SML Search

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

RTFM = How I learned everything


“RTFM = How I learned everything” / SML.20130104.PHIL.RTFM

Most software comes with a manual which no one reads. Instead, humans have a tendency to skip the manual, play with the software, and then proceed to go onto online forums or their friends and ask how they can do anything.

Manuals are generally written by software companies to teach users how to use their software. Manuals written by the software companies are generally very well written because it is in their best interests to have customers who understand their software well.

People often asked me how I know the software which I use so well. Because I read the fucking manual (RTFM). When I was little, my mom told me that in order for me to use my dad’s brand new PC, I have to first read the MSDOS 3.3 manual, so I read it cover to cover. After I finished with the User Guide and proceeded to use the PC, my mom reminded me that the manual comes in two volumes. So I read the Reference cover to cover also. I still remember some command parameters (aka flags) til this day.

Similarly, when I started using Photoshop 3.0, I read Adobe’s manual cover to cover. The same applies for Illustrator, Ableton Live, After Effects, Premiere Pro. For software which does not comes with manuals, I read O’Reilly references and cookbooks cover to cover: Java, JavaScript, Python, … I read all the manuals for Canon EOS 10D, 7D, 580EX, … I read all the manuals for everything which comes with the manual.

RTFM. This is the only way to learn everything technical.

/ SML.20130104.PHIL.RTFM / #smlphil #ccby #smlphotography #smluniverse #smlopinions #smldata / #rtfm #technical #opinions #philosophy #manuals #software #tech #technology #photography #tools #adobe #canon #programming #languages #microsoft #cameras #humans #behavior #DOS #Oreilly #books #data

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Photography is an art, not a science.

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There is a great essay on Luminous Landscape titled “Making images, not taking images” by landscape photographer Peter Myers (1) which I like to point people to as I don’t communicate verbally very well.

In essence, the scientific rendering may be a science, but what you choose to process the image is an art. Some photographers form the opinion that zero-processing makes it art (2). The reverse is true. What makes photography an art form is the care taken by the photographer to turn a scientific capture into different images through a conscious processing workflow.

In the hands of different photographers, the same capture can become very many different things. In the hands of a single photographer, the same image can also be processed and reprocessed into different images.

Example 1: Process 1: Color

“昨日天氣報告:大霧,強風,微雨”  / 寧 Serenity / SML.20121228.IP3.Serenity

“昨日天氣報告:大霧,強風,微雨” / 寧 Serenity / SML.20121228.IP3.Serenity

Sometimes certain capture works better in color, even though they are tending towards monochrome-ish. The delicate desaturation lost its when rendered in black and white. Obviously black and white would work here also but maybe I will circle back and work on it later on.

Example 1: Process 2: B+W. LDR Scientific rendition

“LDR Scientific rendition” / 寧 Serenity / SML.20121228.IP3.Serenity.BW.SQ

“LDR Scientific rendition” / 寧 Serenity / SML.20121228.IP3.Serenity.BW.SQ

The opposite of HDR (high dynamic range) is LDR (low dynamic range) or in the case of iPad, NDR (no dynamic range). The funny thing is, to do LDR well you actually need an HDR source.

If I need to extract image data from a source using only 1/8 of the total image bandwidth given any 8-bit / 256-level source, then I only have 32-level (and thus 5-bit data) to work with. But since the camera cannot adjust tonal range with regard to the image available range (I.e. that it cannot do dynamic contrast adjustment), if I wished for a normal dynamic range image (8-bit) even within that 1/8 total image bandwidth then I need a high dynamic range image to start with.

Without bandwidth remap this is the low contrast image you see. This is what I would call a scientific rendition because this is the reality.

Example 1: Process 3: B+W. Push + Pull

“Photography is an art, not a science” / 寧 Serenity / SML.20121228.IP3.Serenity.BW.SQ

“Photography is an art, not a science” / 寧 Serenity / SML.20121228.IP3.Serenity.BW.SQ

Here that same image is tweaked with the tonal range expanded and you can observe the limits of the iPad camera’s low dynamic range—it becomes very grainy. This is the limits of lesser cameras. If I put this into Photoshop I should be able to get rid of those artifacts starting from the original image but the grain is often part of the charm in black and white photography.

Example 2: Process 1: B+W

“海闊天空” hǎikuò-tiānkōng / 寧 Serenity  / SML.20130102.IP3.Serenity.SQ.BW

“海闊天空” hǎikuò-tiānkōng / 寧 Serenity / SML.20130102.IP3.Serenity.SQ.BW

Example 2: Process 2: Color

“望九天,藍瑩瑩,望大地,綠蔥蔥。” (Blue sky, green fields) / 寧 Serenity  / SML.20130102.IP3.Serenity.SQ

“望九天,藍瑩瑩,望大地,綠蔥蔥。” (Blue sky, green fields) / 寧 Serenity / SML.20130102.IP3.Serenity.SQ

I am indecisive. Sometimes I can’t make up my mind about whether a capture works better in color or in black and white. So I do both. Sometimes even multiple times. Sometimes I process images years after I captured them.

For example, there are some HDRs on my Flickr stream which were never intended for HDRs. But I always shoot RAW when I use my DSLRs and I usually photograph everything in -3/+3 bracketed shots so eventually when software were available for me to do HDRs even though the original captures by themselves were no good, it works out ok.

On the iPad there is no way to get the RAW image. Or can you? When I upgrade this iPad I will hack it open to see if I can. For now, I am embracing its super grainy imperfection. Much like what I loved about my Sony Mavica FD7—a 640x480 digital camera which stores images on 3.5” floppy disk which I bought in 1997 for US$999. It’s crazy what you can buy for that amount of money these days.

This image has a really weird cast and there is nothing I can do using Snapseed’s infantile controls.

Example 2: Process 3: Cynotype

“Cyanotype” / 寧 Serenity  / SML.20130102.IP3.Serenity.SQ.Cyanotype

“Cyanotype” / 寧 Serenity / SML.20130102.IP3.Serenity.SQ.Cyanotype

If I actually remove the yellow cast inside Snapseed on that same capture I will get this image which looks almost like a Cyanotype print. It is somewhat bizarre. Cyanotype has its charm though. But most humans don’t respond well to Cyanotype as it is a “cold” color.

So you can see why I decided to process as black and white in my first attempt. Staying neutral sometimes help with the overall composition. To me, color usually is a distraction. But maybe because I don’t really have a good grasp of it.

Like I said, people often thought that black and white is more difficult. The reverse is true. Often the colors you see in life is so challenging that black and white is the easy way out. With color filters you can turn things which were bright into dark and dark things into bright. There are a lot of leeway when developing in black and white. For example, you can often go crazy in HDR images if you further push things in black and white because without the color information the human eye will more easily adapt even if the local contrast is intense.

Example 2: Conclusion

“Triptych + Intention + Square format” / 寧 Serenity  / SML.20130102.IP3.Serenity.SQ.Triptych

“Triptych + Intention + Square format” / 寧 Serenity / SML.20130102.IP3.Serenity.SQ.Triptych

Originally I didn’t intend to do anything with the sky. I captured the view mostly because I liked what was left behind on the ocean. But square format has a limitation. If my subject matter is very wide then I am somewhat stuck with having to deal with the other parts of the image which I did not want in my frame.

Sometimes that get in the way. So above is the three processing which I applied to the capture. Below is what the original capture looks like. The parts which I actually want to show is completely lost in the top three images mostly because in order to properly expose the image, all I get is the dark mess in the bottom.

SML Notes

  1. Luminous-Landscape: Essays: Making Images — Not Taking Imagees by Pete Myers:
  2. I see it all the time on Instagram. Photographers often tag things “nofilter,” thinking that makes them amazing photographers. To me that is laziness. I have never had a single image which pass through my entire photography life where I don’t feel a need to process them. Maybe I am just not as good as other people. But then again I haven’t really seen any masterpieces from the #nofilter crowd…

Related SML Universe

  1. SML Photography Blog: Serenity:
  2. SML Photography Blog: Serenity: Part 2:

/ #寧 #serenity #ccby #smlphotography #smluniverse #smlbw #smlprojects #smlphil
/ #霧 #fog #海 #sea #雲 #clouds #雨
/ #山水 #landscape #黑白 #bw #photography #philosophy #IP3
/ #馬鞍山 #MaOnShan #香港 #HongKong #中國 #中国 #China

Friday, January 4, 2013

Black, white, and graphic design — a look back on my typography in my Yale college days

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1995 marks the beginning of my graphic design career. I went to Yale originally to study architecture but I decided to take some graphic design classes because I thought that it would help as I didn’t know anything about design.

The decision to study art was mostly rebellious in nature. Unlike my classmates who mostly come from a fine art background, I was a science nerd in high school (1). I decided to study art mainly because I was sick of living under the shadow of my older sister (2). I also thought that it would make sense for me to utilize the opportunity to study something I know nothing about (3).

The graphic design program at Yale was mostly typography driven. That is, Yale does not really teach graphic design the way other art schools do (4). The only actual “skill” that was taught is typography. There are no rules. Assignments are extremely open-ended. Typically the assignments are something that can be summarized in a sentence—e.g. “Do something with the the dollar bill.” You can interpret the assignment in anyway you see fit. So it was fun to see what ended up showing up in class the next week.

“Black, white, and graphic design: a look back on my typography in my Yale college days” #design #smlphil / SML.20130101.PHIL.SML.Design.Typography.History.Yale.Edu.Opinions

In my free time I work on designs for student events and journals because it was fun. Usually I designed everything in black and white first because my HP LaserJet only prints black and white (5) so using colors would mean not being able to see how things are until I spend money to then print them in color at the printshop. Color printing (Fiery) was expensive in those days, so to save costs for most projects we also ended up printing things in black and white. What I learned doing this was that black and white is usually a good first step to do any designs. If something does not work in black and white then there is no reason to go color. This is a philosophy that I utilize even when I design for interface these days. It is a good metric as a small percentage of people are colorblind, so to fulfill true universal usability requirements, the interface must work even when viewed in black and white.

I was introduced to the beautiful designs by Emigre (6) and Eye Magazine (7) by my Yale professors (8). As such my designs during my college days also feature a ton of Emigre fonts—mostly I think because I don't really know of other foundries maybe. I learned the fine art of grid layout mostly by reading Eye. Yale does not teach layouts (as noted above and also in footnote 4), so I learn by observing how the masters do it and interpret things on my own.

The Yale design philosophy is simple: question everything—why and why not. There are no rights and wrongs. Critiques at Yale are very open ended. But we need to justify every single decision we make. Questions: why is the type set in this font? Why this size? Why is the image placed here? We ask only why, and we must be able to reason everything. In the end, what was taught is removal of all things unessential until the final product becomes an extreme reduction of TMIs. When I look at designs today, I see all kinds of added ornaments: swash, drop shadows, rounded corners—decorations. To me, good designs need no embellishment. Good designs speak for themselves.

Good design is clean and clear. Good design communicates. Good design is transparent. When you see good design, the apparent design disappears and all you see is the message.

Pictured from top:

  • Discourses: an Asian American journal of arts and criticisms. Volume 2 No 1. PDF amazingly still live on the web: Edited by Pearle Lee and Jaya N. Kasibhatla. Pearle is now my client for a hedge fund after I moved back to Hong Kong — crazy yes? Seems even though I was a social-phobe in college some friendships do last forever.
  • Program notes from Jonathan Edwards College Chamber Players. Brett Austad and Joshua Richman, music directors. Olivia Blander MUS ’98, Heather Losey CC ’98, Daniel Adamson DC ’98, Rafenna Michalsen TC’01, Betsy Tao BK ’98, Rebecca Reich DC’00, David Blasher DC’01, Andrew Guenzer DC’01. April 28, 1998.
  • Kurasawa Film Festival program notes. A tribute to Akira Kurosawa by the Yale Film Society, Council on East Asian Studies, and Yale College Japan Association. Organization committee: Rene Brar, Andrew J Cohen, Aaron Epstein, Makiko Kitamura, Shoshana Litt, Geoffrey Sledge. January 24-29, 1999. Whitney Humanities Center.


  1. To give a perspective on this, my organic chemistry class in high school fulfills the lab requirements for “freshman orgo” designed for premed students under the tutelage of McBride. I also took Physics 220 and other classes while at Yale with other premed nerds.
  2. MSL also went to Yale to study Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry. She graduated summa cum laude / second in her class (CC’99) and went on to study at Harvard Medical School and Columbia Medical School and become the MD PhD that she is today. She snapped a ton of patents in AIDS research and published several papers on Nature for discovering the protein related to Alzheimer’s. Looking back, my decision to study art was sound because there is no way I will ever become anyone stuck behind the expectations from other people to achieve as well as she does.
  3. Most people I know go to school to earn good grades to look good on their CV. I thought that the tuition was hard earned money by my dad so I studied a ton of things which I knew nothing about: accounting, gender studies, computer law, operational research. I did not get very good grades from these, but the knowledge I gained from learning these subjects are beneficial to my day-to-day work to this day.
  4. The philosophy (I believe) is that you can learn software on your own so no classes will teach you how to use them. Design as a visual language is highly subjective so it does not really make sense to critique what is good or bad. So unlike many art schools where the graduation show is filled with designs with a particular style, the graduation shows at Yale are always very interesting because students show projects which show a huge range of diversity.
  5. I had the HP LaserJet 4MV. It prints 11 x 17 in (US Tabloid). It was awesome.
  6. Emigre, also known as Emigre Graphics, is a digital type foundry, publisher and distributor of graphic design centered information based in Berkeley, California, that was founded in 1984 by husband-and-wife team Rudy VanderLans and Zuzana Licko. The type foundry also published Emigre magazine between 1984 and 2005. Note that unlike the word émigré, Emigre is officially spelled without accents.
  7. Eye Magazine, The International Review of Graphic Design is a quarterly print magazine on graphic design and visual culture. First published in London in 1990, Eye was founded by Rick Poynor, a prolific writer on graphic design and visual communication. Poynor edited the first twenty-four issues (1990-1997). Max Bruinsma was the second editor, editing issues 25–32 (1997–1999), before its current editor John L. Walters took over in 1999. Stephen Coates was art director for issues 1-26, Nick Bell was art director from issues 27-57, and Simon Esterson has been art director since issue 58.
  8. I owe much of who I am today to the years of patience and encouragement to my graphic design professors: John Gambell, Paul Elliman, Jenny Chan and Michael Rock. SML Thank You.

/ SML.20130101.PHIL.SML.Design.Typography.History.Yale.Edu.Opinions
/ #smlphil #smlhistory #smlopinions #smledu #seeminglee #smlme #ccby #smlphotography #smluniverse
/ #yale #edu #history #design #typography #philosophy #us #graphicdesign #opinions #ux #userexperience #usability #eye #eyemagazine #emigre #fonts #grid #layouts
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Thursday, January 3, 2013


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“Believe.  If you believe in ___________, it will come true.” / SML.20121225.PHIL / #smlphil #ccby #smluniverse

“Believe. If you believe in ___________, it will come true.” / SML.20121225.PHIL

The human mind is capable of a lot. If you believe that something will happen, you can will it to happen. It does not actually matter what you believe in (aka through which). Some people rely on a philosophy, a religion, a chant, an object.

Although I am not religious, my parents are and so I grew up going to church every sunday. As such I am familiar with the various forms of religious doctrines in Christianity. Different religions in the world consider their god as the “one true god”. It is somewhat true—because whether you see energy as a thing or god, the result is the same. In my opinion, it is not necessarily that a being is allowing you to reach the result—it is the focused act of belief (or faith as Christians like to call it.)

We are all connected through energy. Energy which binds us altogether, and I believe that the mind is capable of manipulating such energy. Scientists suggest that we only use 10% of our brains. So I research ways to use my brain which are not practiced by others.

When I was young, I use this same methodology to develop something I coined “modeling” which I now realize is something very similar used in the Buddhist visualization meditation technique.

The way I see it, if life doesn't go the way you wish it, hack it. Hack your brain. Model your outcome. You will get everything that you wish for if you are willing to believe.

/ #life #belief #believe #energy #religion #science #christianity #buddhism #philosophy #opinions #smlopinions #method #hacks #lifehacks #mindhacks #visualization #modeling #meditation #humans #mind #brain

/ #中國 #中国 #China #香港 #HongKong

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Order + Chaos

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One must still have chaos within oneself, to give birth to a dancing star.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Chaos / SML.20121219.IP3.SMLU.Desk.Chaos

Chaos / SML.20121219.IP3.SMLU.Desk.Chaos

I am very messy. I am aware of that. I try to stay organized but it is very hard. People often ask me how I can find anything in my mess. Oh but just because you cannot doesn’t mean that I can’t. I have a very good visual memory. I won’t say that it is photographic but if I have read or seen anything I usually remember them. It just has to be visual or audible. They don’t work as well if they are just some abstract things such as words. But if I have seen it then I remember it.


When you see all these neat desks at showrooms + furniture stores + photo shoots, you are often lead to believe that it is possible to maintain a very clean environment when you work. Don’t believe the hype!

SML Workspace / SML.20121204.IP3

Moment of peace and order before chaos resumes”—new “desk” from MUJI (technically speaking it’s a dining table)—like you have to ask! Also like I said, I own every Apple product except the iPad Mini. You don’t see the iPad because it’s used to take this photo. :)

I try to stay organised sometimes—usually when I ran out of space, but it is difficult. The neat workspace will never stay long. I swim in chaos daily. I am glad that I am not OCD because if I were then I will never have time to work.

When I used to work for large agencies, I was always amazed that some people’s desks are very neat. Actually most of their space are. I just don’t know how they stay so organized. Do they actually work? I ask myself this question all the time.

A working space is a messy space. Input is always messy. Input is always full of chaos. Input is always disorganized. Output though is usually clean. Output is clear. What you see at showrooms, furniture stores and photo shoots are output, not the input.


My second husband was a clean-freak. We lived in a small studio apartment together for two years. He has good taste and we lived in a space filled with Philip Starck furniture and designer goods. Everything in the apartment is white. It looks good but it is completely unusable for me. I had to tiptoe inside my own apartment because he decided to buy a white carpet for the entire room. It was crazy—#notallcrazyisgood you know.

225plan: Phillip Starck + IKEA / 2003-05-21 / SML

225plan: Phillip Starck + IKEA / 2003-05-21 / SML

On the one hand it was nice that there was someone cleaning after me and unchaotize my mess. On the other hand it was completely unlivable. How do you live when you don’t feel at home at your own home? If I accidentally spill anything in the also completely white kitchen I get yelled at. Wow, seriously—how do you cook without making a mess? We ended up eating salads everyday. I did lose a lot of weight as a result. Maybe that’s a good thing!?


“Chaotization has begun.” / SML.20121205.IP3

“Chaotization has begun.” / SML.20121205.IP3

People who try to be helpful often would attempt to organize my things in ways which make sense to them when they visit. The problem with that is that they don’t have photographic memory and so when they “helpfully” organize my stuff I would end up not being able to find anything because they have no photographic memory. This sucks. So mind your own business ok?

In general I do respect public / private space. Any space that is public and shared I try to keep them as neat as possible. But within my own private confine where it does not affect anyone else, I just let them loose because what works for me might make no sense to you whatsoever but if my mess does not affect your being then you have no right to come in and tell me what I do is wrong and proceed to change things in ways which fits you—especially when you yourself cannot find what I need in your “better system” when I can always find what I need in my “chaotic system which makes no sense”—that is all.

Artists’ studios

“One must still have chaos within oneself, to give birth to a dancing star.” —Friedrich Nietzsche  / Chaos / SML.20121204.IP3

I visited a lot of artists studio in the past and they are always chaotic. They often keep on apologizing that it is not clean. But I really don’t mind it, really. In fact I enjoy seeing the messy chaotic working studios instead of the times when they are doing open studios and everything feels completely out of place awkward. Things just don’t feel real when they are neat. This might also be why I don’t really like seeing art in galleries and museums when they are all clinically cleaned everyday.

I love the messy workspace. I celebrate it. Mess / chaos / active vs inactive piles tell me a lot about someone. Removing all the data tells me nothing about the person. I love data. I want to see people as they are. Alter-egos are boring. Embrace who you are. Be yourself. Be.

(Yes I do clean up from time to time. Usually when I have no space to work. But my working surface consists mostly of the monitor + tablet + Moleskine so messy desks do not affect me really.)

Update 2013-01-02: now available as a single-image

Humans don’t like to click and no one wants to read a super long post but somehow most don’t mind reading if it is in a single image. Oh humans. SMLBioBot gets you. Here it is as a single image, made with love especially for you:

“Order + Chaos” / SML.20130102.SMLProBlog.Chaos

Original version 6400x6400:

Order + Chaos
/ #亂 #chaos #ccby #smlphotography #smluniverse #smlprojects
/ #意見 #opinions #smlopinions
/ #stuff #computers #desk #chargers #cables #nerds #mess #tools #geeks
/ #馬鞍山 #MaOnShan #香港 #HongKong #中國 #中国 #China

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Share / SML Network Theory

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“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” —Steven Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Habit 5  ”Seek first to share, then to be shared. Seek first to like, then to be liked.” —SML Network Theory / SML.20121230.PHIL

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
—Steven Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Habit 5

”Seek first to share, then to be shared.
Seek first to like, then to be liked.”
—SML Network Theory

I know a lot of people (artists in particular) who are completely dumbfounded by social media. Following the advice of their friends, they signed up on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter, on Flickr, on LinkedIn, because their friends told them that if they sign onto one of these networks they will gain exposure.

Yes, you will. But you need to participate. Simply creating a Facebook account and a page and not participate in anything is much like appearing on an island in the middle of nowhere and expect travel tours to flight over as a travel destination.

If you talk about other people and be interested in other people’s work, people will be curious about your work in return. The same philosophy opined by Covey is the same in social media.

But be sincere about it — often I see companies / brands / people liking all kinds of random things in hopes of gaining followers. You won’t go far. You might be able to fool the dumb search bots in hopes of gaining linkbacks via SEO but ultimately humans are the ones who care about your content. If you want people to care, then care about others. Never follow accounts in hopes of being followed back.

That tactic is seen all over Twitter. I see it all the time—they follow you, as soon as you follow, they send you a direct message as spam and then unfollow immediately—it was so annoying that I have stopped seeing who is following me anymore. I blame that unhealthy number-game on Twitter to the promptly displayed stats. And is the number 1 reason why I suggest companies to not actively display stats visibly on people’s profile as it creates an unhealthy ecology.

In the hayday of social media analytics, the follower/following ratio is often used to calculate one’s influence and thus popularity. If being well-read is a sign of intellectual maturity, then one must question how logical that influence analytics data really is. Thus you will see that better analytics engines such as Klout calculates influence based on engagement, and I think that kind of calculation is much more accurate.

/ SML.20121230.PHIL
/ #smlphil #ccby #seeminglee #smluniverse #smlnet #smlopinions #smlanalytics
/ #network #theory #socialmedia #facebook #likes #twitter #flickr #LinkedIn #Klout #philosophy #marketing #strategy #opinions #analysis #analytics #influence #engagement
/ #HongKong #HK #China #CN

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Professionalism is qualitative, not quantitative.

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“Professionalism is qualitative, not quantitative.” / SML.20121209.PHIL

“Professionalism is qualitative, not quantitative.” / SML.20121209.PHIL /

Some people said that they are not a professional because they don't make any money doing what they do. I find this interesting. What does making money have anything to do with being a professional or not?

To me, professionalism is an attitude. It is a measure of how one approaches an activity. It has nothing to do with the amount of money one makes doing it.

I have worked with countless so-called “professionals” in my years of business over the years and I can tell you that there are a lot of people—regardless of competency—who charge their clients exuberant sums of money but who can never deliver what was promised. I have also worked with countless so-called “non-professionals” who do not receive much pay but are top-notch in what they do.

You are a professional if you can deliver a professional product. You are a professional if you maintain a professional attitude while doing it. You are not a professional just because you do it for a living. You are not a professional just because you have a degree in that field. You are most certainly not a professional just because you are able to make lots of money doing it.

Business transactions are monetary exchange agree by two parties. Business dealings, monetary compensation and professionalism often relate. However, relationship is not the same as equality.

#香港 #hongkong #中國 #china #李思明 #seeminglee #思想 #philosophy #opinions #專業 #professionalism #professional #profession #工作 #jobs #商 #business #錢 #money