Saturday, December 31, 2005

america's racist and power-hungry border guards

when returning from costa rica to the usa, i went through miami. i had forgotten a form that i should've been carrying with me, and so they sent me to the inner sanctum, where they would verify that i was who i said i was, and really had the required authorization to enter the united states.

no before detailing what i consider to be verbal abuse, i want to be up front: i should have had this form. coming in from canada, i would've probably been fine. coming from costa rica, it's another story. that been said, the us government issued this form to me -- they knew i had it.

i was taken to the office of a border guard who other border guards indicated was the one who handled the "tough cases." he proceeded to ask me a bunch of questions about my original entry from canada. after a number of questions it was clear to me that he felt that i hadn't paid for some required documentation, and he was going to ask me to pay anywhere from $65 to $200 to put everything on the up-and-up.

now i knew i had paid for these documents (well, to be more precise, google had paid for them when renewing my visa). as such, i asked him if i paid now could i somehow get some refund when i could prove later, after returning home, that i had the documents all along.

this was the wrong thing to say, it seems. i suppose i was, in my own small way, countering his authority. his response was, "that's not my problem. and you know what? i've sent lots of canadians back to costa rica. i can send you too. why don't you just pay the money now, and make everything easier?"

i agreed and he continued: "and suppose i send you to costa rica or canada. then to get back in you have to get lawyers involved. google lawyers. over the holidays. you think they'll do this for you? are you important at google? are you bill gates' son?"

me: "no, not that important."

him: "i didn't think so. so what don't you focus on getting back into the country in the easiest way possible."

i was pretty taken aback at this point. but then he added some icing. he got up to leave the room, but just before leaving he turns to me and asks: "so where are your ancestors from?"

i'm a bit shocked at this point. what does this have to do with anything? i respond: "my dad's from india, my mom's from canada."

him: "but where's your mom really from? like her parents?"

me: "they're british a few generations back, scottish, english, ultimately."

he said nothing at this point and just left. a few minutes later he and his boss come back into the office and say to me: "look, you had good grades at cornell, you seem like a smart guy who made a mistake, so we'll let you go, no charge." they laugh about this for a few minutes, how their grades weren't so great, and expect thanks from me. which i sickeningly give. my racist officer then tells me that he's putting a warning in the system about me -- best i don't forget that form anymore.

my feelings

this experience was my most humiliating and degrading at the border to date. in ithaca after 911 they called the ithaca police in to interview me, and that was pretty bad, but this was way above this. i couldn't say anything to this guy except "yes," "thank you" and other agreeing statements lest i wanted to be verbally abused and possibly tossed back to costa rica or canada.

i was screwed either way: if i capitulated, which is what i did, i lose my dignity. i really feel like i lost my dignity. they made me feel awful, worthless, and just lucky to even enter the united states.

if i stood up for myself, i could've easily been banned from the us, or been given an extremely difficult time when trying to enter ever again. it's awful.

the signs and writing on various papers at the border control office indicated that the officers are to treat people with dignity and respect. i got none of that. instead i was verbally abused, racially profiled, and stripped of my dignity.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

costa rica photos

i've posted some of my photos on flickr. i'll comment more about the trip soon...

Saturday, December 24, 2005

content creation: make it easy!

i was in costa rica for a week recently. i'll have pictures soon, but i wanted to first share my thoughts on something that occurred to me while sitting in the airport waiting to leave.

the duty free store is a few meters away from me. a man starts to walk past the store, to my right. just as he walks past, the eric clapton song "layla" starts to play on my ipod. this man looks a bit down. his wife is next to him, she looks tired, looks like she just wants to get out of this country. he isn't the happiest camper either: maybe a bit o' the booze to cheer him up, hmm? anyway, he stops walking, turns towards the shop, thinks a bit, then goes in.

it was perfectly timed to the music. i wanted to film it, slap it with the music, put it on a usb card (or some cheap transport medium), and give it to him. that's where technology needs to go. easy realization of complicated ideas. turn my imagination into reality, for the general consumer.

Here's a pictorial rendition of the stage i set in words above:

Thursday, December 08, 2005

graduate studies: 1 semester down, no closer to a thesis :)

today i had my last classes of the semester. wow, one semester almost done (short of a problem set and a project due next week). it's been an interesting 4 months.

i've been thinking a lot about what i actually want to research and explore going forward in my phd. i'll be honest: of the 3 classes i took this semester, i found my theory class the least interesting. some of the theorems and ideas were cool, but i didn't feel excited about any of the ideas -- nothing leapt out at me and said "study me, you like me!"

the class that actually stimulated me the most, and really excited me was not even in the computer science department. it was a class on participatory media. "what's that?", you ask.. well, we were trying to define it in the class. But here's a description of the class taken from the private wiki:

The Net is a platform for participatory media. The recent and ongoing emergence of inexpensive, worldwide, many-to-many publishing and communication media, built on the platform of Internet and wireless communication technologies, has already influenced both politics and journalism. This class explores political activism in the Net context, as well as key aspects such as mass media, political communications, and smart mobs: emerging forms of technology-enabled collective actions. We will read and discuss issues, theories and real world examples from the US, Philippines, Korea, Mexico, China, and elsewhere.

I became really interested in how people are connecting with each other now, especially for political causes, and I did a mini-study of China. This got me thinking about the importance of building technologies and systems for the public good.

Finally, today in my systems class the profs spoke about their research, the research community, and what inspires and drives them. mothy made a point which really resonated with me: he spoke about building systems that interface between areas, turn ideas on their heads, and at the same time do something new that helps move the community forward (NOTE: maybe he didn't say exactly this, but that's what i started thinking about).

why did this resonate with me? well, i guess i've realized that i have real interests in developing systems, and to connect this with my participatory media class, i also have a strong interest in connecting these technolgoies with public, or mayb political, movements.

now how do i mesh this all together?

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

here's a picture of neha and i with the nepali coast in the background. we took this at a restaurant at the princeville hotel. the food was great, the view spectacular Posted by Picasa

kauai timeshare: neha and i almost bought a timeshare on kauai... well, not really. but in order to get excellent discounts on various island events, we sat through a 2 hour pitch by randy, who was trying to sell us a week or two of time on the island. Posted by Picasa

wild chickens: the loudest and most prolific bird on kauai, the unofficial state bird. the roosters made sooo much noise! they would crow at any time of day, not just at sunrise. the most amusing part of the trip is when we were driving and a bunch of the chickens crossed the road in front of us :) Posted by Picasa

kauai: a view from a helicopter Posted by Picasa

beautiful kauai, hills and all Posted by Picasa

activist video game

while flying to hawaii, and between islands, i had a chance to listen to many podcasts. one that particularly interested me was the On The Media podcast from November 25th. at the end of their show, they talked to Ivan Marovic, an activist who helped topple Milosevic, and is now helping activists around the world build more effective movements.

the interesting part of the podcast came when Ivan started talking about a video game he was helping build that was targetted at people interested in activism. Ivan said:
This game, I think the working title is "A Force More Powerful," is a game where a player will be able to organize a mass movement against a dictatorship. It's going to be violent game with prosecutions, with arrests, with kidnapping. The only person that will not be allowed to be violent is the player. (link)
Here's some more links:
a windows media video demoing the game
the game company producing the game, BreakAway Games
Fortune article about Ivan

Monday, November 14, 2005

i need a karaoke song

... and now for something a little more cheerful ...

on saturday i did karaoke with a bunch of people in a private karaoke room. we were singing in celebration of vijay's birthday. it was lots of fun. belting out eighties songs (well, there were other options, but i got into the 80s), realizing that the words to many songs make no sense, and watching random images associated with the songs was all quite amusing.

however, i realize i don't really have a *song* of my own. something that at the drop of a hat i could sing loudly and confidently. i need one. i need to take my karaoke to the next level!

what's your karaoke song?

photo courtesy of misha

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

wikipedia entry on riots in france

the wikipedia now has a constantly changing entry on the riots. this is a great place to gather links that provide statistics about the number of uprisings, and what's going down, day to day.

a readable entry taking bea's view?
google ads and the riots

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

france state of emergency

the guardian has an article outlining the state of emergeny instituted by villepin (link)

the article touches on an idea raised by one of my berkeley friends:
The Egyptian daily Al-Massaie referred to the riots as ``the intefadeh of the poor.'' Arabic satellite networks have given lead coverage to the mayhem, with regular live reports. Newspapers have followed the story on inside pages, calling it a ``nightmare'' and a ``war of the suburbs.''
the idea is that while the riots might seem to have nothing to do with radical islam, and perhaps islam itself in general, muslim groups across europe and elsewhere have latched onto this outburst and used it as an illustration of the western world's poor treatment of muslims. this can be a vehicle for their ideas.

-- now i'm going to get in my soapbox and post some thoughts that i haven't given enough thought to, but want out there --

i think the reality is that questions around islam in france are certainly worth considering in light of this uprising, however to focus on that might be to neglect more important concerns about race, political access, and workplace access for minorities in france.

my friend also wished that there was some way someone could interview all the people arrested in this uprising: why did you do it? did you have goals? were there leaders? how do you feel about... etc..

i think doing that is extremely important, and one dimension of its importance that particularly fascinates me is how the sum might be very different than the individual parts... things have emerged from these actions that might have nothing to do with any of the goals of the involved individuals. how does that happen? how does the meaning change and evolve as it moves through the network of public thought and opinion?

Sunday, November 06, 2005

let's not forget about pakistan

the earthquake in pakistan had devastating consequences, and more people will die this winter if remote mountain towns can't be reached in time. see this article.

see the international red cross site.
give here.

paris riots

for the past 11 days, some people in france, mostly youth, have been up-in-arms, torching cars, holding flash-riots, organizing flash-mobs via text msgs, and generally protesting, or acting out. but to what end? how organized is it? are there unified goals?

i can't hope to have authoritative answers on any of these questions. instead, i plead with you to hit the mainstream media, read one of their accounts, and then dive into an exploration of what the blogosphere is saying. try some blogsearching (sort by time is also interesting).

then read and think. you will be bombarded by a huge array of opinions, some left, some right, some center, some odd. each has their own hypothesis. it's far too early for any of the hypotheses to be fully developed, or really testable. here are some major terms and phrases i've come across in just an hour of reading (note i'm going to try and avoid giving my opinion as much as possible here, and just lay out some ideas. i'll develop my train of thought in later posts)

criminal economy: i start with this one because it's so fascinating, and not what you hear about at all in the mainstream media. this blog states that these actions got out of hand because the French Interior Minister (Sarkozy) is trying "to eliminate the parallel criminal economy that provides the main means of economic advancement and status in many of these immigrant communities."

radical islam:
there are blogs that say these riots are either fostered by those on the side of radical islam, or in any case are helping radical islam. this blog is a good read on these points. there are other blogs that come right out and say that this problem is obviously an illustration of the clash of civilizations (link).

rebellion against injustice: this is another popular take. the immigrants of france have been locked out of the economy for too long, and there was a natural anger brewing, and it took this form. (link)

politics, politics, power politics: there's a lot of disillusionment online that this whole disaster is a mess caused by, and handled poorly by, the french political elite. from the construction of these neighborhoods, to the ignoring of the disenfranchised youth, to umemployment and funding cuts, and finally to the lame-duck responses of chirac, villepin, and sarkozy, the french political establishment is just a big mess (link)

flashmobs, decentralized organization: there is a lot of talk about how these acts have been organized with cell phones and text messaging and over the internet. a good place to read about this idea is howard rheingold's smartmobs site. there's a short quote about the riots on the site here

odd: this somewhat odd post talks about the auto-insurance implications of all the burned-out cars. (link)

please comment and send me links and ideas. my main point is that there are so many opinions swirling right now (and these aren't even first-hand french opinions i've examined!) that it's worth taking some time to do lots of reading and information gathering.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

british history, how interesting!

i was browsing around the bbc when i came upon this retrospective on The Gunpowder Plot. The plot wan attempt by English Catholics to overturn the popular religious and political establishment. The interesting thing about this retrospective is they examine the always fun "what if" .. what if the plot had succeeded?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

this one is also blurry, but do you see the man and the word? Posted by Picasa

my hands shake so much, but i nevertheless wanted to post this: it's a blurry photo of a wallace and gromit pumpkin! isn't it fantastic? Posted by Picasa

leslie and i went out to a concert in the park. it was the day before hallowe'en, so we dressed up. i'm supposed to be some sort of 80s character. mainly i just had a tight unitard on.  Posted by Picasa

i wish i could go around with raja like this man goes around with whitey here Posted by Picasa

Thursday, October 27, 2005

chinese students lipsync

these 2 chinese kids lipsyncing back street boys is classic. reminds me of q :)

(got this from nikhil's away message)

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


sorry it's been a while. i've been really busy since last weekend.

last weekend leslie and i threw a pumpkin carving bash. friends were invited to bring pumpkins, and we supplied food, drink, wine, and tools (not to mention beautiful weather and a great garden carving setting). the results were fantastic. some photos below.


some of the scary/funny/interesting pumpkins carved at the party Posted by Picasa

here the pumpkins have their favorite hats on. a little more lighting too Posted by Picasa

Thursday, October 20, 2005

donating blood

there was a blood drive in my building today, so i decided to give. i should really give more -- i have O- blood (if that's wrong, then the main point is that i have the universal donor blood) which is always needed.

i thought this would be easy, and things were going smoothly until the needle went in. after they got a bit of blood, the nurse noticed that the flow had slowed (or stopped) and so she fiddled a bit with the needle. at that point, blood exploded out of my arm, going everywhere. as you can imagine, i was really freaked out, and she was asking for help, so that didn't sound good either.

the result: they got very little blood from me, and quite a bit more went in the garbage. i guess i'll try again next time.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

encountering famous (?) people

yesterday while i was crawling the litcrawl (see my previous post) i walked past josh kornbluth. he's a pretty well-known monologist (sp?) and now talk-showish host on kqed tv. i started tivoing his show after i heard a great kqed forum podcast with him (you can find the mp3 here).

as i was walking past, i wanted to give him a quick hello and tell him i liked his show, and hope he would stick with it and keep chatting with interesting guests. i also wanted to tell him that i like his starting dialogues in the show, but his hands move so much that i get distracted.

however! i didn't say any of this because i became a little fearful. isn't that odd? maybe he'll read this post one day.. :)

sf litcrawl

neha, grant and i did the last leg of the litcrawl (like a pub crawl, but you go to bars where people are reading books!) organized by the litquake conference. we heard a lot of interesting excerpts from books by some bay area authors, and some more worldly authors. one i particularly remember is a reading of a graphic novel. for those of you not in the know, a graphic novel is essentially a comic book dealing with more adultish issues (that's a big generalization, and what does adultish mean, but let's go with that).

anyway, at this bar there were 4 readers, each representing a character in the graphic novel. the novel was about the immediate after-effects of the dropping of an atomic bomb in japan. a couple's house was on fire, and their children were hurt. the couple was trying to decide whether to wait or stay with a trapped child. one of the characters, the mother i think, was acted-out really well by the reader -- she was super-engaged, and bawling and screaming. very convincing. the father, on the other hand, sounded straight out of a dubbed chinese movie. i remember he said "you fool" a few times to the mother, and his words were so stilted and monotone: "you" .. "fool" ... anyway i couldn't help laughing out loud, and i got some looks from the audience members.. very insensitve, i.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Murder Mystery!

niniane arranged a murder down in santa clara this past weekend. you can find her post about it here. we all had a lot of fun!

the gist of the idea was that the twelve of us each played a character who had incentive to kill our wealthy employer/lover/friend/business partner. the goal of the murder mystery was to figure out who the killer was. to do this, we each learned about the various characters as they introduced themselves, and we gained more clues about motives as the night progressed. at one point, we divided into teams and performed a scavenger hunt where our discoveries gave us clues as to who couldn't have done it. via a process of elimination, we were able to determine the likely killer (thank god the justice system doesn't work this way -- well, i guess sometimes it does -- and that's scary).

in any case, i had a lot of fun, but i'd like to log here some of the things that i think we could change next time to help improve the game. one of the biggest problems was that there was really no incentive to stay in character, and most of us weren't very good at staying in character. one reason for this is because we all knew each other, and as such it was hard to dismiss the other life.

however, the game itself didn't really try to push us to stay in character. i think a better model might require that people learn their character, and particular features, that can be revealed upon questioning as the night moves along. it'd be nice to have a facilitator in the game that could help lead discussion in the "right" direction, ie the direction that puts more information out there.

hmm that's just one thing i was thinking, but i'd like to say i had a blast and would do it again! great work niniane!

Here's a picture of almost the entire murder mystery group. As you can see, it's quite a mix. Posted by Picasa

I played Stormie Steele in the murder mystery -- a sunglasses wearing, hawaiian shirt loving irresponsible pool-boy. i tried doing some sort of accent, but i never made up my mind as to which one, so i came off sort of stupidly. but that's ok, my character wasn't supposed to be the brightest bulb! Posted by Picasa

franz ferdinand concert

neha and i went to the franz ferdinand concert a week ago at the bill graham auditorium in san francisco. the place had a lot of people, but it wasn't super-packed, as i expected it would be. i guess franz ferdinand isn't THAT popular.

anyway, i liked the lighting effects and their presentation, but i didn't like the songs. i like the first franz ferdinand CD so much, and how they do it on the CD is just sooo good, that i couldn't really dig their variations in the concert. maybe the acoustics weren't the greatest either. but i wanted better from them! as for their news songs, they sounded interesting, but nothing was too compelling. however, i think i need to listen to the studio-recorded stuff because of the vibe i got with songs that i really liked already.

i wish franz ferdinand, and more bands in general, would let their shows go on the internet archive.

neha and i also sat in the handicap/old people area because of neha's injured ankle, which might've played a role in my feelings.

but i did have fun, i just wanted more!

Friday, October 07, 2005

ummni's visit

my cousin ummni visited me last weekend. she was here for a conference on film. she's actually a phd student in law in toronto, but her interests are eclectic.

it was a whirlwind trip so we didn't have much time together, but we did manage to do a few things.

on thursday, we went to the skiing and snowboading on fillmore street event. for those of you not in the know, fillmore street is very, very steep in certain places. some people got the idea of filling a few blocks of the street with snow, and having excellent boarders and skiers do jumps.

pretty good idea, eh? what was even better was that it was over 90 degrees that day (30ish celsius or so) and it was super hot in the sun! snow + hot hot weather is a fascinating experience.

here is a flickr link to pics, and a few of my own pics are below.

anyway we saw some great jumps, and one scary diagonal jump that landed the snowboarder in the crowd. luckily, no one was badly hurt.

we also went out to dinner at tsunami and attended a party. ummni and i also had a few chances to do some good talking, which was nice.

me taking a picture of myself Posted by Picasa

Cousin Ummni looking slightly out of it on the hot, skiing day Posted by Picasa

skier coming over the ramp (see the small black dot ;) ) Posted by Picasa

Friday, September 30, 2005

My Idea about Clothing

nikhil says i should post more on my blog. fine nikhil, i'll reveal all my crazy wacky ideas and thoughts...

so i had this idea while buying clothes. very often, men don't want to buy clothes (this holds for some women too, but i think for more men). they do it because they need to update their wardrobe, their partner wants them to, etc..

however, the process of buying clothes is tedious, boring, costly, and somewhat of a crapshoot -- the clothes you get might look good at the store, but are a pain when you get home. but what can you do, there are few other ways of buying clothes... (i know someone will say "the web" but i don't think the web is good enough yet for this)

what i want: a service where you pay a certain amount each month, and they build for you a custom clothesline, suited to your size needs, your preferences, your tastes. you want to be a bit hip? grungy? want to just be in style, but don't really care what they send you? we can do that..

the idea is that you send this service your measurements, a bit about yourself, and periodically they send you outfits (or particular clothes you want) which you try on, hopefully like, and wear. no going to the mall, no clothes torture. sure, this won't be perfect, but i actually conjecture that for a large part of the mall-going, clothes buying population, this will actually be better in many ways: the buyer avoids the torture of going shopping, they get probably better looking clothes than they would otherwise, etc..

is this possible now? well, ideas like this have been tried (here's an example), but usually at a much higher end. you can get a personal shopper if you're rich. but i'm not trying to appeal to that crowd, neccessarily. i want to help people who don't want to go through the process, but want to look good!

anyway this is my quick first draft of this idea. hit me with your feleings, thoughts, comments!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Boring, over my head Talk

i went to a boring and what-felt-like-hours dissertation talk today. if i knew more about the subject, i'm sure it would've been thrilling, but given my knowledge, and the speed at which the speaker spoke, i actually lost my way and almost hit my head 3 times as i nodded in and out of consciousness.

this got me thinking -- i wanted to leave, but i couldn't, because it might've been taken as insulting. i wish a bubble could've popped up over my head for all to read: "He's Leaving Cause He's an Idiot" ... they all would've chuckled and life would go on.

Here's is a mock-up of what i want:

The Room is Clean

Success, success! We've vacuumed the floors, cleaned all the desks, the air conditioning has been fixed, and they even replaced our lights! Our room is in good working shape now. There are some small things we're going to be improving (maybe some color, some more light) but we've done well. Perseverance works!

I'll post pictures soon.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Filling in the bubbles...

this is great! taken from BoingBoing:

Ji Lee printed 50,000 of these speech bubble stickers and stuck them on "movie posters, ads and signs all over New York City," and then went back and took photos of what people wrote.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Raja: Doctor in the House

this isn't actually raja, but is taken from

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Toronto: Simulated Dirty Bomb Attack

CBC reports that Toronto's Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Response Team ran a simulated attack response in downtown Toronto:

The scenario involved terrorists detonating two bombs in downtown Toronto's financial district.

The first was a radioactive device contaminating a subway car.

The second simulated explosion minutes later was a hydrogen cyanide blast in a stairwell of the Royal Trust tower.


I wonder if such a test is actually effective? How can you really simulate the widescale panic that would ensue if such an attack occurred?

Saturday, September 17, 2005

just bought the JBL Onstage for iPods

i took the plunge and bought the jbl onstage for iPods. you dock your iPod with this device, and it supposedly plays great, IF you don't have a defective device. about 1% of items are defective, and you have to go through a week-long process to get a new one if you get a defective one...


was this stupid to do? i bought on amazon, which could have defective stock, because it was $50 cheaper than buying from JBL directly, but this could cause me problems.. anyway i hope i got lucky, but now i'm feeling a bit dumb. oh well.

amazon link

Thursday, September 15, 2005

john roberts and abortion rights

i was listening to democracy now's analysis of the john roberts confirmation hearings. one thing particularly struck me. it seems that roberts was very careful in his answers concerning Roe v. Wade (the landmark case upholding a woman's right to an abortion). it was spoken by Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization of Women
There's a – I just want to read you something from one of the right wing groups that has been writing on this to their own people. It's called You’re probably familiar with it. It’s sort of an analysis from the right wing about the hearings and how they're going. “Roberts’s answer was brilliant. He made a statement that will satisfy most Americans about privacy while leaving himself enough wiggle room to move the court on [abortion] in the future.” And then just a few minutes later, they posted, quote, “A top-flight leading conservative pro-life lawyer with a vibrant Supreme Court practice whose name most readers of this forum would know just walked into the room where I am sitting. He was thrilled about Roberts's answers during the dialogue with Specter and indicated his strong approval and endorsement. He explained that Roberts's answer was carefully framed to provide a basis for revisiting and overturning Roe in the future.”
i can't imagine the court overturning Roe v. Wade, but i'm bothered that the senators who think Roe v. Wade is so important didn't press him more on this matter.

See the full transcript of the democracy now show here

laptop posture

i feel like i must be the frailest person ever, but i want to say this for all the people who use laptops extensively, which i know is a lot of people: be concerned not just about your hands, but your neck too. here's a link on good laptop ergonomics.

anyway, my hands have been feeling great for quite some time now, and i'm happy i've found a good position for them, as well as good interface devices (for laptops, i love the ibm thinkpad keyboard/red dot thingy combination).

however, i've noticed that over the past few days that my neck has been bothering me a little. the problem seems pretty obvious now: constant looking down at the laptop keyboard (i keep my laptop on my lap). the solution however is not to put the laptop on a desk, because if the laptop is high enough, than the neck will be fine, but your hands will suffer. it's the inevitable problem of laptops: by coupling the monitor with the input devices, the user is screwed no matter which way they do things.

the best thing to do is to dock your laptop and get a separate monitor and keyboard. if you can't do that, please stretch more! sometimes these problems can take years to manifest themselves, but be assured that if you have bad posture, it will catch up to you!

so work hard and type and mouse right :)

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

chefs and software engineers

this might sound stupid, but i was thinking about chefs and software engineers and i realized that they are very similar: each has some big project (the right meal, the right application) and they are trying to realize that. they experiment, but they mostly understand the effect of removing or adding any particular ingredient.

neha told me that there's a big difference in that chefs can have this thrill and almost sensual pleasure in making food, whereas software engineers just don't get that. hmm.. well i don't know about the type of pleasure in either setting, but i'll tell you that when you solve a problem in either realm there's a big thrill.

i think the big difference is timelines. you can't have an iron chef tv show for software engineers because it takes at least days, if not months or years to build good applications, whereas you can make a pretty good meal in an hour or less, with enough underlings :)

Friday, September 09, 2005

katrina: reporters ask tough questions, go a little nuts

this video from salon is a good montage of various press reactions to the hurricane. link

Thursday, September 08, 2005

independent book stores

kqed forum (podcast here) recently had a show on independent bookstores. the show was prompted by the recent closure of kepler's bookstore in menlo park.

the forum had a few independent bookstore owners and employees on, and i thought it was rather biased. they were all talking about how great independent bookstores are, how they foster community and are the hotspots for new authors to break into mainstream society. that's all well and good, but when i go to a bookstore, i want to get a book, at a cheap price, and be treated well. i find that amazon does all that for me. independent bookstores are sometimes cool to go to and see what they have on their shelves, to do a sort of browsing that's just more fun in real life than on amazon, but when it comes to buying, and getting recommendations, amazon is quite good.

i want to emphasize the recommendation part: sure, amazon has a huge database and it tracks all its customers' purchases, and i suppose it could sell or do bad things with that data, but in all honesty, i know that amazon sometimes makes good recommendations to me based on that data. i feel i have a good shopping experience online with amazon.

so instead of poo-pooing the fact that amazon doesn't have to charge state sales tax, etc.. independent bookstores should be working on making their products available online (maybe via amazon, or via abebooks), and making the customer experience more meaningful. they need to compete! they need to make me want to visit them. for instance, on the day of the recent harry potter launch, i went to a bookstore that decorated everything in harry potter style, and had activities and games, and it was great for me as an adult, and fantastic for children. if that bookstore were closer to me, i might visit it more often.

i should note that the powell's books guy seemed to be saying things somewhat along these lines -- that the independent booksellers needed to get their act together. really they do: they used to be able to get away with doing next-to-nothing, and now they need to do something, and why not, they have a big advantage: they have location on their side.

room cleaning continues!

i wish i had my camera today. yesterday we moved all the crap over all the desks into two boxes, and tucked those boxes away. it was a big start! but today we did perhaps an even bigger thing: rid the room of a lot of its dust. i took two swiffers to school today, and i will hopefully post an image of the dust-riddled swiffers, along with the dust-free desks. it was really cathartic.

lorenzo, tired of the cold, decided to obstruct the air conditioning with cardboard. it seems to be a good idea -- things are warming up. you'd think that the soda hall staff would know how to warm things up using more standard measures though.

the goal tomorrow, if i go into school, is to wipe down the desks and maybe get some new light bulbs for the lights -- half of them are burnt out. slowly we're making a room where it would be somewhat pleasant to complete a problem set.

howl's moving castle: quantum leap ending

howl's moving castle (reviews) has great animation, funny characters, and an awful ending. the ending comes out of left field and is so odd that people around me in the theatre were cracking up at the ridiculousness of it. if they had just made the movie 30 minutes shorter, and thought about the ending, this might've been up there with spirited away.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

[tech] active learning

the theory lunch today was about active learning theory. the talk was given by sanjoy dasgupta. active learning is an interesting idea, and probably quite relevant to what's going on in the real world wrt learning. the idea is this: given an unlabeled set of points from some distribution, you are allowed to ask for the label for any point, but asking for a label has a cost. the goal is generate an hypothesis that correctly categorizes the points into their respective label categories.

so for instance, if you have points along a line, and say all points above 5 are labeled +, and all below five are labeled -, then a good hypothesis would be to say: "label all points above 5 as +, and all below as -". a not so good hypothesis might be to say: "label all points above 4 as +, and all below as -". but you only see a finite number of points, so in any case, you need to generate your hypothesis based on all your unlabelled points you've seen, as well as those points that have a label because you asked for their label. so ask for labels wisely!

something more concrete, suggested by a post-doc (don't remember the name) at the lunch, and modified slightly by me: suppose you have a user interface, and you want to suggest things to your user to help them along. every time you suggest something, you get immediate feedback from the user: was the suggestion helpful or not. now think of user interactions as your unlabelled points, and the user's feedback based on your suggestion as the label. however, notice that there's an implied cost in asking for a label, because if you asked the user confront a suggestion at every possible interaction, the user would get very angry. so the cost is related to your user's happiness. you need to weigh the benefit you can provide to the user by giving them a suggestion vs the annoyance of giving them a suggestion that they don't like.

anyway that was a bit fast and incoherent, but if you're really interested, talk to me or check out the links.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

guess who -- revealed

there were many guesses in the "guess who contest", both in the comments and in email. the two most interesting guesses were for the american idol star william hung and for my friend from cornell qiuwei chen. actually neither is right! the right answer can be found here

i'm not sure what this implies about our ability to perceive the differences between certain facial types... ?

Monday, September 05, 2005

guess who this is

in comments, or email, guess who this is, and i'll reveal the answer shortly:

this is one of the birds we saw while canoeing on the river near mendocino Posted by Picasa

neha handled the steering of the boat from the back. she also coached me on how to paddle correctly, though faster paddlers elsewhere seemed to do it differently. Posted by Picasa

on our second day, neha and i went canoeing. it was a little bit hard, but so much fun. things were really peaceful on the river; we saw lots of animals and seaweed. Posted by Picasa

Neha, Niniane, Peter and I went to Mendocino for labor day weekend. it was a lot of fun! Posted by Picasa


i went to mendocino for labor day weekend. it was very relaxing and we did a lot. four of us went up together: neha and i, and niniane and peter. we all stayed in the same bed and breakfast, the white gate inn. the white gate had great breakfast in the morning (first day we had apple french toast, the second day we had a great frittata). we also drank lots of wine and had some good cheese during the 5-6 happy hour.

our room was named spring meadow (there was also garden path, daisy, etc..) . it was a tad strange: the ceiling was slanted, so that in one corner i had to duck quite low or risk banging my head. but other than that, it was a quaint room, nothing special.

the town of mendocino, on the other hand, was very special. positioned right on bluffs above the pacific ocean, we had a remarkable view from almost anywhere in town. everything was slow and peaceful in town except the fire alarm/tsunami warning system. it seemed to go off quite regularly, and was this awful siren that pierced you down to the core. that siren must be awful for weddings.

neha got sick on saturday night and didn't feel that well on sunday or monday, but we still had a great time. we just had to take things a bit easier.

anyway, i recommend mendocino for anyone who wants to relax, and doesn't mind the occasional mind-splitting siren.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

katrina, cornell and tulane

tulane university is now closed indefinitely in the wake of katrina. my undergrad institution, cornell university, is opening up its doors to tulane students and professors. it's a great gesture, and i hope other instutitions think about how they can help students from the area, and not just university students, but all levels.

Link (via Boing Boing)

Friday, September 02, 2005

microsoft's harsh words

one of my co-workers gave me this link to a description of a deposition as part of the recent microsoft vs google court case. looks like steve ballmer, microsoft's CEO, is not too happy with google's ceo, eric schmidt!

here's mr ballmer's reaction to a prized employee's revelation that he's quitting for google:

At that point, Mr. Ballmer picked up a chair and threw it across the room hitting a table in his office. Mr. Ballmer then said: "Fucking Eric Schmidt is a fucking pussy. I'm going to fucking bury that guy, I have done it before, and I will do it again. I'm going to fucking kill Google." ....

fun times!

Thursday, September 01, 2005

hurricane katrina and how you can help

it's hard to imagine how awful the devastation is, but a quick look at some of the katrina tagged pictures in flickr can give you some idea.

(AP Photo, Irwin Thompson, i didn't get permission to use it sorry..)

amazon is doing a really great thing by taking donations for the american red cross on their site. Donate here. this is helpful because the red cross web site itself can't sustain the amount of traffic it's getting at this point, so by using this link you'll be giving room for others to help + helping out with your own donation.

the talking corner

two days in a row i've walked past a corner near my office (hearst and euclid) and seen someone talking to themselves, and gesturing wildly.

these were different people, and they didn't look sick, or homeless. i wonder if this is a preparation spot people use? maybe it imbues you with all sorts of wild and crazy powers? anyway, in the picture below, the spot is just off to the left, outside the picture. maybe those two people are walking to it? i'm going to try it out one day. you should too if you're ever in berkeley.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

renting a place in the bay area

at a grad student social today, i met a new grad student, andre, from iceland. he actually was working in upstate new york for the past few years, and now he's here at berkeley doing systems research. when deciding where to live, andre realized that he wouldn't have time to visit berkeley. so he did all his house-finding online and over the phone. now he's not too happy with his place, or rather his area.

he lives about 30 minutes away from campus in a dodgy area, and actually feels more comfortable in his office than at home. this is a shame -- i think it's really a failure of the department and the graduate division in general that this happened. sure, andre could have asked around more and tried to get more help. but i know of countless people that this has happened to in the bay area. there's got to be somewhere we can collect the wisdom and help out new students so they can make better decisions, even from far away.


if you haven't heard of sudoku yet, then you're at a big loss! it's such a fun game. the idea is that you're given a 9x9 grid like below. In each row, column, and square you must place the numbers 1 through 9. so that each number appears only once per row, column and square. It can be surpirsingly difficult! see the wikipedia here

at the theory lunch today, the speaker talked about sudoku from a theory perspective. here's the idea behind a zero knowledge proof. suppose alice wants to show bob that she has the solution to a given sudoku puzzle (there is only 1 solution) without revealing the solution itself. the act of doing this is called giving a zero-knowledge proof, because alice has given no knowledge about the actual solution BUT has shown that there is a solution, and she knows it. i won't go into the details on this one, but ask me if you're interested. (for you techies, sudoku is an NP-hard problem).

if you want to play now, go here


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