Friday, January 29, 2010

IM convos

IM with my brother last week. (He works at Blizzard.)

Tom: There's a tornado hitting Irvine right now.
niniane: omg! Are you okay?
Tom: There's 1-inch hail coming down. People around here are repenting for not having shipped starcraft 2 sooner.

Chatting with a friend Dave about a couple we know.

dave: i think she makes him miserable
dave: and i've always been of the opinion that love isn't worth misery
dave: esp with non-miserable love options available
niniane: :)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

you should play this game too, in the comments

One day at lunch, a Googler told us that he was recently contacted by his first crush from elementary school.

Apparently, what happened was that years ago, in college, he agreed to participate in a psychology experiment run by the psych department. He was asked to fill out a list of questions. He did so, including one question that said, "What is the name of your first crush?"

Later, unbeknownst to him, the psych department posted up the results from this experiment on a web page, including his name and the name of his crush.

Years later, she did a vanity search on her own name, and this psych experiment result came up as a google result. So she emailed him. She's now married with kids, and he has a longtime girlfriend, but they had a lovely time catching up.

I thought this story was very entertaining. So I am going to confess now that I had my first crush when I was six years old in Salt Lake City, and the boy's name was Nathan Fujiki.

I hope this does not come back to embarrass me later!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Into Thin Air

I just read Into Thin Air, a tale of the fatal 1996 Everest expedition.

The author is a mountaineering enthusiast turned journalist. He went on the expedition in order to write an article about the commercialization of Everest. When he came back, he instead wrote a much longer article about the tragic events that unfolded.

Later, he continued to feel survivor's guilt, and tried to reach catharsis via recording his grief into this book.

The book really puts you into the mindset of an Everest climber. 2:00pm is the latest time to reach the summit and get back to Camp Four before nightfall. The climbers typically start for the summit around midnight and climb through the night, to get there before 2:00pm.

If by 2:00pm a climber has not reached the summit, he is advised to turn around and go back. One of the reasons for the catastrophe was that the expedition guides ignored this rule. They permitted clients to keep climbing until 4:00pm.

After the tragedy and the evacuation, other expeditions continued climbing. A couple weeks later, a South African climber by the name of Herrod summited just after 5:00pm, seven hours after the rest of his team. As soon as you read this, you know he will likely die on the mountain.

Herrod had been up on the South Col from the evening of May 9 through May 12. He'd felt the ferocity of that storm, heard the desperate radio calls for help, seen Beck Weathers crippled with horrible frostbite. Early on during his ascent of May 25, Herrod climbed right past the corpse of Scott Fischer, and several hours later at the south Summit he would have had to step over Rob Hall's lifeless legs. Apparently, the bodies made little impression on Herrod, however, for despite his lagging pace and the lateness of the hour he pressed onward to the top.

There was no further radio transmission from Herrod after his 5:15pm call from the summit.

I marvel at how someone could blithely ignore every warning and continue to ascend past 2:00pm. Stronger climbers had already perished by ignoring this rule, yet Herrod did not listen. On the other hand, I could imagine myself falling prey to this.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

you'll know it when you find it

Steve Job's powers as a public speaker are well-known, but I never fully understood it until a few nights ago. I watched his Stanford commencement address from 2005.

I've read the talk in an email previously, but hearing it was so much more powerful. All that marketing prowess, applied to inspiring people instead of selling smartphones.

I like the part where he says that in work and relationship, you need to find what you love, and you'll know it when you find it.

He also explicitly says "Don't settle." It's nice to hear it. A good counter to the dozen times each day that you hear people urging you to give up your dreams and settle.

Also I like the part where he talks about how we're all going to die, so there's no point wasting energy on pride or fear of looking foolish.

Go Steve Jobs!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Blizzard visit

Last week I visited my brother Tom at his new job at Blizzard.

Standing with the statue in the courtyard.

Later I referred to the "ogre statue", and Tom indignantly banged his fork against the table. "It's an orc, not an ogre!" he said.

I waited ten minutes, and then said on purpose to provoke him, "So the ogre statue..."

"It's an orc!" Tom shouted. "You're just like an Ent!"


"The Ents captured Merry and Pippin, and said, 'Oh, these are goblins, we'd better squish them!' Merry and Pippin said, 'No, we're hobbits! We're hobbits!' But the Ents said, 'Goblins can be tricky! Better squish them just in case!'"

The best little brother in the world! (That's Tom.)

This would be a cool Halloween costume.

Dusty shelf stuffed with award after award.

Google has cases of these too in the lobby, but I was more impressed by the Blizzard shelf for some reason.

That one Starcraft character who got turned into a Zerg.

Their building map is designed to look like a map in World of Warcraft. Cute!

Tom was not allowed to bring visitors to his area, due to confidentiality. He showed me the door leading into his area. It had a custom-made sign that read "NO VISITORS". However, the space between the two words was too small, and I was momentarily confused.

I explained my bafflement to Tom. He said, "Oh, you thought it was NOVISITORS, like a Spanish word? All right, we'll change it to an Ñ to confuse people even more."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

tfidf package updated

I changed my TF-IDF open-source package to use the MIT license, so that it is more freely re-usable.

I also fixed a couple of issues, and uploaded a new version. Thanks to the people who reported the bugs!

If you use the package and enjoy it, please drop me an email to let me know.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

costume happiness

At a San Francisco bar over the weekend, I discovered that the Indian guy standing next to me (friend of friend) was holding a rice hat.

He said he's moving the next day to the East Coast.

"You're going to use one of your carry-ons to transport the rice hat?" I said.

"No," he said. "I'll wear the rice hat on the plane, so that I can still have another carry-on."


He was kind enough to let me take a photo with his rice hat.

Friday, January 15, 2010

potential dilemma

Over instant messenger with my friend Nehster.


niniane: i <3 kindle
Nehster: but you use the library
niniane: omg what if there is fire and i have to save you vs kindle
niniane: oh noooooooooo
niniane: let's hope it never comes to that
Nehster: i will hold the kindle
Nehster: you will save me.
niniane: ok do you want to practice a few times
Nehster: or i promise, right now
Nehster: if there's a fire and you have to choose
Nehster: i will buy you a new kindle if you save me.

This promise is now recorded.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

a striking video

I just watched this tech-talk video "BORN AND RAISED IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP" about a man who lived the first 23 years of his life inside a North Korean concentration camp. He escaped a few years ago.

When his mother and brother made an escape attempt (which failed), he was tortured for months about a possible family conspiracy. Then he was forced to watch them get executed. Now that he has escaped successfully but his father is still inside the camp, won't the guards torture and/or kill his father?

He talked about how his dearest wish is to see his father, and walk hand-in-hand down the street.

Super RegEx Smash

I think there should exist games that teach computer science concepts:
- regular expressions
- A* search
- pointers
- Dijkstra's algorithm
- B+ trees
- ...

I remember in college, it was difficult to form an intuitive understanding of these concepts by reading a textbook or listening to a lecture. But I bet if you played a graphical game where you have to construct regular expressions to save the princess, you'd learn them real quick.

For example, in one possible incarnation of the game, the princess would be imprisoned in a traveling buggy. You are riding a horse, attempting to catch up to the buggy. The evil guard driving the buggy throws regular expressions at you. You have to construct a string which matches the regex before it reaches your horse. If you get it wrong, the part that doesn't match will flash green, and you can try again in the remaining time.

The game with B+ trees could consist of building a tree out of numbered jigsaw pieces sent by the princess from her prison tower. Dijkstra's algorithm is used to find the shortest path to the prison tower.

I've expressed this dream to friends, in the past. They laughed at me. Indeed no one will amass wealth or fame from making these games. But they should exist! It is a travesty that they do not exist in this world. The creator of these games would get adoration, at least from me.

This is like Dan's idea that technical articles should be written with dramatic plot and character development. I was skeptical at the time. But now it has been three years, and I still vividly remember that silhouette detection and rendering paper!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

couch <3

My friend Nehster is shopping for a new couch, and stumbled upon the couch which I just purchased last month. (This is the same couch that I asked blog readers about last year.)

I sent her a photo of it in my house:

Over instant messenger:

niniane: i <3 it so much
niniane: not as much as i <3 you for sending me that article this morning
niniane: but quite a lot
niniane: if it ever came down to saving you in a fire vs saving the couch, i'd still choose to save you

nehster: thank you
nehster: especially since i do not think there's any way you could carry the couch
nehster: so you would perish with it

niniane: i could save the ottoman

Friday, January 08, 2010

a few conversations that made me laugh

Talking in a group of engineers:

"I want a phone number that I can call and get the current time. A bunch of them went out of business in the last year."

"If it's the middle of the night, you can call any number and get that."

(Blippy is a startup that shows your friends what you bought, e.g. "twitter for purchases". Square is a startup for charging credit cards using an iPhone plus a hardware device. If you're not in the Silicon Valley startup-focused mindset, the following may not amuse you.)

niniane: i signed up for blippy
percyvale: i don't plan to
percyvale: this way people won't see how many hookers i order via sqaure
percyvale: or maybe they could tell me i'm being ripped off
percyvale: it's a fine line between price optimization for hookers and privacy

At dinner over tapas, with Lillers, CM, and Omst.

Me: "Lillers, come to this party with us."

Lillers: "It's going to be all Googlers and ex-Googlers. I won't fit in."

CM: "You are more awesome than 99% of Googlers."

Lillers: "Aw."

CM: "99.9%, now that Niniane has left."

Omst: "And I'm the other 0.1%."

... Many minutes later, walking to the party without Lillers ...

Me: "Omst, you can't be 0.1%, because there are more than 1000 Googlers."

Omst: [laughing] "Yes. I know."

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

writing this blog post was a non-challenge!

My friend CM came over to my house over the weekend. I heard him laughing in the kitchen, while I was in another room.

Me: "What's so funny?"

CM: "I love your cheerios!"

Me: "What, no, don't eat those! I can't even remember how old they are! They need to be thrown out."

CM: "I didn't eat them."

He came over and showed me the box of Cheerios.

CM: "What a succinct, catchy slogan! [in his booming theatrical voice] Great taste helps make lowering cholesterol a non-challenge!"

Me: [laughing]

CM: "Doesn't that just make you want to repeat the slogan to all your friends?" [turning the box around]

CM: "They decided this catchphrase is so effective that they want to emphasize it. Splitting a dessert: non-challenge! Shooting hoops: non-challenge!"

I think we should all use this to praise people in the future. Some example situations:

"Do I look good in this outfit?"
"Looking at you is a non-challenge!"

"Do you still love me?"
"Being with you is a non-challenge!"


Sunday, January 03, 2010

cloudy with a chance of metaballs

When I worked for Microsoft in the early 2000's, one of the main features I developed was a cloud rendering system for Flight Simulator. I published a couple articles about it afterwards.

In 2007, I got an email from someone working on special effects for a movie. We have a friend in common, so we had exchanged emails previously about computer graphics. Now his team was reviewing previous work in cloud rendering, and my system came up on the list. He alerted me to a broken link on my cloud page.

I thanked him. He didn't end up using my real-time cloud techniques, but we kept in touch over email now and then.

This week he emailed me saying (paraphrased), "You may not remember me asking about your cloud paper a long time ago, but the movie finally came out. If you see it, check out the clouds."

I thought to myself, "Oh, what is this movie?"

The movie is Avatar!!!

I haven't seen it yet. Tonight he and I are going to go see it together, and then discuss the cloud rendering. I am very excited! We are seeing it in 3D at the Mountain View Shoreline theatre at 9:30pm! (All the IMAX 3D showings were sold out for San Francisco and South Bay.)

While everyone else in the theatre is captivated by the lush forests or the blue people, I will be wishing for them to get out of the way so I can see the clouds better!!!