Category Archives: Uncategorized

No college degree required

The list of business titans who either never attended or dropped out of college is so long it makes you wonder if graduating from college is actually a liability.

Paul Allen, Richard Branson, James Cameron, John Carmack, Andrew Carnegie, Michael Dell, Barry Diller, Walt Disney, George, Eastman, Thomas Edison, Larry Ellison, Henry Ford,  Bill Gates, David Geffen, J. Paul Getty, William Randolph Hearst, Steve Jobs, Ingvar Kamprad, Kirk Kerkorian, Ray Kroc, Ralph Lauren, Craig McCaw, Gabe Newell, John D. Rockefeller, Charles Simoni, Steven Spielberg, Dave Thomas, Ted Turner, Ted Waitt, Steve Wozniak, Frank Lloyd Wright, Orville and Wilbur Wright, and Mark Zuckerberg.

Some lesser known billionaires: Eike Batista, Ronald Burkle, Richard Schulze.

Spring Festival fireworks

The Spring Festival– or lunar New Year–in China took place a week after I got to Beijing.  By far the highlight was watching the fireworks:

A couple things to keep in mind:

  • These are set of by everday people, not a publicly sponsored presentation
  • The fireworks were being set off from just about everywhere as far as the eye could see
  • When you’re down on the street walking around it sounds like a war zone
  • This clip is the couple minutes surrounding midnight, which was the peak
  • This is from the window in my apartment in Chaoyang district looking north

Economic condition in China

A friend recently asked me how the economy in China is doing.  He had recently read an article that projected the situation as quite grave with more vacancies than not, failing vendors, etc.

I thought my reply was worth posting here:

On a purely anecdotal level, I don’t see that it has reached the level of saturation the article would have you believe. This is based simply on my own experience in Shanghai and Beijing. I don’t think a true reckoning has happened yet; my educated guess is that worse is coming.

I have seen new buildings that are entirely vacant. Having been in both Shanghai and Beijing, it’s not quite so extreme as the 3:1 ratio, in fact it ostensibly seems like at most 1 in 10 is unocupied.

At the market vendors do mention they are having a slow day. There is quite a bit of foot traffic and sales are happening. They are not offering desperately low prices. While the deals are cheaper than what I would pay in the U.S., I am well above their own cost basis.

In Seattle, Northwest Air has chosen to delay indefinitely opening up a Beijing flight they had bid for and secured. Hainan Airlines, which has a direct Seattle/Beijing flight, has mostly empty seats I hear.

It makes sense that China would be lagging behind the U.S. economy, since we import so much from them.  And even in the U.S. the worst has not come yet.

Useless, but telling Chinese words

I had my first Chinese lesson tonight.  There is a lot to take in, and I am not really good at memorization.  One of the things that confused me right away is the words for siblings.  Rather than just brother and sister, there is a separate word to indicate if they are older or younger:

didi younger brother
gege older brother
meimei younger sister
jiejie older sister

This is telling and indicates just how much seniority in the family matters.

In practice though, I have found talking about siblings is a fruitless conversation topic, because all my coworkers have no siblings.  The family plan limits parents to a single child.  This is only now starting to loosen.  For example if both wife and husband come from families with only one child, then they can have two kids.  Or if you have three years salary laying around, you can buy rights to have a second kid.

In the meantime, memorizing these four words is low on my priority list.

Pronouncing Chinese names

I am starting to learn Chinese so that I can fit in better here.  It is actually surprisingly easy to get by without learning a single word.  Many of the young people here speak English, most menus have pictures and the signs almost universally have English translations on them.  That said every time I utter even the most basic Chinese phrase I get a big smile of appreciation.  And getting by is great, but I want to actually meet people and learn about the culture here.

I thought it was worth chronicling this as a way to help me commit things to memory.  Also, if you have friends or work with anyone that has a Chinese name you are probably butchering the pronunciation.  There are a few letters that sound radically different:

q sounds like ‘ch’ in English
x sounds like ‘sh’ in English
zh sounds like ‘je’ in French
i sounds like ‘ee’ in tree

To put that in practice, here are some common last names and their pronunciation:

Li sounds like Lee
Zhang sounds like je + ahng
Xie sounds she + a

Speaking of last names, it is customary to say someone’s last name first, then their given name.  If you say someone’s first name only, it means you are good friends–giving new meaning to ‘on a first name basis’.

Those are the biggest gotchas.  For more details on pronounciation see Introduction to Pinyin which explains Tones and also has a recording of every phonic.

And I thought my job was cool

In the latest issue of Fortune magazine, there is a pretty mind blowing article on a guy named John “Winter” Smith who is attempting to visit each and ever Starbucks location.  I find myself joking frequently with friends that there must be a building code in Seattle decreeing you should not have to walk more than 50 feet to find a Starbucks–sometimes less.

This guy is pretty cool.  He’s set up his own site at  My favorite quote is a note about a store he visited in Bellevue, “By the time I visited this store, in late 2001, there were plenty of intersections throughout the continent boasting multiple Starbucks locations. But as near as I can remember, this is one of the few, excluding shopping malls, in which the two Starbucks locations are in the same outdoor strip mall.”