Monday, February 25, 2008

ambulance post

Today's entry from the well-known blog of a UK ambulance driver;

I'm driving on this particular shift, my crewmate is in the back dealing with the patient.

I'm grinding my teeth at the waste.

The patient is almost certainly going to die - he's taken an overdose. The tablets he's taken, and the way he's taken them, mean that parts of his body will start to fail over the next few days. His immediate future is hospital bed, then an ITU bed, then either waiting for a transplant or death. It's too late for any treatment to work on him.

He's not in any pain, he doesn't feel weak, he has no symptoms.


Read the full post.

photos of food and castle

Mocha from Coupa Cafe. The cream was originally in a star shape (imagine the top half mirrored onto the bottom half).

I drank a sip, and it became an owl.

Naturally, preservation of the owl became key. The next ten minutes saw me crouching over the cup in strange contortions each time I wanted to take a sip.

I promised to take Megan to a vegan restaurant to celebrate her birthday. She chose Cafe Gratitude, in San Francisco. I braced myself for unsatisfying raw vegetables.

How wrong I was!

The menu items are phrased as affirmations. My mint chocolate chip milkshake is "I am Cool". Our appetizer of crackers and hummus was called "We are Bountiful". I rather enjoyed ordering:

Waitress: "What can I get for you?"

Megan: "I am Elated, and I am Honored. We are Bountiful. My friend here wants 'I am Cool'. Oh, also, I am Extra Green."

To my shock, the food was actually tasty. It's much better than the majority of non-vegan food.

The inside of the cafe. My stomach is not used to the food, so by the time we left, I actually felt a little like vomiting. Nonetheless, I went back again the following night.

The tables carry a fun card game, with questions like "Name three things you love about the other players."

The best one was a multi-part card. Part one was "Who do you hold a grudge against?" We wracked our brains and described people from our distant past who wronged us. The next part read, "Pretend the other player is the person you hold a grudge against. Now apologize for holding a grudge for so long."

That card owned us good!

Hearst Castle.

View from the castle.

The tour talked about how Hearst lived with his wife for twenty-odd years, and she bore him five sons.

Then he fell in love with Marion Davies, his "true love match", who lived with him for 40+ years until his death. His wife was very amicable. She lived across the country in New York, and would telegraph before arrival so that Marion Davies could duck out during her stay.

Upon Hearst's death, he left his property and a significant chunk of stock to Marion Davies. She sold it to his widow for a penny, because she said, "I was with him for love, not money."

Meanwhile, Mrs. Hearst performed a number of charitable deeds in Manhattan. Bluebirds sang, and ponies ran happily in the meadow.

Then I came home, and read on wikipedia how it's commonly believed that Mrs. Hearst was a prostitute when Hearst met her. Also, Hearst was terribly jealous of Marion Davies and is suspected to have murdered a man during a jealous rage on a sailboat. Allegedly he used his money and influence to shush up the shooting. Finally, Marion Davies married someone else a week after Hearst's death.

Funny how they didn't mention any of that on the tour.

A pretty walkway.

The outdoor pool.

Hearst often changed his mind after a portion of the house was completed, and would order it torn down and rebuilt. This pool was recreated three times before he was satisfied.

The architect, Julie Morgan, worked on the house for 28 years. I wonder if she found it fulfilling to design a lavish castle (rather than yet another square office building), or whether it was frustrating to have Hearst switching his mind all the time.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

i can cook

Tom and I are at my parents' house in Vegas, for my dad's 65th birthday.

We pressured my mother to cook a birthday dinner. She got totally into it, and this is the result:

My mother decided ten years ago that I do not know how to cook. Despite years of protests from me, culminating in my cooking a dinner that she ate and said was good, she still maintains that I cannot cook. I've given up. Now I go along with it.

During dinner tonight:

Me: "This stewed eggplant is better than at restaurants! And the chives in the dumplings are amazing."

My mother: "It's nice when people don't know how to cook, like Niniane. You can make any sort of food, and they appreciate it."

Me: [sighing]



Me: "What happens to kids whose moms don't know how to cook? Do they just suffer eating terrible food their whole childhood?"

My mother: "There are no mothers who cannot cook!"

Me: "All right, let me put the question a different way. What's going to happen to my kids?"

My mother: [laughing] "That's a good point. But... no! There are no mothers who can't cook!"

Tom: "Niniane, that means Mom thinks you'll never have kids."


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

hee hee obama

I don't like lolcat, but I do like lolcat parodies.

Monday, February 18, 2008

silicon valley humor

X showed me Y2Combinator:

Y2 Combinator is a new kind of firm: a company that starts companies that starts companies. We help company-starting companies through what is for many the hardest step, copying the Y Combinator site without making silly mistakes.


Saturday, February 16, 2008

rating everyone

My dear friend Reza has a wonderful idea. Every one of us should receive a rating and reviews.

Imagine a world where people could easily point their cell phone at you and give you a plus or a minus vote. If you let someone merge in, the other driver can give you a small star. If you stop and help someone with a flat tire, you might get lots of stars. If you cut people off or cheat on the carpool lane, you get bad karma. That's similar to PageRank. We all look at reviews for movies, restaurants, books, hotels, etc. And we look at the star rating on youtube, netflix, etc. Why not have it for people?

You can read his full post here. It's like expanded to all areas of life.

I endorse this idea!

It may make sense to separate the ratings along different axes: career, friendship, relationship. That way, a workaholic who ignores their significant other could have 5 stars on one axis and 0 stars along the other, as opposed to a confusing average of 2.5 stars.

To protect against spamming, you would enter a secret question for each category. Only people who are qualified to rate you would know the answer. For example, the work one could be "What is my desk location number?" so only your real coworkers could rate you.

Potential romance secret questions are left as an exercise to the reader.

This way, when my profile is posted, I won't immediately be voted down to 0 stars by thousands of angry Asian men.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

More stats on the world. (updated)

It would be lovely if there was easy access to more fine-grained statistics about the world. It would help in making risk assessments.

For example, I enjoy creative writing. I'd like to estimate my chances of ever getting published. If it's low, e.g. 1%, I just won't bother sending out manuscripts. Instead I'll write solely for enjoyment.

A panel of authors once said that 10% of aspiring writers get published. This number is not helpful. The pertinent data would be a set of writing samples at various levels of ability. For each, it would aggregate the percentage of authors who eventually got published.

Burgeoning writers can then look for a level similar to their own (or ask friends to rate them) and get the associated probability.

Another example is marriage and divorce. Supposedly there are well-known factors that influence the probability of staying together. The well-touted 50% divorce rate is skewed by shotgun weddings, according to a story I heard. If you're not marrying due to unexpected pregnancy, your divorce probability falls below 50%. But it rises if you live together first. Your marriage also has a much better chance if the ratio of positive to negative interactions exceeds 5:1.

It would be nice if there exists a service where people could pay money to fill out a bunch of information about them and their significant other, and get a customized probability score. They might decide to ignore it, but at least curious people can get an assessment.

Another example is startups. 90% of startups fail. Are these startups with great founders and innovative product ideas? Or is it skewed by people who caught entrepeneur fever, without accompanying skills?

Stats are good. More detailed stats would be better.


Some comments are along the lines of "I'm sure if J. K. Rowling knew her chances of getting published were very low , maybe she'd would have never written Harry Potter."

This completely misses the point of the spectrum-odds. J. K. Rowling is an amazing writer. She is a master of suspense. She weaves a spellbinding world. If she used the spectrum system I talked about, she would probably find that while overall odds of publishing are very low, the J.K. Rowling-specific odds are actually high.

Dan's comment captures this well:

Many of the comments are supporting ignorance. "You probably won't succeed, so it's best that you don't know the odds." Ridiculous: if the overall odds are against you, all the more reason to know the conditional odds.

Another set of comments imply "Don't give up writing just because the odds of publishing are low." Who said anything about giving up writing? If you actually read my post above, I said:

I'd like to estimate my chances of ever getting published. If it's low, e.g. 1%, I just won't bother sending out manuscripts. Instead I'll write solely for enjoyment.

The time spent on printing out manuscripts, binding them, and mailing them could be spent on doing more writing.

Why do we promote making blind decisions? Instead of saying, "The odds are low, so you should avoid discovering what they are." we should be saying, "The odds are low, and you should find out exactly what they are, so you can make a rational choice on whether you will try anyway."

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Quantum Hoops!

Last night I went to see the documentary "Quantum Hoops" in Berkeley.

It follows the Caltech basketball history, focusing on the team's losing streak between 1985 through 2006 (the year the film was made). During all those decades, the Caltech basketball team did not win a single game.

I bought movie tickets online, for fear the showing would sell out. My companions laughed at this. They were right about the audience turnout. But we did run into a number of Techers in the theatre.

The documentary had a number of clips with the current coach:

He's so awesome.

He talks about how Caltech players put academics first, and the entire team has only six students who played high school varsity. They compete against colleges that offer basketball scholarships, where most players were starters on their high school varsity team.

Coach: Yeah, Caltech doesn't win championships the way UCLA does, or USC. [pause] But we have a few more Nobel prizes.

My favorite line in the film came when he talked about reducing the point spread from 60 points every game (in 2003) down to only 10 points (in 2006).

Coach: [very proudly] We're only losing by ten points this season. Winning has gone from impossible to improbable!

Friday, February 08, 2008


At a big group dinner with Laura and Katherine, two Googlers that I see occasionally.

Katherine: These new "Sex in the City" ripoffs are so lame. Like the one with Lucy Liu. The characters are not believable.

Laura: The three of us need to make one.

Me: Where should it be set?

Katherine: Not here. Or NYC. Oh, it should be set in Rome.

Me: [appraising her] You could pass for being Italian.

Katherine: I AM Italian.


Me: Our show needs some kind of drama. Like, my character meets an Italian guy, and he's really cute. But it turns out he has chest hair.

Laura: Yeah! So much chest hair. But he's very sweet to you.

Me: Right, so my character is torn.

Laura: [offhandedly, while eating salad] The hair is on his back too.

Me: [recoiling]

Laura: He cooks dinner for you.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

airport brainstorming

At SJC airport this afternoon, waiting to fly to LA for Google's company trip to Disneyland.

Me: "My last couple of blog posts were probably only funny to Googlers."

Dan: "No, they weren't funny even to me."

Me: "What the hell!"

Dan: [shrugging]


Five of us sat around a table at California Pizza Kitchen at the airport.

Jim: "XXX broke up after getting engaged."

Me: "Oh, why? He's such a nice guy!"

Jim: "I don't know the story. I just know he broke up."

Me: "If only there was some service that collates people's breakup stories. I want to know the details."

Bob: "This can be a Google product. Organizing the world's breakup information and making it universally accessible and useful."

Me: [laughing]

Dan: "Every day when you log into Gmail, there can be a text entry box, 'Did anything embarrassing happen last night?'"

Sunday, February 03, 2008

funny streetview video

X showed me this video yesterday. I laughed so hard.

Friday, February 01, 2008

peanut gallery

At an internal tech talk, I'm standing in the back of the room with my Googler friend JA. We're listening to a presentation about some infrastructure.

Me: Wow, this is really cool. This is amazing. I can't wait to use this.

JA: Yeah. How much do you think XX [the speaker] contributes to Google?

Me: He's like the G that makes up Google.

... Later, the speaker finished, and a second speaker went to the podium.

Speaker #2: I'm going to talk about project Y. First, an overview of how Google search works. [shows slide with blob of "The Web" connected to "crawler" and then "indexer"] Now, some engineers here may not know what the indexer does.

Me: [whispering to JA] Really?

JA: [smiling] How about the crawler. What does that do?

Me: He should explain what "The Web" is.

JA: [gesturing toward the Google logo on every slide] Or what is "Google"?

so how much data was generated while we were talking?

A friend reminded me of this story last week, and it made me laugh.

A few months ago, I was talking to an engineer in a nearby cubicle.

Engineer: [describing his project which does some amazing stuff]

Me: "Wow, that's cool. How much data does that generate?"

Engineer: "X terabytes."

Me: [startled] "Woah!"

Engineer: "... per minute."