Monthly Archives: January 2015

Quantitative Analysis

The last week, I almost got hit by a car and a moped. The car I caught out of the corner of my eye as I was crossing the street on green, and I stopped as he accelerated into a turn. The moped misjudged my speed as I was on my bicycle and cut in front of me as I was going straight and he made a right turn.

People make turns across the street differently here, when making a left turn in the states or a right turn Japan, drivers head out in the center of the intersection, staying in their own lane, and then turn a sharp 90 degrees. In Taiwan, they start edging into the lane of oncoming traffic as soon as they get into the intersection, forcing oncoming traffic to stop, instead of waiting for an opening.

Yesterday we were running tests at a customer site, and a co-worker asked me why I didn’t drive. Drive? I said. I barely dare to walk.

Today we ran more tests, and I found myself bitching about the dishes at the restaurant that we ate at being not properly washed, the shakiness of the elevator as it descended despite the prominently posted inspection schedule, and how I have to sleep with earplugs because otherwise, I wake up to the woman next door screaming at her husband, the motorcycles in the alley in front of my house, the sports cars in back of my house, or the children upstairs running. He said, well, it’s better than Japan, where people hold so much in that they kill themselves. His point was that people in Taiwan make a tradeoff. They pay less attention, but killing themselves less, and things are better overall. So I thought – is it really “better”?

So here are some statistics comparing Japan and Taiwan, with Hong Kong and the USA included for comparison. Rates are per 100,000.

Suicides Year Road Fatalities Year Total
Japan 21.4 2013 4.8 2012 26.2
Taiwan 15.1 2011 15.0 2012 30.1
Hong Kong 12.3 2011 1.8 2013 14.1
United States 12.5 2012 11.6 2012 24.1


Frontier Spirit

I spoke with my boss today about some debug issues that we’ve been dealing with at a customer. One issue has been dragging on for about two and a half months now, though I’ve been working on it for only a month. My boss gave me some good advice: some direction in terms of lines of investigation and people to enlist for help. But then she went on a frequent tangent.

“Be careful,” she said. “I can see that you’ve been working on it, but the project engineers at the customer have a habit of naming names. This issue has been open for two and a half months. The fact that it’s unresolved has already drawn the attention of one of their middle managers. If it drags on much longer, they could get impatient. If they get impatient, they might get frustrated. If they get frustrated, they could complain. If they complain, they might complain up to the our business unit. They might attach your name. And then, well your reputation, and then…”

I cut her off. “And then, we wouldn’t win their business, would we?”

“Not only that. Your job could be at stake.”

I considered this. A difficult engineering problem that I’ve been coordinating work on between the customer and our engineers leading to my job being at stake. And I shrugged. My boss gets on to this tangent nearly every time we speak about work.

I appreciated her concern for me, but I had this thought: “That’s not me.”

I have been fortunate never to have found myself in such situations on the job, but in my personal experiences and in the experiences of my friends, family, and co-workers, I find that it’s not unusual, even if one puts his best forth, to be misinterpreted or even to be cast out. When judgement time comes, there are those who try to play someone else’s game: they try argue and prove themselves, or they agree too easily with others’ estimation of them, and then there are those who walk away, to another department job, or other frontier. While grit is important, the latter don’t look like they ran away from their problems so much as outgrew them.

It is a characteristic of societies, be they on the level of a company or a nation, that the more developed they become, the more advancement becomes dependent not on ability, but on cunning political maneuvering. Rome and Enron are extreme examples. Such silliness can be avoided by heading for the frontier. There are difficulties in adapting to the frontier, but there are also difficulties trying to play someone else’s game. Haruki Murakami said it best: “We cannot avoid suffering, but we get to choose its form.”

This post is dedicated to my friends of frontier spirit, many of whom I met in Japan, and many of whom, in the search for their own blue ocean, have moved on to other places. I love you guys. I miss you. When we meet again, let’s swap stories and say to each other “That was a good ride.” 🙂

Cash Flow

Last year, I spent three days working on a Cantonese Dictionary for the Kindle. Not only is it helping me to learn Cantonese as I read Chinese texts, it also earns me about USD 1.50 in commissions each month, or $18 a year, which doesn’t seem like much. Then I got to thinking – how much money would I have to invest at a 3% rate of return each year in order to get this amount of cash flow? Divide $18 by 3% and the answer is $600. Since I spent three days working on it, speaking in terms of the power to generate cash-flow, for each day I worked, I created the equivalent of $200 of cash-generating capital.

So, just assume that this is repeatable. I don’t know whether this is a good assumption, because in the worst case I will either run out of ebook ideas or in the best case I will get far better at generating them. I am generating $6 a year in cash flow per day worked. Suppose I work a normal work year of 250 days. That is $1500 a year that I can generate. At the end of 15 years, one could retire on a pension of $22500 a year. What’s more, this would be safe from inflation, since one could just raise prices to keep pace. To generate this cash flow, one would have to have $750,000 of capital earning 3%.

With these numbers, independent work writing ebooks is comparable to salaried work.