兩週一聚﹕鬼

前言﹕這是一個叫「兩周一聚」的活動。是網友米雪兒發起。每月十五日﹑三十日﹐一班住在世界不同角落的香港人都會一起寫同一個題目。今天是第三十一次相聚,由浪子M出題﹐主題定為「鬼」。

從很小時候有記憶開始﹐印像中我從來不怕鬼。可能是我很細個的時候﹐家父常常對我說﹐我實在太頑皮﹐頑皮到連鬼也怕了我。於是潛移默化下﹐我下意識認為我為什麼要怕鬼﹐應該鬼要怕我才對。一直到長大我也沒有見識過鬼﹐也不知道鬼有什麼可怕。

我有段時間很喜歡看鬼故鬼戲﹐余過倪匡的鬼故﹐八九十年代港產鬼片﹐荷里活典經恐怖片﹐我差不多全看過。我對鬼的認識全來自那些故事﹐但我看時從不感到害怕﹐我只是不明白如果靈界存在的話﹐靈界的運行法則是怎樣。為什麼總有些害人的鬼跑出來﹐而鬼故中的人總又是那麼軟弱無助﹐幻想著如果我代入其中角色﹐我可以如何扭轉故事的結局﹐人定勝鬼讓鬼見我也怕。我曾經想過寫鬼故事﹐可是一個成功的鬼故事﹐先決條件是要嚇到讀者。問題是我不怕鬼﹐完全想像不到恐怖的橋段﹐次次想故事最後總是變了搞笑鬧劇。

根據一般鬼故的說法﹐鬼通常是人死後變成﹐那人為什麼要驚鬼呢。人始終會死﹐死了以後就會變鬼﹐那有自己驚自己的理道﹖若果有鬼走出來要害我﹐最糟榚的情況也是給害命﹐那我最多也只是變鬼﹐與害我的鬼打成平手。恐懼源於無知﹐人類不知道靈界如何﹐才會對鬼感到害怕。可是如果靜心下來﹐用理性分析靈界的各種可能性﹐用箍選法刪去一不合邏輯﹐不乎合人界與靈界平衡的情況。那些能力超強超屈機的鬼不可能存在﹐不然人類世界早就被鬼統治了。那剩下有關鬼的形像其實不怎麼可怕﹐只要找出其弱點人類便有辨法對付。

我最喜歡與鬼有關的故事是「捉鬼敢死隊」和「幽遊白書」﹐前者用科技的力量去收拾鬼怪﹐後者則是很熱血的人鬼大戰。當年貞子熱潮嚇倒了不少人﹐我看電影時見貞子從電視爬出來﹐我腦中第一個念頭不是驚嚇﹐而是想如果用五吋手提電視播那盒鬼錄影帶﹐會不會有個迷你貞子爬出來﹐我可不可以一腳踏死她。

其實人比鬼更加可怕﹐鬼害人多還是人害人多﹐鬼殺人多還是人殺人多﹖從機會率來看﹐繁忙時間過馬路比遇見鬼還危險呢。

其它鬼事: 浪子M; The Man Who Loves Everton; 南杏; 老子; RandomCoil; Just Little Something; 火羽; Maple; 加燦; mememomo; Bakingmaniac‧烘焙狂熱份子

若果想參加兩周一聚的朋友﹐可以參看這個網頁

Measure twice, cut once

I wish wood working is like writing software, there is a undo button to undo my mistakes. I make a very silly mistake today in my wood working class. I cut two pieces of wood one inch too short. Here is how it happened. The end of the tape measure, the metal piece, is not accurate, so we are told to make the measure starting from the 1″ mark. The problem is that I forgot to add an extra inch when I am reading the number. After I made the cut, I wonder how come my wood seems short, but it’s already too late. If I didn’t cut enough, it is very easy to trim off a little bit more. However if I cut too much, I have to throw away the wood and start from scratch. Luckily I bought some extra wood, so I can make a spare. I just have to work faster next class to catch up.

The instructor already told us the rule of thumb in wood working in the first class, “measure twice, cut once.” I didn’t read the measure again after I mark the cut line, and I had learned my lesson. I think I can turn this lesson into a chicken soup story if I spicy it up a little bit. Working with wood is like life, there is no undo button to fix a mistake. The moral of the story is always “measure twice, cut once” or “think twice, act once”.

經濟殺手的告白 Confessions of an Economic Hit Man- John Perkins

在買「經濟殺手的告白」前﹐早已在網絡上看這本書的評論。全部也極力推介此書﹐說此書讓我們認識清楚美國的黑暗。書評亦不忘加兩插句反資本主義﹐反西方以發展為名剝削第三世界的感想。經濟殺手為跨國企業工作收受豐厚酬勞﹐運用各種正當或不正當的政治和經濟手段﹐在背後操控影響第三世界的獨裁者﹐讓他們淪為美國的經濟附庸國。經濟殺手和顧用他們的跨國企業﹐暗地裏為美國政府處理不方便正式出面辨的事情。美國政府和跨國企業關係千絲萬縷﹐合組成一個龐大的經濟利益複合體﹐在全球各地推動美國的經濟帝國主義。

此書的作者早年曾經濟殺手﹐退休後自己開設能源公司﹐亦受惠於跨國企業的關係網。晚年良心發現決心要寫這本書﹐揭發﹐美國政府與跨國企業的陰謀。我滿懷期望地閱讀這本書﹐想看看當年有什麼驚人內幕﹐經濟殺手如何呼風喚雨﹐左右一國之命運。豈料這本書只是一本自憐式的自傳﹐並附加充滿偏見的歷史課。作者一心要漂白自己的過去﹐不斷說自己一面當經濟殺手享受榮華富貴﹐一面看見落後國家人民生活貧困良心受責。不知是作者天真還是有意誤導讀者﹐他除了把自己包裝成經濟殺手污流中的清源﹐還把曾與他打交道的第三世國獨裁者﹐寫成一心一意要為國為民的大好人﹐美國政府和跨國企業則是貪婪自私的壞人﹐書中的世界黑白分明得讓我以為在看童話故事。

我原本以為經濟殺手的工係充滿刺激﹐是現實世界中的經濟占士邦。作者曾經做過的所謂壞事﹐不過是把經濟預測跨大﹐向落後國家的獨裁者行賄兼色誘﹐讓所屬的工程公司贏取發展合同。那年代貪污橫行﹐不作這些臺底交易﹐根本不可能做成生意。發達國家與落後國家做生意的人﹐豈不是每個都是經濟殺手。作者批評美國向落後國提供援助和借貸﹐而些金錢最終又流回美國的工程公司口袋中﹐當地的窮人沒有分到任何得益﹐國家卻背上了龐大債務﹐從此要用天然資源的收益去還債。虧作者還自稱是首席經濟顧問﹐他連經濟學的根本也搞錯﹐錢只是不過交易媒介﹐難道要向貧民派錢才算是援助。美國工程公司在當地興建的基建和發展﹐做完後又沒有帶走運回美國﹐那不就是美國政府的援助和借貸的結果。不過也很難責怪他不懂經濟學﹐因為他根本不是讀經濟出身﹐他的寫經濟報告也只是按上頭意思做假作數字。

若果他只是做數騙獨裁者也算了﹐想不到他亂作數據的習性不改﹐竟然在書中也做數騙讀者﹐好增加他美國陰謀論的說服力。第三十四章說厄瓜多爾淪為美國經濟傀儡後﹐貧窮人口大幅從50%上升至70%﹐失業率更高達嚇人的70%。我上Google核對資料﹐厄瓜多爾最近十年的失業率徘徊在10%﹐貧窮人口則下跌至36%。作者說厄瓜多爾外債增加倒是事實﹐不過恐怕相對於同期美國外債的增幅﹐厄瓜多爾的外債只是小意思。作者還批評世界貧富懸殊日益加劇﹐美國的經濟市國主義要負上全部責任。可是他忘記了計算過去三十年﹐發達國家人口平穩﹐落後國家的人口則大幅增長。落後國家沒有好好控制人口﹐不負責任地生育分薄人均資源﹐難道又是發達國家的錯。

作者不只經濟數據有問題﹐他的政治理念也很有問題。不知道是否他運氣不好﹐他曾到印尼﹐巴拿馬﹐沙地阿拉伯和厄瓜多爾當經濟殺手﹐那些國家到今天是第三世界的落後國家。反觀當年同樣是美國經濟附庸國的亞洲國家﹐日本﹐台灣﹐南韓﹐星加坡﹐今天已階身發達國家的行例﹐經濟實力之強足以和美國一較高下。到底是美國剝削第三世界讓他們走不出貧窮的困局﹐還是那些國家自己沒有好好把握美國提供的發展機會。作者中左派思想的毒太深﹐彷徘認定有錢便是原罪﹐發達國有義務無條件幫助窮國。發達國幫助窮國的義務﹐僅只於向他們提攜教育﹐讓窮國學習發達國進步之道。並不是窮國人什麼也不需要做﹐便要給他們餵飽飯食。作者甚至有點精神分裂﹐一邊控訴美國在落後國發展破壞當地的原始文化﹐另一邊又想落後國脫貧踏上小康之路。為什麼他不想想當地的原始文化﹐正正是落後國貧窮的原因嗎﹖看看亞洲國家與美國經濟接軌﹐三十年間便從一窮二白擠身經濟強國之例﹐甚至吸收了美國的文化後﹐加以改良反出口回美國去。

作者寫這本書﹐大慨認為讀者看完﹐會認定美國剝削窮國不公義。可是我卻看到另外的一種不公義﹐窮國不事生產持窮為惡﹐反過來剝削發達國家的不公義。書中提及巴拿馬和沙特阿拉伯﹐正好是不公義最明顯的例子。巴拿馬運河當年是美國出資興建﹐運河每年為巴拿馬人民帶來龐大經濟收益﹐可是巴拿馬政府還不知足﹐竟想把運河收歸國有侵佔全部收益﹐美國為保障自己的投資利益﹐派兵把諾列加趕下台也無可厚非。沙特阿拉伯坐擁大半中東石油﹐國家抬高石油價格坑發達國家錢﹐國庫的錢多到水浸。沙特國民從出生便不用工作﹐國家會養他們一生一世。書中說沙特人的文化很懶﹐過份到連順手把街上的垃圾捨起丟進垃圾筒﹐也認為是有失身沙特人份的事情。沙特人自己不事生產﹐卻霸佔著世界經濟命脈的石油﹐正如大地主的二世祖﹐自己不工作卻搾取辛勤工作農民的租金。發達國家賺回沙特的石油收益﹐不過是取回原本屬於他們的金錢。中國近年經濟起飛慢慢趕上發達國家﹐也許中國也要開始學習經濟殺手之道﹐保障天然資源的供應發展所需﹐不要被那些不事生產的落後國家﹐憑著手上天然資源開天殺價﹐剝削中國的努力成果。

Driven to distraction

Mr. Pink is dead wrong. Intrinsic rewards and the pleasure gain from doing a job well only comes if the job is paid well. You will simply feel ripped off if you are not rewarded accordingly.

Jan 14th 2010, The Economist
Two and a half cheers for sticks and carrots

THIS is bonus season in the financial world. That means, of course, that it is bonus-bashing season everywhere else. The righteously outraged have no shortage of arguments on their side, from the mind-boggling size of the bonuses to the fact that the banks were recently rescued with public money. But if they want to mix a bit of theory with their spleen they now have a book to help them: Daniel Pink’s “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”. It seems that bankers are not just slaves to greed. They are also slaves to a discredited management theory: the idea that the best way to motivate people is to use performance-related rewards.

Mr Pink’s argument is hardly new. Eminent management theorists have been dismissing payment-by-results as simplistic and mechanical ever since Frederick Taylor tried to turn it into the cornerstone of scientific management in the early 20th century. But Mr Pink’s book is nevertheless well-timed. The widespread fury about bonuses is sparking a wider debate about the way bankers and other lavishly remunerated people are paid. “Drive” is a decent summary of the anti-Taylorist school of thinking. And Mr Pink, once Al Gore’s chief speechwriter and now a prolific management writer, is a highly motivated self-publicist.

Mr Pink argues that the rich world is in the middle of a management revolution, from “motivation 2.0” to “motivation 3.0” (1.0 in this schema was prehistoric times, when people were motivated mainly by the fear of being eaten by wild animals). In the age of routine production it made sense for organisations to rely on sticks and carrots or “extrinsic motivators”, as he calls them. But today, with routine jobs being outsourced or automated, it makes more sense to rely on “intrinsic rewards”, or the pleasure we gain from doing a job well. Look at the success of collaborative marvels such as Wikipedia, Firefox or Linux, which were created by volunteers. Or look at the rise of social entrepreneurs or the movement to promote “low-profit” limited-liability firms.

Mr Pink argues that carrots and sticks are not only outdated, but can also be counterproductive—motivation killers and creativity dampeners. Paying people to give blood actually reduces the number who are willing to do so. Providing managers with financial rewards can encourage them to game the system or, even worse, to engage in reckless behaviour.

So how should firms motivate people? Mr Pink argues that the answer is to give them more control over their own lives and thus allow them to draw on their deep inner wells of diligence and drive. Software companies such as Atlassian and—of course—Google are giving workers time to pursue their own projects. Even low-tech firms such as Whole Foods and Best Buy are giving people more control over how and with whom they work.

How convincing is all this? Mr Pink insists that all he is doing is bringing the light of science to bear on management: “There’s been a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.” But this argument depends on a highly selective reading of the academic literature. Four reviews of research on the subject from the 1980s onwards have all come to the same conclusion: that pay-for-performance can increase productivity dramatically. A study of an American glass-installation company, for example, found that shifting from salaries to individual incentives increased productivity by 44%. More recent research on workers at a Chinese electronics factory also confirms that performance-related pay (especially the threat of losing income) is an excellent motivator (see article).

Linking pay to performance does not just increase motivation. It also helps to recruit and retain the most talented. The world’s brightest students are overwhelmingly attracted to organisations that make extensive use of performance-related rewards such as partnerships and share options. Firms are adept at using these rewards to encourage long-term loyalty: people work in the salt mines for years in the hope of becoming partners or senior managers. Companies that eschew extrinsic rewards risk lumbering themselves with sluggish dullards.
Self-determined to do better

What about Mr Pink’s other worries, about creativity and “self-determination”? It is certainly true that creative people value the intrinsic things in life. But an enthusiasm for intrinsic rewards can go hand in hand with a taste for extrinsic gain. American universities attract star professors from all around the world by the simple expedient of paying them lots of money. Successful writers employ agents to get the highest possible advances (Mr Pink himself probably hopes to make some money from his book). Creative centres such as Hollywood and Silicon Valley are also hotbeds of payment-by-results. It is true that some of the world’s best companies are putting more emphasis on “purpose”. But it is quite possible to mix this with pay-for-performance; indeed, companies that Mr Pink lauds, such as Google and Whole Foods, are highly skilled at using sticks and carrots.

All this suggests that Mr Pink has it backwards: far from abandoning sticks and carrots organisations are making ever more use of them. Companies are keener than ever on holding bosses’ feet to the fire by linking their pay to performance through stock options and the like and on firing them if they fail. But they are also trying to widen pay differentials further down the organisation: about 90% of American firms use merit pay, for example.

There is no doubt that sticks and carrots can be badly used. They can encourage risky behaviour, as they have in the banking system, or persuade policemen to focus on minor traffic infractions rather than violent criminals, as they have in Britain. But properly managed they can be immensely powerful tools for boosting productivity and attracting the right people. For all the battering he has taken over the past hundred years, Frederick Taylor still has the edge over his critics.

Cutting wood

Today is the second class of my wood working class. I bought three pieces of birch wood last Sunday to make a small table. I learn how to cut the a rough wood into the required shape in today’s class. The cutting steps are pretty simple.

1. Use a miter saw cut 2-3″ from the edge to get rid of cracks or defects.
2. Cut the wood into rough length (the real length plus 1″)
3. Take the wood to the jointer and trim one edge straight. It is easier to trim the edge curving outward.
4. Take the wood to table saw and cut it into rough width. (real width plus 1/4″)
5. Take the wood back to the jointer and trim one face flat. Now the wood has a right angle edge.
6. Take the wood to planner and plane it to the final width and thickness.

I am kinda slow today, so I didn’t get to step 6 today. Now I have all the pieces of my small table cut in rough size. After cutting 20 over pieces, I am quite good at using the jointer. The key is to apply pressure on the front, not on the back when the wood pass through the blade. I can feel when the blade is trimming a layer off the wood. I made many cuts using the table saw too, but it is still quite scary. It is the only piece of tool in the workshop have an uncovered rotating blade. Keep your fingers away from moving blades and always use a push stick.

We spent the first hour listening to instruction and watching demonstration. That left me two hours to work on my own. The clock seems running much faster when I concentrate in cutting the wood. The class is over sooner before I finish cutting all my pieces. At the end of the class, I have saw dust all over my clothes. I guess I have to wash my clothes after each class. Too bad that I forgot to bring my camera. However, it seems kinda silly taking pictures in the workshop. No one is taking any pictures.

Democracy vs Republic

This Youtube video illustrates the difference between all forms of governments and try to correct many people’s misunderstand on democracy. The form of government is scaled from absolute power on the left to no power on the right. They are dictatorship, oligarchy, democracy, republic and anarchy.

There is not true dictatorship. No government can be ruled by one man. The dictator is just the face of a group of rulers. There is no true anarchy, since it is not a stable form of government. It is merely a transition to oligarchy. Oligarchy is ruled by a group of people. Democracy means majority rules. Republic is rules of law. Democracy is only a transition between oligarchy and republic. I wonder when HK people petition for democracy, do they really understand what they are asking for? I think HK need a republic government, democracy is not the end goal, it is just a begining.

Fooled by Randomness – Nassim Nicholas Talech

去年金融海嘯華爾街投資銀行傷亡慘重﹐可是卻捧紅了「黑天鵝理論」這本書和其作者Nassim Nicholas Talech。此君投資眼光獨到甚有遠見﹐在一眾基金經理還沉醉在經濟沫的時候﹐他已經預言金融海嘯無可避免﹐來臨只是遲早的問題。金融海嘯令不少投資者一舖清袋﹐他的基金卻逆市狂賺一百二十億。Talech並非普通的華爾街基金經理﹐除了管理基金外﹐他還在大學當哲學教授﹐研究隨機率的認知論。

「黑天鵝理論」因為金融海嘯被受追捧﹐財經界人手一本在閱讀惡補。其實「黑天鵝理論」不過是在重覆他舊作Fooled by Randomness的內容。這本書早在「黑天鵝理論」登上暢銷書排行榜前﹐已被譽為華爾街奇書﹐自組成cult有一群忠實追隨者。這本書中文譯作「隨機致富的傻瓜」﹐不過我認為中文名稱譯很差﹐完全偏離了該書的原意﹐因為這本書根本和致富無關。這本書的主旨很簡單﹐一句說話可以說完﹐但同時亦挑戰大部份人的世界觀。人們以為成功全因一己努力或眼光﹐看不清楚自己命運的背後﹐往往受到隨機事件擺佈的事實。

這本書嚴格來說可以歸類為哲學書藉﹐作者通過他們華爾街打滾多年的經驗﹐輔以人類學和心理學的理論﹐說出人類腦袋總是不理解隨機率的事實。人類總是以為因果有既定關係﹐甚至自己把虛線連結﹐把沒有關係的東西憑空想像出關係。這本書分為三個部份﹐第一個部先說服讀者隨機率無處不在。在市場上很多基金經理看似很成功﹐他們以為自己投資眼光過人﹐其實他們只不過是運氣好。他們不明的隨機率﹐無視那個很細微﹐但足以令他們傾家蕩產的黑天鵝風險。在生存者偏見下(survivor bias)﹐他們看似年年賺錢﹐不過亦可以一舖輸清光。用廣東話彥語說﹐他們在玩「贏粒糖﹐輸間廠」的高風險遊戲。

第二部份作者從認知論的角度﹐去解釋隨機率是什麼﹐為什麼大部份人也掌握不到。作者引用哲學家Popper和Hume的理論﹐推翻所有金融工具的意義﹐那些全不過是在築沙子上的玩意﹐完全不能代表現實世界。書中嘗試解釋人類為什麼總是受隨機率的迷惑﹐非要找出某種因果關係才心安理得。以前我總是想不通﹐那些分析每天市場上落的財經分析員﹐到底如何知道某件新聞或公佈數據與市場上落幾十點的關係。看完此書後﹐我更加肯定那些財經分析員只不過是隨口亂說。市場每天幾個百份點的上落﹐不過是市場的雜音﹐沒有任何市場資訊﹐亦與新聞沒有任何關係。單天上落的數據不能告訴我們什麼﹐重要的是要分析趨勢。很人誤以為能夠預測等同能夠控制﹐可是預測沒有百份百的準確。若只按照預測去計劃﹐出現在控制以外的情況時﹐便會成為黑天鵝大災難。

第三部是隨機率的人生哲理﹐作者總結他的人生智慧﹐談論我們應該如何面對這個充滿隨機性的世界。結果非我們可以決定﹐但我們可以決定自己的態度。成功一定要靠運氣﹐但我們不知道運氣何時會來﹐若沒有充份的準備﹐便不能捕捉運氣來臨的一刻。明白因果關係並非必然後﹐我們要學懂抽象思考去作風險管理﹐要保障黑天鵝災難發生時的逃生門。當聽到別人說﹐這件事在歷史上從沒發生過﹐便要小心了。因為所有黑天鵝災難在發生之前﹐也是在歷史上從沒發生過。只要有可能發生的話﹐便一定遲早會發生﹐還未發生過只是時間的問題。我們要學習把隨機率應用在日常生活中﹐不要凡事也以為可以追求最大化﹐隨機率讓我們滿足既成事實的結果﹐生活要留有無法預知的空間才會快樂。

可能我當年讀碩士時﹐研究課題與隨機率有關﹐曾痛下苦功學習隨機率﹐隨機率早己融入我的思維模式﹐我覺得這本書的內容很理所當然。對於隨機率認識不深的讀者﹐這書不停衡擊讀者的固有思維﹐挑戰和覆顛讀者的世界觀。若只看介簡或撮要﹐這書的內容聽起來很玄,讀者要自己仔細讀閱咀嚼﹐才能領悟書中的道理。