Monday, December 15, 2014

most and least supportive people

As a startup founder, your own morale is an important resource.  So it's smart to be careful who you spend your time with.

I've discovered that the most supportive people are founders of successful companies.  They know that it takes courage and getting 1000 details correct in order to build a good product from scratch, so they respect what you are doing.  They have the visionary foresight to look at your lumpy product and see flashes of diamond inside.

The least supportive people I've encountered are a subset of founders of startups that are still finding their way.  They will say things like "you should try doing X, and if that doesn't take off within a few days, then maybe just shut down the company".  What on earth -- why wouldn't you iterate instead of giving up the very first instant!  Perhaps they wish they had stayed at a comfortable job instead of starting their company, so they are projecting onto others.

The second-least supportive people are a subset of employees who joined a large company after it already became a behemoth.  They weren't around for the "ugly duckling" part of their company, so they never saw firsthand how all products start out from humble beginnings.  They look at your fledgling product, and it looks so puny compared to the honed product they work on, which has been polished over the years.  They can't imagine one turning into the other.

Founders of successful companies are the busiest people, but they are often the most helpful.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

through all the world there goes one long cry

I really like this quote, at the end of Babette's Feast (a movie about a superb Parisian chef):
Through all the world there goes one long cry from the heart of the artist: Give me leave to do my utmost.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

My new company Evertoon

I'm finally ready to talk about my new startup Evertoon, and my work transition!

Earlier this year, I left my role as CTO of Minted, in order to start Evertoon. It was a tough decision, since Minted is a wonderful company and succeeding extremely well as a business. But starting a company in Evertoon's product space has been a long-time dream of mine, and I eventually took the plunge. Minted and I have been very mutually supportive. I interviewed all of my replacement candidates to lead Minted's engineering, and was delighted with the hiring of Charlie Rice, a fantastic engineering leader from Amazon. For three months after my departure until Charlie started, I advised Minted 3 to 4 hours per week. I still help out from time to time, and am very happy to see that Minted engineering is thriving.

I'm very excited to share about my new company Evertoon! Evertoon lets users create 3D animated videos by taking regular text and having avatars act it out, with animations and special effects. Many people have ideas in their head that would be entertaining videos, but lack the budget and resources to find actors, create visual effects, and locate an appealing physical setting. It only takes a few minutes to use Evertoon to turn your humorous story or marketing message into a video. Add explosions! Make your avatar punch your friend's avatar and send him the video! Express your quirky humor in a video! By making these easy, Evertoon seeks to unlock the visual stories trapped in people's heads.

For me personally, this is a culmination of my love for products with beautiful art (like Minted), slick 3D graphics (like Microsoft Flight Simulator), appeal to consumers (like Gmail or Google Desktop), and enable storytelling (like Google Lively). Everything has led up to this!

I'm showing the product-in-progress to people who are interested in this space. If you have an interest in this area and you know me in real life and want to give me product feedback, drop me a line!

Wednesday, October 08, 2014


My high school reunion was held a few weeks ago.

Last month, I was debating whether to go, and googled "should I go to my high school reunion".  Some of the webpages said "no, I already stay in touch with everyone I'd want to see".  Others said it was a pleasant evening but nothing special.

My classmates on the reunion planning committee got into a dispute.  One person wanted a formal sit-down dinner.  My senior class president wanted a casual bar gathering.  They could not agree.  So they each held their own event, at the exact same time.  Every day I got a promotional email about the sit-down dinner, and an email encouraging me to come to the bar event.

I was intrigued by how much people cared.  So I decided to go to the reunion.

You'd think there is no way that two conflicting events would be held at the same time.  Surely they would merge into one.  One half would come to their senses and combine with the other.  But no, both events were held.  35 people attended the dinner, and 35 people went to the bar.

I went to the bar.  Every hour or so, we'd look at Facebook and see photos of our classmates at the dinner across town.

My overall experience was off-the-charts awesome!  It was so nice to see my friends.

Real estate outside of the Bay Area is a lot more affordable. This is my high school friend's home. He lives alone.

This is my friend's master bedroom closet.

We hung out all weekend and cooked a meal the final night of the weekend. My classmate "Annie" made amazing roasted potatoes. 

I'm very glad I went to the reunion! I felt a great sense of community and connection. It was far beyond my wildest hopes.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

inspiration by kiwis

I am reaching the end of watching 54 hours of Lord of the Rings behind-the-scenes commentary, and am freaking out that it's almost over.  The commentary teaches cinematography, and is filled with bromance and love of filmmaking.  Now what will I watch in the background when I work in the evening?

The final bonus disc is filled with tearful goodbyes as the actors and postproduction crew wrap up 5 years of work, and then the wonderful clean sweep of 11 Oscars.  There is a photo of Peter Jackson next to a table laden with golden Oscar statues, and I think of the quote, "For every 2 minutes of glory, there was 8 hours of hard work."

There was a time at the end of making LotR 3 when Peter Jackson kept adding new shots, which meant the composer had to change the music and the visual effects team had to re-do the effects.  They were all panicking.  Peter Jackson was quoted in a newspaper saying "Everything is under control."  So the visual effects people xerox'ed 30 copies of that quote and put it all around the office.  Ha!

The chaos and "chipping at a mountain with toothpicks" reminds me of every great software project I've ever worked on. 

Then because I didn't want the DVD to end, I watched a final extra feature, and it's about a 17-year-old brilliant young filmmaker who was winning awards at age 12.  But he developed cancer and only had two months to live.  So he made two short films in that time.  And they're really, really good.

I am in awe.  He spent his last time on earth using his gift, for the pure joy of creation.  Every minute mattered, and he used his final ones to do night shooting and explosions and running through mud, so he could tell his story. 

"No regrets," he said in his short film.  

Monday, September 29, 2014

you can stand under my parasol

At a party with brother Tom! Check out the shark in the background.

Drove over this bridge on the way to Napa for a friend's birthday.


In Napa, we were sitting outside eating brunch.

Bond: "It's too hot.  We should go inside."

Topi: "No, it's only because you're sitting in the sun.  Move over here to the shade.   All you need is shade.  Not love, shade."

Me: [lol]

Topi:  "And what is love but shade, from the harshness of the world?"

Friday, September 19, 2014


Talking to an innocent friend.

Me: "Robin Thicke has been apologizing a lot to his wife.  There was a situation where Miley Cyrus was twerking with him."

Friend: [nodding]

Me: "Are you familiar with what twerking is?"

Friend: "Is it like when she sticks out her tongue?  Something with sticking out the tongue?"

Me: "Oh gosh, okay, I see how this happened.  That's not what twerking is.  But I see how this happened."

Friday, September 12, 2014

i'm sure i will be so popular this time around

I'm going to my high school reunion next weekend.  Recently I got in touch with a classmate I hadn't spoken to since high school, Jake.

Jake: "In high school, you were a bit ... insufferable.  A know-it-all."

Me: "What?  Insufferable?  Like Hermione Granger?  But I never raised my hand in class!"

Jake: "No, you didn't.  But if someone was talking to you and said something wrong, you'd always correct them."

Me: "Oh, that's what you mean.  But if they're not accurate, then I need to let them know!  Otherwise they're spreading incorrect information!"

This abruptly reminded me of two weekends ago, when I was riding in a car with my dear friends.

Blaine: "It's like when the hobbits left Hobbit-town."

Me: [stifling my reaction]

Blaine: "And they went to the elf palace."

Me: "Rivendell!  It's Rivendell!  I could still handle it when you said Hobbit-town instead of Hobbiton, but elf palace is too much!"

So it turns out I'm still insufferable.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Art Basel in December!

I am super incredibly excited to go to Art Basel in 3 months.  Yay!

I went once before, in 2009.  We met Val Kilmer the afternoon we arrived, and James Franco later that night!

Here's the photo from 2009.  I don't think I could be smiling any bigger.

We only stayed last time at Art Basel for 48 hours but we crammed everything in!  This time we are going for a whole week! We will work remotely from there.

The best part is that it's organized by my dear friend SM, and I get to stay in the same house as her for a week!

I'll also finally meet my online personal-trainer.  He's been training me via webcam for nearly a year.  He is also going to Art Basel.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Random moments August 2014

Memories from the past two months.
About to board the ferry for camping on Angel Island!

This camping spot is only a 30-minute ferry ride away from San Francisco!  

Partying with Orkut.  It was a happy and well-mannered evening.

Ate this cool Greek yogurt!  It comes with pomegranate and dates.

The making of kale pies.

The finished result.  When I texted the photo of the kale pies to Azer, he said "Who is eating the extra one?  I land at SFO in 20 minutes."

Visiting my dear friend Sveo, who has this indoor basketball court in his house. Originally when our mutual friend Jack and I saw the blueprints 3 years ago, we were both skeptical.  But after we played badminton, basketball, and did somersaults, we bowed to Sveo's foresight in installing this.

If you are envious, restrain yourself.  Don't hate!  Hateful comments will be deleted.

Once you've been a witch, it is easy to become a witch again.  I dressed up for a Castro Theatre show.  

Friday, September 05, 2014

software and the mark of love

Once upon a time, my friend Gor said, "When you're using a software product, you can tell if the creator loves it.  If they love it, all the little details will be right."

He said this in the context of reassuring me, "You love your product, and the users will be able to tell."

I've noticed this difference, when watching Lord of the Rings movie adaptation versus Harry Potter.

There's a behind-the-scenes story about making LotR.  During the filming of Balin's tomb, an employee commented, "One of the dwarf-language writings on the wall says, 'John was here'."  The set-design people freaked out and spent hours going through the scene freeze-frame, translating every sentence from dwarf-speak to English.

Finally they went to that guy and insisted, "Show us where it says, 'John was here' in dwarf-ish!"  He then looked stricken and said, "Um, I was just joking."

Contrast this passion to Harry Potter.  The entire theme of the book is acceptance of people different from yourself.  The book keeps reiterating: don't discriminate against the giants, or the house-elves, or Muggles.  Don't hate Snape just because he's so kooky.  Don't judge a book by its cover.

Then what happens in the final movie?  There's an added scene where someone asks McGonagall, "Where should Slytherin House go?" and she says, "Put them all in the dungeon."

Just imprison an entire group of people in the dungeon for no reason?  Go against one of the core principles of the book?

Peter Jackson would never have let that happen.

Another example is that Harry and Voldemort grapple in the movie for minutes, whereas the book makes it clear that Voldemort is far more powerful but Harry wins through love and self-sacrifice.

I've remembered this through the years, and it gives me assurance when I'm working on a product.  I know that if I love it, that will shine through.  Users will be able to tell, and be more likely to love it too.

Friday, August 29, 2014


I'm staying in a weekend house with a library, something I have always wanted!  

I am sitting in the armchair with my kindle.

I am here with my friends who work at Screenhero.  The host drew the logo on the blackboard in the entryway! 

The little touches like drawing the logo (the square infinity symbol) are so charming.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Whew, keys handed over

My clean-up is complete and keys handed over and new tenants are happily ensconced in my Mountain View townhouse!  Or at least stressfully ensconced, since they now need to move all their furniture tomorrow.

Last week I got quite stressed over selling furniture.  My online personal trainer Donny told me about his experience in Florida.
   1. He posted his furniture on craigslist and only got flaky responses.
   2. Then he tried to donate it to charity, but was declined because they only want beach-y furniture.
   3. Finally he just put all the furniture out on the curb, and walked away thinking, "It's the city's problem now."

So I was worried.  But it all ended up well!  I sold most of my furniture to college friend C3.  He just moved back to the Bay Area and is now working on improving genetic analysis tools.

View from my doorway of C3 and friend moving furniture.

Today, I saw the UPS truck and gave my Comcast return box to the driver.  He asked if I'm moving out.  He said wistfully that it's been a long time (10 years) and he's delivered quite a number of packages to me, and that it's too bad I'm leaving.

I was stunned.  I had no idea that my UPS delivery person even remembers or cares who lives in my home.  It gave me a really happy warm feeling inside, like I'm really part of a community.  I told him that I'm not selling the place, just renting the place out for a while, and he said, "Ah!" in a cheered-up way.

Now that's one more reason to go live there again one day.  Because the UPS guy is nice.  Ha!

While clearing out my belongings, I found a journal from when I was 21 years old. 

21-year-old me had just gotten a work project cancelled at Microsoft and was unhappy.  I also felt isolated at the time because my coworkers loved baseball and go-karts and hated comedy sitcoms and Chinese food, so I had to work hard to find a common bond.  

The first paragraph of my journal read: "I feel old.  I feel like I used my time unwisely."

Ah, poor 21-year-old me!  I wish I could hug that nut-ball.  

Also found an old photo album, with this photo of me and little brother Tom:

Poor 6-month-old Tom!  I wish I could hug that little nut-ball too.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


I find it strange that when people win an award or get an amazing job, they say that they are "humbled". This makes no sense to me.

Satya Nadella was "humbled" to be chosen as Microsoft CEO. The Oscar winners are "humbled" in their acceptance speeches. Why would you be humbled during the biggest success of your career? That's the one time you should be feeling *least* humble!

Earlier today:

niniane: i screwed up tonight and accidentally stood up friends. Humbled. (This is the proper use of "humbled")

omst: would someone who was humbled also sidenote that they were using the word correctly?
omst: food for thought
omst: humbled-brag

niniane: lol humbled-brag!

Gentle reader, next time you win something, please don't reiterate some bogus hypocrisy about being humbled. I want to hear you say, "Yes. This has been a long time coming, bitches. I deserve this. You all should be humbled in my presence."

I actually quite like how Charlie Sheen does this, with his #winning and his "giving everyone another faceload of planet jealous".

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Solo camping

I went on my solo two-day camping trip last weekend.  It was so great.

My pack was only 22.2 pounds even with a 4-pound tent and a 1-pound stove.  It must have been light because I brought very little water.  My campsite had a water spout, though the water needed to be purified before drinking.

That pink tube on top is the pepper spray.  I'm glad I had it.  I also brought a flashlight, which I never used.

I used my survival school skills to make the wool blanket into a pack.  This saves several pounds from not having a separate pack.

Selfie just before I set off with my blanket pack.

It was a 4.6-mile hike to my campsite.  The distance was just right, with the weight of my pack.  

I decided to eat primarily soup, so it can all be cooked in my single pot.  I experimented with these three varieties.
1. Ready-made soup, 2. dehydrated vegetable bean chili, and 3. gumbo powder.

1. The ready-made soup was shockingly easy.  Two minutes from opening the can to eating the warmed-up soup.
It was a coconut milk based soup, which tasted exotic in the woods.

A commenter on my earlier post said it was better to bring 16 oz of food (soup in this case) instead of 16 oz of chair. I found this to be true.  

2. The dehydrated vegetable pieces in the bean chili turned out to be disgusting.  
I ate a lot of it anyway, even though I could feel it coursing a path of indigestion through my stomach.

When I went to chuck the rest into the bushes, I poked my leg into a plant that made my right shin break out in allergic hives.

3. The gumbo was okay.  I cooked it with potatoes and lentils.  It was nice to eat real food instead of dehydrated or super-processed foods.

One wonderful thing is that I became back in touch with my body, the way I was during survival school.  I could keenly feel indigestion, hunger, weariness.

The weather report said lows were around 53 degrees, but I froze at night.  I woke up every hour from the cold.  (This part of the trip was not so great.)  I could not sleep at all between 2:30am and 4:30am due to the cold.  

The second day, I decided the reason for the cold was insufficient insulation between me and the ground.  I spent an hour gathering pine needles to make into a bed.  

I was so proud of myself.  On the fourth trip to gather pine needles, I poked my unharmed leg into the allergic plant covering most of my campsite, and got hives on my left shin.  The allergic reaction was so painful that I thought I had been stung by a bee.  

This is the horrid death-plant that caused me allergic hives and throbbing pain every time it touched my skin.

I made a pine needle bed. I realize it looks a bit like a grave in the photo.  But it was not scary in real life.  I put my tent on top of it, and my blanket in my tent.  I was excited about my pine needle bed.  I took a nap and it was comfortable and warm.  Then night fell, and ... I froze again.  I woke up every 90 minutes, which is a slight improvement over every hour but was still ghastly.

As soon as I came home, I bought a frou-frou expensive thermarest camping pad with fancy insulation.

Note the circle of allergic-death-plant around my whole sleeping area.  

Walking back to my car!

It was nice being off the grid, sans email.  Peaceful.  Without the sounds of the city, my own inner voice becomes much more clear.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Nostalgia & a trash bag

I am clearing out my belongings from my Mountain View townhouse.  I rented it for 4.5 years to Azer, and he let me keep some things in the garage and bookshelf.  Now Azer bought a home and I am renting the place to new tenants.  

It feels sad throwing away belongings that were once cherished.  Or trying to sell them on craigslist, and having strangers haggle with me.  One guy haggled down the price of my chair from $30 to $25, then showed up $1 short and gave me $24 plus 17 cents in coins, with no semblance of shame.  He is an Adobe employee.

Azer said this might be the top of a housing bubble.  Maybe financially it is smarter to sell the townhouse.  But I am very emotionally attached.  I still think there is some chance I might live in it again, one day.

Throwing away once-beloved and now-obsolete items is sad.  I am forcing myself to smile, using that psychology trick where smiling forces your body to release endorphins.  It is actually working, surprisingly.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Of friends and friend geographic density and creamed corn

A delightful surprise has transpired.  It turns out that four friends / former coworkers work within one block of my office!  They work from three separate offices, but are so close that their Google Maps pins are almost touching my marker.

We are all going to afternoon tea next week.  Hobbitses!  

One of them, Yuichi, is teaching me how to be a foodie and appreciate world-class cooking.  Recently he told me about this Japanese cream corn croquette:

But tragedy lies ahead in our story.  In three weeks,Yuichi's company will be moving one mile away.  One mile is very far compared to 500 feet!  

Friday, August 01, 2014

One scone to rule them all

There is a British afternoon tearoom a block from my office.  I went there last week with two colleagues, Yuichi and "Sig".

Yuichi: "Are you guys going to dinner after this?"

Me: "No, who can eat dinner right after afternoon tea?  We're not hobbits, Yuichi."

Sig: (raises hand) "I'm going to dinner right after this."

Then Sig left early to go eat an 18-course meal over the next four hours.


Afternoon tea is so pleasant at a hungry time-of-day.  Recently I have acquired several teapots.  

Monday, July 28, 2014

"Casablanca" should win an award ... for most sexist film

Recently I watched Casablanca with a group of other people.  They gushed about how it's one of the most romantic films of all time!  It's such a true love story!

Let's review the female characters in this film:

1. Yvonne is being passed around from man to man, who take her home for sex and then treat her like garbage the next day.  We know basically nothing else about her.

2. The young Romanian woman is preparing to have sex with the police chief, in exchange for a visa.  We know basically nothing else about her.

3. Ilsa's beauty is praised continually.  She doesn't seem to have ambitions of her own, other than following her husband around or following Rick around.  Her only decision is which man to follow around.  But even that decision is too hard for her.  She tells Rick, "I don't know what's right any longer.  You'll have to do the thinking for both of us."

There were no other significant female roles in the film.  To recap, the only roles were a French woman being used for sex, a Romanian woman being used for sex, and a woman with beauty and no discernible skills who abdicates the single decision in her life.

This movie blows.  I don't know why anyone thinks it's romantic.

Yes, it is touching how Rick puts aside his relationship with Ilsa in order to help the world, because his problems don't amount to a hill of beans.  That part is good.

But otherwise it's ridiculous to say that one of the "greatest love stories of all time" is one that represses women to this extreme.  Why don't you just say that "one of the best stories about ideal racial relations" is 12 Years a Slave?

Friday, July 25, 2014

flamewars over anything

I chuckled out loud at the unnecessary aggression on this comment thread about MongoDB database's default setting of writes silently failing:

Andreas: Don’t complain about incompetent usage of a technology where you obviously did not read half of the tutorial. It is clearly documented and explained on IRC, lists, slides etc. a trillion times a day that the default behavior is fire-and-forget (means no check by default).

jhanson: Is this the same Andreas Jung who said: “The “safe” mode is off by default: who made this idiotic decision?”

Andreas: And? Did I claim in my former comment that the default is a good thing? Learn to read please.

Soda Glass: You certainly sounded so. Learn to write please!

Being on the sidelines, I'm laughing at all of these, but I'm sure if I were the one being attacked, I would not find it so funny.

Here is another one that's funny when you're not involved:
Dan: You shouldn’t have to check for errors. I don’t check if I ran out of heap space after every line I write.

foljs: And neither do the MongoDB developers it seems…

It is amusing how programmers on the internet will viciously attack each other, based on no provocation. But why are we doing this to each other? Shouldn't we programmers band together?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

update on sleep experiment

Three months ago, I decided to improve my sleeping habits.  Here is what I've learned so far:

1. Falling asleep.  It turns out I dislike the time period of lying in bed waiting to fall asleep.  Things that are more interesting than lying motionless with eyes closed include: reading, watching a movie, writing code, or any number of activities.

So I previously would just stay up until I was so tired that I would fall asleep instantly, thus skipping the boring part.

But this meant that I would go to sleep quite late.

Things that did not work include:
  • setting a reminder to go to sleep earlier
  • avoiding blue light for two hours before "bedtime"
  • announcing my intention to go to sleep earlier, and asking others to hold me accountable

Things that did work include:
  • listening to a meditation video during the boring part of falling asleep

2. Waking up.  I was previously waking up earlier than I wanted to.  As soon as I became awake, I would get up, instead of trying to fall back asleep for another hour until my desired waking time.

Things that work include:

  • using an eye mask and earplugs to avoid being woken up by light or sound
  • listening to a meditation video in order to fall back asleep again

An obstacle was that it turns out that in the half-awake, half-asleep state, my brain makes problems seem ten times more arduous than they appear in the sober light of full day.  I previously countered this by spending as little time as possible in that limbo state, often by just getting up.  Now I try to meditate.


With this effort, I've managed to increase my average sleeping time from 6h 30m to 7h 10m.  Sadly, in the Ericcson study of violinists, the elite bucket slept 8h 36m, and even the worst-performing bucket slept 7h 48m.  I'm still significantly below even the worst bucket, sigh.

But focus on the positive!  I increased my sleep by 40 minutes!  That's a lot!

There was one week I got up to an average of 8h.  It felt like a new lease on life.  Something to aim for.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


I decided to go camping by myself this summer.  I want two days of peace and solitude in the wilderness.  I've wanted to do this ever since my 2-day "solo period" during survival school, but I'm finally going to put it into practice.


Survival school taught me how to create a shelter, purify water, treat cuts, and deal with wild animals and lightning.  The only thing I fear is encountering a dangerous stranger, but Sha-mayn brilliantly told me to get pepper spray.  I ordered it from Amazon, and now I'm prepared!

The only question is whether to get this 1-pound camp chair.  It looks so comfortable, and has back support!  But it is going to add one pound (5% additional weight to my pack).

Also I already am departing from "survival mode camping" by bringing a tent and flashlight, and this just goes further down the slippery slope.  At least the tent has a functional purpose of providing warmth and shelter, and the flashlight helps with safety.  The chair is only for luxury.  It has no function other than making my back feel great.  What if this camp chair is the gateway drug to camping trips with pillows and hammocks?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

animation humor

At CM's birthday brunch:

CM: My friend was deciding between being an animator on a film versus a game.  He said on a film, he'd just spend a year making Shrek's eyelash.  On a game, he gets to create the whole character!

MB: All 2000 polys of it.


MB: Lots of games are all mo-cap now.

Me: Are all films totally mo-cap'ed now?  Does anyone hand animate these days?

MB: Of course.  You can't mo-cap a dragon.

Monday, June 23, 2014

OMG he-who-must-not-be-named hilarity

I am newly obsessed with Harry Potter books again.  The characters are so well-written!  I also forgot how funny the books are.