Wondering, wandering, and making sense of the world.


Archive for October, 2012

Photographs from Russia part 1

It’s been over a month since I’ve returned from my Trans-Siberian journey and I’m finally getting around to sorting the photos which I will post in two parts.

The first part covers Vladivostok, the first leg of the Trans-Siberian Railway, and Irkutsk and the surrounding areas. I am also testing out NextGen Gallery for WordPress, let me know what you think or if it doesn’t work for you.

Related posts from the trip are here, here, and here. Enjoy!


Small misconception about Halloween in Germany (possibly Europe)

Yesterday, discussing and going to a Halloween party in Frankfurt, I had multiple European people comment on the fact that my costume was not scary (it was not intended to be). For some reasons, the Europeans that I met believe that Halloween costumes are supposed to be scary, like ghosts, zombies, vampires, and Spice Girls.

My hypothesis for this is that in many countries in Europe, there is another annual event where people dress up in costumes: Carnival. In order to differentiate from the Carnival, Halloween, which seems like a recent import from the U.S., is tagged more as a “scary” party than anything else.

A small post for a small misconception.


Online dating and shopping

The beginning of a relationship has always been a serendipitous act.

You meet someone across a crowded room and introduce yourself.
A friend thinks you should meet this someone who would be a good match for you.
Minor earthquake wakes you and one other person in a slumber party.

Talk to couples from the pre-internet generation and chances are, you will not hear two identical meeting stories (except for in those countries where arranged marriages are still common).

Online dating has changed all that.

It’s not that many people are meeting the same way now, but that online dating has turned meeting someone into an act of shopping.

People can now browse hundreds of profiles, skim them like job recruiters with resumes, compare and contrast, create pros and cons list, all before ever meeting each other.

You can see how the explosion of choices can overwhelm. When given so many choices, one cannot help but try to find the perfect match out there in the sea of singles. Shopping.

Furthermore, the more choices we have, the more we doubt the choices we make.

Once upon a time when people lived in small communities, meeting and committing was easier. Now that we live in a global village, we are hitting the age of paradox of dating choices, and there is no way back.

The online dating industry is now bigger than $1B. More than half the single population in the U.S. have tried online dating.

Companies do realize this, and they are trying their best to help people find the right choice, but will the mindset ever return once one sees the database of available partners displayed on the browser window like shoes at Footlockers? Will we really trust an algorithm or will we keep clicking “Next Page” ad nauseum?

Have we opened another Pandora’s Box?

P.S. Please consider this post as an inquisitive piece from me. For a long time, I’ve been a proponent of online dating with the belief that it diversifies the way for people to meet. More recently I’ve been thinking about this from a different point of view after seeing my and my friends’ behaviors. This in now way means that I denounce online dating or the technological progress that occurred to make it possible.


Dear World. About Asia…

Dear non-Asian World,

Asia is a continent, a geo-political distinction laid down by those who felt the need to separate the world into different regions.

Asia is not a culture. Asia is not a race. Asia is not a cuisine.

Asia constitutes 30% of the world’s landmass and 60% of the world’s population. 48 countries are part of Asia.

So when you start an Asian cuisine restaurant, it makes no sense. Chances are, you are serving food that resembles something served in Japan, China, Thailand, and/or maybe Korea. The Indonesians feel left out. They are the third most populous Asian country and fourth most populous in the world.

Here are some pictures of representative foods from different countries in Asia:

Do you really think you can learn all those cooking styles, source all those ingredients, and really start an Asian restaurant?

Even within Japan, there is an incredible variety of foods available:

And these are only the major dishes in Japan that any Japanese person can identify. There are plenty more regional dishes that are more eclectic and lesser known.

Europe constitutes 11% of the world’s population and you don’t hear of anyone starting European restaurants do you? So please stop with this Asian cuisine madness.



P.S. If you are curious about what each of these foods are, the names a labeled here for cuisines of Asia and dishes of Japan.

P.P.S. I’m sorry if this post caused any unnecessary hunger.



Has technology lost the ability to surprise and delight us?

I have no idea what it was like in the early part of last century when new technologies were dazzling people. The telephone, airplane, radio, television all must have felt like magic when they were first demonstrated and when they were becoming available to the average person. In fact, some people called TVs magic boxes.

Now technological progress have become part of everyday life that it no longer feels special. Everyday hundreds of new scientific discoveries are announced, thousands of new products are launched, and we are bombarded with a sense of “the next big change.”

Furthermore, talking to people, I get the sense that people expect more from technology than every before, and we are now overestimating our existing technological capabilities. Holograms, semantic web, brain machine interfacing, they all feel like they are just around the corner, ready to change our lives.

When not only improvement, but accelerated change becomes the norm, what is out there to surprise and delight us?

(Apple fanatics will probably answer elegance and simplicity, but how long will that last before we come to expect it and not appreciate it?)


Belief in God and GDP Growth in Europe

Percentage of people in each country who answered “I believe there is a God” in an interview

I came across this map of religion in Europe on Wikipedia and wondered, “does belief in god negatively correlate to GDP growth?”

So I went digging and plotting.

The data for each country’s belief in god comes from an Eurobarometer poll taken in 2005 which I found on Wikipedia. The GDP growth data is from Eurostat which is why only the EU-27 are covered. I accessed the data in August 2012 so the GDP growth for 2012 is projected.

Upon first inspection, there is no real strong correlation between belief in god and GDP growth since 2008 (the crisis). However, within Europe, there are two different kinds of economies, the poorer but growing Eastern European countries and the more developed and richer Western European countries. For the next graph, I isolated the EU-15, which were the first 15 countries to join the EU.

As you can see, in the more developed European countries, there is actually a strong negative correlation between belief in god and average GDP growth since 2008.

Of course correlation does not mean causation. One cannot conclude from this that belief in god is what’s holding these countries back economically. (Since the Eurobarometer poll was taken in 2005, you can’t argue the opposite, that people believe in god because the economy is doing poorly)

The reality is a much more convoluted and complex system that cannot be captured with a two-axis graph.

Nevertheless, this was a fun discovery in a very geeky way.


Undefinition, Design Thinking

Two weeks ago I attended the d.confestival 2012 hosted by the d-school at the Hasso Plattner Institut in Potsdam. Unfortunately I was only able to attend two days out of the three days because of personal business in Paris, but it was great to be there, feel the excitement, and meet some fellow brethren. Not surprisingly, the conference itself was quirky but well put together with some rough edges to be smoothed out in future iterations.

There is an unspoken peace within the design thinking community that the term  design thinking is not rigorously defined. It’s a mysterious contrast to all other academic fields where terms are meticulously defined to be taught and researched. This could be the result of the collaborative and inclusive nature of design thinking, that people don’t want to exclude each other by putting up artificial walls. It could also be that the “guru” of design thinking, David Kelley has refused to lay down a definition and no one dares to do so in his place. I myself am fine with this, as I don’t see the benefit of having a rigorous definition (except maybe being able to explain it easier in cocktail party conversations), but I have read and heard criticism in the past.

Being at the conference and hearing people talk and present about design thinking, I’ve built a sense of what different people mean and care about when they say design thinking. I fully understand that what I’m going to write is a gross oversimplification and that reality is much more subtle and intricate. No one actually belongs in the following categories, but they are archetypes I’ve constructed in my heard. Nevertheless, I think this is a useful framework to understand what we mean when we say design thinking.

The managers are the ones who came wearing brand name suits, and their approach to design thinking could be best described as practical. They are often involved in using design thinking inside a company to create new products, raise profits, and expand the business. Their concern is mostly around the process of design thinking, the optimal team composition and management, and sometimes the culture of design thinking.

The academics are the ones who came wearing suits but the cheaper kind, and their approach to design thinking could be best described as inquisitive. They are primarily researching design thinking and how designers do their work. Their concern is mostly around how designers approach and solve problems, how teams interact and the best theoretical framework, and how designers are different from other professionals.

Design thinking, although mostly taught in graduate programs, is one of those rare disciplines where a lot of the teaching is done not by academics but by educators who have been in and/or are closer to industry.

The educators are the ones who came wearing jeans/khakis and polo/aloha shirts, and their approach to design thinking could be best described as philosophical. They are primarily teaching design thinking how people can be better design thinkers. I find their concern to be the most holistic, covering everything from team cohesion to individual mental wellbeing to creative environments. Surprisingly, they aren’t as concerned with the theory of design thinking as you would expect from people teaching it.

After reading the above, you might be wondering, how about the practitioners? You could argue that everyone above are practitioners in some regards, but there weren’t too many pure practitioners speaking at the d.confestival. This probably isn’t that surprising because practitioners simply do and aren’t concerned much about explaining it. All the other professions above have to explain design thinking to people like CEOs, fellow researchers, school boards, etc. Pure design thinkers are just doing it, but if I had to pick, I find them closest to the educators.

Lastly, as always, this is my view of the world, and contrasting opinions are more than welcome in the comments below.


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