Tuesday, December 26, 2006

pegs and holes

my family bought a new cabinet and we were placing the top on the cabinet. this was proving difficult as the cabinet makers had not properly aligned the holes on the cabinet with the holes on the top. this lead me to comment that it's like fitting a "round peg in a square hole." there was some dispute concerning this comment. see the video below:

now, obviously there exists round pegs which won't fit in square holes. certainly the main complaint is that the interfaces are not commensurate, and so problems will ensue. the question then becomes which fit is worse: the round peg in the square hole, or the square peg in the round hole?

take your time and think about it.



now, you could just work it out yourself, or you could pull a naive-google, or a thoughtful-google. now, a naive-google would use the result count to determine which statement is used more often, and then say that the statement used more often is likely the better analogy (why would people, since we are such smart beings, use poor analogies? ;) ). so here are the results:

"round peg in a square hole" : 41,700
"square peg in a round hole" : 91,900

so clearly square peg wins out.

now if we do a thoughtful-google and click on some results, we find this problem solving for kids site that after some simple geometry declares:
Hence the circle covers more of the square than the square does the circle. It’s therefore better to be a round peg in a square hole than a square peg in a round hole.
thus, since we want an analogy that describes something that is very difficult to do, we must conclude that i made a weak statement, and should've said it's like fitting a square peg in a round hole.

merry christmas.

UPDATE: someone recently commented that google is dumbing us down, because instead of just working out this simple geometric problem, we just ask google and get an answer that's already written up on the web. certainly there's some merit to this complaint (in this case, though, i worked it out myself because these little problems are fun. indeed, the circle in the square uses a larger percentage of area than the square in the circle). it's very tempting to be as curious as the answers google gives you. however, i also think we can now ask much deeper questions and build on all the knowledge that's easily available.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Blog Search and LDARank

(editor's warning: this is quite a technical post. don't freak out at me -- after all, this is my life and i need to share from time to time!)

this semester i took a machine learning class. the class has a project requirement, so i decided to tackle a problem that's quite near to my heart (and likely important to many people in the blogosphere as well): how can we make blog search results better?

if you've ever used technorati, or google blog search, you'll immediately agree with me when i say that their results are complete junk. in fact, i was using these poor search engines to get the lay of the blogland regarding the recent inflammatory and bigoted comments of congressman virgil goode concerning muslim immigration. needless to say the linear results didn't give a very good lay of the land, though my digging around did.

so my project aimed at improving this, and i came up with a simple mechanism called LDARank. i've posted the full writeup here (note that it isn't very formal as the class itself wasn't very formal, but you'll get the idea). the introduction is quoted below:

In recent years, blogs have been rapidly growing in popularity. The world of blogs, called the blogosphere, has been gaining many users because of the ease of publishing and the desire of users to have their own personal stage. However, the rise of blogs and blog postings has not seen a commensurate rise in the quality of the ranking of results from blog search engines. It is still very difficult to browse through blogs with a targeted search query.

In this paper we propose a new ranking algorithm for blog posts based on topic modeling, called LDARank. In the first section we describe some of the problems with blog search. In the second and third sections we propose our solution and a technology to implement the solution, LDARank. We then examine the results of using the LDARank algorithm with various blogs and queries. Finally, we assess the practicality of using LDARank in a production setting, and examine its limitations.

my friend nikhil made the good point that i should make the mechanism available on some website, so people can give it a whir. maybe i'll do that over the next week or two, as i have some time.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

making and remixing movies

the time is now for making video footage readily available for consumption by the public, for the public creation of movies from this footage.

oohohoh. that sounds grand.


i doubt many of you have seen the yahoo research berkeley's international remix site where they made clips from various san francisco film festival movies available for remixing. users can select parts of movies, put them into a little bin for later use, and piece together parts from their bin into a full length feature. a brilliant app, perhaps a few years ahead of its time. see the demo.

now here's the idea. movies, when shot, produce massive amounts of unused film. it's edited out. hours upon hours. why not make available online all the footage, along with a script and storyboard? give the public a tool like international remix, of course with more features to manage all that data, and let them piece together a film. short films. long films. funny films. spam films. any film. give prizes for the best films. provide user forums. make sure the system surfaces the most examined portions of footage. let people recreate via cutting and pasting video, as they do today with text. let them incorporate other clips. their own clips.

i feel very inspired by this. youtube should do this with all the clips on their websie. of course, those clips aren't coherent like the all the footage for one particular movie. but this is something users would love to fiddle with, and i assure you that excellent movies (along with crappy ones!) and interesting and new ideas would emerge from such a space.

some reflection

now, don't get me wrong. i think movie directors, editors, cinematographers, the whole bunch, they do an excellent job. certainly there's need for these highly skilled people. however, just because we have journalists and writers doesn't mean the blogosphere, which is largely a reframing of various texts, cut and pasted, is worthless. it adds a new kind of worth. what bloggers work with is largely text, with some images, audio and video thrown in. i think it's time to throw in a lot more video, and changeable video. the unit is not the film, it is the frame (and even the frame could be changed, but let's start with the frame). i want the possibility of video spam, just like there are video blogs. you know when the spammers come that something worthwhile has been created.

it might be worth pointing out that i give some credence to lanier's thoughts concerning digital maoism, i just think he's a bit too reactionary. the public, typically a bunch of non-experts, can add a lot of value.

the optimist, from the new yorker

the new yorker's shouts and murmurs section (ie the funny pages of the new yorker) has a dear abby-like column in this issue. instead, it's dear optimist, and there are some extremely funny letters and responses. here's one i really liked:

Dear Optimist:

When I go to the zoo, I feel so sad. All those imprisoned animals sitting in their own feces. What do you suggest?

Animal Lover

Pasadena, Calif.

Dear Animal:

What I suggest is, stop going to the zoo! But, should you find yourself tricked into going to a zoo, think about it as follows: All those animals, coated with their own poop, pacing dry grassless trenches in their “enclosures,” have natural predators, and might very well be dead if they were still in the wild! So ask yourself: Would I rather be dead, or coated in my own poop, repetitively pacing a dry grassless trench? I certainly know what my answer would be!

Monday, December 11, 2006

eyes of honesty

in this week's new york times magazine (the ideas issue) one of the year's noted ideas is titled eyes of honesty. it's quite insightful, especially with the implications concerning how our minds function in certain situations where free-riding is easy. i post the whole article here for your reading (should i quote this much? well, it's small). my comments and idea come afterwards.

In the psychology department at Newcastle University, there is a coffee station where people can help themselves, so long as they leave money in the tray — 50 pence (about $1) for a coffee and 30 for tea. It operates on an honor system.

Alas, not everyone is honorable. “The woman running the station was a little disappointed at the level of contributions,” says Gilbert Roberts, a professor in the department. Psychologists have long been aware of this dismal aspect of human behavior: people are more honest if they know they’re being observed — so when nobody’s watching, they feel they can get away with murder, or at least with a free cup of coffee.

This problem gave Roberts and two colleagues an idea for an experiment. For 10 weeks this spring, they alternately taped two posters over the coffee station. During one week, it was a picture of flowers; during the other, it was a pair of staring eyes. Then they sat back to watch what would happen.

A remarkable pattern emerged. During the weeks when the eyes poster stared down at the coffee station, coffee and tea drinkers contributed 2.76 times as much money as in the weeks when flowers graced the wall. Apparently, the mere feeling of being watched — even by eyes that were patently not real — was enough to encourage people to behave honestly. Roberts says he was stunned: “We kind of thought there might be a subtle effect. We weren’t expecting such a large impact.”

The paper prompted a British police department in Birmingham to slap posters of eyes around the city as part of a campaign called “We’ve Got Our Eyes on Criminals.” The researchers are studying the campaign to see if the posters have an effect on things like car crime and vandalism.

i took a class this past semester where we talked about social psychological selective incentives for improving people's contributions to public goods (in the idea above, the public good is the coffee setup, which everyone agrees to help pay for via their coffee purchases). this sounds like a mouthful, but essentially you selectively encourage people to contribute more by sending appreciative notes, thank yous, etc.. only if they contribute in the first place. hence it's a selective incentive.

the eyes of honesty idea sort of turns selective incentives around -- how do we impel people to contribute because that's what they should be doing? i wonder if there's a way to use less intrusive ideas (ie, not so big-brotherish with the eyes) to make people contribute more to, say, yelp. ie "you've looked at 50 yelp reviews lately, and you haven't written one new review, or rated any of the comments. shame on you! the eyes of yelp are watching." ;)

now i wish this kind of thing worked on cats: raja tends to scratch things he shouldn't scratch when no one's around. if only some random picture would deter him.

Monday, December 04, 2006

presentations, miscommunication and bias

recently i've been giving some presentations. giving a presentation is more difficult than one first thinks: you need to gauge the audience, determine what you want them to take away, meet time constraints, and in those few moments, convey the major ideas.

now i was giving a project presentation today and must have done this somewhat poorly in what little time i had because at the end a student asked, "and what did you do?" the implication being that i essentially just presented background work, when in fact i had actually connected ideas and done much thinking. the presentation was supposed to convey that. i guess it didn't -- i think there were a few chuckles in the audience that felt to me like people agreeing that i hadn't done anything.

sigh :(

first, i need to take most of the blame. it's my job as a presenter to make things clear, and i clearly didn't gauge a somewhat sizable portion of the audience. that being said, i think the question and the laughter betrayed something about what people think are the "proper" activities of a graduate student in a computer science class.

one of the problems is that engineering folks often think that a project is about a tangible output. indeed, in this class most of the projects had neat visualizations, or programs that did something. my project could have gone in that direction, but i decided to do something quite different: read much of the background theory in my area and try to construct a framework for reasoning about the design that i initially set out to build. if i had more time, i might have built something. but to me, the more interesting thing was rigorously reasoning about why what i conceived may or may not work, prior to digging in deeply and designing and building it. that can wait, in my opinion. you can disagree with that, and think my line of reasoning is unproductive, but acknowledge that there is work in my ways!

if it isn't obvious at this point, i'll come out and say it: i felt hurt when i was asked the "and what did you do?" question. it made me feel like an outsider, and it made me feel like my work isn't valued. but then again, i guess in the same way that most engineers don't think about their bridges as cultural artifacts that engage people (and how!), many computer scientists seem focused on doing things with computers (or computing automata, you theory folks), and not so interested in what others do with the things they create, beyond that it is functional/useful, if that's their goal. the creation comes first! though i suppose my creation came first as well, it just wasn't the tangible creation venerated by many people.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

the american citizenship ceremony

my friend became an american citizen on tuesday. feeling very happy for my friend, and interested in what happens at the ceremony, i decided to go.

in san francisco, the swearing in ceremony is done at an old freemason building. as i walked in, i marveled at how the building was designed so that the light hit the masonic eye and lit it up. it was actually a bit eerie.

but as for the ceremony.. well, there were over 1300 people receiving their citizenship that day, so i was initially freaked out that they would read every single person's name. thank god they didn't. instead, they read originating country names, and people from each country stood up. can you guess what the top 4 countires were?

there were oaths and anthems and singing and dancing.. well, no dancing, but people, understandably, were quite excited. the swearing in itself was actually quite moving. it was nice to see so many family and friends in the audience (and many, many babies. the crying was non-stop!)

a few things struck me as odd, and i wanted to record them here:
- the Department of Homeland Security laptop used for the presentation was running Windows 98
- certain parts of the oath might go against people's religions beliefs, and so certain parts can be stricken from the oath you agree to (it wasn't clear to me which parts could be stricken.. maybe just the god stuff? obviously you can't strike the defending nation parts). anyway, they only read one oath for everyone to repeat, so the moderator suggested that when they got to the part that the person could not swear to, they should put down their hand and not repeat the words. i thought that was interesting
- the citizenship certificate is really quite beautiful. very well designed
- now the keynote speech. this speech was weak, in my opinion. the speaker, a judge, used a trick you learn in grade 1. namely, take a word or set of words (in this case "US citizen") and use each letter in the words to anchor your thoughts. so in this case we had:

U - united
S - strength
C - community
I - initiative
T - trust
I - integrity
Z - zeal
E - education
N - new

i think readers will agree that there are some weak spots here. for "e," i would've expected something like "equality." on the other hand, it is a broad audience with differing education levels and english literacy levels
- finally, they played the song "proud to be an american." now, this is a very patriotic song, with what i think are some odd lyrics. this line "i'm proud to be an american where at least i know i'm free" gives me a lot of trouble. why the words "at least"? i suppose it's trying to suggest that the baseline is freedom, which cannot be said for many countries. however, it also suggests that all you might get is freedom, but what good is freedom if you can't enjoy it? but that takes us into a wholly different topic, which i won't broach here.

Monday, November 27, 2006

more on academic social networking

i was reading reading a paper today titled "No More SMS from Jesus: Ubicomp, Religion and Techno-spiritual Practices" by Genevieve Bell.

before i get to the meat of my post, first i'll give an amusing quote (the paper is full of them):

In mid-January 2004, the Reuters news service flashed out the headline "No More Text Messages from Jesus" signaling the demise of a distinctive Finnish mobile service. According to the wire story, earlier that month, Ville Nurmi, the Ombudsman for Finland's mobile services and regulatory watchdog organization, shut down a mobile service provider that offered text messages from Jesus Christ. The company, which was not named in the proceedings, promised to answer people's prayer with a text message from Jesus [1]. This service, ruled spam through a complex set of maneuvers that included a determination that Jesus did not own a mobile phone, is but one manifestation of the increasing visible intersections of spiritual practice and technological development world wide.
ok, now for my point. i'm not going to comment on this paper, however i did take quite a few notes, and i wanted to store and compare my notes, maybe post them so others could see them.

there is no where you can easily do this now.

and i'm not just talking about posting comments -- then everyone who ever has a comment, even if it has been said, will post it again. rather, i'm thinking of something more along the lines of post and response. so first, you'd compose your notes on the paper, and they'd be stored as your private note in the academic social networking site (let's give it a name.. i'll think of a name for my hypothetical site soon enough). now, if you wanted to make the notes on this paper public, you could, but if you wanted to add them to a conversation about the paper, you'd click the "add to conversation" button. now, what this would NOT do is blindly add your comments to the end of some big list. instead, it would first show you similar comments and any responses to those comments.

why do i think this would be useful? personally, i've been doing some trading on td ameritrade, and they have a fantastic help system. if you have a question and can't find the answer, you can type in your question and have it sent to a representative. but before they send the question, they show you possible answers and ask you, "do these satisfy your needs?" about 75% of the time they do.

in this academic case, if you find a thread that satisfies your comments, you may not post; otherwise, you might follow-up on that thread. or you might just give some sort of props (a la yelp's "cool, helpful, etc.." links) to the original commenter or responder.

this mechanism is especially important for academic papers, where comments and responses are often quite detailed, and are written anyway (whether others have written something or not... though having these comments available and reading them first might generate better discussions). more generally, this is a technique that should be broadly applied online. sometimes when i want to post a comment on a highly-trafficked blog or digg or slashdot i first read through every single comment to find if my comment has already been stated. this is extremely inefficient -- there should be much better comment search (either via search, or automatic collapsing of comments that are similar so i can explore the unique things that have been said more quickly).

Thursday, November 23, 2006

night at home

tonight raja and i stayed in and drank chardonnay and watched the L word. now, i haven't seriously had any chardonnay in quite a while; i went off chardonnay a while back because i just hated the way the smell knocked me over the head: "i'm chardonnay -- pay attention to me!"

however, my friend gave me a bottle a recently and so i decided i would give it a try. the big oak (vanilla) and creaminess flavors definitely hit my nose, and they were nice! i really enjoy this bottle. i'm back on the chardonnay bandwagon, at least for a bit.

now the L word: the show is about a bunch of lesbians living in los angeles. it has some interesting characters, but my overall feeling is that i could drop it at any moment. not compelling enough. i like how they did a bit more with shane in the 4th episode. hopefully they pursue that (i haven't made it past episode 4). i'm not liking the main couple, to be honest. but i'll continue with it for a bit.

Monday, November 20, 2006

uplifting quote on education

i've been down a bit of late on my phd program. sigh. anyway, i read this line by the times magazine ethicist, randy cohen, and it brightened my day:
Education is meant to help us examine even our fundamental beliefs -- this can be disorienting, perhaps, but not as unhealthful as silence and obscurity.
you can find the whole commentary here.

cute butts and housework

in the new york times magazine this week, annie murphy paul examines the societal effects of the trend for marriages to be increasingly between people with similar incomes. the article looks at some recent research analyzing this trend, and is informative in that regard. however, the title and byline are ridiculous and inflammatory, a noticeable trend in the times magazine of late: "The Real Marriage Penalty: Husbands and wives are increasingly likely to have similar incomes. Is a more divided society the result?"

then again, catchy bylines are what news editors cut their teeth on.

more interesting is a quote in the article that says women today may be looking for "'cute butts and housework' -- that is, a man with an appealing physique and a willingness to wash dishes." when i read this, i thought to myself, "hmm, i'm lagging. i can do dishes, but who can't?"

Saturday, November 18, 2006

ucla student tasered

john told me about a recent, horrific incident involving the police and a student at ucla. the student was in the library after 11pm. at ucla, they can do random checks on people in libraries after 11pm to ensure that they are students. this student was asked for his id, but he felt he was being targeted because of his middle eastern descent. so he refused to provide his id, and refused to leave. when the library called in the campus police, things went crazy. the student was repeatedly tasered (5 times) even though he was not putting up any active resistance. the la times has a good summary of the incident.

there's a youtube video showing parts of the tasering, though what's happening is not always clear (but the student's shouts of pain are quite clear). below i've embedded a youtube video made by a local news station. they extract the key parts of the video and get some commentary from those involved.

my feeling: this is insane. there was no reason to use a taser on this student. sure, he was being an idiot and a jerk. but this video is a great example of excessive force. the students surrounding the officers seem scared out of their minds -- this just shouldn't happen.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

bank of america jails fraud victim; victim fights back

i found this on boing boing.

matthew shinnick sold his bike and received a check from the buyer that was for much more than the agreed upon price. suspicious, he went to his local bank of america branch to ask if the check was real and if the account had sufficient funds. the teller found that the account had sufficient funds and so shinnick decided to cash it. when the teller began that process, she found that there was a fraud alert on the account and that the check was in fact fake. things went crazy from that point:

From SFGate, Check from a scammer bounces victim into jail:

The teller contacted the business and was informed that no check had been written to Shinnick for $2,000 or any other amount. She immediately passed the check to the branch manager. "I saw him talking on the phone and staring at me," Shinnick said. "A few minutes later, four SFPD officers came into the bank. They didn't say a thing. They just kicked my legs apart and handcuffed me behind my back." The police report for Shinnick's arrest says he was taken into custody "for the safety of the bank employees as well as the bank customers."

shinnick had to pay thousands to get himself out of jail and clear his name, and bank of america refused to reimburse him. so he went to a consumer advocate radio host, and this host implored his listeners to close their bank of america accounts and let him know how much money they removed from bank of america. so far, the consumer advocate says $50 million has been removed from bank of america because of this incident.

this is crazy. i closed my bank of america account years ago because of their awful customer service, but this arrest takes things to the next level. there must be a better procedure for dealing with these problems. indeed, a few questions could have cleared things up. he could've more clearly indicated his suspicion that the check might be fraudulent, and was given to him as part of a transaction. was this kind of response really necessary?

Friday, November 10, 2006

the coffee shop

i used to dislike coffee shops as places to work, but that has changed. recently i've been accomplishing quite a few things at my local coffee shop, coffee to the people. i have some ideas concerning why this might be.

first, i don't think i ever gave coffee shops enough of a chance. the noise isn't distracting, in fact, i feel quite at peace in the coffee shop. no one is going to interrupt me, and if they do, it will almost surely be something very quick. furthermore, the coffee shop disabuses me of my bad habits, like browsing the web (i don't take my laptop) and putzing around with things in my room (like my squeezebox). in fact, i think i actually get more done than i would in my room or office at school, because the distant hubbub of the coffee shop is actually energizing.

i'm going to continue with coffee shops and see what other magic they might inspire.

some links:
  1. this guy might have the right idea about the coffee shop buzz
  2. this book isn't exactly on topic, but it discusses the "third place," where people can have a good time and hangout and converse
  3. i think this might be going to far: Lexmark transforms Toronto coffee shop into small office for Small Business Week

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Sale Starts Tomorrow

i saw this digg post on windows vista titled "Windows Vista GOING GOLD TOMORROW"

going gold means that the final version of the software is ready to ship. no more code changes. now, microsoft has been saying this for a long time (though i think this time they actually mean it). but in any case, this reminds me of a story my father told me about a store in india.

outside the store there's a sign that says "Sale Starts Tomorrow." of course, that might get you interested to go in and check things out. so you go in, see some things you like, and then wonder, "will i actually come back tomorrow, or should i just get them now?" so you buy them now.

the trick is, the same sign is always outside. the sale is always starting tomorrow.

now, i'm not sure how this makes regular customers feel. maybe they just get a laugh out of it after a while. i think it's quite amusing.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


doubt, a feeling i'm sure we all have had, is also the name of a play that met rave reviews in new york city. it's now playing in san francisco, and i had the opportunity to see it tonight, on its opening night. it stars the fantastic cherry jones (pictured above in character), who really steals the show.

here's a blurb about jones and the show from the chronicle:

In the 90 minutes Cherry Jones spends onstage as Sister Aloysius, in John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama "Doubt," she inhabits a deeply dimensioned space of fierce will, spiritual righteousness, crinkly humor, granitic isolation and blinding determination backlit by an existential unease. It's all played out in a lean psychological thriller about the fictional principal of a New York Catholic school in 1964 and the priest she accuses of "interfering" sexually with a male student. The play, featuring Jones' eagerly awaited San Francisco debut, opens this week at the Golden Gate Theatre for a four-week run.

it's playing at the golden gate theatre in san francisco for 4 weeks. check out the official website, which has a nice video about the show.

the play is only 90 minutes, but it hits on a lot of ideas and makes you think. my take away was a lot of thought on despair, loneliness, and, of course, doubt. it's very well written.

highly recommended!

Friday, November 03, 2006

academic social networking

have you ever tried to navigate a professor's web site? or connect papers between people, and figure out who's working on what? or tried to figure out if a professor is around, working on X, or completely incognito?

academic work is very public, as it should be. these days, you can find most papers online, as well as many courses and teaching materials. yet there is little sense of presence online. furthermore, the online academic world is supremely disorganized.

now, don't get me wrong: there's lots of academic work available online (google scholar is quite a good source, as well as various publishers). but what about the connections? between the works, between the peoples, through time... and what about evaluation? that seems hidden.

here are some questions you might ask of an academic: what are you working on now? who are your students? what are they working on? what do you think of paper P? can you give me a list of reading material that would provide sufficient background for your paper on doodads?

it's unlikely you would get a timely answer. you might eventually get a good answer.

so i was wondering why there isn't a good network site for academic information, and for academics and researchers? it could be a social networking site, but it would also be a public place for browsing and searching, because after all, academic production is supposed to be public. furthermore, much academic data is online, just waiting to be surfaced more effectively. for instance, if we think of the social networking possibilities for a moment, consider that many academics have a web page, where they list all their publications, as well as their students. couldn't we build a resource that simply effectively connects these pages, people, and papers? and what if we let people contribute directly to this resource? what if we tried to build a community around it? there's a cite called rexa that's supposed to do some of this for the computer science community (their slogan is "Research * People * Connections"), but i can only tell you how poor it is because to find out for yourself would require signing up and logging in, and who wants to do that?

what about a service for effectively publishing, detecting, and supplementing the act of doing background research on a topic? building communities around papers and people? there's some work in tagging for the academic domain, see citeulike

why haven't many academics got in on the online video craziness? are they that far behind?

i tried to see if others had commented on the lack of such spaces online. i found one blog post, with some good ideas.

i have a whole 2 or 3 pages of notes of ideas around this... as a graduate student, as an observer of research getting done (and not getting done), i can see the potential for something in this space. anyway, i may do something about this if i get riled up enough.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Squeezebox: great music, easy access

that's me, trying to kiss my newest music gadget, the squeezebox. the squeezebox can wirelessly connect to your computer, or directly to the internet, and stream music. you connect the squeezebox to some speakers and you've got a sweet setup.

it comes with a fantastic remote, and so i was sittin back on my bed, browsing the internet world of music. first i found an all 80s radio station, then i jumped to a dance station out of amsterdam. then i wanted to do more directed exploration, so i used the remote to key "justin timberlake" into the radio's pandora interface, and it made me a JT station. oh, and there's a software interface for your computer (both offline and online) so you can configure your music tastes from your computer, as well as from the device directly.

now, i've only had this for an hour or so, but i'm already loving it.

what inspired me to buy this slick little device? pandora. if you haven't seen pandora, you really need to check it out. pandora's musicologists have characterized tens of thousands of songs, and so you enter a band or song into their system and it will connect you with similar songs. you create "stations" around your favorite bands or songs.

UPDATE: i just encountered two small downers. after 90 days, to continue the pandora connection i need to pay $36 annually. that's actuallly not that much money, but still.. the other thing is that pandora seems to limit the number of skip-to-next-tracks i can do in an hour. that's annoying. still, i'm enjoying myself. it brings me back to the day when my sister had a stereo in her room, and sometimes i'd go in and just put in a cd and browse that or the radio. except now i have a lot more options, and can do directed exploration, not just random wandering.

Monday, October 23, 2006

sketch comedy: elephant larry

one of my roommates from college, neal, was in a sketch comedy troupe at school. when some of his peeps graduated and movd to nyc, they formed their own sketch comedy group called elephant larry (i wonder if they chose that name partly because it would google well). i like their work and so wanted to let all my the readers know about them.

anyway, neal told me his friends were recently invited to film a sketch in la with john landis, the director of animal house and blues brothers. impressive stuff. a few other sketch troupes were also invited. anyway, you can see their sketch called "Tall Cop, Short Cop" here (note that the link has been a bit flaky... stupid jibjab). the sketch starts a bit slowly, but gets quite funny.

i also found some of their stuff on youtube. i think this commercial is the best:

ah japan

i was browsing around flickr and saw this sunset in tokyo.

i really enjoyed japan, and wish i was there longer. i remember doing karaoke with halldor in hakodate -- i actually have a video of halldor in action singing "it wasn't me" by shaggy.

but that video is not online, and couldn't be without halldor's consent, so instead i'll give you the original video. just imagine replacing shaggy in this video with an icelander named halldor.

Friday, October 20, 2006

nobel peace prize, bangladesh and global warming

i've been reading about the nobel peace prize winner mohammad yunus. in case you didn't know, dr. yunus started the grameen bank, a bank for the poor in bangladesh. he pushed the idea of microcredit. i actually saw him give a talk a while back, and it was very inspiring. here are some quotes from speeches he's given:

We believe that poverty does not belong to a civilized
human society. It belongs to museums.


All human beings have an innate skill - survival skill. The
fact that poor are still alive is a proof of their ability
to survive. We do not need to teach them how to survive.
They know this already.

--Dr. Mohammad Yunus

i was reminded of this because of the startling thing larry brilliant said about global warming when speaking at berkeley months back. he lauded dr. yunus' work but stated that it could literally be washed away by the rising sea levels due to global warming. the picture below gives a sense of this scary possibility. follow this link for more.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Pie Eating Contest at Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival

we went to the half moon bay pumpkin festival this past weekend. the traffic getting there was horrible but it was worth it, just to see small children compete in a pie eating contest. watch this video, and see the boy 2nd or 3rd from the left bang his head into the pie. watch the little girl at the right devour the pie.

these kids are amazing. i would've completely flopped in this activity (and hence i didn't engage in the adult pie-eating contest).

now to get me some pumpkin pie...

Sunday, October 15, 2006

malcolm gladwell on predicting hit movies

i was at the new yorker festival last weekend and malcolm gladwell spoke about predicting hit movies. i'm not sure how you feel about mr gladwell (my friend niniane is none-too-impressed with him), but whatever you think, he's a fantastic storyteller.

i wasn't going to post about this until wednesday, because that's when the new yorker is posting the video of gladwell's presentation online (scroll to the bottom of the new yorker page), but then i saw that the article is actually online, scanned in by the company that gladwell is talking about in his article. if you read my blog, you know how annoyed i am with the new yorker not making their material more readily available, so here i am, happy to point you to it.

very briefly, gladwell is writing about a group of people who believe they can predict the amount of money a movie will make, just by analyzing the screenplay and feeding some data into an elaborate computer program. they actually do quite well, supposedly. the talk is amazing, and i haven't read the article yet, but you should read it just to learn about mr pink and mr brown, two movie analysts who are very serious about reading screenplays:
Mr. Brown couldn’t remember a single script he’d read where he thought there wasn’t room for improvement, and Mr. Pink, when asked the same question, could come up with just one: “Lethal Weapon.” “A friend of mine gave me the shooting script before it came out, and I remember reading it and thinking, It’s all there. It was all on the page."

Saturday, October 14, 2006

convict smooth talks his way out of arrest

hi all,

i want to post about my experience at the new yorker festival, but i haven't gotten around to writing it up. instead, i just want to post this video, which is rather amazing. the man being questioned by the police officer in this video had just escaped from a high-security prison a few hours earlier. he had escaped from prison numerous times, and is essentially an escape expert (he's also a convicted murderer). anyway, the video is worth watching, especially to see how smooth the convict is, and how dumb the cop is.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

there's nothing quite like paper

i've been watching battlestar galactica lately and i love it. it's so much better than star trek. besides the obvious benefit to having a long storyline (as opposed to one-off episodes which certainly get tiring), i really enjoy how the portrayal is not so super hitech to the point of stupidity.

for instance, they use paper. this might not seem like much, but think back to any star trek tv show or movie you have ever seen -- did you ever see paper anywhere? highly unlikely. it did crop up, very rarely, and probably with the clear hint that the people using the paper were archaic, or the paper was super old.

now think about how useful paper is -- you can scrunch it up, it can be folded, you can drop your coffee on it, you can shove it in your pocket, it's super-high resolution, marking it is really easy...

what did they use on star trek? those clunky looking pads. and did you ever see anyone tuck that pad away in their pocket? no, they didn't have pockets, and even if they did, where would it fit?

i assure you the future will have paper.

Friday, September 22, 2006

the design of everyday things

i recently purchased the design of everyday things by don norman. norman is a cognitive scientist who has thought a lot about design of everyday things. before i tell my own frustrating story of a poorly designed everyday thing, here are some quotes:

The book begins with one of don's amusing experiences:
"You would need an engineering degree from MIT to work this," someone once told me, shaking his head in puzzlement over his brand new digital watch. Well, I have an engineering degree from MIT... Give me a few hours and I can figure out the watch. But why should it take hours?
norman then nicely generalizes to exactly what i'm feeling:
Why do we put up with the frustrations of everyday objects, with objects that we can't figure out how to use, with those neat plastic wrapped packages that seem impossible to open, with doors that trap people, with washing machines and dryers that have become too confusing to use...
and he gives this simple rule which i like:
1. It's not your fault: If there is anything that has caught the popular fancy, it is this simple idea: when people have trouble with something, it isn't their fault -- it's the fault of the design. Every week brings yet another letter or e-mail from someone thanking me for delivering them from their feeling of incompetence.
now my story. my roommate has this great can opener: it cuts the can just below the top, and you just pull off the top. no jagged metal, no problems. well, almost, when you know how to use it.

anyway, i had been shown how to work it 1 or 2 times, and i needed to open some soup. no one was around, i couldn't ask questions. well, i tried every which way to get this can opener on with no success. i'm not sure how i opened that can, but i remember there being jagged edges and me just having a very frustrating experience with the whole thing. i remember wanting to throw the can and shout very loudly after that experience. opening a can should not be this hard.

i concluded that this can opener was very poorly designed because if you were a new user, you wouldn't be able to just pick it up and use it. you'd be lucky if you could. finally, on the 3rd or 4th time of seeing it function, i saw the key ingredient that showed me how to line everything up. now using the can opener is great, but what a ridiculous learning experience.

on the flip side, i came across another can opener months later, and i opened a can with it almost immediately. no one had to show me anything, and yet this wasn't your standard can opener: it also cut in a different way, and left no sharp edges. it was effortless. this second can opener was well-designed. no everyday thing should be very difficult to use for the typical consumer.

follow this link to find out more about norman and his design philosophy.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

biking: be visible and predictable

this past weekend i went to a free, 4 hour classroom course on bike safety. i want to get into biking and want to do it safely here in san francisco, so i thought a class on safety would be a good start. the class was offered by the san francisco bicycle coalition, and it was fantastic.

this article from 2005 in the sf chronicle gives a good overview of what i learned (in fact, my instructor is quoted in the article). i want to emphasize one quote, because when i rode a bike in palo alto for a summer i did not do this at all, and neither did many bikers on the road:
Ride like a car: A baseline concept is taken from an old manual, "Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles." This creates visibility and predictability for cyclists. They signal, obey traffic laws, and when they need to do so, take over a lane.
the key point here is being visible and predictable. i was always afraid to drive out in the car lane, or two close to moving cars but in fact most bicycle accidents happen when the cyclist is too close to parked cars, or moves in an erratic manner. moving cars will avoid cyclists and do a good job of it if the cyclist is acting predictably.

this saturday i have the second day of my course, which is out on the road. i'm afraid, because it's one thing to say this and listen to it, it's another thing to implement it on the road. i'm in a state of intimidation right now, which hopefully i can overcome:

"An urban cyclist goes through three stages," says Bert Hill, who teaches clinics for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition at police stations around the city.

"First, you're intimidated. You try to find out rules and follow them," Hill said. "The second occurs when you gain some mastery, and discover freedom of movement. But that can grow a little too heady, and lead to mistakes. The third follows all that, after you realize you are an ambassador for cycling. What you do changes the world where you ride."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

User Control and Facebook

recently seen after logging into my facebook:

"X joined the group Nobody Cares That You Want the Old Facebook Back."

and so begins our stroll into hard-to-control presentation of your life on facebook. i had been thinking about this a lot, and we had a facebook discussion in my computer-mediated communication class, which grant and i followed-up on after class. i've put together my thoughts below.


for those of you not in the know: facebook launched a feature which automatically publishes to your friends a news feed of the things you've been up to on facebook (and conversely, you also have this feed of what your friends are up to). for instance, you learn when your friends add new friends, join groups, change their profile, change their relationship status, etc..

but hold on, you say... "change their relationship status!" yes! "X is now single."

sort of freaky eh?

well, maybe you feel this is somewhat less freaky when you learn that facebook updated the feature to include an opt-out policy? i don't think it should be less freaky. in fact, maybe it should be more disconcerting if you care about control of your data and privacy.


an issue for me is that the "resolution" was to add opt-out ability, and make opt-in the default. i think the way facebook did this falls into the collection of actions by large companies that make your data functionally less private, without adequately conveying that to the user. it also shifts the norm of online interactions and our expectations of the servers we interact with (ie this feed stuff will become the norm on facebook, just as gmail contextual ads became the accepted gmail thing).

facebook is about broadcasting yourself to your friends and people in your network, but not in this uncontrollable way. sure, in the "Old Facebook" people could scrape your page and determine when and what things were changing. but by and large people interacted with tailored presentations. now, with these feeds, a user's presentation on facebook is at least partially out of their control.

wait, you say, that user who misses their control can change their options and opt-out. of course they can, but how many will? and how many will get burned because they didn't (i already know stories of people who have been burned)? and when will we consider that we're making friendly surveillance the norm?

frankly i feel weird seeing this feed because i don't know if this is what my friend intended. did they want me to know that they recently added "candy" to their favorite activities?

facebook could have introduced this feature differently. the way they introduced this feature (no options) and then their resolution (opt-out) goes to show how little respect is afforded to users when it comes to who controls the use of their personal information.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

the dentist

i was at my dentist the other day. they checked my gums and teeth and recommended that i brush and floss more. however, there were no problems, just a more thorough cleaning on their part which they attributed to my lack of flossing everyday.

now, i find that flossing and brushing take up a lot of time, so i don't want to do it more than is required to be clean and healthy. i always feel like my dentist is making unreasonable demands on my time -- if there were no problems, then why are you continuing to pester me about my irregular flossing habits?

i should've had a heart-to-heart with my dentist. essentially i want a dental sin chart: if i visit you every 6 months, then what can i get away with? can i eat more candy and floss less? what are the 6 month impacts of decreased vs increased flossing? what if i visit you every year? every four months? of course, all the possibilities are best guesses, since my mouth is a complex system.

this would have to be tailored to my teeth, as i know that some people are just more susceptible to problems, whereas others never, ever get cavities or gum problems.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

My Stuff and BillMonk

i found billmonk today and i'm loving it. it seems to be mostly advertised as a way to share bills, but in fact you can upload info about your collection of stuff, and make it accessible publicly or to your friends.

anyway, i just entered in a bunch of ISBNs, UPCs and titles, and now i have a portion of my library listed online. you'll see an image of some of my stuff on the right. personally, i love been able to track my stuff, and show what i have to my friends. now my books aren't just collecting dust on the shelf (well, that is, they have *potential*).

for those of you in the bay area, if you see something you want to borrow, let me know and the next time i see you i'll hand it over. :)

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Wolf Parade I'll Believe in Anything

another wolf parade song that i like. and in the video, i love the wigs!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Wolf Parade: Shine a Light

i've been listening to wolf parade (wikipedia)lately and they've got some fantastic stuff. i keep playing shine a light over and over. as usual with my blog, i can't post the song, but here's the video from youtube. actually, the video is so bad it's funny. floating heads, no matter what you're trying to say, is a bad call... and they start to glow! anyway just watch, but more important, listen ;)

the first link above has more videos (it's their myspace page).

The New Yorker Festival

i'm going to be in nyc from october 6-8 at the new yorker festival. it'll be a lot of fun and it's a good excuse to go to nyc and see family and friends. here's a blurb from the website:
The seventh annual New Yorker Festival, a weekend celebration of arts and ideas, runs from October 6th through October 8th this year, bringing together some of the most gifted artists and original minds of the day—a chess grandmaster who has launched a political movement; a physicist who envisions mining platinum from asteroids; a classical-music composer who moonlights as a d.j.; explorers who have gone to the ends of the earth, from the deep sea to the highest peaks.
i bought tickets for the following shows. if you're in town, you'll notice i have two tickets for some of the things, so if you're interested let me know. you can also see if tickets are still available by going to ticketmaster.


2 tickets
Yiyun Li and Edwige Danticat
Friday 7pm 308 Bowery

1 ticket
Roz Chast and Steve Martin
10am Supper Club, 240 West 47th st

1 ticket
Tom Stoppard W/John Lahr In Conversation
1pm Directors Guild of America

2 tickets (conflicts with tom stoppard)
Garry Kasparov interviewed by David Remnick
1 p.m. 37 Arts

2 tickets
The New Pornographers talk with James Surowiecki:
A Conversation with Music
10 P.M. Newspace, 530 West 21st Street


2 tickets
Malcolm Gladwell:
The Case Against Secrets
1 P.M. 37 Arts

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Thursday, August 31, 2006

no i don't smoke

healthy omar drinks icelandic oj

recently i've gotten quite a few requests for cigarettes, even when there are many other people to ask around me. in addition, when at the doctor a few months back the nurse said to me "you smoke don't you?"

no i don't smoke, and i don't carry cigarettes.

there are three good explanations for these queries. one, suggested to me, is that it's my glasses. my red and black glasses supposedly give me a european look, and the impression is that europeans smoke a lot, so ask the guy with the weird glasses.

the second explanation is that i look sickly and thin, a look some people associate with smokers. now this disturbs me. i have been prodded from time to time to improve on my thin look and somewhat unhealthy eating habits (i suspect many people reading this are said prodders). maybe i am a bit sickly. anyway i'm trying to look healthier.. one step at a time... and the steps are small and slow, remember i'm sickly.

finally, the the third explanation is that it's random and i shouldn't think so much about it. i like that one.

who is more likely to smoke in this picture?

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performance and goffman

i'm taking a class on computer mediated communication, and our first reading is by erving goffman, titled The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (see wikipedia article on goffman and book).

the theme of the article is performance (ie how we are all performing) and how these performances function or fail to function. in some ways i didn't like the article because it was too qualitative for my liking: one-off observations merged together for some grand theory. on the flip side, quantitative observation has problems too. the ethnographer in the class pointed out that all these theory-generating mechanisms have flaws, though typically in the research community nowadays they list their methodology and assumptions, as well as address criticisms, things that this author didn't do.

anyway, i'm going to put some quotes here. note that the text is from the 1959 and so the language is a bit odd for us.

the first quote is from sartre, and i find that i sometimes do exactly this:
The attentive pupil who wishes to be attentive, his eyes riveted on the teacher, his ears open wide, so exhausts himself in playing the attentive role that he ends up by no longer hearing anything
these next two quotes suggest the unseemly side of performance in the professional space:
if attendants in a mental ward are to maintain order and at the same time not hit patients, and if this combination of standards is difficult to maintain, then the unruly patients may be "necked" with a wet towel and chocked into submission in a way that leaves no visible evidence of mistreatment. Absense of mistreatment can be faked, not order.


Thus, one student suggests about pharmacists that they feel that the four-year university course required for license is "good for the profession" but that some admit that a few months training is all that is really needed. It may be added that the American Army during World War II innocently treated trades such as pharmacy and watch-repairing in a purely instrumental way and trained efficient practitioners in five or six weeks to the horror of established members of these callings.

goffman emphasizes here that what's important for him is not so much what is real, but how the performance might be disrupted:
While we could retain the common-sense notion that fostered appearances can be discredited by a discrepant reality, there is often no reason for claiming that the facts discrepant with the fostered impression are any more the real reality than is the fostered reality they embarrass.... We will want to ask, "What are the ways in which a given impression can be discredited?" and this is not quite the same as asking, "What are the ways in which the given impression is false?"
the author ends with this quote from sartre:
There are indeed many precautions to imprison a man in what he is, as if we lived in perpetual fear that he might escape from it, that he might break away and suddenly elude his condition.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

my band: black granite

while cleaning my sister's new place, my cousins jazib and sahir and i came up with the name of our new band: black granite (inspired by my sister's countertops).

we're working on the music but i wanted to show all of you our next album cover, courtesy of jazib:
some possible lyrics (sung in a death metal sorta way):

black granite
tenth planet
we're the reason that pluto has vanished

we're working on it ;)


at my cousin's wedding i heard, for the first time, nelly furtado's promiscuous (yes i'm behind the times :) ). the song features timbaland, and i liked the sound so much that i looked him up on wikipedia. timbaland didn't actually produce this song, but i went on allofmp3.com and listened to a bunch of previews of his stuff, which is fantastic. i think i'm a timbaland fan.

anyway, in an odd twist, while i can't of course link to the song, the video, with the song, does appear to be on youtube (for how long who knows...). so if you look at this post soon, and want to hear this great great sound (the song is sort of dumb, with a reference to steve nash, come on...) take a peek.

here's a link to the video.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Times article on Academic use of AOL Data

the times has a good story on academic use of the AOL data, and how many academics are turning their back on the data. my prediction is that someone out there will really take the time to do a good job of anonymizing this data, and more academics may start to use that better scrubbed dataset.

what really got my goat was a quote from the article about Dr. Chowdhury, the AOL researcher who released the data (he was fired by AOL). the man is certainly very stupid if this is true:
Professor Etzioni said Dr. Chowdhury was horrified by what had happened. “He didn’t anticipate that this kind of data could be used to track down individuals.” Dr. Chowdhury declined to comment, at the advice of his lawyer.
idiot. sure, i wouldn't expect the average person to understand how easy it is to use this data to track down individuals, but an AOL researcher working with query data -- come on. i imagine that google didn't recently invest heavily in AOL for its technical people.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

New Yorker Shouts and Murmurs: Mel Gibson

a few weeks ago mel gibson, in a drunken state, was stopped in his car with an open bottle of tequila. he yelled all kinds of anti-jewish slurs at the police who pulled him over. i hope mel gets his just dessert.

anyway, the august 21, 2006 issue of the new yorker has a fabulous shouts and murmurs concerning the mel gibson anti-jew fiasco. you can find the whole thing here, but i've quoted two of the stations below. NOTE: the first one is especially funny if you know that mel's father is against everything jewish and says the holocaust was exaggerated.

Mel Meets His Mother. His mother sayeth, “What hast thou done, that thy father is proud of thee? He yelpeth for joy.” Mel sayeth, “The Jews have started this war, as they have all the wars.” Mel’s mother sayeth, “Verily, thou hast started this war, thou idiot.” Mel sayeth, “Bring ice for my head, for it throbbeth.”


Mel Falls the Second Time. Whilst being interviewed by the Jew Larry King, Mel’s breath reeketh of alcohol. He sayeth on live television that he doth not like Jews, even those who maketh him rich unto the seventy-seventh generation. Larry breaketh to a commercial, during which Mel’s handlers sayeth unto him, “Art thou trying to give us ulcers?” They calleth for duct tape to be applied to Mel’s mouth.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Edible Woman

i'm reading margaret atwood's the edible woman, and it is amusing and enlightening. the book was published in 1969 so it is dated, but atwood does seem quite timeless. i don't think any description does it justice (the description on the back of this paperback is awful) so instead i will quote from a paragraph i like, where marian (the main character) describes the women's christmas party at her office. she works at a surveying company.

[Marian] looked around the room at all the women there, at the mouths opening and shutting, to talk or to eat. Here, sitting like any other group of women at an afternoon feast, they no longer had the varnish of officialdom that separated them, during regular office hours, from the vast anonymous ocean of housewives whose minds they were emplyed to explore. They could have been wearing housecoats and curlers. As it was, they all wore dresses for the mature figure. They were ripe, some rapidly becoming overripe, some already beginning to shrivel; she thought of them as attached by stems at the tops of their heads to an invisible vine, hanging there in various stages of growth and decay ... in that case, thin elegant Lucy, sitting beside her, was merley at an earlier stage, a springtime green bump or nodule forming beneath the careful golden calyx of her hair ...

if there's anything you're reading now that you really love, please let me know. i'm on a bit of a reading tear.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

the AOL debacle and the user search records

recently AOL majorly goofed and released poorly anonymized search records of hundreds of thousands of their users. the records contain over 30 million queries. you can see some news about it from google news at this link.

just to help people understand this: imagine if all your google queries for the past year were made publicly available. ie, for user bob, i would assign a number, say 42, and for each of his queries i publicly release that user 42 queried for such and such. so if you did 10000 queries over the past year, i know those 10000 queries (though i don't know that your name is bob, unless you queried for your name, or unless i do some digging). NOTE: it's actually more than just that.. there are click records as well.

i posted a comment about my problems with how individuals are treating this data over at a friend's blog, and i'm just so riled about all this that i'm going to post most of my comment here.

here's one problem: if it's clear that someone was doing some serious personal abortion research in these queries, i wouldn't say to my friends "look look, look at what this person is doing..." especially when the data is poorly anonymized (ie people can figure out where this person roughly lives, and they can use all their other queries to improve understanding of the user's context).

here's my thing.. i don't think people think of these records as they perhaps should think of them: they are like medical records. extremely personal! if suddenly a bunch of medical records were released on the internet, would you go scouring through them and post that a person in minnesota has a rare defect which causes him to fart whenever the word "gas" is said? it's funny, sure, but it's very personal.

here's a quote from the Technology Review blog which, if true, i find really irresponsible:
At the same time, though, other people -- Internet researchers, statisticians, sociologists, and political scientists -- silently cheered.
scientists, especially social scientists, work so hard in their studies to get consent and gather data ethically. now this gift is dropped on them: they can use it, but they should really think about how they can use it responsibly. for instance, there's a site which now lets you search over the AOL logs, and they will remove data if someone determines that the data is personally identifiable. but i really think that's the wrong way around: when such sensitive data is going to be made public, unless the anonymization is fantastic (which might not even be possible!) you get consent before revealing any of it, not the other way around. and poor anonymization, and no consent, are what we have with this data.


on the wall street journal web site, there's an interesting online discussion going on that was prompted by a posting of a discussion between a lobbyist for internet firms, and a lawyer with the electronic frontier foundation (eff). in a response to the lobbyist, the eff lawyer writes:

Mr. Bankston responds: Markham, you wrote that "companies, with feedback from their users, are in the best position to determine how long such data should be kept." I'd like to think that the market could take care of this problem, and that companies insensitive to privacy concerns would be punished by the market. But the only way that'll work is if consumers actually have enough information about companies' practices to make rational choices about which search engines to use, and enough information about how the law protects their online privacy. On both scores, however, the consumer is completely lacking in information.

i completely agree with this and hope internet firms become more transparent.

Monday, August 14, 2006

tapas at commerc 24, barcelona

we went to commerc 24, a tapas restaurant in barcelona started by Carles Abellan, an apprentice of el bulli mastermind Ferran Adria. el bulli is considered possibly the best restaurant in the world, adria is a genius, and getting reservations takes at least 6 months to a year. so we couldn't do that, but commerc 24 has great reviews as well, so we made reservations and headed there.

anyway, in this blog post i'm going to focus on wheatgrass. if you've ever had wheatgrass, you'll know it's intensely grassy, and even maybe a bit pungent. a couple of years ago back at google i'd have a wheatgrass shot almost every day, because the pain of drinking one was satisfying, not to mention the fact that wheatgrass might be good for you.

anyway, one of the dishes was a tomato, wheatgrass, prawn soup. a cold soup. oh my god it was fantastic! the wheatgrass gave just the right kick to make the dish exciting.
typically i find wheatgrass overpowering, but with this dish i just wanted more and more (and they actually brought more, but then we told them that we'd already had it and they took it away... damn, shouldn't have told them!)

there was also a fantastic egg concoction, which i won't describe but instead will let the independent food critic work his magic:
Next comes Abellan's signature "Kinder egg", an immaculately trimmed egg shell served in a ceramic egg carton, filled with layers of soft egg, truffle and potato foam that is rich and mouth-filling, yet light and uplifting. (from here)

it was a fantastic experience. i'm so happy we took one night to experience the food genius of spain at commerc 24.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

and what will you be?

at the Fundacio Antoni Tapies i learned that the artist antoni tapies determined he would be an artist while bedridden for months with TB. tapies is a genius of contemporary art, creating pieces like that above that fuse media and texture to evoke the subconscious and feelings that cannot be expressed concretely with language (or at least that's the gist i got from a video). he also does many other types of art.

what struck me was his statement that he figured out his life career-path while reflecting and lying bedridden for months. personally, i discarded the notion that long, deep reflection could lead you to the right career-path. first, life throws way too many curveballs that are just too pertinent and can't be easily factored into long deep reflection. second, "right" doesn't seem like a label you can apply to the path you choose for your life. there are probably many "right" paths.

in high school, my sister took a test designed to determine her ideal career path. i remember her telling me that the test told her to become a stevedore, a person who loads cargo on ships. how did it conclude this? had they analyzed the preferences and lives of thousands of stevedores, along with other professions, and determined that in some high-dimensional space my sister most aligned with the stevedore profession? i've read that if you take such a test a few weeks later, chances are your job recommendation will switch dramatically. this last point seems most pertinent...

a stevedore on the job

in an old star trek: the next generation episode (yes, geek alert) some children were stolen from the enterprise by an advanced society that could not procreate (how advanced are they if they can't do that...). a computer analyzed these children and determined their ideal professions. one was told to be a musician, another a woodcutter. they were given tools that would help develop these talents. talk about a form of hard paternalism!

van gogh worked in the art business for a number of years before becoming a painter, at the encouragement of his brother theo. would he have done better been told what to do initiallyly, hence avoiding his stumbling around? on the other hand, such advice might help a lot of people who have trouble directing their energy.

but for me, i'll continue stumbling, and avoid long bouts of reflection. don't get me wrong, i think reflection is good. i certainly think i didn't do enough reflecting when i chose computer science. for instance, i forsook my writing. since university i haven't really written seriously, and i used to be a half-decent writer. maybe i'll stumble into that...

Saturday, August 05, 2006

gaudi's barcelona

heading into architectural genius antonio gaudi's casa mila (la pedrera)

onto the roof, where we encounter strange faces and undulating paths

the spanish weren't so tall when this was made..

scary, fascinating faces on the roof. note the curves. gaudi is so curvy, so organic. and he's fascinated with light. to badly butcher quotes of gaudi's i heard during the tour:
1. nature: light and organics are the key. and...
2. architecture is the process of structuring the placement of light.

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Friday, August 04, 2006

my amsterdam: an incomplete summary in a few photos

come with me to explore the streets and canals of amsterdam

i did the gassen diamond tour. in the end they tried to get me to buy a diamond but the bling bling just didn't look good against my skin

the rijksmuseum: majestic, and full of master art... but the line was too long!

on the other hand, the crazy heineken museum was a cinch to get into, probably because the art isn't up to rijksmuseum quality

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Sunday, July 30, 2006

iceland: the great outdoors

halldor took us on our long trip

we walked on precarious cliffs

and saw waterfalls

and drinking boxes

not to mention blue blue pools

and finally ended up on a glacier

you can see more here

Friday, July 28, 2006

on our way to iceland

at san francisco international we heard the loudspeaker blaring our names and so we rushed to the gate to make sure everything was ok. we were worried that the flight to iceland was overbooked. when we got to the front of the line the guy said he had only good news, took our tickets, ripped them up, and handed us new ones: saga class! (a la icelandic sagas... it's their first and business class, rolled into one). when i think of "saga," i often think of a grand quest, with people getting killed by fierce vikings. not sure it's the best name for first class, but of course we accepted the upgrade.

now i don't think i can ever fly economy class again on long flights. i managed to sleep peacefully in saga class, with my eye mask on and my chair fully reclined, legs up. i can never sleep on long flights. this was a miracle! my theory is that the airlines all band together and have a big database of people who have been bumped up before. they track the effect of bump ups on later ticket purchases. for long flights i might now be a saga class traveller... (though i haven't looked at the prices yet :) )

when we landed in iceland, we were picked up by halldor and we headed to the blue lagoon. halldor is pictured below.

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