Thursday, July 31, 2008

okay, i'll buy travel insurance beforehand

While eating guacamole and chips at a Mexican restaurant:

Me: "The Antarctica tour company cancelled all their 2009 trips. They realized that they can't fix up their new boat in time."

Tom: "They missed their ship date."

Me: "Ha ha. Anyway, it takes a lot of renovations to prepare the boat for Antarctic conditions. Their old boat, the MS Explorer, sank last November."



Tom: "Are you sure it's safe? Think about it -- they bought the new boat with the money they had left over from the first boat."

Saturday, July 26, 2008

gratitude experiment, part 2.

[This is a continuation of my gratitude experiment.]

There is a Googler named Mike who is brilliant and ridiculous. (Some of you may already be able to guess who it is, by this description alone.) He was one of my Google interviewers, and I was floored that he not only invented a compression algorithm that I'd used for years, but was also uninhibited enough to impersonate a happy puppy during the interview.

Every time I talked to him, Mike did something ridiculous. He inhaled the helium from my happy-face Noogler balloons (a gift from Google to each new employee) and talked in a squeaky voice. He made lamb noises on a street corner when a bunch of us went to a restaurant. Once when I was in his office, he showed me a can of putty which made disgusting noises as he pressed his fingers into it. He described with relish how he and his officemate used it to embarrass people while they talked on the phone.

I usually gave killjoy responses like "Oh my God, that's absurd", but secretly I really liked the silliness.

Summer of 2004 rolled around, and I went through a difficult time. A member of my family was hospitalized, and I didn't know if they would ever recover. To add insult to injury, the insurance company was reluctant to pay for treatment. I had to petition hard to convince them each step of the way. Furthermore, the patient was angry at the way we were handling the situation, and arguments broke out amongst the rest of the family as a result. My brother and I went through the only major fight of our lives, going nearly a week without speaking to each other.

My team at work was also shipping Desktop Search. Suffice it to say that I was not very relaxed at that time.

One day during this period, Mike came over to my work area to visit. We walked around the floor to the microkitchen. He asked how I was, and for some reason, I told him the unpleasant truth without whitewashing.

Previous times I discussed the situation with others were often not comfortable. People would first assume that it was cancer, and pat my arm sympathetically as they described how their aunt battled breast cancer and beat the odds. After I corrected them on the illness and described the ugly details, we would veer off the scripts of social custom. People didn't know what to say, and sometimes this made them very uncomfortable.

That did not happen with Mike. He listened to my tale, throughout my emotional retelling. I was grateful just for that.

Then he brainstormed ideas. He suggested potential solutions in California, in Nevada, in other states. He named people around the company who might be able to help, some who had similar experiences, some who I barely knew. He said I should go ask Eric Schmidt for help. I said it was preposterous to ask our CEO about a family medical issue, and how would Eric help anyway? He said it was not preposterous.

It was in fact preposterous, but it was also very kind. Mike treated the problem as though it were his own. At one point, I made a lighthearted comment on a different subject to give him an "easy out" in the conversation. He ignored me, and kept on proposing solutions. When he ran out of ideas, he looked at me, and said with sincerity, "I don't know what else to suggest. What are we going to do?"

That meant so much to me. One pain I've found in discussing miserable problems with others is that moment of goodbye when they go back to their lives and I go back to mine. Sometimes relief shows in their eyes -- relief that they're not the one dealing with the ordeal. That's understandable and human, but it becomes all the more valuable when someone chooses to take on the problem with you, even if only for a moment.

So, thank you Mike. I never properly thanked you, and you're not the maudlin sort, so this will have to do.

avatar humor

At lunch with a few teammates and a Googler "Andre". Andre and I sat at the Google table last year during an industry event, and we've talked a few times since then.

Andre: [long-range ideas for my project]

Me: "These are good ideas. So you used the product then?"

Andre: "Don't you remember, I sent you a picture of my avatar?"

Me: "When?"

Andre: "On the day you launched."

Me: "We talked on my launch day?"

Andre: "Yeah, I sent you an IM. I was surprised you responded."

Me: "I'm surprised too."

Andre: "I sent you a picture of this tall, handsome avatar, and I said, 'I'm picking this guy because he looks like a stud."

Me: "I don't remember this."

Andre: "I was hoping you'd say 'That's good, because you are a stud."

Me: "What did I actually say?"

Andre: "You said, 'That's good, because our product motto is 'Be who you want.''"

Friday, July 25, 2008

this problem should be solveable with a simple web site

Today Google News has a spate of these stupid headlines:
Math scores for girls and boys no different, study finds:

The analysis of standardized test results for more than 7.2 million students in grades 2 through 11 contradicts a pervasive gender stereotype.

The mere fact that this stereotype exists in the US and not in China should reveal its baselessness. Chinese people assume girls and boys will do equally well in math classes.

However, Chinese people have their own sexist perspectives. I've been asked so many times by women in China, "I really like computer science, but should I switch careers because women become mentally much slower after age 35?"

I say, "Where the hell did you hear that from?"

They say, "Everyone agrees it's true. Men continue to function well mentally, but women really deteriorate at 35."

Me: "No, not everyone agrees. I do not agree. No one in America has ever said this to me."

...

We need to compile a list of the stereotypes in the world. Every time one of them exists only in specific countries, and there are no genetic traits that would clearly cause it, the stereotype should immediately be debunked.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

pigsong

Last Thursday, I met a woman who used to own a pot-bellied pig as a pet. Her name was "Judy" (changed for privacy), and the pig's name was Napoleon.

Judy said Napoleon was very loving. He came trotting to the door when she came home. He sang little oinking songs to her throughout the day. He insisted on sleeping next to her at night. He did tricks like rolling over. She fed him yogurt as a reward, and he licked it off the spoon.

Judy did an impersonation of one of Napoleon's oinking songs. It was cute.

Sadly, she lost Napoleon due to a custody situation.

As a result of talking to her, I did more research about pot-bellied pigs. This wikipedia quote is concerning:

Unfortunately, pigs do not like to be held or "cuddled," as dogs, cats or other domesticated predators do. ... Attempts by humans at lifting or hugging are always interpreted by the pig as hostile and result in struggling and squealing. The one time pigs, by instinct, will welcome close contact is to huddle while sleeping, an instinct which conserves body heat and provides protection.

But at least the pig likes to be held when sleeping. That is important.


This could be me!


This could be me!


This could be me!

...

Talking with my friend, a Googler.

Me: "I emailed the [Google-internal] mailing list 'pet-owners' about raising a pig, and -- "

Friend: "What? You're so absurd."

Me: " -- and no one owns a pig."

Friend: "Maybe there's a special mailing list 'pig-owners'."

Monday, July 21, 2008

first go stand in a crowd of your competitors

Me: "Why are you working day and night?"

Christopher: "We're shipping our product in two weeks."

Me: "What, you are? That's wonderful! That must be very exciting for you."

Christopher: "From the outside, the observer is always talking about how exciting it is. But ask the person who is launching in two weeks 'Are you excited?' and they'll say, 'No, I want to kill myself and everyone around me.'"

lack of antarctica

The Antarctica travel company emailed me today. As many commenters noted, their ship M/S Explorer sank last November.



They bought a new boat, and are fixing it up. Previously they expected to finish retrofitting it before the 2009 trips.

However, it turns out they won't be done in time, so they're cancelling all their Antarctica trips until 2010.

:(

I'm so disappointed. That could have been me on that boat!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Thursday, July 17, 2008

photos from spring 2008

Tonight I cleared out my digital camera. Here are some photos from this spring:


Quartet of cheesecakes that I ate. That's poppyseed in the middle.


In March, my family looked around this new casino in Vegas. It allegedly set records for how much it cost to build. But it felt so bland! It was like walking around a shopping mall (with waterfalls).




My friend Charles bought a lovely house last month, and I helped him move in.

Me: "You know, now that you bought this house, it's a sign that you're ready to settle down. You're going to be flooded with women."

Charles: "Is that how it works?"

Me: "Yes. It's like getting slashdotted."


Chocolate cake, creme brulee, and tiny milkshake. And I have some kind of hot chocolate or mocha in the cup. I need to consume less sugar. But I remember this food as being very satisfying.


This is the perfect meal. It has every food group.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

anticipating Antarctica

I booked a spot on a 10-day Antarctica trip next March, with
GAP adventures. The company owns a single boat, the M/S Explorer.



My friend Lori went last year and raves about it.

I chose this boat because it has a "Fitness Center". I expect there will be a lot of downtime while crossing the Drake Passage, and I may as well exercise. Otherwise you get cabin fever or something.



GAP runs an identical trip in January (the Antarctic summer, with 20+ hours of daylight). Unfortunately it was full, so I reserved a spot on the March excursions. It has fewer animal sightings, but I care more about glaciers than penguins. Haven't I seen penguins in the zoo? I mean, look at this:



It's pretty much the same as this, right?



My primary enjoyment of traveling lies in the anticipation beforehand and the fond memories afterwards. During the actual trip, I'm often cranky from the long hours of flying, jetlag, getting lost, starving.

This trip is great because I have nine whole months of anticipation.

The M/S Explorer also has multiple places to socialize. There's a library room, a lounge, a bar, and a cafe. Other Antarctica ships usually only have one large lounge. Having multiple lounges is good, in case one lounge is occupied by a loud person who gets on your nerves.

Today Lori said that she actually swam in a pool of water in the Arctic circle, without a wetsuit. Her body went into shock, and she had a headache the rest of the day, but it was worth it.

...

A couple weeks ago, at dinner:

Me: Is it very cold in Antarctica?

Lori: No, it's not that cold, because you wear special clothes. I find it colder in Berkeley, actually.

Me: [describing Lori's photo of penguins]



Tom: You could bring home a little penguin.

Me: No, it would die! It's used to being in ice all the time.

Tom: Apparently Berkeley is just as cold as Antarctica.

Me: Anyway, there's a January trip and a March one. I'm thinking about the March one.

Tom: Great, it'll be March of the Penguins.

Directness in dumping.

Three weeks ago, my friend Melody broke up with the guy she was dating, "Fernando". She told him that she doesn't want a relationship right now. "You're such a wonderful guy and you deserve a woman devoted to you," she said. "I can't give you what you want, because I value my freedom too much right now. So I'm going to let you go find what you really need."

This sounds almost believable (especially to the lovelorn Fernando).

Except that Melody then entered into a relationship the following week with a different guy. Now she's all lovey-dovey with New Guy.

Of course, when I ask why she didn't want to keep dating Fernando, it's a different story. (details altered for privacy) He was too picky, and often criticizing the way she did things.

Why didn't she give this information to him, I ask? Then he can either:
a). treat his next girlfriend differently, or
b). make sure his next girlfriend is fine with his demanding nature

I propose that we all be honest with the people we dump. Instead of the baloney of "we drifted apart" or "we don't have enough in common", let's say what the real reason is. "You got too boring" or "You get angry too easily" or "You got too fat" or whatever.

Part of the problem is that some reasons are taboo. If a guy says, "I'm dumping you because you got too fat," he's considered a jerk. But if he didn't want to date her in the first place due to fatness, that'a acceptable.

I think both should be acceptable.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

it will be br8

I'm thinking of throwing a party.

At my last party (Halloween), one of the activities was to each write a page of a ghost story. I provided markers and Halloween-themed stickers.

I found a spiderweb scrapbook at the crafts store. It accomodated 20 pages. But I figured everyone would want to write a page (or several), so I bought two scrapbooks. Even so, I worried that 40 pages would not be enough.



As it happened, two people wrote proper pages, and then it degenerated into a guestbook. Page 3 said, "Thanks for throwing this party!"

The final tally: four pages.



I like hosting parties that have some kind of theme. Maybe it can be a hat party. I can wear something like this: