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Archived Posts for September 2012

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Sep 12

Driving the Stelvio Pass

I recently returned from a 10 day whirlwind trip to Europe, visiting London, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Duesseldorf, Cologne, Fuessen, Liechtenstein, Varenna and passing through Koblenz, Frankfurt, Munich, Switzerland and Austria. The trip was centered around a wedding in Tel Aviv, and another in Varenna (a town on Lake Como, Italy).

I flew into Cologne, took a train to Duesseldorf and stayed with a friend there. I have always wanted to drive in Germany, so I rented a nice car in Duesseldorf (a diesel which gave me about 900km on one tank of petrol!) As luck would have it, my friend needed to be in Frankfurt for business on the day I was leaving Duesseldorf, so we drove down together, stopping at the Deutsches Eck along the way. I dropped him off in Frankfurt and continued south.

When there’s no traffic jam, German autobahns are fun to drive. They are famed for having lengthy stretches with no speed limits. Despite this, German drivers are incredibly well behaved and predictable. Almost religiously, they keep left except when overtaking. The result is that you pretty much can drive as fast as you want. People in the right lane tend to travel at about 100-130kph, and people in the left lane can go anywhere from 120 to well over 200kph. At those velocities, you need to concentrate and put a bit of thought into driving (lest you rear-end someone at catastrophic speeds), so it keeps things interesting. That, and a great soundtrack, made for a memorable road trip.

The highlight of the drive was not in Germany, however. I drove all the way down to Italy, and on the return journey decided to cross over into Austria via the Stelvio Pass. It’s a pretty spectacular road which snakes between snow-capped Alpine mountain peaks through over 60 hairpin turns. Cars share the road with suicidal motorcyclists and hard core bicyclists (respect). I’ll let this video I took do the rest of the talking:

  10:32pm  •  Travel  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
Sep 12

Getting a competitive advantage at work

I liked this observation in an article in today’s NY Times. Written by an ex-Cravath associate, it explains why he left the law to become a journalist:

After several years I felt it was time to consider my future. I had wonderful assignments and congenial and stimulating colleagues. Still, I could see the winnowing process firsthand. Of the 20 or so associates hired each year, one or two might be chosen to be a partner. Some years there were none. I waited each year with keen interest to see who was tapped for the equivalent of lifetime tenure. What did they have in common?

They weren’t necessarily the brightest. Everyone there had impressive test scores and academic credentials. They weren’t, as I had expected, the hardest-working. Everyone aspiring for partner worked long hours and gave the appearance of hard work. They weren’t the most personable. Cravath was refreshingly meritocratic, and gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and social and academic pedigree all seemed irrelevant.

Finally it came to me: The one thing nearly all the partners had in common was they loved their work.

This came as a profound revelation. Of course they worked long hours, because it didn’t feel like work to them. They took great satisfaction in the services they rendered their clients.

You couldn’t fake this. The partners seemed to have some sixth sense. I enjoyed my work. But I had to admit I didn’t love it the way they did.

At times I found this mystifying. How could anyone tackle a complex tax problem with such enthusiasm? Or proofread a lengthy indenture agreement? Why couldn’t I love a prestigious, high-paying, secure job like they did?

At the same time, it was liberating. It was obvious to me that someone who loves his or her work, whatever that might be, has a huge competitive advantage, not to mention a satisfying and enjoyable life. Somehow people who love what they do seem to make a living. So I started pondering what I might love as much as some of my Cravath colleagues loved practicing law.

(Emphasis added.) It’s the same theme that Steve Jobs spoke about in his famous 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech – “you’ve got to find what you love”.

As much as a “tiger dad” as my dad was when it came to studies when I was back in High School, he never really pressured me to take one of those occupations that Asian parents typically want their kids to take (then again I can’t say he approved of my initial choice of degree). After a few decades of doing what he did as a career, he would say to me that one of the key take aways from the experience was that you have to be able to wake up in 10, 20 years and enjoy what you’re doing. The fact that I ended up in law anyway is somewhat ironic, but it’s a decision I came to make myself several years after high school. A decision you make yourself is a much more informed one than a decision that someone else has made for you.

  9:00pm  •  Law  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
Sep 12

Honor Among Magicians

Esquire Magazine has an interesting article about Teller (of Penn & Teller) suing for copyright infringement of one of his magic performances. But the article is really about the raison d’être of performing magic and illusion.

When Teller filed his lawsuit, it made news: ROGUE MAGICIAN IS EXPOSING OUR SECRETS!!! read the TMZ headline. Teller did not like the coverage. The publicity might have sold more tickets to the show, but it misunderstood his purpose. Most of the stories suggested that he was suing Bakardy to protect the secret of his trick, the method. “The method doesn’t matter,” Teller says. He has performed Shadows over the years with three different methods, seeking perfection. The first involved a web of fishing line that took a painfully long time to set up; the second version required rigid, uncomfortable choreography; the third, today’s version, he has never revealed. Bakardy, who said that he had seen Penn & Teller’s show, almost certainly didn’t use Teller’s present method. He knew only the idea and the effect it had on the audience. He felt the crackle that runs through the otherwise silent theater when Teller wields his knife; he saw that some people start to cry, little soft sobs in the dark; he heard that some people make strange noises and other people try to make noises and fail. What Bakardy stole from Teller wasn’t a secret. Bakardy stole something that everybody who has ever seen Shadows already knows.

“It’s a particularly great trick,” Steinmeyer says. “It’s beautiful and elegant. It needs no stupid patter. It needs no stupid presentation. Every one of its little surprises makes perfect sense. It has some feeling that it’s bigger; it hints at things that are bigger and more interesting than the trick itself. It’s three minutes long, and it’s just perfect.”

  11:24pm  •  Culture  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
Sep 12

  stuloh Michael Lewis: Obama’s Way (Vanity Fair) http://t.co/fKmtobZ8

  8:32pm  •  Tweet  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
Sep 12

  stuloh Menlo Park not as safe as I thought! I leave for a week & someone robs a bank & sets fire to a car in my neighborhood! http://t.co/nzv9siIA

  11:58pm  •  Tweet  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
Sep 12

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