Tuesday, December 25, 2007

feliz navidad: a post which is not only boring but also cranky

Merry Christmas from Madrid!

I am stuck in the negative feedback loop where you have low blood sugar from not eating, which makes you too tired to go out foraging for food. Also, I am waiting for my parents to get ready next door.

All the cafes are closed anyway for Christmas Day. I have visions of a delightful Spanish breakfast with eggs broken over potatoes, but instead in thirty minutes I will become so desperate that I will eat this large can of pineapple I bought yesterday.

The Prado is closed as well. Yesterday we checked its web site. The museum is closed Mondays, but open 9am to 2pm on Dec 24. Tom said "the more specific rule" should trump the Monday rule, so we took the subway over there. Of course it was closed.

Christmas is so inconvenient!

Bah humbug.

On the positive side, this morning Tom presented me with a lovely pig calendar, as a Christmas present. It features pigs in rose petals, pigs lying on fluffy pillows, pigs eating grapes. Tom said he felt strange walking up to the register to buy a calendar called "Pigs -- pretty in pink".

I love it, of course.

I haven't gotten him anything yet, because I'm lame.

Far and away the best Christmas present of all is that my parents are super relaxed during this trip. Six months ago, a turning of the tide occurred when they paid the last installment of my brother's tuition. With that worry out of the way, they've turned into happy-go-lucky versions of themselves.

It's the holy grail from my childhood that I never thought I'd actually see.

Yesterday I bought four coffees at a little sandwich shop. My mother insisted on sharing a sugar packet with my dad, so she could save her own sugar for later. You know, in case an emergency sweetening procedure is required later in the day, and there is no other sugar on hand, she would be able to pull out this packet.

My dad opened his mouth, and I cringed a little inwardly, expecting a jab about the ridiculousness of carrying a sugar packet around Madrid. But instead he offered a tip on how to carry the sugar so it would have least chance of spilling out.

Life is great.

Even if I'm cranky.

That pineapple is looking pretty good now.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

it was still faster than 40 days

At Burning Man in August, as I huddled on the desert plain during a sandstorm, I decided that I wanted to travel more and see my family more. This holiday season, we're traveling together in Madrid and Paris.

Our flight out of Philadelphia last night was delayed by five hours, as technicians switched out the cockpit door. I slept during the delay, and throughout the ensuing seven-hour flight to Madrid. Upon arrival:

Tom: "I can't wait to get off this plane. They only served drinks once, seven hours ago. I'm parched!"

Me: [very amused] "I've never heard anyone say that, except a talking plant in a cartoon."

... getting off the plane ...

Tom: "I can't believe we've been traveling for 24 hours. Why does it take this long, just to get from one side of the world to the other?"

Me: "Tom, it used to take a lot longer. There's a book 'Around the World in Eighty Days'."

Tom: "Well, we didn't even go around the world! We only went halfway around!"


We checked into our hotel, and Tom has been napping for the past four hours, curled in a ball. Awww.

Friday, December 21, 2007


I am in a nostalgic mood. Maybe because I ate in the main Google cafe tonight, under an enormous Christmas tree with multi-colored lights. The cafe was uncharacteristically devoid of people, and the combination of an empty hall with a giant Christmas tree got me in a wistful mood.

One story that comes to mind is a ridiculous one from college.

In my dorm, there lived a young man "Rah" from Bangladesh. Rah was a pretty close friend of mine. He was very smart at physics. He liked to make up elaborate lies to see if he could convince people. Another interest involved singing certain songs over and over. One year, he started singing "I just called to say... I love you" every single freakin' day. He sang it in our House courtyard, in the hallway, in the bathroom. After six months, I got so annoyed that as soon as he opened his mouth and the first melodic "I" emerged, I would yell at him to stop. But he would of course finish singing the chorus.

To this day, I cannot listen to that song without becoming agitated.

One day, Rah told us that his family arranged a marriage for him back home. He was now engaged to a young woman. We dismissed it as one of his fabricated stories. Over the next two months, he let slip more details every few days. He griped about the annoyances of international phone calls, of getting to know his fiancee through this constrained manner, of worries about her youth and inexperience, of his doubts about the upcoming marriage.

Eventually many of us were mostly convinced that it was real. Then Rah announced it was all a huge ruse, for him to see how many people he could trick.

The House became divided. Some thought it was his most elaborate ruse to date. Others thought the engagement was real and fell through, and he claimed it was fabricated to avoid admitting that it didn't work out.

Rah spent the next weeks explaining details of how he tricked us, why he picked particular lies.

I still don't know if the engagement was real or not.

At another college, Rah might be ostracized, or at least considered very strange. But we didn't bother asking "Why would someone make up these ridiculous lies?" We accepted his game and played along. And I'm nostalgic for this -- for a community of bright minds who collectively engage in these pointless yet highly entertaining pursuits.

From a dialogue yesterday:

"My point is that never doing anything even slightly askew of the ordinary routine of life, career, families, parties, and whatever is really awful. And yes, I recognize that this is not as important to you, perhaps not important to you at all."

"No, I also like non-conformists. Normal is boring."

I'm not sure how a post about Christmas ended up being about non-conformists.

the eleventh visit will involve throwing away 1024 pieces of toast

"You should get over your reluctance to waste food. It's placing a restriction on your life."

"You're probably right."

"So, the first thing that needs to happen is you need to watch me throw away this piece of toast."

"Oh my God! [pause] Okay."

(Piece of toast is taken across the room and thrown into garbage can.)

"[shaky breath] That went all right."

"Good. So how is this going to work? Every time you come over, you'll watch me throw away more and more food?"

Thursday, December 20, 2007

best quote from 2007

Dan went to his brother's wedding earlier this week. At the wedding, he met some of the bride's relatives for the first time.

Bride's relative: "It must be a lot for you to handle, meeting all of us at once. We're kind of a weird family."

Dan: "There are two kinds of people in the world: people who come from weird families, and dumb people."

It's true.

I love it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

airports, sappiness

Maybe I'm just in a sappy mood, but I found this story incredibly poignant.

Anyway, I finished my "Okaeri" sign, and on the Saturday she was due to arrive in Japan, I headed for the airport. She'd bought her tickets a few months ago, and then a schedule change allowed her to come back 3 days earlier than the original ticketing. At first, we planned to keep the schedule change a secret - she'd come and spend the time with me, and then go back to her family. However, her parents ended up finding out about the schedule change and, none too happy, demanded she come straight home after her flight arrived. She told me that, in light of this, I didn't have to meet her at the airport.

And perhaps it would have been wise to stay at home. From where I lived, a round-trip to Kansai International Airport costs 4000 yen. I had about 4500 yen to my name. I could stretch 4500 yen into basic meals for 2, maybe 3 weeks. But, I wanted to meet her at the airport. I knew all too well the sadness of arriving at an airport and having no one be there to greet you. I wanted to at least ride the train back with her to Kyoto. I'd worry about eating some other time.

... [snip] ...

suddenly I gained an almost Jedi-like sense of clarity here. Literally, it was like someone turned on a switch in my head, and suddenly I knew. I really should have known before, but now everything was crystal clear.

"There's someone else, isn't there?" I ask her.

Her head drops. "Yes." She says softly.

It reminds me of an article I read once about Brad Pitt. When he was in his early 20s, he was dating an actress who has since faded into obscurity. He only had $900 to his name, but he spent $700 of it to fly to Europe, where she was filming.

When he got there, he discovered that she was already dating her new co-star.

I bet she regrets it now! She gave up Brad Pitt, yo!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

food is always a good analogy

"When's your first date?"

"She's really busy this week, and then I'm going home for Christmas, so it might not be until January."

"That's a long time from now."

"I know, but I already waited this long."

"Wei-chao had a good analogy for this. Think about when you're hungry. If you wait three hours, you don't feel hungry any more."


"Or you go find a snack."

i debated a long time whether to write this

"If you're her first relationship, she's probably going to go very slowly. It's going to be like two years before you sleep together."

"Actually, she's religious. I'm pretty sure she's waiting until marriage."

"You're okay with that?"

"Yeah. I'm not looking to just have fun. I want something real."

"Sure, but you're going to commit for life before you know whether you're compatible in this important way?"

"She's the most amazing girl I've met here."

"That's like buying a car without test-driving it."

"With the new 107 lamborghini, you in fact cannot test-drive it before you buy it."

"Yeah, but with the lamborghini, you know other people have test-driven it and they say it's good."

Sunday, December 09, 2007

brothers: the most skilled people at poking fun

I took my brother to the Google Holiday Party. He said he recognized 50 ex-classmates from Stanford. I only recognized about 30 friends from around the company.

Somethin' ain't right there!

Some young Googlers invited us to after-party, but just the thought of it made me tired.

Around 11:30pm, things were winding down:

Me: [looking around the room] "This room is half cleared-out. All the kiddies have left."

Tom: "Yeah."

Me: "It's past their bedtime."

Tom: "No, they went up to San Francisco to party some more."

Me: "Oh, that's true."

Tom: "Let's not kid ourselves over whose bedtime it is."

Friday, December 07, 2007

one-liners that made me lol

"Someday the sharks will be extinct, so you should eat them now, or you may never get another chance."

Me: [sending a blackberry note to myself]

Tom: "Is this a communication from Niniane of the past to Niniane of the future?"

"Interacting with X is like accessing memory which has already been freed -- most of the time, it's fine, but sometimes you get completely unpredictable results."

Thursday, December 06, 2007

first writings about Ronald McDonald House

Sunday was my third volunteer session with Ronald McDonald House. The House sits only six blocks from my San Francisco crash pad, and I enjoy the walk despite it being along busy streets.

Volunteering has exceeded my expectations by far. It gives me mental clarity, somehow. Sometime during the three hours of vacuuming, laundry, picking up free Starbucks pastries, cleaning the fridge, and other sundries, life comes into focus. Decisions become easier.

My friends do not empathize.

"Do you even do these errands for yourself?" they say.

"No," I say, "I hire housecleaners."

"So you're probably not even very good at doing them. I could just hire housecleaners for Ronald McDonald House, and it would be more effective than you volunteering."

I find something awe-inspiring about being around the families. The House consists of ten bedrooms, one for each family. To qualify, the family must have an under-18 child in the hospital, and must reside over 50 miles away. The House provides them a place to stay, since it's impractical for them to drive home daily. Since this House is close to UCSF, most of the residents are new parents with prematurely born babies. These babies often weigh only a pound or two, and stay in Intensive Care for weeks.

On Sunday, two volunteers from Deloitte cooked a pasta dinner, and three families came down to supper. We ate at square tables, over quiet conversation. I sat with one couple, whose son has a dangerously weak immune system.

There is an impressive quality to these families. They talk about their baby in the hospital, the surgeries, logistics of where they're staying. They throw out medical terms about maintaining this-or-that above 400, or inserting a tube to drain the something-something fluid. They ask where I'm from and how long I've been volunteering. They make jokes.

Through it all, they are calm. There are almost always two of them. A young couple. A teen girl with her father, or her grandfather. They often have relatively low income, and are going through one of the biggest crises of their lives, but their unwavering support for each other is clear to see. They have each other's backs. It's inherent in the way they sit together, talk, eat. It's so ingrained that it's taken for granted -- and not in a bad way.

It is really nice to see. It's a welcome change from the glitz of Silicon Valley, with the gold-rush mentality and dissatisfied multi-millionaires and geeks-turned-players and hype and glory and excess.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

let me become one of the sheep, because this is too awesome

Well, everyone has surely blogged this, but it's so good that I will happily be one of the lemmings.

It's been shared on FriendFeed six or seven times amongst my friends.

I nearly died of laughter here:

launch party, nicely dressed
what's the point, sausage fest
blue shirts, khaki pants
looking like a line of ants


Awwwwww, Valleywag followed the requested name, but TechCrunch did not. What's wrong with you, TechCrunch!!!!

Monday, December 03, 2007

but don't throw out your first ten babies

Last night at sushi.

Elad's friend: "Are you going to try to publish your nanowrimo novel?"

Me: "Heavens, no. It's not nearly good enough. I figure my next attempt at writing a novel will be better, and if I do it ten more times, the eleventh novel might be good enough to publish."

Neha: [bursts out laughing]

Me: "What?"

Neha: "All through November, your twitter posts were things like 'I am so miserable' or 'this is so much harder than I expected'. Now you want to do this ten more times??"

It's like the amnesia after childbirth.