Thursday, December 30, 2021

Relatable eagle

I've been going on a daily walk of 10,000 steps during the pandemic. It is my primary exercise, since I don't feel safe going to the gym. 

I saw this meme today and it made me laugh. You go, eagle!

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Cut in half

This 45-second "Doc Vader" video is great.

Sometimes, I'll remember an annoying memory from the past. Now I think of Doc Vader saying  "Lightsaber. Cut in half." and I move on! 

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Reflections on my friend

Today I thought, "Who from my college do I wish I could talk to?" I thought of my friend "Aria". 

Aria was a computer science major at Caltech. She had short hair and an eyebrow piercing. She said that her parents were against spending so much tuition on a girl, and she had to work her way through much of college. 

She worked as a sysadmin at Caltech. She was also co-head TA of the intro programming class. A student lodged a complaint against her because he didn't like the way she served as TA. She commented to me how the male TAs were doing similar things but weren't getting complaints.

After college, I was Aria's coworker at Microsoft. We were on the same 40-person team for a few months. She welcomed me by making me a music CD and leaving it along with a handwritten note on my keyboard. 

She became determined to get into great shape. We both were new to gym-going, and we went together a few times. She quickly outpaced me with her zeal. Over the course of 1.5 years, she got herself from 30% body fat to 13% body fat. I was impressed at her persistence and how she embraced going out of her comfort zone. 

At work, Aria was widely acknowledged as a great manager. She combined EQ with technical skills. She was told she could either manage a large team of QA or be an individual contributor engineer. She chose to be an IC engineer. Then the criticisms of her code started and never seemed to stop. The negative feedback went on for years.

In today's tech industry, with her excellent management skills, she might make a great VP Engineering. But emotional labor wasn't valued back in the late 90s in tech. Brusque mansplaining was the way to ascend the geek hierarchy.

A few years after college, Aria took her own life. People say environment can't be blamed for someone deciding to commit suicide. She certainly struggled with her mental health for years. But sometimes I think about how Aria was under-appreciated and it makes me sad. She had the highest EQ of my circle of classmates. I wish she had been properly honored for her talent. 

Even though Aria was stronger than others at interpersonal skills (an ability that many programmers felt insecure about), she went out of her way to make them feel encouraged in that area. They sure didn't return the favor whenever any of their technical skills were stronger than hers. Especially considering they usually didn't have to work their way through college like she did and thus were able to focus on coding. And since their parents supported their engineering dreams from a young age, unlike hers.

It took me many years to even realize my grief over Aria. For several years, I was surprised that I didn't feel sadness when I thought about it. The grief took a long time to surface.

I wish Aria were a VP Eng somewhere right now and we could chat every now and then to compare learnings. 

Sunday, October 03, 2021


Recently a friend introduced me to a YouTube star "Max". 

I have some trepidation about YouTube stars after reading about the callousness of Logan Paul and PewDiePie. But Max was down-to-earth, feminist, and kind. 

Max: "I live in a city above layers of Roman ruins. The Romans were very good at making roads that would line up. They always built things with the same widths and units."

Me: "Sounds like the Romans were good engineers. Engineers love creating standards."

Max: "The Romans created some architecture that future generations didn't know how to reproduce. Even now, people don't know how the Romans did it."

Me: "They didn't pass down the instructions? I thought you said they like creating one repeatable way to build things."

Max: "They didn't like to write that down."

Me: "True, engineers also hate writing documentation."

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Reading rainbow

I've read 160 books since the pandemic started. Others baked bread or played Animal Crossing, and I ended up reading. 

I read some analyses of our society, some novels, and some history. I read about the pasts of Kenya and Spain and New Zealand and South Africa.

It is disillusioning to read history -- all the colonizing and exploiting women & locals. My optimism about the world has decreased. But hopefully I will arrive at a deeper happiness someday as a result. Fingers crossed. 

My friend Piaw reads 85 books per year, including in pre-covid years. I like having a friend who is more well-read than me! We discuss books sometimes. 

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Biking with friend

I am planning a bicycle trip with my good friend "Zora", and I am excited!

We are planning it for November, because of work commitments in October.

It gets cold in November, and we will need to go somewhere warm such as Florida or Texas.

I learned that Florida has many flat biking trails near the ocean. Temperatures will be between 70F (night) to 79F (day). When we are done biking each day, we can see sights such as Little Havana and art museums. 

Also, there is a little town called Fredericksburg (outside Austin, Texas) with biking trails and interesting German architecture. Apparently they created a dialect called "Texas German".

Ocean or Texas German town??

Friday, September 10, 2021

9/11 book

This month, my book club is discussing "The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11".

It is a fascinating book. Reading it, I was struck that the book only discussed positive stories from that day. One story is how a quadriplegic man was carried down 69 flights of stairs by 10 of his coworkers taking turns. 

Another man thought he would die and decided to cross his arms over his chest (the American Sign Language sign for "love") so that if his dead body were found, his wife would know he was thinking of her in that moment. He survived.

For years prior to 9/11, the Morgan Stanley head of security had forced the entire staff (2700 people) to practice evacuations every 3 months. Many executives were annoyed by these drills. But as a result, he evacuated thousands in an efficient manner. 

I like how the book chose to focus on  kindness and the people who helped each other. There was only one story of a person being selfish. It was about a bartender who refused to open the bar's door while bloodied traumatized survivors banged on it, pleading for help. The bartender kept polishing a glass and repeating that the bar doesn't open for another hour until 11:30am. 

All the other stories were of people who did open their doors and who helped each other. It was heartwarming to read.

Thursday, September 09, 2021


I am intrigued by multi-day bike trips! The idea of seeing a new place by bicycle is enticing. 

Luckily, one of my friends wrote a book about bicycle trips ("Independent Tour Cycling" by Piaw Na). He has given me a ton of advice. 

I started doing 10-mile bike trips, once per week or so. I noticed that my enjoyment is very affected by how safe it feels, especially when I must share the road with cars. 

Aff said that when he bikes in the US, drivers sometimes pass him while shouting out their window, "Get off the road!"

He wants to shout back something to the effect of "If you check your DMV handbook, you'll see that I have just as much right to the road as you do."

"But it needs to be concise," he said. "As short as what they shouted. I can only fit in a few words. It'd have to be something like 'I stay on road!!'"

Biking in the US often feels unsafe. Many times, uber drivers suddenly swerved into the bike lane in front of me, and braked to let their passenger out. The passenger opened their door in a rush, without looking behind them for bicycles. I once biked into an uber car door due to this. 

Drivers in other places (such as Europe) seem much more respectful. In France, I biked 8mph on a narrow 30mph road, and cars drove patiently behind me for several minutes until there was a shoulder for me to pull onto. 

In a single-lane street in Europe, a truck going in the opposite direction pulled over to yield to me. A car yielding to a bicycle! My mind was blown. 

My goal is to get fast enough to go on one of Piaw's group biking trips. This would've been impossible, except that Piaw is currently biking a three-person tandem with his two kids, which has brought him from superhuman to humanly achievable speeds. So I have a shot!

Sunday, September 05, 2021


We saw some food left unattended. 

Aff: "That food looks great."

Me: "Just go in and start eating it. Keep eating until you hear someone screaming."

Aff: "...and then eat even faster. Hide the evidence."

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

name that price

Talking recently to a longtime friend "Hanh".

Hanh: "I was asked to give a talk, and I need to tell them a speaker fee."

Me: "Ask for a good price! Don't undersell yourself. You're a world expert in your field."

Hanh: "The market rate is X, but I'm going to say one third of X."

Me: "Why?! Why not ask for market rate?"

Hanh: "I feel bad asking to make X dollars for a few hours of work. The price per hour seems absurd."

Me: "But that's the market rate! You know that white dudes less qualified than you will ask for double of X."

Hanh: "Yes, I know they do. And I've been working in this specific field for 10 years, to build up all the expertise I have now. But I still can't bring myself to ask for X."

Me: "Okay, the Olympics are happening now. You know how some Olympic athletes get an award of $500,000 from their government, if they win a gold medal?"

Hanh: "Yeah."

Me: "Some Olympic events are really short. The pole vault is like 30 seconds. So if an athlete does a pole vault and wins a gold medal, that doesn't mean their wage is now $1 million dollars per minute. It means they trained for their whole lives, and it culminates in this one moment."

Hanh: "Oh hm. That's true."

Me: "Hanh, this is your pole vault." 

Monday, August 23, 2021

Still life with fruits

Looking at a painting in a museum.

Aff: "What if there were a terrible accident and all the food tumbled down and was smashed on the floor? The dog would have to eat it all."

Me: "Yeah."

Aff: "That's what the dog is thinking."

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

A moveable feast

We visited my mom's friend L. My mom and L have known each other for more than 40 years. 

L cooked a feast! 

I said I would skip the garlic sauce to put on the soba. L said, "Without the garlic sauce, the soba will need to have several points deducted." I ate the garlic sauce. 

It is nice to see people who knew my mom in her youth.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

a feeling of safety

Talking to my mom's friend L (two days ago) gave me a feeling of community. 

L talked about being coworkers with my mom in their 20s. She said my mom had such strong morals. She told stories of how my mom continually went out of her way to help others. It was amazing to hear about my mom's youth, before she went through decades of tough times.

L has been talking to my mom over WeChat in recent months. She said my mom feels 100% reassured (放心) about Aff being in my life, because he has such a good heart and is thoughtful toward me every day. 

After talking to L, I thought about how the shadow of this family illness has hung over me for the past two decades. I lived under a sword that could fall at any moment. Combined with America's ruthless medical system and insurance companies, it always felt that the next phone call could bring catastrophe.

But the family illness is under control via medication, and perhaps the situation is finally safe? I am afraid to think this, because in a movie, when a character says that, they are going to face a horrible fate in the next scene. 

I'll put a picture of knocking on wood.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

meeting my mom's friend soon

I spent 3.5 hours talking on the phone to one of my mom's longtime friends L.

L knew my mom when they were both in their 20s and 30s. L said my mom was so kind and went out of her way to help L when L had a medical emergency.

L has only seen my mom in-person once in the past two decades, but she's still very fond of my mom. 

My mom has excellent taste in friends! Talking to L makes me feel calmer, and also optimistic about the integrity and goodness of people.

As an immigrant, it's a rare treat for me to meet one of my mom's friends from her youth and to get along well with that friend. Perhaps for people who are not immigrants, they get to see dozens of their parents' friends. But it is special for me.

My mom and I will see L next month. I'm so excited! 

a frabjous day

 I am very happy so far today! [knock on wood]

Yesterday, my brother took my mom to an opthamologist and got improved eye drops for her. It is great to have such a competent and responsible brother. 

Also yesterday, the co-pay for one of my prescriptions shot up from $55 to $200, due to esoteric insurance rules. But Aff found a savings card online that brought the cost down to $78. He went to the pharmacy and picked up the prescription for me.

I have a lot of dread about doctors, pharmacies, and insurance, due to previous experiences. It is really nice of my loved ones to be so helpful! 

Uncharted and unpatched

During the quarantine, I played the Uncharted series. Aff liked to watch and give suggestions. 

In the game, adventurer Nathan Drake finally found the temple with the treasure. 

Drake: "All that matters is who gets to Avery's treasure first." 

Evil game character: "You do realize your phone is equipped with GPS?" 

Drake: "You hacked our phones.... Goons with guns are on their way here now?" 

Me: "What? How did his phone get hacked? That wasn't explained at all!" 

Aff: "Android. KitKat. The vendor didn't ship updates."

Saturday, July 10, 2021

"Strangers Drowning"

I started reading more books during the pandemic. It is enjoyable to discuss the ideas with friends.

Recently I listened to an audiobook "Strangers Drowning". It is about people who feel compelled to help strangers.

One couple adopted 2 kids out of foster care and from overseas orphanages, then 2 more, then 6 siblings that no other family would take. Eventually they had 22 kids.

An Indian guy was born into a high caste and was bothered by the caste system. He moved his family to a leper colony, and spent decades helping the leper colony turn into a thriving town. By doing so, he exposed his children to leprosy. They fortunately did not catch it.

The book title is based on the idea that if you saw someone drowning in front of you, you would surely try to save them. Yet if you hear that people are drowning far away in another land, you'd likely feel low compulsion to save them. Is this unfair?

In one story, a Japanese guy spent 7 years giving emotional support for free to hikikomori (shut-in / recluse) strangers. Many of the strangers wanted to die, and he spent hours listening and supporting them. Then he had heart surgery and told the hikikomoris that he would be unavailable while he was recuperating in the hospital.

When he got out, he was shocked that most of the recluses (people he had helped for years) were angry at him. They didn't care that he had surgery, and they were mad that he wasn't available to help them with their pain. This story made me sad, because it is too believable. Then the Japanese guy decided he would only help people who came first to meet him in-person. But he kept helping! It is impressive.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Happy City

I read a book that I really like! 

The book explains how city layouts make a big impact on our happiness. If you can walk from home within 5 minutes to a grocery store, a restaurant, and a park, you will get to know your neighbors naturally. You'll see each other at the park. Trust will build over time.

If you must drive to all stores and to work, you won't ever know your neighbors. You'll feel isolated and bored.

Many older cities were built before cars existed. They have public plazas because they were designed for citizens who primarily walk or bicycle.

This explains why I felt so calm visiting Copenhagen, which has focused its city center on walking and biking in the past 20 years. I also was happy in Puerto Nuriño, a 6000-person town in Colombia that does not allow cars anywhere in town. Visiting Santiago, Chile and taking daily bike tours was peaceful too.  The city is safe for cyclists.

When I look back at my childhood, I felt happiest living in a town of 60,000 people where I could walk and bike to stores and parks. I felt independent as a 10-year-old. As a teenager, we moved to a million-population city where I had to rely on car rides, and it was more isolating.

I hope to read this book again in 5 years, to keep it in my memory!

Thursday, May 27, 2021

sea bug, not C bug

Me: The Chinese word for "lobster" is "dragon shrimp".

Aff: Oh. Not "sea bug"?

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

But where are you REALLY from?

Last year, I got into an argument with an acquaintance L. We were at a bus stop, and he started chatting with a group of young people next to us.

L: Are you visiting, or do you live around here?

Youths: [various chatter]

L: [to one of the young women, who looks Asian] So where are you from?

Woman: New York.

L: Okay, but where are you really from?

Woman: What are you saying? I don't seem like I could be a New Yorker?

L: Where were you born?

Woman: New York.

L: Where are your parents from?

Woman: China.

L: Ohhhh, okay. [turning to me] Hey Niniane, you're also Chinese. You two have that in common.

Me: L, why couldn't you just accept that she's from New York? Why did you have to keep grilling her? 


The woman and other youths caught their bus. L and I argued for another 20 minutes. He was mad that I "ruined" his pleasant conversation with this woman. I was offended that he kept saying she's not really a New Yorker. 

Afterwards, I felt some self-doubt. Maybe it's that not bad of a question. It is a microaggression, but on the grand scale of things, is it so bad?

This week, I mentioned to a friend that although I've lived in the States since I was 5, I didn't think until my mid-30s that it would be accepted if I called myself "an American". I would call myself "Chinese American" or "a Chinese person who grew up in America".

My friend asked why. When I thought about it, I realized it's due to this question. If I say "I'm an American", the reply will be "But where are you really from? Before America?" It happened to me dozens of times, and I learned to just skip the middle steps and jump to what they want to know.

But the result is that I've had trouble feeling accepted as an American, even though all my childhood memories are from America and I've been a US citizen since I was 18 (my entire adult life). 

So, that little question really did have an impact, more than I realized. 

There's no real need to ask this question. I don't see white Americans asking each other, "Where are you really from? Where did your ancestors immigrate from? Ireland? Germany? Italy? How many generations ago?" 

Saturday, April 03, 2021


Me: "Hunter Biden must feel a lot of survivor guilt. Beau Biden did so many selfless things and died, and meanwhile Hunter kept getting addicted to drugs."

Aff: "Think how Major Biden must feel. He can't stop biting people. I know people say he's a good boy and he's just stressed out, but come on!"

Saturday, January 02, 2021

surprise from the UK

Messaging with a UK friend:

Me: What is the mood now in the UK?

Friend: Brexit really is a big mess. Scotland now wants independence, and part of that is to rejoin the EU.

Me: From my distant viewpoint, Scotland's prime minister seems more sensible than Boris Johnson. I was surprised that Boris Johnson got elected.

Friend: Yes, he's a fool. He's also technically American, was born in New York.

Me: I didn't know! That's shocking.

Friend: So he could still become your president one day 😬

Me: Yikes!