Today I Learn… I make a point of learning something new everyday. This is what I learn each day

1, Apr 30, 2009

Don’t Build Your Mansion on One Pillar

Filed under: Economy — admin @ 10:28 pm

This is a sad case of life and death and of building a house on one pillar.
Every time I see an Asian patient at our clinic, my mind drifts back to a colleague of mine back in late 1990s. I remember vividly when they were at our place and I talked to him about his wife staying home with the children. I said, “It’s better that your wife has some kind of job instead of staying at home. It always brings more security if both have jobs.” He said jokingly, “Don’t worry. I won’t die that soon.”

I felt a bit stung at his word, as if I was trying to jinx him. “Hey, I don’t mean that. I mean no job is secure and you feel a little secure if both of you work, at least the benefits will continue if one lost the job. I would think it a good idea for your wife to take some classes or training while she is young and just get ready for a job.” They were about mid-30s then. He sounded so full of confidence at that time. I know how nasty I can be when it comes to giving unwelcome advice. I always feel like slapping my face afterwards.

During the Thanksgiving of 2004, I saw him again at a Chinese church, so delightful seeing him with his 2-year-old son, as young and handsome as before. We had kept in touch over the phone and seldom saw each other. There was no sign of illness at that time. But who knows that was the last time that I ever saw him. I was totally shocked and speechless when I learned that he passed away in less than a year of brain cancer and he was about 41 years old, leaving behind three children and a jobless wife. It was about 6 years after we talked about security and he assured me that he would not die that soon. Life is so fragile and unpredictable.

I know the family has been very close to a Chinese church, which must help the widow and the children more than I can imagine. Then again, I keep wondering if he could have been better off during Sprint massive layoff in 2001-2003 had he listened to my advice, because I learned over the phone that he was overcome with worries, fear, and anxiety – a long range of negative feelings, enough to crush an iron-man, so much so that he did not sleep for the week before the announcement of layoff. I could feel his burden with three children, a house, a wife, all depending on his precarious paycheck, like a big mansion standing on one pillar. But I would not talk about his wife’s job any more.

Life is so unpredictable and beyond our control. It gets even more scary for many first generation immigrants here when we don’t have our extended family here to tide over any misfortune. Here comes the cross-standing church building, our forever dependable pillar, emotional one at least. Still, I would advice against building your mansion on one pillar, like that “Dear Departed.”

1, Apr 29, 2009

Traits of Outstanding Leaders and Parents

Filed under: Leadership,work — admin @ 11:32 pm

We are having a workshop on leadership lately. Not sure if it is ever useful to me. Still, as I am exposed to some ideas on leadership, I have discovered that these are actually nice ideas, so wonderful that I am going to share with the readers here. It might be of some help to us as parents. You might be surprised to learn that leaders are humans first, leaders second.

Traits of Outstanding Leaders and Parents.
To be sure, the workshop was never on parents, but I keep thinking it for parents. Call it professional bias. Here are the four major traits.
1) Nurturing ongoing and interactive relationships
~~~~Allow for an equal exchange of ideas (so that they feel comfortable speaking up what they have in mind)
~~~~Consider the needs of employees (show you care about them)
~~~~Meet the needs of employees (so that they are willing to go extra miles for you)
~~~~Validate employees’ concerns (you actually listen to them)

2) Being in touch with innermost thoughts, feelings, and values.
~~~~Cultivating alone time
~~~~Connecting with nature
~~~~Assuming distance from the mission
~~~~Mediating and thinking deeply
~~~~Enjoying silence and solitude
~~~~Reflecting and writing
~~~~Visualizing and relaxing
~~~~Exercise regularly
~~~~Reading continually
~~~~Engaging in creative activities
~~~~Knowing yourself
Have some time at the end of the day for yourself, stick to your exercise schedule, take time to relax. Some people say exercise is an outlet, letting out the steam built up inside.

3) Walking the talk— act in a manner that is consistent with your words, practice what you preach. It is the epitome of leading when talk and actions fuse. Good leaders must truly believe in what they are doing. Sounds so familiar to me. Of course, the leaders learn it from Parents magazine.

4) Leading by influence — use influence instead of force. No spanking, that is.

It gives me such a warm fuzzy feeling to imagine having leaders fully equipped with these traits. Well, don’t be silly.

1, Apr 28, 2009

Anything that Can be Digitalized Can be Offshored and Much More

Filed under: Economy,work — admin @ 11:24 pm

Some of my friends have asked me about jobs at healthcare industry. Are they secure? They were wondering. Not exactly. Nothing is guaranteed and nothing is secure. Face this reality — anything that can be digitalized can be offshored. e.g. medical transcription, radiology images, medical coding and billing. You can always scan the paper, the bill and transfer it anywhere you can find cheap labor to analyze it and file it to the insurance company.

At least two key trends have been made possible by IT and Internet. The first trend is going electronic in as many fields as possible, eGovernment, eHealth, etc. The general rule is any jobs that need in person service in health care, like doctors and nurses, cannot be outsourced.

The second trend, also made possible by the Internet, is more and more companies are seeking for global solution, which means seeking globally for cheaper solutions and high profit. The fast development of IT and Internet opens unlimited possibilities for the way a company organize and runs its business.

Face this fact, if you think you can put on a white uniform working securely in a lab, chances are someone in other countries can do a similar job or even better job than you, all at a fraction of your paycheck. There is nothing to stop the off shoring of this whole lab. This is only one possible scenario. Not that far-fetched when you are in dire need for cheaper solution. That is, until everybody’s labor gets cheaper not by dozen.

1, Apr 27, 2009

Parents: Be Consistent in What You Preach and How You Behave

Filed under: Parenting 101 — admin @ 10:01 pm

This is the continuation from my Saturday reading of Parents magazine. I never have enough on parenting tips. This is how I was once addicted to those readings on parenting. Hey, guess I was really open to new ideas.
Here are some familiar tips on boosting children’s self-esteem:
–Let the child make decision as early as possible.
–Promote problem solving, that is, let the child figure out how. Hold your hand back.
–Look for ways for the children to be of some help to others. The child feels useful and helpful this way.
–Find opportunities for her to spend more time with adult — it is always more challenging to engage in conversation with adults
–Fantasize about the future — being able to imagine themselves in the future really motivates the child. p. 122

On September 2005 issue, there is an interesting article calling on parents to “Practice what you preach: Are you sending your child mixed messages about good values?” p. 36. It is so convenient to tell the children what they should do without the necessary self-reflection. I used to think this is not a problem among most of American parents. I was wrong again. It is really a challenge to remain consistent in what we preach and how we behave. Next time when I say to my children, get off the computer or be helpful to others or don’t use bad words or …, I will first ask myself, am I doing something that I ask them not to do or am I practicing double-standard? No wonder my daughter called me a hypocrite. Jokingly, I hope.

P.S. I never had a chance to talk to the 10-year-old boy after he left for China. He has been kept busy all the time, up at 6 AM and down after 10 PM, never been on computer at all. I talked to my sister. She sounds so upbeat that it really lifts up my spirit. Very positively contagious. Thus ends another happy day.

1, Apr 26, 2009

Girls’ Night Fun Could be Parents’ Nightmare

Filed under: Parenting 101 — admin @ 11:58 pm

This is again from Parents Magazine that I read on Saturday. The article, “Girls’ Night Out,” reminds me of what one co-worker went through one night with some of her girl friends. Drinking beer and smoking cigarette are the indispensable ingredients of social life like this. This co-worker even ended up spending the rest of the night at jail for driving under the influence. A friend of mine told me of her child coming back from high school parties with face red as blood, smelling like a Dionysus.

No wonder a parent of a teen girl that I know of is very dreadful of sending her daughter to public school. I learned from my son that it is as easy to pick up weed or crack at his school as picking up cigarette. Neither is good. What did I learn? If this is what actually happens during these girls’ night out, I am afraid this girls’ night fun is nothing less than parents’ nightmare. I sincerely hope this is but an exception.

I knew how important a child’s self-esteem is and I have read a lot on this topic, still I would not let go any writing on this, trying to find something new. Before I started reading the article Secrets of Confident Kids, I already felt guilty upon reading its subtitle “To build your child’s self-esteem, you need to say less and say less and let him do more.” I did just the opposite — non-stop talking and diligently doing. You can see how easily parenting can go wrong even with the best intention.

On how not to praise the kid, I thought I did not need to read it since I am rather stingy in giving out compliments to my children. I am just curious what the author has to say on this. When the child is praised more than he deserves, that child is so conditioned that he expects praise for everything that he does, even at the time when he does not deserve it. The advice from the author is “Don’t praise your child if he does something that he is supposed to do.” A simple thankyou is sufficient. If you feel a strong urge to praise, offer specific feedback on exactly where is good and worthes praise. Sometimes, smothering maternal love, in the form of excessive praise, is more damaging to the child than without. I am thinking of some parents when I write this line. Again, good intention can turn out being the opposite.

More later.

1, Apr 25, 2009

Shocking Numbers on Children’s Mental Health Crisis

Filed under: children — admin @ 10:41 pm

It was around 3 PM after we got home from both art class and skating. Not much time left for my garden work, homemade bread and this posting. I got myself dirty as a pig after wallowing in the vegetable garden, and returned home exhausted as a marathon runner.

While waiting for my daughter’s Saturday morning art class, I bumped into a few back issues of Parents magazine. Like seeing an old friend, I grabbed its hand with warm enthusiasm. They were helpful when my children were small and their parent was inexperienced, though I never like the fact that commercials take up 90% of its space. To be sure, the articles there are never long, which nicely suits busy parents.

On May 2008 issue, there is an article entitled “Mental Health Crisis.” The word crisis is really catching and the numbers provided are more than shocking: the year 2007 saw 76% increase in suicide among American teenage girls; 400% increase in bipolar-disorder diagnosis in American children. Nearly 1/8 adolescents may be clinically depressed. pp. 48-50. I would not believe it had I not known an 8th grade boy taking his own life early this year.

We parents seemingly know teenage years are wild and rough, rebellious and challenging, the worst form of headache. Yet, seeing such a high number of depression, bipolar disorder, and suicide rate and remembering my own children’s experience, I feel we still don’t really comprehend the meaning of teenager. I feel an urgent need for teen parents to try to sharpen their empathy skill, that is, the ability to think and feel and imagine what it is like to be a teenager, trying to understand their needs — psychological, emotional, and social, etc. You would think they got so many friends at school, but then they are still isolated and hungry for hands reaching out to them. A large social network is sorely needed to stop the madness of teen suicide. I wish there already existed such a network.

More tomorrow on reading back issues of Parents magazine.

1, Apr 24, 2009

“You Shall Not Murder” but Tally Counts 87,215 Iraqis Killed

Filed under: American Culture — admin @ 7:38 am

While my daughter was working on a school project on Japanese aggression during WW II, I was reading online about Iraqis dead since Iraqi war, with equal indignation. “Iraq’s government has recorded 87,215 of its citizens killed since 2005 in violence ranging from catastrophic bombings to execution-style slayings, according to government statistics obtained by The Associated Press that break open one of the most closely guarded secrets of the war.”

This number is greatly dwarfed by the number the Iraq Body Count organization provides — between 91,466 and 99,861 lives lost. And we see no end of its increase. All men are created equal and every life has its intrinsic value — American or non-American life.

Even with this conservative count, I am already choked with sadness, seeing with my heart thousands of families crying over the loss of their loved ones, too ugly to describe and too horrified to put myself in their position.

Ever since the killing started with the war, I have been troubled with confirming the existence of justice of morality. To be sure, it goes without saying that it is morally wrong to kill and hence we expect justice to be done regarding the morality of our action, that is, reward us if our action is moral while punishing us if otherwise. With such a large scale of murdering caused by the war, surpassed only by Hitler and WW II Japanese, do we ever see justice this time? Or is there a justice at all? Puzzled and confused, at the same time, I feel depressingly hopeless when I imagine myself living in that beautiful ancient land of Baghdad, where I read so much from my youth day — stories from Arabian Nights.

Yes, I don’t have to imagine and I am too numb to feel the pain of their loss. I wish.

1, Apr 23, 2009

A pond will be void of fish if the water is too clean

Filed under: American Culture — admin @ 9:25 am

This is what I learned from my daughter yesterday while walking with her in the evening. I talked about the gossip and the negativity that were raging in one of the offices, with curse words flinging freely, so rampant that one co-worker moved out of that office and into mine. Because she did not want to be dragged down by the negative environment. she told me of the gossips that centered around me. I felt honored, getting so much attention.

I said to my daughter, “Things like these seldom get my attention. Because I am too busy to be bothered with such a trivial.” My daughter told me something like this, “You can make some non-committal comments, without hurting anybody, but do not shrug it off as if you are superior, so above small talks. If you do, you will be isolated. And people will not talk to you.”

Make sense. What my daughter said reminds me of a Chinese saying. It goes like this “A pond will be void of fish if the water in it is too clean. A man will be friendless if he is too smart (or calculating).” I am sure she has not learned of this saying, but she certainly knows how to teach her mom to do in Rome as Romans do, on the surface at least, so that people can co-exist peacefully and happily ever after, if that’s one of the ways to keep your job during the season of downsizing.

P.S. I used to tell my children, if you have nothing good to say, say nothing. Now she is telling me to say something either good or bad. It is up to me to figure out what that means. What a challenge!

1, Apr 22, 2009

April 22 in Observance of Earth Day

Filed under: Environment — admin @ 9:17 am

Yes, I do have a dirt green shirt on to observe the day. I used to think it originated in Europe as America has been anything but earth-lover, demonstrated by its rejection of global anti-pollution efforts. As it turned out Earth Day was founded by Washington state Senator Gaylord Nelson in 1970.

Hence, April 22, 1970, Earth Day saw the beginning of American
modern environmental movement, aiming at achieving a healthy and sustainable environment. This movement, if anything, is like the famous Ralph Nader, too feeble to have its voice heard.

Here comes the fun part of the day. Today a New Disney film ‘Earth’ opens as the celebration of the Earth Day. It is a fun-filled children-oriented documentary film about various animal species across the planet. The movie reminds me of Bambi, Lion King, all phases of a life’s cycle all living beings going through, so familiar to all of us.

How wonderful the world would be if everybody observes this Earth Day by doing the right your-know-what. For me, back to work in the office and tender my plants with tender loving care.

1, Apr 21, 2009

Religion Revisited — One Compeling Reason

Filed under: Religion — admin @ 8:18 am

Last weekend, one of my neighboring friends asked me again to go to church/bible study with them since I have only one child at home and that child does not need much of my attention.

I tried to find some excuses for not going, however lame they might sound. After that, I was once again struck with this one compeling question about religion. Why are people religious? Whether you believe it or not, I must say religion is almost the largest human experience among people of all levels throughout history. Marx’s famous quote on religion as being the opiate of the masses cannot explain why religious voice has been echoed throughout all levels of society in the long river of human history, even among those opiate addicts. I must be free from the need for opiate or something else.

To be sure, religion originally meant relating to something rather essential to humans. Why do people, not just feeble-minded ones, need to relate their existence to something they believe to be larger and more powerful than themselves? Why do the believers still spend the whole Sunday morning seeking a superbeing when they know death ends everything and no matter how religious a person is, he/she still prefers life here than the one hereafter. I would think if they prefer life here, they would make full use of their limited life on earth instead of going to you-know-what.

I believe there is reason for every being. There must be one very compeling reason for their Sunday commitment. What is this something? I try to gather some empathy to understand this human experience, but either my imagination or my ability to empathy fails me. Because for every reason that I rake out of my brain I can find something else to overthrow it. This must be called — The dao that can be articulated is not the dao.

I had a whole-day off-site meeting on Monday. Today, when I opened the handouts from Saturday classes, the scene at local community college all came back. Oh how I miss those gone-forever golden student years! What a sharp contrast between working at a company and studying at school! Amazing that people that I work with have not been to those classes.

1, Apr 20, 2009

What The president said to his Daughters

Filed under: Parenting 101 — admin @ 10:46 am

When I think of spring sowing and potentially thriving season on this sunny Monday, I find nothing more fitting than the words of the president to his daughters.

“These are the things I want for you – to grow up in a world with no limits on your dreams and no achievements beyond your reach, and to grow into compassionate, committed women who will help build that world. And I want every child to have the same chances to learn and dream and grow and thrive that you girls have. That’s why I’ve taken our family on this great adventure. ”

These words are so much like those he spreaded along his presidential campaign roadside, so much reminding me of the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. and so much an expression of himself, a man of ideals, vision, good brain, and most importantly, great heart.

Whatever the result will be and whatever his legacy will be for the future, it is always comforting to be soaked in these positive speeches. Don’t we love hearing these words?

1, Apr 19, 2009

Passing No Judgment on Other Parents

Filed under: Parenting 101 — admin @ 11:33 pm

Over the weekend, I heard some parent repeatedly making unfavorable comments on other people’s parenting. For the first time, I realize how unfair these comments are because I remember myself being thus criticized before.

I was once carped as being too permissive with my daughter. I felt greatly wronged when I thought I knew what was the best for my child and the best parenting mechanism in dealing with her. Also, nobody knows my child as well as I do and thus is in no position to judge me.

I used to judge other parents, regardless of my motive. Now, I think it a rather undesirable practice. To be sure, we must believe that most of the parents handle their children with their best interests in their hearts. We all try to do what is best for our children. Nobody is in the position to judge other parents when they don’t know the child and when they don’t have any constructive suggestions for the parents.

Being a loving and effective parent is already a challenge in itself; the least that a parent needs is being told that she/he has performed badly. How we love poking our noses into other’s business! Not funny if it were you.

1, Apr 18, 2009

A Wonderful Free College Day at Our Community College

Filed under: Education — admin @ 9:48 pm

I had an exciting afternoon today, taking free college classes, four of them, at our local community college. The college celebrated its 40th anniversity by offering 200 40-minute classes running from 1 PM to 4 PM today. I would not want to miss the chance of getting re-educated for free and received the maximum allowance for that time-frame. There were oceans of people on that campus. Guess people cannot resist anything free.

Of the four that I took, two classes are on writing; another two on economy, for both living and hobby. They did not teach you how to write but how to profit from your writing, that is, having them published. I already felt so much richer after the class.

I have learned that for many people, it is not that they cannot write or cannot write well, some even with better-than-average writing skills, but they fail because of lack of the commitment, the motivation, and the proper guide to pursue this path or to realize their dreams. What a loser! Sounds so familiar, as if reading my own history. Well, part of it.

While walking with my daughter in the evening, I shared my excitement with her and talked with high enthusiasm about our publishing plan. Now, I have extra incentive to speed up the drive. Hopefully history won’t repeat itself.

1, Apr 17, 2009

Shoot for the Moon if You Wish to Land on a Star

Filed under: Parenting 101 — admin @ 9:48 am

Yesterday, while taking our evening walk out in the neighborhood, my daughter and I talked about parents’ expectations of their children. Nearly everybody said something to this effect about the expectation of a relative of ours for her child — hers being too high for him. Nearly everybody is worried his/her head off about her because she works so hard to push her child up. Life’s so tough for her. It is like climbing a very steep uphill with the mother beneath the boy’s bottom, upholding the boy with all her strength so that he would not fall to the bottom.

The boy stays late till after 10 PM and gets up at 6 in the morning trying to keep up with his school work, with his mother sitting by him all the time.

I told my daughter, “We have to give tremendous credits to your auntie for the confidence, the efforts, her optimism, and the fact that she does not give up the hope and the effort. If she lost hope, gave up trying or became pessimistic, the boy would be truely hopeless. Only a mother can be so dedicated to the wellbeing of her child. I only wish she could work on getting the boy more independent.” The boy is turing 11 next month.

About expectation, I told her, “If I told you to shoot for a B or 80, you might come home with a 79. When shooting for 90, you might get 89. But if I ask you to try for 100, I will be happy if you get a few point less than that because you are still in 90s range.”

Here’s what she told me and also what I have for this wonderful Friday, “This is called shooting for the moon, even if you miss the moon, you will still land on the one of the stars. This is not from me but from what I heard of.”

1, Apr 16, 2009

Get Stress Out of Your Job Part 2

Filed under: Health,work — admin @ 7:54 am

As I promised the day before yesterday that I will get back on stress at work and the way to stay away from it. I realize this list is getting longer and some people might not need to be told of them. Such as, a compulsively neat and well-organized person needs to build up tolerance for the not-so-neat.

(5) Be Organized, especially when we need user name and password wherever we go. Nothing can get you more panic-stricken than forgetting your password and losing that piece of paper on which all your important stuffs are stored.

(6) Always work from a list. That is, make a to-do list the first thing in the morning and work from there. On the one hand, you got a clear picture of what is needed to get done for the day; on the other hand, it always gives you a good feeling to see them done by the end of the day. It is a good practice for anyone either at work or at home.

(7) Be prepared and proactive. From my own experience, nothing causes me to sweat more than being caught unprepared when a monitor showed up at the door. You feel a sense of control and less stressful when you are well-prepared.

(8) Good communication with your supervisor . Someone suggests making your needs known to others in your work place, that is, at discretion and right judgement. Sometimes, especially for very private persons, you feel less burdened if it is shared and understood by your supervisor. Again, you determine what is needed to shared with others.

I am sure there are more ways to make your work experience enjoyable. Once again, a positive attitude always all the time heads the list, be hopelessly optimistic, which reminds me of a book that caught my attention lately, Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist , by Michael J. Fox, an actor and a patient of Parkinson’s disease. I love his book along with his shows. Program your mind to be this incurable optimist. Incredible? Yes, your mind is programmable.

1, Apr 15, 2009

Children are the Karma of their Parents

Filed under: Parenting 101 — admin @ 9:27 am

I just learned of this from one of my relatives yesterday. The more I think about it, the more I can dive into its meaning and appreciate its truthfulness.

On the term Karma, I don’t need to get complicated on its origin from Hindu religion, because it is nothing more than a common sense as we have many similar sayings to this effect. e.g. Sow beans, reap beans; Sow melons, reap melons. Or, you make your bed and so you lie in it.

To be sure, this is a neutral term, not a curse or a moral judgement whatsoever. Kindness yields good return while evil will eventually get what it deserves, according to the universal principle of cause and effect. Our actions, both good and bad, will visit us in the future, inescapably.

As parents, the way we treat others will come back to us in the manner of how our children will treat us. It is like a boomeranging effect — the arrow we shoot out will come back to us, never missing its target. One step further, if your children mistreat you, examine yourself for the answer.

We only need to remember the words from the song sang by Maria in Sound of Music,
“Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good.”

Indeed, somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something really good.

1, Apr 14, 2009

Get Stress Out of Your Job Part 1

Filed under: Health,work — admin @ 7:47 am

Last weekend I read an online article on job stress, which, I thought, is related to both our health and work experience. Nowadays, people who are not sacked out of labor force have to work under unprecedented and unhealthy stress, if nothing else, just to hang on there.

When we do what we have to do, the need to “enjoy” doing it against our will is extremely important. It’s like you trying to enjoy beating your brain out with a heavy-duty hammer. Well, a horrible scene indeed. Therefore, here are some of the tips that I garner from my reading and my own experience.

(1) Yes, your attitude is the number one factor. It determines your life’s experience, no matter where and when. Negativity in your outlook and total attitude toward people and your work poison your day more than anything else. Be nice, always, randomly and purposelessly, like an idot.

(2) Keep a record of your achievements. Take time to celebrate yourself when you feel you deserve it. Pat your own shoulder if nobody else does it. You must be the first to recognize your own effort, progress, and accomplishments. Call it big ego or whatever. I do it all the time just to make myself feel good and I need to feel good to move on in life. The ugly fact is –if you don’t see value in yourself, nobody ever does. How not pleasant!

(3) Keep fit physically. An old Chinese saying which I often quote to my children goes, “Sharpening your ax won’t take time away from your woodcutting.” In other word, when you take time off to sharpen your tool, it won’t leave you with less time for your work, because a sharpened tool will enable you to work more efficiently. The plain message is take time for exercise daily so that you will be happy and energetic, stress-free. Beside, a thorough workout can serve as an outlet for your pent-up, suppressed energy, especially when you work at customer service section.

(4) Create and maintain your own birds-of-a-feather network — your support group, which is the channel through which you can occasionally exchange complaints or any “politically-incorrect” expressions, without any fear, when you feel the need to.

So much for today. Not done yet. See part 2 tomorrow. The sun finally comes out today. Enjoy Mother Nature.

1, Apr 13, 2009

Tax Audit, Tax Return, Real Headache

Filed under: Economy — admin @ 7:58 am

The weekend was so freakingly un-relaxing when I had to freak my brain out on 2008 tax return and financial aid application for my son, one built upon the other. The deadline is 4/15, the coming Wednesday, being aware of the approaching date further pounding blood into my swirling head.

The cost of higher education is higher than sky — reaching nearly 60K per year, the thought of which frightens my shrinking wit out of my body when I look ahead to the years when my daughter will be there.

We were so unfortunate last year to have our tax audited and had to render a fine of a few thousand sweet dollars. How crazy can things become? I have no idea. Right now, I only need to collect all my brain power and focus on getting the tax return and financial aid application forms out of the door before the threatening deadline.

Good thing I had one return complete, the federal tax, still need to work on state tax return.

My daughter said I could pay professional tax help over $300 to get it out of my head. Last year I had a coupon and had an Indian tax guy estimate the cost of my tax preparation, which reached $480. Forget that help. How I wish to stay away from torturing my head! Well, for that price? I guess I have not loved my head that much yet.

1, Apr 12, 2009

The Queen and the Discovery of the Wonder World of Books

Filed under: Reading — admin @ 7:59 am

Last Friday, I read a small book, entitled The Uncommon Reader, a novella, by Alan Bennett, 2007, a small-size book of only 120 pages, with these words written on the cover, “Delicious and very funny… A delightful little book that unfolds into a witty meditation on the subversive pleasures of reading.” by Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times. It is simply a light pleasure to zip through it.

The author expresses his views on reading via the mouth of the Queen [of England (fictional one)]. To be exact, the book records the process of a Queen from a non-reader to an avid reader and the changes inside her in the process. I have quoted extensively from the book, as I intend to dedicate this posting to those of my friends and some of my relatives who love reading.

Here’s her finding after the Queen has read more, “… what she was finding, also was how one book led to another, doors kept opening wherever she turned and the days weren’t long enough for the reading she wanted to do.” p. 21

In the past the Queen was briefed on many things by others. Now here’s what she said on the difference between briefing and reading by herself. “… but briefing is not reading. In fact, it is the antithesis of reading. Briefing is terse, factual and to the point. Reading is untidy, discursive and perpetually inviting. Briefing closes down a subject, reading opens it up.” pp. 21-22.

When someone referred her reading as simply passing the time, the Queen said, “Books are not about passing the time. They’re about other lives. Other worlds. Far from wanting time to pass… one just wishes one had more of it …” p. 29

The more she read, the more she appreciated the pleasure of reading. “The appeal of reading, she thought, lay in its indifference: there was something underferring about literature. Books did not care who was reading them or whether one read them or not… Literature, she thought, is a commonwealth; letters a republic.” p. 30

When a footman took away her book, thinking it was some kind of bombing device, she said, “A book is a device to ignite the imagination.” p. 34

The Queen has traveled vastly already, still she wanted more traveling through books. “I think of literature as a vast country to the far borders of which I am journeying but will never reach,” the Queen wrote. p. 47

Reading also gave the Queen a feeling of sadness because “for the first time in her life she felt there was
a good deal she had missed.” p. 47

While she was reading, she wanted to carry on conversations with the author. So she decided to have a party of writers. During the party, she often felt more like a guest than the host, being left out most of the time because she found herself not capable of being part of the intellectual conversation. Therefore, she decided, “Authors, … was probably best met with in the pages of their novels, and as much creatures of the reader’s imagination as the characters in their books.” p. 52

The author’s ultimate announcement on reading of literature comes in these words, He who is above literature “is above humanity.” p. 115.

A final note on the Queen’s reading is her observation on reading and life — “You don’t put your life into book. You find it there.”

Thank the author. For me, no words can adequately describe the joy that reading has brought to me. So much for it. Back to my joy.

1, Apr 11, 2009

The Self-Limiting Effects of Your Smarts and Gifts

Filed under: Reading — admin @ 2:20 am

Last weekend, while reading at Border’s, I came upon these words by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, “If you believe you are born with all the smarts and gifts you’ll ever have, you tend to approach life with a fixed mind-set. However, those who believe that their abilities can expand over time live with a growth mind-set—and they’re much more innovative.”

I have long before realized those “smarts and gifts” can be burdensome and damaging if we sleep on them, instead of using them to our advantage. There are some among my close acquaintances who are born with heavy dose of smarts and gifts and have been doing no better than this.

Too much aware of what you are good at by birth not only causes you to lay back, lazy as pig, without putting as much effort as you should, but also, according to Goldsmith, restricts your exploration of life’s unlimited possibilities, when you naturally follow the path of what-you-believe-your-best and avoid trying others. This belief actually restricts your future and your life. It is called self-limiting effect. You will never reach to the next higher level because of your so-called “smarts and gifts.” Isn’t that a good thing not to have this restriction? Choose self-liberating. You wish!

Marshall Goldsmith co-edited the book The Leader of the Future, back in 1996. It is a powerful book for world leaders and you. Yet too bad American leaders, especially the last administration, have not paid attention to it, thus gradually and inevitably yielding its leadership position to other countries in 21-century.

So much for this lovely Saturday.

1, Apr 10, 2009

Teenager Irresponsibility, Lack of Self-Control, Extravagance, Cell Phone Abuse

Filed under: Parenting 101 — admin @ 7:10 am

I was going to place this entry under the category of American Culture. Then I thought it happens not just in America but in China, too. It is not the matter of culture but one of parenting.

I read a piece of news on 4/8/09 on the wonder of new technology or the abuse of this wonder. A 13-year-old Wyoming girl sent 10,000 text messages and received about the same — all while her family’s cell phone plan did not include texting, thus costing her parents $4,756.25 in one month!

She did most of the texting at school, in class, causing her grades plunging from A & B to solid F . “Hours after the enormous bill arrived,” the dad finished her daughter’s cell phone with a hammer. Action surely speaks louder than any of the 10K messages. So much for the texting.

Upon learning this, the words that immediately rushed to my head were abuse, extravagance, spoiled teenager, no self-control and responsibility, of course, the act itself being the highest level of stupidity. The dad is very wise in his hammer reaction. He would be wiser if he could be pro-active. Obviously he showed a lack of wisdom when he trusted his daughter’s discretion. Boy, he must be really mad. Who wouldn’t? Still, never too late to fix the fence.

When the 10-year-old nephew was here with me, he asked for a cell phone, saying he had one in China and all his classmates had it. He only gets my phone number. To be sure, we all love our children, even to the point of yielding to their demand, reasonable or not. My son got his cell phone during his 4th year of high school, more because he started driving on his own. My daughter has been asking for it but has not been given one so far, even though I know most of her classmates have cell phones.

Alas, let other parents spoil their children and let other kids happily texting, I cannot afford this luxury and I will not allow mine to go that path. The damage is too great to ignore — not just financial damage but also this — those stupid gossip texting takes away their precious time from their study. When precious time is thus wasted and seeing their grades loudly thump, oh, it hurts so much! Yes, I care and so should any responsible parents. Not a laughing matter!

1, Apr 9, 2009

Medical Information Technology — a windfall for IT Industry

Filed under: Economy — admin @ 7:08 am

The President plans to pour in $17 billion out of his $787 billion economic stimulus package for incentive payments to physicians and hospitals that adopt electronic medical records (EMRs).

After its implementation, everything in patient’s chart go electronic, including filing to government for Medicare and Medicaid patients and to insurance companies and to drug stores. No more paper report on lab result, CT, pathology, operation, hospitalization, radiation, doctor’s exam and diagnosis, prescriptions, etc.

It is not only an environment-friendly gesture, paper-saving and tree-saving, but also hugely money saving, too much to be listed here.

To be sure, there is a huge upfront cost of hardware, software, installation, user training, data transfer, followed by the long term cost of maintenance, IT support and enhancement. Uncle Sam will foot part of these initial bills as an incentive for physicians. If not going with the eHealth, penalty will follow in the form of decreased reimbursement for Medicare and Medicaid patients. There are too many details to be mentioned here.

I think it a piece of good news for IT folks, only if these jobs are not shipped overseas. I know it is a heavy IF, especially at the time when everybody looks for cheap solution. Still, eHealth initiative will be a real bonanza for IT support and Internet security jobs. A little knowledge in medical record and terminology might put you above the average IT applicants in job-hunting.

My dear friends, not all of them, only those who work in IT field and are among job-hunting troop, be armed and be prepared. Be the lucky one when opportunity knocks at your door.

1, Apr 8, 2009

“Survival Job” Not A New Concept

Filed under: Economy — admin @ 7:19 am

Recently, you often heard people talking about a not-so-new term “Survival job.” It means you pick up whatever job you are offered after you are laid off in order to be able to pay the bills or to put the food on the table, even if it is not in your field, or it is unrelated to your previous work experience, or it means a step-down from your last job in pay and status. It is expected to be temporary in nature, as you are waiting for a chance to jump back to the previous cushion. The belief is it is better to have a job than without, whatever it may be.

Or rather in order to survive the layoff, as in the example of a laid-off senior manager, he takes up a job as janitor while hoping to hop on another management position. This is from USAToday website, a man made “six figures and supervised employees” two years ago. “Now, the laid-off Sun Microsystems manager sells plumbing supplies at Home Depot.”

The term was once used on artists or actors who have to have some means of living while seeking for opportunities to have their talents recognized and profitably employed. But artists and actors make up a tiny percent of population. Now with the swelling army of unemployment, people feel grateful even with a survival job because even survival jobs are hard to get.

I like the action of taking a survival job to help tide over the hard time. Meanwhile, you have to work hard preparing yourself to leave this temporary job. Otherwise, you are likely to become a permanent fixture at your survival jobs. Not a bad thing if that is what you want.

After all, financial independence is better than its opposite. Uncle Sam must be smiling counting the tax dollars that we pay, regardless how. A step-down? No. It is called adaptation and survival of the fittest. Be proud of your independence and survival.

1, Apr 7, 2009

Food for thoughts on Procrastination, Organization

Filed under: Random Thoughts,Reading — admin @ 2:55 am

I read from a magazine on procrastination, “Procrastination hurt you physically, too. It creates stress, which will lead to headache, body sore, gastric problem, indigestion, either chronic or acute disease.” I never have this experience until I start dragging my feet and working on my tax return. I feel all kinds of illness assailing me at the same time. I am not sure if it is because of procrastination or the thought of tax return and the money that must be taken away from me.

I have read so much about organizing, mainly because I need it so badly or because reading about organizing is far less backbreaking than really doing organization around the house. This is why I love reading about it. Here’s what I read and I will start getting things organized when I feel like it.

Organizing is one of your strongest assets.” Indeed, it saves you both time and money when disorganizing equals to waste of money and time. Why? When you cannot find what you need at the moment, you lose time trying to locate things. If you thought you did not have it and have to buy a new one, when in fact you have it but just misplace it.

Being organized give you a sense of control.” What a good feeling! At least it saves time not to re-do things you have already done but forgot having done. OMG, I have done that too often! Thanks for being disorganized. It drives me crazy when seeing so many things cry for my attention, knowing some of them are already taken care of but cannot be thus confirmed. What a mess!

Organizing is the art of using your time and resource efficiently.” When you are organized, you can get things or file the moment you need them. I often get distracted in the middle of the work, taking my sweet time looking for something that I really need. Distraction and time inefficient — all because of my disorganization. How I hate myself at that moment.

The answer is simple: Simplify your life, get organized, free from distractions, better focus, time efficient. Try it whenever you feel like it.

1, Apr 6, 2009

The Inevitable Demise of 137-Year-Old Boston Globe

Filed under: Economy — admin @ 1:43 am

Last weekend I read a piece of news from the Internet, saying the New York Times, now $1.1 billion in debt because of purchase of Boston Globe, the 137-year-old money-loser, threatened to close the Globe. The article says, “Faced with the global recession and declining revenues, the newspaper business is reeling — one major paper has already folded this year and several others are seeking bankruptcy protection…. ‘It is a huge warning shot across the bow of the newspaper industry. If this can happen to the storied Boston Globe, pretty much nothing is safe,'” a professor said.

I am overwhelmed with a sense of sadness over the inevitable demise of such a senior, respectful tradition or even the newspaper profession. Like so many trades and tricks, they all will become obsolete and on the way to become history, brought about by the advance of technology. Thus, people spend more and more time in physical isolation.

To be sure, the decline started not with the recent recession but with the rise of other medium of communication, radio, TV, then Internet in that order. First, when radio, TV, and Internet are free, it makes incomplete sense to pay for newspaper for news. Not me.

Second, with pressing crunch of time, people can get news from radio while driving or cooking or eating or walking, who will allocate a special moment for newspaper? Even if newspapers are free, well, time is not.

Third, unlike the non-interactive mode of newspaper, radio and TV, Internet is the most attractive and interactive media of all. It is so attractive that people start devoting more time on the Internet than the combine of newspaper, radio and TV. After all, you can do almost everything on the Internet, from shopping, to watching news and video clips, investment, research, reading, gaming, broadcasting, chatting, dating, all sorts of entertainment that you can imagine, with boundless possibilities.

Have you heard of this? A 16-year-old boy, posed as a 25-year-old young man, totally grapples the heart of a mid-30s wife. Not that absurd, right? Indeed, anything’s possible in virtual reality. All this happened before recession set in.

When I talked to my daughter about this, she did not pay much attention. Upon further asking, she said, “You will surely lose readers. Who will read it? It’s so boring. You just cannot write anything interesting.” What a feedback! So lovely expressed, and so encouraging to learn of this. Hey, it is not a newspaper.

1, Apr 5, 2009

Misfortune and Counting our Blessings

Filed under: Economy — admin @ 12:01 am

Last Friday, 4/3/2009, my daughter hugged goodbye to a skating buddy, who told my daughter that she was not coming to skate because her dad lost his job. While talking about this girl, my daughter commented, “I am very lucky.” My mind rushed back to those who got laid off in recent economic downturn, especially both adults being unemployed, its impact on children and their future. For my daughter, other people’s misfortune seems to remind her of counting her blessings.

Yesterday was another busy weekend, art lesson in the morning, skating from 12 noon to 3 PM, Border’s after that, then to library, to an Oriental grocery store.
PS. I finally created some categories and retrospectively categorized some of the old postings, not all of them yet.

1, Apr 4, 2009

Children stories Full of Moral Lessons

Filed under: Parenting 101 — admin @ 1:00 am

I did not pay any attention to anything but fun when I was a child reading children stories. I knew all along that these stories were created by adults mainly for entertaining children.

It is not until I was reading them to my children did I realize some life-benefit moral lessons embodied in these stories. Yesterday afternoon I dropped my daughter at the book store after school. I gave her a personal pan pizza as her dinner and a Border gift card for her to get some drink. When I went to fetch her for evening skating, she asked me to buy her some drink. It turned out she bought herself a toy and two drinks. Having realized she spent more than she should and knew how displeased that I was, she was full of apology.

“I hope you will feel the sting of conscience for being so wasteful when you are aware of so many children who are under horrible living conditions.” She has seen the pictures and learned that children in some part of China are still very much deprived in their daily necessities. “I hope you will not waste like this so that you can make some contribution to help those unfortunate children,” said I.

“Compare to those unfortunate children, you are like growing up in a honey jar. But always remember not to indulge yourself or abuse your privilege or it will be taken away from you like what happened in children’s story. Remember the tale of a Fish man and his greedy wife?” She understands it and as always makes promise not to let it happen again. I am happy with her promise so far. Enjoy the weekend!

1, Apr 3, 2009

Use Credit Card to Pay for College Cost

Filed under: Economy — admin @ 7:49 am

My son called on Fool’s Day that his spring semester fees was due on that day. He told me it was a 5-digit number bill. And there would be late payment fee if payment came after 4/1. I still remember last year that I paid nearly a hundred dollar for late fee charge. Why didn’t he let me know a little bit earlier? I am sure he always has more important things to attend to. Talk about the cost of procrastination!

I heard from one of the monitors that came early March that there were quite a few students who used credit cards to pay for college tuition and only paid the interest. Now as we see a sharp climb in credit card interest, even as high as 25%, why don’t these students get student loan with a far lower rate than using credit cards? Talk about financial decision! Nothing can be more absurd than this! One of my co-workers paid an agent to take care of all her monthly bills when she is living from paycheck to paycheck.

I am daily dazzled by the remarkable choices that people make in their lives. This makes the world so diverse and never suffers from boredness. They are wonderful choices only if we don’t have to pay dearly for it.

It is high time for the young people to learn to behave reasonably and responsibly regarding their money or their parents’ money. Perhaps financial responsibility will come, if it ever comes, when they are on their own. For now, enjoy this Spring Friday and don’t forget to pay your bills, tons of them.

1, Apr 2, 2009

Distance Enhances an Appreciation of Beauty

Filed under: American Culture — admin @ 1:01 am

Yesterday I talked to my relatives in China over the phone. When I mentioned my criticism of American culture, she told me, “When you are experiencing that culture, you are more likely to see the dark side of it. You will be able to appreciate the bright side when you are out of it.” So rightly said! I was told children in China and in America experience the two extremes — extremely busy in China while just the opposite here in America, the most heated competition in school in China while the least here.

To be fair, children are a lot more respected as individuals in America than in China. I learned that some Chinese teachers make improper judgements of the students on their class weblogs, commenting some are smart or not so smart without being anonymous. Corporal punishment is still practiced in some parts of Chinese schools, where the belief “Spare the rod, spoil the child” is widely held true. Those teachers have no idea what defamation or libel means.

Parents often act so naturally in a disrespectful manner. e.g. at gathering with friends, instead of talking with the children, many Chinese enjoy talking about them right in front of them. Ouch, it hurts, that is, hurt their self-respect. Some parents even cannot understand how it can hurt the children.

To be sure, Chinese parents on the average devote more time, energy and money to the welfare and education of their youngsters, the level of this devotion is not matched among American parents. It is normal for a Chinese kid to have more than two extra-curriculum activities. Imagine the cost of all the educational investment.

Yet, this level of devotion is not good all the time. Some Chinese parents view their children more as their private property than individual human beings with their own wills, to the extent that the parents make decisions for the children without even consulting the children.

An example is given by one of the relatives coming to our house. The boy was 23 years old when his parents and his uncle decided that he came to study here. This results in a marked missing of responsibility and independence on the part of the children, well, adult children, enjoying a prolonged childhood into 20s or even 30s.

The world would be really bright if we can magically combine the strengths of the two cultures.

1, Apr 1, 2009

Too Much Freebies Are Not Always Good

Filed under: Materialist culture — admin @ 12:11 am

Last Friday, I took my daughter to a buffet, only on her birthday. Normally I am against eating buffet because of the potential to overeat and its possible undesirable consequence. This prompted me to think again of this concept of free.

First, you tend to eat more at buffet because it is perceived as “free” for the given amount of money. I never have good feelings after too much indulgence in food– feeling of guilt, of being wasteful, shame of lacking of self-control. I seem to be punished in more than one ways — physical discomfort with overblown tummy and mentally with self-inflicted guilty feeling.

Second, in fact by your second serving, you don’t enjoy it as much as your first serving. Let me put it this way — a chocolate candy tastes sweetest when you have only one per day or per week, but the taste decreases as you have more. Imagine how you feel by the time you can have unlimited chocolate candies. When you don’t appreciate your food and you still cannot stop eating, you are in reality doing nothing but wasting food. Same can be said of anything that is “free,” like free coffee, creme and sugar in your office.

Third, we no longer value anything that we think it free. Many children quickly lose interest in toys bought by their parents because they have too plenty of them and also things from their parents are like freebies, costing them zero cent. When both of my children were young, I used to give them the money and let them decide if they wanted to keep the money or buy the toys or hold the party. They often ended up keeping the money. When without any choice, they would stand firm on having whatever toys they had in mind.

It reminds of the old medical system in China. I don’t have the detail but I do remember the huge waste back then mainly because everything seemed to be free, taken care of by the work place that you belonged to.

Too much Freebies are not always good, from “free” toys coming from Santa or parents to free bonus for AIG’s big bellies — huge waste of all kind of resource. In fact, I cannot think of anything good about anything free. Can you?

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