Steve Jobs

Much has been written about Steve Jobs since his death last month.  Three things stand out: his sister’s eulogy, his Stanford commencement speech, and the Steve Jobs biography.

His sister’s eulogy was printed in the New York Times.  Intimate, full of love, and very moving.  Easy to see why she’s a college English professor.

This Youtube clip of Job’s 2005 Stanford Commencement speech has been viewed more than 6 million times.  It’s a great commencement speech — very inspiring, as it should be.  It’s so inspiring that I wondered how much help he got.  According to Jobs’ biographer (see below), Jobs initially asked a noted speechwriter to help with the speech, but then wrote the speech himself.  Jobs talks about death as a good thing, clearing out the old for the young.   When I first heard the speech, I didn’t know the severity of the cancer that eventually killed him, so I viewed his discussion of death as an abstract concept, and not the cancer he lived with every day.

There’s the authorized Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson.  Jobs asked Isaacson to write his biography and placed no limits on who Isaacson could talk to or what he would write.  Jobs only asked to redesign the cover. The book is well-written and balanced, showing Jobs both as a product genius and a jerk.  Isaacson asked why Jobs wanted a biography; Jobs said he wanted his children to get to know him better through the biography.  The products Jobs helped develop is amazing, spanning Apple, NeXT, Pixar, and Apple.

I especially enjoyed the comparison of Jobs and Bill Gates.  They both were born in the same year (1955), dropped out of college, and founded notable technology companies.  Jobs tightly controlled products, hardware, and software; Gates fostered PC clones.  Jobs said that Microsoft copied the Apple user interface, while Gates said that Apple and Microsoft copied the Xerox user interface.  Jobs is intuitive; Gates is analytic.  Gates established a foundation to give away his money; Jobs kept his money invested in Apple and Disney.


Potala Palace as a Passive Solar Building

Potala Palace, the winter residence of the Dalai Lama, is located in Lhasa, at an altitude of 3,700 m (12,100 feet).  Lhasa is cold in the winter — the average high in January is 45 F, and the low is 16 F.

Potala Palace from the south

Perhaps Potala Palace is more than a breathtakingly beautiful building that was the residence of many Dalai Lamas.  Staying warm during the Tibetan winter is important. Let’s explore passive solar design in Potala Palace, a building completed more than 400 years ago, based on design elements from the Wikipedia article.

  • Placement of room-types, internal doors & walls, & equipment in the house.  Multiple levels are connected by staircases.  The Dalai Lama lived in an upper level, so that warm air would rise to the Dalai Lama’s residence.
  • Orienting the building to face the equator (or a few degrees to the East to capture the morning sun).  Potala Palace faces the equator, angled 5 to 10 degrees east, per google map in satellite mode.
  • Extending the building dimension along the east/west axis.  The building is several times longer than it is wide. The above photo shows the south exposure of Potala Palace.  Note how the Palace is long on the east/west axis.  In the White Palace photo, we see the east side of the upper part of the Palace.  It’s much narrower than the south side. Note that many more windows face south than east.
  • Adequately sizing windows to face the midday sun in the winter, and be shaded in the summer.  In the White Palace photo, note the ledges and curtains above the windows.
White Palace
  • Minimising windows on other sides, especially western windows.  Didn’t see the western side.  The north side of the Palace has relatively few windows, based on google map in the earth view.
  • Erecting correctly sized, latitude-specific roof overhangs.  See the shades and curtains for the windows.
  • Using the appropriate amount and type of insulation including radiant barriers and bulk insulation to minimise seasonal excessive heat gain or loss.  The Red Palace is red because the walls have a thick layer of red rush over stone walls.  The red rush is dark and absorbs solar energy as heat.  Potala Palace has thick stone walls.
  • Using thermal mass to store excess solar energy during the winter day.  Potala Palace is constructed of stone, providing lots of thermal mass.

I doubt that the Tibetans consulted a list of passive solar design elements when they built Potala Palace 400 years ago.  Nonetheless, it seems they got passive solar heating right.

Disclaimer: We aren’t solar energy professionals, so this post is more speculation than science.  We did read about passive solar energy design and and incorporate some elements into our home.  Potala Palace as a passive solar building seemed to fit. In any event, this post lists passive solar design elements and applies them to a specific building, illustrating how to apply design elements.

No doggie bags in China

We were finishing a meal in Chengdu with our guide and driver. Selected by our guide, the food was delicious, and there was so much food that we couldn’t finish it.  We asked the guide if he wanted to take the leftovers home, but he declined.  People in China don’t take leftovers home, he said, since people who do this would look poor.  Instead, leftovers are fed to the pigs.  Oh-h-h.

In contrast, part of the ritual of a Chinese meal in the States is to box up the leftovers/plannedovers and decide who takes home which dishes. It’s an informal, cooperative process that always works out.  There’s no stigma attached with taking leftovers home.

For some reason, pork in China is more tasty than the pork in the States.

We shared a meal with our guide in Yangshuo.  The meal was also delicious and plentiful, and several pieces of meat were left at the end of the meal.  We served the meat to the guide. She ate it, saying quietly that at home she holds back until her children have finished eating.

Retirement at Two Months

Before you retire, you wonder if retirement will work out for you.  Today marks two months of retirement.  Retirement has been good so far, with no surprises.  The long list of chores that you don’t have time for during a weekend is much shorter now.

Retiring just before Labor Day, retirement seemed like a long vacation at first.  Then there was a Monday when it sunk in that I didn’t have to go to work. I don’t miss work and the pressure, and no one misses the commute.  I miss talking with some people at work. I’m doing things important to me: traveling, doing this blog, going to more yoga classes, taking pictures, and improving my photography and gardening skills.

Last week American Airlines had a sale, and we purchased tickets to visit Chicago after Thanksgiving.   The really cheap seats disappeared in a day so in Hong Kong we bought the tickets we reserved the morning before in Yangshuo.  First time we bought airline tickets without our managers’ approval.  With retirement, you have more time than money, so being able to jump on travel sales is much appreciated.

A surprise about my 401k.  We read recommendations to invest in low-expense mutual funds and ETFs.  I’ve been asking for the actual expenses for the mutual funds in my 401k for several weeks.  We are provided estimated expenses, but  I learned the hard way that actuals may vary from estimates.  A supervisor at ING, the custodian for my 401k, told me today that ING doesn’t know the actual expenses for the mutual funds offered in our 401k and I can contact the management company for each mutual fund to get this information.  I told the supervisor that with over 100,000 people in the savings plan, ING should collect and provide this information as a service to the investors.  But the ING supervisor promised no action and could not provide the contact at my former employer who oversees ING.  As a retiree, I can rollover my 401k funds to a company that knows, manages, and discloses expenses to the investors.  And I will do this.

Great Firewall of China

In China we ran into something we knew nothing about, informally known as the Great Firewall of China.  We tried to access this blog from our laptop, but we couldn’t connect. Internet searches were slow.  Wikipedia has a good article at  With help, we were able to post to the blog from China using email, but we couldn’t view or edit what was posted.  Blog access from Hong Kong worked.

Bloggers visiting China should prepare by setting up email posting in advance.  We had read articles about companies cooperating with the Chinese government to limit information, but running into the Firewall made these limits more real.

Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces

The Longsheng rice terraces are located on the mountainside near Guilin. Rice grows in water, so each terrace needs to be carefully constructed to wind around the mountain at a constant elevation and without leaking water. The first photo shows the terraces. The rice was harvested earlier in October, after Golden Week. Some terraces are still flooded, and others have sweet potato. The river valley is far below; the drive up from the river valley takes an hour. Note the horse in the lower left-hand corner.

We ate in the Pingan village, populated by the Zhuang ethnic minority. A specialty is sweet rice cooked in a timber bamboo container. The photo shows the sweet rice and a sizzling platter of beef and vegetables.