Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Chinese Translations for Farewell Post

Saturday, December 25th, 2010

Two good friends were kind enough to translate my farewell letter to Microsoft into Chinese.  Bing Han made a translation based on the work of Freedo Chen and a colleague of his (whose name won’t paste into WordPress correctly, unfortunately).  I won’t be able to assess the translations, since I don’t read Chinese, but I provide them here for those of you that might find it useful.

Thanks to Bing, Freedo, and Freedo’s colleague for translating the letter!

Goodbye Microsoft, Hello Facebook

Saturday, September 4th, 2010

Just posted my final email to coworkers at Microsoft, after twelve awesome years right out of college.  Read its entirety here.  I put a lot into capturing my best thoughts for my fellow Microsofties.  I hope you enjoy reading it.

Embarking on the Great Adventure

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

This past weekend, I had the great fortune of being the best man at Neil and Kelly’s wedding.  It was a great celebration!

Below is my toast.  The first three sentences have been cut off, but I’ve included the full transcript below.  Congratulations, Neil & Kelly!

Ladies and gentlemen,

It’s a privilege to celebrate this happy day with all of you. I’ve known Neil since college. He’s one of the most considerate people I know. To see Neil and Kelly so happy together is proof that good guys do win and that life is beautiful.

In addition to his great sense of humor, Neil has his peculiarities. I was the one who first convinced him to try lettuce. We were at Subway. After taking a few thoughtful bites, he looked up and declared, “I can’t believe I went through life without trying lettuce.” To this day, he still gets lettuce in his sandwiches.

Months later, I offered him tomatoes. He politely refused. “Have you ever even tried tomatoes?” I asked. “No,” he replied, “but they can’t be good.” As if that explained it all.

Neil didn’t even like Paris the first time, when he went alone. It’s true!

Then he met Kelly. And things began to change. Neil began to try more things. Eat more things. Adapt to shifting plans with a spirit of adventure. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not like he went skydiving, Rocky Mountain climbing, or spent 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chew. But he did love deeper. And he spoke sweeter. Mexican food, a favorite of Kelly’s, now had a fighting chance. It seems love is great enough to conquer even cheese, and possibly tomatoes.

After all, life is a great adventure. It’s about sharing experiences with people you love. Seeing Neil with Kelly has shown me how we can encourage one another to explore the unknown. If that’s not the power of love, I don’t know what is.

Neil’s a big fan of music, so I tried to find some profound insight from the radio this morning about how we should capture life’s fleeting moments and take chances. It’s a lot to ask of a radio in 15 rushed minutes, but here’s the best I could do:

Lose yourself in the music, the moment
You own it, never let it go
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance
Opportunity comes once in a lifetime.

Remarkable the type of sage advice you get from 106.1 KISS FM.

To help you seize life’s opportunities, I bought the two of you a few gift certificates: to go skydiving (with Skydive Snohomish), Rocky Mountain climbing (well, actually, a three-day Rainier hike with REI), and – I assume you know this – there’s no bull named Fu Man Chew. But I’m told there’s a bar in Pioneer Square that has a mechanical bull, so I got you a gift certificate for that as well. I’m sure you can beat 2.7 seconds.

Ladies and gentlemen, please raise your glasses with me. To Neil and Kelly:

May you live long, happy, fulfilled, and leave nothing on the table.
May you do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.
May you spur each other on in life’s great adventure.

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance – I hope you dance.

Wither Movie Theaters?

Friday, April 24th, 2009

There aren’t that many movie theaters in Shanghai.  Certainly, compared to the size of the population (around 17 million is what I hear), you’d expect far more theaters.  But it’s nearly impossible to find one.

When you run across the occasional theater, you discover that their prices are extraordinary.  Normal tickets are about $12.  This may not sound like much – say, if you live in Manhattan – but college graduates in China often earn under $15,000 a year.  $12 is, in local prices, “ridiculous.”

Then there are the $50 seats (not a typo).  Some theaters in China, like the ritzy theater in the Grand Gateway mall, have “VIP” tickets that cost $50.  You essentially sit in a glass-enclosed box, much like movie stars do when attending stadium games in the US.

Not that I actually know from experience.  $50 is a wee too much for me to spend on one movie (a five minute bathroom break would cost the price of a latte!).  I’m also not sure why you’d want to go to a theater just to sit in an enclosed box all by yourself.  Isn’t the whole point of going to the theater to share an experience with the audience?  If I wanted a completely silent box with no one near me, I’d rather watch at home.

Which brings us to why theaters are so scarce and expensive in China.  They used to be all over the place, and cheap, from what locals tell me.  But in recent years, the advent of DVD piracy has decimated the theater business.  Why pay several dollars to watch a movie in a theater when you can pay $0.80 (not a typo) on the street to buy the DVD?  This is essentially the thought process that Chinese citizens underwent in the past decade.  As cheap pirate DVDs became available, less people went to theaters.  Theaters started closing down.  The remaining theaters had to charge more and more in order to justify staying open.  As movies raised prices, even more people fled to pirate DVDs.  This self-reinforcing cycle has now driven the movie theater business to its new equilibrium in Shanghai:  one theater for every several hundred thousand people, each charging $12-50 for tickets.

If there’s one thing that’s interesting to a computer scientist in China, it has to be the bit about intellectual property rights.  As everyone knows, pirated software and pirated DVDs are everywhere not only in China, but in most of the Far East.

[As an aside, there are cases, albeit limited, where piracy actually seems to fill a legitimate niche.  Here’s an interesting case I ran into recently.  Employees of Microsoft are allowed to download any Microsoft product for business use through an intranet site that’s notoriously slow when accessed overseas.  Coworkers from Thailand tell me that downloading a large product, such as Visual Studio, can take many hours (or in some cases even days).  It turns out that if you’re a Microsoft employee in Thailand and want to install a large Microsoft product, it’s faster to simply buy a pirated version of the product from a local store.  It takes ten minutes of walking and costs about $3.  Once you buy that disc, you can share it with all your coworkers so that their installations also go faster.  Isn’t this an odd case of data-transfer arbitrage?]

Back to China and DVD’s.  You can find pirated DVD’s on many streets in Shanghai.  In fact, most pirate establishments are so formalized that they have their own store, many as large as your local Blockbuster.  The types of pirated content include major Hollywood movies, entire seasons of popular TV shows, as well as a huge collection of Chinese movies and TV.  You can find just about anything.

Pirated movies range in quality both in how they’re distributed and in the original recording source.  For instance, the cheapest movies are the ones that actually come on CDs (VCDs).  The more expensive ones come on multilayered DVD’s (and “more expensive” is a relative term – we’re talking the difference between $0.80 and $1.20).  As for source recording material, television shows are often recorded straight off the network with commercials cut out.  The best movies are recorded directly from the source DVD, but the worst ones are recorded by filming the movie in a theater with a portable video recorder.  Somewhere in the middle are the preview editions of movies which studios send to critics prior to a movie’s release.  These often come with watermarks prominently displayed in the movie (“Property of Warner Bros.”).

This leads to interesting moral dilemmas.  For instance, I subscribe to Netflix in the US.  For several dollars a month, I have the right to stream most US TV shows onto my computer.  However, studio distribution laws don’t allow streaming into China (thereby, funny enough, encouraging piracy).  I can bypass Netflix’s attempts to detect my location using VPN services (such as Witopia), but it’s arguably more efficient just to buy the pirated DVD’s.

Similarly, most major networks (e.g. NBC) now allow you to stream recent shows for free.  But they don’t allow access from outside the US.  This, once again, poses a moral dilemma for US citizenry worldwide.

I’ve always paid for my digital music as well as for movies and TV shows.  However, the restrictive usage rights demanded by major corporations in the US have the side effect of tempting me (some might say encouraging me) to pirate the content.

I’d happily pay for access to the  material (and continue to do so).  But let’s take a lesson from Shanghai’s movie theater business:  we need to carefully structure our digital rights laws to encourage and enable legitimate use, not to further encourage piracy.

KFC, Baby!

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

Of all the international food brands and fast food joints everywhere in Shanghai, by far the most popular is KFC.  You heard right:  The Colonel and his Secret Formula for fried chicken are more popular than McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King.  It’s even more popular than Subway, America’s most popular franchise food chain (and incidentally, the one with the lowest franchisee satisfaction).

Random sidebar:  my first job in the US was at a Subway.  I was paid below minimum wage, under the table, at $3 an hour (in 1992, when minimum wage was about $4.50).  A total of $12 a night in cash.  Surprisingly, even at such a bargain, I managed to get fired.  The manager didn’t even have the decency to fire me herself.  She asked my cousin, who also worked there, to break the bad news to me.

I didn’t eat at Subway for the next seven years.  Seeing the Belly Of The Beast was just a bit much.  There are things about mayonnaise that I still question.

There are KFCs sprinkled everywhere in Shanghai.  There’s a certain intersection near the Grand Gateway shopping center where you can see six different KFCs from one spot.  Even Starbucks would envy that level of market saturation.

My favorite market customization in China’s KFCs is their passionfruit juice.  If you happen to make it to Shanghai at some point, it’s worth getting alongside your cole slaw and potato salad.

Best Wishes to Caleb and Jordan Kemere!

Monday, May 26th, 2008

Over this weekend, I had the privilege of attending Caleb and Jordan Kemere’s wedding in North Carolina.  Below, you’ll find a video of my toast to them as their best man as well as the original script of the toast (which the video differs slightly from).

Here’s the broadband WMV version of the toast video.

I wish both of them all the best on their journey together!

Original Script for Caleb and Jordan’s Toast

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. and Mrs. Walker, Dr. & Mrs. Kemere, family and friends, Caleb and Jordan. It’s an honor to be here amongst all of you to witness and celebrate this blessed union.

To be honest, I’m a bit nervous about this toast. I wasn’t sure what to say, so I thought I’d consult the Internet. I checked YouTube, polled FaceBook, and even considered working with a Nigerian banker who emailed me out of the blue with a great business proposition involving bank transfers. In addition to transcripts of great wedding toasts, he also offered to get me Viagra. Ringtones. A college degree from the comforts of home. Canadian prescription drugs. He’s apparently a very capable man. But in the end, I decided to set technology aside and do it the old fashioned way.

So just before this, I locked myself in a private, mostly quiet place to sit down and have a good long think about what to say. Here’s what I came up with. [Produce sheets of written-on toilet paper] Hey — I had to use what was available.

Caleb and I have known each other for 25 years. We went to the same schools from first grade through college. I almost followed him to grad school, but the required discipline and rigor were too much for me.

I’m pleasantly amused by the great misnomer “best man” when applied to me at this wedding. Of the two of us, Caleb is better in almost every dimension that actually matters. It’s he who has always been the Best Man. In our relationship, he was always the more generous, always the more grounded, the more profound. You might say this is only to be expected, since Caleb comes from a family of generous people.  Through the years, my respect and admiration for him has only grown.

Caleb is full of grace. I’ve offended and wronged a good number of people in my life. Caleb has always forgiven me, not just seven times, but the proverbial 70 times seven times. I’m working hard to avoid that 491st offense. I hope this toast isn’t it.

Caleb has always been a Peacemaker. The only time I’ve ever had a gun pointed at me was in college, when we hatched a plan to buy some U2 concert tickets without needing to wait in line all night with the other students. Somewhere between setting off a campus building alarm and getting shouted at by hundreds of angry fans, I managed to get a gun pointed at me.

Fortunately, Caleb came immediately to the rescue. He, like any true man of honor and valor, made peace, using his bare fists and a spinning jump-kick that left three students hospitalized and put one student permanently in Cirque du Soleil.

Those who know Caleb know that nothing of the sort happened. Caleb made peace by befriending everyone. He even anticipated the need to bring donuts to smooth things over. If it wasn’t for his easy affability, things would have turned out quite differently for me that day.

Caleb’s most profound impact on me comes from his grounded view of the world. He once declared to me that he wouldn’t necessarily require his children to go to college. [To Jordan: This isn’t news, right? The two of you have talked about this?] I at first thought his declaration was ridiculous. But he eventually convinced me with his usual patient discourse. What, after all, does college teach about Justice, Mercy, Integrity, Kindness, Charity, Compassion? Isn’t Character what we should all want for our children, for even ourselves? Caleb reminds me to strive for these things, to question what I want and what I value.

I admire Caleb in all these ways and more. So much so, in fact, that when it came to my wife and me naming our first child, we were thrilled to name him Caleb.

All of us already know that both Caleb and Jordan are wonderful people. What, if anything, would I say if there was one additional thing I could convey? It’d be this: that marriage is supremely beautiful, far better than you imagine, even today on your wedding day.

But much talk these days might cause us to disbelieve that.  First, many people have made it habit or reflex to complain about their spouses.  "You know Jeff – never lifts a finger."  "Sorry, guys, the ol’ Ball and Chain is making me stay home again."

Second, talk about marriage can often come across as Stern and Grave.  It’s not that Stern and Grave is somehow wrong. Marriage is indeed a most serious responsibility. But it’s also a beautiful opportunity. I’d love to hear more talk that’s infused with the positive emotional conviction that naturally springs from relational happiness.

Here’s my shot at it.

I’ve been married 8 years. Marriage is positively the greatest everyday happiness in my life.

I have a constant companion to share life with, to amplify the joy, to dampen the sadness. With each year of marriage, I find deeper support and comfort, a solid emotional foundation to stand on.

Marriage is unconditional love made tangible. Risks seem less daunting, thrills seem more exciting.  It’s supremely beautiful, far better than I imagined.  And I had high expectations.

One piece of advice: I find that everyday grace is essential to marriage. Most of us want someone to accept us as we are. But we sometimes struggle to extend that same grace to our partners.  “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Gandhi said that.  So strive to extend this grace to one another daily. I know you will.

Now, my desire for both of you is this: that eight years from now, that even thirty years from now, you will attend a wedding where the one thing you’d want to convey is that marriage for you has indeed been supremely beautiful, far better than you imagined even on your wedding day.

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in raising a toast.

To Caleb and Jordan: May you enjoy lifelong happiness together, walking side by side, blessing others. May you daily extend a full measure of grace to one another, packed down, flowing over. May people one day say of you, “There was a blessed couple who did justly, loved mercy, walked humbly with their God.”