Friday, September 29, 2006

Tracy on

littleMAN update: Tracy was interviewed on Read all about it:

Worthless Skill: 10-Key

I learned to 10-key during a summer internship back in college. For those of you unfamiliar with 10-key, count yourself lucky. 10-key is to numbers what touch typing is to words. Basically, it means I can type a bunch of numbers into a spreadsheet very quickly without looking at my fingers. I gained this ability during a summer internship doing a bunch of data entry for something like $3.65 an hour back in college. Anyhow, I'm in the middle of doing my expense report (which is one of the only times I use 10-key) and just happened to think back to how I learned to 10-key. I feel like one of those Price Club cashiers from the 80s and early 90s. Who was the genius who designed that process? One person calling out the UPC code while another punched it into the register? Seriously, why didn't they just use UPC guns?

And why the heck can't I just submit a corporate credit card statement as my expense form and call it a day?

The Emperor’s Used Clothes

Earlier this week, my dry cleaner had a small delay which put me in the awful predicament of not having a clean, pressed shirt to wear to work. I had to choose between wearing one of the following:

  • The same shirt to work 2 days in a row
  • A VERY fancy white shirt my wife bought that should only be worn on weekend nights
  • A polo shirt with dress slacks

    Normally, this would be a no-brainer and I’d go with the first option. As luck would have it, the shirt I had worn was a distinctive cream color so there would be no mistaking it was the same shirt, different day. Now I didn’t actually talk to the dry cleaner as I got home late and was relayed the news via my doorman. I decided not to worry about it until the morning and see if my shirts would miraculously appear in the morning.

    When I confronted the dry cleaner, she was extremely apologetic. Then, something most unexpected happened. She offered to loan me a clean shirt for the day! I must admit I was weirded out by the offer. She reassured me that the clothes were clean and wouldn’t be missed. I asked her if she had ever loaned out any of my shirts and she got offended I would suggest something like that. Silly me.

    Anyhow, my skepticism quickly melted away when she bought out a beautiful Joseph Abboud 100% Egyptian cotton shirt. This was clearly a shirt my wife would approve of. Unfortunately, the neck was a bit too small and the arms were a bit too short. Since I don’t wear a tie to work, I could get around the first problem. I was considering walking around all day with my sleeves rolled up but it’s getting cold in New York and I would have looked ridiculous. The second shirt she brought out was a perfect fit. Unfortunately, it wasn’t nearly as nice as the Joseph Abboud shirt. I was finally persuaded to take the well-fitting shirt when it was explained to me that these shirts had been abandoned by their previous owners and that I could just keep the one after I wore it. I wonder if I’m ever going to get my own shirts back or if in a few months, some other guy is going to be admiring a shirt that’s a little too big for him. With any luck, that guy will fit the Joseph Abboud shirt.

    Update: I got my own shirts back the next day and no one even noticed I was wearing a used shirt.

  • Monday, September 25, 2006

    Weekend in Chicago

    I was in Chicago over the weekend attending the wedding of an old college friend of mine. As part of the wedding festivities, we took an architectural boat cruise tour of Chicago. For those of you who have never done so, I highly recommend the cruise. Chicago really is a beautiful city in terms of architecture and public spaces. I was particularly struck how the efforts of a handful of private individuals from the Wrigleys to the Pritzkers have really enhanced the character of the city.

    While I was in Chicago, my wife was helping with a March of Dimes fundraiser in Los Angeles. I posted some photos from that event on her website. Enjoy!

    At Least He Was Honest About The Watch...

    My wife and I were walking around our neighborhood in Shanghai the other day when we came across a little stall selling Paul Frank merchandise. His inventory levels and lack of POS (Point of Sale -- printed materials such as posters and stickers used to build the brand and entice customers to buy) caused some concern to the legitimacy of the merchandise. Further, the guy violated one of my foreign country shopping rules (he spoke English perfectly). He did have some quality stuff at rock bottom prices that were hard to resist. Instead of haggling over price, he offered us our choice of a handsome Paul Frank wristwatch with the purchase of any two clothing items. I started examining the quality of the stuff closer and decided to cut to the chase and just ask him directly if the stuff was real. He replied, "Well, to tell you the truth, the watch is fake but the clothes are real!" We bought two items, bargained him down a few bucks, and let him keep the watch.

    Thursday, September 21, 2006

    Regional Fast Food

    Here's another random post about food:

    Many people lament the homogenization of the American landscape and claim nowhere is this more evident than in the fast food industry. It seems as though regional charm is lost with all of our cookie-cutter McDonalds and KenTacoHuts. However, I think these critics aren’t digging deep enough. There is plethora of regional fast food options. San Francisco has all those wraps places (at least back a few years ago they did). Los Angeles has many ethic chains such as El Tarasco, El Pollo Inca, and Noodle Planet. The South has Waffle House. New York has the soup/sandwich/salad chains (Hale and Hearty, Europa Café, and Café Metro). Something tells me that if any of these regional chains go national, there will be other concepts in line to take their place.

    Some Completely Random Food Thoughts

    Chocolate is not very common in China. I never really thought about it before (mainly because I'm not a big fan of chocolate) but I happened to see a chocolate napoleon in the window of a bakery the other day and realized I hadn't seen a chocolate dessert in a few weeks!

    I had a business lunch at a Malayasian restaurant a few days ago when I bit into a delicious starchy vegetable which was strikingly familiar. After a few more bites, it dawned on me that I haven't had a potato is over a month. Evidently there's not much potato going on in Chinese cooking. Side note: There really aren't good synonyms for "realized" are there?

    Restaurants in Pakistan charge much more for chicken than beef or lamb. And there's obviously never any pork on the menu.

    Ever notice that pesto tastes better lukewarm versus piping hot?

    Wednesday, September 20, 2006

    Promotion Tradition in China

    Apparently there's a tradition in China that when you get a promotion, you need to buy everyone in the office dessert. I wonder how long it'll take the office staff to realize that every time I get hungry, somebody gets promoted.

    And while I'm on the topic of office food, during my first week in the Shanghai office, the office manager diligently took my order for lunch every day because my lack of Mandarin prohibited me from just walking out of the office to lunch. I was a bit surprised when on the first day she ordered from a hot dog place. Day 2 was a sandwich shop. Finally, on day 3 I asked if there wasn't any Chinese food in China. Turns out they never order from the "American" places and were ordering the crappy and cold western food for my benefit. For some strange reason, after they found out I'd rather have hot food from a local place, they suddenly assumed I could just go out and order food for myself! Hence, the need to promote somebody to get some lunch around here.

    Tuesday, September 19, 2006

    October Baseball

    I wrote this entry a few weeks ago and had been waiting until October to publish it. Given the Dodgers dramatic win on Monday night, I felt it was time to put it on the blog. By the way, how the heck did Nomar not do the fist pump in homage to Gibson? For that matter, why didn't Steve Finley do it when he hit that walk off homer against the Padres to clinch the division back in '04? Anyhow, on with the post....

    Anyone who has worked for me has heard this analogy umpteen times – I want to play October baseball. People who say baseball is boring are missing the point. At 162 games, the baseball season is more a war of attrition than anything else. During the season, players routinely take time off to rest and recuperate. Heck, some players are guilty of doing that during a game! However, come October, everybody is available to play. Ego and injury are set aside. Curt Shilling’s Achilles tendon isn’t that bloody. Kirk Gibson’s knees aren’t that sore. Turns out starting pitchers really don’t need four days rest after all and coming out of the bullpen isn’t going to kill them. And while star players are expected to produce (Reggie Jackson, for example), more often than not it seems a team effort is required (2003 Marlins, 2002 Angels, and 1988 Dodgers come to mind) or unlikely heroes immerge (Scott Brocious? Craig Counsel?). While it may sound silly, I try to capture the excitement of October baseball in my projects at work.

    Coincidentally, I'll back in New York the next week through October 5th. Anyone up for tracking down some tickets and heading out to the Bronx or Queens with me let me know!

    Monday, September 18, 2006

    One More Rule...

    Never eat at a restaurant with a barker in front trying to get you to dine there. I know most of you readers out there have made the same mistake.

    Sunday, September 17, 2006

    Problem with Piracy

    Besides that whole intellectual property/incentive to innovate mumbo-jumbo, piracy seems to have killed the Chinese software market. I searched in vain for a real copy of Photoshop CS2 this past weekend only to notice that there was virtually NO productivity software retailing in China. Judging from the plethora of Photoshop tutorial programs available, I'd say there is demand for Photoshop but no supply. The one legitimate retailer I spoke to said the prices software companies charge were just too high for most people in China. And apparently, the government has actually done a fairly decent job at cracking down on pirated software (unlike DVDs).

    Seems like the Chinese government's priorities are a bit out of whack. If I were President of China, I'd crack down on pirated DVDs and hand out copies of MS Office, Photoshop, and AutoCAD to everyone in order to build a supply of knowledge workers to form another outsouring industry in China. As for the DVD crackdown, I'd start with that "The Constant Gardner" movie I watched this past weekend. Man, that movie was disappointing.

    Attention Shoppers: YOU'RE BEING RIPPED OFF!

    I've got a new rule for my wife when she's out analyzing retailers in Shanghai (shopping): Never buy anything from a store that displays photos of foreign diplomat's wives. They might as well post a sign that says, "Attention Shoppers: YOU'RE BEING RIPPED OFF!" Two corollaries to that rule are: "Never buy anything from a store in China where you're the only Asian customer" and "Never buy anything from a store in China where the salespeople speak better English than you do. "

    Oh yeah, and finally, "Never get involved with land wars in Asia."

    Chinese Retailing: The Glass is 5 Full

    I spent the better part of the weekend analyzing Chinese retailing with the wife, an activity she likes to call "shopping". Something I found very interesting was that Chinese retailers have all these signs with single-digit numbers posted on the shelves. I will post a photo of one as soon as possible. These signs indicate the sale price of an item in 10% increments. WHAT?!?! So, if you see something with a 7 in front of it, it's 30% off. I suppose it's actually more clear to list how much of the price remains rather than how much is removed but I'm just not used to it. Also, I don't quite understand the lack of the trailing zero, but then again, there's no zero digit in Chinese anyhow.

    We walk passed a store that had a 1 sign in the window (90% off!) and I had to go in to see for myself. Of course, there was only 1 item in the entire store which was truly 90% off (a hideous purple woman's coat). I wanted to know if I bought that item if they'd take off the 1 sign in the window. My wife refused to translate for me. Either she didn't want to be embarrassed or more likely she didn't want me to buy the ugly coat for her to find out.

    Friday, September 15, 2006

    Cool Apple iPod+iTunes Add

    There are some large LCD panels around Shanghai that display messages and commercials. I happened to see one I recognized and really liked. It's the iPod+iTunes ad with thousands of CD covers flying around, forming shapes, and ultimately going into an iPod. You can see it here.

    Besides being visually appealing, I like the ad for being modular and able to be mass-customized very easily. You see, the one playing in Shanghai is slightly different. Rather than CD covers with Frank Sinatra, Nirvana, and Seal, the ad in China features Asian recording stars (probably Hong Kong-based Canto-Pop acts, actually). I couldn't find the Asian version but a quick search on YouTube did yield this variant from Germany. Someone at Apple's ad agency probably read The Goal.

    Half the Work, All the Cost

    Last weekend, my wife and I looked into getting Chinese foot massages. We had spent the better part of the day walking around the Bund and Yu Gardens and our feet were killing us. We had about half hour to spare before meeting up with some friends for a nightcap. After a quick taxi ride to the "Good Food and Relaxation Street" (I'll try to post a photo sometime this weekend), we set out looking for a place to get a 30 minute massage. Unfortunately, it seems that everyone offered only 70 minute massages. We tried to bargin them into giving us two 30 minute massages for the price of one 70 minute one. Surely with 6 or 7 places on the same block, market forces would prevail and somebody would give us a deal! However, no one would budge. After squandering what precious little time we had hangling over the price instead of getting our rub on, we walked away massageless and met up with our friends instead. Upon hearing this story, one of my friends asked, "Why didn't you just each pay for the 70 mintue massage and leave after 30 minutes? How much would that have cost in total?" I thought about it for a minute, did some RMB to dollar conversions, and sheepishly replied, "$6.25 -- cheaper than laundering a shirt at the hotel."

    Thursday, September 14, 2006

    Words to Live By

    A Master in the Art of Living draws no distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he is always doing both.

    James Michener

    Wednesday, September 13, 2006

    Censorship Hypocrisy

    One of my friends tried to read my blog only to find out that it was blocked by his corporate firewall. Seems a bit hypocritical for people in the US to be up in arms about Google agreeing to block content on it's Chinese site while corporations are blocking my site! Now I know how Luther Campbell felt.

    And if you're trying to get my content through a corporate firewall, just use the syndication features on the lower right and add me to your account. And yes, I know this advice is akin to the video tape that explains how to install your VCR.

    Further Thoughts on Alex Cabrera

    There's one thing Alex Cabrera has on executives looking to work in China: I doubt he ever put in a full day's work and then stayed up all night to get on conference calls back with the head office in New York. Friday nights in China are particularly popular times for NY conference calls. The only upside is that Monday mornings are generally pretty quiet as most of the US is busy watching Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy at that time. If only the US had Friday Morning Football....

    Tuesday, September 12, 2006

    Darn Metric System!

    Don't get me wrong. I'm a scientist at head and I LOVE the metric system and hate the fact that the US is still on the other one. However, in practice, Celsius is terrible. There just isn't enough granularity in 1% difference between water freezing and boiling. I can't set my office temperature to a comfortable 69 degrees F. I can only set it to whole integers of Celsius: 20 C (too cold) or 21 C (too hot). I feel like Goldielocks without the Mama-Bear porridge.

    Which reminds me of another funny travel factoid: the microwave oven in my new corporate townhouse has an automatic setting for porridge.

    Another Reason I Blog

    In addition to trying to keep in touch with people, I also started blogging because I was starting to get a complex about not having any idea what the heck "web 2.0" was all about. Anyhow, part of this web 2.0 stuff seems to be the ability to my stuff via on, your google home, page or any other "feedreader" if you use either. From about a day of trying it out, I like the interface the best. Surprisingly, Google's interface (and feedreader) is pretty bad. Actually, this blogger site (owned by Google) is pretty terrible as well and I'm considering porting everything over to a wordpress account.

    That being said, if you haven't toyed around with Google AdWords, there's some pretty powerful stuff there. For example, I'm able to see that 2 people clicked on my link to my wife's website, ”littleMAN”. I'm also able to see that she got 1 visit from Bellingham, WA; 1 from Conway, AR (alright, who are you?); 1 from Zurich (Hello, Sanjay); 1 from Scottsdale, AZ (Hello, Jason); 7 from Lenexa, KS; and so on. I'm only able to view this information because I'm advertising my wife's company on Google AdWords. I wonder why Google doesn't incorporate this into Blogger and just blow typepad, wordpress, and the rest of the blogging tools out of the water.

    Monday, September 11, 2006


    I guess it takes 4 years and 365 days (364 days + 1 leap year day) to start the process of gentrifying a nation. Coke and Pepsi executives are the modern-day equivalent of missionaries from a few hundred years ago. Two of my good friends (and former bosses) were with PepsiCo in Russia and Bulgaria back in the early 90s and have great stories to tell about that experience. If I weren't married, I'd be tempted to apply for a job at this plant in Kabul myself!

    Click here to read a press release from Coke.

    The Next Alex Cabrera/Tuffy Rhodes

    A friend of a friend is thinking about moving to China for work and wanted to get my thoughts on the subject. While I've only been here a short while, I've spent quite a bit of time thinking about the subject and have spoken to a number of people who have relocated here "permanently" (whatever that means for my generation -- more on this later). My advice? Be prepared to be the next Alex Cabrera or Tuffy Rhodes.



    Alex Cabrera is probably the best baseball player and a household name in Japan over the past few years. Here's some more information about him. I'd post a link to the wikipedia site but for some reason, I have a very hard time connecting to wikipedia from China. Tuffy Rhodes was another great player in Japan who is relatively unknown in the U.S.

    While China definitely has a great deal of opportunity for ambitious and young people (click here and here to read my posts about this topic), it's still not the U.S. Even if you hit 55 home runs a year in a foreign country, people will still question whether you can hit a Major League curveball. My advice for people who want to come to China would be:
    Personally, I believe China has a long way to go before it becomes the center of the business world (if in fact it ever does). And even if it does, China doesn't pass the second of litmus tests for places I want to live. First, I refuse to live in a place where owning a windshield scraper is required. And second, I will only live in a place I'd want my children to grow up in. For all the bad things about the U.S. (e.g. the Religious Right and Limousine Liberals), it's still the ONLY society as far as I'm concerned that is based on the personal freedom and belief in the individual.

    5 Years Later

    (This space left blank intentionally.)

    Sunday, September 10, 2006

    Interesting Chinese HR Policies

    Here is a sample of some federally mandated leave entitlements for workers in China. They obviously want to promote smaller families:
    I wonder why pro-life groups don't come over to China and protest here. If they were truly concernced about ending abortions and saving lives, seems to me they'd have a much higher impact by changing the policies of a nation of 1.4 BILLION than a meager 280 million or so. Perhaps it has something to do with the Chinese government's liberal use of tanks....

    Friday, September 08, 2006

    So That's Where They Come From!

    Got my first 3 DVDs in Shanghai: X3, V for Vendetta, and The Break-Up. What can I say, I've got a soft spot for those Swingers guys. Anyhow, the latter two appear to be flawless (complete with the "Don't Pirate DVDs" public service announcement) while the X3 sound quality is a bit off for the English (alternate) language track. Interestingly, the main language track is perfect and in Russian! All of the text on the menus is also in Russian. I guess studios release DVDs in Russia before the rest of the world.

    Addition by Subtraction

    With 4 gigs of music, I initially loaded my iPod up with an eclectic mix of songs and went for diversity figuring the cost of overage (too many songs/variety) was less than the cost of underage (not enough songs/variety). However, I’ve found I generally just put it on Shuffle mode in order to maximize battery life. I recently deleted a bunch of marginal songs from my iPod and my satisfaction with it has skyrocketed.

    It occured to me that there is applicable to the business world as well. Firing your marginal customers (or employees!) will probably make your life a great deal easier, more profitable, and enjoyable. In some cases, less is more.

    Thursday, September 07, 2006

    Guilt vs. Shame

    I just finished reading One Billion Customers and one concept I found very interesting was what the author pointed out as a difference between Judeo-Christian and Confucian ideology (although I think the author used the term “Western” and “Oriental”). Judeo-Christian ideology is centered on Original Sin and guilt. Don’t do that because God says it’s a sin! Confucian ideology, on the other hand, is centered on social stability and shame. Don’t do that because you’ll embarrass your family! Having spent the past 31 years exposed to both schools of thought, I’m guilty and ashamed I didn’t think of this distinction myself.

    Oh yeah, as far the book goes, it is written as a collection of anecdotes about doing business in modern China (vs. pre-Clinton era China with one exception). Some are very interesting while others are a bit dry. The one exception is the story of Gareth Chang and McDonald Douglas’ misadventures in China back in the 80’s. By the account in this book, Chang was pretty much a failure with Boeing’s execution trumped Chang’s (OK, some may argue with me and say the difference actually in strategy). Despite this fact, Gareth Chang has long been exulted as a “China expert” and has a Forrest-Gumpian career that includes being on the Board of Directors of several high-profile public companies such as Nike, Apple, and Palm. This fact was not mentioned in the book nor was the fact that I heard Chang’s father was a General in the People’s Army back during the Cultural Revolution. But I digress….

    Wednesday, September 06, 2006

    Back in the P.R.O.C

    By the time I post this message, I’ll be back in Shanghai and will be here until the end of September. Drop me a line if you’re in town and want to grab breakfast at 5 AM for the next few days (until the jet lag wears off) or dinner after a few days. The last time I was here, on my second night in Shanghai, I had collapsed as soon as I got back to the hotel. I woke up in the “middle of the night” on top of the bed with all of my clothes and shoes still on. Turns out it was 9:30 PM.

    The Best -$0.01 I Ever Spent

    My computer got infected with a bunch of spyware this weekend. I decided against clicking on the pop-up ad that told me about the spyware (what kind of idiot do they think I am to pay the guy who infected me to remove the crap virus they infected me with in the first place?!?) and instead when down to Staples. After a cursory glance, I picked up some spyware remover for $30 only to find a competitor’s product for $20. Then, I saw another one for $10 and finally complete security suite with personal firewall, virus protection, and all sorts of other do-hickeys for -$0.01! I felt like Bruce Willis in Pulp Fiction. The price for the McAfee security suite was $69.99 and there were two rebates totaling $70. Sure I had to pay the taxes, postage, and time value of money but none of this goes to McAfee. I know McAfee pioneered freeware and all but seriously, how the heck do they make any money? I know, I know…. They make it up in volume.

    Laboring on Labor Day

    I spent most of the Labor Day holiday working on an angel investment with which I’m very actively involved. OK, so by “angel investment” what I really mean is my wife’s start-up venture. For those of you who don’t know, Tracy has been working for the past year or so starting a high-end clothing line for boys called ”littleMAN”. Well, we’re just about finished shipping her first season now. Her line can be found in boutique stores in New York, Los Angeles, and few other cities (Atlanta, Coconut Groove, and Toronto). Here’s a full list. Take a look and let me know what you think. If anyone has any media contacts with parenting/fashion magazines, blogs, zines, etc. please send them my way. Also, if you have a website or blog, please link to so that we can move up on search pages!

    Live Next Door to Babs for Free!

    While waiting for my flight at JFK last week, a little old lady chatted me up and told me the story of her daughter who now lives next door to Barbara Streisand for free (allegedly). To make a long story short, the daughter went through a nasty divorce after 20+ years of marriage and got $15,000 a month in alimony and little else (not that $15k a month is something to sneeze at but she lost her portion of their house and life savings). She then asked her mother (the little old lady talking to me) what to do and her mother told her to “Buy a house.” She asked, “Where?” The mother said, “Where else? Next to Barbara Streisand!” The little old woman asked me to guess who winds up paying for the house and then proceeded to tell me, “The I.R.S.!” Apparently, the mortgage payment is primarily interest (fixed rate, she assures me) and just about covers her entire tax burden on the alimony check. So, the daughter is now living rent-free and has an option on the appreciation of the property. If the housing market crashes, she’s still golden with the fixed rate mortgage. If all else fails, she can simply declare bankruptcy and start over still with $15k a month in alimony coming in. Now I haven’t started modeling the taxes for myself but it got me thinking I’m leaving a huge tax shield on the table by not leveraging to the hilt with my mortgage. Assuming I’ve got stable income and a very affordable mortgage, can I really live in a MUCH nicer house with no effect on my after tax income? Have any of you run the numbers?

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