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>

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>

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.

Monday May 26, 2008

Radical Changes Required

Jim and Darren blogged about the possibility and probable impacts of very high oil prices. They both focused on consumer behavior.

At industrial level, oil prices will have an even greater impact. Unbeknownst to many, US industries feed on oil too. From California central valley to Iowa corn field to Kansas cattle ranches, regions have specialized into single products. The famed Interstate highway system is the cardiovascular systems of this highly independent organism. Oil is the blood that runs through it, bringing in nutrients for life and haul away wastes for survival.

Americans also depend on oil to generate fertilizers that feed the corn production system: affecting almost half of the foods in typical supermarkets.

Lastly, some one in the "field" told me that the earth actually has plenty of oil for everyone and for a long time. It is just a matter of costs to extract them. The easy oil fields are near depleted. The technologies and operational costs for harder ones require higher oil prices to sustain.

So, drink up, Americans. Chinese and Indians, learn from this.

Thursday May 15, 2008

Lagavulin found

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

Last year, I learned whiskey from the master. Still an apprentice, I searched every liquor store that came my way for those Crawford mentioned. Over this year, I have found (and drunk) all but Lagavulin, the Islay whiskey.

Of course, my primary search algorithm is to peruse the airport duty free stores. Last week, in San Francisco attending JavaOne, I walked past this store and, what the heck, let's take a look. Hey, on the bottom of the shelf stood this lonely bottle. I snatched it right away.

Wow! Smokey and peaty. This is supposed to be the most distinct one in the Islay category. I enjoyed it quite a lot so far. Honestly, I have only a faint memory on the differences between the 4 of them. I use MaCallan as the benchmark and try to tell the difference between them. I guess I need to hit the bottles now.

Crawford also told me this store to visit. Whoever happens to be at Taipei, do stop by Wonderful Wines and Spirits at 6F, No 200, Sung Chiang Rd (+886 2 2536.8261). Tell them Crawford sent you.

Monday Apr 28, 2008

1000 Days

Today is number 1,000. Where were you on August 4th, 2005? How have you changed since? Did I play a part in your life? Hopefully nicely remembered.

China teaches. Everyday I soaked up and learned. I discovered things in me that were long forgotten. I watched China, the USA, Sun Microsystems, and other companies and institutes. I smiled, I laughed, I sighed, and, many times, I found myself almost in tears.

Things are happening here with such epidemic boldness. Billions, BILLIONS of people are marching to quiet orders and shaping the earth with forces this world has never experienced before. Clearly, the world does not know how to deal with China. I don't think China does either. March on, nevertheless.

The poor touched me the most. A young man told me that his parents paid for his 4 years of college. Each year cost 3 times their total annual income as rural farmers. After he "made it" in Beijing, he bought 2 houses: one for his own family and another for his elderly parents. He told me that he will never be able to pay them back. I agreed whole-heartedly. Another told me about his college friend who eats only one meal a day. He has 500 yuans to live by every month. When inflation drove up the cafeteria meal to 15rmb (2 dollars), he cannot afford 2 meals anymore. I thought of him whenever I ordered from Starbucks.

I found Chinese entrepreneurs emancipated. For every bureaucratic inefficiency, there is an entrepreneur offering services. For every cent of arbitrage difference, there is a business exploiting it. For every profit margin, there is a hard-working person earning it. Government tries to keep up with infra-structure build-up and found capacity soaked up instantaneously. China will be fully enterprised in a decade or two. The profiting model will then change from "vacuum filling" (claiming a segment as the 1st arriver) to "competitive advantage" (trying to out-do existing players). I am curious to observe the transition then.

I pondered long on the struggle of foreign enterprises, very few did well here. Root causes seem mundane and obvious: they have been inflexible, ignorant, and arrogant. Enterprises tried to import value systems with assumptions: they are poor and therefore must not know better, they are different and therefore must be inferior, they are inexperienced and therefore must be weaker. Educated will see the stupidity of these assumptions, yet corporations repeat them years after years while Chinese are agreeing with them all the way to the bank.

Everything is possible, nothing is easy. Cliché on the lives in China, yet so true. Getting a driver's license, for example, is definitively a blog-worthy topic. Most people resigned to the arbitrary, tedious, and ever-changing bureaucratic processes. For thousands of years, China governs more with processes and less with laws. In fact, the passage of a law means very little until the publication of implementation specifics. The adage "there is a counter-measure for every policies" (上有政策,下有对策) refers to the commonality of law circumvention and a reflection of the chasm between the legal systems and the reality. In China, people spend a large percentage of their attention and resources to circumvent out-dated laws and regulations creatively to get things done. Westerners gasp and Chinese just smile.

Personal milestones happened during these 1000 days too. My mother passed away, a niece married, my 2nd kid thrust me into empty-nester's club, and I re-bonded with childhood buddies. I guess milestones always happen, but China marks a distinct period for these 1000 days. I have been thinking of how to harvest from the learnings more and more these days. This means this phase will be winding down and the next will start soon. A few years from now, I will look back to see another distinct 1000-day period.

How exciting! <script language="JavaScript"> TagStart() Technorati("China") Technorati("Sun Microsystems") TagEnd() </script>

Thursday Mar 27, 2008

A personal best

I always nonchalantly, of course, check if my blog is on Sun's wall of fame: the most visited Sun blogs. Today, both of my English and Chinese versions got on that board briefly. Very cool.

I actually have never figured out roller's counting algorithm. I think searches and spiders are all counted as "visits."

No matter what, this got to be a record for Sun. Yeah!

Monday Mar 24, 2008

Are you bugged?

PRIVACY & SAFETY: All visitors should be aware that they have no reasonable expectation of privacy in public or private locations. All hotel rooms and offices are considered to be subject to on-site or remote technical monitoring at all times. Hotel rooms, residences and offices may be accessed at any time without the occupants consent or knowledge.

That's from the Government of the United States of America, titled "Fact Sheet: Olympics 2008."

President Bush made a compelling argument recently requesting the extension of wire-tapping authority granted by the Homeland Security Act, Mobilization Against Terrorism Act, Patriot Act, and maybe a few more. It fell on many deaf ears.

I think President Bush is envious of Hu JinTao.

Friday Mar 14, 2008

写给大时代的年轻人

电影电视中常说——“那是个大时代的故事”。大时代!要是我也生在大时代,不也和那些英雄般,救国救民、名垂千古、成大功、立大业、发大财了吗!叹,生不逢时啊!

改革开放至今,中国经济的发展可谓突飞猛进。不到30年的时间,便晋升世界经济第四强。但国富民穷,人均水平远低于其他大国。时至今日,能从国外取的经都取到了。中国的下一步,只能靠自己,没什么可以抄袭借鉴的了。环保、能源、贫富、医疗、社会老龄化、经济成长、高科技、生化、教育,样样都是大难题。解决这些难题的人,就是英雄。二十年后,大难题都被解决了,年轻人又会无比羡慕地看这一代,“你们生在大时代,多好。”你们,该五十好几了,微笑、吹吹茶、泯一口、闲谈“想当年”。

创业!年轻人要闯。但不能一窝蜂(别提软件外包或来料加工),要有个性。当下最容易的其实是下乡。中国农村有大大的潜力:人口老化、劳动力出走、土地生产力低、耕作技术过时、产销效率低。这每一个环节,都是无限的盈利空间。新一代的“知青”,凭借经营能力和农村发展大环境的优势,应该可以抓到每一个机会。

乡村平台是个大优势,也是重要契机。文革后的第一代现在已40出头,他们开创了中国的城市。十年间,打造了北京、上海、深圳,以及重要的二线城市,成为第一代富人。如今30多岁的一代,如果留在城市里,不是做伙计,就是和多十年功力的那代人竞争。如果移师农村,空间可就大多了。现在的农村如同十年前的城市,是个真空。有超多的机会等着有教育、有热忱、有计划的年轻人去发挥。但一定要回家乡发展。只有在自己的家乡,才能看清状况,取得同乡信任,从而掌握资源或渠道。

你的优势是人才、教育、乡村平台,而不是经验。别说你没做过所以不行,真空的定义就是没人有经验。

但先别一头栽进去。开始之前,先自己掂量掂量,谋定而后动,练好才下山。不然一刀就被人砍了,谈什么英雄好汉、行侠仗义?一般而言,高校学历、5年工作经验、能待人接物、能做项目管理,再有一两年的积蓄就可以开始了。再想想:

  • 志气够大么?天下没有什么事是做不到的,只有不敢做的。成大功、立大业、发大财、利众人。多大?关乎国家政策、万人企业、亿万财富、千万人民。不要胆怯,不要妄自菲薄。刘邦当年几岁?孙中山呢?你为什么不行?

  • 要能坚持。大事不是三年五载就能做出来的。半途而废、目光短浅,是混不出什么名堂的。从刘邦到孙中山,哪个布衣卿相、革命英雄的路是两三步走完的?一步登天的想法趁早抛开,也不要找裙带、当太子党或拉关系。一步一个脚印,能行万里。

  • 要有方法。第一步是什么?第二步呢?不用先想好十步,但至少得有三五步。这就是为何要有那五年经验的原因喽!在社会上要学什么?就是如何做计划,如何应变。没计划不能成大事,不能应变两三下就完了。一个简单的准则就是有个三年计划,其中最重要的是现金流及商业模式。现金多少进多少出?生意的成本结构如何?

  • 要有拍档。艰苦而漫长的路,要大家相互扶持。事情大了,一个人看不准,照顾不过来。拍档要能同甘也能共苦。不一定是朋友,但一定是志同道合之人。一干人的角色职责需要明确,也得互相信任。这很不容易,重要的是宁缺勿滥。选错了再换可就难了。

还犹豫什么?看看信息化、计划流程、管理系统、资源分配,哪样不把效率提高几倍?时势造英雄,英雄出少年。人生只能活一次。有教育、有经验、有积蓄、有计划的你,还等什么呢?

Friday Feb 29, 2008

100 Words

It is not that easy to use only 100 words.

Sunday Feb 24, 2008

Foods and Engineers

Hal said, "once the food intake is set, the engineering output can follow." That really cracked me up. I have always known that foods are such powerful motiviator for engineering behavior, but never put it so poetically like Hal.

Long time ago, I lost a bet and ended up paying for 4 5-gallon Gelato ice-cream from Palo Alto's Michael's Gelato & Cafe. When they arrived, I, first and only time used the public announcement system for the company. The thunder of stampeding engineers was scary. 25 or so young engineers were dreamily happy after about 30 minutes with 4 empty containers on the table.

Every Friday, Sun's China engineering center hosts a teatime. We buy cookies and bakeries from a local store together with soft drinks. The feast starts after a forum where someone will share an interesting topic with free participants. The most interesting observation is always the time for the foods to disappear.

Fuel for innovations.

Friday Feb 15, 2008

Hotel Toiletry

Check into any business hotel in Asia, you find a basketful of stuff in the bathroom: tooth brush, razor, comb, shower cap, etc. They are mostly cheap stuffs, but useful nevertheless.

In the USA, they are simply not there. I am talking about the same hotel chain: Hyatt, Marriott, Westin, etc.

I always bring my toiletry bag with me anyway. But this is a very curiously different custom.

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