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What you don’t know will save your ass

December 15, 2009

(Timed post)

Phone: Ring ring

*Aaron Picks up*

Aaron: Hello? Oh its you dad, what’s up?

Dad: I have a problem with my PC. The cursor disappeared. I’ve got to rush this out urgent. Can you help?

Aaron: Sorry dad, I don’t know anything about PCs. Try Nick. He’s the expert.

Dad: Ok.

Phone: Ring ring

*Nick picks up*

Nick: Hello? Hi dad, what’s goin’ on?

Dad: I have a problem with my PC. The cursor disappeared. I’ve got to rush this out urgent. Can you come over?

Nick: Sorry dad, I’m tied up right now. Maybe this weekend?

Dad: You mean you can’t even help out your old man?

Nick: No no, its not that. I’m in the office now and my boss is chasing me for a deadline and I’m already late. So I gotta…

Dad: Never mind, you good for nothing son. If I get into trouble because I can’t get this out, its all your fault. *Hangs up*

So Nick’s the bad guy. Aaron comes out smelling like roses.

You know what’s stupid? The guy who said knowledge pays off.

What pays off is being SMART.

And apparently being smart is pretending you don’t know anything when you actually do.

Creating a simple searchable database using Evolution

December 3, 2009

(Timed random post)

A couple of people have asked me if I knew of a free database package that could help them keep track of their book and CD collections. They want the database to be searchable. Just type in a title or part of a title and they would get a list of matches if any.

If you’re on Windows there’s probably hundreds of free cataloging applications out there but if you’re on Linux, specifically Ubuntu, tough.

Synaptic offers you nothing but the usual SQL tools. Whatever you can download off Sourceforge is not quite what it seems as I’ve personally found out. Running Windows apps from Ubuntu using Wine… yeah but not for me.

If you have the inclination to mess with table relationships, queries and forms, I recommend you build your own database using the OpenOffice Database package, the equivalent of Microsoft Access . If you’re not that type of person, then read on.

Lucky for you, there’s an application with a little-known searchable database that’s shipped with all recent releases of Ubuntu that I know of right up to Karmic Koala. Its called the Evolution Mail and Calendar client.

What you do is turn Evolution’s address book into a catalog that holds other stuff than email addresses, like your CD collection for example. You can accomplish this in about 20 minutes or less. Absolutely no programming is needed.

To recap, we’re going to create a simple database for a CD collection where I can enter

- media type (CD or mp3)
– band or artist name
– album title
– track language (since I do listen to Chinese)

And I can

- add/delete/modify album info
– list my entire collection on the screen
– search for specific titles and categories

Ready? Here goes.

SETTING UP THE CD CATALOG

In Ubuntu I fire up Evolution. It should take me to the main Mail window.

Click on Contacts (bottom left icon) and I’ll get this.

By default, if its your first time, Evolution loads a blank address book using your computer name (mine happens to be called Personal). I’ll recommend that you create a separate database for your CD collection so you don’t mix it up with your regular address book. So lets create one and call it CD Library.

To do that, on the top left, click on the little “V” next to the icon New.

Click on Address Book. A dialog box opens up.

At Name I type in CD Library. Click Type and a drop down menu appears. I choose On This Computer to keep my database on my machine. When done this is what I’ll see.

Click ok.

I’ve now created my new empty database as listed on the top left panel below.

Now I can get down to keying in my stuff.

ENTERING THE FIRST ALBUM INFO

Let’s enter the first album details.

First, a little mental realignment. The address book’s fields are purpose-designed for entering contact information like home addresses and fax numbers. Unless you know how to change the field names, you’ll have to live with them. I get by it by mentally associating “Full Name” with Band Name for instance. Since only you will be using this database, it won’t matter right?

So I click on the New button on the top left and I get a contact editor dialog box where I key in my data.

Let’s put in Linkin Park under Full Name. The File Under field below it will reflect the words I typed above it. I ignore it.

Now I give the album a category. I have 2 categories in mind – CD or mp3 (it can be genre or anything you want). Evolution provides a predefined drop-down Category list Category you can use.

I won’t find CD or mp3 in the standard list but fortunately Evolution allows me to define a new category so I’ll go ahead and define CD as a new category.

I click New at the bottom and enter “CD” in the dialog box that follows.

I click ok, the dialog box disappears and the new category will be added to the drop-down list.

If I want, I can associate an icon with this new category but I’ll leave you to discover how to do that. Hint – click the Category Icon button.

Next, I click the check box to select the CD option,

I click ok and I have this.

We still need to define the album title (one artist may produce many album titles) so I click on the “Personal Information” tab at the top of the dialog window to get this.

I look for a field called Title and type in the album title, “Songs From The Underground Ep” there.

I leave the other fields blank, click OK and I have this.

Yay, I’ve got my first album details in my database. :D

DECIDE HOW YOU VIEW YOUR DATA

Now because I’ve got dozens of CDs, screen space will be at a premium so rather than the default display cards I prefer to deal with a simple list of albums like on an Excel worksheet. I do that by changing the view to a “list view”.

So at the main (topmost) menu I go to View > Current View > List View

This is what I get.

My album is now displayed as a single line, the way I want it. Fields like Email, Business Phone, etc. have no place in my CD catalog but I can hide those and see only the fields I want. To do that I click anywhere on the field headings to get this menu.

Click Customize Current View and I get this

Choose Fields Shown and I get this dialog window.

I Remove everything and Add only Full Name, Title and Categories. Click ok and I have this.

A row with only Full Name, Title and Category. The rest of the unused fields are hidden. That’s much better.

ENTERING MORE ALBUMS

I now want to add in another Linkin Park album in my collection using the steps above.

This time however, when I type Linkin Park under Full Name, Evolution gives me this warning.

Understandable. Under normal circumstances you wouldn’t know two Mariah Careys so flagging down potential duplicates is an awesome idea. For an address book.

So I ignore that, click Add and I now have this.

I can now go ahead and add as many Linkin Park album titles as I want, not that they have that many.

EDITING AN ENTRY

To edit any data, from the list view I double click on any album displayed to get the data entry form. I can make all the changes I want there.

To delete an entry, I select the target album from the same listing, right-click and choose Delete.

SEARCHING FOR AN ALBUM

Let’s say after keying in a hundred albums, I want to search for an artist whose first name is Jay. I go to the search bar (top right), type in “jay” and click on the magnifying glass icon.

I choose “Any field contains” to refine the search, hit the return key and I get this.

And that’s exactly what I want it to do.

Note: The search function appears to be non case sensitive and that’s a good thing for us humans. We assume that dog = Dog = dOg = doG so don’t worry about getting the uppercase or lowercase exactly right.

Another thing to note is that you can search on parts of a name. For example if I search for “ark” I will get a list of all Linkin Park albums in my list. Cool.

Other things you can do:

- Use more unused fields if you decide you need more. Just don’t forget to unhide the columns you use. See DECIDE HOW YOU VIEW YOUR DATA on how to do this
– Add cover art for your albums as you would attach photos to your contacts
– Add icons to your categories
– Edit field entries to your heart’s content
– Add as many new databases as you like. Perhaps one for your books, movies, even fixed assets.
– Save your entire database as a portable vcard
– Save common searches as you would a database query

About the only thing you can’t do is rename your field names but hey, we can’t have everything when its free can we.

That’s it. You now have a searchable database for your CD collection.

(I haven’t tried it but I assume you can use other common e-mail clients like Thunderbird to create your catalog. There’s an even simpler way than the above to build a searchable catalog using any e-mail application, Microsoft Outlook included. For each album, send yourself an e-mail containing its particulars like title, track info and whatever. Organize these e-mails into categories or folders. Then whenever you want to locate an album, track or group of albums, you simply perform a search for a particular word. Easy peazy.)

How to shop at the supermarket and still be a man

November 21, 2009

(Another random auto generated post which will come up at really weird times)

So my friends tell me that going to the supermarket is not macho. :P

Hm. What is it that makes a dude look like an auntie. Is it the shopping basket? Or the trolley?

When I was in college, my roommate told me that cooking was for girls. Then I told him that all the famous chefs in the world were men. And so were the best tailors, fashion designers, engineers, artists, rock climbers, bla bla bla. Well he was from Iowa so I wasn’t surprised that he was surprised.

That doesn’t mean women aren’t good in these things. They just don’t make nearly as much noise as men I think. :)

I digress. Actually I do agree – as far as a couple of years ago, I already realized that pushing a supermarket trolley’s not the most macho thing in the world to do. That is why I devised a strategy to get around that.

Instead of pushing it, I pull it. Yeah. I drag the trolley behind me. That shows you’re in the driver’s seat, in control, you da man!! Try it. Problem solved. LOL.

So next time if you see some dude pulling a cart at Cold Storage, remember that’s not me. He copied it from me. Another LOL.

***

Okay for some serious stuff, still at the store.

A kid follows his mom to the supermarket. He sees a fancy toy and wants one.

Mommy says no, you’ve got plenty already. Why do you want another one.

Kid says I don’t care, I want it. And he bawls like a baby while his mom continues with her shopping, ignoring his cries.

Now had junior opted to stay home and kick the ball around in the yard like he always does, he would’ve been one happy camper.

But stay home and miss all the fun outside? That’s dumb! So out he went to have fun, and now he’s unhappy.

Why unhappy? Because he saw something he never saw before and decided if only he could have it, life would be just perfect. But mommy says he couldn’t have it so what was previously a perfect life before he laid eyes on the damn thing suddenly became imperfect.

Let’s rewind that and do it in slow motion at the molecular.

The eye made contact. Contact ignited desire. Desire triggered craving. Craving led to suffering, and with suffering come all the tears and woe.

Here’s the killer. If mommy refuses to buy it, junior’s dissatisfied. If mommy buys it and it breaks or gets old after a while, junior’s still dissatisfied, dissatisfaction being the leading cause of abandoned toys. Whatever mom decides, the final outcome is the same – junior’s dissatisfied.

Now replace the kid with you, and the toy with whatever thing you crave but cannot afford. Like a Ferrari maybe.

Ring a familiar bell?

The things you learn in a supermarket. Like do we ever really grow up.

The only way to learn something

November 15, 2009

(Random auto generated post which will come up at really weird times)

I’ve written about this before but a few things that happened recently made me reaffirm what I’ve been suspecting all along.

That while we all love to give advice, it rarely ever changes the outcome of something.

Take driving for instance. Your dad tells you to cool it, don’t drive like that coz you’ll end up with a heap of twisted metal. And what do you say to that? “Chill dad, take it easy. I know what I’m doing.”

And then daddy gets a phone call that night. “Uhh dad? I got into a little pile-up on the PIE. The car’s wrecked but I’m ok. Can you come pick me up?”

Think of all the lessons you’ve ever had. People telling you don’t do this, don’t do that. Be careful, you’ll get burned. But do you listen? Nooo, of course not. You nod your head, say “Uh huh” and then go out and do it anyway.

Come to think of it, have you ever met an accomplished businessman who made it because someone told him how to do it? I haven’t. Quite the opposite, they all tell me how they went ahead in spite of everyone’s advice, got whacked a few times before they finally made it.

Its a lesson I learnt many times in Wing Chun martial arts.

ywc

You think you’re smart after sneaking a peek at the old book of secrets. You eagerly try it out in a friendly duel and then you get whacked. Wtf, you wonder. After a while, you get the point. Knowing something (= receiving advice) is only half the story.

So as irritating as they may be, that stubborn little kid that’s driving you nuts may actually be one step ahead on the competitive curve than the perfect little boy who listens and follows every piece of advice he’s given. Hear that, parents? :D Why do I say that? Because stubbornness attracts mistakes. Mistakes give you pain. Pain raises your sense awareness. Heightened awareness enhances competitiveness and your chances of survival.

Its like how your arm smarts after being punched. A few punches later you develop an instinct to “see” the next punch coming before it does. It sets off behaviors and attitudes you don’t get sitting in a seminar on how to fight or be an entrepreneur.

So believe it or not, sometimes mistakes and hardship are your best friends.

What’s interesting is how many punches you need to take before you really wake up.

Road bulleh

November 11, 2009

Can’t resist this one before I hit the road… err.. air later.

This happened yesterday. I was driving and minding my own business on a busy road, sticking to my lane when a tiny little car tried to overtake me from the left.

We were on one of these roads where 3 lanes merge into 2. He was in the leftmost lane. His lane merges into mine.

Its a tiny car, a heavily blinged Kancil I think. The thing was, I was in front of him. Probably realizing he was running out of road very quickly and not wanting to fall in behind me, he gunned the accelerator and parallel-raced a hair’s breath away from me. I guess they don’t play chicken just in Alabama.

I was in a great mood and was actually quite happy to give him my space if I could, but I was boxed in. One car in front of me, one behind me, one on my right. He was on my left. Can’t move. And he wanted me to get out of the way. I was like wtf.

And sure enough he ran out of road and and flew up the curb at 80km/h. I glanced at the rear view mirror. The car and its passengers were bobbing up and down furiously like on a wild horse as they careened on the grass and swiftly avoided a lamp post. You shoulda seen it. ROTFL.

But that’s not the end. The asswipes recovered and came after me like I was the cause of their off-road excursion and probably a seriously damaged undercarriage.

So they speeded up and got to my right, winding down the window as they approached. I knew they wanted to yell, “Have a nice day!” but they were driving erratically. Either their tie rods were really screwed or the driver was so blinded with rage he couldn’t drive straight. We were still doing about 80.

Then we ran into a traffic jam but as luck would have it, it was their side of the road that stalled. My lane was moving fine so I breezed past. Could see them trying frantically to cut into my lane behind me (to catch up with me?) but got honked and prevented by a barrage of approaching cars. Then it was my lane’s turn to grind to a halt… traffic.

Seconds passed and then thru the closed windows I heard a commotion behind me. Apparently the bullies tried to rough their way across lanes again and picked the wrong target. This time it was a 20-ton earth moving truck. I glanced at the rear view mirror. The truck had stopped. So had the little car – stalled right in the path of the truck. An aborted cut-in maneuver. Wouldn’t be surprised if there was contact.

The truck driver apparently wouldn’t have any of that nonsense. He stopped the truck, opened the door and climbed down. He had something in his hand, looked like a big stick. Cars were honking everywhere.

Then my lane freed up and I moved off.

Whew.

In my mind, I was musing. Drunk driver? He had a bad day? Or was he just being a jerk?

I have a tip for you wannabe road bullies. Want some respect? Lose those Kancils man. Grow a pair and go get this one.

madmax

I guarantee everyone will make way for you. Lol. :D

Short break from blogging

November 9, 2009

If you’re my regular blog reader, you’d have noticed that the timing of my postings have been getting more and more erratic. When you’re shuttling between 3 different cities a week for 2 straight weeks and probably all the way till Christmas when it’ll get worse – 6 cities a month: Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, KL, London, San Francisco, you know something’s gotta give.

I don’t mind the cities. Its the travelling that’s the bummer. Sitting in that cramped sardine can with wings for up to 18 hours sometimes. Doesn’t matter whether you’re sitting in the front or at the back, its still something I dread. Man I’d kill for that transporter thing I see in Star Trek. Beam me up, Scotty. No bad weather to run into, no crying babies to endure, no security check hassles, no flight delays.

I don’t know if its coincidence but this was about the time that I quit my last employment, and under the same circumstances too. It was a time when I had to be in several different places at once. It was also how I got into business. The people I left had no other choice but to get me back in on contract as the know-how was locked in my head. Not on purpose but because there just wasn’t time to write it all down and still meet the deadlines.

Yup, time. There’s only 24 hours a day. That’s your biggest challenge.

Anyway, I digress. Seeing that I’m only in one place for 3 days (at best) before I hit the airline check-in counters again, I’ve decided to take a break from blogging for about a month. Shorter if I can get stuff done quicker. I’ll try to sneak in a post every now and then if my mind’s up to it. I’ll try to leave comments in the regular blogs I visit as that takes less time than writing a full blown post.

Meanwhile, thank your lucky stars you’re not on a perpetually moving train like I am. :D

Big picture small picture

November 6, 2009
mongkok

Sai Yeung Choi St., Mong Kok

Today I wanna talk about making it in life. There are so many roads to take. Roads to the big city, roads to the small city, and everything in between.

Some believe if you have big dreams, you go to the big city. If you have small dreams, you go to the small town. Well, I just came back from a big city called Hong Kong and don’t mind telling you that a good majority of the people I run into there do not have big dreams. They have small but profitable dreams. Very, very profitable dreams.

Let me give you an example. Some people have dreams of conquering the world with the software or gadget they are developing. They envision how their effort will change the world. They’ll be in the news, their stocks traded on NASDAQ, and they’ll retire young. And to be fair, some do make it big, like the dudes behind Google.

And then there are those who can’t see three meters beyond their noses. They don’t know and don’t wanna know what’s going on beyond that. But, you cannot challenge their expertise within that three meter range. They might have a shanty little restaurant or auto workshop under a bridge somewhere. They drum up good business. They know their stuff and they know what their customers want. They go off on annual family holidays and send their kids to Australia and places like that to study.

My point is not to suggest that one is superior than the other because there are upsides and downsides to both. My point is to point out the fairy tale that there is only one way to success – to dream big.

I don’t really know why but some of us are born with the ability to see the big picture and some aren’t. From what I see, the big picture guys tend to end up in the corporate jungle where they talk about global business and scheme about world domination. Some go into politics. Both are concerned about controlling and changing other people.

The rest of us drop off into the cracks, concerned only with what’s for dinner and what movie to catch this Saturday. For us the big picture is like the weather – out of our control and pointless to try and control. We get our kicks from the simpler things in life like cool toys and a fun gig, not from changing others.

So which one are you?

After my evening jaunts in Mong Kok and Wan Chai these last few days, I’m beginning to see there’s no single formula to success. Its also begining to be clear that if you’re a big picture guy, you’ll need a different set of tricks than the small picture guy. Thinking back, I think most of the management books I read were written by people who joined corporate life, got f**d big time, left the scene and decided to write a book. And then silly people like me go and buy their book.

One thing. I think the big picture guy has a slight advantage. Know why? Because its easier for him to become a small picture guy than the reverse. He just tells himself I don’t give a shit about what’s happening in the world. As long as money’s in the bag who cares what’s happening around me. Easy. :D

The only question is, can you. Not care about your surroundings I mean (which is the curse you big picture guys carry around with you.)

At the end of the day, I think its all about what you’ll settle for. If its only money, then you don’t need the big picture. Its safe to forget about career paths, MBAs, NASDAQ, stuff like that. But if its more than just money – like a craving for recognition or a craving for a “better life” for everyone because you think they need it, then stick with the big picture.

Ok I’m off to the airport again in 2 hours. Damn.

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