Saturday, February 28, 2009

life updates

Hello from Budapest! This post is coming to you from the heart of Hungary, land of gothic steeples and goulash.

Recently I've been mulling over whether to blog more about software, since confidentiality is no longer as much of an issue. Many of you know this, but for those who don't, I decided near the end of 2008 to move on from Google, after five amazing years. It was wonderful working on Desktop (stories) and Gmail and Lively (warm wishes to the hardcore users who worked around the clock to keep the product experience going with, and now it is time to try new things.

At the moment I am traveling and fiddling with a couple of web site ideas. I spent the past couple of days in Budapest with my college friend Eileen. A few photos so far:

Art Noveau palace. It is now a Four Seasons hotel lobby.

Interior of Matyas church, with very pretty stained glass.

Eileen preparing to eat chicken with paprika and cream sauce. We've been eating a lot of paprika.

Me in a restaurant. The food is so good in Hungary!

We went into an underground labyrinth which created a spooky effect with lighting and drums from hidden speakers.

... until we came across this "excavation" in the labyrinth.

View of the Danube. Budapest is divided into the Buda section and the Pest section. In this photo, I believe we are looking at Pest, from Buda.

tf-idf library

Recently I needed to use tf-idf for a personal project. I couldn't find a suitable library on the internet in python, without complicated dependencies. I ended up writing a simple one. Here it is, in case anyone else would find it useful.

No n-grams or stemming, but it computes basic tf-idf. Thanks to Alex for reviewing.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

life imitates art, websites imitate webcomics

I've recently become addicted to reading the new website, where people share unfortunate incidents from their life. Here are some user entries of note:

Today, I looked at the facebook of the girl I really liked, and I saw she wrote on her friend's wall "Last night was the biggest mistake of my life." We hooked up last night. FML

Today, my boyfriend of 2 years sent me a text messages saying, "Don't worry I'm gonna break up with her soon. Love you." FML

Today, I submitted my picture to a rating website. It was rejected because I didn't clarify which person I was. The picture was of my dog and me. FML

Today, I arrived at my parents house for dinner. When I got there, I noticed that they had gay pride flags hanging from the porch, and gay rights bumper stickers plastered to their cars. There was also a huge "We accept you, Nick" banner hanging from the garage. I'M NOT GAY! FML

Alipe pointed out that the site is an implementation of this achewood web comic.

FMylife traffic is doing quite well. I think the site was previously popular in France already.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

don't read this if you are offended by blasphemy

If you are the type of person who, upon hearing the Lord's name taken in vain, covers their mouth and says "Oh my!", you need to stop reading now.

My friend "Matthew" and I were in a museum, looking at himalayan art. One statue featured Shiva and his goddess.

Me: "I know a couple of Indian guys named Shiva. Do you think it's strange to share the same name as the highest deity, who rules all of creation? You don't see that in the States."

Matthew: "I know some Shiva's too. As well as Ganesh, Pavarti."

Me: "It's not a bad idea. All right, I'm going to name my kid 'God'."

Matthew: [chortling]

Me: "That's right. My kid will be called 'God Wang'."


Later I told the plan to another friend "Andy".

Me: "But I plan to have two kids, so I don't know what to name the second kid."

Andy: "That's true. You can't name one kid 'God', and the second kid 'Frank'."

Me: "Yeah, Frank would feel so unloved by comparison, and angry."

Andy: "Oh, I'm pretty sure the 'God' kid will be the angrier one."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

photos from Tibet

Over the Christmas holidays, I visited my college friend in Tibet. Wesley was at Caltech at the same time as me, and worked for a few years afterwards in Silicon Valley. He went on a world trip at one point, and met a girl in Tibet. Now they live there happily.

This was a common Tibetan style of architecture. The wood is assembled without nails or screws.

My favorite cafe to eat breakfast was called Fragrant Valley Cafe. I went there every day until they recognized me. It was nice to be a "regular" somewhere.

The "western breakfast" at the cafe.

I experienced fatigue as a result of altitude sickness from being at 3300 meters. Fortunately, oxygen cannisters are sold throughout supermarkets and drugstores.

The oxygen cannister has a date printed on it. Does oxygen have an expiration date?

We did experiments of inhaling oxygen while running up a steep hill. It helps.

There was a bar inside the Old Town section named the Google Bar. I surprised a Tibetan by showing how their bar's name matches the logo on my scarf.

The nearby Tiger Leaping Gorge is good for hiking.

At one point, the trail went through a small waterfall.

Wesley and I spent some of our time writing code together, just like the old days in college. We ate watermelon seeds while programming. We consumed a bag of watermelon seeds every day.

On Christmas Eve, the owner of Fragrant Valley Cafe held a party. His friend cut down a pine tree from outside of the town, and made it into a Christmas tree.

In this photo, I'm wearing a Tibetan hat with a Lhasa dress. Wesley said this is as incongruous as a cowboy hat with a Scottish kilt.

Me with newfound Tibetan friends. This is the Tibetan outfit that actually matches the hat.


Tibet was lovely, but I missed one thing from the States. I remedied this upon my return:

Monday, February 16, 2009

you know you live in silicon valley when...

Walking down the street with my fashionable friend "Ellie".

Me: "Those are really cute hat and gloves. Where did you get them?"

Ellie: "The hat is from Old Navy. The gloves are from Juicy."

Me: "I should go buy a hat like it. But shopping is so draining... I guess you love shopping."

Ellie: "I could shop every day, for hours."

Me: "You must think it's weird that I hate shopping. Since you love it so much, it must seem strange."

Ellie: "No, there are plenty of things that I don't like, which everybody else likes."

Me: [expecting her to name some universally loved activities, like going to the beach or really good restaurants]

Ellie: "Like... programming."

Air Force One is also a taxpayer-sponsored jet, Mr. President

There's a CNN article quoting Obama making a boastful joke about his plane:

"Hey guys, what do you think of my -- this spiffy ride here?" the president asked the group of reporters traveling with him on the presidential plane.

"Thanks for giving me a reason to fly Air Force One," he told the House Democrats after his flight, which took him away from a week of fighting for the economic stimulus bill.

After the flak Obama gave the auto Big-3 CEOs for taking their private jets to Washington, I am disappointed that he turns around and brags about his own jet.

Mr. Obama, you've said a lot of things lately about how executives shouldn't show off their extravagant lifestyles when they're not delivering financial results. Last time I checked, the economy of the US is in dire straits. You're the chief. So why are you parading your spiffy jet? If any American CEO made the same joke standing aboard their own jet, would you not chastise them?

UPDATE: I'm not saying that he should stop using Air Force One, and should fly JetBlue and sit next to me in 23B. I'm saying that he should stop bragging about it, jokingly or not.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

why is this one worse than the other one?

Chris Brown confessed to punching his girlfriend Rihanna several times in the face on Saturday. This happened after they got into an argument in the car, driving home from a pre-Grammy party.

Here they are during happier times:

The most common response to this sorry tale is "that's the end of his career". I hope this is the case. That would be just.

However, I don't understand why there's a double standard between this versus Kobe Bryant being accused of raping a woman in 2003.

Kobe Bryant's career did not end at all. Now he's one of the most revered sports stars in the world. During the Olympics, entire stadiums would chant his name.

Is it because Kobe never admitted guilt, whereas Chris Brown has?

Or because domestic violence is considered worse than rape?

Monday, February 09, 2009

love is in the air

It is February, and there is a significant date coming up soon. On this day, I plan to celebrate a timeless love. I have high hopes that it will be a memory to cherish for the rest of my years.

That's right, the Amazon Kindle 2 is allegedly shipping on February 24!!!

When I was ten years old, I read a sci-fi short story about a classroom of kids in the future. Each of them used a digital pad that could access all the world's writing. One day, they came across a reference to "carrying books". Upon questioning the teacher, they were shocked to discover that primitive humans actually lugged around volumes of paper, each of which only contained a single book's contents.

Soon I can stop being one of those primitive humans! The first Kindle book I'm going to read is "A Random Walk Down Wall Street".

I want "Infinite Jest" to become available on Kindle. That book is enormous! Also Knuth's books. Alas, neither are, but "Kite Runner" and "Outliers" (two sorry pieces of crap that somehow pass for books) are available as Kindle titles. Grrr.

I will carry my Kindle everywhere. If you're a stranger who reads my blog, and you spot someone at a Mountain View cafe who looks like me, instead of going up to them and asking "Are you Niniane?", you can just check if they're holding a Kindle. If not, then it's just some other woman who looks like me.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

sad news article

Today I read a news article that was terribly sad:

A Texas district court judge Friday reversed the conviction of a man who died in prison nearly a decade ago, almost two decades into a prison sentence for a rape he swore he did not commit, CNN affiliate KXAN reported.

... Then a student at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Mallin was walking to her car, intending to move it to another parking lot, when a man approached her asking about jumper cables, she said. In a matter of seconds, he put her in a choke hold and held a knife to her neck. He forced himself into her car and drove her to the outskirts of town, where he raped her.

... Cole, like Mallin, was a student at Texas Tech. He had finished two years of college previously and was returning to school after spending two years in the Army, his brother said.

But his dreams of getting married and having children never materialized. He was arrested and charged with Mallin's rape, declining a plea bargain offer that would have put him on probation. A jury convicted him and imposed a 25-year sentence.

That night, "he hugged my mother and he said, 'Mother, why these people lie on me, why they do this to me?'" Cole's brother Reggie Session recounted for the Avalanche-Journal, which published a three-part series on the case in June.

"He said, 'They know I ain't done nothing to that girl. I don't even know that girl. Why they do this to me, mother?' ... He cried in my mother's arms on the floor."

Reading the article, it seems there were many hints indicating against it being Cole. He had asthma and never smoked, but the rapist was a heavy smoker. Cole's lawyer even suspected who the real rapist was, and tried to make a case for it.

Now everyone -- Cole's family, the victim, even the real rapist -- is working together to clear Cole's name. I'm sure it's cathartic, and should be done, but it's so little consolation.

Friday, February 06, 2009

blitz of albatross

Chatting to my brother about the recession, while sitting side-by-side on our respective computers.

Tom: "The games industry has been hit by the recession, especially some of the smaller studios."

Me: "You probably aren't affected much since you're working on Sims 3, not some obscure game like if you were making, um.... [spotting a banner on my screen labeled 'Ad Blitz'] ... Blitz of ... Albatross."

Tom: [pounding fist into right palm] "Blitz of Albatross is an excellent game, I'll have you know!"

Me: [laughing]

Tom: [turning to his screen and typing] "No google results for Blitz of Albatross. Well, if you ever wanted to make that game, you're in the clear."

Me: "So how would Blitz of Alcatraz -- "

Tom: "Albatross! Get the name right!"

The next evening, at dinner with Dan and Peggy.

Me: "... my brother and I came up with a game title: Blitz of Albatross."

Dan: "So how does this game work?"

Me: "Oh, uh... you are on a lovely island. It has a coconut tree. But every night you are biltzed by albatross."

Dan: "A flock of them?"

Me: "What? Isn't it a fish?"

Dan: "No, it's a bird."

Me: "Oh, I always thought it was a fish because of those puzzle stories where a man on a deserted island only has albatross to eat. Anyway, getting blitzed by a bunch of birds is too scary, Alfred Hitchcock style."

Peggy: "It could be just one bird."

Me: [laughing] "So the game is that you periodically get blitzed by a single albatross?"


I am now coining this phrase. Please use it amply when speaking with me.

Grilled unexpectedly during a business meeting? That's a blitz of albatross.

Sudden pang of nostalgia and wistfulness at 2am? Blitz of albatross.

"Game of the Year" in 2010? Definitely Blitz of Albatross.

Monday, February 02, 2009


My friend David was visiting from New York last week.

Me: "Angelina Jolie's bodyguard is writing a tell-all book about her. The book claims she cheated on Brad Pitt."

David: "Why should she be content with one guy? She's Angelina."

Me: "But it's Brad Pitt! Why would anyone cheat on Brad Pitt?"

David: "She did all that crazy stuff before, with the blood vials and marrying Billy Bob Thorton."

Me: "She does have a wild past, that's true. Another part of the book says she won over Brad Pitt by fulfilling all of his sexual fantasies. I'm not surprised by this."

David: "Right. So why should you be surprised that she wants to fulfill all of her own sexual fantasies? Including cheating on people."