Wondering, wandering, and making sense of the world.


Archive for August, 2010

Extroverted or introverted?

A friend once told me that the way to figure out if you are truly extroverted or introverted is what you do when you have a bad day. Do you call up a friend and grab dinner and or a drink? Or do you go home and curl up with your favorite book or movie?

I argue that to a certain extent, it depends on how you have the bad day, but I’m finding this method to be more and more reliable. Just look at your Facebook news feed and see how people are coping with their bad days. Do you see a pattern?

I tend to call or text people when I have a bad day to grab a drink. If I remember correctly, the Myers-Briggs personality test categorized me as slightly introverted, so there is some kind of discrepancy between the two methods.

Which are you?


Difference between the American, French, and Japanese restaurant experience

In America,

  • Labor is CHEAP (minimum wage in the US is nearly half that of France)
  • People eat THEN drink (i.e. people go to restaurants then to the bars)

The game in America is all about how fast you can get the customer in and out of the door. As soon as you enter the restaurant, the server will bring you the menu and something to munch on (bread, chips, etc.) so that you can start filling yourself up quickly. Restaurants hire adequate amount of waiters and waitresses and they are attentive, moving the plates as soon as they are done and refilling your glass as soon as they are empty. I heard once that most restaurants in the US try to get three cycles out of each table. More often than not, a check is brought to the table by the service staff who starts with the question: “Can I get you anything else?” They will say “take your time” but they don’t mean it.

In France,

  • Labor is EXPENSIVE (welcome to socialism)
  • People eat AND drink (i.e. French dinners go on and on with multiple bottles of wine)

Because French dinners are incredibly long and the restaurants have no intention of trying to get two cycles out of every table, the goal in France is to pack as many people into the restaurant as possible. Restaurant tables in France are much smaller than those in the US and sometimes one has to move the table in order to access the bench seats. As labor is expensive, restaurants are often understaffed and even then, with the low turnover, meals in France are more expensive than in America. Service is slow which annoys the foreigners who aren’t use to “la vie Francaise.” Check is almost never brought to you without asking and trying to get the attention of the waiter or waitress to pay your bill can be a time consuming experience.

In Japan,

  • Labor is CHEAP (this might be counter-intuitive, but it’s true)
  • People eat AND drink (people can spend hours picking on sushi and drinking sake)

In Japan, people go through many cycles of small dishes while drinking beer, sake, or shochu and chatting. In such a culture the game is all about how fast and how much you can serve your customers before they leave for the evening. As the labor is cheap in Japan, restaurants are often well staffed, and some places even have buttons where you can call on the waiters or waitresses. However, unlike the US, the waiting staff would almost never come to the table to interrupt your conversation and ask you if you want anything. As the dinners are not as slow as the French ones, restaurants can usually expect multiple cycles per table, and as a result meals can be very cheap (but like with many things in Japan, there is a huge range). The check is never brought to the table without requesting and you usually pay up at the counter instead of at the table.

There are, of course, many different kinds of restaurant in each country and what I wrote above does not apply to all of them. Instead, they apply to the more common restaurants in each country where you go for a casual night out with family or friends, not quick meal stops for single people or exquisite restaurants for banquets.

The basic need for eating out is universal around the world, but how each country addresses this need is formed from each’s complex web of culture, society, and tradition. How is the restaurant experience formed in your country? Where is labor EXPENSIVE and people eat THEN drink? Germany?


Dreams of the night, life

Why is it that the word for the dreams you see at night is the same as the dreams you have in your life?

Do you ever want to live the life you dreamt last night? (I do)

Do you ever want to dream the life you are living now? (I do)

Maybe this is why the people who designed our languages decided to use the same word.

When you wake up, the dreams of the night goes away into your memories/imaginations, but when you reach the end of your dreams of life, what happens?


A job done well

What is the end result if you do your job really well? Is that something you are or can be proud of?

As a teacher, if I do my job really well, I change people, give them new perspective, and make their lives better. It rarely happens, but when it does, it’s wonderful.


Design: Noun or Verb?

The most common question that I receive when I tell people that I teach design is “what kind of design?” The question is never “how kind of design?” and people almost always assume industrial design, the discipline that focuses primarily on form giving and aesthetics.

Interestingly enough, design in English is both a noun and a verb, yet when people think about design, they almost always think about the noun: beautiful design, functional design, good design, etc.

The design that I teach, coach, and learn focuses on the how, not the what. We care more about how to approach a design challenge and the end result could be products, systems, and/or services.

I believe that the design as a how is more primal and human than the well crafted objects we create today. Design is ultimately what set humans apart from all the animals. We are really the first creatures to extensively manipulate the world around us in order to assure our survival.


Is e-mail good?

Today my sent box on my primary professional e-mail account passed the 10,000 mark. This means that since returning to Stanford in 2008, in less than two and a half years, I’ve sent at least 10,000 e-mails. The actual count is more because I’ve moved some e-mails to my desktop backup and off the server, and it doesn’t include my other personal accounts like gmail and hotmail (mostly dormant since 2004). That is a lot of e-mails.

Part of this is due to my job function as a coordinator and collaborator. However, until roughly ten years ago when e-mail became mainstream, most people probably never sent that much mail in their entire lives. Assuming an average lifespan of 70 years, that is still 143 mails per year, or roughly one every 2.5 days. I probably send physical mail once every other week.

E-mail has definitely brought some of the happiest, saddest, and most depressing moments of my life. Many of my major life changes happened through e-mail, and many of my major life decisions were made through e-mail. Without e-mail, I would not have met some of the most amazing people that have intersected my life. Without e-mail, I would not have traveled to some of the most amazing places that I have gone to. Without e-mail, I would not be living in France now.

Then there were those days where I felt bogged down by e-mail, fielding them left and right, only to find more and more populating my Inbox. Some days I wonder if all I did in life was read and write e-mails.

On a societal level, e-mail has changed the fundamental way we work, communicate, and live life. It’s gotten much easier for people to keep in touch with each other across borders and oceans. On the other hand, malicious organizations in Nigeria can now con people in rural England. Coordination between and within companies have gotten much easier, faster, and more efficient, contributing to the incredible productivity growth we started centuries ago. At the same time, e-mail has accelerated globalization, and the jury is still out on that one.

So is e-mail good? I don’t know. But I’m glad it exists.

(You can replace “e-mail” with “the internet” in the second half of this post and get a rough idea of how I feel about the internet)


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