Vietnamese movie: Wayless by Imaginary Friends

I came across this short movie by a group of Vietnamese folks. It’s great that the film won the Best Director category at 48 Hour Film Festival and will be screened at Cannes.

Have a watch and don’t worry as there is English subtitle. Below is the trailer:

3 questions/concerns I have:

  • What happened to the dog?
  • Don’t shoot people in front of kids!!!
  • Why keeping the body in the trunk?

Joking aside, I am happy for the team and glad that there will be some exposure to the international audience for Vietnamese films.

Criminal Justice Reform as The Main Issue for a Presidential run

I was very disturbed by the sentence imposed on Paul Manafort. 7 years in total for all the crimes he committed, even though the guidelines indicate that the sentence could be lengthened for another 10 years. I am not implying anything beyond the sentence for Manafort. Regardless of your political view, just put that aside and think about what he did to enrich himself at the expense of the country and what the law stands for. Would you still think the sentence was justified? Especially when there is no lack of cases when folks got longer sentences for “crimes” far less?

Or this case: https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/30/us/detroit-man-wrongfully-excused-of-murder-released-trnd/index.html. You probably will find more examples on the failures of America’s criminal justice systems, but you should get my point. There are so many, especially the poor and the under-privileged, that have to suffer from the inadequacy of the criminal justice system.

I strongly believe that we only live once. The limited years we have on this year are so precious that reading about folks spending years behind bars for trivial crimes or even crimes they didn’t commit really bugs me.

I am not a policy person or a politician. I don’t have an answer or a policy outlined in details, but to be frank, it’s not my job. The folks in Washington DC have the experience and an army of aides with relevant knowledge and experience to do the job. I would love to see criminal justice reforms as the central issue for the 2020 race. I hope that next year, a candidate, regardless of political parties, will run on this issue and one day no one will have to waste their lives unjustly. I hope that a candidate will actually put the interests of the whole country above all else. Even if the person doesn’t succeed, running on criminal justice reforms will bring so much more attention and conversation to the issue and who knows what that would be able to do later on?

I have written about my fondness of the show Madam Secretary before, but in this clip, the Secretary decided against the appeal of popular like jobs and her advisor’s recommendation so that she would run on criminal justice reforms. Let’s make it true America. Please.

Exceptionalism vs Humanity/Common Sense

America is perhaps the poster boy country for exceptionalism. After 2.5 years here, I have come to realization that exceptionalism is revered around here and by-product of the optimism and entrepreneurship that have become the hallmarks of the American dream. Unfortunately, exceptionalism is pursued and achieved in some cases at the expense of humanity/common sense.

Take the article on Elon Musk and Tesla today on Bloomberg as an example. The article revealed the length Elon and Tesla went to to ruin the life of a whistleblower. I highly recommend you to read the article. Below are the pieces that disturbed me:

The leaker, they determined, was one Martin Tripp, a slight man of 40 who’d spent his career in a series of low-level manufacturing jobs before finding his way to the assembly line at the Gigafactory. Tripp later claimed to be an idealist trying to get Tesla to tighten its operations; Musk saw him as a dangerous foe who engaged in “extensive and damaging sabotage,” as he wrote in a staff memo. He implied that Tripp had shared the data not only with the press but also with “unknown third parties.”

On June 20, the company sued Tripp for $167 million. Later that day, Tripp heard from the sheriff’s department in Storey County, Nev. Tesla’s security department had passed a tip to police. An anonymous caller had contacted the company to say Tripp was planning a mass shooting at the Gigafactory.


When the police confronted Tripp that evening, he was unarmed and in tears. He said he was terrified of Musk and suggested the billionaire might have called in the tip himself. A sheriff’s deputy attempted to cheer up Tripp and then called Tesla to tell the company that the threat, whoever had made it, was bogus. Tripp wasn’t dangerous.

Musk’s treatment of Tripp threatens to complicate this legal and regulatory mess. The security manager at the Gigafactory, an ex-military guy with a high-and-tight haircut named Sean Gouthro, has filed a whistleblower report with the SEC. Gouthro says Tesla’s security operation behaved unethically in its zeal to nail the leaker. Investigators, he claims, hacked into Tripp’s phone, had him followed, and misled police about the surveillance. Gouthro says that Tripp didn’t sabotage Tesla or hack anything and that Musk knew this and sought to damage his reputation by spreading misinformation.

The following day, news of the lawsuit hit the internet. Tripp Googled himself and saw a story titled, “Martin Tripp: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know,” which said he lived in a rental apartment in nearby Sparks, Nev. Panicked about who might come find him, he sent an email to Musk. “You have what’s coming to you for the lies you have told to the public and investors,” he wrote.

His former boss, of course, engaged him with gusto. “Threatening me only makes it worse for you,” Musk replied. Later, he wrote: “You should be ashamed of yourself for framing other people. You’re a horrible human being.”

“I NEVER ‘framed’ anyone else or even insinuated anyone else as being involved in my production of documents of your MILLIONS OF DOLLARS OF WASTE, Safety concerns, lying to investors/the WORLD,” Tripp responded. “Putting cars on the road with safety issues is being a horrible human being!”

No one can question Elon’s greatness. I myself read a book on him and had a lot of respect for the guy, but what was described above was really difficult to read. No matter how great you are, that’s not how you should treat a person who has nowhere near the power or resources you have.

I read the Bad Blood book, which chronicled the scam of Theranos. It’s mind-blowing to read about how such a deceptive scheme transpired, how many people got hurt along the way as a select few individuals sought exceptionalism and how such individuals, like Musk, went out of the ways to ruin the lives of others who stood up to them.

There is also no lack of documented materials on how millions of dollars in savings vaporized through the Internet bubble and the 2008 economic crisis because exceptionalism was pursued in spite of common sense.

I am pretty sure I am and will be nobody in this world. But at the end of my days, I will still be proud of myself for not screwing anybody over to get what I want. To me, compassion, common sense and humanity matter more than exceptionalism.

Happy International Women Day

I am still into the belief that we do not need a special day a year to treat each other well, men or women. But if we take it for granted all the time and need a reminder, well so be it.

To celebrate International Women Day, I’d like to repost an entry I wrote on Mrs B, a brilliant woman who founded Nebraska Furniture Mart, worked till she was 103 and exemplified talent, honesty and integrity.

In 1983, at the age of 89 and after putting in 70-hour workweeks for years, she sold 80% of her business to Warren Buffett in a hand-shake deal without any lawyers or auditors present. The decision to sell was to prevent domestic conflict among her children. She continued to work at Nebraska Furniture Mart till she was 95 when her family forced her into retirement. Three months after she was forced into retirement, she opened another store across the street called “Mrs B’s Clearance and Factory Outlet”. Two years later, it was profitable and the 3rdlargest carpet outlet in Omaha. Warren Buffett bought the company and merged it into Nebraska Furniture Mart. The family rift was repaired. Mrs B continued to work till she was 103. One year later, she passed away at 104.

Mrs B

Also, I came across this ads from Nike that is very powerful, yet proof that we still have a long way to go in terms of gender equality


Special thanks to all the women. You make life way more interesting, better and happier than what I imagine it would be without you

Keep it simple. It’s OK to be boring

I used to have colorful chinos and pants in my wardrobe. Blue, pink, black, red, white and green, just to name a few on the top of my head. Yup, I was a tad too much back in the day. It is representative of the old me. Now, I make an effort to keep everything as simple as possible.

I order my coffee black. Every single time. In the largest size possible. To the point now that the local shop in Old Town of Omaha knows what I order when I walk through the door. I don’t like the headache of choosing from a menu or running out of coffee while I am working.

My professional outfit now consists of shirts in white and several shades of blue + jeans and a pair of khaki + brown shoes. Sometimes I put on a blue sweater as well. But the selection stops there. Definitely a much more boring wardrobe that what I used to gather.

I like to cook…only simple meals like this one below. Roasted sweet potatoes, broccoli and rice

If you look for easy recipes, try these. They work very well for me:

Honey Garlic Shrimps

One pan honey garlic chicken

Spaghetti and Kale

I don’t own a car. My workplace is literally one block from where I live. No parking. No car insurance. No time wasted on looking for a slot

I don’t have a 3 or 5 year plan any more. I hardly plan anything farther than 2 weeks ahead. I pretty much book last minute flights nowadays.

If you and I disagree on something, so be it. I don’t psycho-analyze it. It is what it is. We simply disagree. Not much emotion involved.

There is an argument to be made that simplicity brings about predictability and predictability is boring. I get it. But for me, keeping things simple is liberating. It saves me time and energy from making too many decisions. I am content with “as long as it works/I like it/it’s good enough” approach in many aspects of my life nowadays. Much less baggage. Much more freedom.

Stop using female janitors to clean male restrooms

It’s 2019, the second decade of the 21st century of mankind history and we are still using female janitors to clean male restrooms. It’s unbelievable. It’s well-known that in developing countries, the gender inequality is more extreme than it is in developed countries. In the two books by Khaled Hosseini I read and reviewed here and here, women in Afghanistan have no say in their future and marriage. In Vietnam, even though the awareness has somewhat improved, the gender inequality is still pretty rampant throughout the country.

But right here in the US, I am still shocked at how we still have female janitors clean male restrooms. I would feel super awkward and somewhat humiliated to do the cleaning in the bathroom of the opposite sex. Even as the one whose the bathroom is designed for, I still feel awkward doing my business whenever the cleaning session is under way. But I never see male janitors clean female restrooms. Ever.

There should be a federal law in the US that is taken up by all states that mandates that the bathroom gender be the same as the gender of the cleaning workers. Progress can be easily made here.

Public library’s browser extension and e-book borrowing

Reading is awesome, but it can be fairly expensive if you buy every book you want to read. This post is about one trick I found to borrow e-books from the public library in Omaha, Nebraska, saving me a lot of money, while maintaining this rewarding habit. I suspect that the same should be similar to public libraries across the US.

I am a big fan of the public library in Omaha. There are tons of books to borrow for free. The normal process is that you go to the library’s website, log in, type in the book of your choice, place a hold, if the book is available of course, and pick it up later at your chosen branch.

I can’t recall the exact moment, but some time last year, I added their browser extension to Chrome. The extension allows me to see the availability of books right on the website where I am visiting without navigating to the library’s website itself. It’s convenient and in some cases, saved me a few bucks from buying books that otherwise are free to borrow at the library.

How the extension looks on Amazon

On the right hand side of the screenshot is how the extension looks. Immediately, I know that there are 3 available hard-copies of the book at the library and no e-book or audiobook up for grabs at the moment. One click and it takes me to the library’s website.

It’s even more convenient if you can borrow the e-books, especially when the weather outside is nasty. The process is pretty simple. Simply go to the library’s website, look for the book and place a hold on the e-book. A couple of options will appear as follows:

The “read in browser” option is quite self-explanatory. If you pick the “pick a format to download” option, there are usually Kindle or Adobe Epub format. As I own a Kindle, I go with the former. Once the option is picked, the window will appear like this:

Click on “Download Kindle” and you will be redirected to Amazon website:

Click on “Get Library Book”, open your Kindle, turn on Wifi-connection and you’ll get access to the book. To return the borrowed books, it has to be done in Amazon, according to Amazon website:

If you can support authors and pay for every book, by all means. If you read a lot and want to save money, public libraries can be a tremendous help. Don’t feel bad about free reading. Part of our taxes goes to the management and maintenance of public libraries. If you are not able to increase your income to build your net worth, it’s easier to lower expenses. This is one of the tricks I knew to limit the damages to my bank account while still enriching my knowledge and soul.

Finnish education

I was lucky enough to live and study in Finland for a while. It is and will always be my “second home”, even now that I have already lived in Canada and America as well. It is where I forged relationships that have been instrumental in my life ever since and where I grew up significantly as a person.

Finland isn’t a country rich in natural resources. Its population is just 5.5 million people. Yet, it’s one of the most advanced and happiest countries in the world. A key reason is its world-class education. There is no shortage of coverage on the greatness of Finnish education, so I am just going to tell you a few personal stories I had while living there.

In our Bachelor’s program, there was one math course. We Vietnamese grow up learning complex math problems so the kind of math we had in that course was pretty easy. My classmates struggled at first. Yet, I saw first hand that they spent only 2-3 hours a day after class on math problems and achieved progress that I knew myself I wouldn’t have had. It’s incredible and a bit shameful for me to witness. I had years of a head start, but deep down I knew that without it, I wouldn’t have been able to grow as much in a short amount of time as my Finnish friends.

The first ever class in our program was with our Dean in an auditorium of 80 students. We often had debates and presentations. Most Vietnamese students were very shy and quiet, yet my Finnish peers were confident, persuasive and critical, to the point that the Dean, who is a Swedish American, said this about one guy: “he is terrifyingly persuasive”. The same ability to communicate with confidence and substance was consistent throughout the time I was there, either in or outside of the classroom.

One time, I was sitting next to a guy in class. He was gluing his eyes to a book. I asked him what he was reading and his response was “An Arabic dictionary”. It turned out the guy could speak 6-7 languages already and was trying to learn a new one. In addition to that guy, I was friends with another guy who could speak 7 languages and play piano well. In Finland, the official languages are Swedish and Finnish. English is so popular that many Finns speak the language like native speakers. Plus, a lot of Finns learn a language or two in high school and spend time abroad. So it’s very common to meet Finns who can speak multiple languages.

Moreover, Finns are very modest. They tend to display a healthy level of shyness and play down their abilities. I rarely detected a sense of ostentation from my Finnish friends or folks I met over there. If you meet a Finn salesman to ask about a service or product, don’t be surprised to hear something along the line of “it works!”. In my experience, Finns are like that. Down-to-earth, direct, modest, honest and genuine.

I came across a clip that explained quite well the modesty and why Finnish education is so good. Have a listen.

Direct flights to the US from Vietnam

Last week, the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced in a press release that Vietnam’s aviation industry meets the international safety requirements. The approval means that Vietnam carriers can now open direct flights from the S-shaped country to the US.

It is a huge announcement. There are hundreds of folks traveling back and forth between the two countries on a daily basis, whether it’s for business, leisure or just a quick family visit. As of this writing, flights from Vietnam to the US have at least one layover. If you live in a less popular city like myself in Omaha, it will require at least two stops. In my experience, it took me 3 stops and at least 33 hours for a one-way trip. Layovers are just a waste of time. It’s not just about the time spent at the airports, but also about the hassle in scheduling.

Direct flights will definitely ease the pain and facilitate the travel between the countries. It’s a boon for tourism and commerce. So much productivity can be saved. American travelers will be more tempted to visit Vietnam as the first destination in the region when the flights are no longer as long and taxing as they were.

I am really excited about this development for my country. Becoming a flight hub matters a great deal to our tourism and economy. There is still a very long way to go, but it’s a bright first step. I really hope the carriers in Vietnam will jump at this opportunity.

Even the greats don’t know it all

I usually take notes of interesting facts, less-known stories, great insights or exciting business ideas for later use. As I went through the notes today, a few interesting stories on Steve Jobs and Peter Thiel stood out. These two are legends in the startup, business and technology world. They are often looked up to as visionaries and outstanding business individuals. And they really are.

But they are not Gods. World-class brilliant as they are, they don’t have a crystal ball or have all the ideas all the time. In other words, they are just humans like us. This is not to downgrade them in any way. Just a reminder that we should learn with a grain of salt, even from the established legends, that it’s normal to make mistakes or miss the boat and that the luck of working with great colleagues/partners and being at the right place at the right time is hugely important.

Steve Jobs on iTunes

But Steve Jobs, of course, had a legendary stubborn streak of his own. Jobs had always conceived of the iPod as a way to sell more Apple computers. He was still married to the idea of the Mac as the digital hub, so he was reluctant to bring iTunes to Windows machines (and thus, the majority of computer users). “It was a really big argument for months,” Jobs recalled, “me against everyone else.” Jobs declared that Apple would do a Windows version of iTunes “over my dead body.” Only after Apple executives showed him business studies that proved Mac sales would be unaffected did Jobs capitulate, saying, “Screw it! I’m sick of listening to you assholes. Go do whatever the hell you want.”

From the book: How the Internet happened

Steve Jobs on App Store

The original, App Store-less iPhone was very much Steve Jobs’ platonic ideal of a closed and curated computing system, a perfect, hermetically sealed device. For several months after the iPhone’s launch, Jobs was actually vocally opposed to the very idea of an app store, refusing to let outside developers infect his perfect creation. He told the New York Times: “You don’t want your phone to be like a PC. The last thing you want is to have loaded three apps on your phone and then you go to make a call and it doesn’t work anymore. These are more like iPods than they are like computers.”

In the end, the battle to do an app store was a replay of the argument over opening up iTunes to Windows users a few years earlier. Just as before, everyone inside Apple wanted to do it, and Jobs kept saying no. But in the end, just as with iTunes, the result was the same. Jobs finally caved, telling those who had been haranguing him, “Oh, hell, just go for it and leave me alone!”

From the book: How the Internet happened

Peter Thiel on Facebook

In the interview below, Peter Thiel (around 7:20) admitted that he didn’t think Facebook was going to be as big as it turned out to be, claiming that he would have been happy with Facebook signing up only college students in the US.

Stories like these are not rare. If you know some, feel free to share in the comment.