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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Innovation = Synergy of existing ideas


Innovation is about the creation of a new idea based on existing concepts.

  1. This applies to Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, where medical researchers look through NCBI, the National Center for Biotechnology Information, to browse connections among proteins to look for clues to fight diseases and human health crisis.

  2. It applies to Internet culture, where users mash-up existing services together to create new products and services where 1+1>2.

  3. It applies to human relationships, where human beings unite through common interests, via six degress of separation: Friendster, MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn.

  4. It applies to agriculture, where farmers combine different species of vegetables through genetic mutations to produce seedless watermelons, tomatoes that do not bruise during shipping, high-starch potatoes and cataloups that resist viruses.

  5. In the business world, innovation is about connecting existing ideas into new concepts. The idea behind Social Retailing (SM) is made possible by connecting shopping and community, a concept which seems odd at first but once you find the key to connect the two, it makes sense.

The challenge in linking these nodes lies in finding the chain of links (the key) connecting these concepts. However, I have found a very powerful tool today on the Web that may very well be used as a successful formula generator. It's called Six degrees of Wikipedia.

Here are some interesting searches I conducted on the site and their resulting degrees of separation:

  1. Social - Community - Internet - Shopping

  2. Social - Community - Public space - Retailing

  3. Retailing - Online shop - Web browser - Wii (a)

  4. Retailing - Department Store - Hercules - Playstation

  5. Retailing - Consumerism - Mass media - Xbox

Bottom line: brainstorming is made much easier when the path of connections is clear.


a. Adam S. Kirschner.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Symphonic Electronica = Synergy of Music Ideology

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It is my life's dream to be able to work symphonic instruments together with electronic instruments. It's a simple idea really, and I expect that I should hear it somewhere soon, but I did not.

Contemporary classical music using electronic instruments are often very 'analytical,' and to me, they aim for dissonance and atonal but somehow loses its soul. I played a lot of piano music in Bartok, Rachmininoff and the like when I was a teenager, but deep down I much prefer Baroque.


On my path to broaden my musical taste, I came across Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians. It's contemporary classical but very listenable. On the booklet which comes with the CD, Steve recalled that his professor once advised him--I can't find the exact quote--that if he wishes to make harmonized music, he should just write harmonized music. I took this to heart and started writing simple fugues, using counter-point techniques that I once learned in college for music composition.

On the electronic music front, there has been a few DJs, most notably William Orbit, who has attempted to redo baroque classics in electronic music--but in my opinion, they are no difference than sampling records in the 70s and claiming as their own by putting a few VST filters on them. Indeed, Pieces in a Modern Style is so disappointing that I question how it ever got out of the studio.

Then one day while I was listening to trance on Rhapsody -- my pumping background music for work, I came across Hybrid's Finished Symphony. It was the first symphonic electronica piece that I responded to. It combines symphonic parts with electronic instruments and have a lot going for it. It is from there that I thought to myself that perhaps it is not such a bad idea to do something about it.

I started writing this piece in early 2006 as a way to fight depression. Music lets me free from my surroundings and allows me to go places where words and images cannot. But like most afflicted with NADD, I have trouble finishing it, and I was also too insecure to release this piece for fear of getting excruciatingly bad reviews that I probably would not be able to handle.


In the late summer of 2006, on my research to figure out how to construct better dance beats (since I'm a classically trained pianist, I naturally had no training in percussion and must somehow acquire that knowledge), I came across a fact that many DJ contests on the Web which gives out pristine vocal tracks for download to be remixed and uploaded. At that time, I was toying with Sony ACID Pro, so naturally I signed up with ACIDPlanet and began producing.

My intention was to do these mixes just as studies, to gain experience, in order to write my Symphonic Electronica piece. So I simply took the vocal tracks of all these songs, throw away all the synths, percussion and instrumental parts and throw in my own strings, choir samples and baroque instruments for a symphonic / choir mix of commercial dance remixes!

My first remix is Madison Park's All about the Groove (original commercial release / my remix) To my surprise, I received many positive feedback, both from friends whom I know and from strangers who were kind enough to provide me with criticisms. The best comment came from Steven Hall, a friend of mine who is a music producer by profession. He noted that this was the first piece I have created that is actually good. I took that to heart, and so began a new hobby--mixing music from ACIDplanet.

One thing great about contests is that you get to learn a lot from other entries. It is from these entries that I discovered new ways of handling samples, and experimenting with different things. Coming across Ableton Live was also a blessing, which enables the programmer side of me to experiment with settings that are too challenging in a linear setup like Cubase.

Symphonic Electronica Opus 0.5.9

After many months of remixing, I came back my Symphonic Electronica piece again. From my experience of the remixes, I identified my style and decisions. I decided to publish this piece and ask the world for my opinion. So here is one of many sketches of musical ideas:

Symphonic Electronica Opus 0.5.9 (04:14) / ACIDplanet WMA / ArtistServer MP3
Copyright 2006-2007 See-ming Lee. All rights reserved.

What I am aiming for is a synergy of symphonic and electronic instruments, as a co-existing harmony, like a vanilla+chocolate twist you get on an ice cream truck on the street when you were a little boy / little girl.

Unlike my other music posted on AcidPlanet, it is 100% original material.


I have learned much from other people's feedback and comments for my photographs on Flickr and my music on ACIDplanet. As such, if you are reading this post, I would highly appreciate your thoughts and comments, as I can only get better with constructive criticisms.

Appendix: Music Studies Playlist

  1. Volley Ball / Steven Hall / SML (04:16) / WMA stream / RM / MP3 download
    Copyright 2007 Steven Hall / See-ming Lee. All rights reserved.

  2. Symphonic Electronica Opus 0.5.9 (04:14) / WMA stream / MP3 download
    Copyright 2006-2007 See-ming Lee. All rights reserved.

Appendix: Symphonic Electronica Soundtracks

Before these studies, I did some loop-based soundtracks for two client showcases for the living + perpetually creative company that I work at:

  1. IconNicholson Client Showcase 2005 - WMV / hi-fi - YouTube / lo-fi

    Copyright 1987-2007 IconNicholson / See-ming Lee. All rights reserved.

  2. IconNicholson Client Showcase 2005 Indian Country Edition - WMV / hi-fi - YouTube / lo-fi

    Copyright 1987-2007 IconNicholson / See-ming Lee. All rights reserved.

Related URLs

Appendix: Show your support

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Skip the VUI

1 comment:
You know the drill: you had to call customer service for your cable, your bank, your ISP, your medical insurance, or your cellphone company. You call the 1-800 number and now you are stuck with the VUI (voice user interface). It's another annoying thing in life that you really won't want to deal with.

Well, now you can skip the phone trees. Here's how it works (from BRINGO: Stop Talking to Machines and Talk to Real Human):

  1. Find the company you'd like to call by category (credit cards, mortgages, loans, health care)

  2. Enter your phone # (we will never disclose your phone number to anyone, not even your mother!).

  3. Wait a few seconds while we navigate the phone tree.

  4. When we call you back, pick up your phone and you're done. No more phone trees.

All the major banks (Citi, Bank of America, etc), Credit cards (Amex, Capitol One, etc), Mobile (Sprint, Cingular, etc), Airlines (Air France, UA, Delta, JAL, etc) are all listed with this service and I suspect that the list will only keep growing as businesses try to demonstrate that the customer is king.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Life is an RPG game

1 comment:

I never understood why people like RPG games, but recently I had a realization--because life is an RPG game. Let's look at the similarities between life and the role-playing gaming genre.

“Life is an RPG Game”   Some of my blog posts are really long so I have decided that I will now create #infographic for people don’t like to read. I help businesses communicate better daily so I thought that I should help myself also. :) #crazyisgood  Thi

“Life is an RPG Game” / SML.20070608.PHIL.20121224.Infographic

1. Exploration

In RPG, you start with a character in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by fog of war. You are unsure what your goal is, and you scout out + explore territories around you on the unexplored map to uncover tasks and missions until you find your ultimate goal.

In life, you were born somewhere on a little planet called Earth, unsure of your life's purpose, and you travel around to different places and examine different cultures, in an attempt to find reasons and purposes to make yourself useful to the world at large.

2. Attributes

When you start an RPG game, you typically start with some kind of points which you can assign to different specialties. If you don't know the game, you can either choose a specific character class or allow the AI to randomly generate one for you using equal amount of attributes.

In life, everybody gets the same amount of genes, where different combinations of these determine your character, charisma, physique and personality. They are not randomly assigned, and are governed by the laws of nature, which is highly dependent on the genetic make-up of your parents and ancestors.

3. Acquisition

In your journey as an RPG character, you explore dungeons, collect golds, acquire skills, find treasure items, fight dragons + demons along the way, and receive experience points for your various random tasks.

In life, you earn an income, acquire knowledge through education, discover useful gadgets and applicances that make your life more livable, conquer challenges and receive experience from every mundane and exciting interaction with the world around you.

4. Medication

In an RPG, there are many different kinds of magical potions. Some help you regain your health points, some enchant you with special abilities, some last for a long time and some give you short-term effects. Some create very positive impact on your character but will have a negative impact after its use.

If you find enough of these, they help you perform various tasks that your character does not normally possess. If you are not fortunate to find them but have enough gold, you can purchase them at a dealership in a nearby city.

In life, these magical potions exist in the form of medication. Some help you fight diseases, some help you sleep, some imbue you with special abilities that last for a short while until its effect dies out. Some have severe side effects if your body is not compatible with them. If you cannot find natural herbal substitutes, you can always pay your way and get it from a local pharmacy.

5. Specialization

Over time, you figure out what you're good at, and assign experience points to different lines of specialties, until you become a highly skilled fighter, wizard, druid, ranger, cleric or a combination of two or more of the above.

Good game engines like BioWare's Neverwinter Nights do not apply a lot of penalties to your decision to have different specialties. You are also not stuck with the character class that you originally picked.

When you past a certain point in life, you receive recognitions, honors and awards for your contribution to different communities in the form of degrees, publications, certificates of commendation and Nobel prizes.

Based on your experience, you decide to become a an artist, a banker, a designer, an engineer, an entrepreneur, an information architect, a professor, a public relations magnet, a scientist, a strategist or a writer. You can make a career out of a single category, but you can also choose to combine different skill-sets and work on multiple compentencies.

Life places some penalties if you decide to have multiple skills, as you have to work multiple-times as hard to keep track of the happenings among all the industries, but if you are willing to devote the time, you can certainly be successful and become an expert in all of them.

Midway through your life, if you decide that a particular profession is not right for you, you can choose to move onto something else. You will have to work hard to start from scratch, but you are certainly not tied to the decisions in your personal history.

6. Life + Death

In RPG, you try hard to maintain your health points, because if it dwindles beyond absolute zero, you will hit game-over, and you have to start all over again. You might not understand the whole purpose of the game even though you have spent nights and days trying to figure it out, but you stick along because the adventures you are going through are interesting enough and you are having fun.

In life, you aspire to live, because you are never really certain where you will be going after death. You are also not sure if you will really get a second chance. Things that happen around you are sometimes positive and sometimes negative, but they are often interesting enough to keep you going, and the negative impacts you pick up along your journey are negligible when placed against the big picture.

7. Relationships

In a MMORPG (massively multi-player online role playing game), game play gets a bit complex, because human players are much more complex than the AI which you might be able to figure out. If you could not, you can always cheat by getting the game guide.

Because of the added complexity, you have to be mindful of relationships with other characters and try hard to maintain healthy friendships. If your believes align with others, you can form guilds and conquer the universe together. You can also contribute your skills and services for others in return for favors or monetary exchange.

Life is full of its complexities, and you have to be mindful of not just human relationships, but also human-computer relationships and computer-computer interactions. Through your various conscious or subconscious decisions, you make friends and you gain enemies. Based on your career choices or interests, you form groups, clubs or societies based on your profession or your passion. You can volunteer your talents to charitable organizations, or you can sell them as services and create business entities.


When we examine the similarities, it becomes apparent that RPG is really a simulation of life. It has a D+D setting, but it bears no difference with simulation games like SimCity--a computer game which allows you to be the urban planner for a city. Many gaming industry experts doubt the success of The Sims by Will Wright when it was introduced, because they could not understand why anyone would want to live in a virtual reality of reality, but the fantabulous sales figures prove the critics wrong. If an RPG can do well because it simulates life, a game which simulates life can only do better.

The awareness of life simulation has also created real-life economy for some, who spend much of their time creating clothings, entertainment opportunities and all kinds of products and services to allow Sims to live a better life, not quite unlike folks who find and sell unique items from RPGs on eBay for a profit.

Will is currently working on his next big project called Spore. It is a MMORPG where participants advance their species from a single cell organism to a highly complex animal race through evolutionary mutation. After you reach your goal to conquer your planet, you then get to discover the nearby planets and eventually attempt to conquer the universe either through force or diplomacy.

It has received a lot of PR when it was first revealed at the E3 in 2005. You can find various video demos on YouTube charting its development, and I look forward to its release.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Science of Happiness

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Tal Ben-Shahar teaches Positive Psychology (PSY1504) or "how to get happy" at Harvard University. He claims that you can be a "learned optimist" too. Just simplify.

His advice, as appears on NPR's Web site, are:
  1. Give yourself permission to be human. When we accept emotions -- such as fear, sadness, or anxiety -- as natural, we are more likely to overcome them. Rejecting our emotions, positive or negative, leads to frustration and unhappiness.

  2. Happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning. Whether at work or at home, the goal is to engage in activities that are both personally significant and enjoyable. When this is not feasible, make sure you have happiness boosters, moments throughout the week that provide you with both pleasure and meaning.

  3. Keep in mind that happiness is mostly dependent on our state of mind, not on our status or the state of our bank account. Barring extreme circumstances, our level of well being is determined by what we choose to focus on (the full or the empty part of the glass) and by our interpretation of external events. For example, do we view failure as catastrophic, or do we see it as a learning opportunity?

  4. Simplify! We are, generally, too busy, trying to squeeze in more and more activities into less and less time. Quantity influences quality, and we compromise on our happiness by trying to do too much.

  5. Remember the mind-body connection. What we do -- or don't do -- with our bodies influences our mind. Regular exercise, adequate sleep, and healthy eating habits lead to both physical and mental health.

  6. Express gratitude, whenever possible. We too often take our lives for granted. Learn to appreciate and savor the wonderful things in life, from people to food, from nature to a smile.

A related article called The Science of Happiness by Craig Lambert is published on Harvard Magazine (January-February 2007), where he discusses how psychology explores humans at their best.

Photography / Philosophy

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Photography became an essential tool for composition studies after I bought my first digital camera in 1997. The zero cost/time factor in development allows me to explore relationships of lines and space to refine my visual development very effectively, and it is really from these studies that I began to understand and appreciate Bauhaus.

I did not, however, work with photography seriously as an "end-product" until a few years ago, when a couple of my long-exposure shots of the Manhattan Bridge (shot with a Canon G2 at the time) caught the eye of a semi-professional photographer. He urged me to pursue it seriously and after a year convinced me to buy my first DSLR, the Canon 10D. Getting back to a Canon SLR was like reuniting a long-lost friend, as my first real camera also happened to be a Canon EOS when I grew up as a teenager.

When it comes to photography, I'm a purist. I like to use the camera to express how I see, and as such studio photography and any forms of setups is close-to-absent in my photography work. I see the natural surroundings as a never-ending source of visual challenges, which explains why I am thoroughly impressed with Lucien Samaha's urban mundane still metropolis series.


There are a few ongoing (and perhaps never-ending) projects in my pursuit for photography:

1. Manhattan Bridge

Manhattan BridgeManhattan BridgeManhattan Bridge HDRManhattan Bridge HDR / BW1Manhattan Bridge HDRManhattan BridgeManhattan Bridge HDRManhattan BridgeManhattan Bridge HDRManhattan BridgeManhattan Bridge (not hdr)CRW_9649CRW_9675CRW_9646Manhattan Bridge cablesManhattan Bridge / New York

This subject is of historic importance to my affair with photography, and as such remains to be an active focus. One of the reason that I picked it is because I live right next to it, and I am terribly sick of all the attention that Brooklyn Bridge tends to get. Another reason has to do with my passion with its utilitarian attribute, which I blogged about many moons back. The experience with working on many long-exposure shots of Manhattan Bridge also leads me to become interested in HDR photography.

2. Dead Yard

CRW_9568_to_9572_hdr-bwCRW_9559CRW_8986CRW_8985CRW_8983CRW_8982CRW_8981CRW_8979_1CRW_8979CRW_8978CRW_8974CRW_8972CRW_8970CRW_4366 copyBeach at the Dead YardCRW_4362 copyCigarette BlossomCRW_4353 copyCRW_4421 copyCRW_4415 copyCRW_4412 copyCRW_4407 copyCRW_4585 copyParameter defenseCRW_34579CRW_34131CRW_34130CRW_34128CRW_34126CRW_34125CRW_34124CRW_34123Deadyard IvyCancerBowl 41046Deadyard Sunshine20060606_10D_3969820070507_10D_41767Dead Yard / Night LightsDead Yard / Night Lights

This is a fun one. I always thought that it is a very unreal experience when photographers present portfolios with perfect bodies, flowers, settings. It also disturbs me when it is often the subject and not the photography that people tend to respond to. Since i believe that photography is about composition and visual relationships, I started taking photographs of subjects that will otherwise be considered repulsive outside of its context. The response I receive is interesting. People tend to have a mixed feeling about them--they appear to be drawn to the composition, but at the same time do not wish to hang dead things on their walls. This fulfills my intention and as such has driven me for more.

3. Numbers in a city


This was my first photography project. It started out as a project for a typography class while I was in college. Like most graphic design assignments at Yale, it was very open ended. We were asked to show the experience of a city through the language of typography. I have always been interested in numbers, and I as such I decided to run around New Haven and photograph numbers which represent the city, from 1 to 100. The series is to be projected on the wall as slideshow. The numbers are recognizably New Haven, and most who have been in New Haven can recognize the sense of time and space as they go through the series. Some commented that it reminded them of Sesame Street. It was so successful that I thought of extended this to different neighborhoods in New York, but I never had the time to work on more of them after college, and as such I have only completed the first and only one...


On the technical front, I am exploring flash photography and macro photography, which have both been very challenging and expensive, but the results are often surprising and inspiring, and I plan on continuing them whenever I have the time, and little experiments often result in the form of studies.


My public photography series are available on Flickr.


I have also created a set to allow reviewers to look at my range:

Ronald McDonald / Mermaid Parade / Coney Island / Brooklyn / New York City / 2007CRW_4688CRW_9702CRW_9816_anSoho Night lights HDRCRW_4160-001 copyBrooklyn Bridge Sunset HDRCigarette BlossomCRW_7555 copyConstruction TruckCharmedCRW_8525 copyCRW_9038CRW_5855CRW_34579CRW_34130CRW_8531 copyVeinsCRW_8425Spice FactoryCRW_5145-002 copyCRW_9262Still Life: Boys / Folsom Street East 2007 / New YorkRelaxation / Mermaid Parade / Coney Island / Brooklyn / New York City / 2007Lone Star Fish / Mermaid Parade / Coney Island / Brooklyn / New York City / 2007Folsom Street East 2007 / New YorkFreedom / Mermaid Parade / Coney Island / Brooklyn / New York City / 2007Triumph / Mermaid Parade / Coney Island / Brooklyn / New York City / 2007Temet Nosce / Mermaid Parade / Coney Island / Brooklyn / New York City / 2007Ship's Figure Head + Sony Cybershot / Mermaid Parade / Coney Island / Brooklyn / New York City / 2007Gay Pride / New York / 2007Annual Faerie & Church Ladies for Choice Drag March / New YorkSign / Annual Faerie & Church Ladies for Choice Drag March / New YorkHawaii SunsetCRW_4721Manhattan Bridge / New YorkManhattan Bridge HDRManhattan BridgeManhattan Bridge HDRBrooklyn BridgeManhattan Bridge HDRManhattan Bridge HDR / BW1CRW_34011_1_ptCRW_36583_31Folsom Street East 2007 / New YorkCommunication / Folsom Street East 2007 / New YorkPony Ride / Folsom Street East 2007 / New YorkFolsom Street East 2007 / New YorkFolsom Street East 2007 / New YorkComfort / Folsom Street East 2007 / New York

Related SML Pro Blog entries

Functional = Beautiful
HDR: Manhattan Bridge in Black and White
Manhattan Bridge HDR
Photography = Composition
SML Collection
Theorizing aesthetics

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Copyright 1976-2007 See-ming Lee. All rights reserved.