Mahler’s 3rd Symphony: Why It’s Awesome

So the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra will be performing Mahler’s 3rd Symphony today and tomorrow. It is Mahler’s longest symphony and one of the longest in the symphonic repertoire. So make sure your bladders are empty and prepare for the next 100 minutes of awesomeness.

The singular thing that is interesting about the 3rd symphony is how Mahler structured it as part of his world-view, in fact not just world-view but how he looks at existence. In the 19th century, the science of evolution was really a hot topic and put into the mix people like Nietzsche, Wagner and Schopenhauer, it is really a big pot of intellectual stew.

The symphony is presented in two parts, Part 1 is the first movement whilst Part 2 consists of 5 movements as follows:

Part 1:

1. Pan Awakes. Summer Marches In

Part 2:

2. What the Flowers in the Meadow Tell Me

3. What the Animals in the Forest Tell Me

4. What Mankind Tells Me

5. What the Angels Tell Me

6. What Love Tells Me

From the above structure, you can see how Mahler is presenting the upwards movement from the beginning of inanimate nature when Pan Awakes and then the flowers, then the Animals, then Mankind, Angels and finally Love. Initially, Mahler wrote What God Tells Me but then finally changed in to What Love Tells Me because he views God through Love.

For a conductor to be able to present this work convincingly, he must look at this symphony in this manner, i.e. a progression and not treat each and every movement separately. Also, the first movement is clearly in its own separate part and the first movement is wild! The second part is tender and soft. It is almost like Part 1 is the Old Testament and Part 2 is the New Testament. So if the conductor tries to smoothen out Part 1 so that it is rounder and nice and be more in tune with Part 2, then he is making a big mistake.

Let’s see if the conductor tonight makes this mistake or not. But tonite we have Edo de Waart and he is not foreign to Mahler’s work having recorded for instance the box set with the Netherlands Radio Symphonic, although it is not a particularly inspiring set.

That aside, another interesting note about the Third Symphony is how Mahler almost called it My Happy Science.

From the above program you will notice that there is movement titled What Mankind Tells Me and this is a song setting on Nietzsche’s “Midnight Song” from his Also sprach Zarathustra. There are many associations made between Mahler and Nietzsche but there is a stark contrast between Mahler’s world view and Nietzsche’s world view.

For Nietzsche, it is a Godless world and the heavenly kingdom does not exist and what exists is only earthly kingdom. God is essentially dead and mankind has to be on their own and has to be strong, so strong he becomes an overman, or superman, and controls his own fate.

For Mahler, it is the opposite. As you can see from the progression, Mankind ascends into Heavenly Kingdom, God expressed through Love. In fact, this love is for all mankind and he almost called his work My Happy Science as opposed to Nietzsche’s The Happy Science (or The Gay Science).

In some aspects of it, Mahler’s view is that one finds happiness in love. For him God and Love is synonymous. In fact, like Schopenhauer, to him all love roots in compassion. To quote Schopenhauer,

“It means that we cannot be completely happy as long as there are others who are unhappy”

And for a Mahayana Buddhist, this rings true for a Boddhisatva, for how can one attain Nirvana whilst there are so many others that are still suffering? And as such, the Boddisatva postpones his/her attainment of Nirvana and comes back to the world to help others.

That’s all I wanted to say and to all of you attending the concert tonight and tomorrow, enjoy!!

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Some Films & Music

So here it is, the street of Fellini La Dolce Vita. I wasn’t able to re-enact any scenes there and it was also raining quite a bit but here is the plaque.

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Anyone who follows some movie news, or interested in films would have known that THE GREAT BEAUTY won the best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscar. The competition from Cambodia THE MISSING PICTURE and from Palestine OMAR are both really strong titles as well but then it seems the nostalgic ways of the Italians won the night, something of a statement, almost escapist in nature, over-riding very real events and issues that are happening in the world right now.

I watched THE GREAT BEAUTY twice and that is a 6-hour investment of my time. And it was worth it, of course. Indeed, it is reminiscent of our dear Fellini and of course LA DOLCE VITA and Marcello Mastroianni’s presence cannot be ignored but THE GREAT BEAUTY is so much more than that. In fact, calling it an “update” as I have read other reviews of LA DOLCE VITA borders on insult, in my opinion. LA DOLCE VITA did not go this deep, this introspective. Anyways, there are loads of reviews on the internet, so there is no need one from me here.

The other really good film is WINTER SLEEP which won the Palm d’Or at Cannes this year. And it is another 3 hour plus film. But you will not feel that 3 hours have passed. This is another really magnificent film. It is 3 hours of almost pure dialogue and ice covered land and of course Schubert’s piano sonata playing just at the right places adds a layer of mood, reflection, sometimes melancholic but it gives a sense of peace and laid-backness to the film.

At certain points, one is reminded of Richard Linklater or Woody Allen where the characters in the movie talks and talks, argues, debate etc on the topics of life and death, of civic consciousness, of evil, philosophy, etc and eventually talks about the inner feelings of the character itself and opens up a huge can of worm and the characters changes through the dialogues and transform themselves into something else.

It is quite funny that one will be interested in other people babbling on screen for three hours but yet, every minute of it seems interesting. I love movies like this, and therefore may be biased but if you enjoy BEFORE SUNSET, BEFORE SUNRISE, MANHATTAN, ANNIE HALL types of movies, and then go deeper, then there is a chance that you will like this film.

On the other hand, if you like more action oriented films, mystery/crime types of films, you can try BLACK COAL, THIN ICE by Chinese director Diao Yinan whom you may know for being the screen writer for the fun film SHOWER and then directed NIGHT TRAIN which got nominated in the same year for Un Certain Regard in Cannes together with BLIND MOUNTAIN. Both superb films back in 2007.

BLACK COAL, THIN ICE won the Golden Bear in Berlin this year seeing off THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL which I feel is really funky and fun but I agree BLACK COAL, THIN ICE is more deserving. It also sees off Alain Resnais final film LIFE OF RILEY, another really funky film where the use of stage play techniques is used in combination of the feature film format which I found quite interesting. Others include Yoji Yamada’s THE LITTLE HOUSE which is a warm film set during world war two which is quite nice to watch but I personally do not feel is much to really shout about in terms of originality but Yamada san is classic in his storytelling and you will feel warm in your heart watching this film.

So there you have some nice films that you may want to explore a bit amidst quite silly Hollywood titles now that is really very dumbed down and not remarkable at all. But popcorn movies they are, so go with just those expectations, even when you watch LUCY, which is nice but is really nothing to the films above. But it is not bad for a weekend of fun without much need to invest intellect nor too much time.

On the music front, isn’t it nice that the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra is going to play Mahler’s 3rd Symphony this coming 11 and 12 October? Mahler is KING!!! Mahler RULES!!

And the best is yet to come because Maestro Benjamin Zander will be back with the MPO for Mahler’s 2nd Symphony coming March 2015. WHAT??? BENJAMIN ZANDER?? WOW!!! Is he that guy that did the Ted Talk on classical music? YES! Is he the guy who came here in 2002 and played Mahler’s 9th and brought me to tears? Yes! Is this the Benjamin Zander that I also hosted with the Malaysian Mahlerites back then? Hell Yes! And here is from the maestro’s site itself: http://benjaminzander.com/journal/detail.php?id=7  Scroll down to read about our magical encounter with Ben who is nothing but truly inspiring and amazing.

It is truly wonderful. Great Movies, Great Music. Enjoyed with people you love. And these are the things that makes living a bit bearable, some of the reasons why life is worth living.

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New Way To Teach Go to Beginners

During the World Youth Go Championship (WYGC) that the Malaysia Weiqi Association organized last month, (http://wygc2014.weiqi.org.my), Mr. Yang Yu Jia from the Ing Chang-Ki Wei-Ch’i Educational gave a talk on the new way to teach Go to beginners. I find this idea quite good compared to how we traditionally teach Go, at least at the beginning stage. Basically, the idea is to learn how to watch Go, i.e. how to understand what is going on in a game of Go without one having to be really good at it.

I have hung on to this concept actually from my earlier days of learning Go although Mr Yang said it much better and in a lot more depth. I remember in my earlier days, I took Go lessons from Cornel Burzo and one of the thing that stuck with me was his comment “Try to understand what is happening on the board” and in line with this, as we review the game, he explained to me what is happening, what is the story, what both sides tries to accomplish and how the opponent try to counter it and instead force his own strategy to win.

Those lessons are very valuable to me and it was that time that I try to understand what is going on although I am far from being a competent player. Every move must have some meaning to it, if not, why play the move right? And this meaning must be in the context of the game strategy, its use and effect on the board and its relationship with other stones on the board.

In my lessons in TAR UC, I have often tried to do the same, running like a mad man from the computer to the projector screen trying to explain to the class what is going on in the game and what each player tries to do and the meaning of their moves. I find teaching this way, in a visual manner, very interesting and helpful to the student to think of the game as a full board game with the aim to surround territory.

The traditional way of teaching Go starts with explaining on how to capture stones and because this being the earliest lessons, the danger is to plant into the mind of the student that Go is all about capturing and killing stones. In fact, this is very evident in the way the student plays the game, even up to reasonably high level where their whole and only focus is to capture and kill opponent stones. I have revised the beginner book a bit to reflect Mr. Yangs method. essentially, his very first ideas is to teach the students to draw lines, i.e. the relationship between stones and the board. By being able to draw these lines and understanding these lines, the student will be able to start to see the reasons why stones are played in a certain way.

lines2_1

For instance, in the diagram above, if one draws lines between the stones and to the edge of the board, one can see that the two black stones on the bottom right is securing the bottom right corner while the single black stone on the top left is making a claim on the upper left corner territory.

The solid red line means that the connection is very secure and this is usually the case when there are no gaps (i.e both stones stick together next to each other) or if there is only one single gap in between them. Any farther than that, the line is drawn as a dotted line indicating that the connection is still not very secure although the relationship and intent is there.

framework1_1

In the diagram above, you will notice that the black stones at the top left corner has secured the territory in a solid manner but the white stones have laid out a framework on the right side. Both sides have played four stones but you will notice that white has more potential to get more territories because it has laid a larger framework. Yes, the framework is a series of dotted lines which means that it is not solid but because the framework is large, the potential to convert them into a bigger territory is extremely high.

Framework is like building a house. The larger the framework means that the house has a larger foundation size and thus becomes a larger house. And because Go is a game that surrounds territories, the more territories you surround, the higher the chances you will win.

lines6_1

There is also the idea of breaking up the opponent’s framework line so as to prevent the opponent from turning the framework into real territory. How to break them and at which point to play to break them is also explained. All in all, I find this method of teaching the very first few lessons very fascinating compared to the traditional way of starting to teach from the liberty point of view, i.e. a stone has four liberties and take away four liberties the stone is captured.

Of course teaching liberties of stone is very important because that is how Go is played on the tactical level but I agree to not teach that in the first few lessons.

Don’t forget that these students normally know nothing at all about Go and we do not want to give them the impression that Go is all about capturing stones but instead teach them how to understand the game by just observing it.

There are a whole lot more to Mr. Yang’s lessons and in fact he has published several books to explain it. I hope everyone interested in Go education will take a look at them.

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Scotland and Whisky

Those who knew me long enough would know that I love whisky. It’s whisky, not whiskey. But nowadays, it does’t really matter much because great whiskies now come from everywhere and not just Scotland.

I tried Kavalan recently. Kavalan is from Taiwan. At first, everything about it puts me off. Kavalan?? What kind of name? Taiwan?? Taiwan for circuit boards is fine but whisky??? But tasting it is a different story. Kavalan is amazing stuffs! Amazing stuffs as in if you like that kind of notes. Fruity, vanilla, sweetness….. but if you are hardcore Lagavulin type of guys, well……. I tasted the Solist Vinho Barrique (I think they meant Soloist), Solist ex-Bourbon Cask, Port Cask Concertmaster and their standard bottling. All single malts. And they are really good stuffs. And they are expensive.

Now, if you like those sweet smell good fruity vanilla kind of of whiskies, you will do very well with a good bottle of Glengoyne. I finished a whole bottle of Glengoyne 17 years. Marvellous expression and unfortunately has been discontinued and now replaced by the 18 year old. Or the Auchentoshan Three Wood is also an exceptional whisky, if you like this kind of taste. Both Glengoyne and Auchentoshan is not below Kavalan in any sense and they are cheaper. But if you like it, of course you can try the Kavalan. Of the four, I like the Solist ex-Bourbon Cask the best.

And Kavalan whiskies have no age statement. The uniqueness of Taiwan and the hot weather resulted in the whiskies aging much much faster. But let the taste guide you. Not what they write on the labels.

Actually, me and my wife visited Scotland back in March this year. It is almost like a pilgrimage for me. It was part of our Europe trip where the main agenda was to see the Aurora Borealis in Kirkenes, Norway. Spectacular experience there! But that is for another post. Wow, Kirkenes!! We did not go all the way round Scotland, just the Highland Speyside area and we based ourselves in Aberdeen. The fact that the International Jazz Festival is happening there is also a bonus. Scotland is a beautiful country. Really nice landscape. And everywhere we go, the guys seems to look forward to the referendum for independence because they have decided to want to split but the results of the referendum yesterday seems to say otherwise. So be it for better or for worse.

Macallan is really a nice place to visit and they are really friendly. Glenfiddich too. But after some time, all the tours felt the same. They take you through the whole process of making whiskies and take you around to see how it is actually done. We went into the special Warehouse number 8 at Glenfiddich which is where they store their most precious stuffs. I saw the Solera vat. And I was thinking to myself, maybe 15 years later I will be drinking these.

And it takes so long for whiskies to be made. 12 years, 15 years, 18 years, 21 years…. wow, imagine the time.

Then there is this place called the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburg. Nice place to visit. There is where they have the largest whisky collection in the world. tasted the 21 Year Old Pulteney there and it was absolute liquid gold. Bought some bottles there. There was a blind tasting of a whisky and they served Ardbeg and I surprised everyone by guessing that correctly. But they do not know my favorite dram is an Ardbeg. The guide then paid more attention to me after that. Haha. Our guide there is actually a Malaysian but he is now there permanently. His parents migrated there.

So Scotland….. wonderful place to go, not only for whiskies but the people and also its so beautiful. Next time I go, I will go to the islands. My favorite dram is one smoky Ardbeg Corryvreckan. Ardbeg is really amazing. I want to visit them. And I have a small plot of land at Laphroaig too.

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So, writing again then

For some weird reasons, I feel like blogging again.

Maybe it’s the effect of reading Murakami’s latest, COLORLESS TSUKURU TAZAKI. Also perhaps I caught the writing bug again when I was revising my Go book for beginners, incorporating a new concept in teaching Go as shown us by Mr. Yang of the Ing Foundation.

But for whatever reasons, the fact that I am typing away on the keyboard now feels great.

It is perhaps also a form of release of the things that I have in my mind. I have always taken to writing, from diaries to journals since my younger days. And I think this did not leave me.

So here it is again. And until I get lazy, which I do not know when.

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Money in Business

Continuing from the business series, this post is my notes on money matters in business.

It is easy to get confused about finance or accounting. Many people gets scared when they hear about it. Balance sheet, ROCE, ROI, IRR, NPV, DCF, WACC, CAGR, etc. etc. But when it comes to money in business, there is one principle that takes precedence above the rest.

1. The principle is this: You must collect your money.

Many businesses go bust because they fail to collect their debts. This is a major chronic situation, especially so in desperation to get sales. The best type of businesses are those that collect cash upfront before delivery of goods or services. Heck, the best are those who collect upfront before production starts.

In the course of business, it is easy to forget this principle because the sales numbers are so tempting. And the apparent “friendliness” of your customers makes you believe that they will pay you on the dot. Most of the time, they don’t.

It has to be clear in your mind this thought: bad debts are worse than no sales.

Imagine that you earn 10% profits on your sales. If you fail to collect on just one job, you will have to do 10 more jobs of equal size and margin just to cover the debt that you failed to collect. This is a disaster!

2. The next principle is that you must pay your staff and suppliers on time. And if you have salespersons that earns commissions, you must also pay them on the dot.

Paying people on time establishes trust. Paying salespersons’ commission on time establishes motivation. And these are the people that supports the business, your suppliers and staff. Understand that without their support, for example, if suppliers stop delivering to you on time because you do not pay on time, or they do not deliver high quality raw materials to you, your end products will also reflect such inferior quality. Also, if you do not pay your staff on time, they will sooner or later look for other jobs and those who remain either is your secret admirer hoping one day to be able to marry you or those who cannot find a job elsewhere, which means you are keeping people that nobody else wants.

3. The third principle on money in business is to think of Inventory (stocks) as the devil that needs to be cast away. Inventory eats you dry. You should target zero inventory. Having inventory as “assets” is an accounting laughingstock because inventory is cost.

The problem with inventory is that you expect you can realize them in the future, turning them into cash. The sad truth is that a lot of inventory goes to scrap, and the cash spent to stock them also goes down the drain. This is not a smart thing to do.

Actually, all the above is what we call working capital management, or the cash cycle. It is how fast you get back the cash that you invested into the business and turn a profit. The shorter the time, the better off you are.

For example, imagine if you are selling handphones. The best scenario is your customers pay you upfront the full price of the handphone and then you use that money to buy the handphone from your supplier and then pass the handphone to your customer, keeping the profits in your pocket.

The worst scenario is you stock up one thousand phones hoping that you will sell all of them.

Collecting all the cash upfront is usually not possible nor realistic but you must at least get a deposit. This is a must.

There may be customers that you need to give some credit but still, you need to get some deposits or downpayment. The reason is very simple. If they are genuine customers, why is it that they cannot pay something upfront, as earnest money? And having a deposit will reduce the chances of them canceling the order after you have bought the raw materials/stocks.

If there is one person that is your friend in your finance department, that person is the credit control manager. Have him or her report to you directly. Have standard operating procedures and credit risk management policies in place. Make them inviolable. Stick to your guns, always remembering that one bad debt will take many good sales to recover, so don’t be greedy.

Bad things happen to greedy people.

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Principles of Business

As I am trying to write and distill what I learnt so far in business, I have come up with the following principles of business. They are actually pretty common sense but many people do get lost along the way and I thought I will post it here to remind myself. Each principle can easily be expandable and elaborated on but for my current convenience, I will just simply state it first.

1. To be in business, you need to sell things that people want to buy.

2. To make things that people want to buy, your products must be superior to your competitors’.

3. To create people’s desire to buy your superior products, you must first make people aware that your products exist.

4. When the people are aware of the existence of your products, you must make it convenient for them to purchase it.

So as you can see, the principles are pretty common sense and general but each can be further elaborated on. First you need to know what people want to buy. There are a million things that people wants to buy, so how do you decide what to sell? The guiding light will be to sell what you are good at, extraordinarily good at. Not just that you are good, but you are at least the best amongst your family, friends and acquaintances. So what is it? If you cannot figure this out at this point in time, do not proceed.

Next, how to make your products superior to your competitors. The first thing to know here is who are your competitors. Your competitors need not be those who sell the exact same products or service that you sell. Your competitors also consist of people offering alternative solution. For example, the competitor of a burger seller are not just other burger sellers but also the noodle store, the rice stall etc. because they offer the same solution to the problem. For example, in entertainment, the competitor of the TV box are not just merely those other TV channels but also the mobile phone, the iPad, the Mac or PC, etc. So after you figured out what you are really good at, then figure out who will be your competitors if you go into business and how can you be better than them. Even if you cook the best pasta amongst your family, friends and acquaintances, that doesn’t mean your pasta is better than the one across the street if you decide to start a pasta shop.

And then you need to spend a lot of time innovating. Your pasta may be the best now but they may no longer be so 6 months down the road. Look ahead of the curve. Improve your products. Innovate like mad, whether products or processes. Always strive to be better and better, just like a 100m sprinter always working so hard to clock a better time. Listen to customers. Observe behaviors and trends. Make innovation a process so that you can remain the best all the time.

Now, you are really good at something, and you know your pasta is the best in the neighborhood because you have tasted every single pasta shop, you still sell zero if no one knows you exists, that your pasta is the best in town. This is where marketing comes in. You need to shout, make every single person know that you exists and you have the best stuff in town. Do not be shy. Shout. Bang your pots and pans. Make yourself well known. Give no apologies for being the loudest to tell everyone you are the best there is.

And after everyone knows you exists and have the best pasta in town, they must be able to buy it, godamit. What is the use of a line of a hundred people if you can only cook one bowl of pasta every 30 minutes. Or that your stall is so inaccessible, going there is a major chore and hazard. In industry, for example, this is operations and customer service. You must always be contactable, accessible. You must always show your face and make it easy for people to do business with you. You must always be able to offer solution faster than anybody else in business. You must be there.

Push your products. Tell them why your products are so good. Show them that they will never get fired choosing you. Prove to them that you will always be there all the time, anytime. Keep in touch. Send cards. Do whatever it takes so that you will be there when they need you and you can neatly offer a superior solution to their problems, on budget, on time.

And of course, underlying it all, you need to have a great team but that is another major subject which I have touched on in my previous post.

So let’s think about every step in our daily business. Where are you at?

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