Friday, July 31, 2009


Spoiler Alert: The following reviews may inadvertently reveal some details of the books. If you don’t want to be spoiled, refrain from reading this review.

The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding: How to Build a Product or Service into a World Class Brand by Al Ries and Laura Ries ISBN 0887309372 Rating: 3Stars/4
Truth to tell, there isn’t really 22 laws but just 2 laws. The first law is to maintain uniqueness, remain focus with your message by being consistent, and don’t muddle your message by trying to become “everything” to everyone. The second law is that a 100% domination of the market is impossible because not everybody has the same need and thus wouldn’t equally appeal to your brand message and purchase your product. If you get 50% + 1 market share, be happy and move on and create another brand. The remaining 20 laws are just rewording of the 2 basic laws. If you have too much time to kill, be my guess and read the book. It ain’t a boring read anyway just repetitive.
The Art of Kissing by William Kane ISBN0312117442 Rating: 3/4
Ever heard of a “butterfly kiss”? Or maybe “Lip – O – Suction”? If you haven’t, read the book. If you’re bored with French Kissing, read the book. However, take my word for it. Reading the book doesn’t make you a good kisser, practice do.
The Laws of Seduction by Robert Greene ISBN 0142001198 Rating: 3/4
This book is the author’s attempt to inject science into the art as well as an attempt to “procedurize” the “step by step process” of seduction. To do so, the book put forth a lot of examples based on real life personalities as well as fictional characters to prove its point. The latter (fictional characters especially from the Tales of Genji and Dangerous Liasons) are much more heavily favored over the former (real life people), which somewhat diminishes the convincing aspect of the arguments. Despite that short coming, I still find the points elucidated in the book to be rather practical and common sensical. Nothing extraordinary actually. As for the value of the book, well, let’s face it. The reason that we read the book in the first place is to master the art of seduction and as such, we wonder if the Laws of Seduction is anywhere applicable. Well, let’s put it this way. If we want to learn about physics, we turn to a physicist with a phD from a reputable school. We all know that Robert Greene is a “professor of seduction” but have we ever heard of Robert Greene, the seducer?
The Balanced Scorecard: Translating Strategy into Action by David P. Norton and Robert S. Kaplan ISBN 0875846513 Rating: 4/4
One of the biggest problem in management is that Business Strategy is always good on paper but not in the real world. This is because Business Strategy is made in the board room, isolated from the real world that is the front line and once this strategy is handed down from the top, frontline executives are at a lost on how to execute such a strategy. Balanced Scorecard as a framework links this Strategy – Performance gap. Norton and Kaplan’s other book, “Strategy Map” deals with the development of an “executable” strategy while this book provides the framework for monitoring and controlling of the “performance of strategy”. The book is not for everybody though. Definitely, this is not a book that a non – business or for that matter, even an occasional business reader could appreciate. This is a hard core business book that is most appropriate for those who understand the nuances of Strategy making, Implementation, and Performance management.
Bioethics and Moral Decision by Florentino Timbreza ISBN 9711181355 Rating: 4/4
This is a basic introduction to the moral philosophy on issues arising from the advancement of biomedical science such as Surrogate motherhood, genetic engineering, etc. The book is especially praiseworthy in the fact that it doesn’t subscribe to only one narrow religious ethico – moral philosophical point of view rather it proffered several ethico – moral philosophical point of views. A recommended reading for people who wanted to get a balanced understanding of the raging bioethical issues.
明代國家權力結構及運行機制 作者 方志遠ISBN 7030221877 Rating: 4/4
A Study into the Political Structure and System of the Ming Dynasty by Fang Zhi Yuan ISBN 7030221877
在諸多關於明代政治制度的史論中,往往看到“宦官干政”,“宦官亂政”的評論。傳統史書把“宦官干政” 視作恆古未之有的異象而加以彈伐。此書之論點與衆不同,它不僅把“宦官干政” 視作明代政治結構的一部分。而甚至把它視作不可或缺的一部分。此書認爲宦官是明朝皇帝的代表,而“宦官干政”更是至高無上皇權的延伸。我認爲此書的論點比較附和歷史實況。尤其是更附和歷代“内朝—外朝”政治權力斗爭規律。由此,我認爲此書對研究明朝政治歷史是非常重要的。
In most history books regarding the political system of Ming China, one would always find a negative criticism on the “political intervention” of the palace eunuch. In fact, traditional historiography would find political intervention of palace eunuch as an aberration, an indirect cause of the downfall of the Ming dynasty. This book however, posited a different point of view, one in which I wholeheartedly agree. The book subscribes to the theory that eunuch participation on the political decision is not only part and parcel of the Ming political system but also an indispensable one. The palace eunuchs as portrayed in the book are the representatives of the Ming emperors and their participation in the political process is clearly an extension of the absolute power of the Ming emperors in the matters of the state. I believe such point of view fits better with the historical reality especially since it conforms to the traditional “inner court – outer court” power struggle pattern of politics in Imperial Chinese. As such, I strongly recommend the book as a must read for anyone who is interested in the study of the political history of the Ming dynasty that is assuming you could read Simplified Chinese.
兩漢縣行政研究 作者 邹水傑ISBN 754385404X Rating: 3/4
A Study of the Xian (County) Administration during the Han Dynasty by Bao Sui Jie ISBN 754385404X
This book is all about an analysis of the xian or county administration during the Han dynasty period in Chinese history. The book utilizes the latest archaeological findings in developing brilliant insights into the mystery of xian administrative practice during that era. Also, because xian administration is the most basic level of government during the Chinese imperial era, it is the institution that had the most dealings with the societal forces at that time. As such, the book also indirectly touches on the societal development as well as the social reality during the Qin, Han, Three Kingdom, and early Jin dynasty period. Personally, I think this book is a big help for those serious academic study on the societal development in Ancient China. Again, assuming of course, you can read Simplified Chinese.
赫遜河畔談中國歷史 作者 黃仁宇ISBN 9571300462 Rating: 4/4
Conversation on Chinese History by the Hudson River, authored by Ray Huang ISBN 9571300462
首先我要說,黃仁宇是我最尊重,最喜愛的歷史學家。我總覺得他的大歷史觀是一個卓越的歷史解讀方法。他從上層政治勢力與下層社會力量的各自演變,發展以至後來的沖動,對抗再者往後的容和連接來解釋中國歷史的演變。這就是大歷史觀。在我的看法,黃老師寫這本書的最大目的就是要探討為什麽資本主義社會(Capitalist Society)不能在中國誕生或者落地生根。早在一千多年前,中國社會已經進入了前工業化時代(pre – industrial society)。 然而,在條件俱備,臨門欠一踢的情況下,中國古代卻未能引發工業革命(Industrial Revolution)。也由於此,中國社會政治制度未能徹低的改造。此書從頭到尾,一直牽引讀者去縱橫一千年中國歷史至到元初。目的就是讓讀者親自了解中國滯留原因。黃老師把這本書寫到元世祖時代而只字不提元,明,清往後的歷史是因爲過了元世祖,中國已喪失了工業化的機遇條件至到二十世紀。他在寫這本書的最後結論是在研究理學。雖然他沒有直接指責理學為中國落後的原因。然而很明顯,他是持有這樣的結輪。
First of all, I like to say that Dr Ray Huang is one of my favorite historian. To me, his thesis on Macro – history is such a brilliant concept of historical analysis. Using the development and growth, the conflict, and the eventual merging and harmonization between upper echelon political forces and the lower strata societal forces, Dr Huang has masterfully recasts our understanding of Chinese history with his Macro – history analysis. In this seminal book of his, Dr Huang attempts to discover the underlying reason as to why Capitalism as socio – political system didn’t take root in China before the 20th century. According to his theory, a thousand years ago, China is on the verge of an Industrial Revolution (approximately 500 years before the West). It’s society has already exhibit properties of a pre – industrial society. Yet, the Industrial Revolution failed to ignite at that time despite the conducive environment at that period. As a result, Chinese socio – political system failed to transform leading to stagnation which eventually allows the West to overtake it in the 19th century. In this book, Dr Huang manages to take the reader on a roaming journey over a thousand years of Chinese history allowing readers to personally “understand” as to the reason behind China’s eventual stagnation. It’s a lucid read. The book ends in the era of Kublai Khan, the first Mongol Emperor of Yuan China. It didn’t tackle further the latter history of the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties. The reason behind this treatment is that to him, after Kublai Khan, China has already lost its golden opportunity to industrialize. By then, it has lost all it’s pre – requisite advantage to jumpstart an Industrial Revolution. Furthermore, Dr Huang in his concluding chapter wrote about Neo – Confucianism. Although he didn’t directly pin the blame on China’s eventual stagnation to Neo – Confucianism, it is quite clear in his writing that he does harbor such conclusions. By the way, the book is written in Traditional Chinese. And though Dr Huang is fluent in English and has studied in an American University, there is to my knowledge no English version of the book available.
Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk by Peter L. Bernstein Rating: 4/4
The book despite it’s “eye catching” title isn’t about religion or faith but rather is a book on the “history” of the development of risk management. It began with the telling of the invention of mathematics, then shifted to the discovery of probabilities and statistics, then to the conceptualization of the idea of risk, and finally to the modern development of risk management. The process by which Peter Bernstein tells the history of risk management is through the introductions of the key concepts in risk management (such as probability theory, normal distribution, variance etc) by way of meeting the personalities behind the “creation” of such concepts. In this sense, the book feels like an amalgam of biographies of “eccentric” but otherwise pretty interesting mathematicians. Though the book is about mathematics, surprisingly, the book seldom talks about numbers. Instead, the book delves almost exclusively on the theoretical concepts. In fact, the discussions on the theoretical concepts usually turned profoundly philosophical in nature. Because of that, I find the book not only interesting to read but enlightening as well.
Acknowledgement: I like to thank for my old pal, Jerry for proof reading my reviews in Chinese. Thanks, pare!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

金縷衣 (The Gold Laced Suit)

唐 杜秋娘 (Tang Dynasty Du Qiu Niang)


Abandon thy pursuit
Of that Gold Laced Suit,
‘Stead cherish that fleeting youth
Of dreams and romance.
Pick, smell the roses
At its fullest blossom,
Lest it past and wither
Left holding a dried fig.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

少年行 (A Young Man’s Quest)

唐 令狐楚 (Tang Dynasty, Ling Hu Chu)


Bow swung
On my back,
Sword hung
On my waist.
With shining armour,
And glittering banner.
I push my steed
With all speed
I rode out of Xian Yang
To the valley of He Huang.
Bent on reclaiming,
The lost land for my king.
Till that day come,
I shan’t even look back at my home.

Friday, July 24, 2009

劍客 (The Wandering Swordsman)

唐 賈島 (Tang Dynasty, Jia Dao)


Ten years I labored,
Long I waited
To unsheathe my sword.
Point me to the nearest strife, my friend,
That justice be served
With thy blade.
(Another translation)
Ten years I trained,
Raring to unsheathe my sword.
Tell me stranger, where is the nearest battle.
For which glory that my blade shall earn.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Read an article on CNN’s website the other day regarding China’s newest consumer buying trend, Tuan Gou 團購 or the literal translation, team buying. The idea as I understood is that using internet as a tool, a group of Chinese netizens would band together to purchase in bulk a product that they commonly like to buy. Because of their “relatively large” number and thus, their huge combined purchasing power, these netizens was able to haggle or more appropriately, coax a better price and terms from sellers. These Tuan Gou netizens have no formal organizational structure and are driven to organize merely by impetus and as such, they would only elect a temporary leader (or more like a purchasing manager or a leading negotiator) to do the haggling for them using their numbers as a negotiating leverage. According to CNN, such purchasing/haggling tactic worked pretty well and had actually succeeded in generating huge savings for buyers (you can check CNN about it). Personally, I think the whole idea is brilliant. Simple yet brilliant. Furthermore, I personally believe that this whole scheme of thing could possibly be transformed into a profitable new business model. Since the inception of the internet, many businesses and entrepreneurs have squeeze their brain juice dry to come up with a “winning” formula for online business success but so far, only a handful did make it. Many tried but failed. The reason is because the business models they come up with only attracted “visitors” and “page views” but hardly translate that “number” into revenues and eventually into profit. The idea of Tuan Gou could be the key since “they” not only have the “numbers” but also the group members are actually buying instead of soaking up freebies offered over the net. Furthermore, in the early days of the internet, the prime movers of the World Wide Web are the content providers. They generate contents interesting enough to attract visitor traffic and from there, they make their sales pitch but with the advent of Napster, Apple online music store, blogging, and social networking, the internet underwent a radical makeover into a tool for P2P (peer to peer) interaction and Tuan Gou is a genuine PSP interaction. It is precisely because that Tuan Gou is a user generated interaction rather than a proprietary development of a commercial entity, Tuan Gou as a consumer trend is more spontaneous, more “credible” and may perhaps be a longer lasting trend than an occasional hype usually identified with the early internet driven consumer behavior. However, for Tuan Gou to work, a few key ingredients must be present. Foremost among the factors is that the products that are the target of these Tuan Gou participants must be sufficiently generic (though not entirely) to have a single price point and be also readily available with other sellers as to foster competition. If a certain product has multitude of available variants and each has their own price, there will be more choices and therefore, instead of one concentrated buyer – group, several smaller sized buyer – group each with fewer members and hence, lesser bargaining power would exists. In addition to that, less generic product would provide points of differentiation that each seller would strive to emphasize in order to justify charging a higher price and hence, negate the bargaining leverage of the Tuan Gou group. Secondly, a Tuan Gou group should be fairly large in order to create the necessary bargaining leverage. The size shouldn’t be just a dozen not unless the item in question is pricey such as an automobile (which would probably have few purchase in a day) but rather in the vicinity of 30 – 50 people in order to be effective. Otherwise, sellers would quickly dismiss the group since they could easily “replenish” the “lost sales”. More appropriately, the “number” should be large enough as to comprise a significant portion of a sellers’ transaction for the day. As an example, suppose a seller has an average of 1000 transaction per day, a Tuan Gou group of 12 (assuming each member constitute 1 transaction) would be miniscule and even in fact, would be negligible to the bottomline of the seller. Conversely, if a seller has an average transaction of say just 100 a day, a Tuan Gou group of 50 representing 50 possible transactions would be a tempting prize for the seller. A third factor for the success of the Tuan Gou is that the Team Leaders or more importantly, the entire Tuan Gou process should be credible. There should be no suspicion of one member or any member of the group making money off the Tuan Gou group by entering into a backroom deal with the seller. As much as possible, transparency should be maintained during the deal making process. Losing credibility in the process would mean a loss of solidarity among the Tuan Gou group eventually resulting into the disbandment without any deal being made. Lastly and most importantly, the deal or more accurately, the savings that could be generated should be substantial. Anything less than that would put into doubt about the usefulness of the whole Tuan Gou system. This is because the question that each member of the Tuan Gou group would frequently ask is that “can I get the same deal if not better on my own?” If the answer were to be a yes, then what is the point of joining up with a Tuan Gou. It is because the individual doesn’t have enough leverage to get the “best deal” from the seller that the idea of Tuan Gou even existed in the first place. For now, Tuan Gou is still uniquely a Chinese consumer concept albeit one probably growing in popularity as suggested by CNN but I believe that such a concept could well applied outside of China as well and who knows, Tuan Gou would probably become a consumer reality in a next few years instead of just merely a temporary fad.

Monday, July 13, 2009


The most frequently asked question whenever one is in an Eat – all – you – can buffet restaurant is that “how does the restaurant make money?” I mean given the huge selection of food available on the buffet table and the “unlimited” amount of food that a patron can consume, most diners would think that they’re getting “the better end of the deal” and that the restaurant would surely go for broke feeding every patron till their belly ache. Actually, the truth is there is no such thing as a free lunch (both figuratively and literally) and restaurant that offered such fare are actually making quite a profit. To understand how an Eat – all – you – can buffet restaurant are making money, it is important to fully grasp two important issues central to this concept. The first one is the costing of foods being served in restaurants and the second issue being the difference between “unlimited” and “eat – all – you – can”. In a regular ala carte restaurant, food (or entrée) are priced based on servings or serving size. To illustrate, whenever a patron orders ala carte, the food is served on a dish, which represents one unit or serving that is enough to satisfy certain number of people usually 2. In some restaurant, they offer varying serving sizes of the same entrée to satisfy varying number of patrons. So there is a regular size that is good for 1 – 2 persons and a larger size good for 3 – 4 persons and still larger serving size for more persons. Pricing of the dishes in these ala carte restaurants are based on servings or serving size. In an Eat – all – you – can buffet restaurant, there is no serving limitations nor there is serving sizes. Regardless of any type of restaurant, the method of costing food or entrées is the same; that is they are based on weight. Raw foods like meat, seafood and vegetable are purchased based on their weight. In a regular ala carte restaurant, an entrée’s serving size is determined by weight and costing is based on all inputs that go into preparing the entrée in it’s specific serving size including labor, cooking fuel, the raw food including ingredients. In an Eat – all – you – can buffet restaurant, since there is no serving size or serving limitations, the cook could prepare the entrée in “bulk” (in short, in a very large serving size) even though there is a practical limitation to the size of that “bulk” (such as the limiting size of the cooking utensils and the time needed to fully cooked such large size). At any rate, in an Eat – all – you – can buffet restaurant, each entrée at the buffet table has a certain cost based on weight (as in per kilo). In the Philippine setting, the cheapest entrée on the buffet table would be steamed rice. A kilo of local variety uncooked rice costs around Php20 – 30 per kilo while that of imported jasmine rice variety cost somewhere Php50 a kilo. Add labor and electricity plus water, a kilo of steamed jasmine rice could cost anywhere from Php65 – 75. Anyway, not all entrée is as cheap as steamed rice but some entrées would definitely cost more than others. Taking note of that in mind, it’s time to explore the second issue. Though an Eat – all – you – can buffet restaurant may seem to offer an “unlimited” food for the patron to consume, the reality is there is a limitation, a natural limitation, which in this case is the size of human appetite hence the term “Eat – all – you – can”. Now the question is how big is an “average” human appetite? 100 grams or food? 200? Half a kilo? Take note also that human appetite tends to “increase” when there is an abundance of food available or when the atmosphere is “conducive to binge eating” as in the case of Eat – all – you – can buffet. Despite that, assuming that a patron consumes ONLY the most expensive entrée on the buffet table to the exclusion of other entrées, we now have a “maximum cost per patron”. From this “maximum cost” add a certain mark up to cover overhead expenses, we now have our buffet price. The mark up in this case is our “minimum” expected profit. This is because in reality, patrons don’t just consume a single dish all throughout, they actually sample practically everything on the buffet table. As such, the profit can only get “fatter”. However, all of this computation is based on an assumption of an “average” human appetite albeit an increased version of it. What about those patrons who have above average appetites? Well, this is where statistical theory comes in, The Law of Large Numbers. What this theory suggests is that while there are patrons who have above average appetites, there are also patrons who have below average appetites and that in large numbers, the two just simply “even out”. Furthermore, at the end of the day, what really matters is how much profit does the restaurant make? And profits are not computed on an individual patron basis but by bulk. As an example, assuming that there are 1,000 patrons taking their meal at a certain Eat – all – you – can buffet restaurant and assuming also that the average appetite is half a kilo, that would theoretically require the kitchen to prepare around 500 kilos of food just to satisfy the appetites of the patrons but in actuality due to the “relatively good appetite” of some jolly old guests, the kitchen dishes out 550 kilos of food. Supposed that the average cost of the dishes is Php200/kilo and the restaurant charges Php300/person, the restaurant would still make a profit of Php300/person x 1,000 person – 550kilos x Php200/kilo = Php190,000 (exclusive of overhead costs). Although the restaurant made Php10,000 less than “normal” (the profit should be Php200,000 assuming average appetite) but still, it makes money. Having gotten a picture on how an Eat – all – you – can buffet restaurant makes money, it is thus easier to understand the various policies and practices that an Eat – all – you – can buffet restaurant implements. One such policy is No Sharing, which may sound absurd given the fact that the offer is supposedly “unlimited”. Well, the reason is because the pricing of the buffet is based on an individual’s appetite size, sharing with a NON – PAYING sit – in guests would render the “limiting” assumption invalid but sharing with another paying patron is actually favorable to them. The same reasoning applies also to the policy of no leftovers because it exceeded the assumed limits of the appetite size on which pricing is based. The use of shallow but heavy plates in an Eat – all – you – can buffet restaurant has its purpose to deceive the senses. With a shallow plate, a patron could easily “fill up” the plate thus tricking the patron into thinking that he/she has enough. The same goes with heavy plates. In short, what all this analysis on the business model of an Eat – all – you – can buffet restaurant suggests is that “The House Always Wins” regardless how much one eats (except of course if there are too few guests patronizing the establishment such that the restaurant cannot recoup the overhead expenses from the net margins). But then again, do we really need to “Beat the House” when dining in an Eat – all – you – can buffet restaurant? I remember a classmate and a friend of mine in business school who offered her thoughts on Eat – all – you – can buffets. To paraphrase, she said that we pay not to binge eat but rather we pay for the variety of dishes available, which is quite true. When we dine at a regular ala carte restaurant, because of the price, we can only order a limited number of entrées but in an Eat – all – you – can buffet restaurant, with the same “budget” or a little bit more, we actually have more choices to choose from in order to satisfy our craving and that is really the benefit of dining in an Eat – all – you – can buffet restaurant. However, if one is really mischievous enough as to “dare to BREAK the House”, there is actually a way…….. but not by eating more. The formal business classification of a restaurant is food service companies and as such, it is surprising to most people that restaurant doesn’t really “sells” food or dishes or entrées or meals but the services that goes into preparing and serving the food itself. And that services includes among others: buying of raw foods and their ingredients, preparation including chopping, slicing, dicing, marinating….., cooking and preparing the food/dish/entrée, setting up the place creating the conducive ambience of food enjoyment or simply for occasions, the serving of the food/dish/entrée, the cleaning of the table, washing of the utensils, maintaining a sanitary environment, the whole enchilada. It is the service that is basically why we would venture out to dine in a restaurant and willingly part our hard earned cash. We like to eat Chinese dishes or Italian food but we don’t know how to cook Chinese or Italian or perhaps, we’re a lousy cook or better yet, we’re too lazy to cook. The solution, we dine out at a Chinese or an Italian restaurant. We don’t have time to cook because we’re too busy so we dine out. We had a party but we are so overwhelmed with the preparation and so we make a reservation with a restaurant. The kitchen is stockpiled with dirty dishes that reaches to the ceiling and waiting to be cleaned, the solution………………… we dine out at a restaurant. It is by understanding the nature of the restaurant business that would provide us with a strategy “to beat the house” (which in this case is the Eat – all – you – can buffet restaurant). The strategy is actually simple. Rather than filling up the plate with food per trip to the buffet, get only a small portion of the food per plate but “get as many plates” by returning more often to the buffet table. In that way, you practically eat the same amount of food that your stomach can digest but the restaurant waiter has to remove more plates, the dish washer has clean more plates than the usual load, both of which would probably necessitate hiring more hands just to keep up the service quality. Furthermore, because more plates are needed to “circulate”, the restaurant has to make additional investments in buying more utensils. As a result, financial wise, the restaurant in an effort to maintain the service quality would have to absorb an increase in their overhead costs which consequently reduces their profitability while at the same time requiring them also to shell out more money just to satisfy the patrons’ whims. And that is how you make the “House (in this case, the Eat – all – you – can buffet restaurant) run for its money”. On a more serious note however, this concept of Eat – all – you – can or its equivalent is actually a very “clever” business model. By offering unlimited use, the sellers stoke the buyers’ greed and entice the latter to patronize the formers business. The sellers’ offer of unlimited use is actually a ruse because in reality there is a “natural limit” to the use of the service or product that the sellers offer and the sellers priced their offering based on the maximum limit, thus guaranteeing their “minimum” profitability. Pretty shrewd but not bad.