Monday, October 30, 2006

-pedia vs -dium

Most of us probably know that the name Wikipedia, the online community encyclopedia, originates from the joining of two words, wiki and encyclopedia. However, many of us may be hazy regarding the origin or meaning of the first word, unless you happen to hail from Hawaii. Yes, that’s right, “wiki” is one half of the Hawaiian word wikiwiki, which means quickly in the vernacular.

As with many other borrowed words that have made it to the English lexicon, wiki now enjoys the full stature accorded to such words with its own derivatives such as wikicize or wikify, which means to create a wikilink on a page so that the linked text points to another Wikipage.

The distinguishing features of Wikipedia are collaborative authoring and free content. It also boasts of multilingual format. It has become my first choice of reference on practically any subject. Lately, the site has suffered some form of online vandalism and we may yet see some changes to the access protocol.

Now an upstart is threatening the premier position of Wikipedia as the ultimate online reference. “Like Wikipedia, the Citizendium or "the Citizen’s Compendium," will be a wiki project open to public collaboration. But, unlike Wikipedia, the community will be guided by expert editors, and contributors will be expected to use their own names, not anonymous pseudonyms.” So noted the first press release dated Oct 17, 2006 linked at its website.

So an encyclopedia versus a compendium, both conjuring up images of knowledge nuggets that are easily accessible. But that’s not the only thing that the two share. Dr. Larry Sanger, a co-founder of Wikipedia in 2001, is also the impetus behind as well as the “public face”, albeit a temporary one, of the citizen initiative.

At the initial stage, the two will not be distinguishable as Citizendium will be the “mirror” of Wikipedia. But as Citizendium matures, the original Wikipedia articles will be refreshed to reflect updates and new articles introduced.

Why the need for two seemingly parallel efforts with largely congruent objectives of providing free and accessible information? It seems to be an issue of reliability, and a matter of accountability as made clear in the Citizendium’s first press release mentioned earlier.

Citizendium aims to be a paragon of reliability and accountability by eliminating anonymous contributions and engaging experts and the academia. The “alpha” phase involving a select group of authors, editors and “constables” (the enforcers of rules, and perhaps standards) and held in private is ongoing and the overall mood that I gather from visiting the website can be described as “cautiously optimistic”.

It’s too early to tell whether this “responsible, expert-managed fork of Wikipedia” will mature into a reference of choice on its own right. But those who subscribe to its Statement of Fundamental Policies are welcome to apply to be part of the team. Just make sure that you have the right level of credentials.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Heroes Or Sages: Which Would You Rather Be?

Sung to the melodious voice of Enrique Iglesias:

Would you dance if I asked you to dance
Would you run and never look back
Would you cry if you saw me crying
would you save my soul tonight
I can be your hero baby
I can kiss away the pain
I will stand by you forever
You can take my breath away.

Stop. Most of us would have heard this song over the radio at one time or the other. It is of course “Hero”. This is hero in a lover’s eyes.

Now switch from audio CD to TV series. This fall NBC introduced a new series about ordinary people who wake up one morning with extraordinary powers. Appropriately, it’s named Heroes.

Hero idolizing is a culture all over the world. Childhood heroes. Action heroes. Sports Heroes. Unsung Heroes. However, it is in US that such a culture is carried perhaps to the extreme.

Heroes are by definition people who have excelled in their respective fields of endeavor, surpassing their peers, or who have performed earth-shattering feats that seemingly defy human limits. They receive praise and adulation and are idols of envy.

In practically all fields here in US, there are acknowledged heroes: Tiger Woods in Golf, General MacArthur in military affairs, Stephen King in fiction writing, George Gershwin in music composition, Bruce Springsteen in rock music, Elizabeth Taylor in movies, to name just a few in the Land of Promise.

But nowhere is this culture more pervasive than in the sports arena, especially in US schools. From high schools to varsity sports, athletes are treated as a special lot, garnering all manners of sports scholarships, and are granted academic freedom in course combination, to missing classes and skipping homeworks during the heights of the sports season (but made-up classes are instituted). Then there are purported favoritism and inflated grades accorded to student athletes.

So these students athletes are put on a special pedestal, bestowed the status of heroes, and are guaranteed a future of fame, fortune, and social status, if they stay healthy and level headed.

This special recognition and the special treatment that it commands has tremendous appeal for typical American teens and they would do their best to emulate their idols, sometimes with unintended and fatal consequences blinded by a single moment of bravado.

But perhaps I’m being overly critical. By and large the American mainstream is imbibed with a righteous value system. Achievements in character building and other spiritual pursuits are emphasized and deservingly given accolades too. Many movie stars and sports celebrities have set up charity funds to help the less fortunate and to plough back to the society a part of the fortune they have earned.

Similarly, these heroes do not escape the long arm of the law when they run foul of it. Most do and live by the axiom Precepts by Examples, viewing their special status as a responsibility to serve as the moral compass for the society at large.

Thus, the American culture of idolizing heroes is one where a high standard is upheld, and the boundaries set in stone.

For Chinese immigrants in US, they bring competition, at all levels, to a higher notch. The vying mentality spills beyond the confines of classroom into society where keeping up with the Joneses and one-upmanship become a consuming pastime.

Comparing the size of the house, the price of the car, the salary/income, the children’s academic grades, the reputation of the college admitted, or even piano performance, creeps into daily conversation and seeps through the grapevine. Making to the top of the heap has been ingrained in the Chinese psyche. In many ways, this is no different from the hero syndrome afflicting the Americans.

Many strive to surpass others in the proverbial rat race. However, there is a healthy side to competition: motivation, excellence, and meritocracy and elitism. On the other hand, if it were unhealthy typified by greed-driven cut-throat, by hook or by crook approaches, then rationalizations such as the end justifies the means and negative sentiments such as sour grapes will brew further destruction, both for themselves and others.

Hence, Master Hui Zheng, in a dharma lecture entitled "The code that unlocks the heart" delivered in Denver in 2004, has imparted the following words of wisdom:

Surpassing others makes you a hero for the briefest of time;
But surpassing yourself makes you a sage for a lifetime.

I find these words to be a truism. Relatively speaking, it is easier to surpass others in the sense that we have to put in extra physical efforts to improve our techniques, following the adage that practice makes perfect.

On the other hand, surpassing ourselves have to be done at the inner mental level. We have to view ourselves honestly, and from there on upgrade our character, uplift our thinking, and uphold ourselves to a higher standard of moral behaviour. And only sages can do that.

As the saying goes, Rome is not built in one day, so is surpassing ourselves as an accumulation of incremental deeds of virtue, of compassion, of helping others. Self criticism is always hard while critiquing others seems natural. It takes courage, moral strength, and character to take the first step toward surpassing ourselves on the route to becoming sages. To complete the journey takes perseverance, tenacity, and the unwavering belief that surpassing others is a momentary victory; and only by surpassing ourselves can we claim a lifelong triumph.

So let's begin today and do things a little better than yesterday, day in and day out, always mindful of past mistakes, and devoting a few minutes a day for self reflection, for contemplation, for clarity, and for knowing yourself better. May you succeed in bridging the chasm within your own heart.

(This blog is inspired by the article written by Yue-Li Chen, reporting on the Dharma lecture given by Master Hui Zheng as well as her take on the lecture, and published in the Overseas Chinese News, Miami, FL dated June 1, 2004 (read here the article in its entirety in chinese). Most of the views expressed herein (except for the preamble comprising the hero song and TV series and those couched in the first-person) are my literal translations of the gist of her article, which I heartily agree. Thanks are also due to Madam Yu-Tze Hendrix, a fellow buddhist friend of my wife, for making the article available).

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Blogathon to Novel Writing

First we have pentathlon and decathlon (remember Bruce Jenner of the 1970s) in the Olympics for multiple events participated by an athlete. There is also marathon, a much much longer version of a running event. Then came telethon, walkathon and jogathon for any long-drawn activity. So is it any surprise that some wise guys came up with the idea of blogathon, in blogosphere, which I first read about it here ?

Started in 2001, this is both a continuous blogging and charity event. To complete the event whence your sponsor will submit their pledges to be donated to your chosen charities, you have to blog once every 30 minutes for 24 hours. For this year, these are the overall results:

Number of blogs: 284
Total pledges: $104,881.64

Blogathon 2007 is slated for July 29, 2007. So if you want to do a good deed while doing the thing you like, i.e., blogging, then start preparing for it from now on so that you would peak at the right time, and more important, mark that date.

Now, what is blogging? It’s essentially putting your thoughts, through the keyboard, onto virtual pages. There is no page limit, no time limit, no content restriction (of course any unsavory display will be met swiftly with the full censure of the netizens, ZERO HIT).

Stretch that, time-wise, we have blogathon. But it’s still a one-day event. How about a month? Not blogging on disparate topics, but writing a novel with a sequential story line. There’s where National Novel Writing Month, the long-form of NaNoWriMo, comes in.

At first glance, the short-form looks like a nano- variant. You know, miniaturization, MEMS. But this is as big as it can get.

According to the website, “National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.”

Why the challenge? To test your stamina for one thing. Above all, it’s an invitation to “lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly”; and “to make mistakes, to forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create, to build without tearing down.”

Remember the cliché that the last 10% of what is essentially cosmetic finishing usually takes up 90% of the time? Then you would really see what you’re capable of if you suspend judgment. You may be in for a surprise.

Unlike Blogathon, which is scheduled for next year, this is next week stuff as it begins on Nov 1. This is a watershed event that will separate the MEN/WOMEN from the BOYS/GIRLS as far as writing is concerned.

Still having second thoughts? Perhaps these facts taken from the web site will settle it for you:

In 2005, we had over 59,000 participants. Nearly 10,000 of them crossed the 50k finish line by the midnight deadline, entering into the annals of NaNoWriMo superstardom forever. They started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.

Let's awaken the novelist in you.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Happiness Revisited

A puppy dog is running in circles, chasing after its own tail. Astonished, a big dog asked,” what are you doing?”

“Haven’t you heard that for us happiness is where the tail is? I’m pursuing happiness. That’s why I’m running in circles. Don’t you want to pursue happiness?” the puppy dog retorted.

“All I know is as long as I march forward in earnest, happiness will always be right behind me,” the big dog declared proudly.

The above parable, taken from Between Ignorance and Enlightenment (Book 2) by The Venerable Master Tsing Yun whom I blogged about previously (see here), is a succinct illustration of the exhortation “Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue.”

However, the more I read about happiness especially from the Buddhist perspective, the more I feel that the exhortation needs to be viewed in a holistic sense lest it gives room for particular interpretation that may be construed as a counter example as occurred in my previous blog (see the comments). Thus, happiness cannot be pursued in its own end, but it always ensues from the attainment of something that we pursue as a goal.

Another way is to change the conditions or environment whereby even our hard-wired brain, which filters our manifestation of emotions including happiness, can be changed in the process as discussed in my other blog article, Happiness Index.

A cogent explanation is offered by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in his book, The Universe in A Single Atom under the Chapter: Toward a Science of Conciousness:

Until recently, I gather, scientists believed that after adolescence the hardware of the human brain becomes relatively unchangeable. But new discoveries in neurobiology have uncovered a remarkable potential for changeability in the human brain even in adults as old as I am. At the Mind and Life conference in Dharamsala in 2004, I learned of the growing sub-discipline of neuroscience dealing with this question, called “brain plasticity.” This phenomenon suggests to me that traits that were assumed to be fixed – such as personality, disposition, even moods – are not permanent, and that mental exercises or changes in the environment can affect these traits. Already experiments have shown that experienced meditators have more activity in the left frontal lobe, the part of the brain associated with positive emotions, such as happiness, joy, and contentment. These findings imply that happiness is something we can cultivate deliberately through mental training that affects the brain.”

One mental training that would ensure a happy outcome is to adopt the world view as admonished by the Venerable Master Tsing Yun (excerpted and translated from Annals of Conditions):

Whenever we face adversity, anger arises easily. Some like to etch their anger into rock, so the anger lasts a lifetime; others like to mold their anger into shifting sand, so the anger vanishes rapidly; still others empty their anger into flowing water, so the anger is banished from the heart forever. They let misunderstanding and gossip slip away silently; and they stay unperturbed, their self serene.”

Hakuna Matata!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Happiness Index

All of us have our own interpretation and perception of what happiness is, it being conditioned by our life’s experiences built up over the years. I’ve previously blogged about Victor Frankl’s exhortation: Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue.” Implicit in that is the notion that we are born with a blank slate as far as emotional leaning is concerned, i.e., emotion neutral and, hence, not predisposed to be happy or grumpy.

And these emotional traits are picked up as we stumble along in life.

Then I read in today’s The Tampa Tribune, or more specifically, the 4You supplement, an article that helps debunk some of these long-held misconceptions. According to the article therein entitled “What’s behind That Smile?”:

“… Happiness is determined in large part by your genetic makeup, say researchers in the emerging field of positive psychology, otherwise known as the science of happiness … As much as 50% of happiness is based in the complex chromosomal soup that is your unique DNA.”

In that sense, some of us are born lucky when we are endowed with the happy genes. I could be one of them.

However, the good thing is “… that means half of it is based on other factors, such as your upbringing, learned behavior, and current circumstances of your life.” Kind of like viewing a half-cup of water as half full rather than half empty. All you have to do is to fill up the balance with happy thoughts and deeds then you’re a certified happy dude, despite the residence of “non-happy” genes to the tune of 50% of the total in your body. So all is not lost, yet.

The article goes on to quote “a formula for happiness” by the experts:

H = S + C + V

In layman’s term: Happiness equals the sum of your “Set point,” plus your life Circumstances, plus things you can Voluntarily change.” The way I see it, S would be your innate 50% while C + V the remaining nurtured 50%.

If you’re into mnemonics, I’ve got one for you: Happiness is Staying Calm/Collected and Virtuous. Be sure to let me know what you think and better still, your version.

Then I came across this term: defensive pessimism, “in which you envision everything that could possibly go wrong in a specific situation and visualize how you would handle each scenario.”

Lest this develop into an anxiety complex, Wellesley College psychologist and the author of “The Positive Power of Negative Thinking”, Julie Norem explains that “when you start to think that specifically, you have to focus away from your anxiety. It helps decrease that sense of impending disaster" (as quoted in the same article). After all, human beings are capable of handling only so many tasks at one time.

That reminds me of another term introduced by Victor Frankl: tragic optimism (see here).

Defensive Pessimism. Tragic Optimism. And putting them together, we sure have the unbeatable recipe for matata. Or is it hakuna? I forgot which is which. (Hint: the mantra made famous by the Disney movie classic, Lion King)

Then I recall a conversation I had a long time ago with a participant from Bhutan during a UNDP-sponsored conference in Malaysia, on the topic of the Gross National Happiness (GNH), which his country employs to “define quality of life in more specific and psychological terms than Gross National Product." According to Wikipedia, “the term was coined by Bhutan’s King Jigme Singye Wangchuck in 1972, signaling his commitment to building an economy that would serve Bhutan’s unique culture based on Buddhist spiritual values.”

Accordingly, the four pillars of GNH are:

  • the promotion of equitable and sustainable socio-economic development;
  • the preservation and promotion of cultural values;
  • the conservation of the natural environment; and
  • the establishment of good governance. (Wikipedia)

So Bhutan is deservedly a Buddhist country, a counterpart to the many Islamic countries in the world.

It seems that from the individual to the country level, happiness (or a right to be happy) has both been instituted and legislated. The only problem is that these have not been made ubiquitous.

So next time when you are about to get unhappy, remember it’s a choice, and you can, and should, voluntarily change that.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Tragic Optimism

My wife has commented that one of my previous posts, Moments of Reflection, where I have focused on the atrocities of life in its various forms and hence may have conveyed a feeling of helplessness, does not seem to jive with my usual optimistic outlook. I must admit that must be the result of a momentary lapse of resolve where everything looked so overwhelming.

Then I was reminded by the expose by Victor E. Frankl in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, where he expounded on the term “tragic optimism”, which seems oxymoronic at first. However, according to him, tragic here is not meant to qualify optimism, but rather as a contrast, a positive reaction you may say, to tragic events. In his words, it is optimistic in spite of the “tragic triad”, the three emotions that circumscribe human existence: pain, guilt, and death.

How so? He put it eloquently as a one-to-one correspondence:

Firstly, turning suffering into a human achievement and accomplishment.

Secondly, deriving from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better.

Thirdly, deriving from life transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action.

In everyday parlance and at an individual level, this would amount to picking up the pieces and eventually rising up from the ashes. Stare down life’s adversity for an indefatigable spirit never stays down forever.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Legal Aid to Bloggers?

It seems that the picture that I’ve painted in a previous post, Bloggers Beware, that is, bloggers are pretty much left to their own devices if they get into trouble because of their blogs, be they rants, opinions, or counter views, has changed for the better. Now US bloggers have an online guide designed to help them understand their rights and, if necessary, defend their freedom. This legal guide in the form of a compilation of FAQs has been created by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in furtherance of their mantra, defending freedom in the digital world, the goal being “to give you a basic roadmap to the legal issues you may confront as a blogger, to let you know you have rights, and to encourage you to blog freely with the knowledge that your legitimate speech is protected.” However, be mindful of the caveats that the guide is not meant to be a substitute for legal advice neither is it applicable to legal jurisdictions outside US.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Moments of Reflection

The US population has just topped three hundred millions. That’s eight trailing zeroes. Seeing that one American uses more resources than the global average, it can be a bit discomfiting.

Coupled with the world’s inexorable push beyond the six billion mark in terms of population, it kind of puts the current effort at space exploration in the proper perspective. But will it be too little and too late, only time will tell, even though doomsayers already have a field day.

Then there is another school of thought that argues for ocean exploration, right under our nose so to speak. Plans for mari-culture, sea ranching, aquapolis, and underwater cities are topics of the day. It seems like a logical progression from the terrestrial phase, seeing that ocean occupies more than 70% of earth’s surface and that Mt. Everest can easily sit on the deepest undersea trench without becoming sub-aerial.

However, the concern is that humankind may pollute and degrade the ocean habitat as we have done to the land with abandon. Until and unless we change our imperialistic outlook, a proclivity to lord over all other species, no amount of new space, be it ocean or out of this world in space, will ever satiate humankind’s quest for domains.

Then in steps spirituality, which is a generic term for all the world’s different faiths. All beseech their followers to follow the path of the enlightenment, seeking peace with nature, and with each other.

It has been said that we are our own greatest enemies. Wars and other ravages continue to decimate homo sapiens by the number. And yet those of us who are fortunate, by whose grace I do not know, go through the motion of living day in and day out, seemingly oblivious to the human misery far removed from us.

Sure, we empathize, we give donations, we are not wasteful and live within our means in our own way. But how much longer before we are engulfed in this conflagration of discontent, of disenfranchisement, that is gnawing away at our very capital for sustenance?

Is this a bad dream? That it will go away come tomorrow? Likely not. As individuals, we strive to live on, to provide for our loved ones. Selfish or not, that’s all we can, or rather willing to do, physically, but we will pray for others every night.

Good night, everyone.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

What else But Mind Boggling

It’s an understatement to characterize the blogosphere as the Eldorado of the Internet Age as that will not even begin to describe the mad rush into the utopian Blogosphere. Just look at these figures compiled by Technorati (as of June) as carried on the USA Today website:


Since March 2004, the "blogosphere" has doubled in size every five to seven months. There now are more than 53 million blogs.

Key blog statistics:
150,000 -- The number of blogs created each day, or nearly two blogs per second.
1.6 million -- The number of daily postings, or more than 66,600 per hour.
39% of the blogs were in English.
31% of the blogs were in Japanese.
12% of the blogs were in Chinese.
2% of the blogs were in Spanish.
40% of those who start a blog are still posting on it three months later.

I don’t know about you, but 31% of the blogs in Japanese! That’s awesome. And to think that Chinese outnumbers Japanese by what, 10 is to 1, one can really appreciate how pervasive computer literacy and writing culture are in Japan.

I’m barely into my second week of blogging and hope to be one of the last statistics after three months.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Bloggers Beware

Biosphere, the surface and atmosphere of the Earth where living organisms thrive, is governed by the rule of law. Anybody running foul of the law will be summarily dealt with. It could be a criminal act, or it could be the result of a civil suit such as libel and defamation.

Then blogosphere comes along, and its denizens have been happily blogging away; some spontaneous, some considered, some are reminiscences; some are rants, calling names in a moment of irate outburst. Unlike newspapers that report on real life events and are subject to prior verification before being published, and hence can be sued for misrepresentation and falsification, these personal posts are thought to be nothing more than online diary pages. Consequently, bloggers may be under the impression that they can just shoot their mouths off without having to worry about any legal implications, i.e., litigation-proof.

But, think again. Recent court rulings as reported in USA Today, Courts are asked to crack down on bloggers, websites, are raising the specter that bloggers’ posts are increasing being held to the same level of veracity as would journalism. Gone could be the days when the blogosphere is likened to the Wild Wild West.

So next time when you have something to blog about that even remotely resembles a rant, prudence would dictate that you first consult a lawyer or at least display a disclaimer as follows like this blogger:

(The owner of this blog assumes no responsibility for any errors, or inaccuracies of its content)

Friday, October 13, 2006

Globe Trotting: The Virtual Way

Several technologies have conspired to make our world seems smaller. One is the advent of air travel, which really took off after the invention of the jet engine. Then there is the ubiquitous telephone where voices are transmitted through great distances. This was followed by the television, enabling both sound and sight to be beamed to every corner of the world instantly.

However, the technology that has really shrunk our world is, indisputably, the Internet. I still can remember the excitement of cyber surfing for the very first time, using the precursor browser called MOSAIC, in the early 1990s. Then the whole world witnessed an information revolution at an unprecedented scale, and the rest is history as they say.

The Internet has been touted as the information highway. In that context, the world has become a global village where most locations are only one click away. More important, the Internet has helped level the playing field where information hoarding has become next to impossible.

While Internet is the generic term that covers all things cyber, there are several enabling technologies, or products to be exact, that to my mind are critical enablers of this “instant” access, to places, to friends from far flung places, and to answers, which “virtually” guarantee that we become globe trotters in a heartbeat.

Not every one of us has the opportunity to fly in an airplane, taking a panoramic view of the ground as a gliding bird would. Even far less is the number of people who can view the entire earth from space while perched far up in the sky, virtually motionless. But thanks to Google Earth, the digital earth has become a reality (the tagline of the website says “a 3D interface to the planet”).

At a click of the mouse, the mechanical kind, we can swoop over land, descend on a neighborhood, and zoom in on our house, analogous to letting your fingers do the walking ushered in by the Yellow Pages. Admittedly, the images are static, and most likely taken some time in the past, akin to seeing stars in the night sky that have actually moved from the very spot that the light at that very instant indicates them to be. But its very nature of being on call at any time more than offsets the time lapse. After all ground features and for that matter, built up areas, do not change overnight.

Then there is Internet telephony. VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) is one. But here I’m referring to a free product that challenges the conventional wisdom that talks don’t come cheap. With the tagline that read “the whole world can talk for free”, Skype enables the user to “make free conference calls and create multi-chats so it’s like having all the family together in one’s own lounge”. My wife has used it to talk to her Mom back in Malaysia; her sis in Indonesia; her brother in China; and yet another brother in Oregon; both individually and in a group chat. Equipped with a webcam (but on one-to-one call), she is even able to see them after a near three-year hiatus.

Last but not the least, we have all the various search engines that are too numerous to name and that all of us have used at one time or the other. So we ask; we google; we consult the wikipedia online; we check the online dictionaries; and we look up, say English to Chinese translation. Knowledge at our fingertip is no more a mere slogan.

Who knows, one of these days (though may not be in our life time), we can even teleport ourselves to anywhere on earth, thus making us globe trotters literally.

But until them, we will have to be satisfied with virtual globe trotting, and for that we have many technologies to thank for, among which three of them I’ve discussed here as being my personal favorites.

What are yours?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Hook

This is not just any hook. It’s not the fishing hook, the kind that entices the fish into trouble when it opens its big month. Neither is it the shape of an earthly gigantic hook one sees from the air, a shoreline feature that is carved out of the land-sea margin anchored by a rocky headland, the aftermath of the incessant battle for supremacy between oceanic forces and man-backed land masses. That hook shape, which takes ages to form, is variously termed, what else, a hook-shaped bay, a crescent-shaped bay, or a zeta-shaped bay. And no, it’s not the Captain Hook who got beat by that darling of Disney cartoon characters, Peter Pan.

This hook is the mental hook, the kind that grabs your attention from the very first go. The opening line that captivates your undivided attention in a public speech. The headline that glues your eyes to the newspaper, and the one-liner that captures your spending dollar in a commercial.

In any training workshop on public speaking, closing sales, or tele-marketing, the trainer will invariably emphasize the importance of developing a hook. It could be a quote, even a cliché, but with a twist. It could be an example. Regardless, it must be able to jolt the audience into attention.

The same applies to blog titles and post titles too. It has been said that a blog is born every second. So in the span of time for me to type this line, 10 blogs would have made their debut, all contending for the netizens’ attention. And so they become a reflection of a blogger’s creativity, ingenuity, and grasp of vocabulary as well.

“Going Global”, my blog title, is definitely not a chart topper in that respect. But notice that it does not read “Go Global”, which will then sound like a-broken-record-kind of admonition. Neither is it “Gone Global”, signifying that an end state has been reached and then it’s time perhaps to go somewhere else. However, “Going Global” is action-oriented, is a journey, like success. It takes care of the present, the now. Of course in the time I’ve taken to elucidate the rationale behind my blog title, netizens have already moved on. Oh well, you can’t win them all.

Since you’ve come this far, let me share with you a quote that could perhaps be the hook for motivating a team toward a shared vision:

Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success." Henry Ford

Monday, October 09, 2006

From Alpha to Beta: The Way

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that has upgraded its offer of free blogging sites. Granted it’s still at the beta mode, but the results of the additional flexibility as regards the ability to change fonts and layout, to add elements including photos, and instituting numbering for posts all add up to a rather professional-looking blog page, I would say.

Contrast for yourself: this page, the hardworking amateur, though not for the lack of trying, and the mirror site yonder (drum beat), the graceful pro. Granted that the content is important and it’s what sustains the success of a blog, one cannot downplay the significance of the attention grabber in the form of an appealing page layout.

This is really Advertising 101 where packaging comes first. In this age of instant gratification, the visitors must get the feel that they are treated to a visual magnificence such that they would make a split decision to linger on, thinking to themselves, “hey, this guy/gal is taking such trouble to lighten up his/her blog, maybe he/she does have something interesting to tell as well. Let’s give him/her the benefit of the doubt”.

To put in perspective, there are literally thousands, no, millions of bloggers out there, each spewing out their own rendition of cyber-columns on a regular basis. Yet there are only so many seconds in a day, and a big chunk of that is spent on making a real living. So realistically, one can only read about 3-5 blogs at any given time (I’m generalizing from my own blog reading capacity), which means there is a ring of truth to what was purportedly said by the CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, "The average blog has one reader: the blogger".

Remember that famous prediction in 1943 by Thomas Watson, the former chairman of IBM, that there was a world market for, maybe at most, five computers? But look around you today, what do you see? I rest my case.

So on the tiniest likelihood that Mr. Schmidt too could err due to a momentary lapse of sanity (isn’t that what attending UC Berkeley would do to you as I have been told to have happened to me, in no uncertain term?), I’ll persevere so that I would not miss out the day when, say, more than five people, read my blog on a daily basis.

So,, let’s bring on the gamma and the other string of Greek letters all the way to zeta.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Fact or Fiction

All libraries and bookstores, if not most, have two distinct sections, fiction and non-fiction. One will most certainly find classic literature works such as Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen on a shelf in the Fiction Section while another book, say Post Capitalist Society by Peter Drucker, in the Non-Fiction section. An easier way is of course to look up the catalogue wherein a particular book will be listed as FIC (for fiction) or NON-FICTION, as simple as that.

What about journalism? At an individual level, this may be nebulous as the perception may range from the absolute fact and wide right to the absolute fiction, but mostly somewhere within the spectrum with a shade of both. I’m sure each of us has our own opinion as to the veracity of any news published in the newspapers and news periodicals.

Before we delve further, let’s look at some “authoritative” definitions. According to Wikipedia, fiction is “story telling of imagined events and stands in contrast to non-fiction, which makes claims about reality”. While the first part is straightforward and unambiguous, the latter part sounds ambivalent to me. What is making claim? Substantiated by fact?

Let’s look at non-fiction then. Wikipedia says, “non-fiction is an account or representation of a subject which is presented as fact.” So Wikipedia is being consistent, non-fiction is indeed antithetical to fiction. But then it gets dicey (it always does) as Wikipedia goes on to qualify that “this presentation may be accurate or not; that is, it can give either a true or false account of the subject in question”. So while non-fiction represents, or rather presents, fact, it does not have to be accurate.

Isn’t inaccurate fact an oxymoron? But let’s put that aside as the focus here is fact versus fiction, and that the fiction and non-fiction pair is the opposite of each other is generally not in dispute.

That leaves journalism, described as “a discipline of collecting, analyzing, verifying, and presenting news regarding current events, trends, issues and people” in Wikipedia. For now we will take that as reporting reality that can be verified, independently of course.

Now let’s take some real, or published, cases and examine, at perhaps the level of gut feeling, their status vis-à-vis the fact-to-fiction continuum.

Firstly, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. A check at the catalogue of a local library lists that as “FIC”. So that’s that. Why then is there a hue and cry that the book is inaccurate since it is supposedly a work of fiction? I looked up my copy and note that it has a Fact page (in a book of fiction at that) and apparently some of the controversy surrounds this page, which, again quoting Wikipedia, “is in fact completely untrue and creates confusion between speculation and fact.” I must admit that since I read the book as fiction, putting my implicit trust on the local librarians to shelve it where it belongs, the only thing that I remember from reading the book is the intricate plot and the mind boggling riddles.

Then there is State of Fear by Michael Crichton, another book from the “FIC” category as well. I, too, have read the book. While I don’t agree with the fact (pardon the pun) that global warming is cast as a hoax in there, I have no problem with it since the book is, again, the work of fiction. Then I read in the Forum article entitled “Petroleum Geologists‘ Award to Novelist Crichton Is Inappropriate” in EOS (Vol. 87, No. 36, 5 September 2006), a weekly EOS Transaction of the American Geophysical Union, that The American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) had given Michael Crichton its 2006 Journalism Award for his novels Jurassic Park and State of Fear, citing the bestowment for those who have contributed to the public understanding of geology. Then he was invited to testify before the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, purportedly as an expert witness against global warming, at the risk of slighting the painstaking peered review research based on scientific investigation. The authors of the article, representing the Council of the American Quaternary Association (AMQUA), contented that “Crichton has blurred the line between fiction writer and scientific expert, using his novel as a springboard to influence public policy.” The article went on to quote AAPG Communications Director, Larry Nation, who famously said, “It is fiction, but it has the absolute ring of truth.”

Doesn’t that muddle the water even further?

On a more balanced note, as reported in Tampa Bay Times (tbt) of Oct 6, 2006, The Weather channel has taken the position that global warming is happening, people are contributing to it, and it's a big problem and has launched a weekly program, The Climate Code with Dr. Heidi Cullen, to explain climate change to a mass audience.

Analogous to “Climate is what you expect; weather is what you get,” as opined by Dr. Cullen, would we be deluged with more of “Fact is what you expect; fiction is what you get”?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Knowing Makes for Easy Steering

Scratching your head at this seemingly half-baked idiom? Read on and you will find the answer at the end of the blog (be forewarned that it’s in Chinese). But don't be like me who simply cannot refuse the temptation to do just that, bypassing the challenging journey and perching myself right at the score line. That's what happens when I read Marilyn von Savant's Ask Marilyn column in the Parade Magazine, a Sunday supplement to newspaper throughout US. Invariably there will be a word game (anagram, looking for connection among disparate words, etc.) and I will immediately end up turning the paper upside down, without fail, 'cos that's how the answer is printed. One of my many weaknesses indeed. But you don't have to be like me. So read on.

As I said in my previous post, Chinese is my mother tongue. Of course we speak other dialects as well, depending on the clans that our ancestors hailed from China. But Chinese, the written form, and Mandarin, the spoken form, has always been the preferred medium of communication. Even the English-educated (at least in my hometown) can rattle off in rapid succession conversational Chinese. Another prime example of total immersion at work.

Being my mother tongue, it seems learning Chinese is so natural and easy. Phrases automatically form in the mind and emit from the mouth, and responses are processed and registered effortlessly. So much so that we Chinese native speakers do not realize that Chinese is one of the toughest languages to learn, let alone master, in the world.

And the Chinese characters. I still remember writing the same character to fill up an entire page, several words a day, until at the end of it I can almost memorize the order of the stroke. For pronunciation, we would read aloud passages, first en masse, then individually. Then there would be reciting passages from memory. I guess this constant drilling is no different from learning English.

Through the tri-prong methodology of "read it, write it, and speak it", 24/7 (even the dialogue in the dreams), using Chinese, really by force of habit, permeated every facet of my life. I also got hooked on reading Chinese martial art novels. This genre of Chinese writing has a long tradition dating back to the Tung Dynasty. I think it evolved from such old classics like the Romance of the Three Kingdoms and the Water Margin and developed into its own niche. The heroics of a student avenging the death of his master teacher, that of a orphan growing up to defeat the imperialistic ambition of a warlord, intertwined with convoluted love triangles, are the favorite themes. Some are long on historical accounts and attempt to stay true to historical events in the overall setting such as the uprising against the Yuan Dynasty (Mongolians) and the Ching Dynasty (Manchurians) but deviated in details for dramatic effects.

I remember being cocooned in my room, laying on the bed with the novel in hand, and imagining myself in the role of the hero (not unlike the role-playing fantasy video games that kids today love to engage in, but minus the visual display since every action takes place in the elevated sphere of the mind), swatting away all resistance to the righteous end and emerging victorious over all evil. Many a time my mother had erroneously assumed that I was busy studying, which I was, to certain extent.

Another genre is romance novels, labeled at times as the gray literature as the ending is invariably divorce, love lost, and the dear departed. It seems that the protagonists always preoccupy themselves with plotting for love/favor. There is no worry of earning a living. But these I soon grew out of, no less because of the detachment from reality portrayed in them. This is not saying that the martial arts genre is any more real, but I guess it still holds fascination for me till today simply because of the male psyche that longs for action heroes, the good old triumph of the good over the evil.

Actually, other genres of DIY, motivation, non-fiction abound too. But these seem to attract a more mature readership, to which I currently belong. But somehow they just don't evoke a feeling of familiarity, a natural flow of adventure gleaned from reading English books.

Lately, I'm into Buddhist books that elevate the already beautiful Chinese phraseology into a higher realm that seems surreal. But lest we detract ourselves, being taken in by the form of the prose, the deep thoughts of compassion, caring, understanding life as a constant change, impermanence are what we should take from the messages and hold steadfastly to.

I think I'm at a unique confluence where the East and the West converge, having absorbed the respective ethos that each offers and blended them into some sort of "unified" worldview: progressive and humanistic. And a world citizen with the world at heart, in my own small little way.

Nothing comes easy in life. Then again nothing seems difficult if you put your mind to it. That's how I become more than functionally bilingual. It also explains the congruent view I have with one of the Laws of Simplicity cited in a previous post:

The more you know something beforehand, the simpler it will ultimately be perceived.

If by now you're still at sea as to the relevance of the Knowing Makes for East Steering, don't despair since it is my own fabrication and you'll be the judge as to whether the East and the West shall meet, in me that is, or not.

Now click on the first comment and Presto!

Friday, October 06, 2006

My Fair Lady

As a non-native English speaker, I have a lot of tall tales to tell regarding my learning journey. My first six years of my school life in primary (or elementary in US) school was spent in a Chinese vernacular school, Chinese being my mother tongue. However, English was taught as a subject starting in the third year (I think). But most of the time the teacher used more Chinese than English in the class. So I hardly spoke a word (OK, a whole sentence) of English.

Then it was on to the secondary (Middle and Junior High in US) school which had English as the medium of instruction. It was the first time I was exposed to a whole array of English grammar and essay writing. The linguistic assault was complete as most of the teachers did not speak, or chose not to speak Chinese, the lingua franca of my hitherto mono-linguistic circle of life.

I did the learning the brute-force way: poring over English dictionary, English-to-Chinese mind you, memorizing words that I could hardly pronounce let alone understand, and regurgitating them wholesale. Essay writing was a weekly chore, imagine doing the double take of first forming the storyline in Chinese and then translating the story into English, embellishing as I went along. Words were simply inserted to sound bombastic as the teacher put it.

My literary concoctions euphemistically termed essays had been variously described as pompous, unwieldy, circumlocutory, verbose, convoluted, words a young teen could scarcely feel for. So I persevered in my way and in the process learned and mastered the art of framing a plot in a certain way so as to accommodate a new word.

It was around this time that two American Peace Corps teachers were posted to my school. I remember one was called Edwin, the small one, and the other the big one whose name I could not recall. Anyway, it was also the first time that I came face-to-face with Caucasians who spoke with a weird, at least to my untrained ear, accent. But their arrival also signified a marked change in the English learning environment: for the first time I felt like speaking English in a real setting where the other party really needed to be communicated, unlike the contrived dialogue among orientals who labor to engage in a foreign language.

Then there were the English Literature classes during which we recited passages from works by such literary luminaries as Charles Dickens (The Tale of Two Cities), Robert Louis Stevenson (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), to name just a few. I still remember vividly the proud moment when the English Teacher cited a student (hint: not me) for using a particularly praise-worthy phrase that illustrates both contrast and rhyme: the uproar of the downpour. But the feeling of pride and achievement was contagious.

Reading English newspapers also started to become routine. So was watching English movies like My Fair Lady, which ironically was a parody of our predicament. An English Professor crossed path with a street smart lady with a smattering of Pidgin English and vowed to turn her into a lady exuding class and grace. The famous line, “The rain in Spain falls mainly in the plain” has etched into my memory while the fairy tale ending has instilled in me the hope that fluency in English was indeed attainable.

University days soon came and left, hardly leaving behind any noteworthy ripples as far as mastering English is concerned. This was because speaking English became second nature, in lectures, in library, in the lab, over lunch and dinner. The references were in English, so was my dissertation.

It was while in the University that I picked up reading English novels. Novels by contemporary authors such as Leon Uris, Alistair McClean, Agatha Christie, and Mario Puzo started to fill my shelf. The forceful characters, the intricate plot, and last but not the least, the wonderful play with the English vocabulary and syntax, overwhelmed me to fantasizing that some day I could write like them too. Of course that did not happen, but the reading did provide me the sanctity amidst the rigor of academic pursuit.

My reading continued into my working life where periodicals such as Times, the FarEast Economic Review and yes, the Reader’s Digest (my favorite section is, you guessed it, Word Power) became the mainstay. While novels by authors like Tom Clancy, Michael Crichton, and John Crisham continued to be my reading companions, I also ventured into the management genre and got acquainted with Peter Drucker, Tom Peters, and Edward de Bono, on an on-and-off basis.

Libraries did not feature prominently in the grand scheme of things then due to “conflict of schedule”. They were mostly closed during after office hours and weekends. So my most active reading was spent in bookstores such as MPH, which abound in the vicinity of shopping malls. Typically, I would take a quick bite during lunch, except on Friday where I had close to two hours to kill, no, to enjoy. Then I would station at a nearby bookstore, scan the titles, pick out a book in random, and park my butt if there is a chair, otherwise leaning against a wall, and soon lose myself in the wonderland of words, ideas, and human ingenuity. I almost always never finish the entire book but instead jump straight to the last few pages that contain the gist of the books’ ideas, or rather nuggets of information. Often I would carry a pocket-size notebook to record gems of knowledge that someday I could apply, much like my youthful fantasizing during an innocent bygone era.

Then I got involved in a local engineering association and assumed the editorship for its monthly bulletin. Among my duties was writing editorials on a monthly basis. That helped tremendously in sharpening my writing acumen and excelling in précis writing where crispness and conciseness are highly valued. That stint lasted about 3 years and with that my writing days came to a halt. But the urge to write continued to simmer.

When I came to the US, my whole reading scene simply changed from one that required extra efforts to a haven of unfettered access. Libraries are located within miles of each other, parking space is aplenty, and books are, well, a galore. Most important, the hours are simply convenient to be pampering the patrons. So weekly trips to the libraries, and occasionally Barnes and Nobles, which is a nice place to have a cuppa amidst the serene setting that is unique to well laid-out bookstores, are made like clock work.

It’s inevitable that writing would take rein once the mind is filled brimful of thoughts engendered by the incessant reading. Something has to crack or click to let this flow of pent-up memory surface and permeate the pages, be they printed or electronic.

In a nutshell, learning a language is all about immersion, both in body (speaking and writing) and mind (thinking). And in that respect, I can be considered blessed because of conducive external circumstances that valued the learning of English during my formative years.

And as they say, the rest is history, history being in the making of this blog. And an English one at that, by a non-native English speaker. I’ve certainly come a long way on this path of literary expression. I must admit I’ve great help: teachers who taught me the rudiments of learning an alien language (but I had a great headstart while young) and writing in one, who showed me that writing is not about big and long words that are best left in the dictionaries; the authors, the journalists, and the columnists whom I’ve never met but nevertheless imparted the right and natural way of communicating through the printed word; my friends and relatives (you know who you are) who put up with my sometimes flowery display of incongruity strung from words, and my lovely wife, who granted me the peace of mind to pursue my literary quest, at much peril to her own artistic expedition. And yet, her natural talent is irrepressible and this blog is an avenue for both my writing and her artistic expression (hint: the flowers that adorn the pages).

As to the connection to the title, it's both an apt characterization of my liguistic foray into my first foreign language, English, and an endearing term for my wife.

Simplicity Galore

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler,” Albert Einstein once famously said. This has an especially poignant edge to it in this age of infoglut where cramming more features into a puny gadget is the order of the day. And yet we are unwilling to do more, preferring to stay above the interface and opt for ease of use -- no, strike that and make it -- the simplest to use. In short, we want both complexity of function and simplicity of design, the resolution of which has helped push up the stock of many a design house, be it consumer electronics, automobiles, or just about anything that has become an extension of our physical senses if not mental faculties.

At least one derivative of “simple” often connotes reduced capacity or diminished capability as in simpleton, which according to Encarta is “an offensive term for somebody regarded as lacking intelligence or common sense. Then who can forget the apparent contradiction in the refrain less is more. While simplicity can certainly evoke a sense of parsimony (less), the resulting elegance can often be awe-inspiring (more).

According to Wikipedia, “simplicity is the property, condition, or quality of being simple or uncombined. It often denotes beauty, purity or clarity. Simple things are usually easier to explain and understand than complicated ones.” No argument there, except this is where simplicity begets complexity. Charles Mingus, the American jazz bassist and composer, can certainly identify with the need for simplicity when he was quoted as saying, “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity.”

One paragon of simplicity is the Google search page where open space abounds. Google understands that simplicity is both sacred and central to its competitive advantage. In coming out with the uncluttered look, Google definitely understands and provides what we need, but at the same time does not pander to what we want as that will be endless.

Less commonly known is perhaps the so-called test of Occam's razor, which posits that all other things being equal, the simplest theory is the most likely to be true. The principle recommends selecting those competing theories that introduce the fewest assumptions and postulate the fewest hypothetical entities. This is analogous to the use of fudge factors in mathematical modeling where less, fudge factor that is, is better.

In his book entitled simply Simplicity, the world renowned motivator, Edward de Bono of the lateral thinking fame, argues eloquently for the case for simplicity and provides us with a framework to do so. John Maeda, a computer scientist at the MIT Media Lab dubbed “the Master of Simplicity”, has written a book, The Laws of Simplicity, which I’ve not read. But a glimpse of what to expect can be gotten at his blog. To name just a few that I can empathize readily:

A complex system of many functions can be simplified by carefully grouping related functions.

The positive emotional response derived from a simplicity experience has less to do with utility, and more to do with saving time.

The more you know about something beforehand, the simpler it will ultimately be perceived.

And one that particularly resonates with me:

Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, while adding the meaningful.

And to end this rambling on simplicity that I ardently subscribe to, here is a quote attributed to the German polymath, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Everything is simpler than you think and at the same time more complex than you imagine.” How profound!

(First posted on Oct 5, 2006)

Management: The Buddhist Perspective

One consequence of the influx of Chinese immigrants into US is the propagation of the Buddhist faith. Among the pioneers are the various masters from Taiwan who founded several of the local temples, some of which have progressed to become popular centers of Buddhist learning, thanks to the tremendous support, both in kind and financially, from the local Buddhist adherents.

One such personality is the Venerable Master Hsing Yun who founded the Fo Guang Shan International Buddhist Order about four decades ago. Meaning Buddha Light, the Fo Guang Shan Order has flourished to become one of the premier Buddhist organizations in US, and has been the mainstay of Humanistic Buddhism that has become the hallmark of the Master.

His followers hail from all corners of the world, all subscribing to his worldview of the global citizenry where co-habitation, mutual respect, equality, fairness, peace, and the philosophy of live and let live are paramount. The Master also writes well, and prolifically. One literary work of his that I particularly enjoy and try to infuse into my daily life is, literally translated, the Philosophy of Being Number Two. Being number two is not a relegation, but rather a vantage position to discern matters far ahead, and yet able to take in the vast space by staying one step back. A man who wants nothing is truly invincible.

Especially in the realm of management where human interaction is the key to many a success, the Master has been particularly incisive. To him, the highest level of management is learning to manage oneself well. It’s not enough just focusing on managing events and people. The Master has come to realize that Buddhism is in fact a profound field of management in itself as the following scriptures, amongst others, reveal.

The Pu Men script chronicles the best management by the Goddess of Mercy. In order to manage humanity well, She first saves the destitute so that humanity can live without worry. For example, if you’re greedy, She gives alms to help you; if you are hateful, She imparts virtue; if you’re ignorant, She applies wisdom to guide you; if you are doubtful, She induces confidence to urge you along.

Similarly, The Amitaba script is Amitaba’s management of the after-world where there are only natural environment that is serene, dwellings that are richly endowed, leisure entertainment that is wholesome, and community living that is harmonious. There is absence of all the worldly afflictions such as political persecution, economic malaise, possessive behavior, ecological disaster, epidemics, and racial strife. Amitaba has managed the inhabitants of the after-world into a model community of exemplary living. It follows that Amitaba is a manager at the highest level for he ensures safety, secures happiness, imbibes peace of mind, and provides comfort.

The hardest entity to manage is people, for people are selfish by nature. But even more so is our own pair of eyes, they defy us when we want them not to ogle the improper; our pair of ears, they love to eavesdrop on others’ secrets; our mouth, they spin tales and spread lies; our pair of hands, they take what’s not ours with wanton abandon.

Then again it is relatively easier to manage our eyes, ears, mouth and hand for they are visible, physical things. What’s profoundly much more difficult to manage is our inner self and the emotions through which it manifests. Selfishness and ill thoughts such as arrogance, envy, anger, bigotry are waves that overwhelm us. If we are devoid of profound determination, profound strength, profound wisdom and profound virtue, how could we ever manage our inner self?

To manage is not to control others, otherwise opposition becomes entrenched and impasse rules. Cordiality promotes teamwork. Self motivation and mutual reinforcement align all for a shared vision.

"Most importantly, we must think of others, cherish the public good, be virtuous, and manage self as we do others, then only can we claim the full credit of being a successful student of management," the Master intones.

Amitofo and may peace be upon you.

(First posted on Oct 4, 2006)

Science and Spirituality: The Buddhist Link

To the western world, the smiling face of His Holiness the Dalai Lama is perhaps the most recognized symbol of Buddhism. Coupled with his ability to communicate well in English as evidenced by his writing, for example, the Art of Happiness, The Art of Happiness at Work, and most recently, The Universe in a Single Atom, the Dalai Lama is in a unique position to bridge not only the inter-faith divide, but also the apparent chasm between science and spirituality.

The byline of his latest literary achievement is a quote from the ancient Buddhist scripture, The Great Flower Ornament, which reads “In each atom of the realms of the universe, there exist vast oceans of world system.” As we know today, this ancient gem of wisdom is consistent with man’s discovery of the universe and speculation on the multiverse. His Holiness perceives the central question that emerges from the juxtaposition of science and spirituality as “how we can make the wonderful developments of science into something that offers altruistic and compassionate service for the needs of humanity and the other sentient beings with whom we share this earth.”

As eloquently put in the front flap of the book’s cover, the Dalai Lama ventures that “all avenues of inquiry – scientific as well as spiritual – must be pursued in order to arrive at a complete picture of the earth. Science shows us ways of interpreting the physical world, while spirituality helps us cope with reality. But the extreme of either is impoverishing. The belief that all is reducible to matter and energy leaves out a huge range of human experience: emotions, yearnings, compassion, culture. At the same time, holding unexamined spiritual beliefs – beliefs that are contradicted by evidence, logic, and experience – can lock us into fundamentalist cages.”

After a brief account of his encounter with science that set the stage for his continual interaction with science gurus throughout his globe-trotting travel, the Dalai Lama presents his insightful analysis of the parallels between the empirically-based scientific inquiry and the Buddhist philosophy of seeking truth based on experience, reason, and lastly, scripture, under the following chapter titles:

  • Emptiness, Relativity, and Quantum Physics
  • The Big Bang and the Buddhist Beginningless Universe
  • Evolution, Karma, and the World of Sentience
  • The Question of Consciousness
  • Toward a Science of Consciousness
  • The Spectrum of Consciousness
  • Ethics and the New Genetics

that run the gamut of many of the present-day scientific dilemmas.

“In essence, science and spirituality, though differing in their approaches, share the same end, which is the betterment of humanity,” concludes His Holiness. Definitely my kind of world.

(First posted on Oct 3, 2006)

The American Dream

Touted as fulfilling the American Dream, roaming the Land of the Free, making it in the promised land, and reveling in the melting pot, thousands have flocked to US, through both legal immigration and illegal entry. While some may be pushed by dire circumstances back home, the pull factor is often what tips the balance, leading to willful transplantation into what for most is a culturally challenging expedition.

Save for a relatively short duration more than a century ago when Chinese were banned from coming to the US, immigrants have largely been welcome as a positive contribution to national development here. To increase ethnic and geographical diversity, a greencard lottery system has also been put in place since the mid-1990.

But of late the chorus for border control is reaching a crescendo and attempts to terminate the greencard lottery are purportedly debated in the Capitol Hill. While the issue continues to simmer and awaits a comprehensive resolution, hopefuls would have to make some adjustments as necessary while both legal and illegal non-immigrants already in the country may face backlash from an increasingly polarized populace. For one thing, one would have to strive to merge into the American mainstream beyond the economic sphere. In addition, one could likewise leverage one’s linguistic and cultural background to help project a neighborly image for one’s adopted country in the international arena.

I’m ethnic Chinese. This qualification may seem superfluous as I can’t possibly be confused with the ilk of Christopher Lee, Tom Lee, and Sara Lee nor the like of Lee Majors and Lee Remick. Instead, I’m more likely to be grouped with TD Lee or YT Lee, both Nobel laureates in physics and chemistry, respectively.

Being a member of the so-called Under-Represented Minority (URM), I can imagine there are situations where it may be advantageous to keep my ethnicity to myself, say, in a college application, lest I’m cast as a stereotypical studious kind whose ability to contribute to campus diversity is dubious. But to do that is to ignore my cultural heritage when learning Chinese is becoming popular as evidenced from the fact that schools are setting up Chinese classes and Advanced Placement Program will soon include Chinese as one of the course offerings. As in most things in life, short-term expediency is no substitute for peace of mind in the long haul, not often anyway. So be true to yourself, and to humanity as well.

(First posted on Oct 2, 2006)

Whither the Topic

Generally a blogger faces two periodic challenges: what to blog and at what frequency. However, once one settled into a routine, the frequency often takes care of itself, a compromise between the blogger’s schedule and that of the blog commentators as evinced by their frequency of comments or hits. Of course, there are bloggers who blog at their own pace apparently oblivious to the hit frequency. These bloggers write at their own pleasure and do not crave nor care for external interaction. Their online musings become an extension of their thoughts without regard for feedback. But this group is likely a small minority since bloggers are social beings too who are just better at sharing what goes on in their inner sanctum through words, implicitly yearning for support and empathy, be they rants, gripes, memorable escapades/episodes, touching moments, and other perhaps life altering experiences.

The topic selection can range from the extemporaneous to well thought out responses much like those for the newspaper columns. Frequently, the title of the blog will give a hint as to the coverage while those spotting the name of a blogger (like this one) can ramble on anything under the sun, albeit shaped by personal experiences such as works, social circles, and the like.

A related issue is naming the heading of the day. Here is where creativity is at its best. Some are catchy, concise, and rival any of the mainstream publications, but perhaps a tad less inflammatory and sensational. Some play on words and popular names attached to a particular discipline of study. My most recent favorite is one entitled Hamitonian Support, which chronicles the controversy generated by the August 28th article in the New Yorker called “Manifold Destiny” (by Sylvia Nasar and David Gruber).

You see, in classical mechanics, Hamiltonian mechanics describes a physical system invented in 1833 by William Rowan Hamilton where the forces are not dependent of the speed. In the contemporary context, the Hamitonian refers to Professor Richard Hamilton of the University of Columbia who has written an open letter in support of Dr. ST Yau who is right smack in the center of the controversy.

Along a similar path, we may then expect to see the likes of Newtonian Fall from Grace, Keynesian Ascent, A Russian Beautiful Mind, to advance a few. When it comes to naming conventions, a human mind knows no bounds. Continue visiting your favorite blogs (but seek out new ones too) and be amazed at the least expected nooks and corners in the blogsphere.

(First posted on Oct 1, 2006)

Life Goes on

I've a million and one thing that I would like to blog about. But having started on my maiden step, I would have to move along in an arithmatic progression, piling up sand to become a castle as the Chinese saying goes, grain by grain. But not building castle in the air, I hope. Certainly I've not come half way around the world to do just that.

I think one of our greatest endowments is the ability to read and write. We can appreciate the beauty of both the spoken and the written word, be awed by the thoughts that strings of words conjure up, and the emotions that they evoke.

It used to be that diaries are personal, kept away under lock and key. But the progression to electronic journals and now blogs is astounding to say the least. More important is the opening up of the mind, and the willingness to share the hitherto hidden feelings of mere mortals.

Ours is only a brief sojourn in this world, and not many people can leave behind deeds that posterity will be proud to inherit. So the birth of the blogosphere seems like a god-send for common folks to leave behind their marks.

It has created a seemingly level playing field where participation is only a click away. I say seemingly because many are still surviving from hand to mouth, where both access to and literacy of the information superhighway are still a luxury.

It seem ironic bordering on hypocrisy that we could be ensconced in the cool comfort afforded by modern living to blog about at best inconveniences while watching the untold human suffering and misery that pan out on the monitor or splash across the paper. The ability of the human mind to exhibit this dichotomy, the nonchalance, the absence of empathy, whatever you want to call it, is chilling.

The common refrain becomes life goes on. But so does global warming, famine, religious strife, etc. Such is life's many ironies, and most will resign to that philosophical state of mind. But thankfully, there are amongst us who dare to move beyond the comfort zone, who put the world on their shoulders, and who selflessly bring joy and relief to the victims of benign neglect. And the least we can do is to say a prayer, theologically driven or otherwise.

(First posted on Sep 30, 2006)

Maiden Blog

This is a baby step for me in blogosphere, having being a blog commentator for some time now.

I've elected to use GoingGlobal as it fits in with my world outlook and my aspiration to become a global citizen where the entire world (the Planet Earth as this time) is my stage.

I've travelled to maybe twenty or so countries, some sojourns being much longer than the others, and I'll try to share my experiences here.

I read considerably too, ranging from the engineering stuff that relates to my work to things political, religious and contemporary, and will share my musings and at times ruminations here.

As I embark on my adventure into the blogsphere as a blogger, I'm glad that you've decided to come along for the ride. I can't promise anything you read here will excite you, but at least you've total control over whether I made sense.

So in humility, lets start the ride together.

(First posted on Sep 30, 2006)