A Black Swan event

One of the best book this year, I would say, is The Black Swan Theory. You may wonder why the theory is called “the Black Swan”. According to Wikipedia,

The term black swan comes from the ancient Western conception that all swans were white. In that context, a black swan was a metaphor for something that could not exist. The 17th Century discovery of black swans in Australia metamorphosed the term to connote that the perceived impossibility actually came to pass.

And then what are the attributes of a Black Swan event ? You can read the first chapter of the book to find out, but here is an excerpt:

  • First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility.
  • Second, it carries an extreme impact.
  • Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.

And I have a real IT example to share as well …

Back in year 2000, we developed a system to disseminate some important information online, along with the offline channel (i.e one could get the same information over the counter). In one summer day the system went live as scheduled, but because of a tropical typhoon all office counters were closed. In other words, the online web site was the only channel to get those important information. As a result, thousands of people logged on to the web site at the same time and crashed the system. Even though we managed to fix the problem within an hour, we disappointed thousands of people.

It was a high impact event (to those thousands of people who badly need the information in a timely fashion). And of course, we never expected the online channel would be the only dessimination channel – an outlier …

Similar to many IT problems, we explained the cause of the problem after the fact – Incompetent software firewall, inefficient traffic distribution across servers, under-par performance servers and slow database etc. etc.

Lesson Learnt ? We redesigned the whole infrastructure from ground up, performed rigorous load tests and from that point onward, the web site could handle tens of thousands of users with ease. A very expensive lesson though …

Merry X’mas

I made a set of slides as X’mas eCard (3 Mb) and sent to my colleagues and friends. Many wonder how I made those slides and here are the details …

  1. First, I took a lot of photos from shopping malls, those with X’mas decorations [Tool : Olympus E-1, E-300, E-510]
  2. Picked 6 to 7 photos, processed them (i.e. resize, sharpening etc.) and prepared a set of B&W version, then a set of colored version [Tool : FastStone, PhotoImpact]
  3. I then searched for the X’mas song Little Drummer Boy from the Net in WAV format (i.e. a format that supports by PowerPoint)
  4. Processed the song to find a right spot to fade out the song (as the original is too long), and to find a right compression bit ratio (as the original is too big) [Tool : AudaCity]
  5. Sampled the song again to determine the best time to advance the photos (i.e. find some good spots to in-sync with the slide transition)
  6. Searched a good X’mas poetry from the Net to fit the slides
  7. Last step – created the slides, inserted the B&W photos, then the colored photos, added in fade-in effect, added the background music in the first slide, timed the slide, added in transition effect, added in the content, saved as PowerPoint Slideshow … [Tool : PowerPoint]

Not bad, I believe …

Merry X’mas 2007

Best 100 books of 2007

Editors of Amazon just picked their best 100 books of the year, and the web site listed another 100 customers’ favorite books. You know what, out of these 200 listings (some books are duplicated in both lists), I have only one – The Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. You see, it is a good proof that I read not enough books this year and all the books I read were old books.

But still, The Black Swan is a good book worth reading. But what is a Black Swan after all ?

In Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s definition, a Black Swan event is a large-impact, hard-to-predict, and rare event beyond the realm of normal expectations. That’s why, the 9/11 attack is often referred to as a Black Swan event. In fact, I have an example of Black Swan event happened to us couple of years ago. Check out the other post …

Present and perfect moment

Finished the book Chasing Daylight for quite some weeks, but only now manage to write something about it. Not that I was busy, but just not sure whether I shall recommend this book. This is certainly a good book and I learnt a few lessons from it as well, but I felt that the author is a bit too self-focused. Anyway, you will know what I mean when you read this book.

Other than the Passion and Talent lesson, I also share another two “lessons” by the author (not two new lessons though, as I believe all of us already knew those) – those are,

  • seize the present moments, and
  • create your own perfect moments.

Essentially, instead of keep planning, dreaming and guessing – why not just try your best to focus in your present moment ? Make full use of it … don’t waste this very hour, minute and second. In addition, create a perfect moment or great time with your friend / mentor, love one, parents and everyone you meet – every single time.

Simple lessons, but when will we all learn it ?

What is a library ?

According to the book The Black Swan, a library is a collection of unread books.

How true ?! I reckon no matter how big a library is, there are always more unread books than books already read. So next question is, why a library wants to “collect” so many unread books ? I think it is because no matter how knowedgable a reader is, there are always something he or she doesn’t know, and those knowledge are recorded in the unread books. Strange reason, I suppose.

What about my mini-library at home ? It’s a collection of a lot unread books as well, and then some unfinished books, and many books I read but forgot all the content inside already. But then again, once a librarian in school days, my job is not to read book … but to collect unread books 😎

Shawshank Redemption

It’s on cable TV again and I simply couldn’t help but watched it, one more time. I am not sure why it’s rated 5-stars, but no doubt it is a very good movie and every time I watch it, I find / learn new things. For example, there is a very moving scene in the movie about Andy (Tim Robbins) locked himself in a room and broadcast a very beautiful song to all the prisoners. And here is it … another find from Youtube – a Mozart masterpiece by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa & Ileana Cotrubas.

“Sull’aria” from Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro”

Oh, for those who has not seen this movie – the original scene from Youtube as well …

Cities my friend has visited

I admitted that I am not a fan of Facebook, but still I can learn something new from it once in a while. For example, there is one application in Facebook called “Cities I’ve visited” – you can tell (read … impress) your friends how many cities you’ve visited thru a Google Map interface. I suppose the more cities you pin down on the map, it means the more time (0r money) you have.

And here is a screen shot of one of my friend’s map – guess what … 826 cities in 92 countries … amazing !!

Peter’s map