Category Archives: random thoughts

Congratulations, Mr. President — Parte Deux

As I sat glued to my computer screen earlier this week watching the election results from each state stream in, I realized that this was something I had done once before … four years ago, as again, in China, I waited anxiously in a tucked-in Internet cafe in the heart of Beijing to see what larger direction the United States of America would be headed. But this time, instead of just reading the news passively and sharing amongst a smaller group of friends, there was a real opportunity to ENGAGE, to participate or at the very least observe dialogues from not just all over the country, but all over the world, via Facebook and Twitter-streams that were often embedded right alongside interactive media units designed and put together by media organizations like Huffington Post, The Guardian, and CNN, regardless of your physical location.

It is incredible to see what can change in four years, and the type of reporting and data visualization that was available during this year’s election was a reminder of how quickly we innovate in today’s age of computing, and thankfully, how user-centered design and experience has become a key part of the conversation.  Four years ago, there was no ‘like’ on Facebook, there were no apps/open Facebook authentication that allowed you to easily share articles and stories with your Facebook networks.  And somehow 2008 seems to have pre-dated the explosion of Internet memes. Twitter was not the same global medium it now is, with over 41 million unique visitors monthly (and 32 million tweets alone on Election Day), compared to just 4.5 million unique visitors a month at its peak in 2008. If anything, these past four years can be surmised into the shift towards the ‘connected economy’, enabled by social media.

For all of the innovation there has been, however, in some ways the world has become less connected. Facebook and Twitter which had once been openly available across China were now accessible only behind VPN — 1 billion people who by and large, are not part of this digital global square.  As governments continue to grapple with how to address the rise of social media, the number of countries that now censor the internet continues to grow.   (I did a study on this in 2010 … I wonder how it’s changed since).  And this week, China’s infamously slow internet was only made slower driven undoubtedly by the series of meetings being held in Beijing at the 18th Communist Party Congressional Meetings.

President Obama — this week we rejoice with you in celebrating the American Dream and moving forward together as a nation in preserving the vision that makes this country so, so very unique. And for the next four years, let us continue to innovate, listen, and collaborate in creating a fair and neutral digital environment, being sensitive of the cultural and historical concerns each nation may bear in this dialogue.  “The best is yet to come.”

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What Does 9/11 Mean to You?

World Trade Center Tribute Lights - New York City, New York (from Flickr user dennoit)

9/11 always gives me pause. Like it does for so many others, I think it’s one of the few times where I have that chilling feeling of being “frozen” in time — captured and encapsulated within a very distinct sort of memory of pointed clarity reserved for those moments that represent something life- and value- defining.

for me, 9/11/2001 happened during my junior year of high school. in what i thought would be just another day of school, i watched the small tv in the kitchen as i ate the pb&j sandwich my dad had left on the counter for me. it was one of those old tvs on its final sprints out which you had to adjust every so often to cut through the static, but that morning, it clearly broadcast the bewildered and concerned voice of the ktla 5 news anchor that a plane had just hit the world trade center in new york city.  the rest of the day proceeded in slow motion, with teachers whose attention was progressively turned towards what was happening on the east coast, as they struggled to intersperse those eerily quiet periods with words that tried to make sense of what was taking place.

at the time, i didn’t really know what to think — i didn’t have any close friends or relatives that lived on the east coast then, but i knew it was something that would fundamentally change the fabric of this country. i remember going home that evening with those questions of why, how, and feeling a profound sense of sadness and perplexity. at 15, i had “seen” enough of the world to understand the gravity of the situation and to appreciate what it meant to be “american”, but i was still too young to grasp the full implications of the events of that day. i think for many of us who went through our high school years during that time, it was the first time that we, in the US, were personally confronted with a national tragedy of that magnitude and scale, and it continues to be  that shared moment we can all recall in clarity the events and thoughts of that day.

in the last ten years since 9/11, our nation has undergone momentous change. we have entered one war, elected the first african-american president, experienced the dawning of a communications revolution, and are in the midst of one of the most volatile economic times our nation has experienced. we have seen governments questioned and regimes crumble, and even as our worlds becoming increasingly intertwined, we are continuously reminded of the need to stay united, to come together in mutual understanding and respect.

9/11 is a day that will continue to haunt all of us for years and history books to come. but the story of its legacy is one that we have the opportunity to still write. aside from a war that has waged on for the last decade, what will be the story of the legacy of 9/11? especially as we approach the 2012 election season, what will be the stories that we will carry with us? 9/11 brought us together as a nation, and as a global community. as we continue in an era of growing multiculturalism and globalization, let us be reminded that it is in our unity that we have always found strength and while we must never forget our values, we cannot let the dogma of our fears define the course of our nation and the actions we undertake.

9/11/2001 – may we never forget.

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steve jobs: legacy and wise words

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

– Steve Jobs, 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech

It’s been more than five years since Steve Jobs gave that commencement speech at Stanford, but it’s a speech that I find just as relevant today (perhaps moreso even) as I did then.  Even today, I’ll pull it up on my iPhone or MacBook when I need a gentle nudge in the “right” direction. While the adage of “following your heart” is one that is doled out especially often within Western cultures, Jobs articulates it in a manner that resonates particularly well — creating that fine balance between being both personal and vague enough for you to fill in the blanks.

While we all knew that the day would come that Jobs would no longer be at the helm of Apple as the company’s CEO, it’s a fact that perhaps none of us really wanted to accept. After all, here was someone who has truly made a disruptive and lasting impact on our society, in helping us define what we want, disrupting industries, and creating entirely new business ecosystems altogether — multiple times over (of course,the fact that these changes made him one of the wealthiest men in the world helped too ;))

And despite his notorious working style (Apple employees routinely report of his near-Draconian management style), Jobs is a visionary in the true-est sense of the word.  From the idea of a “personal computer” to Pixar,  to the portable world of iPods and iPhones, Jobs has helped shape the very way we think about media, music, pricing, and technology. And with the introduction of the iPad, it seems appropriate that the individual who introduced personal computing has now sparked the catalyst for the shift into the post-PC world.

The question for Apple will now be how much of the company’s innovation was its own and how much of it was Jobs? Granted Jobs is not fully leaving his place at Apple and will remain on board as an adviser, the cultural and organizational changes will certainly be felt.

As a society, we always have a way of romanticizing the past and the accomplishments at the end of one’s professional tenure, and while this doesn’t mark the end of Jobs’ career at Apple, it certainly is the end of an era. However, in Jobs’ case, and in reflecting on the ideas he has already made come to life, perhaps there isn’t much romanticizing there.

Thank you, Steve Jobs, for your inspiration and work. There are many who can hatch grandeur dreams, but only a few who can translate them into tangible visions. Thanks for being the few among those few, and for so eloquently articulating those words of wisdom that will stay etched in this writer’s mind for many years to come.

a compilation by the WSJ of steve jobs’ quotes from over the years: http://on.wsj.com/nuTYC2 

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Transfer Pricing 101

Every few years (or months as of late), the area of “transfer pricing” surfaces itself, even if the term never (or rarely) appears anywhere, as was the case with last week’s 60 Minutes segment on the world’s “new tax havens”. Part of it is the skewed taxonomy of the word itself, evoking implications of price structuring (i.e., determining how much a product is worth (albeit partially true)) versus its actual practice, determining the internal market cost of services rendered between company subsidiaries.

But a large part of it is the complexity of the practice itself, despite a very simple and innately intuitive objective — companies should compensate their internal business units for services rendered the same way they would with any external service. In this way, according to theory, companies would be prevented from shifting profits to lower tax jurisdictions.

As an example, Apple, which makes its famed iPods and iPhones predominantly in its Shenzhen, China factories, managed by third-party FoxConn and its own Apple-owned site.  Apple pays FoxConn the equivalent of a cost plus 5% margin but could choose to “charge” its own privately held subsidiary a cost plus 15% amount. Because Apple only has to pay a 25% tax rate in China, versus the 35% in the US, Apple would automatically gain a 10% cost savings for all business expenses incurred in China.  (all numbers, except for the corporate tax rates, are made up)

Transfer pricing tries to prevent this through a principle known as “arm’s length”, and while each tax jurisdiction has its own definition of what is considered arm’s length, it’s generally accepted that companies may compensate their internal business units at a margin that is roughly equal to those realized by third party companies.

While most reports like the recent 60 Minutes special are quick to tack onto the $60 billion of tax dollars that flow overseas every year, and the questionable practices that surround it, this fundamental principle remains largely untouched and unspoken for.  Rather than calling for this practice to be done away with (which is not possible; if anything, the number of countries that have enacted transfer pricing in recent years is steadily on the rise), emphasis should be placed on creating less ambiguity. What entails a sales and marketing service? What third-party companies should be considered as comparable in determining arm’s length? Are public companies, which are often the only companies with publicly available financial statements, even the right benchmarks to use?

And perhaps the foremost challenge and threat governments, particularly the US, should consider is the question of intellectual property transfer.  Especially among Silicon Valley companies, the ongoing trend has been to shift valuable technical IP developed in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley to the corporate-friendly business environment of Dublin, Ireland (tax rates range between 10% and 12.5%), where English is also the lingua franca.   According to an article by BusinessWeek, Google has been able to save more than $3 billion in taxes by housing the company’s search advertising IP in Dublin.

More than just profits, however, what happens when a paper-based transfer of IP translates into talent-based IP transfer?  Then, while the numbers won’t be as quantifiable or seem as impactful as $60 billion in tax savings, the implications will be far more substantial. Rather than asking the question of how we need to crack down on corporations to retain tax savings, the more pivotal question will be what we can do to ensure that IP developed within the borders of any one country need not move simply based on tax merits.

views expressed are only my own, and are by no means comprehensive. i am not a transfer pricing practitioner or expert, just a passerby thinking aloud  🙂

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nostalgia

santa cruz - 2006

/*introspective post: nostalgia is a funny thing; in an earlier episode of “mad men“, don draper said that nostalgia in ancient greek meant “pain from an old wound.” i’m not sure how true that statement is, but the sentiment is certainly probable.

tonight i stumbled upon old journal entires, and i guess … it’s funny how some things change and others go in cycles. it’s also amazing how much you can forget, but at the same time, how easily and quickly it can be for memories to wash over you again. i guess now in the digital age, it’s only easier to document all these changes rather than on the pages of string-bound diaries (the notion of it, eh?).

i wonder if i were able to go back to my 17 and 21 year old self, i would tell her to stop and smell the tulips some time, that there would continue to be plenty of adventures ahead, and that the white-board for memories remain plenty.

introspective post*/

(by the way, the new zemanta function on wordpress is pretty awesome — basically, it makes suggestions for you (links, tags, pictures etc. based on the content you type. if you use wordpress as your blogging platform of choice, definitely be sure to check it out :))

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serendipity.

you’re a fatalist?” mused a friend at lunch the other day.

no, not really i thought to myself and answered that i simply believed in serendipity.

fatalism always seemed so grim and morbid to me, and the whole not having free will concept has never settled too well with me. perhaps it is the idealistic side of me that prefers looking at the glass half full that causes me to forget the times when things turn out less than ideal (a convenient flaw to have at times), but i do remember those times when things just randomly seem to work out, or at the very least, leads to random experiences that become memories.

i wonder if that also leads to selective memory, and perhaps, it is time that i place more weight on my own doing, than that of anything else. timing, you too can be such a serendipitous occurrence.

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graduations.

earlier this week, i attended my brother’s high school graduation at my own alma mater. to think that only seven years ago, i was in his seat, at the end of one milestone, but knowing that the adventure was just beginning. a fresh slate, in the most literal sense of the word, where your past achievements were replaced with new possibilities and where you were to once again become a stranger in a sea of many.

i wasn’t sure what college and leaving suburbia would really mean, especially for my sheltered suburban life, but i knew it would be different, filled with its challenges, but most certainly, filled with its share of adventures, epiphanies, and opportunities. instead of late nights in the back room and after school tennis practice, i imagined late nights in tea shops and movie nights in lounges (yes, i was a very innocent idealistic child :)). more than anything, i wanted to explore – i wanted to push my own boundaries and i wanted to come into my own being.

college didn’t disappoint.

in a way, it was a way of coming full circle. i found myself exploring my roots and my heritage more than ever, and even went back to the country i left when i was a toddler to study and to observe, sparking a relationship that continues to this day. a struggle to truly find and keep faith led me to the conclusion that perhaps defined religion wasn’t for me at this point in my life. it helped me realize the values and end-goals i always somehow knew were there – an appetite for adventure, compassion, and service.

next year will mark the four year point from my graduation from college – it will mean that i have spent as much time outside the university as i have spent within its halls. the majority of that time will still be within a 10 mile radius. but within that radius i feel like there have been worlds that have been opened up, in more ways than one. people {including myself} continue to surprise me and like the old saying goes, the only constant is change itself …

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unfinished story | beginning

I want to be great was something someone once told me thinking about their own soul-searching journey.

Great … I thought, what does “great” mean? Does it mean achievement, success, value, or perhaps, legacy — that which we leave behind?

Recently, there have been several moments that have really made me think about legacy, about what it was I wanted to leave behind, to be remembered as, to have CONTRIBUTED — to family, friends, and society. As a storyteller, what story did I want to leave behind?

And perhaps, more importantly, what is the story that you would want others to tell of you?

Reading references on sites where community vouching plays a large role, such as Couchsurfing, always manages to surprise. I don’t know why but there is that different feeling that comes from reading someone’s direct opinion/perspective of you {any one} in text …

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the most important decisions

perhaps it’s god’s way of laughing at me but i always lapse into the most pensive of moods whenever i have something due or looming – especially a test or paper. it’s as if it’s his/her way of telling me to slow down and take stock of what’s really important.

today i really visited the blog of an old friend and semi-mentor. i say “really visited” because her insights and posts really lingered long after the tab closed. auntie d. was just diagnosed with breast cancer and she had started this blog as a means of sharing her fight against breast cancer not just her friends, but with herself,  in what she called her “journey with god during my fight with breast cancer.”

perhaps out of her posts so far, what stuck with me the most was the line where she talked about how to her, “the only important decisions were moral ones.”  and yes. at the end of the day, our morals — perhaps more than anything else — really dictate the way that we lead our lives.

or do they really?

perhaps on the big things, like murder, crime, vice, doing harm unto others, our morals will speak up loudly and clearly. but what of the daily and more mundane ones? what about the ones that only affect US? perhaps we may feel that as long as the “do no harm unto others” clause is firm, our personal choices and daily actions are guided more by convenience and social norms than by personal values. or perhaps that is the pensive me.

but like auntie d. said, perhaps the most important decisions are the moral ones – have we really committed even there?

i know this post is more personal than usual, and i don’t know — maybe i’ll take it down one of these days. but for today, i just wanted to share this with all of you.

and auntie d., you’ll be in my thoughts.

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lessons from google

at dinner the other day, someone said something that really stuck with me and that i’ve been thinking about ever since. we were talking about google and my friend had commented that while he didn’t understand google’s commercial model at first — giving away very cool and incredibly useful applications for free — it all clicked when he realized that the simplistic brilliance behind google, from a business perspective, wasn’t that it aimed to profit off these products, but rather to draw the user in.

google realized (or at least that’s the way we’d like to believe in our brilliant speculations :)) that the only way it could truly monetize its online advertising machine was by building superior products that would create a larger user base and make it so that they would use not only google services for as much of their 24 hour day as they could, but also the internet.

by going open source with tools like google documents, it expanded this concept even more — giving users the ability to freely use powerful word processing and spreadsheet tools that had once been virtually monopolized by traditional software giants like microsoft.

and when you really think about it, this general lesson of giving freely is one that extends beyond the business world as well. oftentimes, the most successful people are also the most resourceful — the connectors, the helpers, the enablers of the world. they realize that success isn’t about turning short term profitability — it’s about delivering value, laughter, and happiness over an extended period of time.

besides, it makes the journey all the more enjoyable. 🙂

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