Thursday, April 26, 2007

the big 2-0 for Tom

My little brother turned 20 on Monday. Over the weekend, my mom and I took him to brunch to celebrate.

Tom in "eater's pose". It's similar to runner's pose, but for eating.

Scrambled eggs at Ella's. A 45-minute wait to eat these eggs!

Afterwards, we took a walk by the beach. Ah, the convenient joys of living in California.


On Monday, I drove to Stanford to drop off Tom's birthday presents. My mom stayed behind at my house to work on web pages, her new hobby.

My parents are not big into gift-giving. After I started working fulltime, I convinced them to exchange Christmas gifts one year. My mom took a new towel from the linen closet. She gift-wrapped it and placed it under the tree. My dad then made a big show of opening the package, before quietly returning the towel to the linen closet.

But times have changed! My mom took from her suitcase a 红包, which means "red bag", the Chinese way of giving cash as a gift. I peered inside it as she handed it to me. It was thickly stuffed with a sum well into four digits.

"I want to help Tom buy a car, now that he's starting work," she said.

I suspect it's really to make up for forgetting about giving birth to her own son.

I call this "throwing money at the problem".

Tom opening my present, which is ... driving lessons! From an accredited driving school.

As I was leaving the house, my mom said, "Oh, I also brought your brother a bag of peanuts from Beijing!" We stuffed both into a bag. This picture shows Tom shortly after being presented with the bag.

Tom: "What is this? My birthday present is PEANUTS?"

Tom counting his newfound cash.

He then thought up this little prank:

Tom: [calling our mom] Mom! Thank you so much for the present!

Mom: Well, it's a very important birthday.

Tom: I love peanuts!

Mom: What about the other present?

Tom: What other present?

Mom: Didn't your sister give you another present from me?

Tom: No. She just gave me the bag of peanuts.

Mom: !

Tom: But she did show me the new shoes she bought today.


Unfortunately we did not actually play out the prank.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

party and colonics (now there's a subject line I never expected to write)

I co-hosted a party on Saturday at the nightclub Duplex, to celebrate two birthdays.

The bar area, before it got crowded.

The two birthday girls, me, my brother Tom, and Sara.

The very pretty Elaine, posing with my coworker Matthew from Gmail. Elaine insisted that the photo wouldn't come out well because I'm taking it from below, but of course she looks perfectly cute.

Karey, Megan my personal trainer, and me.

"What did you do today?" I asked Megan.

"I got a colonic for the first time."

That sounds horrible, I said, twisting my face away in disgust.

Over the next 45 minutes, she painted a magical picture of washing your insides with an influx of pure water. The gentle flow cleanses out years of gunk, leaving you fresh, light, rejuvenated.

If you had asked me last week about my ideal Saturday night outing, it would not have included listening to a detailed account of my friend's fecal matter, and the sensations as it was extracted from her.

But I would be wrong.

It turned out to be fascinating -- the sucking sensation from inside her abs, the chunks floating through the tube, the gurgling of water as it was inserted.

By the end of the conversation, my brother asked me if I'd give him a colonic gift certificate for his 20th birthday.

light, heavy, regular, skipping ... (hint: it's not about cavalry)

My friend Howard once said, "Any time a woman mentions her period, the conversation is over."

I took great mirth in this. Afterwards, whenever I wanted to wrap up an IM conversation with him, I'd bring up "medium flow days" and watch how quickly he logged out.

Anyhow, today Google building 46 switched to stocking a new type of maxi pad.

[... sound of countless male readers closing their browser window in horror ...]

The b46 women's bathroom now supplies maxi pads with wings, as opposed to ones without wings.

There is another name for maxis without wings. That name is: "useless". I don't understand why this product is still in existence.

Google has some good perks, the gourmet free food and 20% time and founder's awards. But now that we have free maxi pads with wings, truly we deserve to win 2007 Fortune magazine's "Best Place to Work".


While I'm on the topic of monthly cycles, my friend "Jimbo" was describing an encounter with a girl, and how he inexplicably goes through monthly variances in libido. Sometimes during the month he's hot to trot, and other times he's in a cold-fish mood.

"Yeah," I said, "Trent talked about it too. Supposedly this happens in all males."

Jimbo replied in shock:

All males, seriously? Nobody *ever* talks about it. The standard view is that men are sex-crazed fiends. Occasionally there's a discussion about how sad it is when a husband loses interest in his wife sexually, but then it's assumed to be a permanent thing. Seriously, the only page I can find discussing any kind of variation is this.

This is compared to dozens and dozens of scientific studies about the "always on", "triggered by anything", "penetration at all costs" male libido.

Perhaps some male readers can chime in, if there are any left who didn't storm away in disgust.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

big words, little brother

Tom (my younger brother) stays up all night studying.

He goes to help friends pin event flyers around Stanford campus.

There is one flyer left.

Tom decides to hang it on the post in the middle of a fountain.

To do this, he announces he will jump from the edge of the fountain to the post in the middle. His friends say it's impossible -- the distance is too great. Nay, says Tom! He'll just leap to the post, and they can pass him the flyer. He'll tape it up, and leap right back! It'll be simple, he says.

His friend senses a YouTube moment about to occur.

I recommend watching the first 30 seconds, and then skipping to the last 20 seconds.

Monday, April 16, 2007

cruel Chinese heterosexuals

A young friend Peng, visiting the US from China, told me about getting hit on by a man who was "男不男, 女不女" (not like a man, but also not like a woman).

We started talking about gay clubs, and I mentioned that sometimes gay men open with the line, "Top or bottom?" It's efficient, to ensure there's a match before they waste time.

Peng told me what he would do the next time a gay man tried to pick him up.

Gay man: [attempting a come-on] Hey there. [looking him up and down]

Peng: Are you top or bottom?

Gay man: [excitedly waving hand] I'm top!! [pointing at Peng] You must be bottom, right?

Peng: [stepping back] Sorry, I'm not gay.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

the only trump card

On Wednesday, I'm picking up my mother from San Francisco Airport. She's been in Beijing for the past four months, and will be staying with me for a week.

I fear that after leaving the bustle of our relatives in Beijing, my mother's entire focus will be on me. How many of these conversations did we have last summer, driving down the freeway:

Me: My friend Jim just quit his corporate job to create a startup, and --

Mom: [interrupting] Does Jim have a girlfriend?

Me: [irritated] That's not the point.

Mom: Why don't you date Jim? You should start thinking about marriage, you know!

Me: I don't want to date Jim.

Mom: Why not?

Me: [trying to quiet her as fast as possible] I'm not attracted to him.

Mom: That's okay! Don't focus on looks. After you look at the same face every day, you'll get used to it.

Me: He doesn't make me laugh. I like guys who are funny.

Mom: That's okay! After a few years of marriage, you would get tired of the other person's jokes anyway.

Me: He might be gay.

Mom: That's okay! ...

After a lot of trial-and-error, I finally stumbled on the single reason that will immediately and unequivocably stop her. From now on, conversations will go like this:

Me: My friend Bob says San Francisco condos prices should fall in the next six months.

Mom: Hey, why don't you date --

Me: He never wants kids.

Mom: Forget it.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

eggs in one basket

My work team is moving to a new building. Yesterday afternoon, as professional movers burst into our cubicle and lifted our packed boxes onto trolleys, I took my laptop to main campus to work from an isolated conference room.

Four hours later, ravenous, I instant messaged Sha-mayn and then Dan to get dinner with me.

After being summarily rejected, I sat for a moment at the long conference table, staring at ethernet cables and laptop power connectors spewing from its middle like entrails. Why would I feel so disconnected from the world due to a simple fact of not having a cubicle to call home?

It is perhaps the danger of deriving the majority of your friendships from work.

I remembered Dan's words from 1999, when he left Microsoft to co-found a startup. One of the hardest things, he told me, was going to work every day to the same eight people, day in and day out.

"Don't you work in the same building as other startups?" I said. "How's that different from when you worked at MS?"

"It's not the same. At Microsoft there were always people I'd greet in the hallway or kitchen, or that I'd chat with in the cafeteria."

I understood this last night, in a froth of insight and hunger.

Then I walked outside, and immediately ran into my ex-roommate, a Googler, who invited me to dinner with her husband (also a Googler) and their half-dozen Googler friends. We went to a shanghai noodle shop.

And now I'm about to go eat with 25 Chinese engineers from Google. Because I've learned nothing about diversification from this experience.

Monday, April 09, 2007

guess where

Guess where these photos are from? I took them on Sunday. It was a place that I expected to be blocky granite buildings, but turned out quite lovely.

lots of eating this week

I ate out at restaurants countless times this week, with coworkers and ex-coworkers.

A noodle shop in downtown Mountain View offers black-sesame ramen. For two foods I've never seen together in a single bowl, it actually works okay.

Burritos in the park with coworkers, under sunshine and cherry blossoms.

"Little Fat Sheep" hot pot. Half spicy, half non.

S.Z. tossing chunks of pig's blood into the pot.

Pleased hot-pot consumers.

The sweet Cecilia is moving to Brazil next week. We managed to hang out a number of times this past year, despite the fact that she loves to go drink beer and I can't stand the taste, that she works 7 to 5 and I'm shifted by at least three hours, that she enjoys dive bars and I avoid them, with their bikers jostling me and water dripping on me from ventilation pipes overhead.

Now she will go brush up her Portuguese and perhaps work as a recruiting coordinator at Google Brazil.

The sushi restaurant where we had lunch borders on the San Francisco Bay. We took a walk afterwards along the beach.

I always remark how beautiful she is, and she pushes it off. She's very sweet. Angelic, one could say.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

recruiting: the inverse prom queen phenomenon

Recently, three friends considered working together on a spare-time project, but it didn't pan out because one of them felt underappreciated. The other two are hard-pressed to find a replacement as talented or prolific, yet they didn't show appreciation when courting their potential golden hen.

It made me reflect on a phenomenon that bemuses me. A high-quality engineer will be chased like wolves by a top-shelf company, and then get lukewarm treatment by a far less successful company.

One example is my Caltech friend "David", who submitted his resume to a slew of companies at Career Fair. One company did a campus interview and then delayed three months before offering to direct him to a position coding printer drivers. Meanwhile, Microsoft was so hungry for him that they surfed for an online photo and created a personalized web page about how he would add spice to their team. Alas, the photo they found was not of him, but of a similarly long-haired student who David disliked.

During my own experiences, I found that prestigious companies worked harder at recruiting me, which was counter-intuitive. A few years ago, one 15-person startup -- above average but not phenomenal -- put me through two rounds of interviews. Even as their engineering VP delivered my job offer, he enumerated the flaws in my personality that I would need to change. Contrast this with Google in the same year, who sent me a chocolate gift basket after my offer letter, and then shipped another basket to my parents to get on their good side. Or Blizzard, king of the games industry, whose interview-day present of a Starcraft pre-launch beta CD made me the envy of my gaming friends.

I've seen this happen to others: hardware engineers, fresh college graduates, etc.

Consider high school. The prom queen is desired by all, but the prom king acts nonchalant about getting a date with her, whereas the lonely kids lower on the social totem pole would jump at the chance. Here it's the inverse. The prom king of the software world, though deluged by superstars, goes all-out in the chase. The aspiring startups and nearly-bankrupt stragglers, despite dying for talent, stay cavalier.

Perhaps it's an effect of that philosophy "it takes talent to recognize talent". The software titans reached their dominance partly due to their ability to find and chase star employees.

But I wonder why it doesn't apply the other way around. By extrapolation, mediocre engineers would be unable to recognize a good opportunity. Yet I see struggling engineers plead and plead for a chance at Google, citing it as the dream of their life. Stars generally do not prostrate themselves in this manner.

It could be that engineers can benefit from wisdom of the crowd. No matter how poor an engineer's judgement is, they hear lots about how great Google is, so they go with the masses. But then why doesn't this apply to the companies? They should be able to determine mass-appeal of their candidates by looking at their job histories and education.

Friday, April 06, 2007

April Fool's

I don't usually play pranks for April Fool's, because it's disadvantageous when everyone else's guard is up. But this year, despite my peaceful non-involvement, I was pulled in by Google Blogoscoped.

I came into work on Monday to find an unexpected email thread from Googlers, asking if it was true that I posted to Google Blog announcing GDrive.

Here's the forum where this prank originated.

Google Blogoscoped created a fake blog "googleb1og" (the number 1 instead of the letter l) and wrote a prank post. After it was crawled by blogsearch, they replaced the blog to redirect to a non-existent entry in the real Google Blog, to make it look like Google retracted the entry.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007


I've lived in the Bay Area for over three years, but it took me until this past weekend to realize that there is land like this just 20 minutes north of San Francisco:

By the side of the freeway:


California rocks.