Monday, February 29, 2016

Photo Series - Waiting Spring (Cincinnati)






Photos by Jin Kong (2016)

(Thanks to my wife, Lauren, for taking me to Mt. Airy Forest on this little adventure. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Moe--the doge--had fun too, but you can tell he's not his younger bouncing self.)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Process Innovation and Sustainability

The European Union Official Journal stated in 2006 that promoting research, development and innovation “(R&D&I)” is an important objective to its common interest. Research and Development (R&D) has long been a familiar notion in the market process, but Innovation in particular is a recent phenomenon taking on new meanings.

These days, Innovation is often cited to bridge between scientific discoveries and development of services or products with market success. On one end is the field of diverse knowledge, ranging from the precise motions of a sloth to the possibilities of harnessing anti-matter, put together by clever people who see ways to combine discoveries into a unique pattern resulting in useful products and services; on the other end is the market place of consumers buying up whatever it is that they need or want to perpetuate their beautiful lives. In between is this bridge—Innovation, a long and arduous journey starting from creating market ideas, refining the ideas based on market research, raising capital, getting to market, competing and establishing a new value proposition (or improve on an existing value proposition) to the consumers, and then surviving the consumer trends.

A man can get lost on this bridge. It's a big bridge, and neither end has calm waters. Research dollars are ever shrinking driven by market demands that make no sense. The market place continues to be influenced by the media frenzy for narcissistic attentions. Sharks swarm in both ends and currents are unpredictable. Let's face it, Innovation is no vacation. Take health care for example, once a profession that is purposed to heal the wounded and cure the sick, now reduced to a model of innovation for shareholder value, prolonging diseases, or worse creating new ones. To help mitigate our vulnerabilities when sick or injured, policy makers put regulations in place. But the pharma regulatory environment does little to actually incentivize new and improved cures. Instead, it is focused on fierce competitions, development silos, and contributes more to indirect costs on layers of bureaucratic fat making drugs more expensive and less accessible.

So it is a good thing that we are starting to pay attention to the Innovation process, if our goal is to figure out market improvements towards sustainable goals. In all of our current market madness, there is opportunity to improve our existing market infrastructure and the innovation process to change market and human conditions for the better. In fact, talking Process and Innovation in a single context is putting capitalism to the test and incorporating proper balanced social and environmental mechanisms to strive for sustainable outcomes. Here's our common ground: that we are all after the same thing—a better way of getting science to market with a sense of responsible market choices driving forward R&D and impacting our societies for the sustainable better future, together.

Innovation in this sense is all about process improvement, isn't it? In fact, almost every sovereign nation recognizes this for its people. China for example, is in its New Normal of slower economy (down from the double digits to around 5-6%) hoping to achieve some sort of maturity and deliberation in its new market. It is focused on intellectual capital, service based economy, and Innovation. Here at home, the United States is also seeing a new wave of incubators and accelerators and business, college, and private sector alliances to jump start our local economies focused on Innovation. Worldwide, we are seeing alternative funding mechanisms (e.g., crowdfunding, digital currency, etc) and more transactions driven by the new possibilities of technologies and collaborative efforts to bridge R&D with Innovation. A 2006 EU official journal article defines Innovation as “a process connecting knowledge and technology” exploiting market opportunities for new or improved products and services. Like the EU, other parts of the global community recognizes the importance of a process based approach taking on not just economic bottom lines, but also taking on environmental issues, and social justice issues, to Innovate. In this context, risk is a significant factor to consider when identifying market opportunities. Opportunities not just found in the global climate changes that risk the entire earth's ecosystem, but also in the global social changes that risk the stabilities of global economic and governance developments. If we fail to recognize these risks, we would not identify the opportunities where Process Innovation can make an impact to clean the air and water, eliminate global poverty, and deliver sensible health care solutions. But to recognize those risks means we have to put Research, Development, and Innovation together in a context of sustainable developments (focused on environmental, social, and economic risk mitigations).

Process Innovation and Sustainability are therefore one of the same thing. The former is the infrastructure and the latter its substantive content to a path forward. This is a game where we the players can change the way we play for the better. Innovation is not about the cliché game changers.

Innovation is about the people who would want to change the game – ready players.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

A City Squandered Waiting for Spring

國破山河在 城春草木深
感时花溅泪 恨别鸟惊心
                                   - 杜甫《春望》  

A profaned country endures in splendor, a city lost to its deep wild overspring. Flowers do not feel but would shed tears, birds do not hate but know fear in our hearts.
                                   - Du Fu (712-770 AD)《Waiting Spring》 

The city is abandoned. What remain are the mountains still standing, the rivers still flowing. But the city has been lost to the wild growth of weeds and disgruntled trees standing loosely in formation, flowers sprinkled across the scape.

They have no feelings for the city's dismay, yet they shed tears early in the morning when the sun is welcomed through the cracks and broken city walls. Birds alike, know only fear and pontificate little about life, gathered atop roofs and nested in between, scattered as Du walked beneath and amongst them. All are waiting spring, to come, to endure, to pass, as all things come to pass into the next whatever it maybe.

Du had been born to a family of poets and politicians in a era of rebellions and constant flux of ruthless leaders. He claimed the city of Chang'an as his ancestral place, being the dead smack middle of the Middle Kingdom geographically and of high historical significance. Du's mother died soon after he was born. He never knew her. Du was raised by his aunt and had a jealous stepmother. But Du held no resentments and loved his brothers and sisters even thought they were only half the blood-line he was to become. Du, as the Chinese would come to know him through the ages in his poems, is the patron saint of poets and elevated emotions directed for better things. But he knows of little what he is to become as all of us living the moments.

From one to the next as seconds pass, Du like all of us, feels and hates and ponders if he'd be better off as a grass, a tree, a flower, or even a bird – undirected by conscious obsessions and narcissistic empathy towards our common human experience.

Du Fu, the poet and politician, is the beginning of our stories. ...


Now, for all you music lovers: something totally awesome.

Friday, February 12, 2016

e-Waste: an Opportunity for Cincinnati to Lead.

E-waste is discarded electronics – the latest and greatest of technology just a few years into their life cycle doomed by the newest upgrades. Our narcissistic need for trendy gadgets has increased the demand and reliance on raw materials, rare earth and precious metals. But our material supply is limited and much of the electronics currently in circulation are not being recycled. The depletion of natural resources itself is bad enough, but the vast amount of e-waste in landfills is also polluting at their worst.

In 2014, one study estimated 41.8 million metric tons of e-waste was generated – “an amount that would fill 1.15 million 18-wheel trucks. Lined up, those trucks would stretch from New York to Tokyo and back.” E-waste is the fastest growing municipal waste in the United States. Globally, the volume of e-waste was expected to rise by 33% between 2012 and 2017. The problem is amplified by illegal dumping into developing countries like China, India, and African countries. E-waste buyers in those places are often unregulated despite stringent laws in place. They extract commodities from e-waste using the most horrendous methods. Their people pay the price with their health and safety, but the world suffers from their poor environmental and social practices.

Enter the responsible e-waste recyclers. Domestic players who process e-waste locally and creating jobs, putting value back into commerce. But the US e-waste industry is no rose garden either. A recent HuffPost article pointed out that industry workers in the U.S. have been documented to have “taken home” contaminants (e.g., lead) to cause health problems in children exposed to the contaminant particles. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does require e-waste recycling facilities to provide protective clothing and respirators to their employees. But the lack of proper training among other things have attributed to detectable health effects. Or, the current protective standards are not sufficient and we need to improve those and reflect the changes in our policies and regulations.

The HuffPost article named a Cincinnati resident impacted by this “take-home” contaminant problem. Cincinnati Children's Hospital made the medical diagnosis. There are other e-waste recyclers in Cincinnati who are part of the responsible business community and are more than happy to hear medical data is now available to help improve our standards and hold accountable our performances. This may very well effect policy changes and put Cincinnati on the map for being the e-waste expert. Cincinnati's health care industry also can lead the world in medical research on this topic, further strengthening Cincinnati's credentials.

Remember: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Did you know Americans dump over $60 million in gold/silver every year in just cell phones. For every 1 million cell phones, 35,274 lbs of copper, 772 lbs of silver, 75 lbs of gold, and 33 lbs of palladium can be recovered. 

One estimated the value of e-waste to be worth $52 billion in 2014.

Monday, February 8, 2016

If you must have liberty

On Sustainability, a meta-exercise in the collective human experience.

(Do good work, earn respect. - The Analects

Let's start with the “self-premise" – that all human activity are self-interested. This presents an interesting puzzle, doesn't it? How would you reconcile the self-interest with collective drive towards sustainability? How would you set the proverbial Wittgensteinian fly out of the bottle? It is a game we play after all; what are the rules?

There are a few philosophical premises that can serve as a starting point. For example, some believe it is possible to connect passion with work; and from here we begin a pursuit in the self-interested sustainability: that we are happy doing what we do and therefore we are willing to grind the labor for the results. For this premise to work properly on a collective human level, we'd have to ignore human nature such as greed. Our world becomes an endless moment of now perfectly distilled to the best of possible. Greed is irrelevant because all things are simply preordained. This is something Leibniz has well established as a theory long ago and one that a self-disrespecting religious person would gladly accept. The cliché goes, ignorance is bliss after all.

But given the deteriorating political climates around the world these days, it is at least questionable if we are indeed living in the best of all possible worlds. Could this really be the best we must suffer? If not, however, how would we reconcile with the paradoxes of time's arrow?

An imagination unconstrained is an unreliable guide. Leaving theoretical physics (time's arrow quandaries) aside as a constraint (as you are welcome to dispense of the time's arrow arguments at your own pleasure), for the moment let's put some societal constraints around our imagination to the act of “doing good work”—put a context around it so to speak:

What does “doing good work mean?” A notable western legal scholar, Robert M. Cover, once pondered this constrained premise and wrote:

“The rules and principles of justice, the formal institutions of the law, and the conventions of a social order are, indeed, important to that world; they are, however, but a small part of the normative universe that ought to claim our attention. No set of legal institutions or prescriptions exists apart from the narratives that locate it and give it meaning.

For every constitution there is an epic, for each decalogue a scripture. Once understood in the context of the narratives that give it meaning, law becomes not merely a system of rules to be observed, but a world in which we live.” 

The normative world, to Cover, is something that enriches the self-interested world through the rule of law as its means to an end in a better world. In this regard, we are not predestined but we chose to practice civil society, with rules and laws and all that good stuff to ensure the self-premise fits properly into the collective experience. Here, we are able to intelligibly talk about how to connect passion to our work, and we find meaning in the phrase “doing good work.”

Yet, appearance of simplicity can be deceiving. Connecting passion to good work is tremendously difficult. Passions are often abundant and talents can be trained. But translating passion and talent into productive work towards a sustainable end requires a certain guidance of wisdom that comes only from the deep introspections into experiences. Experiences are trials and tribulations, and introspection almost certainly requires patience and fearlessness. Trials and tribulations, well those are the things one must tolerate in life. But more often than not, we have little patience for their introspections in the modern productive public life. The seeds have already been planted. Nothing is left to be grown, and all must be simply tended to as they are required to produce. The agrarian way of life has ended and the industrial and information age has begun. But without the outwardly projected introspection (yes an irony, I know) of the self-premise in growing something, we would not be able to frame the context around the meaning of “doing good work.” Without a context, we cannot conduct and direct our collective discourse. Only a directed collective human experience can help us move towards a sustainable future. We are just not going to stumble on it by accident by ourselves.

But politicians and magicians, corporations alike, are able to manipulate our attention spans into fractions, incoherent, and demand that we be productive and not attempt to grow. We are distracted, by the glitters and glory, by the busyness of life. While connecting passion to work is tremendously difficult and unavoidable, it has become more or less meaningless. Our discourse becomes irrelevant because someone else is setting the rules. We are merely here paying to play. The pursuit of life, liberty, and property carefully disguised as pursuit of happiness. A miserable life it becomes as we assume something else as the normative universe, someone else's normative universe. Where is the liberty in that? How would you explain freewill?

Freewill in society is extrinsically motivated. Extrinsic motivation is something money can buy and over which power can be exercised. Upon this theory we confer citizenship, credit, and all the other modernly things we come to know as law. There lay the answer to the paradox: in the ages we struggle to find freewill we have completely turned freewill into a right and privilege, not an obligation and responsibility. Duty and loyalty gradually lost their own respective context amongst the heroes of history. Freedom fighters are equivalent to terrorists in the modern sense and it is a dangerous thing. It divides our collective human experience into parts unknown. Terrorist, after all, are cowards. Freedom fighters are heroes and they stand for better things.

As I invoke the ancient Confucius saying in the beginning of this essay:


I mean to point out: freedom is the self-recognition earned through one's own responsibility to doing good work in a context of what good work means for others—a unattainable goal but forever perpetuating a harmonious and sustainable society moving forward in time, or so I hope.

If you must have liberty, then take the duty to defend it.