Tuesday, March 31, 2009

photos of Berlin: faces and places

A few places that made an impression on me in Berlin:

A sobering exhibit at the Jewish Museum. Each face represents a person who suffered during the Holocaust. The idea is that you can walk on the faces, but I couldn't bring myself to do it.

An audio exhibit at the Hamburger Bahnhof. Stereos around the room play a 30-minute loop of birds on the beach, orchestral music, and a woman's voice narrating her nightmares.

In the beginning, you hear the surf coming at you from all directions while the woman describes walking into her beach house to find a leg sticking out from a sheet. The end is a majestic crescendo of horns over the sound of the ocean.

I liked it. It made me want to get audio equipment for my own house.

Potsdam, site of the post-World War II conference. The guide showed us where Stalin entered via a side door, and where Churchill strolled around.

Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam. Look at the grand staircases leading down from the palace! Turns out this is just the servants quarters, and the cooks would run down these steps to carry the soup to the royals.

Omar and Neha at the Green Door, a cheerful little bar down the street from us. One night had live music, featuring a singer with a sultry voice. The next night, the bartender came out and danced with a guest. It was a happy little bar.

A T-shirt I thought was funny. It only came in men's sizes, so I didn't get one.

We saw a dazzling collection of Picassos at this museum. This is a painting of Picasso's second wife. He noticed her at a cafe, where she was sitting alone at a table. She suddenly pulled out a knife and started playing the game of stabbing the table quickly in between the fingers of her other hand. By the time she was finished, her hand was bloody, and Picasso was fascinated.

Rather than getting hotel rooms in Berlin, we rented a furnished apartment. It's nice to have a living room (pictured) and kitchen.

The bedrooms had good lighting and pleasant furniture. However, we were constantly thwarted by the lack of internet.

The landlord promised us DSL but then gave us a USB stick. I had to install software and reboot my laptop, only to be confronted with modem-speed internet. To add insult to injury, he only gave us 10mb of bandwidth, so we ran out after a few hours.

We spent a lot of time at Cafe Bilder Buch, which has free wireless. It also has these "ice chocolate" drinks which are tasty, and comfortable couches. I wish there was a place this cozy in Mountain View.

Monday, March 30, 2009

this advice has never worked for me

I just read a blog post about how you should tell your family and friends that you love them. I see this advice all the time. "Don't wait! Tell your loved ones how you feel about them! What if they died in a freak accident tomorrow? Let them know you care!"

This has never worked for me. I tell people, and then they get uncomfortable and don't know how to respond.

The worst was in 2007 when I was so overcome with joy over life that I emailed three close friends to say how much I love them and appreciate their quirks and friendship and support over all the years. There was no response for days. I think they felt awkward. This made me feel awkward in turn.

Maybe I am doing it wrong. Or I already am too prone to being verbally effusive, so this just pushes it over the line. But it is annoying to see this advice everywhere, when following it tends to lead to awkward results.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


I'm thinking of buying this couch:

What do people think? It would go in this space, to replace the two white couches:

The ottoman would get in the way of the coffeetable though.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

cocktails and candor club

I am in Berlin for another day with Neha, Omar, and Malcolm.

My first real conversation with Malcolm was in a Google micro-kitchen. He told me about "Candor Club", an organization he formed. The members would identify each other by wearing pins. In Candor Club, you need to reply to questions honestly, i.e. avoid telling white lies.

I joined Candor Club. I am a fan.

Last night we went to Red Door, a bar down the street.

We realized that none of us wanted to buy drinks, so after sitting for a few minutes, we got up and left.

The waiter / bartender asked us why we were leaving. Omar and I can't speak much German, so we waited by the door.

Neha: "Wir sind ... [looking at us] how do you say 'crazy' or 'nutty'?"

Malcolm: [earnestly] "Die Cocktails sind zu teuer." (The cocktails are too expensive.)

Neha: [joining us at the door, and then walking outside with me and Omar] "Ahh! Why did Malcolm tell him?"

Me: "Well, he asked."

Neha: [with consternation] "The waiter is not in Candor Club! Now we can never go back!"

Me: [doubled over from laughing]

Friday, March 20, 2009

my house

Hehe, I just saw this on fmylife.com:

Today, my parents, who are out of town but driving back tomorrow, called to see how I was doing. While they were gone I threw a party, but when asked I told them no, to which my dad responded " Well I'm currently looking at pictures on facebook of our kitchen with beer and a bong on the table." FML

which reminds of a conversation I had last week in Hamburg...

Friend: "How many crazy parties do you think your brother has thrown in your house by now?"

Me: :(

Friend: "You've been gone how many days?"

Me: "He did tell me that at least ten people disapprove of my couch. Which made me wonder how many people have come to my house."

Friend: "Yeah, when you get back, he'll tell you that he did a poll. A thousand people like the couch. Two hundred dislike it. Then there are the ones who didn't vote... because they were too drunk. There are a thousand of those."

Me: :(

Thursday, March 19, 2009

watchmen movie

I'm in Berlin. Yesterday I went to the Sony Centre and watched an english version of "Watchmen".

Some people will say that I should take advantage of Berlin to do Berlin-specific things instead of watching movies. My travel theory is that you should do whatever you feel like at each moment, without constraints. Unfortunately I have found almost no one who shares this philosophy.

Anyway, I was shocked at how violent the movie is. I cannot believe the amount of gory limb-hacking and head-axing that is permitted in R-rated movies now!

I was confused by one part of the movie plot.


I don't understand why Dr. Manhattan changes his mind on Mars. He's already seen the future and told Lori, "Our conversation will end with you in tears, but there is nothing for me on Earth." Then it happens, and he suddenly changes his mind.

Is it just because the actual event (seeing her in tears) is more impactful than when he read the future? That part did not make sense to me.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

the "where am I" meme

FriendFeed had a meme some time ago where people posted a photo and asked, "Where am I?"

This might be too easy, but let's try.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I am in Hamburg. Before coming, I did a Google images search, and the results looked dreary and cold. It looked like a sterile port. For example:

But the city is actually gorgeous! The buildings look very well-preserved, and downtown is located right next to a peaceful lake.

I felt refreshed just from walking to my hotel, dragging my luggage after a eight-hour train ride from Prague.

My hotel told me they were giving me a free room upgrade. The room looks nice, but just like the standard room on the hotel web page. If I were running a hotel, I would tell every guest that I'm giving them a free upgrade, just to make them happier. I would keep a broom closet as the "non-upgraded room" so that it is still truthful.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

a few conversations I found amusing

I'm finally getting around to posting these conversations from last year. They gave me a laugh; your mileage may vary.


Talking to my brother, a while back.

Tom: "Did you know you have to fly into JFK to get to Yale?"

Me: "There's no airport near Yale?"

Tom: "No. It's so hard to get there! You have to fly to New York, get greeted by Hagrid, row across the water. [makes rowing motion with one hand]"


At an all-day conference with other Googlers. The organizer was announcing the day's agenda.

Organizer: "Breakfast is served at your hotel, but we also will have breakfast available here at 9am if you want to eat again. Sessions until noon, then lunch back here. We'll provide cookies in the afternoon during sessions. Full dinner at 6. Then it's breakout discussions, with midnight snacks available."

Person sitting next to me: "Wow, we're hobbits."


At Buddha Lounge in downtown Mountain View, with a few friends.

Jay: [watching a cute girl at the bar]

Me: "Why don't you go talk to her?"

Jay: "I'm thinking of something witty to say."

Me: "What do you mean?"

Jay: "I want to make a good impression, so I'm thinking of something interesting to say about the music, or an observation about that guy who's dancing weirdly."

Me: "You're over-thinking it. She's going to be influenced a lot more by your demeanor and body language than by your first sentence. Just go up and introduce yourself."

Jay: "What, like ask what her name is?"

Me: "Yeah."

Jay: "That's so boring! I should ask her something interesting."

Me: "Fine, you can ask her what her name is, and then what it means."

Jay: "How about if I ask for her middle name?"

Me: "Um, I guess."


Later on, I was telling my brother about this.

Tom: "Well, that wouldn't work for you!"

Me: "Why not?"

Tom: "You don't have a middle name."

Me: "Yes I do."

Tom: "You have a middle name??"


Friday, March 06, 2009

making a facial model from a single photograph

A colleague sent me this youtube video, which I think is awesome:

They can construct a 3-d model of a human face from a single photograph, by combining two learning systems that look for facial features. See how authentic Tom Hanks's 3-d model came out:

I was surprised to see that this technology was presented in SIGGRAPH '99, an entire ten years ago, yet it's not prevalent today. The paper and other information can be found on this page about the Morphable Facial Model project.

Forget creating my own creature in Spore. I want to upload photographs of myself and everyone I know, and use them as the faces of the characters in the next game I play:

Performance might have been an obstacle in the past. The paper says each construction took 50 minutes on the SGI R10000 (approximately a 200MHz processor). The resulting model uses 70000 vertices. I bet that could be reduced, with some tradeoff in accuracy of the face.

I am waiting to use this technology with Rock Band. Also I think it would be popular among some people with the Hot Coffee mod.

a few photos from Vienna

The most striking thing I saw in Vienna was an exhibition by artist Gerhard Richter, at the Albertina Museum.

Usually photography doesn't captivate me, but I was riveted by this exhibit.

It looks as though he's just blurring the photos, or applying a swiping effect. Perhaps one day I will try this on my own photos to make them more artistic.

Here are my own boring unaltered photos from the past week in Vienna:

The inside of St. Stephen's cathedral, at night.

Venetians on the street, dressed up for Mardi Gras.

A sculpture in a square.

A car getting towed. This is different from the US, where tow trucks drag the car on its two rear wheels.

Austrian food has a lot of sausages, pickles, schnitzel. It was good, but after a few days, my body craved vegetables.

An Austrian friend said that cold cuts and breads is a common dinner. I like this practice of eating the most extravagant meal midday and having the dinner be a denouement.

Driving from Tulln, a suburb of Vienna. I took this photo from the car. Hey, I just noticed that it has the blurring and swiping effect. Watch out, Gerhard Richter!

The Albertina Museum was one of the most lovely museums I've seen.

The cafe inside the Albertina. Unfortunately it stopped serving food and drinks by the time I got to it.

The salon of Sisi, former empress of Austria. She met the emperor Franz when he came for a brief stay at her parents' palace. He was there to meet Sisi's older sister, Nene. But when he saw the lovely Sisi, he fell right away in love.

Sisi refused to accept him, out of loyalty for her sister (girl code!). So Franz pressed her hand by holding a betrothment ceremony. In front of everyone, he walked in with the engagement bouquet, right past Nene with outstretched arms, and presented the flowers to Sisi. What a scandal! Truly they were the Brangelina of their time.

Eileen on the train. We had a pleasant train ride.

I like train travel in Europe. It's efficient, since you can arrive 15 minutes prior to departure instead of 90 minutes for the airport. Also there is more personal space around each seat, and interesting scenery out the window.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

goulash rap

Exiting a thermal bath in Budapest, with college friends Eileen and Mike. Eileen is really good at making up songs, so I got the idea that we should invent a song about our time in Budapest.

Me: "What genre of song would it be? I think it should be about goulash."

Mike: "I suggest a rap."

Me: "Oh wow. That would be good, because I also want it to be a song about technology since we've been talking about the internet a lot. Fortunately, goulash rhymes with both bash and flash."

Mike: "Also cache."

Me: "Good one! Oh, and hash."

Mike: "Crash."

Me: "Wait, but it's pronounced 'goulash' (short a), not 'goulahsh' (long a). So it actually doesn't rhyme with any of these."

Mike: "What are you, British? Just say 'goulash' (long a)."

Me: "No, that's not right. The song is ruined."

(It's too bad, because later I also thought of "backslash" and "john nash").