kinopyo blog

Learning through Writing

Happiness is…

Happiness is… is what? It’s an intimidating title for me to write about. Luckily, I’ve got materials. 😼

I found a desktop calendar in Rome a few years ago.
Each page starts with “Happiness is …”, following by a heart-warming drawing and a simple phrase as the answer.
It’s all the small things that we tend to forget.
It’s in every corner of everyday life.

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finding money in jeans you haven't worn in a while

I remember I was exhausted and frustrated at work around that time. So were the people in the team I believe. I started to take a photo of the “happiness” calendar and share the photo in the team Slack channel every morning. Gradually, people started to look forward to my post and reacted with many kinds of smiley emojis. We were all reminded of how life could be as simple as that.

a no-boss day at work

Back to 2019. My end-of-year Danshari led me to this outdated “happiness” calendar. When you put the two words together - /outdated calendar/ - I can’t think of any stuff that’s less useful than that. But the wisdom of happiness is still worth keeping.

So I went through the 300+ pages and picked some of my favorites, took a photo (nope; many photos), wrote them down to my notebook, said thank you and let it go.

As it helped me went through a tough time, now I’m sharing these with you and hope they’d brighten your day.



Happiness is… typing the last few words.
Truth. 😎

March 20, 2020

Book: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

Tired of more, more, and more? Learn to "Don't Try"

What an impactful title. Reading this book is like taking a self-awareness tour, or if borrowing the author Mark Manson’s metaphor, a “self-peeling” experience.


It reminds me of the book Essentialism a lot. Both talk about why and how to prioritize your attention, choose what matters to you based on finely honed personal values, and the ultimate truth of life – not about more but less. It’s the “let-go” part that is becoming unrealistically difficult and challenging in our current culture.

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Manson starts with the problems of our modern society; it’s a huge bag of problems: the overly obsessed body image, the chase of dramatic and glorified and “chemistry”-fueled love, hey-look-my-life-is-cooler-than-yours social media, mass-media-driven exceptionalism, the pervasiveness of technology… The list goes on. I can almost hear Lady Gaga singing Shallow right now.

After this breakdown, he lays two bags in front of you. One is healthy values, the other is poor values (he called “shitty values”). Which one would you pick? When the label is attached beforehand, nobody would pick the latter, but what’s actually inside the shitty-value bag? It’s something we’re all familiar with: overrated pleasure, material success, always being right, staying constant positive, etc.

Then he goes on to explore five counter-intuitive but healthy values that one can adopt.

・Responsibility: taking responsibility for everything that occurs in your life, regardless of who’s at fault.

・Uncertainty: the acknowledgment of your own ignorance and the cultivation of constant doubt in your own beliefs.

・Failure: the willingness to discover your own flaws and mistakes so that they may be improved upon.

・Rejection: the ability to both say and hear no, thus clearly defining what you will and will not accept in your life.

・Mortality: death as the compass by which we orient all of our other values and decisions.

Serious topics, but no worries, I can guarantee you that if there’s one thing that you will not get from this book, it would be boredom. Whether you’re familiar with these things or not, through creative-and-colorful prose, it’s arguably light-weight education but heavy entertainment for sure.

For example, when talking about how our brain works and how it tends to trick us, Manson has inserted a brilliant quote of comedian Emo Philips and it goes, “I used to think the human brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this.”

I do have one complaint though. As colorful word as it is, there are simply too many f* words, especially in the opening chapter. In fact, I had put the book back to the shelf of the bookstore twice in the past. The f* bomb is recycled over and over, it loses its impact and is also inappropriate. Plus, I do not want to read a book while speak f* internally every 10 seconds. It almost feels like he swears for the sake of swear, as if it’s his signature, as if not swearing would hurt his brand.

If you have a low tolerance for swear words, it can be really disturbing and even annoying. I won’t be surprised with a spike of 1-star reviews because of it.

On a completely different note, oftentimes I find myself getting what to read next right from the book I have just read. This book is no exception as well. I’m deeply struck by Onoda Hiroo’s story and the term “immortality projects” by Ernest Becker.

Onoda Hiroo had served the Japanese Imperial Army and fought in World War II. After its end in 1945, he had still held out in the Philippines jungle, refused to surrender and kept on his original duty - a one-man’s war for another 30 years. What had kept him up and driven him? Guess I’ll find out in No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War

Death and how we deal with it is the main theme of the final chapter. In order to compensate for our fear of death, Manson says, we try to construct a conceptual self that will live forever. “This is why people try so hard to put their names on buildings, on statues, on spines of books.” Becker called such efforts “immortality projects”, the kind of projects that allow our conceptual self to live on way past the point of our physical death.

I was fascinated by this because 1) it’s a cool name! 2) I simply know so little and even think so little about death. The best way to explore such topic is through reading, that leads me to The Denial of Death.

Ultimately, I agree with Manson that “this book will not teach you how to gain or achieve, but rather how to lose and let go.” Not more than that, but on the point.

I want to end it with this quote from the final chapter:

You are too going to die, and that’s because you too were fortunate enough to have lived.

I think it’s excellent. I enjoy letting it lingering.

June 02, 2019 Book

Tokyo Super Hotel (Premier)

Standing by the glass window, looking upon the vast inanimate objects beneath my feet, I grabbed the phone and captured the magnificent view from JP Tower 29th floor.

The view from Medidata Tokyo office

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I’ve been loosely doing this since last October. (Very loosely, I want to emphasize that.) I have zero intention of making practical use of it. I don’t bother the angle being different every time. This is one of the things that I started without any specific reasons, and have not stopped either because lacking such reasons.

Today I was refueling myself with another cup of coffee. As I wandering to my routinary site and looking out the window, I sensed something was off. Something is breaking the harmony, like a dead pixel on the screen.

What is it..?
Was it there before?
Why it seemed to speak to me in a way it never did?

I immediately took out the phone checked my photo logs. As identical as it can be for the past 36 entries, I had a breakthrough with the recent two.


Aha, busted! A new top banner!

Don’t know why this discovery would make me so excited. Perhaps the ability to spot the subtle change from the insignificant mass is satisfying. Perhaps the sense of recording a tiny fragment of now-invisible history is rewarding.

Nonetheless, that hotel name is gonna stick with me forever for sure!

(Originally published at Medidata internal blog.)

March 21, 2019

Removing Google Analytics from My Blog

As of today, no Google Analytics or any sort of stats tracking thing will be on


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Google Analytics had served me well. It has been common sense to use Google Analytics for your website so you know how you’re doing — pageviews, traffic sources, bounce rates, etc. From big corporations to small business, collecting and analyzing the stats are crucial to make better decisions.

Except, I’m not running my blog as a business.

I had followed the crowd and learned those tips and tricks, aiming to grow my blog, especially in the very first 2 years. I remember at my peak I wrote 7 posts a week, that was all from my intrinsic motivation. I learned something new at work, and I processed the information and shared it in a neat form. That had helped people and brought traffic, so far so good.

When I sit down and looked at the numbers, I identified what kind of contents tend to be more popular. Sound like a breakthrough, however, it also brought the classic paradox — with this knowledge, I had to make a conscious choice of writing for myself vs writing for traffic. (I also had Google Ads at that time, so more traffic also meant more money.)

That sucks.

Life got busy, and I took a long break. When I got back, I had a fresh look at the blogging model.

I had always been hesitant to call myself a blogger. If you say you’re a blogger nowadays, it seemingly implies you care (maybe to an obsessive level) about your PVs, social media performance, tricks to produce a killer post, or the sneaky SEO tricks.

“Blogger” implies “numbers.” So I would say I have a blog, but I refuse to call myself a blogger.

My blog is a place where I share my thoughts and stories. It’s where I practice and try to get better at writing and different languages. It’s my knowledge repository and life journal.

This rediscovery was a relief. Since then, I deliberately writing things that I’m passionate about. It’s fantastic.

This Friday night, I was checking the site performance and noticed some extra requests from Google Analytics, and that was where this idea came — hum, I’m not using it anymore, why don’t I just remove it once and for all?

So I pulled the trigger 💪

It’s never too late to question how things have been this way and whether it makes sense to you.

An afterthought - will it feel like walking in the dark?

Complete ignorance is arrogance. I’d be stupid if I want to get better at writing but refuse all feedback. It’s that I’ve found a much better metrics to follow.

Once I bumped into an old friend near Ebisu, we had not been met for about 3 years, and the first thing he said to me was “Oh I read your blog!”

Not “long time no see,” not “how are you doing?” That opening almost sound wrong to me but hell yeah, he made my day.

Fortunately, I have got a few readers along the way. They are my real friends. If I happen to write something good, they would naturally share their thoughts when we meet. It’s way more valuable and rewarding than generalized stats.

It could be days or weeks or months (even years) until I get that feedback, but as the saying goes, all good things are worth waiting for. Until then, all I need to do is follow my heart and keep writing.

January 25, 2019 Writing

Book: Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes - Another Living Example of Humanity

Daniel Everett was a missionary who was ready to devote his life to the Pirahãs, a small tribe of the Amazonian Indians in central Brazil. He moved all the way (including his wife and two young kids) to the Amazon jungle to learn their unique language and culture, aim to translate the Bible and convert them eventually. But as he joked - “I am a happy failure” - after decades of hard work, he was only able to “convert” one person - himself - from a Christian to atheist.

I read the most of the book this April in Karuizawa when I was carrying on my Writing Spree activity. Really enjoyed it, it was like I was in the Amazon jungle and experienced an extrordinary life myself.

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“This is a beautiful place”

The Pirahã people usually only posses one gym short pants, not even a permanent houses of their own, yet they’re the happiest people in the world according to an MIT study. Take a simple look and see how often they laugh and smile a day, it easily beat any other societies or countries in the world.

“You’ve gotta get ‘em lost before you can get ‘em saved,” says Dr. Curtis Mitchell, the author’s evangelism professor at Biola University. But the Pirahã people are not lost at all! This all made his mission impossible to accomplish - “how would you convince a happy, satisfied people that they are lost and need Jesus as their personal savior?”

He once asked the Pirahãs if they knew why he was there in his early days.
“You are here because this is a beautiful place. The water is pretty. There are good things to eat here. The Pirahãs are nice people.”

In the book it mentioned that there were other tribes in the same area were much fond of the Western goods and culture that they adapted to it and eventually lost their own languages. This is not the case for Pirahã.

There is a hidden beauty in their seemingly simple yet sophisticated lifestyle, like a diamond in the mud.

The Language and Culture

What drew my attention first was how the author performed his linguistic field research and was able to uncover the uniqueness of the Pirahã language and culture.

Here are some of the characteristics in the Pirahã language:

No numbers.
No counting system.
No color terms.
Don’t generalize or abstract.

No word for “worry.”
No left or right.

No police, courts, chiefs, or other kinds of authority figures. They are mostly by tradition egalitarian, free of the influence of any leaders. “Don’t tell us what to do, how to live,” is the norm.
No concept of a supreme spirit or god.

The word “son” literally means “to come” or “the one that came.”
And “friend” means “to be touching” - someone you touch affectionately, and “enemy” means “to cause to come together.”

They prefer hardship. They perceive overweight as “you take more than you need.” I feel ashamed as I touch my round belly now…

The Immediacy of Experience

They do not talk about unexperienced events, such as long past or far future events, or fictional topics. So there are no oral history or myth about where they are from or who “created” them.

Pirahãs don’t store food, they don’t plan more than one day at a time, they don’t talk about the distant future or the distant past - they seem to focus on now, on their immediate experience.

There is no word for “great-grandparents” as they can’t live long enough to “witness” their grandparents. And since they don’t talk about long past events or figures, there is no word in the language to refer to that ancestor.

Check out this conversation:

The Pirahã men then asked, “Hey Dan, what does Jesus look like? Is he dark like us or light like you?”
I said, “Well, I have never actually seen him. He lived a long time ago. But I do have his words.”
“Well, Dan, how do you have his words if you have never heard him or seen him?”

Page 265

The value seemed to be to limit most talk to what you had seen or heard from an eyewitness. To elaborate that, it means the Pirahãs believe only what they see. Sometimes they also believe in things that someone else has told them, so long as that person has personally witnessed what he or she is reporting.

The grammar is also accustomed to that culture. For example, when they say “John went finishing [suffix],” there could be 16 suffixes to the verb and 3 suffixes are the most important ones to indicate the source of the evidence.
a) John went finishing, and I saw it.
b) John went finishing, and I heard about it.
b) John went finishing, and I deduced from the local evidence.

This may sound absurd at first, but let’s think about it, this probably is why they don’t need a leader because everyone is responsible for himself/herself, including little children - “little” as in our views.

There is no baby talk. They believe all members of the society are equal and thus “children” should not be treated any differently from adults. Everyone has responsibility for the community and everyone is cared for by the community. That means a 4-year old would work their shares to contribute, and could also share alcohol with adults.

The Meaning of Loss of language

Until reading the book, I had no concrete idea of what would be the exact consequence of losing a minority language that is only spoken by a few hundreds of people in the entire world. Nothing sums it up by this paragraph, I’ll just quote them:

A language is a repository of specialized cultural experiences. When a language is lost, we lose the knowledge of that language’s words and grammar. Such knowledge can never be recovered if the language has not been studied or recorded. Not all of this knowledge is of immediate practical benefit, of course, but all of it is vital in teaching us different ways of thinking about life, of approaching our day-to-day existence on planet Earth.

Every language and culture pair shows us something unique about the way that one subset of our species has evolved to deal with the world around it. Each people solves linguistic, psychological, social, and cultural problems in different ways. When a language dies without documentation, we lose a piece of the puzzle of the origin of human language. But perhaps more important, humanity loses an example of how to live, of how to survive in the world around us.

Page 276 - 277

The way that Pirahãs are living, some of their views and cultures may seem very counter-intuitive, however, they provide us a version of how we, our species, could live differently. A running example. It becomes even more precious when a good amount of our world emphasize more and more on a narrowed view of chasing next big wave, outrunning your opponents, and ever-expanding but never satisfying.

Whose version is more primitive or sophisticated? Find out more in the book.

There is also a short video from the author, Daniel Everett, on this topic. If you’ve made it this far, go check it out :)

July 05, 2018 life, Book, Language, Linguistic

Two ways to say “the future” in Chinese: the future that will come (将来) and the future that hasn’t come (未来)

Chinese is my native language. Like most native speakers of their languages, I rarely ponder on the words of the literal meaning but take them for granted; we already know the meaning and how to use them, right? That’s why I was so fascinated when, after speaking Chinese for about 30 years, I realized there are two words to say “the future” in Chinese: 将来 and 未来.

They’re identical in the dictionary, both can be translated to “the future”, but if we take apart the two-character-combination word, as every character has its meaning in Chinese, and examine the literal meaning of each character, we got a different explanation: 将来 - (the future that) will come and 未来 - (the future that) hasn’t come.

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Isn’t it amazing?! Suddenly I had this urge to go back and analyze how I have been using them, do I make a clear distinction between what kind of future I refer to?

For all the information that I could collect from my knowledge, experiences, friends’ comments, and the online dictionaries, I made my draft conclusion. In practice, the will-come-future is mostly used to express “near future,” and the has-not-come-future as “far future” or “future in general.” In some cases, they are even interchangeable.

(Note that Japanese also use the same Chinese characters to represent the future, and they convey a very similar meaning and nuance, but I won’t go deeper in this post and will keep the discussions within the scope of Chinese.)

Let’s see some examples:

1) “No one can predict the future.”

2) “Does Ready Player One reveal the future of VR?”

3) “You would get it when you become a parent in the future.”

4) “When she grows up (in the future), I’ll give her the best education I can offer.”

An observation I’ve made about the usage of 将来, the will-come-future is that it’s especially used when we talk about the future of someone very close to this, like a family member, your best friend, etc. Indeed, the 3) example was actually what my mom told me a few years ago when we were talking about parenting, and 4) was from my best friend who was talking about his newborn baby girl.

I know such usage can be well explained by the simple rule of “near future” - how near or far that future is from us. But I can’t help making a hypothesis that, even it is perhaps subtle to the speaker and the listener, wouldn’t we use it to express the belief or longing or hope or fear of that specific future, the one we want to witness and be part of it? So maybe I can tweak the examples with the literal meaning of the word, and see how that feels like.

“You would get it when you become a parent in the future (and that day will come).”
“When she grows up, (and she will), I’ll give her the best education I can offer.”

It could be that I was just overthinking, in reality, the distinction of the two words could be vague. But I want to believe what I see from the words and will keep the notes from now on. Isn’t it beautiful to have this special word for our future?

April 22, 2018 Chinese, Language

Book: Hooked - A Maker's Handbook

The book cover of Hooked

If you’re a product person who is building a product to get more people to use it and use it more often, this is a book you’d want to keep a copy on your desk.

If you’re a smart phone user who checks certain apps quite regularly that you’d even refuse to admit you’re addictive to it, this a book to help you understand how it was engineered to keep you hooked.

Eric Ries, the author of The Lean Startup commented: ‘A must-read for everyone who cares about driving customer engagement.’ (I’m usually skeptical about this kind of lip service, but this time, he’s right.)

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I read this book at the right timing and I wrote at length in my company’s internal blog: my reading memos and summaries of the four core parts of the idea: Trigger -> Action -> Variable Reward -> Investment, with case studies of the product I was building.

The Hook model

A over-simplifed summary of each stage of the model:

  • Trigger: What nudges the action?
  • Action: Which part is weak to provoke the action? Lack of motivation or the process is too hard?
  • Reward: Is there an instant and variable reward when the user performs the action?
  • Investment: When are we asking them to invest, and what value we give back in return?

Flipping through the pages again, I found lots of post-its I attached in the book saying “I disagree,” and listing all the obvious counter-arguments. Yet still, the overall reading experience was great👏! It set the scene properly for you to deep dive for an extended period of time, so it naturally stimulates you and inspires you to think about your product’s problems and solutions. In that sense, I enjoyed the knowledge it provided and all the thoughts it provoked. It felt like taking apart a product and putting its components on the table, so you’ll be able to visualize and identify the habit-forming product’s system, the blueprint, or even the traps.

The part that I remembered the most is the Action - “the behavior done in anticipation of a reward.”

Fogg (a famous guy in this field) describes that the required ingredients to initiate any actions can be written in the equation of B = MAT (Behavior = Motivation + Ability + Trigger), so-called the Behavior Model.

  1. The user must have sufficient motivations
  2. The user must have the ability to complete the desired action
  3. A trigger must be present to activate the behavior

I’ve noticed a pattern of myself. If the book I’m reading is put on the dining table, I would pick it up after breakfast and continue reading. Instead, if my phone is there, I might just pick it up and check some feed. Let’s break down this behavior:

  1. Motivation: I like to read the book
  2. Ability: I have the time to read
  3. Trigger: The book is on the table
  4. 🎉

Even though the motivation and ability are right, when the trigger is absent, certain actions might not occur. So that’s why I’ve been intentionally putting my phone out of sight at home and putting books and pens on the dining table (for which my wife isn’t really happy hah 😅)

So, what are you going to do with this piece of knowledge? There is also a chapter dedicated to the ethical discussion. I felt the view of trusting people that they won’t do evil is naive though, and if you want to read more on this subject, I’d recommend another book Irresistible that is written from the opposite perspective.

Still, changing people’s behaviors is hard, reading this book won’t promise you the dreamland. But that doesn’t mean the knowledge is useless. The best way to take most out of it is to share your learnings with your team, adapt the vocabularies to better communicate, take your product on the map and analyze each aspect, do the case study of other popular products with high user engagements and try out your ideas and solutions. It is fun and rewarding.

There is a 13 minutes video to get the brief idea of the framework, but I’d say don’t cut the corners and read the whole book if you truly want to learn more. You’ll get the bone and fat, you may love the fat or trim it off eventually, either way, it would be a great learning process.

April 19, 2018 Product, Book

When to Quit a Job: 5 Questions to Help You Decide

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

I’m about to quit the company that I’ve served for 6 and a half years. To make that decision was never easy, a constant battle between rationals and emotions - it had worn me down. And I know a few friends are also going through such struggles, wandering the forests of changing jobs or changing teams.

When I was reading the book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, the sort of 5-questions checklist that served a different perspective of seeing things and clearing my head - something that’s outside of my circle, completely objective but absolutely relative, exactly what I needed.

So I thought it might be helpful to share that piece of advice for those who’re in that stage of life.

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To leave or stay, that’s a question. And only you can answer it. After reading it, what’s in your mind? Listen to that voice carefully, no matter what you choose in the end, be honest with yourself.

Here we go.

1. Do you want to be in this job on your next work anniversary?

People are most likely to leave a job on their one-year work anniversary. The second most likely time? Their two-year anniversary. The third? Their three-year anniversary. You get the idea. If you dread the thought of being at your job on your next work anniversary, start > looking now. You’ll be better prepared when the time comes.

2. Is your current job both demanding and in your control?

The most fulfilling jobs share a common trait: They prod us to work at our highest level but in a way that we, not someone else, control. Jobs that are demanding but don’t offer autonomy burn us out. Jobs that offer autonomy but little challenge bores us. (And jobs that are neither demanding nor in our control are the worst of all.) If your job doesn’t provide both challenge and autonomy, and there’s nothing > you can do to make things better, consider a move.

3. Does your boss allow you to do your best work?

In his excellent book Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best… and Learn from the Worst, Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Robert Sutton explains the qualities that make someone worth working for. If your boss has your back, takes responsibility instead of blaming others, encourages your efforts but also gets out of your way, and displays a sense of humor rather than a raging temper, you’re > probably in a good place. If your boss is the opposite, watch out - and maybe get out.

4. Are you outside the three- to five-year salary bump window?
One of the best ways to boost your pay is to switch organizations. And the best time to do that is often three to five years after you’ve started. ADP, the massive Human Resources management company, found that this period represents the sweet spot for pay increases. Fewer than three years might be too little time to develop the most marketable skills. More than five years is when employees start becoming > tired to their company and moving up its leadership ranks, which makes it more difficult to start somewhere else.

5. Does your daily work align with your long-term goals?

Ample research from many countries shows that when your individual goals align with those of your organization, you’re happier and more productive. So take a moment and list your top two or three goals for the next five years and ten years. If your current employer can > help you reach them, great. If not, think about an ending.

ーWhen: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, page 169 - page 170

“If your answer to two or more of these is no, it might be time to craft an end,” the author wrote. But I’d say, no rush, take your time, don’t get pushed.

It is you who are gonna live with that decision. Maybe your emotion is already built up, maybe you don’t care of losing the entire forest - as long as you can find the sweetest fruit of yourself or get away from that annoying big bird. Nevertheless, hope this material sheds some light on your situation.

If you’ve already decided to quit eventually but want more comprehensive strategies, I recommend the book Quitter: Closing the Gap Between Your Day Job and Your Dream Job by Jon Acuff. The subtitle is the sales pitch 🙂.

April 16, 2018 Work

Fargo Season 1

Judging from all the data I’ve given to Netflix for their machine learning algorithm, I’d blame them for not suggesting this show to me - Fargo.

Fargo Season 1 Martin Freeman

I remember Wikipedia uses “black comedy” to describe this show, but I didn’t find myself laughing at any moments of the show. It’s dark, patient, and tense. And of course, I love it!

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Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman)… the protagonist (or antagonist, or turn-to-be antagonist). You started off by rooting this mistreated guy. His wife always compares him to his brother, hinted she might have married to the wrong one. The sudden encounter with his high school nightmare - the bully, and found out the bully actually had a one-time affair with his wife, and then indirectly broke his nose. The low self-esteem that needed those “inspiring and positive” quotes hung on the wall to constantly remind him: “what if you’re right, and they’re wrong?” You see the struggling and desperation of Lester.

Then he bumped into a mysterious stranger of the town, after sharing his misery story, the guy offered him a yes-and-no question: “Do you want that bully to die?” From that moment, Lester’s life changed completely.

I enjoyed this show very much. The gradually built-up tension and fear took my breath away. There were moments I sensed violence but nothing happened, and the next scene, boom, and blood.
You’ve got to see what could happen to a guy who is absolutely smart but lack self-esteem, and once he overcomes that, in a dramatic way, how much of his ego could grow to explode.
And the mystery hitman by Billy Bob Thornton was super charming. In a way I respect his “style” - not just about killing, not even about elegance, I don’t know what word would best describe it yet - manipulative, efficient, aggressive, deceivable, and patient.

After watching all of the movies and tv shows, this killer would definitely earn a position in my memory hall that won’t be easily flushed away in a long time. So is the show.

April 13, 2018 blog

Indifferent Ribbon, Butterfly Ribbon

This is gonna be the very first time that I share my fiction writings in my blog. I practiced that when I was learning this Creative Writing on Coursera last winter. I was completely new to this “make something up” style of writing, it took me quite a while to work on my mind as well as the writing skill, but in the end I enjoyed it. It’s like it stretched my imaginary creative muscles 💪that otherwise I’d never even noticed its existence.

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I’ll just show you one of the homework I did last December, unmodified. The requirement was to practice the technique of revealing thoughts and feelings indirectly - through the environment, behavior, and other details. For example, instead of a plain “he’s sad,” you can say something like this to reveal the person’s internal state: “sitting in the dark, he gulped down the bottle and hoped it’ll do the trick and take the edge off. It usually works, but not tonight…”

Creative Writing, Style, Week 4: Concrete Style Infused with Thought and Feeling


The aim here is not to practice withholding ideas or feeling, but to practice revealing them through the surfaces of physical experience.


Writing in the third person, describe a house from the point of view of a mother or father whose daughter has just left home and married a man the mother or father despises. Don’t refer to the wedding itself, or to the mother or father’s hatred of the son-in-law. Focus on the house as she or he experiences it in the wake of the daughter’s departure.

Then describe the same house from the point of view of the same mother or father—except this time the daughter has left home to marry someone the mother or father genuinely loves and approves of. Again, don’t refer to the wedding itself, or to the mother or father’s affection for the son-in-law but on the house as she experiences it in the wake of the daughter’s departure.

The two pieces combined should total 600-750 words.

Version: 1

He had a hard time getting off the bed. It was not chilly outside, but this morning, he wanted to give in to the duvet, just a little more, at least that was one thing in his control.

When was the last time he did that? He lost the sense of time. Dreams and reality were woven together. Eventually, he left the bed behind, gently and carefully, tried not to wake up his wife.

He walked straight to the kitchen in his pajamas, leaving the lights and curtains shut. While boiling a bottle of water in the kettle, he unwrapped the indifferent ribbon and opened the gift box he got from his daughter Maggie and his new son-in-law David. Coffee beans, Ethiopia, his favorites. One-size-fits-all, he thought, you drink it when you are in a good mood of catching up or getting ready, and you drink it when you’re tired of the reality and want to get away from it. Which way shall he interpret it? He felt it irony.

The kettle whistled and clicked. He measured the beans and ground them, placed the filter in the dripper, pre-wet it, preheated the server… and finally poured himself a cup of coffee. All on autopilot, the morning ritual. He was aware that there shall be a get-to-know-each-other session for every new beans to establish the relationship. He got the solid knowledge and technique over the years. The taste was ok, the beans were of great quality, yet the flavor felt familiar and at the same time, distant, unsettling.

Holding the mug cup, he headed out and walked towards the garage where laid the growth chart of Maggie. He slid through it, paused at each mark and let the memory flow back. No matter how many times he reminded himself, it still shocked him how fast his little girl grew up. He had devoted his life-savings and life-lessons to her, yet out of numerous options, she picked up this David guy.

He gulped down the rest of the coffee. It was cooled and bitter.

Version 2

Headache. Hangover. But why not, he thought, you only get to drink like that few times in a lifetime. He rolled over, adjusted the duvet for his wife and got off the bed without making a sound.

He opened the curtains in the living room, let in the sunshine. Looking at the reflection of himself in the window, finger tapped his white beard, he smiled, felt lightweight.

He recalled something and rushed to the kitchen. Unwrapping the beautiful butterfly ribbon, he opened the gift box he got from his daughter Maggie and his new son-in-law Dave. The aroma flew over. Coffee beans! He shouted silently. He held it to his nose and smelled it out, Ethiopia, his favorite. Well done, well done, he clapped to the new married couple.

Time for the morning ritual. He had a second thought when reaching the electric grinder and turned to look out the lower drawer. Got it! The hand grinder. Got to enjoy it at a leisurely pace. He had been rushing for his whole life, now when everything was finally settled, he liked to take the time he couldn’t spare before. He also liked to devote more labor if possible, as a way of respecting the gift—the representation of the kindness from Maggie.

Every turn-around of the hand grinder reminded him of the old days when they went out for the merry-go-round. Truly amazing how kid grew up this fast! And more than anything, he is very proud of her. All the things he had done for the family, she understood.

When he was wandering in the nostalgia world, his hands ran autopilot and poured the coffee. He held the mug cup and smelled, “well done, well done.”

That was it!

I still remember I rushed the ending of the second version, and after read it again, it does show that the it was too weak.

I’ll also paste the review questions below, so you can have a feeling of what’s it like of attending the course 😉. It’s similar to what we software engineers do everyday - peer review others’ code on Github. In this creative writing course, we also review others and answer the questions to help the writer improve his/her writing.

If you feel like it, please leave your review in the comments section 💁🏻‍♂️

Q: How successful is the writer at sticking to concrete language, describing the things of the world as opposed to explicit judgments or feelings? Please explain.

Q: Has the writer nonetheless managed to imply the character’s state of mind in her choice of descriptive language? Please explain.

Q: Which of the two pieces seems most promising to you as part of a longer story? Please explain your selection.

April 10, 2018 Writing, fiction, coursera