Christmas Gift Tips

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As we approach Christmas, I reflect on the gift giving process.

While I think gift giving is nice, I think it also has some really bad parts too. Like when I get a gift I don't like, and need to figure out whether I should tell the person, hide it, re-gift it, or just toss it out. Or if I am borderline liking it, then it becomes harder to figure out whether to get rid of it.

Fewer and far between are gifts that I absolutely LOVE. But that's near impossible with a guy like me. Why? It's because I have this annoying tendency to just go a buy whatever I need or want...immediately. Thus, when my birthday or Christmas rolls around, I pretty have whatever it is I need because I'm impatient and wanted it the moment I thought of it.

Being an early adopter doesn't help either; that means I've got the latest of whatever it is that is out there, so it's hard to beat whatever it is feature-wise.

Also, now that I'm in a reductionist mode for my life, I almost don't want anything extraneous. As I move into my new place, I'm trying to get of stuff in my life, not add! So it's hard to be happy with things that aren't absolutely on my must-have list as I'm thinking about throwing and giving things away!

For the reductionist, early adopter, guy who has everything, I offer some tips on buying Christmas gifts, which could apply to me, but I think could also apply to just anyone:

1. Go for the "absolutely LOVE it" gift. Challenge yourself. Because if you don't, you run the risk of raising the anxiety level of the receiver and he/she decides on whether or not to re-gift or toss it, and the gift may actually be re-gifted or tossed. So don't just buy anything for the sake of being politically correct in giving something. It's a waste: go for the gold or stay home.

2. If you can't satisfy 1, my advice is to just give something more transient. How about wine? A coupon for dinner at a restaurant of my choice? A round of drinks? A movie? A hug? Remember it's the thought that counts. Or don't give an actual something at all. Just give your love and/or friendship. It's more than enough and longer lasting than a THING.

3. How to achieve 1? I think the best way is to get to know the receiver very well. What kind of person are they like? What do they like or not like? What do they like doing? Listen to them over the course of the year; have they dropped hints on what they might want or need? Remember these and/or write them down. Ask in sneaky ways what they might want; find ways to ask without coming out and asking them directly. Even if you don't figure out what they want, you've at least gotten to know someone close to you very well. Isn't that a nice reward on top of everything?

4. Size matters. If you can't achieve 1, and you don't want to do something transient or you feel like your love and/or friendship isn't worthy enough to give (haha), then size matters. Give something small. A book. A deck of cards. A watch. A calculator. Something tiny. Because reductionist people don't have much space, so don't make them compete between open space in their tiny reductionist condo and your gift.

Merry Christmas everyone and may your gift giving adventures be fruitful, rewarding, and not wasteful.

Handymen are Gods

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Handymen are Gods. Truly.

Don't know if you've ever lived in a condo or apartment building, but usually there is a handyman that works in the building. He is a generalist, and basically is multi-talented and has been there for many years, if not decades. Because he has worked in that building for years, he usually has managed to become an expert in fixing everything.

Yes I mean everything.

There is a handyman in my NYC apartment building who once fixed my microwave. One day, it just decided to stop throwing microwaves around its chamber. It would turn on, but nothing would actually heat up in the oven. So I call the handyman over and he takes a look at it, and then tells me he needs to go downstairs to get something and he'll be right back. He returns a short while later with a circuit board which looks scavenged from another microwave. He then opens up the microwave, unplugs the wires of the old circuit board, removes it and then sticks in the new one. He closes up the microwave and, voila! the microwave turns on AND is now cooking food again.

How many of you would be willing to open up a microwave and tinker with its insides, with enough confidence that what you tinker with will actually fix it?

This last weekend, I return to my LA apartment only to find someone tried to force the door on my apartment, and the guy who tried to break in jams the lock so I can't even open it. It's late so no building staff are around, so I call a locksmith to work on it. He tries everything. He has this hook thing which he tries to pop the door handle from the inside. That doesn't work. He tries to pry the door latch with a screwdriver. No dice. He then tells me that he needs to bring out the heavy equipment and drill out the lock and basically destroy it completely to get in.

I go, hmmmm...maybe that's not a good idea. I don't know how long it will take to fix it if the lock is completely destroyed and don't want to risk leaving the door uncloseable. I tell him no, and I go find a hotel to sleep in.

The next morning I find the handyman and he goes up with me, and in 10 minutes he pops the door open with a screwdriver. Geez. Then he goes downstairs (always this downstairs thing...what, does every handyman have a secret magic cave where they store their mystical tools?) and comes back with a brand new lock assembly. He replaces it and now I'm back to having a working door, even if the door jam is a bit busted up. He does what a trained locksmith couldn't do for 2 hours.

Amazing. Worship your handyman. They are Gods.

Downsizing My Life: Yahoo! Memorabilia

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Two weeks ago I had a dumpster on my driveway, and I had another one this week. It was great to be downsizing and clearing out my garage. In the process, I found my old archives from my Yahoo! days. Here are some great memories:

My first biz card with our very first office address at Pioneer Way in Mountain View, very close to Castro St. Man I miss that place. So close to great food!

A copy of the IPO prospectus, along with Excite, Infoseek, and Opentext!

Since Montgomery Securities underwrote the IPO, is it any surprise that their analyst report says "BUY!"?

One of the first IAudit reports from Nielsen showing Yahoo!'s stats.

Two attempts at being part of software:

To think you could actually buy a browser AND have Yahoo! bookmarked in it, or even the My Yahoo! Ticker....

The first employee handbook, a parody in TV Guide, complete with an Absolut vodka ad on the back.

Last, my old UED team circa 2000. Wow, look how we've all changed!

In the NY Times last week, some guy is selling all this Atari stuff he found in some old file cabinets he bought from a company sale for bucko bucks. Think I could get the same from my old Yahoo! crap or should I just dumpster it?

What Will Our Children Inherit?

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Beijing. Mom drawing with daughter.

Mom and daughter draw a picture. They color it in. Mom starts to color the sky blue. Daughter says, "Mom, you're coloring the sky the wrong color!" Mom replies, "Really? What color should it be?" Daughter says, "It's not blue, it's grey!" At this point, Mom realizes that the years of growing up in Beijing, one of the most polluted cities in the world where the skies are this sickly white/grey EVERY day, that her child thinks that skies are NORMALLY a white/grey and not blue.

Flashback to my childhood. I used to run around Poughkeepsie with my friends. There was this favorite playground where there were two ponds. These ponds were great. They were filled with bass, sunfish, and a school of goldfish which people dumped in there when they didn't want them. It was also filled with painted turtles, snapper turtles, tadpoles and frogs of all sorts. Fishing there was a blast. Sneaking up to frogs and grabbing them out of the water was a constant favorite distraction.

Then after my freshman year in college, I came back only to find a crew of bulldozers levelling the whole playground. I ran in there and all those fish, snapper turtles, frogs were hopping about on the newly turned earth which had filled in the ponds. I gazed upon the dirt and realized for the first time that years from now, the world will be a different place than when I grew up.

From white/grey skies to ponds turned houses, the world is changing rapidly, and some of it for the worse. Humans are changing the environment and those joys as a child I had are either changing or disappearing completely. Will my child be able to run freely through fields and playgrounds as I did when I was younger, or will they grow up under Bladerunner-esque skies and never see the beautiful blue that it can be when not polluted?

I think about this now more than ever as the global warming initiatives finally take hold, and I for one and glad to know that maybe we have a chance for our children to experience a world of the future as well as those joys of our past.

Sunday June 17:

Arrival to LAX. As I walk off the plane, I marvel at the blue skies and am ecstatic to be back under them. Never let your kids forget the sky is blue.

Going Native

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Upon reaching NYC this week, I went to my favorite breakfast shop on 2nd Ave called John's, at 44th St. and 2nd Ave., and ordered my usual. As I finished up breakfast, I struck up a conversation with the waitress there who sees me there every time I go there and she is remembering what I always order (it's because I substitute sliced tomatoes for hash potatoes - kind of weird I know heh).

So I told her my business takes me to NYC a lot and I'm mostly based in California. She was surprised as she pegged me for a native New Yorker. I thought that was funny. It certainly isn't my accent as I have none, or at least I don't think so. I probably dress like a New Yorker, and I can be as obnoxious as a New Yorker. Or maybe I just don't seem like a tourist and just have a comfortable demeanor when I cruise around the city. But I did tell her that I was born in Poughkeepsie, so maybe that's it...

I get the same reaction from California. When I'm back there, my clothes do change. I am less obnoxious and need to adapt my communication style to the more sensitive, less overbearing one that you find works better out there. Many have told me in the Bay Area that I must have grown up there because of whatever it is I exude when I'm out there.

I also get that reaction from being in Hawaii. My costume changes once more and I'm always decked out in Hawaiian wear. Although I definitely do not talk in the Hawaiian accent, still many think I live there and tell me so when we chat.

Going native is interesting. I like having a mindset which allows me to adapt to the culture of wherever I am but I think it also means I try to intuitively gain the ability to morph my mannerisms, dress, and personality to the people of that place. I don't act like a tourist and somehow I blend into the environment. It seems that people don't pay so much attention to you when they see you around, and they accept you more easily when they know you're a native. It makes them more comfortable to having you around and that's great.

When in Rome...

Being Nice Has Its Benefits

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This morning I had a flight out from JFK back to SFO. I go online to attempt check-in and find that I can't; something about the itinerary being unavailable. I think nothing of it as I know I can check in at the airport at a kiosk. I get my things together and hop into a taxi and head to JFK.

When I get there, I check-in at the kiosk and....FIND OUT THEY PUT ME ON ANOTHER LATER FLIGHT. My first reaction was of anger; previously I was on a 900a flight which would get me in around noon. That would give me enough time to go home, get my car, and zip back up to San Francisco for a 300p meeting. But the later flight they put me on would have screwed me! I would have gotten in at 230p and there would be no way that I could make the meeting. I was furious! I looked on the boards and the 900a flight was still there!

I rushed through security and was determined to get this resolved! Watch out for pissed off consumer on the warpath!

As my emotions seethed inside me, I thought back to resolutions I've had about my personality. One of them was that I would always remain calm and courteous even in the face of extreme emotion or anger. I've always admired people who were so calm in the face of calamity and decided it was something I wanted to be. Besides, if that didn't work, there would always be time for shouting (ha).

I got up into the Admirals Lounge where they typically can be more helpful. I said, "I need help! I got rescheduled off my 900a flight into a later flight? Can I get back on that flight?" To which the agent replied, "Oh, the 900a flight got cancelled." It was still on the boards! What gives?

I asked nicely to get on the 700a flight, which was boarding in 20 minutes. Luckily for me, I like to get to the airport early and relax in the Admiral's Club with WIFI, a cup of coffee, and someone else's New York Times which I often find lying around there. This time, it enabled me to have a chance at getting on the earlier flight!

The agent said the flight was not full, but they had closed access to her computer because they were in final boarding. She told me to run down there and see what they could do. So I turned around and ran to the gate.

I got to the agents there and asked nicely with a very calm voice if I could get on the flight. This agent said no problem. Then I asked if I could invoke my complimentary upgrade due to my Executive Platinum status. She tells me I can, but I would have to use my 500 mile upgrade vouchers (you earn these when you fly, and you use however many equal to your flight distance to upgrade to Business class). I tell her I don't want to use my 500 mile upgrade vouchers and she proceeds to book me into a Economy class seat. As she's doing this, I think, "this is wrong. I am Executive Platinum. I should be able to upgrade without using my 500 mile upgrade vouchers." A few seconds later, I persist, but still asking in a very calm nice voice. I ask her if there are Business Class seats available and if I can get a complimentary upgrade as Executive Platinum. She tells me it's not possible without using my 500 mile upgrade vouchers. I pause there, but I refuse to give up since I know I'm right and I refuse to rise to the bait of getting mad and yelling my request.

So I say "I'm sorry, could you explain to me again why I can't get a complimentary upgrade with my Executive Platinum status? I've done it before many times."

She grabs the agent next to her and she recommends calling their manager. The manager comes onto the phone and they chat. He asks if they have seats available and she says yes. Then the kicker; he asks her if I'm a nice guy and she tells him I've very nice and not bothersome at all. He then tells her to go ahead.

By this time, there is 5 minutes until they close the doors, so she just tells me which seat I have and I walk on the plane. Still on the jetway, I'm trying to tell her that Executive Platinum status gives me complimentary upgrades when Business class seats are available. She still claims this is not the case. I give up - I have my Business Class seat and don't worry about it anymore.

As I sit here on the plane typing this post in my comfy Business class seat, about to get my trans-fat omelette and somewhat bad coffee, I reflect on the fact that being calm and courteous in the face of anger can really work. It's just more reinforcement for me that flying-off-the-handle behavior really isn't called for in most cases, and that connecting nicely as human beings can get you huge results a lot faster than being a total asshole.

Snowman, Cuteness

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I must be a poor judge of something cute.

Before Christmas, I was out shopping with my daughter and we needed to find something for my newly born niece. We're in Borders walking around and I see a small stand of stuffed animals. I naturally gravitate towards a bear as they seem to be the safest to pick for somebody to like a lot.

As I pick up a brown bear, my daughter grabs a small snowman off the shelf. She exclaims, "This is soooo cute!". I go, "You think your baby cousin would like that more than the bear?" She goes, "Yes this is much better, Daddy! Get this for her!" I go, "Are you sure? This bear is pretty cute too..." She goes, "Yeah it's pretty cute, but this snowman is really cute!". We go on for a little bit longer and I relent. I look at this snowman and it's OK, but I think the bear is cuter. Whatever. So I put back the bear and grab the snowman. She goes, "Can I hold it?" I go, "Sure of course", and give it to her.

We walk around some more, picking up some other stuff for her other cousins. And all this time she's cuddling the snowman and finally as we're ready to leave, she pulls on my sleeve and looks up at me with those Daddy-melting-eyes and asks, "Can I have one too?" I laugh and say, "Of course sweetheart, go and grab one." She runs off and we end up buying two.

And I'm still trying to figure out what makes this snowman so cute over that bear, or something else for that matter.

At Christmas, I give the snowman to my baby niece and SHE LOVES IT. The whole time while I'm there, she's got it in her arms and running around everywhere with it. The other day (many weeks after Christmas), my sister calls me and tells me my baby niece is STILL running around with the snowman and sleeping with it every night, well after most kids would lose interest on a toy.

Geez. Go figure.

So much for my expertise in what's cute and what's not.

We're Still A Fearful Society

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The Mercury News reports that the creation of a Mandarin immersion program for Kindergarten to First Graders will likely get squashed.

It's amazing to see people still fearful of their own turf in this day and age. Haven't we moved beyond this? Of course not. Drive to Oregon and you'll see people stare at you (if you're Asian) as if you're from Mars...by the way this happened just a few months ago. And just try heading to the middle of the country. Let me tell you - ignorant and bigoted folks still exist in great quantity. Perhaps I should be nicer and say "naive". Should I stoop to their level and call them something negative when they just have not experienced the world and become more comfortable with that which is unknown to them now?

How can we compete on a global scale if we can't even see the realities of the situation that our children need to be better prepared for the future? Humans have a tendency to blind themselves where fear is concerned.

Global warming? Just a fluke. Might lose my business if I do something about it. Of course might lose the planet if I'm wrong....

The article is reprinted below - if I get an email from the copyright people, I'll likely delete this so sorry about that!

MANDARIN POPULARITY DOESN'T PLAY IN P.A.
By Sharon Noguchi
Mercury News

After the Cupertino Union School District began the nation's first Mandarin immersion elementary program eight years ago, interest in teaching Chinese skyrocketed, with schools from San Mateo to Charlotte, N.C., following suit.

But the Palo Alto school district probably won't be joining them.

On Tuesday night, faced with a blizzard of opposition, trustees indicated they can't support Superintendent Mary Frances Callan's recommendation to offer Mandarin classes to 40 kindergartners and first graders in August. They said they were worried that the program would further burden administrators, crowd elementary and middle schools, and divert attention from projects such as improving writing.

"We've stretched our staff so much, and we can only do so many things,'' said trustee Dana Tom. "It's like going to the grocery store and buying a candy bar in the checkout line, without thinking that, 'Gee, I really need bread.' ''

A group of parents have been lobbying for the program for four years, but implementing Mandarin immersion in Palo Alto could have proven costly politically for trustees.

In the contentious discussion leading to a public hearing Tuesday, opponents threatened to boycott fundraising efforts, vote against board members, oppose future tax measures and even try to rescind the parcel tax passed in 2005. Several accused the district of catering to an "affluent, vocal minority.''

That perception -- that Mandarin programs serve a limited and privileged constituency -- helped incite passionate opposition and fueled intense online debates. About 120 people turned out for the hearing, divided among proponents wearing red -- the Chinese good-luck color -- and opponents wearing green.

As a result of the surging interest in Mandarin, the College Board will offer an AP test in the language for the first time this spring. At the Chinese American International School, a private school in San Francisco, applications have more than doubled in four years. And for the first time in its 25-year history, non-Chinese students form the majority in the pre-kindergarten classes, said Andrew Corcoran, head of the school.

The trend, at least in part, reflects the growing economic importance of China.

In Cupertino, Mandarin immersion also engendered intense controversy at its inception with parents voicing the same fears as those in Palo Alto: They worried it would divert precious funds, and they disliked the growing influence of Asians in schools.

But opposition has subsided; there are now 40 children on the waiting list for kindergarten. The 315-student program at Meyerholz Elementary draws from both native Mandarin speakers and those who know no Chinese at all, said director Mary Jew. In fact, she said, "sometimes non-native speakers have a much better pronunciation.''

Several districts had been hoping to follow the Cupertino model. Palo Alto had conducted a "feasibility study'' in response to a request last spring from a parent group, Palo Altans for Chinese Education.

As a result of the study, Callan suggested starting two K-1 classes at Ohlone Elementary School in August. Principal Susan Charles had met Tuesday with her staff and welcomed the program.

Ohlone has one of Palo Alto's three alternative programs, along with a direct-instruction program at Hoover and a Spanish immersion program at Escondido.

But at the public hearing Tuesday, four of five trustees expressed reservations about adding a fourth alternative program. The final vote is scheduled for Jan. 30.

While acknowledging the demand for Mandarin language instruction, trustees still said they didn't want to tie district hands by adding another commitment. Only board President Camille Townsend supported the idea.

"Language acquisition happens best at kindergarten and pre-K,'' she said. The district should continue being an educational leader by starting a Mandarin program, she said.

Despite the superintendent's assertion that the program would not cost extra money, opponents and several board members expressed concerns that it would siphon staff time and other resources.

Some worried that a Mandarin program would attract more families as the district nears its school-room capacity, noting that because Palo Alto schools get most of their funding from local property taxes and not the state, more students doesn't mean more money.

And many objected to offering a program for only a small portion of students.

"This is a private school for the Mandarin-speaking population,'' said Anya Finseth, who asked whether speakers of other languages should also get a program.

Trustee Mandy Lowell said, ``I think it is a terrific program.'' Then, after debunking opponents' arguments, she concluded, "The pluses don't outweigh the minuses.''

Ultimately, proponents concluded that the board found the political costs exceeded the value of the program. "I thought they would have a little bit more vision about where they are taking the school district,'' said David Yen, parent of a 4-year-old boy.

Other proponents concluded that it was simply easier to disappoint proponents than to further enrage opponents.

"For Chinese to become a mainline language in school, it has to be something those who are not ethnic Chinese will support,'' said Corcoran of the Chinese American International School. "It's very important that we look at the study of Chinese as serving the whole community.''

Learning Touchy-Feely Mandarin

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Today I had my first Mandarin class with a friend of mine. We decided it could be cool to do a joint class and maybe lower fees for both of us, but potentially have a wider variety of things to talk about and practice our Mandarin.

At the beginning of class, I related to the teacher what my goals were, which were to learn "feelings" words, conversation, and usage, and to gain enough fluency in business Mandarin to deliver my old creativity in online advertising presentation and be able to field questions.

The second goal was pretty standard; my teacher is already teaching at companies like Google and helping people with their work with China. The specific language used in online advertising is something she hasn't much experience in, but I think we'll get there.

The first goal was more unusual. Initially when I told my friend I was interested in learning Mandarin, and that I wanted to learn "feelings" words in Mandarin, she laughed and said that was exactly what she was doing with her current teacher. I laughed too and thought this would be the perfect opportunity to do this.

Learning "feelings" words is definitely a female thing. But in the last 2 years post-divorce, I have come to believe that communication of one's inner feelings is crucial to maintaining good relations with another person, whether in English or Mandarin. I think it is useful for people of both sexes to learn the language of feelings and to practice using them so that they become part of their normal everyday vocabulary.

As we talked today through class, I came to realize that many of these words were not known to the teacher. I asked why that was. Apparently, it is more than just not knowing the language. It's much more deeper than that - apparently it's a cultural thing.

The Chinese, over the centuries, have come to view expression of their feelings to be downplayed or not done at all for a variety of reasons ranging from men afraid to show that they are weak to just lack of modern research in relations and the effects of "feelings" communication.

This revelation was very interesting to me. I thought back to my parents and definitely they did not use this language much. Then when it came to English, they didn't bother to learn these words and the use of "feelings" communication became doubly removed. Which then leads to the children - uh, that's ME - not learning this method of communicating - or at least not from parents. It suddenly became very clear as to why my "feelings" communication abilty was severely hampered until the last 2 years or so and I actively pursued its study in attempt to be better at it...at least in English.

I can already communicate light conversation with someone in Mandarin. It was time to up the ante and get into more complex concepts. Ultimately, I believe this will make a stronger communicator when it comes to relating to someone in Mandarin, and, I believe, even in business situations.

Downsizing My Life and Moving

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I just bought a new place. It's about less than half the size of my house and just what the doctor ordered.

Basically, I've got too much crap. And I need to get rid of as much of it as possible. I don't know what the crap is in my garage, I never use it, and have come to the conclusion that I don't need it to be sitting in my garage...or in the rest of my house.

This house is also just too much space for one guy. It encourages crap to pile up and I finally get fed up with it all last November and bought my new condo in Palo Alto (current house in Cupertino).

My plan is to buy all new furniture and furnish the PA condo first. Then, I will move everything I want to keep over there. Anything that is left in the old house is up for trashing or garage sale or giving away.

Thankfully, almost all of the furniture has arrived and now I can start the long process of getting all the stuff I want to keep over to it. I still may need a storage cube, but that's ok. The cathartic process of cleaning up and throwing away stuff I don't need is going to get rid of all the rest.

I can't wait for the finality of downsizing my life. It takes a huge weight off my shoulders. Having so much stuff isn't satisfying and ultimately harmful, in my view. Yes money can buy you lots of things, but in the end, having every freakin' thing in the universe isn't going to make you happy.

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