Saturday, May 31, 2008

in which I identify an important deficit in the world we live in

Last night I saw the "Sex and the City" movie.

It was so good. I feel like a changed person. I'm going to get all the Sex and the City episodes from Netflix.

Yesterday I was talking to Megan, the Google personal trainer that I go to. In a Samantha-esque move, Megan saw a VIP preview of the movie three days before it opened.

Megan: "I identified with Samantha so much. When you see the movie, you'll know what I mean."

Me: "Tell me a line from the part you're thinking of, so I'll know when I get to it."

Megan: "At one point, she says to a guy, 'I love you, but I love me more.'"

Me: "Wait. You actually said those words last month."

Megan: "I know."

Photo from a party last year, when Megan spent 45 minutes telling me about getting a colonic:

The world needs more people like Samantha and Megan. They are cheerful. They clearly articulate their needs. They're fun to be around. How can we make this happen?

Megan should write a book "How to be Like Me". I wouldn't buy it, but I'd encourage other people to.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

the Italian Way

Recently I take umbrage at the Chinese tradition of overly polite offers.

Let's consider an example. I'm visiting a Chinese friend, and dinnertime rolls around.

Friend: "I'm going to start cooking dinner. Would you like to stay and eat with me?"

Me: "That's very kind, but I should really get going."

What conclusions would you draw from this?

A. My friend wants to invite me for dinner.
B. I am busy and do not wish to eat dinner with my friend.
C. Both A and B.
D. Neither A nor B.

In the traditional Chinese world, the answer is D. No information whatsoever was communicated in this exchange. All the words we uttered? Meaningless.

If the host really wants me to stay, he must repeat his invitation another two to five times. If I really want to leave, I must deny those subsequent invitations. What if I actually did want to stay for dinner? I still must reply no at least the first two times to be polite, and then I can change to "if it's not too inconvenient".

This is so inefficient.

There are cases where the guest accepts the invitation, but the host didn't actually want him to stay. I've heard of hosts disabling their stove so that it appears non-functional. "I was really looking forward to cooking for you," they say to their guest, "but my stove seems to have broken." After the guest leaves, the host reconnects the stove and cooks their own dinner.

Another effect is that when I say what I truly mean, it gets warped in the ears of the listener. Let's say my friend Ping asks to stay at my house while visiting the Bay Area. I would like to host him for a weekend, but no more. If I actually say that, he will interpret it as a blanket no. He will say nothing at the time, but will complain about it once a year for the next 35 years. (This will the subject for a future blog post concerning "Statute of Limitations if the Complainer Said Nothing When the Deed Went Down".)

So I must actually construct a convoluted tale about how I'd love to host him for as long as possible, but I have an event on the subsequent Monday that may necessitate using my entire house. Then he applies the appropriate filters to get back my original messaging.

A meta-issue is that when I don't abide by this rule, the typical response I get is "Wow, you're really Americanized." This is delivered in the same tone of voice and expression of disgust as if the person were saying, "Wow, you're really covered in menstrual blood."

So then I have a choice. Either I admit that I have forgotten my roots and lost my heritage and can't wait to dye my hair blonde and eat a dozen cheeseburgers, or I have to agree to the script.

Recently I was told that the Italian expectation is that both parties will be straightforward. If the host doesn't want the guest to stay, he'll just say so. In fact, if he does invite his guest, and he changes his mind later, he's not allowed to complain by societal convention.

Henceforth I am adopting the Italian way in this regard.

When Chinese people say "Wow, so that's what people turn into if they grow up in America," I will say, "NO! This is the Italian way."

Then I will pull out my Italian Rosetta Stone and say, "Il bambino corre."

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

if you don't think this is funny, the problem lies with you

Last Friday, I ate at Santana Row with some non-Googlers and my coworker Alipé.

At one point, Alipé and I were talking amongst ourselves, about whether a ping pong table would fit into a particular Google building.

Me: "Couldn't the table go upstairs?"

Alipé : "That area's pretty crowded. It's where they work on Generic Product." (He's referring to a confidential product that hasn't been released.)

Me: "Alipé, don't talk about that here. You don't want to be the one to leak Generic Product!"

Alipé: "Loose lips stop ships."

Monday, May 26, 2008


My parents have been telling me about the earthquake in Sichuan.

My mother told a story about a teacher who grabbed the nearest four students when the earthquake began. He stuffed them under his lectern, and covered it with his own body. He was crushed by falling debris, as were all the other students in the classroom, but the four children under the lectern lived.

My dad told me about a group of hourly workers. After hearing about the earthquake damage, they loaded up bike carts with blankets, food, and water. They biked for many hours into the earthquake region, and dispersed their much-needed supplies. They didn't have much money themselves, and were sorely feeling the bridge and road tolls extracted on the way over.

(Example of a bike cart below)

Quite a number of people have donated impressive amounts of money. This earthquake has revealed a lot of heroes.


I'm buying a new bed frame. Overstock has worked well for me, so I'm considering these frames from their site:




I'm told that my existing home decor scheme is to locally maximize each piece of furniture. i.e. I have the prettiest chandelier, the prettiest dining room table, the prettiest clock, but together they are a mishmash. The whole is less than the sum of the parts.

To combat this, I have to figure out what goes with my dresser.

and jewelry chest:

and the room itself (sky-blue walls and light pine hardwood floors).

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Gratitude experiment, part 1.

I decided to do a little experiment, wherein I write a post to people throughout my life that I'm grateful to, whom I never got to thank. We'll see if turns out to be boring.

The first person I'm grateful to is a boy from Salt Lake City, who was my second-grade classmate. It was a year after my family moved to the US, and I was still learning English. This proved aggravating on a daily basis. I didn't know the right words to protest when another student stole my dessert at lunch, I failed an assignment because I couldn't understand the instructions, etc.

One day the teacher announced that we were going to play the game of telephone. The other American students got excited and moved to sit in a big circle on the carpet. I convinced one of them to slowly explain the rules to me. Needless to say, when I learned that the goal is to comprehend a English sentence and repeat it back to the next person, I became filled with apprehension.

I sat a third of the way down the circle, and watched as the teacher whispered for several seconds into the first student's ear. Her face lit up, and she chuckled as she repeated it to the next student. The sentence moved rapidly around the circle, and within a couple minutes, the girl to my right was whispering a long string of syllables into my ear.

To my horror, I could not decipher any meaning out of what she said.

I made her repeat it.

I still didn't understand it. At my insistence, she repeated it two more times, with growing exasperation. Finally, I turned with dread to the boy to my left, and regurgitated the first few syllables which I had blindly memorized.

They were "super california."

The boy to my left heard my accented syllables, and immediately said, "Don't worry. I know what it is." He was so reassuring.

He turned to the kid to his left, and by the muffled whispering, I knew that somehow he actually got the phrase out of what I said. And the phrase kept going around the circle.

Years later, I watched "Mary Poppins" for the first time, and realized that the teacher -- in her infinite wisdom -- had chosen the phrase "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious".

I still remember the exact expression and tone of voice when that boy said, "I know what it is." He was really kind. Thank you, boy of unknown name from Salt Lake City.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Tonight I saw "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and it was much funnier than expected.

Almost all the funny lines were from Aldous Snow. Like this one, where he's wearing a Hawaiian shirt that's a gift from his girlfriend. He hates the shirt.

Aldous Snow: [after spilling red wine on his shirt] Oh God, take my eyes, but not the shirt!

Or responding to one of his fans:

Matthew: I have a question for you real quick. What did you think of my demo? Did you get it?

Aldous Snow: I was gonna listen to that, but then, um, I just carried on living my life.

Or his description of his vacation with his girlfriend:

Aldous Snow: I don't know how you put up with her. It's like Hitler. Maybe that's going too far. No, it's not -- it's like a holiday with Hitler.

I wish more people were this hilarious in real-life. However, the reason the character is so funny is largely due to his cruelty. It wouldn't be good for more people to go around dashing youngsters' dreams and mocking the fashion tastes of their loved ones.

But it's so funny!


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

i would've asked it 500 questions already

Recently I advised a friend not to fret about her relationship going long-distance.

I advised a different friend to dump his unsupportive girlfriend.

I advised a third friend to calm down about his youtube account suspension, and to resume eating and sleeping while he's waiting for his appeal.

Then I got to thinking, how do these people know whether to take my advice? Maybe I give bad advice but I make it sound convincing. I recall a demonstration of this ten years ago:

Me: "Do you want to go eat fondue sometime?"

Iondra : "Like where?"

Me: "There are a couple restaurants that serve it."

Iondra: "What exactly do they serve?"

Me: "Usually there's a cheese fondue, and an oil fondue, and then a chocolate fondue."

Iondra : "Hm. All right, I tried to figure it out from context, but now I have to ask: What is fondue??"

Me: "It's a pot with liquid in it, like a hot pot. You dip solid food into it, and it gets coated with the liquid. So you would dip bread into the cheese, fruit into the chocolate, etc."

Iondra: "I see. [in very authoritative voice] I'm sure the cheese is fine, but the oil fondue sounds bad."

Me: "I haven't tried it. I guess you could be right. It -- Wait a second! Just a minute ago, you didn't even know what fondue was! Why should I listen to you at all?"

Anyhow, I think someone should build a product / social network app / Web 2.0 site / Web 3.0 site to fix this. Every time you need advice, you'll post your quandry onto the site with multiple choice answers. Like:

"Should I date the sister of my ex from five years ago? YES vs. NO."

"What type of phone should I buy? BLACKBERRY vs. IPHONE."

"My husband drunkenly groped my sister. DTMFA vs. FORGIVE HIM."

The service will poll all of your friends, who will vote.

After some time elapses, you go back and use hindsight to select what the correct choice was. Then each of the voters will get a boost or drop in their Advice Rating, based on what they selected.

The site takes the ratings into account when giving you a Final Answer to your question. Ergo, when it tells you to DTMFA, you know it was biased toward your wise friends, and discounted from your foolish friends.

Come to think of it, a number of prediction market applications can likely be adopted for this purpose.

Monday, May 12, 2008

if you forgot too, write a comment so that I feel even better

Me: "I feel like I'm not being a good enough daughter, because I'm not spending enough time with my mom."

Cindy: "You're letting her stay at your house."

Me: "Yeah, but that's not enough. Anyway, what did you do for Mother's Day?"

Cindy: "I actually forgot to call my mom."

Me: "What? You didn't call your mom at all?"

Cindy: "Not until the next day. She even sent me an sms, but I was busy and by the time I thought of it, it was 2am her time."

Me: "Oh my God. Well, at least I called my mom yesterday and ate dinner with her."

Cindy: [making a face like :-| and nodding] "I was pretty bad."

Me: "You totally are! I'm a better daughter than you, at least! This is great!"

Cindy: [nodding abashedly]

Me: "I knew you could make me feel better. Thank you! I'm so glad we talked."

Cindy: "You're welcome."

Saturday, May 10, 2008

I like fake inspirational posters

Wenarto's friend made these mock inspirational posters. Alas, you won't find them as funny as I do, unless you know Wenarto.

This photo was actually taken by my brother Tom, at Wenarto's request. It was New Year's in Paris. All the stores were closed but Wenarto had to go to the bathroom.

Wenarto owns wigs, costumes, and backdrops for making youtube videos. They usually involve him singing opera.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

sad letter

From Dan Savage's article this week. This letter is so sad:

I grew up in a small town, in a devout Catholic home, and I had no clue there was more than one kind of sexuality. I had thoughts and feelings I didn't know what to do with, but I don't think I'd ever heard the word "gay," much less knew what it meant.

I'd had sex with girls, but I didn't have my first experience with another guy until I was 18. I was at an ex-girlfriend's party, and it wasn't pretty; everyone was bombed or high. Except for this older guy: late-20s, maybe 30, somebody's brother. I knew he was looking at me in a way that men weren't supposed to look at other men. We got talking, realized we both hated the party, and agreed to go for a walk in what by then had to be the wee hours. We were in a big deserted park, grass, bushes, streetlights, when he turned to me and I thought, "He's going to kiss me and I'm going to throw up." He did; I didn't.

I was so awkward. I had no idea how to do the things my feelings were prompting me to do. I knew I wanted to top him, but didn't know that word or how exactly to get there. He was so patient and gentle and understanding. This is not a story of a teenage kid being preyed on. I took the lead; he guided. He never pushed anything. He helped introduce me to myself.

He lived halfway down the East Coast, but he kept in regular touch with calls and long affectionate letters, checking in on me, listening to me, reassuring me that whatever I felt was okay.

Not everyone felt that way. This was almost 40 years ago. When I got comfortable enough to tell my parents I thought I was gay, they had me committed to a mental hospital. That's another story, and not a very nice one. I was there till I was 21 and could legally insist on being released. Shock treatments, megadoses of Thorazine. I don't know why I didn't go truly nuts. I think a big part of it was the memory of that kindness and that closeness, and the rightness of it, for me. I lost a lot during those years locked up. I lost track of that wonderful guy who'd been just what I needed when nobody else understood.

I never had a chance to thank him, so I'd like to do that now, and maybe imagine he's reading this and remembering too.


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

shall I make a logical informed decision... or just go with pasta

I'm thinking of buying the Rosetta Stone level 1 software for Italian.

Alipé showed me the version for Mandarin, and it looks fun. One task asked him to match a photo to the sentence "This flower is big." Choice A was a tiny clover under a magnifying glass. Choice B was a little girl holding the stem of a two-foot-tall super-daisy. The girl was cute. The flower was cute. Good job, Rosetta Stone.

Anyhow, my reason for learning Italian is to visit Venice for a couple weeks this winter. That desire arose after I, along with every other woman in the United States, read the book Eat, Pray, Love. The "Eat" portion takes place in Italy. It was frivolous reading about the author spending her days eating pasta. Yet now I'm consumed with a desire to learn Italian. Good job, book.

However, I think this is a poor reason for choosing a new language to learn. It would be wiser to use factors like influence in world affairs and socio-literary culture, in which case Italian is not in the top ten.

Or I can learn from Richard Feynman's error, and base my decision on ridiculous reasons:

And since I didn't know yet where I was going to end up in South America, I decided to take Spanish, because the great majority of the countries there speak Spanish.

So when it was time to register for the class, we were standing outside, ready to go into the classroom, when this pneumatic blonde came along. You know how once in a while you get this feeling, WOW? She looked terrific. I said to myself, "Maybe she's going to be in the Spanish class - that'll be great!" But no, she walked into the Portuguese class. So I figured, What the hell - I might as well learn Portuguese.

I started walking right after her when this Anglo -Saxon attitude that I have said, "No, that's not a good reason to decide which language to speak." So I went back and signed up for the Spanish class, to my utter regret.

Some time later I was at a Physics Society meeting in New York, and I found myself sitting next to Jaime Tiomno, from Brazil, and he asked, "What are you going to do next summer?"

"I'm thinking of visiting South America."

"Oh! Why don't you come to Brazil? I'll get a position for you at the Center for Physical Research."

So now I had to convert all that Spanish into Portuguese!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

statements that didn't work

Tonight at dinner, Dan dissected the Myers-Brigg scale, in particular the introvert vs. extrovert label. He gave the classic definition of how introverts recharge their batteries through time alone, a concept he strongly identifies with.

Me: I'm starting to feel like our conversations are just combinations of the same topics, repeated.

Dan: Yeah, we need to determine the eigenvectors of our conversation. Then we can never talk again. I can recharge my battery forever!

Me: That's not good, Dan. Batteries that are fully charged for too long will lose their capacity.

Dan: [look of contempt]

At lunch with Dan some time ago, at Google Cafe 150.

Me: Speaking of Asian fetishes, here comes Ozzir.

Ozzir: [walking over to our table] Hey.

Me: Dan, this is my friend Ozzir from YouTube. Ozzir, Dan.

Dan: [to Ozzir] So you're being used as an example of a white guy with an Asian fetish.

Ozzir: 'Fetish' sounds so strong. I like to call it an Asian 'preference'.

Dan: But you can't be that bad. I mean, you may have an Asian fetish, but at least you didn't move to China.

Ozzir: I moved to Japan. I'm just visiting for this week.