Wednesday, December 31, 2008

collapsing the waveform

Last night, my macbook started having short freezes, and iPhoto wouldn't launch. I rebooted. The start sequence got stuck at the apple logo loading screen. Many reboots (safe mode, taking out and replacing battery, etc) all stayed at this screen.

I decided to take it to the Apple Store. Best case: running a disk utility would repair the error and make things good as new in 10 minutes. Worse: the logic board is broken, but no data loss. Even worse: the hard drive is hosed.

All morning I found myself mentally assessing the probabilities of each, hoping for a good outcome.

In late afternoon, I went to my appointment at the Apple Genius Bar. They connected an external hard drive and quickly declared that my hard drive failed, such that the partition is unreadable. "Your data is gone," they said cheerfully, to make sure I understood.

As I walked out of the store, I was surprised to find that I felt better. This was one of the worse outcomes. But now my mental background processes could start cataloguing the list of apps I need to reinstall, and non-backed up scripts to rewrite. Collapsing the waveform brought its own relief.

I think it's due to my myers-briggs being a J rather than a P. If I were a P, perhaps I would prefer the time of innocence, before knowing with certainty that my hard drive is toast.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

especially if you taught them using emacs

Today I received an email where the sig was very amusing:

If you give someone a program, you will frustrate them for a day;
if you teach them how to program, you will frustrate them for a lifetime.
--- Anonymous

I showed it to my programmer friend, and we both fell about laughing.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Keith: "The XX bakery has new management, and it's not as good as before. One of the three original founders died from a heart attack."

Me: "Oh, that's too bad."

Keith: "His name was on the lease so his wife or girlfriend kicked out the other two, and took it over."

Me: "That's terrible! Was she his wife or his girlfriend?"

Keith: "Both."

Me: "He was married and had a mistress?"

Keith: "Yes."

Me: "So which one took over the lease?"

Keith: "They did it together."

Me: "Wow. Well, I guess they had similar tastes."

Keith: "United by their grief and greed."

Me: "Like many a capitalistic venture."

Friday, November 28, 2008

doormat decision

My townhouse came with a doormat, which is now at least four years old. My brother calls it "the pile of unidentifiable material which used to be a doormat".

I've narrowed down my decision to three choices.

A. Throw it away, and have no doormat at all.

B. Buy this amusing doormat, which may quickly get dirty as people wipe their feet on it:

C. Buy a normal-looking doormat, like this:


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

chair proof

My brother is moving into my townhouse. We're going to be housemates for the next three months, potentially longer.

Yesterday we loaded up his Accord with small furniture pieces. Around 8pm, we began stuffing his computer chair into the front passenger seat.

Me: [after a couple minutes of pushing] "We got three of the wheels in. By induction, we should be able to get all five."

Tom: "Induction is awesome."

Both of us: [shoving against the chair]

Tom: "Though I'd say we're using the brute force method more."

Monday, November 17, 2008


I was IM-ing with my friend John about choices for health insurance, and he said something I found funny:

"I am what is known as 'bad with money', i.e. my math skills are great until I see a dollar sign."

This reminded me of something he said a few years ago:

John: My checking account is almost overdrawn.

Me: How come this is happening now when it never did before?

John: Well, I used to have a system of checks and balances, in that I would check my balance.

Friday, November 14, 2008

my doctor's story

Today I went for an annual physical from my doctor at Kaiser.

The actual physical took three minutes, and we spent twenty minutes talking. My doctor is a chinese woman in her 40s.

When she was my age, she was working at a Berkeley medical lab as a technician. She wasn't satisfied with the work, so she decided to take the medical board exam to be qualified to practice medicine in the US. She quit her job, and lived off savings for a year while studying.

She had the knowledge from medical school in China, but her english was rough. After a year, she took the exam, and failed by one point. But this gave her courage that after another year, she would be able to pass.

She said it was stressful sometimes, studying and not remembering english vocabulary, looking it up and not comprehending the definition, wondering if she should instead spend her time getting a boyfriend.

At the end of the two years, she passed the exams, and embarked on the road to practicing as a doctor. Later she married a chinese friend she'd known from Berkeley.

I was really moved by the story. I was planning to switch from Kaiser HMO to Cigna PPO, but now I'm wavering because I like my doctor so much.

Monday, November 10, 2008

poem from my brother

From: Tom Wang

I wrote you a lovely haiku – this is what happened when I was bored last night and surfing the internet.

What’s This ‘Two Girls One Cup’?
Traumatized Brother

Saturday, November 08, 2008

funny hacking conversation

This hacker chat transcript that Alipé found is really funny. I am LOL'ing.

<bitchchecker> shut up i hack you
<Elch> ok, i’m quiet, hope you don’t show us how good a hacker you are ^^
<bitchchecker> tell me your network number man then you’re dead
<Elch> Eh, it’s
<Elch> or maybe
<Elch> yes exactly that’s it: I’m waiting for you great attack
<bitchchecker> in five minutes your hard drive is deleted
<Elch> Now I’m frightened
<bitchchecker> shut up you’ll be gone
<bitchchecker> i have a program where i enter your ip and you’re dead

Thursday, November 06, 2008

fobby lol

A reader pointed me to the sites and These are so funny!

no need for expensive birthday wishes:

Me: Happy birthday Dad!
Dad: Thank you.
Me: What did —
Dad: T-Mobile have no more minutes, call me tonight when it’s free. [hangs up]

Self-celebratory text message:

Dad: happy birth to me!
Me: sorry, dad…i knew it was your birthday, but i didn’t have a chance to call you before class
Dad: oh ok i just want you to share glorious happy birth!

weight gain:

Dad: People get old, get fat; gray hair, move slow….that’s life; young ones/next generation take over.
Philip: ya
Philip: but you got fat really fast
Dad: ok, I’ll try to lose weight; it’s not easy; I get hungry.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

low income voters against prop 8?

By current tallies, Prop 8 to eliminate gay marriage is leaning toward passing, 52% to 48%. It's disappointing.

You can see the voting broken down by age, gender, race, education on this CNN page.

As expected, the younger the voters, the more likely they are to oppose the proposition (i.e. favor gay marriage). The more educated they are, the more likely they are to oppose it. The highest income brackets are more likely to oppose it than middle-income brackets.

However, I find it interesting that the lowest income brackets (<$30k) also oppose the proposition. Why would this be? It goes against the education correlation.

The only explanation I could concoct is that perhaps younger voters are more likely to earn less than $30,000, so the income is more correlated to age than to education.

Sunday, November 02, 2008


There's a new restaurant in downtown Mountain View, where you place orders via a computer monitor, and can play games while you wait.

Dan went there and said the games were horrible. He maintains that they are cheesy and not sociable enough. This made me curious, so I went with Sha-mayn the following week. We loved it!

I especially liked the trivia game.

A debate ensued between Dan and me. Spread over several conversations, we debated the merits of uWink. This culminated last Thursday in a bet.

The bet concerns whether the uWink company will go out of business within two years (10/30/2010). Dan bets that it will, and I bet that it will not. The loser will cook for the winner for one month.

Reza, who was eating dinner with us when we determined the bet, is the arbiter.

After we finalized the bet terms, the three of us jauntered over to uWink to watch the crowd. It was one-third full, not terrible for a weeknight. We noticed that it was about 70% Asians. The Asians were laughing, playing the games, having a great time. The non-Asians sat away from the computer monitors, looking bored as they chatted with each other.

Maybe uWink is an Asian thing.

Sha-mayn across the table from me.

Ordering via menu.

The "spicy" First Date game. (It's not very spicy.)

Sha-mayn took this photo of me.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

amazon mystery

Last time I visited the library, I borrowed a book from the new arrivals section.

I tried to read it today, and it was horrible. I kept cringing from the writing and the unbelievable characters. I stopped after twenty pages.

Yet this book averages four stars on Amazon! How can this be? One review says:

"This book could have been alot better if it shaved off about 250 pages.

I wasn't too pleased with this one."

Yet the reviewer still gave three stars! I've lost some faith in Amazon reviews after this. Perhaps the author somehow tapped into a readership who is eager to please and reluctant to criticize.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

gallows humor

This "Overheard in New York" installment is funny:

Hobo on subway to man in suit: Spare change? Anyone? Spare change for the homeless? You look like you worked for Lehman Brothers, you're excused.

--51st St

Friday, October 24, 2008

why are so many songs about love?

I was switching between radio stations yesterday, and every station was playing a love song. Half the songs are about how great it feels to be in love, and the other half are about the sorrows of losing that love.

How did it become a social standard that pop songs are all about love? I suppose the experience is more universal, as opposed to politics, where any song will alienate a portion of the population. Or songs about a particular line of work, which would bore people from other professions. Love appeals to all ages, from teenagers to seniors.

Regardless, there are so many other facets to life. Why aren't there more songs along the lines of "I'm worried about the health of my grandparents" or "I love my job" or "The global gloom-and-doom is a difficult thing"?

Friday, October 17, 2008

germans being funny

In the Google Munich office. I'm temporarily sitting in an office with two German engineers.

Me: [dialing a number into the phone] "Hello? Oh, I'm sorry. I got the wrong number."

Munich Googler #1: [overhearing] "Did you dial 7 to get to an outside line?"

Me: "Yes, but it didn't work. I'm trying to call this number: 4916..."

Munich Googler #1: "Replace 49 with 0. You are in Germany, so you don't need the top-level namespace."

Munich Googler #2: "Why don't you just say 'Don't dial the country code' like a normal person?"

Munich Googler #1: [confidently] "This is more understandable."

I thought it was cute.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sarah Palin song

This is funny.

Also it's sweet how the woman keeps looking over at the guy.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


I'm in Europe this week, and I miss my friends back home. Luckily there is gmail-integrated IM.

Pellinore: also, i've been very sick.
niniane: awwww, i'm sorry that you're sick.
Pellinore: i am going to the hospital on tues for a lot of tests
niniane: what kind of illness?
niniane: what symptoms?
Pellinore: it's a long story... but something is wrong with my GI track... nobody really knows why
Pellinore: so they need to go in and take a look...
Pellinore: they're going to send in little cameras for one or both endpoints (that's what they call it)!!
Pellinore: i need to drink this shit tomorrow to completely clear my system for my tests on tuesday
niniane: endpoints! wow
niniane: what color is the drink?
niniane: how long have you been ill like this?
Pellinore: last week, i went to this new dermatologist about 3 random skin problems
Pellinore: he gave me an antibiotic... these pills were awful. they made me so so so sick
niniane: so this is a reaction to the pills?
Pellinore: yeah, that's the frustrating part
Pellinore: i'm not very good at listening to doctors...
niniane: it's because you rebel against authority :)
Pellinore: my grandfather's brothers were all doctors... growing up, i remember hearing them talk about things over dinner all the time and i always thought they were like car mechanics... or like us... just putting useless print statements to see what's going on...
niniane: yeah, why did you take the antibiotics then? :)
Pellinore: i thought i should try it.
Pellinore: i made the mistake of listening
Pellinore: and now i'm making a bigger mistake by letting them put cameras up and down my endpoints
Pellinore: what if the two cameras crash into each other!
Pellinore: what if they form a knot and they can't get them out!
Pellinore: i hope they're doing this one at a time.
niniane: why do they need to do two cameras
niniane: i guess it depends on the direction it's pointed
niniane: i hope they don't just wash it and use it in the other direction
Pellinore: :)
Pellinore: thanks for listening to my story
niniane: oh, it was great.
niniane: the endpoints, and camera collisions
niniane: it was just like work

Thursday, October 09, 2008

photos of hotness

Omst took our mutual friend Lauren to the Google vegetable garden. When his back was turned, she picked a pepper.

Five of us (including Omst and Lauren) were scheduled to meet for dinner. Lauren decided that if anyone was late, their penalty was to eat the pepper.

Dan was late. Here he is, holding his punishment.

This is a video of him eating it.

On the subject of food pictures, I'm now addicted to yogurt. Fresh yogurt, not the cannister type. Last week, I had yogurt four days in a row, at Fraiche Yogurt in Palo Alto.

You cannot actually see the yogurt here, since it's covered with pineapple and dark chocolate shavings. But it's very good.

Another novelty food item I recently ate was winter melon soup, inside a big winter melon. In chinese fashion, the saran wrap was not removed from the melon. Have you ever gone to a chinese person's house and noticed that they kept the protective covering on their chairs or remote control? We're like that.

By the way, if you were wondering about the title of the post, it's because the pepper was hot.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

i'll recreate encountering Gates McFadden in the Google bathroom

I am very excited today to see this article: Scientist: Holographic television to become reality:

Picture this: you've sat down for the Football World Cup final, or a long-awaited sequel to the "Sex and the City" movie and you're watching all the action unfold in 3-D on your coffee table.

The reason for renewed optimism in three-dimensional technology is a breakthrough in rewritable and erasable holographic systems made earlier this year by researchers at the University of Arizona.

I don't care about watching TV in 3-d. That's boring. But if we can get high-res 3-d projections, then we can write AI and get closer to making the Star Trek holodeck!

I will not have walked this earth in vain, if one day I can make software that emulates the Star Trek holodeck.

It might not happen until I'm seventy years old, and the touch aspect won't work and my holodecks would be immediately overtaken by porn. But I would still be happy.

This part of the article makes me skeptical:

The researchers produced displays that can be erased and rewritten in a matter of minutes.

To create television sets the images would need to be changing multiple times each second -- but Peyghambarian is very optimistic this can happen.

"It took us a while to make that first breakthrough, but as soon as you have the first element of it working the rest often comes more rapidly," he said. "What we are doing now is trying to make the model better. What we showed is just one color, what we are doing now is trying to use three colors. The original display was four inches by four inches and now we're going for something at least as big as a computer screen."

There are no more great barriers to overcome now, he said.

Really? Projecting a single color a few times per hour is not much harder than a high-resolution model at 24 frames per second? I guess if you say so...

Oh, and the best part: If we can have 3-d projections from a portable source which emanates audio, then...

holographic miniature pig

Sunday, October 05, 2008


Alipé sent me this link for New Virtual Earth with 3D Clouds.

Seeing my clouds in this video was like seeing an old friend.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

overheard at dinner

Walking out from dinner on Monday, Dan and I passed a young couple.

Dan: "That was an interesting sentence to overhear."

Me: "What was it? I wasn't paying attention."

Dan: "She said, 'Don't just tell me, 'Do whatever you want.''"

Me: "So they were arguing?"

Dan: "Yeah. He thinks he's being flexible, by agreeing to whatever she wants to do. But what she really wants is for him to be an emotional participant in the latest crisis of the moment. A crisis that she probably manufactured in order to get a reaction from him."

Me: "That's quite the analysis."

Dan: [noises of humility]

Me: "We can be momentarily smug that each of us is not embroiled in this type of argument. For two months."

Dan: "Until those exact words are said to us?"

Me: "Right."

Dan: "In your case, you'd be the one saying them."

Friday, September 26, 2008

conversations about Caltech

Today Megan had me do this exercise:

I was not as graceful as the woman depicted above.

Megan: "Shoulders over your wrists! Raise your leg! You're not raising your leg high enough! Are you listening to what I'm saying?"

Me: [struggling] "This is hard."

Megan: "I know you can figure this out! You went to Caltech."

Me: [out of breath] "We did not learn this at Caltech."


A better example of the Caltech lifestyle happened during a conversation last month with my college friend C3. He has always been an avid video game player, and would disappear for weeks after the release of a Blizzard title.

Me: "So do you play World of Warcraft?"

C3: "I stayed away from it, since I figured that would mark the end of my corporeal existence."

I told this later to Ono, who said while laughing, "Note how he says it's not the end of his entire existence, since he'll still have an existence through WoW."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


My friend made a very pretty room in Lively. It made me happy.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

telling someone they've gotten fat

I'm impressed by this spiel for telling your spouse that they've gotten fat.

I’ve been worried lately because my dad, mom, grandfather, other blood relative, coworker, long time friend or acquaintance… died from a heart attack (or has been ill). I’ve been really thinking about it a lot lately. And I have been trying to come to grips with that for some time. Not because they died (or are ill), but because I know it could have been prevented. They were (pick one or some) overweight, didn’t get any exercise, smoked, drank, were depressed… and I keep asking myself why they chose not to do anything about it? And then I took a hard look at us. I’m wondering if we’re falling into that same rut of complacency. I’ve been reading about the fact that positive lifestyle changes can add years to our lives together. And not just that, but add MEANINGFUL years to our lives.

I think we need to change some things about how we are living, and I’d like your help figuring out what changes we can make. I’ve got some ideas, if you’d be willing to listen: “I think we both need to change what we’re eating. The fast food is convenient, but it’s killing us slowly. I’m willing to do more around the house so that we can make time to eat healthier.” (Dietary habits are key to weight loss)

“I’d also like us to commit to getting in better shape. We both need to get out there. I’m not saying we have to join a gym or be muscle heads. But I know that if we just started walking or playing more that we’d feel better physically and emotionally.”

“I’d also like us to get rid of the junk food in the house and stop buying it. Cheetos, ice cream sandwiches and snack cakes are things I feel we eat too much of. I’m not saying that once in a while is bad, but I think we eat too much of that stuff right now. And if it’s there, I know I’ll go grab it because it’s convenient. Can we work on replacing the junk with healthier alternatives?”

Close by looking deep into their eyes lovingly, and placing your hand on the back of their neck, draw them closer to you. It helps cement communication. Say softly: “Honey, we’re a ‘we’. I depend on you so much for strength and support, and I don’t think I can make these changes without you. I need you in this with me and to be part of the solution for both of us. Can we do this together? I’ll help you and you can help me.”

What do you think, gentle readers? Would you rather hear this, or something straightforward?

Monday, September 15, 2008

hand soaps.

Online soap shopping is challenging! First, you must decide the texture:

  • moisturing
  • deep cleansing
  • gentle foam

and then the bombardment of aromas, without being able to smell them:

  • cherry blossom
  • japanese cherry blossom
  • orange ginger
  • wild honeysuckle
  • sweet pea
  • irresistible apple
  • eucalyptus spearmint
  • lavendar vanilla

But I had to get through it. I am having a soap issue.

I used Costco clear soap for four years. Then I visited a coworker's house, and it opened my eyes to how wonderful soap can be. I know now that soap doesn't have to be just a tool for fighting bacteria. It can be a source of joy and stress relief and energy, depending on the aroma.

Now it will be my turn to have great soap. My soaps will be so satisfying that when people need to go to the bathroom, they'll drive from their house to my house so that they can wash their hands with my soap afterwards.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Thursday, September 11, 2008

traffic spike

Over instant messenger.

niniane: did you wish sha-mayn happy bday?
alipé : yep
alipé : Facebook was down for a while early this morning.
alipé : probably due to the overwhelming volume of people wishing her happy birthday
niniane: lol

happy birthday Sha-mayn

The world is a better place with Sha-mayn.

not the first time someone got fired because of Steve Jobs

At a Mexican taqueria with my brother.

Me: "Did you hear about how Bloomberg accidentally published an obituary for Steve Jobs last week?"

Tom: "No!"

Me: "It was in the news. At a conference the other day, Steve Jobs said, 'The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.'"

Tom: "That's a good one. Oh, I bet that Bloomberg reporter got fired."

Me: "You think so? Yeah, heads probably rolled."

Tom: "Someone ran into his office and said, 'In thirty seconds, prepare to write your own obituary!'"

House Bunny mysteries

Recently I watched "The House Bunny" with my brother. It's an entertaining movie.

The premise is that a playboy bunny gets kicked out of Hef's mansion, and becomes house mother of a geeky sorority. She gives them makeovers, and they teach her to value her smarts.

Here is the before picture of the sorority girls:

and the after photo:

If the movie genre isn't clear, here's another hint: one of the previews featured Richard Gere.

I liked the movie. It reminded me of Caltech (sorry, Beavers). However, there were several mysteries that are disturbing my enjoyment of the film. If you can concoct a reasonable hypothesis for any of them, please leave a comment.

Believable explanations only! No elaborate tales. Also no useless comments like "it's a movie" or "it's all made up".

1. How come the geeky sorority girls have such nice figures? I realize they're in waterbras and heels, but they still have unnaturally good material to start from. Maybe because they're 19 with the youthful metabolisms.

2. Where did they get the money for the makeovers and parties? Manicure / pedicures cost around $50. Hair extensions cost upward of $200. Is this coming from the university sorority budget?

3. How come Oliver gives Shelley (the playboy bunny) another chance even though he wants a smart upstanding woman (plus she lied to him)?

4. After the epiphany about embracing their true selves, why does Natalie still go for this guy who noticed her most when she pretended to be less knowledgeable (about the Aztecs)?

I hope we can resolve these mysteries, so that the path will be paved for House Bunny 2.

Friday, September 05, 2008

For sale: one filing cabinet

Over brunch at University Cafe.

RB: "Did you get my card?"

Me: "Oh, I haven't gone through my mail in a month. It takes so long to file the papers into my filing cabinet."

RB: "Why don't you just dump them into a shoe box?"

Me: "I file them into individual folders for bills, insurance, mortgage, etc."

RB: "How often do you go back to look something up?"

Me: "Almost never. Maybe once a year."

RB: "So you do frequent writes, and infrequent lookups. Why would you choose to pay the cost on write? Just dump everything into a box and then sort through it if you ever need to look for a particular item! You would never design a software system this way."

Me: [stunned into epiphany]

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Chinese view on weddings

I keep hearing about a mentality amongst American women where they daydream about their wedding day since they were a little girl. I find the phenomenon interesting, because as far as I can tell, Chinese women don't share it.

Last week, I was talking to my mother about how my cousin recently re-married.

Me: "Did my cousin hold a wedding this time?"

My mother: "No. He wanted to do it quickly. If he did hold a dinner or some type of event, your aunt and uncle didn't know about it."

Me: "Don't worry. When I get married, I'll have a wedding."

My mother: "Will you invite me?"


Two nights before leaving Beijing, I saw this dish on a restaurant menu: "Cold Fresh Walnuts with Cherry Blossoms". I ordered it out of curiosity.

Surprisingly, the restaurant actually had cherry blossoms on hand. Maybe it was from a can.

I learned that there's a reason why people don't usually eat cherry blossoms. They are absolutely revolting. I had to let the whole dish go to waste, because even the walnuts were tainted and thereby disgusting.

Here is a photo of food which is actually good. On the right is a stack of cucumber segments. Chinese cucumbers have more taste than American ones, and it's common to eat a whole raw cucumber as a snack.

I was amused by the translation of this restaurant name.

The translation is "American Owl Restaurant". I don't think that was the original intent behind the name "Hooters".

Friday, August 22, 2008

olympics pics

Working out of the Beijing Google office turned up unforeseen difficulties, to my dismay.

But the air of Olympics fervor throughout the city was eye-opening. Here are photos from the events I watched.

Water Cube aquatics center, built just for the Olympics.

Ceiling inside the Water Cube.

Swimmers stretching before 200-meter medley semifinals. Phelps is third from the right.

You can see the cameraman in Phelps's lane, on the far right of the photo. As each athlete was announced, he ran up to them, zooming the camera on their facial expression. In the middle of #7, he abandoned his close-ups and hightailed it back to lane 3 for Phelps. There was no footage of #8 getting introduced, because the cameraman spent all that time prepping the perfect shot of Michael Phelps.

Outside of the Bird's Nest athletics center, lit up at night.

USA vs Brazil in the women's soccer gold-medal match.

I found it interesting to watch an entire soccer game from start to finish. There is so much buildup after 90 minutes go by without a goal. By the time the ball actually lands in the net, the anticipation is extreme.

USA basketball Team of Redemption against Argentina.

The main advantage of the US team seemed to be the ability to defend without committing fouls. Argentina fouled over and over again. At one point, the US was permitted three free throws due to a foul. A few minutes later, the US was permitted four free throws for a single foul.

The fouls added up to much more than the point spread.

James Blake serving. I got to see the drama firsthand of Blake petitioning the referee over this shot (full article):

Blake powered a forehand toward Gonzalez, who was standing close to the net. The ball flew long but Blake immediately claimed it had brushed his opponent’s racket.

Television replays backed up his assertion.

But umpire Yan Kuszak saw nothing, and Gonzalez remained mute at the back of the court instead of calling a point against himself.

While tennis continues to embrace technology, with HawkEye used to settle disputes on line calls, it is not used to settle disputes such as this one.

“Playing in the Olympics, in what’s supposed to be considered a gentleman’s sport, that’s a time to call it on yourself,” said a fuming Blake in his post-match news conference. “Fernando looked me square in the eye and didn’t call it.

“If that happened the other way, I never would have finished the match because my father would have pulled me off the court if I had acted that way.

“That’s a disappointing way to exit the tournament when you not only lose the match, but you lose a little faith in your fellow competitor.”

I spent a long time afterwards reading stories of bad and good sportsmanship.

This sailing rescue is my favorite story of sportsmanship.

courtesy of Sha-mayn

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

gymnastics amazingness

This gymnastics routine is awe-inspiring.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

olympics mystery

Yesterday in Beijing, much of the Olympics buzz revolved around Liu Xiang withdrawing from the 110m hurdles.

The official story is that an old Achilles heel injury flared up two days ago.

Liu's coach Sun Haiping, who broke down in tears at a news conference yesterday, told CCTV that the sprinter had suffered a recurrence of an Achilles' tendon problem by ``pushing too hard'' when practicing starts on Aug. 16. His right ankle bears the brunt of the push from the starting blocks.

Liu said he had run a time of 12.90 seconds in practice two weeks ago -- the world record is 12.87 seconds. Attempting to run yesterday might have caused lasting damage, he said.

``If I tried to pull through, my Achilles' tendon would . . .'' he said. ``I really couldn't make it, as much as I wanted to. I couldn't describe my feelings at that moment. Do I really want to pull out of the first heat of the games? But that's the way it is.''

Most articles reporting on the injury mention the great mental stress Liu endured, from the nation's expectations. As I see it, the potential scenarios were:

a. Exactly as the official story claimed. Liu Xiang was in peak condition, but by sheer bad timing, his Achilles heel injury flared up at the last minute.

b. His injury was aggravated by the pressure. Had he not been so stressed, he would've recovered in time to race, or the injury might not have flared up at all.

c. His injury was not bad enough to cause withdrawal, but it reduced his chances of winning. Rather than face a heightened prospect of losing, he withdrew instead.

d. He wasn't injured at all. He cracked under the pressure and concocted a story about the injury.

After watching the interview with Liu Xiang and his coach, I don't think (d) is possible. The international media is presenting (a) but Beijing cab drivers seem to think it's (c).

If you have an analysis, post a comment! Unless your view on the Olympics is similar to my friend Dan.

Me: "What do you think of this Phelps legendary streak? It is pretty impressive!"

Dan: "I hear there's some athlete winning some medals, is that what you're talking about? :)"

Sunday, August 10, 2008

George W Bush enjoying the .. Olympics

This morning, Bush observed the women's volleyball Olympics match. I am amused by this photo.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

photos of duck, and an unknown celebrity

On the flight from the US to Beijing, one of my fellow passengers wore a black velvet suit, and a hat with a shiny band. It was the most attention-grabbing outfit I'd ever seen on an airplane passenger.

In the arrivals lobby, he and his friend were mobbed by a crowd of Chinese girls who clamored for autographs. The two of them stood sullenly, pressed against the elevators by the crowd. They said only a few words, in between jabbing the elevator call button.

I asked a passing airplane attendant who it was. She said he is "Bo Bo". Who is that? Nobody knows.

My friend Xian said, "Nowadays you can pay people to act like your fan. They'll greet you at the airport with a big sign, 'I LOVE YOU'. It just costs a few hundred chinese yuan per fan. This guy can't be a celebrity, or he wouldn't be wearing a shiny hat. Instead he'd be wearing a baseball cap, pulled low."

View from my desk in the Google Beijing office. I'm working from the office during most of my stay here.

Looking out any window, the eye meets a sea of 30-story buildings. At first I found this very isolating. Any of us could jump out the window, and it would make barely an iota of difference in this dense city.

View from a different window.

Chinese people share my liking for pigs. Our family friend has stickers of pigs in her kitchen, for no good reason.

Sha-mayn took me and other friends to a secluded duck restaurant. This is the bar outside the restaurant.

The restaurant itself. I like this architecture with the wooden ceiling and the skylight.

The waiter carving the duck for the table next to us, with the elegant woman.

Condiments for the duck. I've eaten duck at half my meals here.

A waitress waiting during a lull. I thought this looked very old-world.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

pressure can make diamonds ... how about gold?

China is fixated on getting gold medals in the Olympics.

The culture has always emphasized perfection. If it's not gold, it's worthless. If you're not #1, then you must be crap. My cousin's teacher once called in his parents to discuss his inadequate performance on an exam. After a long lecture, my relatives asked with fear, "What exactly did he get on the test?" The teacher's answer: 96 out of 100.

I made this visual demonstration of how it pertains to the Olympics. This is how you or I would respond to a silver medal:

Now let's look at it from the eyes of China.

The pressure is negatively affecting some of the athletes:

To learn how their athletes would handle the pressure of competing at home in the Olympics, Chinese sports officials conducted an experiment earlier this year: They invited athletes' parents to watch a gymnastics meet.

Most of the gymnasts, who have lived at their training center since they were young children, had never competed in front of their loved ones. Some could not cope.

'During the competition, some athletes didn't feel very good and even fell down from the balance beam.'

This morning, my cab driver and I had a discussion about this. In particular, we talked about Liu Xiang, the Chinese hurdler who won gold in Athens 2004, and who is representing China in hurdles this time too.

Liu Xiang is on billboards everywhere in Beijing, and his name is often associated with phrases like "the hopes of a nation ride on his shoulders". Or "1.4 billion people are rooting for him to win gold".

In a poll of Chinese citizens, staging a successful Olympics ranked fourth; watching Liu Xiang win gold ranked first (link).

Maybe Liu Xiang will be able to match the sky-high expectations, the way that J.K. Rowling did for the seventh book of Harry Potter. But I can't imagine the terror of those 12.86 seconds, after these months of buildup.

My dad told me once that computer programmers are not suited for sports competitions or artistic performances. "Those require precision on the day of the performance," he said. "You can't go in with the mindset of 'A mistake is fine. I'll just recompile. I'll get it right on the third try.'"

The cab driver this morning was even-keeled about the pressure on the athletes. "If I were the media," he said, "I would remind people that Liu Xiang has serious competition. If he doesn't win gold, it's not unusual. And whether he wins gold, silver, bronze, or nothing, he's put China on the map for track and field, and we should support him."

I like the sentiment quite a lot, but I don't think it would work as well for marketing.

I can't imagine a big China Mobile ad that says, "The hopes of a nation lie with him ... whether he wins gold, silver, bronze, or nothing."

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

it was Dan's description which won me over

Two months ago, I wrote a post about deciding between two beds, which I labeled A and B.

Out of 40 replies on my blog and FriendFeed, three voted for A and the rest for B. Responses included:


Dan: "B displays strength and grace with good proportion. A is a napkin doodle, a napkin doodle made by somebody trapped in a loveless marriage."


I was momentarily swayed by the extreme nature of the votes, but in the end, I decided to get A. It arrived last month, and I finally had time to put it together a week ago.

Here it is in my guest bedroom. I think it looks lovely.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

the most dangerous number?

Eating brunch with my brother.

Me: "Last week I met a Googler who used to be an astronaut. He lived on the space station for six months."

Tom: "Wow, that's cool."

Me: "The space station is designed to house five people, though there were only two when he lived there."

Tom: "Did the two people speak the same language?"

Me: "Ha ha. I hope so."

Tom: "What would happen if they didn't get along?"

Me: "I assume NASA selects for people that will get along with anyone. Though, I was wondering what the most dangerous number of occupants would be. If there's only one person, they'll certainly go crazy from the loneliness. If there's two people, they might get into a fight and chase each other, knocking over equipment. If there's three, two of them might form an alliance, and the third person would feel left out."

Tom: "Two is the worst. What if they hate each other? They can't just draw a line down the middle of the space station."

Me: [laughing]

Tom: "They'll make a line of potato chips in zero-gravity. It'll be really obvious if someone crosses the line."

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Tom's Olympic forecast

Over brunch at Coupa Cafe, a few hours before I fly to Beijing for the Olympics.

Tom: "China is going all out for the medals this time. They have the home advantage."

Me: "I'm looking forward to watching ping pong. Odin predicted the finals will be China vs. China."

Tom: "No, not necessarily. It could be China vs. an American-born Chinese."

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


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'."