Monday, 5 December 2011

Acknowledgement

My last blog post is my entry to a contest to bring more awareness of democracy to youths.  The topic was “what does your democracy mean to you”.  It was an arduous journey but also a rewarding one.  The resultant essay can be found here.

I couldn’t have written this piece alone, and want to take this chance to thank all those who have provided their help.  Thanks, Taneem and Seungchan, for reading over my drafts and providing feedback, and my dad for helping me find my voice in the article.  I also want to thank professor Nelson Wiseman for providing guidance on book selection (Canadian Democracy and The Penguin History of Canada, among them) to help with my research on the topic.  Your help is much appreciated.

My gratitude goes also to the authors of books I’ve read.  They have given me new perspectives and inspiration.

The following resources helped me to understand Canadian and Chinese politics and is what my article is based on:

  • Documentary: The Palace Museums – Five Millennia of Chinese Treasures, episodes 1 to 4
  • Book: 解讀中國經濟 (Understanding China’s Economy) by Justin Yi-Fu Lin
  • The Penguin History of Canada by Robert Bothwell
  • Canadian Democracy, by Stephen Brooks
  • John A.: The Man who Made Us, by Richard Gwyn
  • Wikipedia.org

Though the following material did not directly contribute to my essay, they provided inspiration and perspective on the research:

  • Models of Democracy, by David Held
  • The Age of Turbulence, by Alan Greenspan
  • The Unfinished Canadian, by Andrew Cohen
  • Documentary: Breaking Point – Quebec/Canada: the 1995 Referendum, CBC Television
  • Documentary: Freedom Had a Price: Canada’s First Internment Operation from 1914 to 1920, by NFB
  • China Witness: Voices from a Silent Generation, by Xinran
  • German Voices: Memories of Life During Hitler’s Third Reich, by Frederic C. Tubach and Sally Patterson Tubach
  • What we Knew: Terror, Mass Murder, and Everyday Life in Nazi Germany, by Eric A. Johnson and Karl – Heinz Reuband

Last but not least, I want to thank my family and friends who encouraged and supported me through this whole journey.  I couldn’t have done it without you.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Democracy – My Opportunity, My Voice

In 221 BC, a unified China was born after 500 years of fighting between warring states. This new dynasty would be called Chin and its emperor, the first in China, had conquered 6 neighbouring feudal states in 10 short years.

Having unified the country by war, he gained absolute power and unleashed a slew of ambitious initiatives, unifying China’s measurement units, currency, culture, and language. Unification was codified in laws that severely punished anyone who didn’t obey. Old literature was burned and philosophers were executed to suppress dissents. Hundreds of thousands of citizens were forced to leave their homes and travel for months by foot in freezing weather to construct the Great Wall. Many young and able men died on the journey. Citizens were tired by years of war, the assiduous uprooting of their local cultures, and the separation between loved ones. But it didn’t matter, for the emperor had the only vote in the country that counted. So people revolted, ending a dynasty 15 years after its inception, plunging a newly unified China into chaos for 5 years. This was life under dictatorship – where people could only listen. When they want to be heard, chaos and revolt would often follow.

About 3 centuries earlier in another part of the world, the city state of Athens showed a different model of government. One of its prominent features was an assembly (Ecclesia) that occurred around 40 times a year, where every ordinary citizen could gather to listen to proposed laws, and vote to pass, reject, or return them for amendment. The assembly is also a place to elect officials. It was in Athens that the word “democracy” came into being. In Greek, it means “rule of the people”.

Democracy is a political system in which the people choose how and who will govern them. All citizens are given the freedom to voice their own view, with each voice having equal weight. Through voting, democracy allows the change of government and policies to occur without violence, and every citizen has an opportunity to be heard. In democracy, people have a voice and the government cannot silence them simply for its pleasure.

To me, democracy is the opportunity to have an impact on the country through my voice. It gives me a sense of satisfaction to know that if I form a point view through learning, and vote to help bring it to reality, then I am no longer an indifferent observer but an activist making a change. I become part owner of this country. It means I participate in a community of people with whom I share much in common to craft a future we deem beautiful, and that others’ lives could be better because of my contribution. I could help a friend’s parents pay less for home care, or help to fund the education for a child from a low income family, or help to attract foreign investment in green technology that creates more jobs for my neighbours. Democracy gives me the opportunity to change my world through my voice.

Democracy also gives me the opportunity to build a legacy. My family immigrated to Canada in 1997 and I have received for free what previous generations of Canadians have built through democracy – a safe and prosperous society, a high quality education system, universal health care, and more importantly, the laws and policies that value respect for minorities, compassion for the less fortunate in society, and appreciation for diverse points of view. These are qualities I admire, aspire to, and feel compelled to protect and pass on to the generations of Canadians after me so they may learn the values that the country has stood for. Democracy is the opportunity to shape the legacy I will be proud to call my own and pass it onto others as it had been passed to me.

There is a sequel to the Chin dynasty story. Even though the dynasty survived for only 15 years, the Chin emperor managed to leave an infrastructure for national unification and a centralized government system with emperor having absolute power. For more than 2000 years since Chin, China would remain largely a unified country with dictatorial rule.* Many succeeding emperors found no incentive to educate the public, and in some dynasties intellectuals were actively persecuted. I often wondered how different China’s history would have been had its people been allowed to demand for more education. Could China have led the industrial revolution? We might never find out for sure.

Chin dynasty left a legacy in building its nation, but it stemmed from the emperor’s choices. The impact of this legacy was felt by many generations after Chin, yet Chin’s own people had no opportunity to choose that legacy. I could only imagine what that must have felt like, to live in someone else’s aspirations.

Canada faces many challenges today, ranging from youth unemployment to global warming. Democracy means these problems are opportunities for ordinary Canadians like me to be nation builders. With democracy we can shape a legacy for generations of Canadians to enjoy, a legacy we can proudly call our own.

* Apr 4, 2012.  Correction: Dr. Yu mentioned that China actually spent more of its years as a divided nation than unified, if starting the count from the the dynasties before Chin.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Book: The Shallows by Nicholas Carr

Score: 4.5/5

This book is about the internet as a medium, and its effect on the brain to make concentration and deep thinking difficult.  Below is what I got from the book.

Through research findings, Carr shows that the human brain is ever flexible, constantly changing to adapt to the tools used and experiences received.  As we make and shape our tools, so do our tools shape us.

A modern day book is a tool that collected centuries of innovation.  Before them, writings were done on costly scrolls, requiring great hand-eye coordination and dexterity when reading.  Words were written in the fashion of spoken syllables – with no standard spelling, no standard word orders (grammar), no punctuation, and no spaces in between words. 

Reading and deciphering text in those days was a mentally taxing activity that often required sounding out the words, reading over the text multiple times to entertain possible interpretations and selecting the most possible one, all the while moving the scroll with both hands.

Reading was thus reserved for the rich, who usually hired a slave with dexterity to sound out the syllables on the scroll for a group of social elites who then discuss the meaning of the material.  Reading was public and social.

Things changed after the book.  Books are light weight, portable, have no back lighting (easy on the eyes), high resolution, and are very easy to handle and navigate with page numbers, chapters, and sections.  The introduction of standard grammar, punctuation, and spaces made clear the start and end of a complete thought and deciphering text could be feasible without sounding out the syllables.  Then the printing press came along to automate the craft of book making, dramatically bringing down the cost of book ownership.

All these innovations made reading low cost and user friendly to the the ordinary individuals, and widespread literacy soon followed.  More importantly, reading became a private exercise.  The book is a technology optimized for transmitting complex ideas and focused on creating an environment free of physical and mental distraction.  This is the “rabbit hole effect” where the book disappears during reading and each reader can engage in a tranquil and private conversation with the author while forming ideas and exercise deep, abstract thinking.

The internet, by comparison, has very different characteristics.  It lowered the cost of producing content further and every net user can become a contributor of content of all types – text, sound, and videos.  The web is also driven by monetization models by clicks, and web pages are filled with hyperlinks and advertisements all vying for attention.

The net is also dynamic – one can be constantly notified of emails and web site updates that ceaselessly demand immediate attention.  The internet is fraught with interruption.

Whereas information is abundant, attention is scarce.  We handle the net information deluge by skimming and skipping, chopping our attention and taxing our mind to make decisions constantly on the links to click and where to navigate next.  Many choose to “outsource” memorization to the net, not wanting to remember the information and trusting Google to help us find back what we had found.

All these have consequences.  Not only are we more distracted on the net, but as our brain gets into the habit of distraction, we are more distracted all the time.  Distraction, on top of making one tense and anxious, is the enemy of memorization and the formation, storage, and retrieval of complex thoughts and insights associated with intelligence.  Studies show that for the same material, readers scored higher in comprehension and memorization reading off of the book than from the net.  An experienced net user remembers and “sees” less from reading, making them shallower readers.

Just like the intellectual mind benefits from the lack of distraction, the qualities considered as human, such as empathy and compassion, also requires a calm mind.  Contrary to the computer memory, the human memory and mind (and therefore the self) constantly inform and shape one another.  A mind trained to be distracted and obsessed with speed could risk losing not just intellect, but some humanness as well.

Carr sees the internet as a great technology for betterment and admits to not having all the answers to the effect of the medium.  He encourages new exploration and debates on the subject and urges the readers to be vigil on the effect of the internet on our lives.

I have found Carr’s argument eloquent, compelling, rich with historical context, and I highly recommend this book. 

(Book image from Amazon.ca)

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Video: f8 keynote from Facebook

I am sharing this video for two reasons:

  • For all, there’s a pretty good anecdote at ‘37:45 of the video.  What gives you the “kick” to do what you do?
  • For technical folks, I think the Open Graph/Graph feature is an important step.  Maybe this is another way of approaching the semantic web that Tim Berners-Lee envisioned.
Watch live streaming video from f8conference at livestream.com

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Article: Sean Parker: Agent of Disruption (from Forbes.com)

A great article with a more realistic view about the former President of Facebook – so we’re not stuck with the theatrical view from the movie The Social Network.

Thanks Albert for sharing this article.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Video: Interview of Siddhartha Mukherjee by Charlie Rose

Charlie Rose interviews the author of the book 'The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer'.  Mukherjee brings forth some little known stories behind cancer and treatment discoveries and his optimism for the disease.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Interview: Playboy Interview with Steve Jobs (Feb 1, 1985)

Once in a while you come across a very insightful piece that changes your perception in an area.  This article did that for me, in more than one area.  It’s my favourite piece on Jobs to date.  (Thanks for sharing, Ben)

In this thorough interview Jobs touched on the state of the computer industry then, its future (GUI, internet, etc…), and advice on life, just to name a few.  I gained a new appreciation for the machine I take for granted and learned a few things about life, too. 

Enjoy!

Monday, 5 September 2011

Documentary: Guns, Germs, and Steel by National Geographic

This fascinating documentary is based on the Pulitzer prize-winning book Guns, Germs, and Steel by Professor Jared Diamond.  Professor Diamond did the research to answer the question of “why are certain groups of people (say Europeans) so much more materially wealthy than others (say New Guineans)”.

To Diamond, a large part of the answer comes from geography.  It turns out that how your area is home to a small set of animal species fit for domestication and how gifted it is in producing certain plants can transform food production, social structure, knowledge/material trade, and helped certain groups of people (like the Europeans) to acquire guns, germs, and steel.  These major forces then shaped the world we know today through war fares, diseases, and technology.

This documentary is a good introduction to the book.  For a complete picture though, the book is the way to go.

Enjoy!

Book: The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick

Score: 4 / 5

I read this book because Facebook had reached 500 million users globally by 2010 and I wanted to understand what social networks mean and how Facebook “did it”.  Though the book was a bit long for me, it provided good insights into the question.

This book is a detailed history of Facebook up to 2010 – its inception, founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, investor relations, privacy, social impact, and possible future.

I had found the following things about Facebook interesting:

  • it started at Harvard as a universal online Facebook to consolidate the “silo” paper facebooks from the Harvard houses
  • It was the first major social network based on real identity, which allowed for significantly more granular and accurate targeted advertising.
  • Its large scale use of social network as a mechanism for automatically distributing information helps to advertise brands and generate demand for them (seeing what your friends bought through News Feed might nudge you to buy them, too), whereas Google’s search advertising is for showing you things you know you already want.
  • A big part of Facebook’s initial success lies in it being exclusively available to university and college students, where people are most “socially connected” to each other.
  • Facebook focused relentlessly on performance of the site and simplicity of features, contrary to some major social sites at the time.
  • Mark had wanted to build Facebook as a platform from the start.  Facebook’s application is now viewed as a training tool for what adding a social layer to sites would mean.  In the future, Facebook’s focus will be more around providing the social data services to various sites on the web to build up the social platform.  Facebook Connect is first such steps.

My favourite parts of the book are anecdotes around Mark’s personality.  Here is one of them.

Mark had just brought in Sheryl Sandberg, an ex-Googler, as his second-in-command.  They had just gotten out of a meeting where Sandberg proposed something Mark didn’t totally agree on.  And…

Zuckerberg walked out alongside Sandberg.

   “I’m really sorry,” he said

   “For what?”

   “Well, I rolled my eyes.”

   “I didn’t even notice.”

   “Well,” Zuckerberg said, “I’m bringing you in here and I know I need to empower you and make sure everyone knows I believe in you, and I shouldn’t be rolling my eyes.”

She was impressed Zuckerberg would call himself out for such a minor infraction.  “I said to myself, ‘This is going to work,’” she recalls.

Enjoy!  :)

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Videos: Steve Jobs at the D conference through the years

This page has links to the past D conferences when Steve attended.  My favourite is the interview with both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs as they impart insight into the various chapters of the PC and post-PC era.

Monday, 29 August 2011

List of Sites I like

Enjoy!

English Sites

The Gates Notes
Bill Gates’ web site, my favourite is his reading list.

Vaclav Smil
Distinguished Professor Emeritus, an advisor to Bill Gates on world issues.

TED.com
Video of influential thinkers presenting their idea to change the world in culture, technology, art, and many others.

TVO.org documentaries
Lots of great documentaries

All of Bach
Every Friday a performance of Bach’s composition is uploaded for free (St. Matthew Passion is already up), from the Netherlands Bach Society.

CyberBass
Contains midi tracks of classical choral works for individual vocal parts to help learning them.

The Pulitzer Prize
Lists current and past prize winners and finalists.

Thoughts Maybe
An online library of free documentaries.

Aeon Magazine
Essays and videos on Philosophy, Technology, Health, and Culture.

Riptide
An oral history of the digital transformation of news – a project of the Harvard Kennedy School, Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

Kevin Kelly
Author of What Technology Wants, has tons of material links to fascinating documentaries from many fields.

Khan Academy
An educational web site with a huge collection of videos on math, science, business, and even history.

Coursera
Offers online courses from universities around the world for free, some even give out certificates.

How We Get to Next
An extension of Steven Johnson’s book How We Got To Now, with articles and links exploring innovations for the future.

Google Cultural Institute
Google’s virtual museum on the art works and sights of the world.

Macaulay Library from Cornell University
The largest collection of sounds from the natural world.

Gresham College
Free public lectures with both video, audio, podcast, and transcripts on a wide range of subjects.

FORA.tv
Has video interviews/speeches of influential thinkers in tech, culture, and more

Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation
Collection of health data collected globally for analysis by country and other axis.

jnd.org
Blog of Don Norman, author of The Design of Everyday Things.  A great resource on interaction design.

MIT Open Course Ware
MIT’s free course materials online.

Paul Graham
Thoughts and essays from the cofounder of VC firm Y Combinator.

Design Mind
From Frog Design.

Simply Albert
From Albert Lai, a Canadian internet entrepreneur. 

Charlie Rose.com
Video interviews from award winning journalist Charlie Rose.

Governor General’s Literary Award
From Canada Council for the Arts

Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction
A Canadian literary award for non-fiction.

Technology Review
Magazine from MIT about emerging technology.

Digital Riptide
An oral history of journalism and the impact of digitization, from the Harvard Joan Shorenstein Center for Press, Politics and Public Policy.

Clay Shirky’s blog
Contains Clay Shirky’s essay on internet’s impact on society.

Gladwell.com
Blog of Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and Outliers.

Steven Sinofsky’s Microsoft TechTalk
Blog from the Microsoft’s President of the Windows Division.  It has many good posts about what it’s like working for Microsoft as a Program Manager, Developer (SDE), etc…

Larry Smith’s Blog
Thoughts on the economy from one of my favourite professors.

Ray Ozzie’s Blog
From Microsoft’s former Chief Software Architect

Kirainet.com – A geek in Japan
Japan from the view of a foreign technologist who lived there for 8 years and has a very good camera

A VC
Blog of Fred Wilson, VC and principal of Union Square Ventures.

AllThingsD
Part of the Wall Street Journal Network, ”AllThingsD.com is a Web site devoted to news, analysis and opinion on technology, the Internet and media.”

中文網站

CNEX
有許多兩岸三地華人文化的紀錄片

商業週刊
商業週刊的官網

遠見雜誌
遠見雜誌的官網

Video: Salman Khan, founder of Khan academy, on TED and Charlie Rose

I had previously posted about Salmon Khan.  Here are two more videos that shows how Khan academy works (TED video) and what Salman Khan’s aspirations for the academy and himself are (Charlie Rose video).

Enjoy!

Salman Khan TED Talk, with Bill Gates Q&A at the end

 

Salman Khan on Charlie Rose

Sunday, 21 August 2011

How fast has the data grown on the web?

According to Think Quarterly (2011 Q3) – “In 2003, a total of 5 exabytes of data existed. Now we generate that every two days.”

Monday, 8 August 2011

Businessweek: Computer Camp: No Canoes, Just Coding (and Kickball)

Instead of going to camp for being close to nature, there is a growing number going to intensive 2-week programming camps.  See article.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Memos by Bill Gates and Ray Ozzie

Once in a while the Chief Software Architect at Microsoft (formerly Bill Gates and until recently, Ray Ozzie) would write a memo to focus the company on the current and future trend and set the strategic direction for the company. 

The following memos are about the importance of the internet, cloud computing, and the continuous service for connected devices, respectively.  Through them we get a glimpse of what goes on in the minds of these tech giants. : )  Enjoy:

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Bill Gates’ recommended reading

Bill reads a lot, and fortunately for us he is sharing what he reads on his web site in the “Books” section. It got started recently but more will come later.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Article: How Khan Academy is Changing the Rules of Education (by Clive Thompson)

Here is a great WIRED.com article about Khan Academy, a very promising educational non-profit web site that contains educational videos, problem sets, and a dashboard that’s helping students to learn and challenging traditional educational system in the process.

This site was started by Salman Khan, a man passionate about learning and teaching, and it started out as a “help cousin to understand her math at school” thing on YouTube.  It now has funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and Google, among others.  Bill Gates claims his children use the site to help with their school work as well.

Khan Academy shows the many promises of technology in delivering personalized education – online video lectures for students to learn in their private time, re-watching the parts they didn’t get without criticism, doing problem sets at their own pace, have their learning statistics collected and used by teachers to focus the help given to each individual, and students are motivated by rewards points given by the system based on their progress and effort (number of problems sets achieved, the courses taken, etc).

Enjoy!

Article: Inside Google+ – How the Search Giant Plans to Go Social (by Steven Levy)

Here is a good article by Steven Levy from WIRED.com on Google+.  It provides some background on the building of this product.  Some of the main points are:

  • Google+ has two main “content sources”: sparks (where information about your interest comes in), and streams (where information from your social connection flows in)
  • Google realizes that search result quality can be much improved with social/personal information and now is investing “orders of magnitude” more into social efforts
  • Some of Google’s main assets: strong user loyalty, strong cash position for acquisition, and mastery in determining relevant information and links

Friday, 29 July 2011

Video: Bill Gates on Energy (from WIRED Conference, May 2011)

Each time I listen to Bill I learn a ton.  He is always able to get down to the core of the issues in whichever field he chooses to study - be it healthcare, education, or in this case, energy.

In this video, WIRED magazine editor in chief Chris Anderson (author of “Free” and “The Long Tail”) asks Bill on the issue of energy.  Some questions from the interview:

  • Why is energy an important issue?  (Because it impacts everyone in every industry/country.  Its impact on the poor will have a rippling effect on the rich as well)
  • How does the Japanese nuclear disaster affect your view on nuclear power?  (Nuclear power is 1 million times more potent per reaction, compared to coal and natural gas)
  • What are some of the future designs of nuclear power plants?  Why does it matter?
  • How we solve this energy generation issue has an implication on the climate as well.
  • What are some of the biggest challenges in energy farming? (This refers to solar, wind, etc…  One of the big issues is stability for grid scale energy)

Here’s a very short summary of the talk.  During the talk he recommended some books by Vaclav Smil.  It’s on Bill’s book recommendation page.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

YouTube, Documentaries, and Podcasts List

Here are some videos I’ve posted about.  I’m also trying to post to my collections on Google Plus to see which is easier to share.

YouTube Channels (and memorable episodes)

Charlie Rose Show
    Magnus Carlson (Norwegian Chess Grandmaster)
    Harold Bloom (Yale Literary Professor)
    Lee Kuan Yew (former Prime Minister of Singapore)
    Masha Gessen (Russian Journalist)
    Steve Jobs (CEO of Apple)
    Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon)
    Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg (CEO and COO
          of Facebook)
    Mark Carney (Former Governor of Bank of Canada)
    Ginny Rometty (CEO of IBM)
    Ben Horowitz (Silicon Valley Venture Capitalist)
    Meryl Streep (American Actress)
    Masayoshi Son (Japanese Internet Entrepreneur)
    Jim Collins (American Author on Business Management)
    Bill Gates (CEO of Microsoft, especially from 2014)
    Isadore Sharp (CEO of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts)
    Danny Meyer (CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group)

Interview with George Stroumboulopoulos
    Jim Parsons (main actor from The Big Bang Theory)
    Marc and Craig Kielburger (Founders of Free the Children)

QTV by Jian Ghomeshi
    Stephen Fry (British TV host, novelist, essayist)
    Michael Buble (Canadian Singer)
    Josh Groban (American Singer)
    Barbra Walters (American TV Interviewer)
    Shane Smith (Canadian Cofounder of VICE News)

VICE News
    A Guide to North Korea (3 Parts)
    The Islamic State (5 Parts)

Documentaries

Money, Power & Wall Street (PBS)
A PBS documentary about the financial crisis.

Empire of the Word
A history of reading and the written word (4 episodes).  It documents the how reading started (to account for contributions to the king), how it was forbidden for political reasons, and what the future of reading (electronic/digital) might look like.

The Machine that Changed the World
This is the history of computing (5 parts), and it is one of my favourite documentaries.  From Charles Babbage’s difference engine to today’s electronic computers and the various major inventions in between, this film outlines the significance of each event and development.

Guns, Germs, and Steel (National Geographic – 3 parts)
Based on the Pulitzer prize-winning book of the same name by Professor Jared Diamond.  It shows how geography gave some groups of people a leg up to acquiring the power of guns, germs, and steel, which dramatically shaped the world.

Big History (History Channel)
A 17 part series on the history of human and planet development through the lens of science.  It was developed with the Big History project which Bill Gates’ foundation helped to fund.

The Ascent of Money
A history of money (4 parts) – how it was invented and gradually played a dominant part of politics, commerce, and our daily lives in general.

Locomotion: the Amazing World of Trains
A history of trains – how one of the most important inventions of the industrial revolution changed the nature of war, commercial outsourcing, colonialism, and how its status changed as automobiles became more popular.

Breaking Point: Quebec/Canada – The 1995 Referendum
The sequences of events that led up to the Quebec referendum and the result of it.  It seems to not be sold anymore.  The Vaughan Public Libraries have this in its collection.

Freedom had a Price
Describes Canada’s first internment operation to imprison Ukrainian immigrants between 1914 to 1920.  This is in the Vaughan Public Libraries collection.

Bach: A Passionate Life
Sir John Eliot Gardiner explores the context around Bach’s life through his music and reveals the lesser known and perhaps more human side of him.

John Eliot Gardiner – In Rehearsal
Sir John Eliot Gardiner rehearses Bach’s Cantata BWV 63 with the English Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Choir.

Frederick the Great and the Enigma of Prussia
The story of one of the greatest political figure in modern European history.

Nazis: A Warning from History (BBC)
BBC documentaries on Nazi party’s politics, social atmosphere, war, from its rise to its demise.

It Takes a Child
The story of Craig Kielburger, and how after reading about the death of a anti child labour activist, one of his own age, went to understand the issue and found Free the Children.

The Square
An Oscar nominated documentary on the Egyptian revolution from the perspective of its participants.

Living on One Dollar
A group of US college students spent the summer living on one dollar in Guatemala like the locals.

No Impact Man
A man and his family tries to minimize and eliminate their impact on the environment, reducing trash, stop eating meat, using motorized vehicles, cut out electricity, to examine how far one can go to save the environment.

The Life of Muhammad (PBS)
The life of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad.

Science and Islam (BBC)
An introduction to the important advancements in mathematics, physics, medicine, and astronomy in Medieval Islamic world.

Iran and the West (BBC)
A look at Iran’s past amicable relationship with the “west”, and how it changed after the Iranian revolution and what it means today.

Inside 9-11 (National Geographic)
A more detailed look at the events as it happened on the fateful day, and of its perpetrators and the American response.

The Story of the Jews (BBC)
A history of the Jews, by Simon Schama.

Israel and Palestine: a Divided Land
An introductory film about the conflict in the land of Palestine.

Defamation
A Jewish director and explores another view on anti-Semitism today with a controversial humour.

The Russian Journey
Glenn Gould was the first North American concerto pianist to visit Russia in the cold war era. He had an impact through his artistry, musicality, and historical perspective that gave many Russians musicians a glimpse of what the musical world is like in the west.

The Japanese Bullet Train (BBC)
Richard Hammond explores the scientific ingenuity that gave birth to the safest and one of the most efficient high speed train systems in the world.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi
The story of the 3 Michelin star sushi master Jiro Ono.

The September Issue
The life of Vogue magazine’s editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, in the creation of the 2007 September issue.

NHK紀錄片: 中國文明之謎 (In Japanese with Chinese subtitle)
3 part documentary exploring the establishment of Chinese king’s legitimacy, the invention of Chinese characters, and the Chinese identity.

NHK紀錄片: 兩岸故宮 (Palace Museum - 中文發音)
NHK的12集大型紀錄片,透過兩岸故宮博物院的收藏品了解中國歷史

大國崛起 (Rise of Great Powers - 中文發音)
中國中央電視台製作12集紀錄片,探索西元1500之後五百年崛起的國家(包括英國,美國,俄羅斯,荷蘭等地)及其背景

中國門 (China Gate – 中文發音)
中國的青年努力學習,希望透過高考的門能走向他們的夢想

不老騎士-歐兜邁環台日記 (In Chinese – Mandarin/Taiwanese)
17位平均今年齡超過八十歲的長者為期13天的騎摩托車環島行程之紀錄片

Podcasts:

Gresham College Audio Lectures
Free public lectures on topics ranging from medicine to music.

Revisionist History
By Malcolm Gladwell, who revisits some past events to cast it in a new light.

In Our Time – History (from BBC)
Discussions on the various topics in history.

CBC Ideas
Ideas spanning all aspect of human and natural world for a curious mind.

Entrepreneur Thought Leaders (from Stanford University)
Talks by and for entrepreneurs and business managers.

A History of the World in 100 Objects (from BBC)
Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, tells the story of human history through 100 objects around the world through time.

Peter Mansbridge One on One (from CBC)
Mansbridge and his discussions and interviews with guests.

A Brief History of Mathematics (from BBC)
History of mathematics through the lives of past mathematicians.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Video: Hilary Hahn – a Portrait

Hilary is a world class violinist.  I got to know her and subsequently liked her playing through her Bach album.  Her sound is very clean, lively, and very sensitive.  This is a documentary about her (5 parts).

Enjoy!

Part 1

Part 2

 

Part 3

 

Part 4

 

Part 5

Monday, 18 July 2011

(Chinese) Video: documentary of 潘建成

Below are the clips of Mr. 潘建成, the founder and CEO of PHISON Electronics Inc.  The company came up with the world’s first single chip USB flash drive IC that made portable USB key drives possible.  It is now a world leader in this market.

Mr. Pan started the company in 2000 in his 20’s.  In 2009 its revenue reached USD $750 million.  This documentary highlights his journey thus far, and how his business philosophy and a team of 20 somethings helped to create the first USB drive we know of today.  It’s in Chinese and has 3 parts.

Enjoy!

Part 1

 

Part 2

 

Part 3

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Reading List and Online Courses

Here is Bill Gates' General Reading List, and here is his list for science and innovation

In addition to the books posted, below is list of books and magazines I’ve found helpful. If you’ve found any to be useful to you, let me know. : )

Online Courses

A History of the World Since 1300 (from Princeton, on Coursera.org)

English Books

The Power of Habit
By Charles Duhigg

Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China
By Ezra Vogel

The Better Angels of Our Nature
By Steven Pinker

A History of Modern Computing
By Paul E. Ceruzzi
(For those short on time or want a less technical account, there is Computing: A Concise History)

How We Got to Now
By Steven Johnson

Tuesdays with Morrie
By Mitch Albom

Spare Parts
By Joshua Davis

Walden on Wheels
By Ken Ilgunas

The Promise of a Pencil
By Adam Braun

Steve Jobs
By Walter Isaacson

John A.: The Man Who Made Us
The Life and Times of John A. MacDonald
By Richard Gwyn

The Google Story
By David A. Vise

Beyond the Internet
By Larry Smith

Moonwalking with Einstein
By Joshua Foer

The Spark
By Kristine Barnett

The Perfume (Fiction)
Patrick Suskind

The HP Way
By David Packard

A History of the World
By Andrew Marr

The Information
By James Gleick

Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson

A Cultural History of Modern Science in China
By Benjamin Elman

So Good They Can’t Ignore You
By Cal Newport

The Shallows
By Nicholas Carr

Pride and Prejudice (fiction)
By Jane Austen

The Dream
By Gurbaksh Chahal

Talent is Overrated
By Geoff Colvin

Delivering Happiness
By Tony Hsieh

Free the Children
By Craig Kielburger

Now, Discover Your Strengths
By Marcus Buckingham & Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D.

Civilization
By Niall Ferguson

Why Nations Fail
By Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson

Good to Great
By Jim Collins

The Big Switch
By Nicholas Carr

The World is Flat
By Thomas L. Friedman

Turing’s Cathedral
By George Dyson

The Happiness Advantage
By Shawn Achor

The Rickover Effect: How One Man Made a Difference
By Theodore Rockwell

Shift: Inside Nissan’s Historic Revival
By Carlos Ghosn

David and Goliath
By Malcolm Gladwell

The Facebook Effect
By David Kirkpatrick

The Second Machine Age
By Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew Mcafee

Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy
By Isadore Sharp

Getting Organized in the Google Era
By Douglas C. Merrill

Getting Things Done
By David Allen

The Age of Turbulence
By Alan Greenspan

Where Good Ideas Come From
By Steven Johnson

Outliers
By Malcolm Gladwell

The Element
By Ken Robinson, Ph.D.

Lexus: The Relentless Pursuit
By Chester Dawson

The Last Lecture
By Randy Pausch

Rework
By Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

Hard Drive: Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire
By James Wallace and Jim Erickson

English Magazines

The Economist

Bloomberg Business Week

Fortune

Chinese Books (中文書)

知識人與中國文化的價值
余英時  著

親愛的安德烈
龍應台 安德烈 合著

大江大海  1949
龍應台  著

日產的文藝復興
卡洛斯‧戈恩 自傳

OFF學
大前研一 著

核能潛鑑之父李高佛
迪奧多‧洛克威爾 著

放任心中的一百次流浪
劉軒 著

7-Eleven經商之道
鈴木敏文 口述

王永慶奮鬥傳奇
郭泰 著

五體不滿足完全版
乙武洋匡 著

我是黎智英
黎智英 著

最尖端武器: 核子潛水艇
讀貴新聞社 著

超越自己
劉墉 著

現代寓言
杏林子 著

我的人生從廁所開始
白倉正子 著

俠風長流
杏林子 著

肯定自己
劉墉 著

新 知識生產術
勝間和代 著

高速鐵路新時代
蘇昭旭 著

Monday, 11 July 2011

Book: Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

Score: 4/5

The book, Rework, was recommended to me by my friend Seungchan (thanks) and I liked it. It’s a collection of short articles expressing authors’ views on various business practices such as hiring, marketing, innovation, and starting up a business.

The authors are the founders of 37signals, a company that started as a web design firm, but now has a product line up includes various collaboration software tools (such as project management application Basecamp) to help businesses be more efficient through software.

I liked many of the book ideas, such as eliminating meetings for programmers, and how to truly connect with customers through personal touches. (probably because 37signals isn’t your typical 9-5, in-the-office type company)

Below I have quoted one of my favourite sections in the book. I’ve often fallen victim to it. The words might be a bit harsh, but I do find truth in it.

Hopefully you will get a sense of the style and type of book this is. Enjoy:

Workoholics:
Our culture celebrates the idea of the workaholic. We hear about people burning the midnight oil. They pull all-nighters and sleep at the office. It’s considered a badge of honor to kill yourself over a project. No amount of work is too much work.

Not only is this workaholism unnecessary, it's stupid. Working more doesn't mean you care more or get more done. It just means you work more.

Workaholics wind up creating more problems than they solve. First off, working like that just isn’t sustainable over time. When the burnout crash comes-and it will - it’ll hit that much harder.

Workaholics miss the point, too. They try to fix problems by throwing sheer hours at them. They try to make up for intellectual laziness with brute force. This results in inelegant solutions.

They even create crises. They don’t look for ways to be more efficient because they actually like working overtime. They enjoy feeling like heroes. They create problems (often unwittingly) just so they can get off on working more.

Workaholics make the people who don’t stay late feel inadequate for "merely'' working reasonable hours. That leads to guilt and poor morale all around. Plus, it leads to an ass-in-seat mentality -people stay late out of obligation, even if they aren’t really being productive.

If all you do is work, you're unlikely to have sound judgments. Your values and decision making wind up skewed. You stop being able to decide what's worth extra effort and what's not. And you wind up just plain tired. No one makes sharp decisions when tired.

In the end, workaholics don't actually accomplish more than nonworkaholics. They may claim to be perfectionists, but that just means they’re wasting time fixating on inconsequential details instead of moving on to the next task.

Workaholics aren't heroes. They don’t save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is already home because she figured out a faster way to get things done.

Book: Seven Years to Seven Figures by Michael Masterson

Score: 3.5/5 (I haven’t found the career listed in the book very appealing personally, but some people might)

I learned about the author, Michael Masterson, through a friend.  My friend’s original recommendation was for the book “Ready, Fire, Aim”, but I thought to read this book since it’s in the library.

This genre is a bit out of my typical reading path and I first got interested in the book out of curiosity – on how this can be achieved.  After reading the book, though I’m not convinced it’s what I want to do, I do think if you really follow the book’s direction you can become pretty healthy financially.

Masterson is a successful entrepreneur himself and wrote the book to help people build wealth quickly.  His background in sales and copywriting makes the book a refreshing perspective for me.

The book is mainly a collection of stories of high net worth individuals, and their stories have a recurring pattern:

      • They all earned high incomes.
      • They all had equity in a business.
      • Most of them invested in real estate.

On top of that, I’ve learned that being a copywriter has a lot of leverage.  A great copywriter writes a sales copy once, and can have its message replicated digitally for virtually no cost, and each one can generate a handsome profit.  Oh the wonders of the internet and nature of information.  : )

There are some good tactical advice as well but I won’t list them here.  If you’re interesting in the field of copywriting, sales, or just general wealth building, have a quick look at this book.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Book: The Information

Score: 4/5

I just finished reading the book “The Information” by James Gleick.  In it Gleick chronicles the history of information – the idea, storage, retrieval, transmission, and processing of it. 

The book opens with an examination on ancient techniques for transmitting messages – African drumming, speaking, all the way to examining the writing systems, natural languages, information theory, the origin of computers, quantum computing, and ends at discussing the phenomenon of information deluge.

I found the book to be insightful and comprehensive, though a little long when explaining the various information theories.  It will suit someone with a serious interest in those areas.

My favourite part in the book was when it detailed what the world prior to writing was like.  In that world, there was no standard spelling, alphabets didn’t have order, there were no dictionaries, very little formal logic system developed for argument sakes, and mental abstraction of ideas were not present.  Words disappeared as soon as they were spoken (they only existed in people’s memories otherwise), and definitions for terms changed constantly, sometimes within the same conversation.  The invention of writing allowed a thought to be analyzed repeatedly and meticulously, which made recording history and the development of science, math, logic, and all other fields in its current sophistication possible.

I hope you find this book enjoyable as well.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Harvard Business Review article–“The Age of Hyperspecialization”

In this article, HBR discusses the trend, promises/perils of using the internet to break up and distribute digital work, and what that means for management.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Video: Great Composers – Bach (by BBC)

Documentary of J.S. Bach. (7 parts)

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

Part 6:

Part 7:

Video: Gardiner’s Bach Cantata Pilgrimage

A documentary about Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s performance of the Bach Cantatas. (6 parts)

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

Part 6:

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Videos: history of the Shinkansen (3 parts) and other Japanese rail culture

 

The chime that plays prior to Shinkansen announcements.  I still remember the amazement when I first heard the chime aboard a Shinkansen:

The various procedures/gestures performed by Shinkansen operators:

Here’s one performed by normal train conductors:

Cleaners bowing to the train:

Staff bowing to customer upon leaving the coach:

Japanese station master bows to greet commuters: