extension of the Brain

I was just reading a Slashdot post on the top 25 innovations of the past twenty-five years. CNET has been counting down each invention for some time now and plans on announcing the #1 invention on Sunday. I think their obvious pick will be the World Wide Web. One poster mentioned the Search Engine as the top prize, which got me thinking.

When I was younger, my parents were very education-minded and we had probably six or seven separate sets of encyclopaedia in the home, including the legendary Encyclopaedia Brittannica, where entries are written by the experts of the field (Einstein, for instance, wrote a few entries in his area). My younger brother and I regularly read each volume of the encyclopedia cover-to-cover--not the Britannica, of course, as that was too big. We both became known as walking encyclopedias.

Here was this expanse of human knowledge compressed into a few books and available at my fingertips. When I didn't know about any topic, I looked it up. (Interestingly, Bill Gates wrote in his book The Road Ahead, that he also read encyclopedias cover-to-cover until he reached the volume "P.") There was a nice feedback loop too. People wondered how I knew so much information about the world, which further encourage myself to read more.

In high-school, I also became a library troll (er, aide). In college, I live in the libraries at Harvard (mainly, in the Science Center, but also in Widener Library and Hilles) and MIT (which were opened to the public) when I wasn't in the Aiken computer lab. After working at Microsoft,  I spent many a weekend in Microsoft's small technical library (which used to be in building 13, now 100) in addition to the local library in Bellevue. It helps too that before 1996, the library was the only way to access the Internet from Microsoft, because of some fear that outsiders could gain access to Microsoft's internal corporate network and steal source code for Office or Windows.

I did discover the Internet in 1988 with Usenet, Telnet, and FTP, and have used it regularly and frequently ever since. Usenet newsgroups were amazing source of information covering an infinite range of subject and in many ways replaced the encyclopedia with more current and practical information, though it has fallen in relevance due to the Web and the influx of less technical savvy mainstream users.

The emergence of Google and predecessors got me out of the library. I since developed the habit of looking up any word or phrase that I have little familiarity with.  My use of Google isn't necessarily need-based. I discomforts me whenever I hear a word or concept that I don't know--causing me to feel ignorant. My ex-wife was shocked when I went to a search engine to find out "how to set up a party."

Google is my new encyclopedia--the whole expanse of human knowledge at my fingertips. It's my guru with all the answers. Or, another way I like to think of it, as an extension of my brain, where if I can't call up an answer from my head immediately, I know that I am always only a few minutes away from it.

August 31, 2004

Independence day

Today is my fourth anniversary since leaving Microsoft. Of those four years, two years were spent in business school, studying entrepreneurship; a year and a half was spent developing software. Am I better off than had I not left? I won't really now until my next anniversary, after my product has already shipped, but I am certainly happier.

 

August 26, 2004

Finding Blogs

I plan on posting my OPML soon, but I am currently cleaning up and categorizing my current list of feeds. It looks like I have a little over 500 feeds right now. (I had, at one point, 1000, but aggressive purging of stale or uninteresting sites, I eliminated half of them.)

I am using this time as an opportunity to rethink my RSS browsing experience. I would like to think of myself as someone with diversified interests, but half of my blogs are related to various software platforms (mostly Microsoft). I am trying to achieve a more balanced mixture around my many other interests, which include:

  • Law (especially in Intellectual Property)
  • Entrepreneurship and Product Marketing
  • Philosophy (most Western, but some Eastern philosophy)
  • Economics ( with special interest in China, India )
  • History of Science (Invention and Innovation)
  • Emerging Technologies (Nanotechnology, Wireless, Biotechnology and so on)
  • Computer Science (esp, Artificial Intelligence, Human-Computer Interface, Graphics)
  • Personal Finance/Taxes
  • Graphics Design
  • Current Affairs
  • Health and Medicine
  • Humor
  • Personal Improvement
  • Movies

I came across blogshares.com and blogarama, which seems to have a good compilation of blogs around diverse categorized. There are probably other good directories to find popular quality sites in various listings.

May 26, 2004

Technology Is Young

Some time ago, I saw the World of Tomorrow exhibit in DisneyWorld, which had a major impression in me. It depicted the life style of the average American family at five different times separated by 20 years: 1900, 1920, 1940, 1980, as well as an attempt on depicting some date in the near future (approx 2010).

What was astonishing was the huge number of changes that occured over each period! I soon came to the realization that virtually all electrical appliances and most other items that we use today became mainstream within the last 50 years (even the dual freezer/refrigator was first sold by GE in 1953), and, 50 years from now, we may not be using any of today's devices.

The same applies not just to technology, but to other fields such as medicine and business. In medicine, there's a well-known saying that virtually any medical knowledge a doctor had ten years ago is now considered wrong. Business managers didn't even know the concept of the time value of money (NPV) back in the 60's.

Well, I shouldn't have been that surprised. Most Americans were farmers in 1900. Lifestyles were much different; can you believe that Americans showered on a weekly, not daily, basis in 1900? Also, a lot of technologies--especially in electronics and computers--became mainstream since 1980 and, to determine the amount of change that occurred since 1900, I should simply, using an exponential model for technological change, raise the amount of change since 1980 to the fifth power.

Even when living through a change, you may not realize that how recently it occurred. For example, I was surprised when a Taco Bell manager remarked that the concept of combo meals didn't exist in the fast food industry until McDonald's introduced value meals in around 1993, which is just a decade ago.

I leave with this last fact to ponder. McDonald's Corporation celebrates its 50th birthday next year.

January 25, 2004

Ideals

I just saw this nice quote in grack.com. I thought this to be appropriate to my entrepreneurial endeavor.

... fantasies have to be unrealistic. Because the moment, the second you get what you seek, you don’t, you can’t want it anymore. In order to continue to exist, desire must have it’s objects perpetually absent. It’s not the it that you want; it’s the fantasy of it. So desire supports crazy fantasies. This is what Pascal means when he says that we are only truly happy when daydreaming about future happiness. Or why we say the hunt is sweeter than the kill, or be careful what you wish for. Not because you’ll get it, because you’re doomed not to want it once you do.

So the lesson of Leccan is, living by your wants will never make you happy. What it means to be fully human is to strive to live by ideas and ideals, and not to measure your life by what you’ve attained in terms of your desires, but those small moments of integrity, compassion, rationality, even self sacrifice. Because in the end, the only way that we can measure the significance of our own lives, is by valuing the lives of others.

-- David Gale, Life of David Gale

Is this human nature? While I strove to be accepted into Harvard and hired into Microsoft, did I begin to value my experiences at each of these institutions less after my admittance. Did I begin to view these privileges of association as entitlements?

What does this have to say about my entrepreneurial ambitions, and what will I think of my success, if I am successful? Will I appreciate it more, because it was uniquely my own success, a triumph of persistence and dedication against a backdrop of pessimism and discouragement from wife, family, friends and ex-coworkers? Or, will I appreciate it less, forgetting the whole journey along with the accompanying pain and doubt, when it's all over.

One thing I do know: This is a highly personal journey, leading to a deepening awareness of myself, my weaknesses, and my values. Perhaps, I will someday look back at it as the reason for my life.