Hanging Out with 41 UCLA MBA’s in Chengdu

Yesterday the UCLA Anderson School of Management visited, along with 41 of their MBA students. These type of events have become increasingly regular, along with annual visits from the Harvard Business School which I have been involved in. Each time it has been a pleasure to interact with students and give them a realistic introduction to the Chinese business landscape.

UCLA

UCLA

Thanks to Grace Lu at UCLA who was my point of contact for this and was nice enough to take these photos and share them with me.

Published on March 25, 2015

Photos & Stories from Hoodslam

One of the most memorable experiences I had on my recent trip to the Bay Area was Hoodslam, a monthly underground professional wrestling event in Oakland. It’s hosted at the Oakland Metro Opera House and features a dozen or so wrestlers performing theater on stage. It is incredibly self-aware and entertaining. Here’s the flyer from the event that I went to on March 6th, with video and photos further below:

Hoodslam

Highlights from Hoodslam

  • The local hero is a wrestler named Drugs Bunny, a Prohibition-era gangster wearing a bunny mask who does fistfuls of cocaine on stage. The crowd chants “Drugs, drugs, drugs” to show support for Drugs Bunny.
  • A wrestling match between The Predator and a wrestler playing Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Arnold character comes out first amidst ambient music, red lights, and helicopter sound effects, as he creeps into the ring with a giant gun. As he gazes into the crowd, the Predator emerges silently behind him and sits poised atop the edge of the ring as the crowd goes nuts.
  • A bowtie-wearing referee chain smoking joints in the ring
  • Link of Hyrule (Legend of Zelda) versus Obese Gamer, a 300-lb shirtless slob. Obese gamer is invulnerable to Link because he pulls out a golden Zelda cartridge with a Game Genie plugged into it. Link overcomes this obstacle by throwing the stoned referee at Obese Gamer, which stuns him.
  • Scorpion Junior wrestling against Mexican Batman. Scorpion Junior is a pregnant adult male wearing a Scorpion mask (Junior is a 1994 film wherein Arnold Schwarzenegger gets pregnant). During the fight, as fans chant “Miscarriage” Scorpion Junior gives birth on stage and throws a tiny Scorpion at Mexican Batman with a rope attached while yelling Get over here!.  Scorpion Junior becomes the first wrestler in Hoodslam history to be disqualified for breaking the only rule of Hoodslam: “Don’t bring your f’ing kids”. This is a slogan that appears on some of their apparel.
  • Ken from Street Fighter wrestling against Juice Lee, or Bruce Lee on steroids. Other events have featured Ken & Ryu from Street Fighter as a tag team duo.
  • The band featured at the event, called Arnold Corps, features a lead singer that looks and sounds like Arnold Schwarzenegger. The band is described on the flyer as “Pioneers of Austrian Action Adventure Rock ‘n Roll”.
  • Hoodslam is promoting an upcoming show called EnterTania

The entire production is ridiculous and a real joy. It’s filled with references to 1990’s American pop culture. If you are in the Bay Area or you visit there, I recommend you check this out. Here’s a link to their official website: BirdsWillFall.com

Hoodslam Video

Below is a video I found on Youtube describing Hoodslam and featuring its founder, a Persian American wrestler named Dark Sheik.

Photos

And finally some of my photos from the March event, which are part of the San Francisco 2015 set:

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Visit the official Hoodslam website
Published on March 18, 2015

Game Review #9: Papers, Please

Papers, PleasePapers, Please is a “Dystopian Document Thriller” where you play an immigration inspector at the border of a fictional Communist state called Arstotzka. It is one of the most imaginative and unconventional games that I have played, which reminds me what games are really all about: being emotionally affected by a novel experience.

Paper Pushing

On the surface this game is about scrutinizing paperwork, which sounds like a tedious gameplay mechanic. But it blossoms beyond tedium with with lush details that combine to create the brooding, oppressive atmosphere of Arstotzka, a dictatorial nightmare. One where you silently walk to work in the cold and toil all day only to be forced to choose between heat in your freezing apartment or medicine for your sick child. Papers, Please is not about documents: it’s about making very difficult choices and struggling for survival.

As you receive instructions on verifying paperwork, you begin the drudgery of your job as the  complexities begun to ratchet up. At first you are cross-referencing information between multiple documents on a virtual table-top. In time you begin subjecting visitors to X-ray and finger-print scans to verify identity and right to entry. It only gets more complex and dark from there.

Papers, Please

In the course of a work day, you interact with many different characters who guide the narrative. The memorable ones are prostitutes, pimps, drug smugglers, and terrorists, and they all have a story to tell. They’ll appeal to your emotions and ask you to break protocol, which often ends in someone getting shot. Which feels bad since the atmosphere and narrative in Papers, Please is so convincing.

Eventually you will become skilled in your task of checking paperwork, but it’s never quite enough. Papers, Please conveys oppression, brutality and misery with stunning elegance, and it strikes an emotional chord through its characters.

Papers, Please Trailer

Conclusion

Jorji CostavaThis is one of the best games that I’ve played because it’s such a clever and successful experiment in storytelling. You feel for inhabitants of Arstotzka in a way that is difficult to describe because beneath its surface, this game is about life, liberty, and justice. It’s about the choices that we all have: to do the right thing, or to do what we’re expected to do. And it deals with fate, which we have no control over: that we can be crushed at any time regardless of the choices we make. That’s an astonishing achievement for a game about an immigration inspector.

“Glory to Arstotzka!”

Rating:

5 Stars

Papers, Please available on Mac, Windows, and iPad

Published on March 17, 2015

Photos from San Francisco, 2015

I got back from San Francisco just a few days ago and have posted all my photos online here. Here are a few of them, with another link to the full set at the bottom of this post.

Tommy's Joynt

ROTC Rapper

SF Park

Qbert

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See more photos from San Francisco, 2015
Published on March 13, 2015

Photos from Xinjiang: Urumqi & Karamay City

I just returned from a week in China’s Northwestern Xinjiang province, which borders Pakistan and Kazakhstan. There is a world of difference between Xinjiang and the rest of China: aside from being home to the majority of China’s Muslim population, it’s a desert oil-producing region made famous by violent protests in 2009.

Thousands were killed in May of that year when a failed uprising attempted to create a new country out of the region, called East Turkmenistan. Since then Xinjiang has become an oppressive police state as China struggles to stabilize the region and its marginalized Muslim population. It is a fascinating but tense place to visit.

Below are a handful of photos from my trip. The entire set of photos is available here, and there’s another link to this page at the bottom of the photos.

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More Photos from Xinjiang
Published on February 27, 2015

Performance Videos with PLGRM

A few years ago I befriended an American visual artist named Greg, from Boston. We did some shows together, but last year we begun stepping it up when he returned to China with his friend Seth. Together, they are PLGRM.

Below are a few brief videos from shows we’ve done recently, starting from late 2014 with the most recent video being from this event at NASA one month ago.

I’m a huge fan of their work and to do shows with them adds an entirely new dimension to live performances. They joined Jovian and I in Disco Death recently, which we’re very excited about. Our next event is Friday the 13th, next month.

Bassball @ Here We Go

Thuggin’ @ NASA

All In One Festival

Published on February 27, 2015

Inside the Poly Center Elevator

Over the last 6 months Chengdu’s most popular nightlife destination has become a single building in the South of the city, near the US Consulate. It’s called the Poly Center, and was originally developed as a high-end residential and commercial building in a lucrative and prosperous part of the city.

Since it opened last year though, it has become dominated by a single type of business: bars and clubs. On some floors there are half a dozen bars and clubs next to each other which makes jumping between venues easier than I’ve ever seen it, anywhere. It’s amazing how hands-off Chengdu is. This would certainly not be allowed to happen in Beijing or Shanghai. When visitors come from out of town to Chengdu I always take them here, and they always think it’s amazing. Because it is.

It’s like a multi-million dollar property development that once launched has gone completely hands off. This certainly isn’t the first time I’ve seen something like this in China, but it might be the first time I’ve seen it to this degree. Step inside the elevators at the Poly Center and this is what you see.

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Here’s what two of the most popular venues inside the Poly Center look like: NASA & Here We Go.

Published on February 25, 2015

Book Review #23: Make Your Mark

Make Your MarkMake Your Mark is a collection of anecdotes and stories from the minds behind innovative startups like Google X, Facebook, Warby Parker and more. In the words of its author Jocelyn Glei, Editor-in-Chief of design blog 99U: this book is made for makers, not managers.

Unlike traditional measures of success— like money, titles, or status—the creative mind is driven by a desire to see creativity come to life. Success is making an impact in what matters most to you. To make an impact with creativity, you must love what you do.

As a corollary to this observation, the best businesses are not profit-driven, but are those that strive to solve real problems and meet actual needs. They focus on creating value, and let everything else follow.

More than anything, this book will motivate you to create. It doesn’t tell you what to do as much as it tells you why to do it. It’s inspiring and provokes action.

Common Themes of Success

Each of the stories and contributors have different experiences and stories, but they piece together to form different facets of the same sort of creative triumph. The 21 essays that the book is made up of are like chapters, but since there isn’t a linear narrative, it reads like a collection of short stories where mostly everyone win.

It could be considered as self-congratulatory to curate a collection of success stories, which makes this book sometimes feel like a self-help book. But considering the esteemed list of contributors like Seth Godin, Neil Blumenthal, Chris Guillebeau and more, the insight in here does come from true luminaries.

Make Your Mark

The print edition of Make Your Mark includes some bold design flourishes to emphasize key passages and contributors.

Favorite Passages

What do Dropbox, Nest, Uber, and Airbnb all have in common? Each began as a two- or three-man start-up operation that has been transformed, in seven years or less, from a small idea into a serious business— with a multibillion-dollar valuation to boot. When you step back and look at lightning-fast growth trajectories like these, it’s clear that the rules of business have changed. Many of the classic tenets that have guided great companies for decades are now outmoded or irrelevant at best.

The best businesses aren’t profit-driven or even product-driven; they’re purpose-driven. They strive to solve real problems, meet pressing needs, and change the world in ways big and small. They make a commitment to constantly learning and iterating and evolving to become better at executing their missions. They focus on creating value, and let everything else follow.

When a start-up launches, there have to be at least some users who really need what it’s making— not just people who could see themselves using it one day, but who want it urgently. Usually this initial group of users is small, for the simple reason that if there were something that large numbers of people urgently needed and that could be built with the amount of effort a start-up usually puts into version one, it would probably already exist. Which means you have to compromise on one dimension: you can either build something a large number of people want a small amount, or something a small number of people want a large amount. Choose the latter. Not all ideas of that type are good start-up ideas, but nearly all good start-up ideas are of that type.

Conclusion

Although this book is 260 pages, it’s broken into twenty one distinct stories told by different entrepreneurs and goes by quickly. Unlike Zero to One, this is essentially light, fun reading that will not tax you too much. At times, it does do a lot of back-patting, but it is inspiring nonetheless.

If you decide to purchase this book you might consider the paperback version which costs only $3 more than a Kindle copy, and is beautifully designed and printed.

Rating:

4 Stars

 

Make Your Mark on Amazon

Published on February 15, 2015