Sunday, June 27, 2010

Silent talk

You don't have to speak but I can hear you.

You said "I don't want to survive, I want to live."

You pondered "Can you live when trust and respect are broken?"

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What is the meaning of rain?

What will you say if someone ask you a question: "what is the meaning of rain?"

Here is my answer:

Rain brings happiness on a hot and humid day.
Rain brings sadness on a cold and gray day.
I want a day that rain brings neither happiness nor sadness for me.

Will I ever have that day?

Magical thinking: Does the world revolve around you?

I find it interesting that when something bad, I mean very bad, happens to us. Events like sudden death of loved ones, hearing of fatal medical diagnostics, or job termination without good reasons. There are two common reactions that tend to pop up in our mind around these events.
  • We think that there must be some clues to let us know that this event is coming.
  • People who experience these catastrophic events in their lives tend to say these words in their mind "Doesn't the rest of the world notice what just happened to me!!!"
Interestingly, two books provide evidence to support these reactions. One is Joan Didion's book, The Year of Magical Thinking. The other is Mitch Albom's book, Tuesdays with Morrie.

Here is Joan Didion's reflection on the moment of her husband, John Dunne's sudden death from cardiac arrest:

"It was in fact the ordinary nature of everything preceding the event that prevented me from truly believing it had happened, absorbing it, incorporating it, getting past it."

Here is Morrie Schwartz's reaction as told by Mitch Albom when he learned that he had ALS :

"Outside, the sun was shining and people were going about their business. A woman ran to put money in the parking meter. Another carried groceries. .... My old professor, meanwhile, was stunned by the normalcy of the day around him. Shouldn't the world stop? Don't they know what has happened to me?"

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A heart breaking story: A tale of advanced technology, business medicine, and graceless death

I read a touching story from a daughter who lost both of her parents -- one in a long painful death to himself and to his family and the other in a graceful and peaceful death.

Here is the link to the full story in the NYTimes.

Here are the three lessons I learned from this story.

  1. As a society, we tend to focus on the discovery of new technologies (pacemakers in this story) but pay far less attention on use and its impact on people's lives (patients and their closed ones in this story).
  2. In almost every industry, companies focus on the business aspect of their products and services. Ethical thinking and ethical decisions are not much valued and practiced.
  3. Funding agencies focus their funding efforts on technology discovery and development but hardly support less glamorous studies on impacts of technology.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Tony Hayward's BP CEO testimony in Washington

Tony Hayward's testimony points to a few problems: leadership, competency. Here is a list of evidence from what he told the committee on June 17, 2010 (the 58th day of oil spill)

"I was not a part of that decision-making process"

My reaction: How can you say that you are the CEO of this company? Even if you were not part of the decision-making process, you have to take the responsibility when your own company engages in this scale of man-made disaster.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Conflict minerals

I learn something new today about conflict minerals such as wolframinte and cassiteriate. Metals derived from these minerals are used in several consumer electronics products including laptop computers, MP3 players, cell phones, and digital cameras.

Here is a quote from Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton on this issue:

"Every time someone uses a certain type of cell phone, they are using minerals that come right out of Eastern Congo. What does that do for the people that I saw on the way from the airport into the city? Nothing. It helps them in no way."

I hope something will be done to address this problem soon.

The three questions by Jon J. Muth

Have you asked yourself these questions lately?

  1. What is the best time to do things?
  2. Who is the most important one?
  3. What is the right thing to do?

World refugee day: June 20

A beautiful statement from my younger sister who works at UNHCR:

"People do not choose to become refugees – just as no one would choose to be deprived of their home. On the occasion of World Refugee Day, help us help refugees find a place to call home."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Do you know your neighbors?

A recent Op-Ed article by Charles Blow about the age of digital life and our social life in the physical world. Here is the article.

In his article, he also mentioned a recent statistics from the Pew Research Center. It turns out 43% of Americans know all or most of their neighbors by names, 29% know some, and 28% know none. These numbers perhaps invoke the question: which category is you?

The message I got from this article is the effects of technology use are complex. We gain some benefits but they may come with costs with losing something else. For example, Blow believes that technology use improves civic engagement but we end up with people who are more socially isolated.

His suggestion is "it is important for us to remember that tangible, meaningful engagement with those around us builds better selves and stronger communities."

Friday, June 11, 2010

Bill Gates' Harvard commencement speech

Here is an excerpt from Bill Gates' speech. It makes me feel good that what I have been trying to work with undergraduate students to make them see the world and solve world problems through classwork is the right thing for college professors to do.

"I left Harvard with no real awareness of the awful inequities in the world – the appalling disparities of health, and wealth, and opportunity that condemn millions of people to lives of despair.

I learned a lot here at Harvard about new ideas in economics and politics. I got great exposure to the advances being made in the sciences.

But humanity’s greatest advances are not in its discoveries – but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity. Whether through democracy, strong public education, quality health care, or broad economic opportunity – reducing inequity is the highest human achievement.

I left campus knowing little about the millions of young people cheated out of educational opportunities here in this country. And I knew nothing about the millions of people living in unspeakable poverty and disease in developing countries.

It took me decades to find out. ...

Melinda and I read an article about the millions of children who were dying every year in poor countries from diseases that we had long ago made harmless in this country. Measles, malaria, pneumonia, hepatitis B, yellow fever. One disease I had never even heard of, rotavirus, was killing half a million kids each year – none of them in the United States.

We were shocked. We had just assumed that if millions of children were dying and they could be saved, the world would make it a priority to discover and deliver the medicines to save them. But it did not. For under a dollar, there were interventions that could save lives that just weren’t being delivered.

If you believe that every life has equal value, it’s revolting to learn that some lives are seen as worth saving and others are not. We said to ourselves: “This can’t be true. But if it is true, it deserves to be the priority of our giving.”

So we began our work in the same way anyone here would begin it. We asked: “How could the world let these children die?”

The answer is simple, and harsh. The market did not reward saving the lives of these children, and governments did not subsidize it. So the children died because their mothers and their fathers had no power in the market and no voice in the system.

But you and I have both. ....

All of us here in this Yard, at one time or another, have seen human tragedies that broke our hearts, and yet we did nothing – not because we didn’t care, but because we didn’t know what to do. If we had known how to help, we would have acted.

The barrier to change is not too little caring; it is too much complexity.

To turn caring into action, we need to see a problem, see a solution, and see the impact. But complexity blocks all three steps. ...

Let me make a request of the deans and the professors – the intellectual leaders here at Harvard: As you hire new faculty, award tenure, review curriculum, and determine degree requirements, please ask yourselves:

Should our best minds be dedicated to solving our biggest problems?

Should Harvard encourage its faculty to take on the world’s worst inequities? Should Harvard students learn about the depth of global poverty … the prevalence of world hunger … the scarcity of clean water …the girls kept out of school … the children who die from diseases we can cure?

Should the world’s most privileged people learn about the lives of the world’s least privileged? ...

And I hope you will come back here to Harvard 30 years from now and reflect on what you have done with your talent and your energy. I hope you will judge yourselves not on your professional accomplishments alone, but also on how well you have addressed the world’s deepest inequities … on how well you treated people a world away who have nothing in common with you but their humanity."

You are still you lyrics by Josh Groban

This represents how I feel today.

You walk past me,
I can feel your pain.
Time changes everything.
One truth always stays the same...
You're still you.
After all...
You're still you.

Unfair by Shel Silverstein

They don't allow pets in this apartment.
That's not decent, that's not fair.
They don't allow pets in this apartment.
They don't listen, they don't care.
I told them he's quiet and never does bark,
I told them he'd do all his stuff in the park,
I told them he's cuddly and friendly, and yet --
They won' allow pets.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Effects of parent's technology use on children

The NYTimes is running a series of articles on your brain on computers. Its recent article is about effects of parent's technology use on early childhood development.

Here is the link to the article.

From a research perspective, there is no consensus on this question. Although some researchers (e.g., Sherry Turkle from MIT) found evidence of feelings of hurt, competition, and jealously in kids. Other researchers say that smartphone and laptop use by parents may not necessary be such a bad thing. Their argument is these devices allow parents to be more physically present at home with children.

What is your household like when it comes to technology use?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The importance of imagination

Here is part of J.K. Rowling's 2008 Harvard Commencement Speech that I really like:

"If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped change. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better."

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Delivering happiness: A Zappos' way

CBS News recently ran a story and a vdo interview of Tony Hsieh (Zappos' CEO). Here is the link to the article.

The bottom line is Zappos focuses on delivering happiness to customers, employees, and hopefully investors. Can they actually do that? Apparently so. I am an occasional Zappos' customer. I always had a pleasant experience with Zappos when I called their customer service. Zappos does not believe in outsourcing its call center. The call center is in Las Vegas. It does not have a script to talk to customers either. It also does not have time limit on customer calls.

The question is can every company follows this practice? Tony Hsieh thinks so. He has a book out this year. Here is the link to the book sold on

BP oil spill: Another black swan event

Another day, another news coverage on the catastrophic oil spill in the gulf. I am sure that we (U.S. and the rest of the world) will have to endure the consequences of this event in many years to come. Today, the Sunday Times printed an article that discusses risk management, regulatory policies and how they influence for-profit organization's decision making. Here is the link to the article.

The bottom line is the BP oil spill falls under "the black swan event" that can be explained by the black swan theory". Two underlying characteristics of a black swan event are: (1) an event is rare, hard to predict, and has high (negative) impacts, and, as a result, it gets to one of our human flaws in thinking and acting on an event. In other words, we, individually and collectively, tend to brush this kind of events aside and underestimate its likelihood of happening. In this case, a regulatory policy of capping an oil company's liability at $75 million for a rig spill increases the potential damage. That is, it reinforces companies to play down risks and potential damages and encourages them to act in their own self-interest towards profit maximization.

Are we creating systems that are too complex for us to make sense of?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Humanism movement in medical education

I read a piece in the NYTimes today titled "Bring Doctors to the Dying Patient's Bedside". I applauded this movement that emphasize the human side of medical treatments and cares. We are all humans. Doctors are humans with medical expertise. Patients are humans with expertise on their illness, symptoms, etc. It is very nice to hear that they have the white coat ceremony in which first-year medical students pledge to provide compassionate care.

Lester Z. Lieberman, founding chairman of the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey said that "we are hoping to gain some leverage with these young doctors, so that they go out and practice and treat their patients as human beings and press their colleagues to do the same."

Parallel to programs in medical schools, there is progress in the science of humanism as well. Dr. David T. Stern, vice chair of professionalism at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York said "what makes a difference is that we now have ways to measure professional behavior."

"While identifying professionalism, compassion, and patient-centered behavior was once an I-know-it-when-I-see-it-endeaver, deans and faculty can now weigh actual indicators of humanism on evaluations."

Here is the link to the article