Saturday, April 28, 2012

Team Lunch @ Work

We started our monthly team lunch in 2010 as a part of efforts for team building. The rule is simple - each team member takes turn to pick a restaurant for the lunch, the person who picks the restaurant will provide the ride to the restaurant, and everyone pays his/her own bill.

It is a great team activity. Each team member takes initiative (selecting restaurant), communicates with everyone on the team (coordinating schedule), accommodates each other,  gets to know each other a little bit more outside work. It is a great social hour for us as well - we talk about all sorts of subjects at lunch table - vacation plan and experience, kids' education, home maintenance, food, election .......

In addition to all the benefits mentioned above, the most appealing part of the team lunch to me is that I got to try a variety of restaurants I might not even think of going. In the past 18 months,we have been to mostly restaurants in Addison,TX:

1. Thai Orchard (Thai)
2. Clay's Pit   (Indian)
3. Oliver Garden (Italian)
4  Onsite Lunch - catering Tex Mex
5. Fadi (Mediterranean)
6. Scarlet bis (S. American)
7. Genghis Grill (Asian)
8. Humperdink (American)
9. Blue Goose (Mexican)
10. Clay's Pit 
11. Newnew (Chinese) 
12. Andinamo (Italian)
13. Glorias (Mexican)
14. Flavor (Indian)
15. Jason's deli (American)
16. Tofu Korean (Korean)
17. Blue Mesa (Mexican)
18. Loving Hut (Vegan - Chinese)
.....

Because we have the lunch in group, some of us become more adventurous than usual. I had never heard of Tofu Korean, I picked it because its menu sounded tasty, its dishes looked great on advertisement. My vegetarian colleague picked Loving Hut  because it is vegan restaurant just opened for business recently. Both turned out to be very good choices and we enjoyed food there. My most favored restaurant in the list is Thai Orchard.

Most of us bring lunch to work regularly. So this monthly lunch out is sort of a luxury and a teasing point at home.It is indeed a great time for us to enjoy food and relax. It has become a tradition of our team.



Saturday, April 21, 2012

My First Visit to Paris

I still vividly remember my first trip to Paris, France in 2007, which was  for a technical conference in May there.

This conference was my favorite conference. I was very interested in the conference programs and in fact I would present a paper at the conference. I would not want to miss any interesting presentations. I would not want to miss the opportunity to see Paris in person either.

My conference buddy Jonathan and I decided to tour Paris together every afternoon right after the last session was over. We would leave the conference hotel around ~ 4pm and got back ~ 10pm or so, except the last day of the conference when we took a whole afternoon for a visit to the Louvre. We would take subway to a major location, and toured around on foot for blocks and blocks.

Arc de Triomphe












The famed Arch is only two blocks away from the conference hotel. I walked there by myself on the first day of my arrival at Paris - the afternoon of May 20. There were not too many people there. I visited there again the next night with Jonathan - it was a totally different scene - the streets were full of people, locals mixed with tourists, diners spilled out from restaurants into side walks. The Arch itself looked differently as well.


Eiffel Tower

We went straight to Eiffel Tower after our second day session at the conference. Eiffel Tower is only two subway stations away from the hotel. When we got there, it was still bright day time - instead of waiting in line for an elevator lift to the viewing deck, we climbed stairways from the other side of the tower. The Tower is right by river Seine. The view from top was beautiful - river Seine on one side, the sprawling white concretes on the other sides. We purchased some french sandwiches and water and had a picnic in the green lands surrounding the tower. Afterwards we walked toward Ecole Militarie direction to see surrounding architectures and the city a bit more. When I looked back at the tower again, I realized that I could have Eiffel tower in my hand - at least the illusion of it. Jonathan did a great job to record the illusion on the picture. When we got to Ecole Militarie, the tourist entrance, however, was closed already.








Cath├ędrale Notre-Dame de Paris

The Cathedral is bit farther away. It is actually on an island in river Seine. When we got there late in the afternoon of the third day, it was closed already. We could only look at it from outside. So we walked along River Seine a bit and wandered into local neighborhood by the river to look for a restaurant - we had a dinner in a small compact French restaurant. It was quite a fun experience - the waitress could speak little English, we had to point to pictures in the menu to order, and using gestures to communicate.



River Seine

On the fourth day we attended the confererence banquet on dinner cruise on River Seine. We boarded the cruise near Eiffel tower, and the boat cruised a loop on river Seine, with Nortre Dame as the run around point. There are so many history along the river, seemingly every building along the river has a story behind it. Jonathan and I shared a table with two other conference attendees - one of them was a Frenchman. I had a good time chatting with them while enjoying the food. The night view of Eiffel tower concluded a wonderful night on River Seine.







The Louvre

The Louvre is one of the largest museums in the world, and the home of the famous Mona Lisa painting. A full day's time would not be enough for a slow walk through it.We chose the last day of the conference to go there - because the conference ended at noon and we would have the whole afternoon to visit the massive complex.

We got there by subway and immediately impressed by the huge square, grand sculpture, the glass pyramid and the immense complex. We did not know much about art, and not very familiar with European histories. When we were inside, we were still amazed - the paintings, the sculptures from various period of histories and from various places around the world, gardens, fountains.....  Following the museum map, we went to every section of the museum that was open to public, and stayed inside for over 4 hours.

When we left the Louvre, it was still bright day time. We walked around the Louvre - northwest side to be specific - Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, Tuileries Garden ... there were so much to see.









Paris fascinated me with its landmarks, vibrant streets, rich culture and history.

I believe that I will enjoy Paris even more with preparation and planning. I want to go to Paris again!!


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Household Chores

In our home, Lily and I share the load of doing chores pretty well - she takes Nick to school in the morning, I pick him up in the afternoon; she washes and cut vegetables, slices meat after dinner, I cook dinner next day; she does laundry, I vacuum-clean the house ....

Household chore, however, can be an area of frustration from time to time.

Though a casual fan of NFL and NBA, I spend chunks of time on weekends during high season to watch NFL/NBA games while Lily does laundry, cooks meals.....she usually give me pass on these occasions but does complain a bit.

One Saturday a few years back, I turned on TV to watch a college football after lunch. After a while, I heard the signal "ding"  from dryer indicating the completion of the drying cycle and then saw Lily was folding clothes. So I turned off TV and walked to her. She was a bit surprised and smiled at me: "not watching the game anymore?" "I will watch it later" I told her. I joined her folding clothes and towels, and we chatted along the way. We were done in about ten minutes and she gave a me a kiss and said "go watch your game" - I turned on TV again, the second half of the game just started. I did not miss much of the game. Doing chores during watching games is a "one stone two birds" type of good deal. It makes me to stretch a bit, not sitting on the couch for too long - good for my health; I helped with chores, relieved Lily from some work -  make both of us pleased.

Since then, I usually do some chores - like washing dishes, washing vegetables or cleaning kitchen, while watching games or watching evening news, especially during commercials, half times. Our rearrangement of our living room  make it easier for me to do some kitchen work while watching TV.

During the NFL playoff game between 49ers and Saints, I volunteered to cut pork. I watched the whole exciting game uninterrupted while cutting 3 ponds of pork into thin slices, stop cutting momentarily only when the game got too exciting. This volunteering work made Lily really happy because I rarely cut pork. An added benefit was that the pork was much tender in dinners that week due to my super thin slices.

During Super Bowl, I was juggling between watching the game and supervising Nick for the duration of first three quarters of the game. What I did was to leave the TV on, work with Nick a bit and then went for a peek of the game. Fortunately it did not distract him much - all he asked was the score, and I got many of the excitements of the game, missed some frustrating time - like the couple times that Giants fumbled . The best of this was that I got watch the most exciting last 5 minutes of the game in its entirety and Giants beat Patriots.

I also make the boys to do some chores - like making their own beds, pickup after themselves, and vacuum cleaning their own rooms. Lily occasionally ask Nick to help with cooking so that he will not read novels for extended period time or play computer games for too long.

Sharing household chores makes life easier for everyone.













Saturday, April 7, 2012

Lottery and Stock Market : Observations and Comments

Lottery

Last week the mega million dollar lottery frenzy swept the nation. The last two days to the final drawing ABC news reported that "the mega million dollar lottery is the talk of the nation", "people waited for 3 to 4 hours to buy lottery ticket" at some lucky stores. Consumers are forewarned - their chance of winning is nearly zero, 1 in 176million, people still playing - because there is a guaranteed winner(s). Many people wanted to take a chance with $1, $10 or even $100 purchase of lottery tickets .......approximately 100million people played the lottery, purchased $1.5billion lottery tickets - the final jackpot was $640million. Friday night, March 31, three winning tickets were sold at three different states - Kansas, Illinois and Maryland.

In essence, what happened in the lottery was that money transferred from millions of lottery ticket buyers to the three winning persons and the lottery agencies at participating states.

What does the phenomenon tell us? In addition to the lottery winners, the real guaranteed winners are the lottery agency. Most people who played the lottery are losers; the poorer they are, the higher percentage they lose from their total wealth.

People complain about concentration of wealth, economic inequality; but they also actively participate in making some of the inequalities. In this mega million lottery, 100 million people made 3 100-millionaires because everyone thought they had a shot. 

Seemingly everyone was playing it according to the news media. The fact was that not everyone played it, only 33% of the population.

Stock Market

Late 2011, "Occupy Wall Street" movement swept the nation. The movement's initial target was Wall street - protesting the greed and corruption of financial industries. With their slogan "We are the 99%", the movement evolves into a class warfare of "not so rich" against super rich - at least in the world of news media.

Wall street greed and corruption was a main reason behind Tech bubbles in 2000, Housing bubbles in 2008. But consumer behavior was a main reason as well

High tech bubble in 2000 was created by financial industry, hyped by news media, and propelled fast forward by consumers. I remember that during those years - people boasted almost daily about how high a return they had earned on tech stocks , those not in play jumped in - at the height of the bubble - pushing tech stock price higher and higher. The bubble burst, many people lost a lot of money. Where did the money go? The operators - the wall street financiers. Similar thing happened during housing bubble.

In a nutshell consumers helped to create the bubbles - because everyone wants to have a piece of the pies. The real winner is the operators - Wall Streets, 99% of consumers are losers.

Just like lottery, consumers are forewarned - investment include risk - one may lose part or all of their investments

Comparisons

What are common between lottery and stock market: majority of customers are guaranteed losers, operators are the only guaranteed winners.

The difference? In lottery, consumer only pay a tiny portion of their income to get a shot at winning, in stock market, consumers pay their life's saving for a good return. In stock market, companies could manipulate their financial statement to fabricate profit so to lure investor to purchase their stock, run up the price, Remember ENRON? financial institutions or individual financiers could fabricate gains to lure investors to lure investors to purchase investments from them - most recent examples Texas billionaire Allen Stanford's banks, and Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff. In addition, there have been numerous inside tradings, some investors using inside information to take advantage of other investors; some super rich individual or investment groups use their sheer wealth to influence market, such as purchase large amount of a stock to run up its price, and then dump the stock. ..................

So lottery is "squeaky clean" compare to stock market.

My positions

I don't play lottery - so I have no chance to become super rich from a one dollar lottery ticket.

I don't actively participate in stock market - so I have no chance to be rich from a stock market rise, and I wouldn't lose too much when stock market crashes.

I don't envy people who become rich through what ever means within the laws. But I do wish that those, individuals or institutions, who gain through fraudulent ways, the swindlers and criminals in the financial world be punished. I also wish our laws regarding commerce and finance strengthened and actively enforced,
I am content with being an ordinary person and I enjoy it.