Can I predict the future?

Two years ago I made some predictions of what’s coming in the next five years (just for fun). While going through older posts, I found my predictions and thought it’d fun to see if any has come true.

(2014) Ease of life

Technology will continue to make life easier. Very soon when we sit down in our car at 6pm, the car will know we are about to go home. It calculates the best route based on real time traffic conditions. If the traffic is bad, the car may suggest we do our grocery shopping before heading back. The car “talks” with our smart phones. Our phone keeps our shopping list and “tells” the car which store we need to go to. If our calendar shows we have a dinner appointment, our car knows immediately when we sit in front of the steering wheel and will route accordingly. Want to do something fun instead of being stuck in traffic? Our phone suggests a few interesting events going on in our proximity. The car will then pick up the route.

All these data exit today, in separate places. For our lives to be wrapped in a seamless information net, the data needs to be connected to create intelligence. Doing so will require two things.

  • The devices talk to each other. The Internet of things.
  • The data sync. It’s not necessarily big in volume, but can be diversified in types.

We still waste a lot of time every day by doing tasks separately. We used to go to specific stores to buy certain things. Grocery shopping in grocery stores, pharmacy in pharmacies, books in bookstores. Now most of the “operational” shopping (shopping needed to sustain our living) can be done online. I am very close to ordering toilet paper on Amazon. The rest of bathroom supplies are already from them. Brick and mortar stores will become even more specialized to provide the deep domain knowledge which can be consumed more pleasantly during face to face interactions. Think of wine, cheese, farmers’ market, clothing store that does styling…

(2016) We are not there yet. But I continue to believe the life “assisted” by AI will come soon.

(2014) Meet-ups

With the time saved, we have more time to play. Very soon people will get tired of mass reaching, surface scratching, sentence reading online social interactions and long for the real face to face one. Meet-up will continue to do well but will become smarter in creating and suggesting activities. People will feel ok to interact with strangers when the right atmosphere is created. You don’t have to be a super extrovert for that initial hi to happen.

(2016) Social media still rules. Even more formats and channels are created. But, I did join Eventbrite, an online marketplace for offline experience. True to my own prediction ;).

Transportation

Considering how much time we spend on getting from place to place, the traffic is an inevitable candidate for the next wave of innovation. The challenge can be solved by either building smarter mass transportation or enhancing the efficiency of individual transportation. A smarter mass transportation will be faster, cleaner and more predictable. It will address the other annoying parts of not driving as well such as waiting time. Stations need to be redesigned.  They are the perfect venue for human interactions, for utilizing the small chucks of time (e.g. grocery shopping). I have seen some of such stations in Europe and China. I can only imagine US does even a better job. Efficiency in individual transportation relies on minimizing the human error and averaging out the different levels of driving competency. Self-driving cars seem to be an obvious answer. However, those who drive more inefficiently, not to stereotype, tend to be late adopters of newer technology. The whole system won’t improve significantly if only the already efficient becomes more so. There has to be huge incentives for less efficient drivers and cars to change. Just for the love of new technology won’t do. Maybe it’s a better designed car that is actually cheaper than what we own now. We do not have to pay the hefty price to be included in the technical advancement. After all, the whole society moves forward when even the bottom is lifted. Lifting the top is artificial.

(2016) I so wish this would have come true! For the past 15 months I have been commuting on Caltrain. I am also holding off buying a new car until the self-driving car hits mass market. Can’t wait to be driven by no one!

(2014) Health

The problem of the lack of health in some populations in the developed countries is not due to denied access to modern medical technology. People just don’t have interesting physical things to do. Not everyone cares whether they look fabulously thin. But everyone wants to do things that make them happy. Software is not going to solve that problem. Again it’s going to solve the problem for people already have the incentive and just need an organizer app. The real challenge is how to persuade an overweight single mom to exercise. Conditions for that to happen may not include downloading an app (and the prerequisite of owning a smartphone). She has to have the time. Her baby needs to be taken care of while she exercises. She needs places to do so. She needs a better diet. She needs a support network to provide mental reward. Addressing these issues of a less financially capable group may not make an entrepreneur rich fast. And it is not a challenge assigned only to social entrepreneurs.

(2016) I still find gym boring. Running is great. But the gym is boring ;).

The abundance of things

At some point the financial market will realize the ever-increasing appetite for growth rate is a fiction. Companies’ growth leads to the increasing supply of goods and services. The only way for the supply to become profit is through consumption. Everyone, in developed countries, emerging markets and poor nations, needs to buy more. This also means we need to get rid of what we already own and make room for the newer and shinier. We recycle, export to less developed countries (old Chinese cars in Lima), or hand down (Goodwill). Getting rid of things will become a business of its own. If the things we build today are meant to be replaced in just a few years, our rooms will fill up quickly. Eventually the total society cost of taking the old away, apart and making them disappear could even be more costly than producing new.

(2016) That’s some deep thinking!

(2014) Still exciting

This feels, once again, the verge of some fundamental changes. Web is the last wave I’ve observed. Elements for the next one are in the making. They are moving toward each other. There will be brilliant thinkers to connect the dots in ways previously unthought-of. There will be fortune-changing money moving into the direction. So many times, knowledge is not about creating new notions; it is about reinterpreting what’s already there and connecting the existing dots. So are innovations.

(2016) Still excited!

Entrepreneur on a notebook – a real weapon detector

I am old fashioned in the way that I read printed book; and carry a notebook with me. When ideas came to me sitting in a restaurant, on the train, or on a ship going around Galapagos islands, I wrote them down. This is one of the entries.

A real weapon detector

A California teenage were shot dead by police who mistook his replica gun for real assault weapon. Firstly, we can’t ask every policeman to stay calm and carefully assess the situation as such when their own lives may be on the line. Secondly, we can’t stop teenage doing silly things which sometimes may even cost their lives. Yet, in this technologically advanced era, why can’t a real weapon be easily differentiated from a fake one? Can all guns be manufactured with a chip built in which sends out signal to a receiver installed on all police forces’ weapons. A loud beep and flash lights indicate a real weapon is in presence. Of course there will be malfunctions and false detections. No technology is perfect, but it’s better than guessing. The signal emission challenge a gun manufacturer will face is no different from any “internet of things” manufacturers – source of power, battery life, retro fitting, proximity…I would imagine this is as real problem to solve as making our house anticipating our needs.

 

被打了一巴掌的吴哥

所有带爸妈出国旅游过的人都知道,老人家不好搞定。我自己去了西藏,去了祕鲁,去了尼泊尔,去了厄瓜多尔,可就这次计划带爸妈出去旅游最紧张!

先说去哪里,我理想中的旅游目的地,对他们来说不是太累,就是太危险。我拿出方案一,二,三,四,最后说服老人家去两个地方。一个礼拜在柬埔寨,只看吴哥,再去普吉岛一个礼拜放空。我爸老大不愿意离家两个礼拜。按他说家里多舒服,走个三四天就该想雪菜肉丝面了。

好歹目的地定下。我人在美国,他们人在上海。花了一个月定行程,定机票,定酒店,定交通,办签证。一切手续办好,我松了一口气,实在佩服我们办下了这么大一个“工程”。其中包括:

- 上海直飞暹粒的机票。我妈在春秋上定的。价格不错,时间奇怪。我们晚上9点从上海飞,凌晨到达。-暹粒酒店。我在www.agoda.com上定的。Golden Temple Hotel并不便宜,但事后证明我的选择是对的。酒店包括机场的接送。

-我们在吴哥四天。为了我爸妈,前两天我请了一个中文导游。要是由我处处翻译太辛苦了;)。导游我在网上找的。不能说不好,起码景点都带到了,也没逼我们买东西。

-暹粒飞普吉岛的机票,要经曼谷转机。我在美国定的AirAsia的票。这是在他们出事之前。作为当地的廉价航空。他们的服务也就是标准的廉价航空。

-普吉岛的前两天,我们呆在Patong Beach。Burasari Resort在海边,很方便。我们对酒店里的游泳池和早餐很满意。

-在普吉岛的第三天,我们坐船去皮皮岛。船票是在酒店里买的。可能贵一些。不过有老人家在,花钱买省事。

-皮皮岛的酒店是Phi Phi Island Resort。海边的一幢木头房子。我爸在阳台上看着海,吹着海风,第一次跟我说,旅游好,他不想走了。

-可惜皮皮岛我们没有多待些时间。第二天中午就坐船回到普吉。这次到的是Kata Beach。我定的是Mom Tris Villa Royale,此行住宿的高潮。

-在普吉的最后一晚,因为我们凌晨一点就要去机场,所以我在Karon Beach的一家小旅馆定了一晚。其价格是Mom Tris Villa的十分之一。这落差!我爸推门进去,说不错不错,有床,有洗手间:)。普吉所有的旅店也是在agoda上定的。

我从美国回到上海,三人行李打包,我爸方便面买好,把所有定单网上云储存,再打印一份。心想这次我准备算是充分了。再不会出我在西藏,祕鲁,尼泊尔那些节外生枝的事了。但孰料到…

最近看一本书Age of Ambition,说到有些国家的腐败是摆在台面上的,像柬埔寨,进海关的时候就要强逼着你给小费。而有些国家对外的机构很有序,给人内部也并没有腐败的假象。

如 果你进入一个陌生国家遇见的第一个本国人就向你伸手要钱,你一定马上就建立了对这个国家的防备心。我们出了机场,找不到订好的酒店的车。在等待的过程中, 不断的有人向我们兜售他们的“出租车”。我拿着酒店的电话回到机场想打电话,竟然所有的机场设施都关门了。毕竟,已是凌晨12点,我们站在陌生的国家,不知去处。我果然决定,向当地人借手机。好在有一位司机英文比较通,一番交涉之下,他帮我借了一部手机。我打通酒店电话,极不爽的告知我们的境况。前台的小 伙说这时他们也找不到司机,让我们自己打车。我还了手机,给了机主一块美金。在我旁边的一位司机立即凑上来同我谈价钱。这时英文好的那位马上回来,两人叽 里咕噜的说了几句。讲价钱的那个司机就走开了。英文哥告诉我大意是他早先帮了我,所以这生意是他的。我同他讲了酒店给我的价钱。他为难了一下也答应了。上 了他的车,并没有任何出租的标记。我妈的警惕性马上提高,要我问他。一问,司机从车里拿出了一个出租顶记,并解释说他是有运营证的。我们实在都太累,我的 安排又出师不利,我爸妈肯定这会就后悔出国旅游了,所以就叫司机开车。我心里其实也挺没底的,所以在车里和司机聊天。据他说他原来是政府雇员。因为工资 低,不靠受贿过不到好生活。但他不喜欢,所以就开车了。从到达酒店的时间看,他并没有绕路。总算,到柬埔寨的第一关过了。

到了酒店,前台两 个小伙,其中一个就是接我电话的那位。在美国呆久了,我的消费者意识极强。策略就是态度礼貌友好,但要求坚决。我要求酒店付出租车费。那接电话的小伙竟然 从自己口袋里摸出钱来给了我。大概车没到是他的失误。原本酒店跟我说有地方让我们休息。但我一看都是半露天的。所以立即决定订一晚房,并要求打折。两人老 大不愿意。说要打电话请示老板。我说这么晚了,这房不给我也是空着,即使打了折他们也是赚钱的。终于达成协议,又节外生枝说只可以住两个人。我说好啊,如 果你们坚持我就在前台大沙发上躺着。我叫老人家先去休息。两人原本可能是想要我把另外一间空房也订下来,看我如此气定神闲,又叽里咕噜的商量了一下,才决 定不坚持了。房间很不错,我们也没体力欣赏了。总算进入了柬埔寨的第一个梦乡。

好笑的是我们在暹粒的最后一晚,在当地的一个烧烤店碰到了这两个小伙。他们主动跟我打招呼,聊着就像朋友一样,看来我们那第一晚给他们的印象太深了。

在暹粒的第一个白天,我们并没有安排去吴哥。一家人吃过早饭,走出酒店蹓跶。因为我们是昨天晚上到的,所以这第一个早晨是我们对暹粒,对柬埔寨的第一份印象。

我们的酒店,离old market很近。Old market是一个针对旅游者的市场,大概方形的一块,有几条街长短。卖纪念品的商店很多。但最有趣的是其中有个当地人买菜的农贸市场。其间各种五颜六色的香料,水果,和当地熟食。

逛 了一圈下来,我们准备回酒店吃午饭,补个觉。走回去的路上经过一座廊桥。早晨的天气渐渐热了,许多人坐在廊桥上歇个脚,拍张照。我低头看着相机,坐在我对 面的老妈说了一句“有一个奇怪的人坐到你身边了”。还没等我抬头看,就觉得有一股极大的力量打在我脸上。我顿时眼前一片漆黑。

等到天旋地转 过去,我好不容易睁开一只眼晴,看到我妈站在我身边,带着哭腔不断的问“你伤着了吗?”。人群聚了过来。有几个中国游客说“就是那个人, 打了她一巴掌!”我随着他们的视线看过去,不远处我爸正在和一个人撕扯着。那个当地人衣冠不整,像个疯子一样叫嚷着。而我爸,眼也红了。我从来不知道他有 这种力气,他拉着那个人的衣服,一通拳头砸了下去,说“我打死你”。

了解我爸火爆脾气的人都知道,他是当真的。我确定自己除了一只眼晴睁不 开,其他无伤后,首先想到的是我带爸妈出来旅游,我得对他们负责。所以我第一时间对我爸说我没受大伤,他如果真把那人打出什么事来我们更麻烦。这毕竟不是 我们的国家。好不容易劝住了我爸,我一手捂着受伤的眼睛一边找警察。

先来的两个警察穿着制服,但是完全不懂英文。经一个会些英文的当地人解 释,他们不过是市场这区的地巡。一通电话后,又来了个警察。骑着摩托,后面还带着个背书包的小孩。再一通夹生英文沟通。这时打人的那位就在不远处,愤愤的 嚷嚷着。我告诉警察他们应该把打人的人控制起来。地巡说他们知道这个人,是个流浪汉。今天他很可能磕了药。警察说没法抓他,没有相关法律。我问任由一个疯 子在这么多游客的地方打人,安全吗?他们又是一通电话,找专门管旅游的警察部门。让我们等着。我们等了许久,旅游警察还没到。这时围观的人群说这疯子又打 了个人,那个女孩子被打哭了。我想想自己真是女汉子,都没想到哭。

终于,警察们要我们回酒店去等。我说走回去觉得不安全。他们几个人一人一部摩托,载我们回到酒店。

我 们这一大群人,加上几个警察,酒店的人不知发生了什么状况。又是一通他们之间的沟通。我一手用冰块敷着眼睛,用还看得见的那只眼晴看着在这一切。酒店向住 客们解释着。爸妈因为语言不通,无奈的坐着。我妈明显紧张,我爸还愤怒的绷着。终于,会说英文的旅游警察到了。酒店的经理也出现了。我们一行人坐在酒店的 餐厅里,我又重复一遍。警察看似认真的记录着,并保证他会和当地警察继续调查,还信誓旦旦的说此类事件从未发生过。离开前他和经理用当地语言讲了一通。经 理不断点头。

离事件发生大概两个钟头后,我们终于可以回房间休息了。酒店的一个小姑娘走到我身边悄悄的对我说,房间已经布置好了。这时我才想起当天是我妈的生日,我之前和酒店沟通时他们说会做特殊的安排。

一进我爸妈的房间,床上用鲜花排了祝我妈生日快来的字样。我妈再也忍不住了,放声哭了出来。一边抽泣着一边说“我过生日,但我女儿被人打了”;)。

过了会有人敲门,一打开门,门外站了有十来个酒店员工,小姑娘捧着个蛋糕。大家一起唱着生日歌。我们切了蛋糕邀请所有人一起吃。这时,除了我眯着一只充血的眼晴,一切好像不那么suck了。

等到我们再去前台安排当天下午的活动,经理关照给我们配了两部手机,一个司机。看来当地警察抓坏人不行,调动资源倒是可以的。

我爸气愤填殷的很久,一直说这个国家不待了,马上买机票回国。好在以后的行程,吴哥的古迹,慢慢让他享受了旅游的乐趣。疯子哪里都有,一个国家的先进程度,往往体现在怎样对待这些头脑有病的人,也体现在对每一个人的保护。我后来想这事如果出在中国或美国,会是怎样一个结局?

Is China going too fast?

Does it take a professional designer to create a comfortable living space and intuitive products? I asked this question while vacationing in Shanghai.

Many of the products I used every day are generic and bear no designer’s name. The products are often made following the template drawn from previous generations’ trial and error. For example, in a modern bathroom the light switch is placed either outside the room or on the wall besides the bathroom door, often to the right. Any other placements may cause confusion. A paper thin ceramic cup has round rim to avoid the paper-cut sensation on the lip. Such details, if missed, do not reduce the products’ functionality, but does not make the product enjoyable to use.

Pursuing only the perfect appearance, or the speed of production, manufacturers can forget the user’s experiences of the products is an integral part of a successful product. In a society where waiting for a taxi for more than a minute is considered unacceptable by many, few slows down to notice the cup’s rim is too thin. Even when they do recognize the design defect, they choose to go for mass production rather than rework. The market is full of such products, though not meant to be one-time use, often ended up so because their lack of long-term appeal. Have you seen the tea packed in elaborate boxes?  Popular gifts in China. The package can cost many times more than the product it contains. Walking down the super market, the aisle of plastic products smells toxic. A lot of consumers don’t expect their cheap cell phones last more than a couple of years. The waste from products created hastily is appalling.

Why such a rush? Maybe Chinese are very competitive under our mild manner and philosophy. We are eager to catch up with the more developed world in the shortest possible time and at all cost. The bullet train system, one of the world’s most advanced, was built in merely a few years; and runs on mountains of corruption. During the top railroad official’s corruption trail, argument was made for a more lenient punishment since he made the bullet train “possible”. The same logical thinking dominates many development decisions balancing between short-term economical results and potential long-term environmental impact.

Remember London by its fish – Roka

I was about to skip dinner (the full English breakfast lasted for a whole day!) when I discovered two highly rated Asian restaurants were within 5 minutes’ walk from my hotel. One of them is Chinese. The other Japanese. As my trip back to Shanghai is only a few weeks away, Japanese became an obvious choice.

And Roka did not disappoint. The restaurant was full on a Wednesday night. The center of the restaurant was the open kitchen. Sitting at the counter facing the kitchen, I could feel the excitement seeing fire jumping up on the grill and hearing the energetic chefs (5 of them, plus one coordinating the orders) acknowledging each order called out to them.

I ordered four small dishes to test – otoro for the fish quality, jumbo sweet shrimp sashimi with caviar for a treat, spinach with sesame dressing for the tradition, and home made tofu with water melon (a new item on the menu) for innovation.

Otoro came out as some of the best I had ever had, so was the ebi. Spinach was a totally surprise. Instead of boiled, the raw spinach leaves were stacked up in the center of the plate, surrounded by strings of carrot and shreds of daikon, spread on was the sesame dressing and the real sesame seeds. The cold tofu was soft in a broth with mixture of watermelon juice and sesame oil, served together with cherry tomatoes, green onions, water melon pieces, and surprisingly, thin slices of hot pepper. The whole meal’s taste was clean, yet interesting in a subtle way. One had to pay attention to taste the intricate flavors.

To complete the experience, the counter was made from raw wood, polished but with original wood pattern showing. And the ceramics were master pieces.

Thank you London, for the unique experience.

Breakfast in Istanbul is not boring

People here seem to take breakfast seriously. Instead of grabbing and going, it is more a sitting down, drinking a cup of tea, reading newspaper, and having a chat type.

Turkish tea is definitely a popular breakfast drink, while in my observation coffee is more enjoyed in the afternoon. There is also a local yogurt drink with a slight taste of saltiness.

Pastry choices for breakfast are plenty. The local bagel topped with sesame seeds, also sold as snack through the day, is toasted with cheese. Baklava stuffed with minced meat or spinach is also common. The unusual breakfast, for a foreign, is what they called the breakfast plate – cucumber, tomato, olives, and cheese. My local colleague told me he could hardly imagine a breakfast without olive or cheese.

My breakfast at the hostel in the Sultanahmet district was nothing fancy, but largely enhanced by the view from the breakfast room :).

the Ramadan dinner

On the second day of our arrival in Istanbul, my college and I were recommended to dine in a well known Turkish restaurant Devali. The restaurant offered a set menu, serving many dishes of traditional Turkish food. It is located on the water front in the Kalamis marina. We arrived about ten minutes before eight, and the restaurant was half full. We were lucky to get a table on the outside deck, looking over docked sailing boats and a beautiful sunset. When we sat down, the appetizers were already placed on the table – bread, olives, tomato paste, dates, salads. All delicious looking. We immediately  started eating, and quickly realized no other customers were touching the food on their tables. Everyone was just chatting. The situation was even more awkward as we were the only two Asians there! Puzzled, we looked around but couldn’t stop munching on the delicious food.

Then, a few minutes past eight, the sun sunk below the horizon. As if a silent order was given, everyone started eating. The restaurant suddenly fell silent. Dishes were brought out one after another. Almost twenty minutes later, people looked up from their food, lit a cigarette, sat back in their chairs, and started chatting again. Dishes kept on arriving at our table. The full meal lasted almost three hours, completed with Turkish coffee or tea.

We related our experiences to our Turkish colleagues the next day. And only then realized we arrived during the last week of Ramadan. I sure hope we did not offend anyone in the restaurant!