Wednesday Jul 09, 2008

And I will always remember you

There are more tears shed in my office these two weeks than the combined of my entire career. They tore my heart.

Three years ago, I came to Beijing to accomplish four goals:

  • Improve engineering's operational efficiency to the parity of any other site in the world.
  • Cultivate its talents as a first class engineering center.
  • Strengthen the collaborative ties with the sales force to engender Sun's business and presence in China.
  • Improve the executive level communication between China engineering and headquarters (Menlo Park).

Looking back, they are reasonably done. During these same three years, I acquired wealth at Solomon's scale: I became a blogger and gained precious global experience; I now have insights that are hard to come by; I have honed my influencing skills working with government, universities, partners, customers, and field personnel; I expanded an invaluable network. Most importantly, have a renewed prospect of what should be the pursuit of my life.

Yes, this is the last entry of my Sun blog. I will soon lose the privilege to author new entries. Lack of new material will fade readership.

The thought of severing bonds is always anxious. Workplace relationships are complicated: alliance, group therapy buddies, collusion partners, mentors or mentees. Resignation distils them and left me with friends.

This gets heavier that my China community is so tight. I poured my heart and witnessed its growth over these 3 years. There are big plans for the future. Now the best I can hope for is becoming an interested observer for their fruition, probably from afar. Why does it have to come down to this sadness? Because life progresses, people make choices, and world turns. Plans must be executed, expectations must be met.

Of course, there is the ritual that comes with separation: drinks, talks, meals, warm hugs or hand-shakes. Then we have the cyber version of LinkedIn profile change. Through the exchange of pleasantries, a new relationship emerges.

If our relationship survives my Sun employment, please visit me at Nomadic Minds. My personal email is always open. Truly, I wish you the bests.

Tuesday Jul 08, 2008

But why? Sin-Yaw.

This article is just a bit more self-serving than my average.

How should a company deal with its senior ranked that are away from headquarters, where power and influences concentrate, particularly those temporarily assigned abroad?

Let me decompose this question into 3 scenarios:

  • If the company send someone away for a multi-year full-time training, with pay and all expenses taken care of. What happens when the person completes it?
  • If the company dispatch a senior person to handle a difficult situation; the person accomplishes the mission after a few years. What then?
  • Lastly, what to do with someone senior, competent, sadly peaked, but still seeking growth?

The first scenario really depends on what the person has learned. Under the mantra of "never throw good money after bad," any sunk investment meant nothing unless it can generate better return than alternatives. The company must evaluate the person's potential future contribution against all others who, in a sense, compete with him. The best qualified person gets the job.

Note the earlier decision to send the person for the training will be proven wrong if the individual comes back not competitive enough. Observe also that the now newly trained person has received the benefits no matter what the company decides to do with him.

The 2nd scenario is, again, not a valid economic concept under the mantra of "what have you done recently." A superb general is useless without wars. The company should graciously thank the person's contribution. Retain him for appreciation and future use if economically justified. Seek a friendly way to part ways if not.

Note that those now unwanted skills maybe marketable elsewhere. An idle hand at home might be better than a busy hand at the competitor's.

The best decision, for the 3rd scenario, is to gently let the person go. A person expecting unwarranted growth will become restless or even disruptive over time.

Wait a moment! Is the world really so cruel? So short-term thinking? Why does everything must justify economically? Where is loyalty, kindness, compassion, friendship, and decency?

It is really not the best interest for the person to stay on, even if the company is warm-hearted and appreciative. An individual must optimize himself for his or her future growth too. In this post-Internet, globalized, offshoring/outsourcing economy. Plenty of Chinese, Indians, or Vietnamese will kill to take your jobs. Many competitors will rejoice when the company bankrupts. Neither the company, nor the individuals can afford not to optimize.

This explains, partially, the weird phenomenon of this so-called "war on talents." Every companies seeks talents and loses critical ones at the same time. At any point, the company can afford to optimize only a very small number of objectives and must not invest on others. Unless an individual happens to match those objectives, it is best for him or her to look elsewhere.

Individuals should, then, always seek training and challenging assignments, even with the risks of not being aligned with the company afterward. It is always best to enhance yourself whenever there is a chance.

This rhetoric should be a sufficient answer to all those who demanded the rationalization for my departure. I love the company, its technologies, and all those wonderful people. I have a great job that pays well and is extremely satisfying. But, sadly, I have cultivated skills that are not applicable to the objectives the company chose to optimize for. There are only two choices: wait for new objectives or change company. I waited.

Thursday Jul 03, 2008

Go for Gold

Cross posted at http://www.nomadicminds.org

Humor me. Have a piece of paper and draw the productivity curve of yourself over the next 15 years. Most people's curve steeply go upward during their younger years (30 to 45) and flattens out as they age (50+).

Humor me again. Draw a curve of China's economoic growth over the next 15 years. If you think the break-neck speed will continue forever, you are crazy. Most people predict a gradually flattening curve after about 10 years.

If you are 27 to 35 years old in China, do you see the amazing similarity of your curve and the country's? Do you realize this overlap happens once and only once? China will not have the same growth rate again. Therefore, the opportunity is reserved only for one generation, and that's you. Not me, a geezer, not those who are still in college or just graduated.

Or, we can reverse the angle of the conclusion, if this generation does not answer to the call, China will not grow as fast for the next 15 years. History has forged you and China together. Isn't that exciting?

Be entrepreneurial, take risks, innovate. Whatever you do, don't fail China. Don't fail yourself. Don't fail history. <script language="JavaScript"> TagStart() Technorati("China") TagEnd() </script>

Tuesday Jul 01, 2008

Diversity is Gold

Cross posted at http://www.nomadicminds.org

No. It is useless to counts people's ethnic origins. What turns diversity into a competitive advantage is the difference in philosophy, perspective, or approaches to problem solving. In "The Wisdom of Crowds" James Surowiecki made a point that individuals in a group must be different and independent otherwise the wisdom disappeared.

And I also found the peril of global thinking. Too many company thinks globally by insisting the same policies, strategies, or business processes for all their global presences. This actually turns globalization into a burden: management either simplifies by sinking to the lowest common denominator or complicates by creating bureaucratic machines to handle all differences. Both make globalization a liability. Observe how Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and too many companies failed on capitalizing China.

Companies must carefully choose what should be the same globally and what can be different for each locale. This choice requires courage and a team that knows both the soul of the company as well as the uniqueness of each region, or at least the regions that matter. Does having a large employee base in China help? Or they simply become nuisance in management because they are so far away and so difficult to manage?

Don't confuse an American company with global presences with a company that is globalized. Similarly, don't confuse a staff with only diverse ethnic origins with a diversified staff. In both cases, the former is a competitive disadvantage and the latter an advantage.

No, it is not easy at all. Neither is making money. Are you an American company trying to make money in China, or India?

Saturday Jun 28, 2008

Last Flight

June 7th started a complicated itinerary, I actually did not fully comprehended the complexity before I left home. The plan was to attend a graduation, work for several days, take a vacation, visit a customer in Seattle, kept several connections warm in Taipei, and come back to Beijing. All within a 3-week span. Busy, tight, complicated, but not really unusual for someone who travelled 13 times in 2007 and earning the sad UA Global Services status 3 years in a row.

Things changed drastically after the plane touched down. The company that was pursuing me turned up the heat and I accepted their offer. I read the blog, How to Quit, I wrote long time ago. Next day, I tendered my resignation.

Jeff asked for time to handle the event and I obviously obliged. I started planning for the communication: family members first, of course, Sun contacts, business contacts, and probably social contacts last. I started to list them in each category and anticipated the speed of rumor propagation, known to be faster than light. Since those lists are quite long, I wrote a small program that essentially spam them. (I considered using PHP/MySQL, but ended up coding in Scheme and simple text lists.)

Planned meetings became awkward. I skipped several internal meetings and kept most of the external ones. I tried to cut my Taipei stop, but kept it for economical reasons: changing the flight costs more than just hang-out for two nights.

When the announcement hit ERI, my inbox exploded. Many messages touched me deeply and made me so grateful for these 3 years Sun gave me. I read some messages many times. It could be a good thing that I am not in Beijing.

When I wait for the flight at the Hong Kong airport, the finality hit me: this is the last trip. I am returning home the last time. Next time I come, it will not be the same anymore.

Wow! What a trip.

Monday Jun 16, 2008

The Local Face of Sun in China

LISA's Rebecca Ray was curious, persistent, and quite courteous. She interviewed myself and Melanie Gao a few months ago. My staff decided to send her a slightly eccentric picutre of mine.

Wednesday Jun 11, 2008

EEE PC, Episode 3: the Long Flight

Before I left for the US, I bought a 16GB SD card (550rmb) and transferred my mail folders, some TV series, and my blog drafts on it: plenty of space left. I knew that this computer is not very good at battery life, so I was hoping the airplane has a working electric outlet.

When the moment comes, I first tried the BlueFish editor. Overall, not a bad editor, but the preferences dialog is too big for the EEE PC screen! I realized that the screen resolution is 1024x600. Many dialogs are designed for bigger screen and won't fit! This means the inability to click the OK button that is typically at the bottom of the dialog. What a crippling flaw!

So I wrote this blog, on an airplane, with that cramp keyboard, with a new editor that I cannot configure, and half distracted by trying to remember X Windows resources.

Then I simply click on the video file on the SD card. Surprise. The full screen playback came up and the start playing. Cool. The display was sharp and crisp. The sound was clear (with my earphones). I was soon into the show and forgot about the computer.

I feel the end of the try-out. This is not a computer for everyday use unless connected to external keyboard, mouse, screen, and power. When used in travel, the light-weight is offset by the short battery life. The screen resolution and cramp keyboard cannot sustain a full-day's use. <script language="JavaScript"> TagStart() Technorati("EEE PC") TagEnd() </script>

EEE PC Chronicles, Episode 2

OK, I am supposed to be an expert user. I hate that "easy mode" desktop. That's for beginners. How do I get rid of it?

I thought of simply re-installing opensolaris 2008.05 over it. I work for Sun and it should be cooler than this easy mode thing. Then again, maybe I should check out the community first. So I searched and got blasted away with the communities. There is this nice article that hold people hands to "unleash" EEE PC. Download a script, open a terminal window, and run the script. After reboot, I "personalized" the machine to boot directly to full KDE. This is really more complicated than it should be.

But several programs from the easy mode can no longer be found. One of them is the video camera activator. I needed to switch back to easy mode for that. Hmm, not cool.

I then found a "locale_dialog" program to switch the default language to English. But somehow the desktop is still in Chinese, only FireFox and Thunderbird changed. This laptop is now getting more serious. I decided to buy a 16GB SD card (550rmb) and used it to move all my email folders over. Thunderbird happily recognized my local folders. That's cool.

I need my html editor to write blogs with. I found a bluefish software and use Debian's apt-get to download and install. This process requires opening an xterm and the sudo command. Xterm is much better in Chinese font handling than the easy mode "terminal."

Next episode, read my attempt to watch movie and listen to music on this computer. <script language="JavaScript"> TagStart() Technorati("EEE PC") TagEnd() </script>

Monday Jun 09, 2008

BYOC

You have an impossible choice similar to the famous "paper or plastic" question at the supermarket. At a Chinese restaurant the disposable chopsticks are clean but wasteful, the reusable ones are always suspicious, how were they cleaned, with what detergent and rinsing water?

Earlier last week, every employee at Sun China received a pair of reusable chopsticks, thanks to its employer-funded employee association, dubbed SunClubs. The engineers chose to chip in more and got 2 pairs. These aluminum chopsticks can be put together in seconds and come in an easy to wash case. On a whimp, I decided to sell extra at 70 cents each (roughly at cost). In one day, we sold over 30 pairs. I suspect we need to make more to meet the demand.

Next time in the restaurant, check out those proudly showing off their Sun-logo'ed chopsticks. They escaped the impossible choice and get to be clean and reusable at the same time. <script language="JavaScript"> TagStart() Technorati("China") Technorati("Chopsticks") TagEnd() </script>

Sunday Jun 08, 2008

What's going on in the US?

I hardly put up a fight to the usual drowsy attack that comes in the afternoon of the arrival day. In fact, I took a shower and willingly sneaked into the slumber around 2pm, before I set the alarm to wake up in 3 hours. Then I clicked on the TV groggily.

Hillary Clinton was on. She "threw her full support behind Barack Obama." I watched her full speech and felt the emotion. She is a good speaker and probably a good candidate. This, indeed, is a historical race that mobilized so many to vote. Now that the Democratic Party is supposedly united, John McCain will face a tough fight ahead.

The US evening news follows a fixed format: a breaking story, maybe two secondary ones, some sports, a bit world news, a light-hearted one, and a "personal touch" one designed for some reflection. It seems that oil prices is still considered a big deal here. Interestingly they reported that Europeans have been paying more than twice the price than the US for almost a decade now. "Welcome to the party," a driver in UK said.

Several high-schools, and universities too, are experimenting with a hand-held device in the classroom. Students answer questions, take quiz, or provide instant feedback to the teacher via this device. This story reminds me of the New Year's in China early this year. Everyone "voted" for their favorite shows and participated for a lottery via their cell phones. A screen displayed the instant result: which show was the best, who won the big prize, etc. But in the classroom? What happened to the old-fashioned "raise your hand" or teacher calling the student in the back row? I am not sure if those devices have unique IDs, if they do, roll calling will be easier, at least.

Friday Jun 06, 2008

EEE PC Chronicles, Episode 1

A laptop that is smaller than most hardback books?

I have seen and used the famous OLPC XO (One Laptop Per Child) machine. But I really cannot see myself carrying a Barbie-doll accessory. Eee PC, by ASUS, has a more mainstream design. The new 900 model has 20GB flash memory. Yes, this thing has no internal moving parts and is absolutely quiet. So I ordered one for 3,900MB (and an external optical drive for 800rmb). This baby has a 900MHz Intel CPU, 1GB of memory, and 20GB of flash drive. It also has a built-in wi-fi, webcam, speakers, 3 USB slots, an SD slot, and an Ethernet plug. Seems pretty complete to me.

I charge it over-night and booted it up. The Xandros Linux, a version of Debian, boots up in "easy mode" — a tab-based desktop that is reasonably complete but frustrating to a Unix guy like myself. I needed to run Firefox with profile that that require a command-line interface. The secretive (really simple documentation) "Control-Alt-T" sequence opens a terminal window and solved these problems.

Wireless connection is almost automatic. It has already found my access point. I clicked connect, entered the WEP key, and started surfing.

Tried skype next. Wow, someone I knew was online. She activated the camera, so I did too. Soon, I found myself conversing with someone 6,000 miles away, in video too. Pretty cool.

The keyboard is cramp for my fat fingers and the touchpad is too slippery.

I can get used to this. Stay tuned. <script language="JavaScript"> TagStart() Technorati("EEE PC") TagEnd() </script>

Wednesday Jun 04, 2008

Richard Stallman, 1st Contact

"It is so, so cool, this gnu thing," I thought.

My first editor on Unix (BSD4.1) was naturally vi, much better than ed that I used before. One day, I went to a senior engineer for his wisdom and was dazzled by his editor. It split the screen into two parts, doing two tasks, without using job controls, at the same time. It was magical. It was emacs. I got to have it.

I ftp'ed, configured for SunOS, make'ed, and got my own shining emacs. I spent the next few years mastering it. I proudly complain the "emacs left pinky" ailment for over-using control key. I learned and wrote lisp programs to customize it. Good old days.

Imagine my giddiness meeting Richard Stallman. The man who wrote emacs. For about 30 minutes, we talked about menu choices from this restaurant we brought him to. He seemed always ready to preach: the fine points in Gnu ideas, the correct ways to refer to Linux (Gnu Operating Systems), the fund raising (books, t-shirts, direct donation), etc. The signature long-hair and full beard provide him with constant distractions: twisting, stroking, twirling, etc. Stallman seems to have a good command on Chinese sounds and use emacs on his OLPC XO (One Laptop Per Child) to record everything.

We have, slightly, different views on open-source and/or free software. Richard has been a proponent for free software (as in freedom) for the last quarter century. He insists that the freedom to distribute, copy, modify, and use all software is paramount to the modern society. He will not rest unless all software are free.

The famed GPL (Gnu Public License) codifies his ideology. Richard believes that if a license allows the licensee to do anything to restrict software freedom, then this license is as evil. Here arrives the strange logic that to grant someone the freedom to do whatever he/she wishes is actually evil, since the licensee may choose to restrict freedom with his/her derivative software. Simply put, if a software let its derivative software to become proprietary, then it is evil. Hmm, at least I am not as radical as High Priest Stallman. First of all, I do not believe all proprietary software are evil to begin with (I am also not sure all software should be free). Secondly, I do not really accept the responsibility of the derivatives. I have contributed to the world of free software community in the past. When I did, I put the software in public domain: no restriction what-so-ever. In theory, someone could have taken my software and create something that is not open or free. I am completely fine with it. But Richard will disapprove (and he did).

Software philosophy is not the only difference we have. Richard has a much cooler headgear, an old PDP disk platter worn as a halo (and matching high-priest gown). My OpenSolaris baseball hat looks so mundane.

It takes conviction and passion to change the world. Richard Stallman did just that. Is it a fault to believe too strongly? Not at all. I remain a big fan of FSF and Richard Stallman. Somehow, his preaches and conviction remind me the debates between Protestant denominations. They are all on the same side, yet observers will swear they would rather see their allies perish before the enemies. <script language="JavaScript"> TagStart() Technorati("Richard Stallman") TagEnd() </script>

A more expressive language?

Bi-lingual readers, did you notice my Chinese posts are always shorter? Hmm...

Sunday Jun 01, 2008

A Beijing online purchasing experience

Yes, mundane as it sounds, it is worth a blog.

In a hurry, I asked Haiping to procure some for me. She diligently researched, on Internet of course, and found the desirable one. What happens after is where the American and Chinese experiences diverge.

She picked up the phone, spoke to a human being, confirmed the availability (just briefly), and placed the order. A day later, a young man, a bit sweaty and in such need of a shower that I wished to shorten our interaction as much as possible, rang my doorbell and presented me with the merchandise: 5 2GB USB-stick for 66rmb each. Plus 5rmb of shipping makes the total 335. Yes siree, I bought 5 USB sticks for US$48.33, call it US$10 each.

Find me a place the shipping charge is less than a dollar in US.

Saturday May 31, 2008

Religion and Governance

Cross posted at http://www.nomadicminds.org

A few thousand years ago, rulers pondered on how to govern. Citizens were not quite literate. The society was tiered. A legal system seemed futile: first they need to learn the laws, then must build an enforcement structure. But most importantly, the ruling class did not wish to be subject to the same laws as the commoners. What to do?

The Church was the answer. It has the God-given authority to define morality and the rituals of worshipping. Church became the perfect partner with the government: one controlled behavior and the other military and resources. Governance became easy.

In China, way before Christ, Confucius taught his philosophy on social protocols. Social behaviors — rules of interaction — must accord to the relative labeling: ruler v. ruled, senior v. junior, husband v. wife, etc. Simply put, the moment one acquired a label, the proper behavior rules apply. A person, for example, behaves differently as the son, the boss, the guard, the student, the brother, etc. Titles rule.

Kings in China found this so suitable for governing and put resources behind it. China became a Confucian state. Religions are for faith or philosophy, not ethics or morality.

After the Industrial Revolution, machine replaced human and became the main means of production. New rules challenged Church on its authority on people's lives: it is not about right and wrong anymore, it is about money. Church felt the pressure to modify rituals to avoid contradiction with the economy: only spiritual rituals are their domain. But which rituals are divine and which are social? Is birth control a matter of faith? Would I go to hell if I eat pork? If I accept Him as my savior, does it matter that I murdered, raped, or betrayed?

The mainstream modern churches, at least in the USA, became social clubs of similarly valued or opined. When one's value changes, one also change church. Several religions or denominations, however, insist on strict ritual adherence, also known as behavior control, and frequently run into trouble: think Jonestown, Waco, and Texas polygamists.

In 1850s, HONG XiuQuan (洪秀全) started a farmer riot using religion as an organization tool. He assumed divine position and organized his kingdom against the government. The riot went all the way to Beijing and almost tumbled the Qing dynasty. Imagine Jonestown the size of half the country, or the state of Utah passing a constitution contradicting the USA one. Chinese rulers since heeded the lessons and viewed organized religions with suspicion.

Faith is about belief and respect. Religion is about social behavior via organization, morality, and rituals. Government is for the control and distribution of resources. These affect everyone, God believer or not. That's why confrontations and conflicts will never end. Everyone, just chill.

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