Monday, December 22, 2014

How to be a good boss


I've been an employee for 10+ years.  That is almost too long, and face it, nobody wants to be an employee forever, someday I want to be boss -- I'm sure you would too.  Maybe I'd start small -- acting as supervisor to a number of trainees, until such time that I can lead my own division, department, and eventually companies.  Having worked for a number of bosses, I'd like to identify what characteristics I look for in a boss-- what I would aspire to be like in that spacious corner office.

1. Well-prepared
Being a boss means you need to be well-versed in the strategic direction of your division, of your company.  Not only that, you must have razor-sharp focus on cash flows.  I've seen many businesses derail from its long-term strategy just to deal with short-term cash straps.  Without cash flows, you won't have much ammo for incentives and motivation.  It's like going into the Battle of Stalingrad empty-handed, just hoping the next guy with the rifle will get shot before you.
PRO-TIP: If you argue about budgets, then it means you don't have a budget.

2. Focused
Highlight a limited number of tasks you will deal with at any given time.  Stop acting like you know all the answers before taking a deep dive. Spend the time to understand the problem at hand, don't be dismissive. People will tell you bull***t, you need to look at hard data.   If you don't spend the time and go deep, you will make the wrong decisions.  Don't kid yourself into thinking that you can handle so many things at once.

I've had bosses where I -- a direct report -- would tell my supervisor point [A], and s/he won't believe me.  An outsider, perhaps someone s/he meets the first time, would then say the same point [A], and s/he would trust the outsider more and drive the point back to me.  It's annoying, but I've seen it so many times that I guess it's just how people are.  Lesson learned: the first time you tell them point [A], bring a lot of evidence, hard numbers, so you can later say "I told you so".

3. Humble
Always be aware that you are bound to make mistakes, and must make course corrections along the way.  It's not always due to poor decision-making; sometimes you make the best decisions based on the known facts, then some unexpected event throws your a wrench your way.  Commit, implement, review, and reflect.

Know your limitations.  If you see an issue you can't handle, go seek help -- that's what consultants and service providers are for.

When you do make a mistake, own up to your decisions.  So many times I've heard, "if I had my way back then, I would have done [B] and we would not be in this mess."  It doesn't matter who wanted to do what back then; as a boss, it is your responsibility regardless. Leaders get credit in a success story, the flipside should be the same.  Acknowledging past mistakes is the first step in learning from them, and in pointing fingers you lose the opportunity to gain critical knowledge from your history.

4. Just be there
This is a very simple point, but somehow seems very difficult to some bosses. You need to just *be around.  Face time shows your employees that you care.  If you show care, your employees would produce something more than half-assed work.

5. Communicative
To be a good boss you need to be open and transparent. Hiding things will only make your employees despise you.  Some bosses hide side businesses, side benefits, or side arrangements (either with the company, or with certain clients).  The fact that all of those are "on the side" means you owe your employees transparency and accountability -- you need to show that despite these things, you are still 100% committed to them.  Show them that you are open, attentive, and available.

Some bosses hide the fact when the company is having issues -- perhaps it's financial strain, legal issues, disagreements between partners, etc.  This is counterproductive.  It is important to discuss these matters in an open forum, because of three things: i) the alternative, office rumor-mongering, is an order of magnitude more destructive to morale than the actual issue, ii) sharing internal issues show your employees that you respect them as adults, instead of treating them like children, and iii) having an open discussion can generate productive discussions, perhaps somebody may have good ideas for resolving the main issue.

 - -

These are some traits that I, a longtime employee, wish I could have when I am in charge.  The overarching theme is that bosses really need to be leader and motivator, in addition to solving problems and making good strategic decisions.


Sunday, November 30, 2014

My Tracks (Android) - App Review


I tried to find a review of this relatively old software, but there isn't much available online. It's one of Google's lesser-known app in the Play Store.  Which is a bit unfortunate because the multipurpose GPS tracker works well; it is intuitive and simple (the basic interface is just 2 buttons: start and stop), and unlike similar apps it doesn't try too hard, doesn't try to sell you things, or bombard you with ads before you even hit start.  I'm talking about software like Nike Running, Endomondo, or Strava. Some of these apps are more "social" than others, allowing you to easily share (brag) about your time and route on Facebook.  (If I was a 3-hour marathoner, I would be more "social")

My Tracks is more focused than that, and this is why I like it best.

The Good
  • Statistics include calories, speed, distance, time, and elevation -- basically everything an athlete may care about.
  • You can track your jogs (or runs, walks, hikes, skis, cycles, drives) in a real-time map.  Most similar apps do this, I know, but some make it more difficult than it needs to.  This is important if you're hiking, or in unfamiliar territory, so you can find your way back.
  • It's made by Google, which gives me bit of comfort that it's somewhat optimized for Android.  Battery usage is OK. My normal 1.5-hour jog would run down ~5% of battery life, which is reasonable.
  • It syncs with Google Drive, so even if you change devices (or if you brick your phone), you won't lose your workout history.  In the past 2 months I have ran 45km -- which isn't much to brag about, but at least it's there for me to see.  In Drive, the workout history is saved as a .KMZ file which you can open in Google Earth.
  • You can set route markers on demand, or opt to set them automatically. I set mine for every single km, so I can see my pace broken down by km.
  • There's even a homescreen widget you can use.  If you're an avid daily runner, this is for you.

The Bad
  • When you press Start, the timer starts even before GPS locks on, which is fine, except my phone (2013 LG G Pro running Kit Kat 4.4.2) takes about 5 minutes to lock on.
  • Sometimes during my runs, the app seems unresponsive.  I don't know if it's busy trying to lock GPS or what. But it always comes back to life after a couple minutes.  

The Ugly
  • Since the timer/log starts before the GPS locks on, the chart looks funny in the beginning of runs.  Every single time, it shows my run's maximum speed at 35km/h.  Right.
Update: It's rainy season and I've been having problems fixing in to GPS -- I've gone whole 1.5hr jogs without My Tracks locking and recording anything.  Based on some forum suggestions I've downloaded an app "GPS Status & Toolbox" by MobiWIA in the Play Store, it seems to help but I'll test it some more.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Congratulations ESA Rosetta-Philae


Congrats ESA Rosetta-Philae on the historic #cometlanding @ESA_Rosetta @philae2014.
Lots of science to get you where you are, and still lots more to come.
This is history being made and rewritten all over again...

I still don't know how the craft navigates; it's not like there's GPS signal in interplanetary space.  How does it know the distance to the comet (my guess: laser rangefinder?), how does telemetry work (ground telescope observation? Hubble?).  Somebody please enlighten me.

I also don't know if we could (theoretically) put a guy up there.  Would Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck puke their brains out going at 50,000 miles/hour chasing the comet?

I also wonder how they can take such detailed picture, with a 10 year old camera, in the dark of space, of an object going 40x the speed of sound.  I can't even take a good picture of kids playing soccer in bright daylight.  They must be using some special edition Go Pro or something...


Sunday, November 09, 2014

Thoughts on the Antares space probe explosion

I've wanted to write more about astrophysics, but as usual, real life has gotten in the way.  Well, last week the unmanned Antares space probe exploded upon liftoff.  Then the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo crashed, killing its crew members.  These accidents were major setbacks and huge dismay, but it doesn't change my confidence that this and the coming decades will prove some very interesting developments in our understanding of our universe.

It's important to take a step back and see where we are in the age of space discovery.

The Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 space probes, launched in the 1970s, has successfully explored the outer planets Jupiter and Neptune.  Now both are exploring the interstellar space, more than 15 billion kilometers away from Earth.

The Cassini space probe visited Saturn's system, and its Huygens lander touched down at Titan in 2005, bringing us tons of data which will take years to analyze.  Yes, you heard that right.  We have taken terrestrial pictures from the surface of Titan, which is a moon of Saturn, which is a gas giant planet really far away. Don't forget this gorgeous picture of Earth (tiny dot on the lower right with the arrow) taken from Saturn.

View of Earth from Cassini, Saturn in foreground

In 2015 the New Horizons space probe will pass by dwarf planet Pluto, and subsequently enter the Kuiper belt at the outer edge of the Solar System for another 10 years before its nuclear power runs out.  The data we receive from the probe will lead us to discovery of countless findings, bringing our understanding of the universe to a more complete picture, while most likely raising many new questions altogether.

These are costly missions ultimately aimed at exploring the outer worlds.   I shudder to think what would happen if these missions never happened due to a launch explosion.....

Saturday, November 08, 2014

I got to see more movies


I haven't had much time to go see movies recently (that's what having children does to your free time).  Despite how juvenile it seems to be writing about movies, but oh well I'm just gonna put it out there. So here are my watch list of the past 20 years or so.

Gravity (2013)
The storyline is quite shallow, many scenes were unrealistic, but it's a thrill ride with gorgeous pictures.  Just ignore how Sandra Bullock glided from Hubble to the ISS only with a small jetpack and half an oxygen tank.  Or how she, after launching herself from a Chinese space station, conveniently plunged into a small lake in Michigan, just close enough to the shore -- as opposed to somewhere in the deep Pacific Ocean.

The Sixth Sense (1999)
Ridiculously well-made concoction of horror, tragedy, tears and comedy.  This movie is all about tying up loose ends and facing your biggest fears.  One of M Night Shyamalan's earlier movies turned out to be his best.  Bruce Willis had hair.

School of Rock (2003)
Jack Black movies typically insult the viewers' intelligence.  In this gem, not only does he successfully lead a cast of children, but he does so while respecting their talent.  The end result is a children's movie that appeals to adults as well.

The Kingdom (2007)
My favorite of the "kill Arab terrorists" genre. Note the cameo by country superstar of yesteryear Tim McGraw as the grieving widower in the opening bomb attack.  Also, I wish I was more like Jamie Foxx and less like William Hung.

Romeo Must Die! (2000)
Some of the most awesome people all in one movie.  Jet Li as the ex-con trying to avenge his brother's death, only to find his own family responsible.  Delroy Lindo as the big boss trying to fight the Chinese mafia.  Anthony Anderson as a fat guy.  Aaliyah as I don't remember what she's supposed to be, but who cares.  I miss Aaliyah...

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Forgiveness

Forgiveness does not change the past, but it enlarges the future.
  ~ Paul Boese

Saturday, November 01, 2014

On Private Equity Investing ....


Preface: This post has taken the longest time for me to write, because it summarizes my entire 10-year investing career. I'm trying to recap things we have done right, and also things we have done wrong. 

As investment professionals, we are obligated to uphold the highest ethical and professional standards in making our investment decisions.  As opposed to public equity analysts or mutual fund managers, private company investors don't have the benefit of public companies and their SEC-sanctioned disclosures and regulations.   So the burden lies on us to identify strong investments, companies with good potential.  I've grown to appreciate several Do's and Don'ts to keep in mind during the investment process:

1. Don't fall in love with a deal
If you force yourself into doing a deal because of external pressures, then you're not doing it right; I'm talking things like sector allocation ("I need to do a coal deal because everybody else does"), timing ("the market is so hot and I haven't done a deal yet") or even something trivial ("the CMO can hook me up with VIP football tickets").  Listen to your own team, is there any dissenting opinions about the deal and why.  Keep in mind at the end of the day, none of these pressures matter and investors only care about realized returns. And don't forget...

2. Don't skimp on due diligence
For large investors, due diligence means hiring an alphabet soup of BCG, PWC, OMM, or other consultants to write 100-page reports evaluating everything from industry trends, legal status, and financial accounts of the target company.  For smaller firms, due diligence means the team of analysts and associates run around talking to suppliers and customers.  Either way, don't skimp on DD.  Sure, if you end up striking it big it wouldn't matter, but if you end up losing money then your investors will grill you on how much or how little you spent on diligence.  Spend the brainpower, whether it's BCG's or your analysts'.

3. Dive deep into the strengths and weaknesses of management
Unless you're putting in an entire new group of people to run the company, you need to gauge how strong (or weak) your frontmen are.  If they are lacking in some aspects, you need to identify talent that can gel with and augment the rest of the team.  Just like football, investing is a team sport; and you happen to be GM, head coach, and head of PR concurrently.  After the team is set, you need to....

4. Carefully set proper incentives 
If profitability or sustainability is your target, don't set top-line growth as your benchmark.  PEs differ from VCs in this aspect.  VCs only need to usher the team to the next funding round.  PEs need to get to either sustainability or a liquidity event.  Whatever it is, the goal determines the incentives that need to be set.  Formulate the incentives for top management, then work down and determine the middle and lower rank's incentives.  Regular employees may not appreciate stock options; whereas entrepreneurs may prefer a larger portion in them.

5. Spend time with your co-investors/partners 
How do your partners see the investment.  What do they think about the current management.  Of course there is a risk of herd mentality here, but it never hurts to venture outside of your cave and know what the rest of the world sees. Do this in the beginning  and throughout the investment life, even if you are the lead investor.  *Especially if* you are the lead investor, because leaders are most prone to pride and tunnel vision.

6. Just like in real life, prepare for the unexpected
If you are expecting financing at some stage, prepare for if it doesn't happen or gets delayed. These things happen, sometimes no fault of your own.  Perhaps you don't get your license in time.  Perhaps the bank has to go a different strategy.  Whatever the worst case scenario is, you need to prep for it.

Long story short, the investment process does not stop when the SPA is signed and payment is wired.  In fact, it is just the beginning.  It is what you do afterwards that creates (or destroys) value.

Friday, October 31, 2014

CSI: Cyber Anarchy99 Unit: Billings, MONTANA


They are spinning off the long-running TV series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation into CSI: Cyber, starring James Van Der Beek and Shad Moss a.k.a. Lil Bow Wow.


The story writes itself:
Dawson is the special agent in charge of cyber-terrorism, e-bombs, and virtual skynet drone attacks.  Bow Wow is the Harvard dropout who hacks into federal networks from the basement of his mom's house. Patricia Arquette is Dawson's boss, she will boss people around wearing black PVC clothing.  And for no reason, Keanu Reeves will appear.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

To engage or to choose your battles?


We are often taught to "choose our battles".  What the heck does that mean, we need to be pushovers and not stand up for ourselves? According to the Big Think blog, we need to assess the situation and decide whether to engage or to retreat.

So when should you use these and other techniques?  When is a battle not worth the aftermath?  Consider the following guidelines. It's best not to engage when:
(1) There’s a low probability of winning without doing excessive damage
(2) Upon reflection, winning isn't as important as it originally seemed 
(3) There likely will be a time down the line when you can raise the issue again with a different person or in a different way
(4) The other party's style is provocative whether speaking with you or others, so it’s not worth taking personally
(5) You could win on the immediate issue, but lose big in terms of the relationship

Personally, I'd add some of my own categories:
a. When the argument becomes irrational, such as anything involving astrology, Feng Shui, karma, or somebody's mom being a bitch
b. When the counterparty is a female

Tragically, the above two usually go together.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Failure is....

Failure is not the opposite of success, it is the last step before success.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Apple makes phablets!


It bends!!  But only if you bench press 400 lbs!  I can only do 355 so I guess I'm in luck!

People will just live with it.  It's not like people have any choice if you are stuck in the Itunes observable universe.  The worst case situation (from Apple perspective) is, people pay full price for one of the new phones, warp it like a Pringle, bitch on the internet, switch to a samsung phone when their contract runs out, but buy the next Ipad since they already bought hundreds of $$ of junk on itunes, and continue to buy junk on itunes.  That's how walled garden ecosystems work, guys, and these guys do it best!

Monday, September 15, 2014

On gadgets

In the morning after the big Apple announcements, just want to remind you of the quotables:

"The true price of something is to be considered by dividing its cost over the hours you'll use it."

a.k.a. go cheap on things you won't use often.  More widely-known as the BPR (bulk-price ratio).

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Morality


Not every turd floats. Sometimes it sinks to the bottom quickly. But in general, don't be a turd.


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Happy Independence Day


Best of luck to the incoming administration.  You have a long journey ahead of you with many challenges:
- Fiscal pressures due to fuel subsidies
- Stubborn current account deficits
- Endemic corruption and poor public service quality
- Low levels of infrastructure development especially in the outer regions
- Balancing foreign direct investments with building national industries


Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Tips for college students


In my line of work, especially during recruiting season, I've had the privilege to meet and talk to young college students; they are either interning or interviewing to be interning, or sometimes they just want to talk to someone in the industry. I'd like to share some career advice that I've provided to them, hopefully these are useful for somebody.

Enjoy college
As many people say, college is the best time of your life.  You don't need to worry about jobs, no need to worry about bills, or how you're gonna pay for your kid's school. Well, it's all true as advertised.  Enjoy this phase of your life, you will not get another chance at it.  No need to burden yourself by finishing early, unless it's for some other reason (e.g. financial consideration).  Take some extra fun classes. Take philosophy, art, music history, whatever you can enjoy.  Perhaps just sit in and audit these classes (most professors allow this).

Network
It is a big world, but it is also a small world.  Sure they may be your schoolmates now, but in 10 years they will be a Skadden lawyer, a nephrologist at Mass. General Hospital, an associate producer in Hollywood, a centerfielder for the Oakland A's, and a firefighter at Philadelphia FD.   Stay in touch with them -- I personally prefer fantasy football as a low-investment means for keeping in touch.  Facebook also works well.

Take business classes
Most importantly, take basic accounting and finance classes.  Also take business writing, if such is offered.  Why? Because no matter what you end up doing in your career, these will be useful one day.  Who knows, maybe you may end up as entrepreneur. Basic business knowledge is important for everybody.

Get your read on
Again, emphasis on business-style writing.  Read equity research reports by banks, market wraps, and business journals on tangible topics. Acclimate yourself to how business world writes. Business writing is not the same as college essays; you need to be concise, concrete, and professional.     You may never again need to write a 20-page legal analysis on the Enron scandal, but you will probably need to write a 2-page teaser explaining your business model to your bank.

Spend summers wisely
Contrary to popular beliefs, not securing internships at Microsoft or Goldman Sachs is not the end of the world.  You do have some liberty on how to spend your summers. Yes, ideally for the one after Junior year you should have an relevant internship at your preferred field. But at least for the first two summers you can do something interesting, as long as you make sure it's productive and worthwhile. Work with a professor, find yourself a professional mentor, which could be anyone like a relative -- doesn't need to be Steve Jobs.  Spend part of your summers doing something interesting: take up cooking, learn martial arts, or anything to make yourself wholesome, refreshed, and ready for the new school year.

Give back when you're done
It doesn't need to be monetary if you can't, most of us will be too busy building a career/family and paying our student loans.  Promote your school.  Conduct alumni interviews.  Come to school events nearby.  And lastly, keep in touch with your favorite friends and professors.


Best of luck!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

On Brazil vs Germany 2014


THIS BRAZIL DEFENSE, I CALL IT THE MAGINOT LINE BECAUSE THATS THE ONLY THING I KNOW ABOUT GERMAN HISTORY IN WWII.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

On Marriage

What's the difference between your first and your twentieth year of marriage?

On your first year, you have nicknames for each other, like sweetie or cupcake .  On  your twentieth year, you have nicknames for each other, like dream crusher or hope killer.
 
On your first year, you like to pick fights because you expect to make up and have sex. On your twentieth year, you like to pick fights just so you can sleep in the other room.
   
   (Bill Engvall)

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Paris Hilton ditches Bieber, is too old for this shit...

Shameless excuse to post her picture

Anyway, Paris Hilton ditched Justin Bieber's house party in Cannes because she thought he was lame and he insisted on only playing his own songs.

I'm half a year younger, but I'd like to think I'm just about as wise as Paris Hilton.

BTW, this is almost exactly one-year anniversary of the JB-Keyshawn debacle!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Jobs after Business School

If you're in some fancy business school, or thinking about enrolling, I want to tell you about the kind of jobs people take post-MBA.  I compiled this list using an extensive corpus of two three people 10 years out of Wharton and INSEAD, so I must be right and you're wrong.  If you want my general advice, learn something like medicine, farming, or carpentry -- at least you'd be useful during the inevitable zombie apocalypse.

Management consulting
What is it? Talking to management who already knows what needs to be done, telling them that they need to do it. Providing your stamp of approval so they can go to their board.
Advising clueless management that don't want to ever change anything. Coming up with a 150-page recommendation that would never be implemented, using complicated buzzwords nobody understands like 6-sigma and lean manufacturing.

Investment Banking/M&A
Liaising between buyer and seller who already know what they want to do and at what price. Coming up with a 50-slide deck and 300-page prospectus (which is 90% copy-and-paste job) justifying the transaction and price.

Investing/Private Equity
Screening 200 potential investment leads, searching for gems. Eventually realizing that the good companies don't need your money and that the ones that come to you are in terrible shape.

Equity Research
Building an Excel model in 2 hours with super simplistic growth and margin assumptions, using house template of course. Coming up with a story line to accompany your calculations. Checking with other research houses regularly, to make sure you're not saying something completely insane.  Adjust the numbers upwards if the stock goes up, and vice versa. Goal seek everything.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Case study Amazon.com: Managing companies


Amazon.com: mega-retailer extraordinaire, the gold standard of successful companies. Extensive selection of merchandise, exemplary customer service, an inspiration to e-businesses everywhere. Boon to its investors too with its superlative business model, having evolved from a mere online bookstore to a general retailer to an e-book/media distributor to a cloud service provider -- turning from startup into the 800 pound gorilla in less than 20 years.

But Amazon's biggest challenge seems to be treating its own employees well. Heck, even the part-timers are miserable.

Why is it so hard to take care of your own workers?

For 99% of us white collar workers, perhaps the dream is to become top level management. The job of management is two-fold: upwards and downwards. Sure, your board and shareholders will be demanding that you achieve maximum profit. if you don't achieve target, then you will be penalized. If you do, they may turn and say you didn't set the target high enough. In any case, as long as you are profitable and growing, then at your board meeting you can proudly stand with your head held high.

But as we can see in the Amazon example, the painfully more difficult part is managing your peers and subordinates.

In the labor market, employers are competing for talent, and the best talent is (by definition) scarce. Furthermore, attracting and retaining the best also means paying up, which is a heck of a lot more difficult if yours is a small/ medium-size business, because can you really compete with the bigger (yes, there's always somebody bigger) established businesses that can guarantee bonuses, career development, and other perks that go with them?

The typical way to boost motivation is by using annual performance review and bonuses, true.  But sometimes when business is not as vibrant as you'd like, you're limited in the way you can compensate your employees . Regardless of business climate, reward for positive achievements should never be sacrificed, and deserving employees need to stand ahead of the rest.  It's supremely important to show that good work has not gone unnoticed. There's no plague at the workplace like unhappy, demoralized employees who believe that piss poor work makes no difference whatsoever.

How to motivate then? It may be easier tha you'd think, as long as there's enough work -- indeed if there's too many people and not enough tasks, people tend to get lazy. But meaningful and rewarding work go a long way. A problem in many large enterprises, special purpose teams work towards major proposals that end up never getting implemented. Managers, please don't assign for work  the sake of work itself. Identify productive tasks that cohere with the Company's mission -- if there is none, then start rethinking whether your department really needs to exist.

----

There was this one restaurant in Samarinda that we used to frequent. It's a decent Chinese dim-sum joint, and judging from the crowd, people seem to like it. Until last month it just suddenly went out of business. When I asked around why it closed up shop, supposedly because the chef moved out of town. Seriously? Come on, it's just simple dim sum, it's not authentic Northern French cuisine or anything. Surely the chef didn't work alone, couldn't the other cooks pick up the slack? This to me, means the chef (and by extension, the entire restaurant management), is guilty of mismanagement.

---

In the end, retaining the best talent is not only about paying them well, but you also want to provide a nurturing environment. You want your employees to grow, to build their skill sets, and to generally have a positive experience at the job. Naturally some of them may later find other opportunities and decide to leave, but that's OK -- no point of holding back employees whose heart is no longer with the job.   If your business has problems generating enough cash flows to compensate and reward your employees, perhaps it just means you can't afford top talents. Rationalize, get younger, develop fresher talents, knowing full well that once they mature, they may leave for greener pastures. Stop fooling yourself into thinking that yours is the best firm for the best people, because even mega-successful behemoths like Amazon have flaws that they need to address. The motivated workers always seek to improve themselves, and if you aren't providing such environment, they will leave. 

Turnover does not necessarily mean something is wrong.  In fact, for the company I'm running, I feel that I would have served my job well if I find myself redundant, expendable. Why? Because that means I've hired well, SOPs are in place, and I can just sit back, take on a supervisory role, or simply move on to the next job. The opposite, when day-to-day operations can't run without me, means that systems aren't functioning, decision making procedures don't work, and people aren't learning.

Managers around the world, please stop rewarding loyalty over merit. Loyalty is NOT a positive trait.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

On Extra-Terrestrial life



Titan
 Since the dawn of ages, humankind has looked up to the skies and wondered : "Is there anybody out there? Does extra-terrestrial life exist?"  However scientists -- outside of crop circle/Area-51/UFO conspiracy theorists -- have not found definitive evidence confirming nor negating the possibility of life in space. Sure, there is evidence of earth-like bodies such as Titan (one of Saturn's moons, complete with icy rock surfaces, oceans of liquid methane, and dense nitrogen atmosphere), Enceladus (another one of Saturn's moons, with likelihood of liquid water underneath its icy surface), and only discovered last month, Kepler 186f in another star system. These are possible places, but will actually we find evidence of life in any of these rocks?

Me, I believe that we will discover extra-terrestrial life in our lifetime. I'm a Muslim, and the Koran suggests that Allah created and spread life on earth and in the heavens, although scholars have differing interpretations. OK I'm also a Battlestar Galactica fan, and although I don't believe we will be abandoning Earth any time soon, but it's an interesting thought experiment nonetheless.

Opponents say there are just too many prerequisites for life; too many reasons why Earth is so perfect to enable complex life forms. The so called "rare earth hypothesis" conjectures that in order for complex, multi cellular life to exist, there must be at least the following: a right-sized terrestrial planet (i.e. not a gaseous planet like Jupiter or Saturn) in the habitable zone (i.e. not too hot and not too cold), a central star and planetary system, the advantage of a gas giant guardian (i.e. Jupiter and Saturn's gravity protecting the Earth from stray asteroid impacts), large satellite, plate tectonics, the right atmosphere, and oceans. Not many, if any at all, planets have the advantage of all of these characteristics all at once. Earth, they argue, is so special because it ticks all of these boxes.

Sea cucumber

But in my opinion, here are some reasons why I am convinced that we will find evidence of extra-terrestrial life:

1. Looking at the signs on Earth, life has been discovered in the most extreme habitats. Bacteria lives in the upper atmosphere, where temperatures are beyond freezing, oxygen is lacking and UV radiation is plentiful. Sea cucumbers live 7 miles (!!!) deep in the Mariana Trench, where it never sees sunlight and pressures are off the charts. Mountain stone insects can be frozen solid at -10C for months in the winter and come back to life come spring.  Hydrothermal vents in the deep sea are home to dense fauna feeding off hydrogen sulfide, a highly toxic chemical, and geothermal instead of sunlight as the primary energy source.  What we now assume as inhabitable zone at some planet out there, may actually turn out to be suitable homes to some yet-to-be-identified creatures.

Hydrothermal vents


2. Historically, life on Earth has survived five major extinction events, each of which eradicated >70% of all known species, and that's before mentioning "smaller" events like the Mt. Toba eruption that covered half of the Earth in plume and greenhouse gases. The tardigrade, able to livewithstand temperatures from just above 1 K (that's -450 F or -272 C, yes that is cold) up to well above 150 C, pressures 6x greater than those found in the deepest ocean trenches, radiations at hundreds of times higher than the lethal dose for a human, and the vacuum of outer space. They can go without food or water for 150 years, drying out to the point where they are 3% water, only to rehydrate, forage, and reproduce afterwards. Who's to say that we won't find extreme survivalists at another star system in another galaxy?
Tardigrade


3. The pace of progress in human intelligence is exponential. In only 10,000 years -- just a tiny part of the history of Earth -- humans have advanced from solely hunter-gatherers to observing space, actually setting foot on the moon, sending a probe to Saturn and even beyond the Solar System, and building a massive space telescope that can observe events happening at the beginning of time.  We did all of that.  If there's someone/-thing out there, it's only a matter of time before we find it.

4. It's just more fun that way. Saying that we are alone, or that our Earth is somehow so special, seems so self-centered and close-minded. Curiosity and innovation are fostered when we believe things are possible. Can you imagine the world if the Wright Brothers gave up believing humans could fly like birds?


Will we be punching aliens ID4-style and screaming "hasta la vista baby" ? Probably not. Even assuming that complex, multi-cellular, maybe intelligent life exists at other planets, consider this: the universe is 13 billion years old, and the Earth is much younger at 4.5 billion years old. Human civilization is around half a million years old, and this whole entire human history is only possible because we are experiencing a prolonged "warm" period in between ice ages. What are the chances that humanity's time, which will only last until the next glacial period or extinction event (another 50,000 years, scientists predict), will coincide with the story of another intelligent alien being? Probably slim. And that's only considering the time dimension. What about the space? The universe, in case you haven't heard, is a pretty big place (and is continuously expanding too!). What are the chances that not only humans and aliens coincide in terms of time, but also get to meet IRL and hang out at Starbucks? I say non-existent. What is possible is that we will find undisputed evidence, probably in the form of fossils, of simple life forms (some form of bacteria?) that lived half a billion years ago at some terrestrial body somewhere in space.

And I do believe this will happen in our lifetime. I'll bet money on it.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

NFL Draft blast from the past

That's how many joints I smoked before kickoff
...or why the NFL draft is a crap shoot.

The NFL draft is coming up soon.  This is a look back into the past -- the 2005 NFL draft specifically.

Matt Jones (Arkansas QB) - Draft report from March 2005 by ESPN's Chris Mortensen.

"Former QB expected to play WR/H-back"

"....I believe is the best player in the draft"

"...so, as a receiver, he's bigger than Southern California's Mike Williams, he's faster, he's more explosive and he might have better hands."

"Some have warned of workout warriors, citing Mike Mamula of Boston College as one who fooled everyone about his NFL potential with gaudy workout numbers.  Mamula is a bad example to bring up when talking about Jones, though. For one, I would hardly classify Jones as a workout warrior."

"...he'll play in more Pro Bowls than almost any of those guys [drafted in the top 10]".


To be fair, the top 10 consists of *drumroll*:
Alex Smith, Ronnie Brown, Braylon Edwards, Cedric Benson, Carnell Williams, Pacman Jones, Troy Williamson, Antrel Rolle, Carlos Rogers, and Mike Williams.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

IANMC

Wiggum knows
    (= I am no marriage counselor)  Okay, so I've compiled some of my greatest mostly-random tips on relationships -- arranged by age group, from the cradle to the grave (almost).  I'm not a marriage counselor, not a clinical psychologist, or anything useful of that sort -- but I do read a ton of garbage on the inter nets, and sometimes I have relevant personal experiences.  So here goes.  Focus is on guys (me being one), but maybe possibly hopefully sometimes applicable to the opposite gender.

Babies (0-4):
Seriously?  Don't be reading random blogs.  Check out @sesamestreet.

Bigger babies (4-13):
 @DinoMiteBarney 

Teenagers (14-17):
- On why being a teenager sucks: Most teenage (15 or under) girls are socially and emotionally awkward.  So when the object of your attraction don't respond to your advances, just move on (this is assuming you too are of this age group, otherwise that's just creepy and you need to turn yourself in to the Special Victims Unit).  At this age, you all are very young and deeply hormonal, but there's just so much time and absolutely no pressure at this time.  (Source: me)
 
Late high school/college age:

- On the Friend Zone: Most socially awkward guys complain about the dreaded Friend Zone(TM).  Well guys, here's a shocker, the friend zone doesn't exist.  It's an excuse that guys give when: (a) they don't have the guts to make the first move, and/or (b) the girls in question are just not attracted to them.  Nothing wrong with either cases, but blaming it on the girl and her "mind games" doesn't do any of you any good.  Girls tend to avoid unnecessary confrontation, so if you don't put yourself out there and she doesn't tell you straight up that she's not interested (because then you'll just call her a bitch), can you blame her? (Source: Dr Nerdlove, Kotaku)

- But I'm stuck, so how then? If you find yourself already chest-deep in the Friend Zone, what to do?  So (*drumroll) here's the answer to the million dollar question: get drunk with her, then take the shot. It's not like your friendship with this gal has a real future UNLESS you make a move for the intimate zone.  If she rejects you, you can just say sorry and blame the booze. If she hooks up with you but regrets it/doesn’t want to pursue it, you can blame the booze. And if she hooks up with you AND wants to have a relationship, hooray booze!  Who knows, maybe laughter will turn to flirting turn to kissing turn to saying stuff like “Wait, I don’t want to move too fast, because I actually really like you” before you go ahead and have sex anyway.  Double hooray for booze! (Source: Matt Ufford, KSK)


- Am I going to die alone? If you're just not having any sort of luck with the opposite sex, despite your best efforts, we don’t recommend suicide for anyone (unless you’re Jeffrey Dahmer, or Matt Millen).  We suggest you don't work harder to get girls to like you, but to work harder to like yourselves.  Join a gym, or a running club.  Put the PS3 and Madden away.  Hell, join a book club with old ladies (they need love too).  Get out of the house, get out of your ordinary comfort zone, meet new people without the pressure of “this is an environment where I’m trying to pick up girls.”  The more you’re happy with who you are, the more likely it is that other people will find you attractive.  Will it result in the loss of your V-card?  Not necessarily, but you’re going to end up a happier, more fulfilled person.  (Source: Matt Ufford, KSK)

After college, before marriage (~22-40):
- Do opposites attract?  You may hear success stories about couples of different races, religions,  levels of education etc, and conclude that perhaps opposites attract.  In actuality the contrary is true, we are attracted to people that are just like ourselves.  In those cases, that just means that these particular differences (despite how significant they seem to be on the surface) are not issue to them, they have other traits and commonalities that paved the way to their success.  (Source: Harrison O'Malley, Dr. Nerdlove)


Jessica Alba
- Avoid complication: If I learn anything from a decade of watching Bollywood flicks, it's that despite what I just said above, complicated situations (a rich guy and a poor girl, a Hindu and a Muslim, traditional and modern, and so on) can find a happy ending  -- as long as they're both better looking that 98.3% of the country's billion population, but only after 4 hours of sneaking around behind Amitabh Bachchan's back.  But that's the movies.  In real life, a relationship that started with complication from the get-go, is doomed 68.4% of the time.  If you meet an attractive girl that has severe daddy issues, save yourself the pain and walk away, even if she looks like Jessica Alba.  Relationships are hard enough even without all that spice.  Ok I take that back, if she looks like Jessica Alba (or is actually Jessica Alba) then I understand.  (Source: me, even the statistics).

- Long distance relationships: it is not a real relationship per se, it is more like a "promise" of one.  It's like a relationship that's in hiatus, and in the meantime she's going to be meeting and spending time with other people.  As such an LDR must have an end-date ("we'll get together after I finish my masters'/law/medical degree"), else it would end badly for both sides.  Not saying it can't work, but it needs the right mindset. The last thing you want is to spend 3 years in an LDR, not meeting other people, only to end up breaking up.  (Source: Eric Ravenscraft, Lifehacker)

Love hurts, just ask Ralph
- On breaking up: it is *very* hard to do.  The key to getting over a painful breakup: 1) Break contact completely -- unfriend her on FB, don't text her, none of that; 2) Mourn, wallow, cry your heart out -- you're allowed maximum 1 month, no more, to do this; 3) Rebuild and improve -- start new activities, forget your old routines (that may remind you of your ex), and get it to your head, hell, pretend, that you are over the breakup.  Part 1) and 3) will be a lot easier if you are around friends, family and loved ones.  (Source: Matt Ufford, KSK)

- I just want to be friends: Making friends is a lot harder after college.  Grown-ups have work, relationships, and other activities, and you just can't rely on meeting people in class or study groups like back in college.  Best bet is to join a sport club, a cooking class, or hell just go to church.    (Source: Melanie Pinola, Gawker)

Marriage:
- On timing: It's never "the right time" to get married.  Just set your mind straight, make sure your intentions are sincere (i.e. "I just want to please my parents" or "I just want to have sex with her anytime I want", are not it), pray very hard, and get on your damn knees.  There's no "best time".  Wait too long, and somebody may just beat you to it.  But if you yourself don't have your head right in this, she'll read right thru you.  (Source: moi)

- Planning the wedding: Once the two of you decide to tie the knot, the first test is the wedding planning.  This will stress-test your patience and drive you near-crazy.  It is during this process that you'll realize that you're not just marrying her, you're marrying into her (possibly crazy) extended family (to be fair, she probably thinks the same about your family).  One year into your marriage, the both of you'll look back and wonder, "Did we really have that huge fight over what kind of soup to serve?", and maybe hopefully you can tell her, "See, who's the sane one in this relationship?" (Source: moi aussi).

-----BONUS ROUND!!!-
On sex:  "I’ve worn Trojan ENZ and my penis felt like it’s been smothered by a cheap plastic raincoat drenched in enough spermicide to give Travis Henry a sad. Basically, I’ve climaxed as often as Belichick has been successful on fourth down." (KSK)




Hope that helps! Cheers!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Tribute to BSG - Geeky post alert

Battlestar Galactica

So I was a huge sucker for mid 2000s TV series Battlestar Galactica (BSG).  The series showcased not only amazing space combat scenes, but also political thrillers, as well as lessons in moral values.  Not to mention superhot Cylon teases.

The plot revolves around humanity in a distant future, having already abandoned Earth after depleting its natural resources and settled in an earth-like planet "Caprica".  "Cylon" robots were invented to help humans, but later conspired against their masters (i.e. kinda like Skynet).  In a coordinated nuclear attack by the Cylons, Caprica was completely destroyed, wiping out humanity except for some 50,000 survivors who escaped the cataclysm in a flock of decommissioned ships lead by Battlestar Galactica and a reluctant Secretary of Education serving as the new President.

So word is they are "reimagining" the world of BSG in a new movie.  Not many details have been revealed.  I just hope they will put somebody believable as Admiral Adama, maybe Laurence Fishburne?  And as Starbuck, either Gemma Arterton or Charlize Theron.  And Brooklyn Decker as Number Six.  Hooray!  Throw Jet Li in the mix and I'll be first in line to see it.  Ok I guess it doesn't need to be that good for me to go see it, it just needs to be about as good (bad?) as the Chronicles of Riddick series.

------
On an *even* geekier note, the Heartbleed bug struck servers around the world hard.  The only thing end-users can do is be patient, wait until things settle down, and then change our passwords to something secure -- emphasis on secure.  Use Keepass or another password manager of your choice.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Friday, April 11, 2014

No its not Hong Kong

I'm at brand spanking new Balikpapan airport, opened just 2 weeks ago.  Man it's huge and has the same feeling as Changi or Hong Kong, but with very few people and very few flights also.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

im on dogecoin wow

dogecoin

if you find something you like at this blog, plz send me 1 doge.  if you find something you hate here, send me 2 doge. otherwise, you can send me 0.5 doge. 
send to: DQt8pkeGnSgGmhdDB3EbEZ9X6RrRZP3N9d
kthxbai

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Mathematical proofs

1. Proof by example
"I know Asians that are good at math, therefore all Asians are good at math."  Q.E.D.

2. Proof by intimidation (argumentum verbosium).  If something is told loudly/with the right angry intonation, you will start believing that it's true.  Statistically, this method is used by women 84.7% of the time.
Ex: "It's ok if you think I look fat, just tell me, I won't get mad"
Note: Studies show that most statistics are meaningless nonsense.

3. Proof by superiority.   "I went to Wharton/Harvard/Goldman, so my answer is correct and yours is wrong"

4. Proof by authority (argumentum ab auctoritate).  Similar to above, but using fictitious figures of authority, instead of your own lackluster credentials, to justify your argument.
"Respected people from Wharton/Harvard/Goldman agree with me that ..."

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Bitcoin & Mt.Gox Implosion


So Mt.Gox – only a few months ago the largest Bitcoin online exchange – imploded, and it may possibly bring down the entire Bitcoin world along with it.  People, naive investors who saw the meteoric rise in the bitcoin exchange rate, lost millions of real dollars worth of virtual assets investeddeposited in the exchange.  I guess it has been an quite a ride, an interesting social/economic/cryptological/cryptographical (is that an actual word?) experiment.

I can’t claim to know much about Bitcoin.  Just from the little I read in Ars Technica, the technology is absolutely brilliant  -- so advanced, I don't think any single person (“Satoshi Nakamoto”) could really come up with it.  Using distributed computing/peer-to-peer networking (like Bittorrent) to record and verify bitcoin transactions, incentivizing people ("miners") who donate computing power (like Bittorrent's seeders) with reward of newly-minted bitcoins.  The actual cryptic calculations are way beyond the grasp of my limited brain power (and to think I graduated with a masters in computer science 9 years ago) ....

The thing is, although technology may be brilliant, but the humans using them are flawed.

What people don’t seem to understand, even with a new “currency” or “investment class”, the fundamentals of investing remain the same.  You can read a whole lot from online classes about what these are, but I just want to highlight a few things that even professionals may forget or neglect entirely:

- If you don't understand the investment, don't just blindly put your faith (and money) on it.  Derivatives, structured products, Iraqi Dinars, bitcoins.  Come on, nobody really understands how these things work, except for people who sell them, insiders, financial analysts, and maybe institutional investors; hence, nobody should invest in these things.  If you want to speculate, then that's different, because speculation means you understand the risks and are willing to lose most (if not all) of your principal.  Myself, I'd prefer to miss out on (potential?) profits, rather than realizing actual losses.  Life is just too short, I don’t want to be that sad guy protesting outside of MtGox’s Tokyo office.

- If it's complicated, you'll probably lose money.  Similar examples as above: derivatives, structured products, bitcoins.  Heck, I'll add subordinate bonds, and stocks of energy trading companies.  Stick to simple things like stocks and bonds of companies that you know, at least we know what they are, how they are priced, and how the prices correlate to the general economic health.

- Don’t forget to diversify your portfolio.  Booooring, I know.  This means not putting all your retirement fund in Apple shares.  Also means, if your job (and therefore, your income) is in investment banking, it's probably not the best idea to put your savings in bank stocks (or stocks in general?) – imagine if 2008 happens again, you may find yourself out of a job and a valuable portion of your savings.  Also means if you have an option to receive your bonus in the form of cash or company stock, always take the cash -- pay down your debt, reinvest in other stocks, do whatever but always take the cash.  Yes, I'm saying this even if you're working for Facebook and it's 2005, because you don't have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.  (Unless if you can predict the future, then you don’t need advice in anything.)

----

Going back to bitcoin, would it survive to see another day?  Maybe, maybe not – other than the ones who actually invested money, humanity is not losing much in the grand scheme.  I do believe that the underlying technology will reappear in another shape or form.  Just like Napster turned into Folding-at-home which turned into Bittorrent which turned into Bitcoin (gross generalizations, I know).  I don’t believe the legacy of bitcoin will end at drug dealings, murder for hires, and the spectacular collapse.  Perhaps Bitcoin wouldn't die with a thud, it'll just flatline while a derivative technology eclipses it and change the world.  Who knows.

---

BTC mining rig
Post-Script:
Want to make money with bitcoins? Follow the 8 steps below (source: Buttcoin.org):
1. Buy an Avalon or Butterfly Labs ASIC mining rig
2. Put it up on ebay selling for US$
3. If you can’t get the selling price you want, use the ASIC to mine more BTCs
4. Pray that the BTC price doesn’t completely and permanently tank
5. Stop mining when you have enough to buy a Tesla Roadster
6. Sell the Tesla Roadster and the mining rig for USD or keep the car because it’s a Tesla Roadster
7. Currency of the future????
8. Profit.

Tesla Roadster

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Great Leader

A great leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, and a little less than his share of the credit.”
            - Arnold H. Glasgow


Friday, February 21, 2014

WhatsApp now?


Sweet!!!  (Source: Gawker)

So Facebook (FB) is buying WhatsApp (WA), in the biggest tech deal since 2001.  If you want to know more about this deal, just go open up WSJ or Ars Technica.  I just want to add 2c, my personal view on this.


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Quick & useful batch files

Just want to share two quick and useful batch file (scripts) I've found useful.

Unprotect_PDF.bat
Ever download a useful PDF book but found out it's "SECURED" and you can't print or make any markups/highlights? For instance I'm fond of the PWC Indonesian Pocket Tax Book, but I want to highlight important sections, dangit.  Install Ghostscript and use this simple batch file and you can get rid of this "SECURED" garbage in no time.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Should we teach kids programming?

Hasna is a future geek, just like daddy
My daughter turned one a month ago.  In no time (okay, maybe in like 10 years), my and my wife will be facing the predicament that has bothered one in eight geeky parents in the world:  Should we teach her programming? Or should I instead guide her more towards music? I do want her to try either the piano, the organ, or the guitar.  But computers are becoming a more and more important part of the world, even if sometimes it's not for the better.

Technologist John C. Dvorak argued that in the 80s and 90s computers are more powerful than they are now – not because the chips carry higher MHz counts, but because of customizability.  Back then if you want to achieve something, you have the basic tools to do it (e.g. MS Word) but if you need something more advanced you tell the computer to do it (i.e. write a VBA script).  Nowadays if you want to do something, you look for an app in the App Stores, and if you can't find it, you just don't do it.   Instead of computers helping us to work, it's the "walled gardens" determining what we can or cannot do.  We are getting dumber because of technology, not smarter.  Even worse, not only are we dumber, we are also shallower; technology is trending less towards solving a problem to help humanity, but more towards getting your app to millions of eyeballs so you can flip it to Facebook or Yahoo (the Instagram paradigm: "zero to a billion dollars in 18 months or less").  This is frustrating if you've been observing technology for as long as we have.  It's up to our children, the next generation, to reverse this downward spiral.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Work hard…

…. and be kind and amazing things will happen
(Conan O’Brien)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Helpful lightweight software


I'd like to highlight some lesser-known but lightweight and useful software that have made life that much easier.

listary
Listary
Listary  This is one such software, my personal favorite.  Upon launch, it indexes file and directory names.  Then when you're in Windows Explorer you can just start typing the name of a certain file or folder (e.g. say, "Accounting") and it will get you to the right file/folder within the tree (e.g. "My Documents\Downloads\2014\Accounting.xls").  It's kind of like Spotlight in OSX (I'm not a Mac user, so it may not just be like Spotlight….).
Free to download and use.  Pro version adds some extra features


Saturday, February 08, 2014

Walk until your feet hurt...

... Dance until your legs hurt. Act until you’re William Hurt.  (from Modern Family)

Friday, February 07, 2014

Things at home/work


Location: Jakarta, Indonesia
Profession: Financial Analyst / Investment professional / Occasional blogger / Terrible musician
Workstations: Work-issued Lenovo Thinkpad X201 (~2011); at home, a home-built Core2 Q6600 desktop (~2010) now running Windows 8
Blogs: the one you're reading, Hasna's Blog! (hope I can post more regularly)

Hardware that I use daily:

Lenovo X201 with Windows 7
I use a Macbook Air because I'm a professional blogger.Work issued laptop, not much to say. The built-in wifi no longer works (hence the TP-LINK USB adapter below).
CAM00141