Saturday, March 29, 2008

multi-way replication is surely as trustworthy as God

Yesterday, Tom and I were talking about advanced medical directives. In my living trust, Tom holds power of attorney in case I cannot make my own medical decisions.

Me: "Do you still have the email I sent you?" (When I set up the living trust, the lawyer explained that Tom would likely experience guilt if the situation transpired. He said it would ease my brother's burden if I explicitly state my wishes beforehand, which I did so in email.)

Tom: "Oh, I've definitely kept that email."

Me: [nodding]

Tom: "Do you also have it printed out and stored somewhere?"

Me: "No. It only exists in email."

Tom: "That's the only copy?"

Me: "Yes. In Gmail I trust."

Sunday, March 23, 2008

i realize the system is flawed if dinner involves eating pig knuckles

I woke up this morning at 7:45am and couldn't sleep, so I'm going to write about a predicament.

Chinese culture has various protocols. For example, let's say you're eating dinner at a restaurant with others.

Host: "Try this duck. It's great!"

One typical response is to demur out of courtesy.

You: "That's all right, you go ahead."

The problem is that people will say this even when they actually secretly want to eat the duck. Therefore, the expected response is for the host to redouble his efforts.

Host: "Really, taste the duck! [picking up a piece of duck, and leaning over to place it into your bowl]

You: [covering bowl with one hand] "Don't worry about me! You just take care of yourself. I'll be fine."

Host: "I insist!" [forcibly wedging duck past your hand into your bowl]

Now, the problem here is that even if you legitimately don't want the duck, there is no way to communicate this. Any refusal will be taken as courtesy.

You: "Oh my fucking God, please stop shoving this piece of duck into my bowl! Can you respect my free will!"

Host: "Why are you being so polite?" (Unfortunately this is not sarcastic.)

You could come up with an excuse, e.g. "I'm allergic to duck", "I just ate duck for lunch", "I'm vegetarian". But this wastes time, and would also be dishonest. Clearly the script needs to be amended.

What we need is a safe word. Something like "pig knuckles". Then you can distinguish situations where you genuinely want to say no.

You: "Can we put my backpack in your car trunk?"

Host: "Sure! [opens trunk which is packed full, starts rearranging items]"

You: "I didn't realize you had so much stuff in there. I'll just hold it on my lap."

Host: "No, that would be uncomfortable for you! Let me make this more compact. [folding clothes, collapsing boxes]"

You: "I changed my mind! I just want to go, okay?"

Host: "It'll only be another couple -- "

You: "Pig knuckles."

Host: [closes trunk, gets into driver's seat, starts engine]


Ah, that would be magical.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

nostalgic Romulan story from growing up

My parents are in town. Last night we had dinner with my brother and some of my friends.

Tom told a story. When he was three and I was ten, we put on little plays for ourselves. Because there were only two of us, we each acted multiple roles. Tom was very cute as a toddler as tall as my knee.

One day, the theme was Star Trek. On the make-belief bridge of our starship:

Me: "Lieutenant."

Tom: [saluting]

Me: "We have a Romulan spy onboard. Go and scan decks 1 through 10 for the intruder."

Tom: [mimes shooting me with a phaser]

Me: "Did you just shoot me?"

Tom: [giggling] "Yeah."

Me: "No, the game is -- Why did you do that?"

Tom: [collapsing on the couch in giggles] "I'm the Romulan spy."

After I recovered from shock, I did a suitable death scene.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

WTF Palo Alto

Don't I hear about how Palo Alto is the center of Silicon Valley? The hub of high-tech innovation? The leading edge of technology? The frontier of the information superhighway?

Why then did I have to go to three cafes along University Ave to find wireless internet?

Especially misleading was the fact that the first two cafes were filled with people on laptops. Apparently they were tweaking spreadsheets and writing papers offline.

Stock photos of the offending cafes:

Finally I went to a trusty standby (stock photo below). See if you can guess which cafe this is.

let there be light, and towels

In the latest wave of domesticity, I gave up my San Francisco crash pad.

Instead I'm buying new linens and towels for my Mountain View townhouse. It's bringing me incredible joy. I think I shall write a poem called "Ode to Two Thyme-Colored Towels".

The only thing stopping me is the knowledge that it can't measure up to my previous poem.

Tonight I found this beautiful light fixture for my master-bedroom ceiling:

It comes with this disclaimer.

Attention California residents: This product contains lead, a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.

Why are the cancerous effects of lead only known to the state of California? Does our state government exercise more caution about our health? Or are residents of California are more likely to lick the light fixture, ingesting the lead chemicals?

Comments from other buyers say the stained glass dampens the light, dimming the room. That could be depressing. Perhaps I will use higher-wattage bulbs than the recommendation.

Maybe that is the type of state-of-California thinking that leads to electrical fires and lead poisoning.

Friday, March 14, 2008

you gotta have your standards ... mine's H.264

Dan: "Yeah, wait until you're standing at a press conference next to your philandering man, with a tear in your eye."

Me: "I will NOT be standing next to him with a tear in my eye. I will wear sunglasses."

Dan: "Oh?"

Me: "No, actually I would be making a youtube video of me destroying all of his belongings."

Dan: [chuckling]

Me: "Now in higher definition."

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Chinese parents need to stop forcing their kids to play the piano/violin

A few years ago, the news reported a spate of Chinese children cutting off their own pinky finger, so that their parents would stop forcing them to play the piano. These kids detested the piano, but their parents wouldn't listen, so they mutilated themselves as a desperate measure.

Today I will write about why it's bad to force your kids to play the piano over their continuous objections.

(This also applies to the violin or trombone or any musical instrument.)

I am not talking about the case where little Jimmy likes the piano and occasionally gets stuck, and his dad delivers a pep talk that gets Jimmy over the hump and back to happy-land. I'm also not talking about the case where the kid vacillates between liking and disliking the piano, and his mom encourages him to stick with it long enough to give it a fair chance.

I'm talking about the situation where a kid has played the piano long enough to know whether he likes it (let's say a year), and then consistently states his dislike of it, over the course of many months. In that case, the parent should let him quit. Alas, many do not. Many parents, especially Chinese ones, resort to years of threats, cajoling, bribery, shouting to force their child to continue.

This harms the child much more than the benefit he gets from playing the piano.

The merits of learning a musical instrument are oft repeated by the well-intentioned parent:
- learning discipline
- enjoyment later in life
- Mozart makes you smarter

Rarely have I heard anyone discuss the damage done by forcing the kid. I can state it in one sentence:

By thwarting the child's natural inclinations, day in and day out, you teach him to stifle his intuition.

There is a popular book Now, Discover Your Strengths, which is lauded amongst many Fortune 500 companies. Its premise is that people achieve maximum success (and enjoyment) by channeling their time into activities that they enjoy and excel at, and minimize time spent on tasks they dislike or struggle with.

As an example, let's say an executive loves coming up with new product strategy, and hates public speaking. Instead of getting a speaking coach to do hours of remedial training, the executive would focus his time on strategy and hire a representative to give talks on his behalf.

Of the people I've met over the years, the most successful ones followed this philosophy.

Another thing they do is follow their intuition. They trust their gut, and then learn from the outcome, which hones those instincts. Over a lifetime, their intuition becomes attuned to coming up with the next innovative idea, or the smartest strategy.

This is the very thing that takes a blow when the parent insists that the child ignore his passionate biases. It may be good for raising a drone -- a slightly smarter than average drone if we believe the Mozart effect. But if you want to foster creativity and that precious spark of innovation? Trust your kid to know their own mind.

When I was 13:

Me: "I want to quit the piano."

My mom: "No."

[many variations on this]

My mom: "When you grow up and become an adult, you'll thank me."

Me: "I will not."


I was right.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

i miss Tom

Tom and I have both been busy, so I haven't seen him much over the past two months, except for my dad's birthday.

I miss his goofiness.

My friend "Fred" told me yesterday that his brother is moving to a different city. He wasn't too affected. This mindset of not being close to your siblings is foreign to me.

Some photos of the funniest times with Tom:

Provoking an innocent camel.


I accidentally forgot my camera at the restaurant, after taking this photo. When I went back the next day to retrieve it, the employees had looked through all my photos, and were especially amused at this one.


LOLing while eating.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

the point of life?

I've been thinking again about what the ultimate purpose of life is.

For example, one purpose could be to maximize the value you contribute to the world. An alternative would be to build deep bonds with your family. Or to savor each moment to the fullest.

Or, if you are into cop-out answers, it could be a blended approach that merges all of the above, because no one metric is the right answer, and you need balance, blah blah.

Last Sunday, at the Wynn Casino buffet with my family, I posed the question to my mother.

Me: "What do you think is the most important quality to strive for?"

My mother: "Integrity. It is not merely the most important. It's the only quality that matters."

Me: "Oh really. So let's say I had failed out of school and couldn't hold down a job, but I have the same level of integrity as I do now. You'd be equally happy with me?"

My mother: "Yes."

Me: [to my dad] "What do you think?"

My dad: [smiling] "That is so not true."


Recently I'm leaning toward using the metric of "doing things which are intrinsically enjoyable".

This goes against my chinese upbringing. When I was young, and my mother wanted me to stop doing enjoyable things (reading sci-fi) and waste the time on unenjoyable things (playing the piano), she quoted the chinese saying "ć…ˆè‹ŠćŽç”œ" ("first bitter, then sweet"). The idea is that taking your bitter medicine will help make your future life sweet.

This reminds me that I need to write a blog post about how Chinese mothers need to stop forcing their kids to play the fucking piano/violin.

Anyway, this metric has clear flaws. Putting gas into my car is not intrinstically enjoyable. But I should do it to avoid running out of fuel on the highway and having to walk two miles in the dark to the nearest gas station.

I could amend it to "doing things that are intrinsically enjoyable, or that will save me from much worse things in the future".