Saturday, December 27, 2008

my nephew

i have a nephew! he was born about five weeks ago, and i am so excited, as you can see below.

for those of you who don't know, on the left is my sister seema, and in my hands is baby jasper.

today i've been reading thich nhat hanh (whose name i've butchered so many times.. thin naan han, tic tac toe, oy oy oy.. for those of you who know how bad i am with names, this will come as no surprise) and his sage words, when connected with the new baby in my life, have been quite inspiring.

he's got a good sequence of aphorisms in this book my sister gave me:

a child is always able to live in the present moment.

the child in us is always alive.

maybe we have not had enough time to take care of the child within us.

when we live in the present moment it is possible to live in true happiness. 

seeing jasper smiling and flailing about (i will post a good video when i have it) reminded me that i used to be there -- i used to be flailing and demanding milk and living from moment to moment. there is such simultaneous peace and intensity in his eyes. no wonder he sleeps "like a baby" -- he lives like a baby, which is all senses on the now.

ok, i'm still making sense of this, but i haven't felt like there's something quite important in this mindfulness stuff until i saw jasper and connected him with some of these ideas.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

passing of a friend

i learned yesterday that someone i really respected had passed away in fairly unusual circumstances. dan kliman, a doctor, activist, and energetic debater, was found dead in a san francisco elevator shaft this past weekend. the police are emphasizing that this was an accident, and what a tragic one.

i knew dan from sf debate at the commonwealth club. we had argued a number of points, and had always had vigorous conversations about a myriad of topics after the debates. i probably only met dan around 5 times. but in those 5 meetings i grew to greatly respect him and his good humor and willingness to listen and defend his points. and what a laugh -- such a boisterous guy, full of so much verve.

what struck me most about this unfortunate incident is that it hit me so hard. i was in utter shock and very sad. i had a headache almost immediately after i heard about dan's death, and then dreamt that i had gone back in time and had a chance to tell him what was going to happen.

as i told a friend last night, learning of the passing of such a passionate soul makes me want to redouble my efforts in this life and take advantage of every living moment.

thanks to everyone who i spoke to and chatted with -- your support has made this easier.

Friday, November 28, 2008

cajun spiced nuts

made a great spiced nuts recipe from my brother-in-law's family. jane lee gave me the recipe. fanstastic stuff. loved by all.

  • 2 TBSP unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup corn syrup (we did fake maple syrup, you can likely experiment)
  • 2 TBSP water
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 0.5 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp tobasco sauce
  • 3/4 tsp ground pepper
  • 1 pound almonds (or mix of other nuts)
(NOTE: double the spices if you want realllly spicy nuts. we did 1.5 times, and found it not spicy enough, but others loved it. gauge your audience)

  • preheat oven to 250
  • melt butter
  • mix all ingredients in butter pot, simmer and let boil for 1 to 2 minutes
  • stir in nuts, coating well
  • cover baking sheet with tin foil, line with slight amount of oil or pam or whatever non-stick you use
  • bake for 1 hour at 250, stirring nuts every 15 minutes to get them well coated
  • let cool and break nuts off sheet
The nuts keep for 6 weeks. Beyond that, you can freeze them to keep for a long time.


so, we actually doubled this recipe and made 1.5 pounds of almonds and about half a pound of pecans. realllly good!

inflating tires, inflating dreams

while jogging around in the cold of boston, i noticed a number of cars with visibly low tire pressure. i wanted to leave a note for these folks -- not only can you save on gas, but you can save yourself (neha once blew out a ridiculously low tire on the highway!). a lot of fun has been made of obama's call for people to inflate their tires. but it is something small that can make a difference. from a government efficiency site:
You can improve your gas mileage by around 3.3 percent by keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure. Under-inflated tires can lower gas mileage by 0.3 percent for every 1 psi drop in pressure of all four tires. Properly inflated tires are safer and last longer.
then i got thinking: what if joggers had a little note they carried around with them that they could drop on any windshield they saw. the green joggers! but that might be annoying for a jogger. then i thought of something better: what if parking enforcement officers had such a little note? they could drop it on the windshield of cars with visibly low tires. not only would they be helping the driver in more ways than one, they'd be helping their image -- no one likes these enforcers! sure, this might mildly slow the officers in doing their work, but i can imagine a city like san francisco thinking this was a good thing to do.

Monday, November 03, 2008

halloween critical mass

i participated in the halloween critical mass this past friday. what a thrill! i borrowed a friend's fancy bike, and zipped in and out amongst the thousand or more bikers, most of them in fantastic costume.

for those of you who don't know about critical mass, it's basically a large bunch of bikers that take over the streets of san francisco on the last friday of every month (they also do critical mass in other cities). the mass isn't coordinated beyond a fixed starting point and time (the ferry building at 630pm or so). when the mass gets going, it follows the leader, for the most part. this leads to some interesting stories:

jesus leads us astray

about 45 minutes into the mass, we were biking on the south side of union square on geary st and we came upon powell st. a man dressed as jesus sped to the front of the mass and asked his brothers to follow him left onto powell st, going towards market. some of us, a foolish few, decided this was a good idea. now, witness below the map:

that's right. we were biking on a trolley street towards a dead end. jesus fooled us. led us astray. i suspect that wasn't really jesus.

thrill of the leader

at one point i bolted to the front of the mass and decided to take the whole thing to the right. so i said "go right!" and people behind me shouted "going right!" and we all went right. what power! so thrilling. i was so giddy that i had moved the whole mass that i fell back and just tasted the victory.


of course, traffic was slowed as the mass went through the city, cars honked, pedestrians waved, joy and sadness. when i told some people i was going to bike in the mass, i got some derisive looks, comments along the lines of "how could you?" having done it, and having been blocked in traffic at other times while driving in critical mass, and having biked through the city now for over a year, i have decided that this monthly parade of joy by bikers is totally worthwhile. the small anxiety it briefly imposes on drivers is more than made up for by the joy and sense of camaraderie bikers feel.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

vote no on prop 8

tonight i decided to do a bit of a dive into the "yes" on proposition 8 campaign -- i'm trying to understand the fundamental arguments for this proposition. ok, some quick background. the proposition is quite clearly titled: "Eliminates the Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry." a similar proposition was passed by voters in 2000, but struck down by the california supreme court. this proposition would embed the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman into the california constitution, and could not be struck down by the state supreme court.

now, among other things, the "yes" campaign has put a lot of focus on the effects of this proposition on schools and churches. first, on schools, the "yes" campaign has this interesting video:

i think it's worth watching, for educational purposes. these are massachusetts residents who discuss their perceived effects of the MA law. anyway, some stirring quotes. if the bill is passed, there will be "homosexuality at every level" in our schools, and in every discipline: "math, reading, social studies, spelling." indeed, spelling. can you spell "fear-mongering" and "intolerance."

i love this desire the parents express concerning their children: that their children "not have them face adult issues when they're children." one of the parents expresses their revulsion at having their children exposed to these ideas prior to "their choosing." !

now, to the effects on religious institutions. i love how the "yes" campaign is letting others say things for them, rather than actually saying what is the truth. take this line, from the "yes" site. it appears in a letter to the editor of the orange county register:

Churches will be forced to perform same-sex marriages even if that is contrary to the church's position. Churches would not be able to use their doctrinal beliefs to defend their positions.

now, i don't know where this is coming from. the separation of church and state is guaranteed by the US constitution (the amendments, i think, to be exact). so the IRS, the law.. they are not going to be gunning for churches that resist marrying same-sex couples. this is A+ fear-mongering.

anyway, i can't see how if you're in a same-sex partnership, but it's not titled marriage, that somehow people are going to afford what you have the same dignity and respect as what married people have. "separate but equal" in this case seems to smack of discrimination based on sexual preference. if you feel your religion compels you to vote for this resolution, i don't expect to convince you otherwise. but i'd really like to know if there are more compelling arguments to support this resolution. 

finally, this proposition, despite amending the constitution, still needs only 50% + 1 of the vote, not a super-majority. and current polls indicate that the yes campaign is leading. so..

Sunday, October 19, 2008

this american life: going big

i recently listened to a "this american life" podcast titled "going big." there was the most hilarious section about a musician, david berkeley, who is hired by a desperate boyfriend to help him get his girl back. the story is fantastic and funny. the excerpt is below. it is worth 15 minutes of your time!

#364_ Going Big_musician.mp3 -

Saturday, September 27, 2008

prius goes mainstream?

in the past week i've seen a zipping-in-and-out-of-traffic prius driver, a reckless prius driver, and a smoking-while-driving prius driver.

none of these behaviors are things i associate with goody goody prius drivers :)

the prius is going mainstream, and that's a good thing. 

Monday, September 15, 2008

high school musical in my head again

i have been listening to the high school musical soundtrack, once again. the music is so standard, but so candy!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

i'll take your money

today i encountered a young women on a street corner asking for donations to a charity. the charity was an sf homeless charity that supports homeless people. here's the pitch:

charity girl: in sf, 5 homeless shelters were shut down or nearly shut down because of budget cuts...
omar: mmm yes yes
charity girl: [more details about the shutdown].. we are looking for donations.
omar: no doubt.
charity girl: $160 would support ...
omar: i'm not giving that much!
cg: you can give just $40 to support...
omar: nope.
cg: well, you could give even $5 and we'd mark your name here in this list with a $ sign, indicating that you gave.
omar: thanks, but no thanks.

that's where it ended. now, the reason i couldn't stand this is because she was implementing a standard method, used before the dawn of time but outlined nicely by the psychologist robert cialdini. she was making me somewhat sympathetic, throwing out a wildly ridiculouslous number that few people would support based on a 2 minute explanation, and then reducing that number to something that sounds reasonable ($40, $5..) when compared to the ridiculous number ($160). i was immune to this tactic because i have read about it, and frankly feel that i need way more information before i'm giving these people any money.

so, i started to tell this story to a friend. turns out, this friend gave the same girl $40! oy. total affirmation of the technique. my friend was trying to justify it ("even if it's a rip off, the girl could use the money.. if not, the charity gets useful money," etc..) but the fact of the matter is it's almost certainly the case that my friend got manipulated, and didn't even know it. this is a friend who i think of as highly analytical, which i think is yet more proof that such an action was prompted by behavioral responses that were manipulated.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

"just wake up!"

after my moving time in the session on gay marriage, i wandered into the debate i was supposed to moderate. there were a number of new faces, and i looked forward to hearing what people had to say about the conflict in south ossetia and georgia. i certainly didn't know very much!

almost immediately it became clear that we had a heckler, and the night was going to be a bit tense. to my right sat an old man, with wispy white hair, giant, thick glasses, and a penchant to refill his wine glass every 10 minutes, all the way to the brim. 

the drunk old man was clearly dissatisfied with pretty much everyone in the room. he would mutter, sometimes quite loudly, saying things like "oh god..." or "stupid stupid stupid." i tried to quiet him down a few times, but then realized that ignoring him was probably the best mode of attack.

at the end of the debate, we go around the room and see who supports, rejects or abstains on the resolution before the group. when we got to drunk old man, he said he had only one thing to say, something that was said to him by his mentor aldous huxley (he seemed to toss that one in there). he said "wake up!" and he kept saying it, quite loudly. "just wake up! everyone in this room." 

i reminded him that "wake up" was not one of the options we typically give at this point in the debate, but, when he said he had no other opinion to offer i reminded the house that we don't force a decision on anyone. so i gently put his shouts of "wake up!" to bed and finished the debate, withstanding a few more "oh gods.." from drunk oldy

at the end of the debate, our old, drunk friend had to be helped out.

wake up!

human effort, human dignity

yesterday i went to the commonwealth club to moderate a debate on the war between russia and georgia over south ossetia. i arrived a few minutes early and there were still people sitting in our room, so i wandered into a discussion on the latest proposition to ban gay marriage in california. i sat right next to the door, expecting to slip out when my room was free.

as i sat there an obviously very sick man, unclear if he was old or young, hobbled with his cane to the door. i opened the door for him and stood out of his way. he beckoned to me and i followed him outside. he then asked if i would write his question for the speakers (questions were only taken in written format for this event). i said yes, and he began to speak most eloquently, but stilted, with obvious physical exertion, on basic human rights, the decay of roman and greek societies correlating with increased sexual freedoms, human dignity ... he let it all loose. 

i couldn't keep up with him, and told him as much. we managed to piece together one question on human dignity that wasn't too long and really probed the psychology of a voter who would decide to vote for the proposition banning gay marriage. i told him that i had to run this up to the podium before they stopped taking questions. the unnamed man shuffled slowly back to his seat, and i submitted the question.

then, i waited. we waited. i wanted, i so badly wanted, our question to be read. the sick man had his head flopped over in his hands at his seat. he looked exhausted. he had put in a lot of energy coming to me and working out a question. the moderator continued lobbing questions at the panel. one, then another, then another. the moderator finally said that she only had time to read two more questions.

the first wasn't ours.

i so hoped that the second would be. i waited. i crossed my fingers.


it wasn't our question. i was late for my event and couldn't bear to see the sick man. i stood up and left.

Monday, September 01, 2008

i love my torn jeans

because i tore them. the damage is all me. frays. rips. fading.

it's a piece of clothing that captures a lot of history. i need to buy a new camera so i can show you!

i saw such a torn up pair of jeans on a friend recently and asked him if the tears were his. he replied 'no', they were designer.

i want to meet the designer who can personalize tears for me better than me. i'll salute that genius.

ok, now i have to fish my keys out of the inner tear in these jeans.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

take my books, please!

tonight, while reading, i caught a glimpse of my bookshelf. why, i wondered, do i have so many books i care nothing for? books i'm done with, or never intend to start?

well, i plan to give these books away. but first i want to offer them to my friends. so, feel free to follow this link and put your name in the "Receiver" column if you'd like any of the books . add some comments if you want. the books aren't sorted in any manner. i just dumped the info into this spreadsheet.

and by all means, feel free to list your own books you'd like to give away.

i will be sure to get you your book(s) in a timely fashion (but don't expect amazon prime speeds!)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

north by northwest

i love alfred hitchcock. vertigo is one of my favorite movies. so, recently, i saw north by northwest.

now, to be honest, it isn't as good as vertigo. however, it has some wonderful scenes. in the scene below, from right at the beginning of the movie, a case of mistaken identity turns into something far more sinister. i think this part is played to perfection, and martin landau, who you see on the right in the still below, is superb. i felt uncomfortable just thinking about the absurdity of it all..

Friday, August 08, 2008

let's puff

i was at the shanghai kaleidoscope exhibit at the royal ontario museum today. there were a number of neat exhibits, but i really enjoyed one in particular called "let's puff" from 2002 by yang zhenzhong.

when you enter the exhibit area, you first only see a girl blowing at you. exactly like the video below:

then, you turn around and see a second screen (shown in this next video, be patient):

can you guess what's going on? it's not easy from these videos.

anyway, the artist erected two screens, one with a woman blowing at the camera, and another, across from the woman's screen, depicting a street in shanghai. whenever the woman blows, the other screen speeds up. it's a wonderful visual and aural depiction of the rapid growth and change in shanghai that has swept up the city. now imagine walking in an art space and constantly hearing that blowing sound from the first video. a bit eerie!

you can learn more about the piece here.

friendship buckets

(i realize now that this post is on the order of a lara post.. something i try to avoid, noting that blog readers have no attention span these days [i certainly don't!] .. but i feel the temptation to leave it all in)

a friend recently used the phrase "friendship bucket" as a metaphor representing the state of a relationship. when i read this phrase i thought of leaky buckets, buckets with patches, refilling a bucket with water, or leaving a bucket out in the sun and seeing all the water dry up (the bucket above represents a really really old friendship!).

but then i got all geeky and started thinking about the effectiveness of such a metaphor (i think we can thank jono for that, who often pontificates on things like this over on his blog). for example, the state of a relationship is really an intersubjective thing -- so either friends share the same bucket and compromise on the representation ("i thought our bucket had two holes, a small patch and was 3/4 full -- how could you think it was only 1/2 full!") or, more reasonably, the friendship bucket is an individual's view on a particular relationship.

ok. but there still seems to be something missing. for instance, if i had a metaphor for the state of a relationship, i'd want it to either cleanly capture the current state, or the history. ideally, both. i don't think a bucket does either of these very well. for instance, if your bucket is meant to capture history, then how do you make sense of the current "fullness"? obviously there was some reason we'd say the bucket is 3/4 full (it got there somehow?) -- but what was the pour history? if that seems a bit ridiculous, and your bucket is really just a reflection of now, then you also run into problems because the way we (or at least i) think about relationships is hardly ahistoric -- the history is there and immediately foregrounds when i bring a friend to mind. and a bucket is an object i think of as having history -- indeed, a patch on a bucket was placed at a particular time, and in this metaphor might represent some form of friendship repair that may not be immediate but is nonetheless important.

so friendship bucket isn't resonating with me. and you probably think this is quite ridiculous -- who meditates on the effectiveness of such a metaphor? well, i do! :)

i think a few elements are missing in this metaphor. here they are:
- a clear distinction between what i think of the relationship, what i think the other person might think, and maybe some objective measures (when we last met up?)
- a way of tracking the movement of the relationship
- a method for thinking about this relationship in comparison to other similar relationships in your life

this actually leads me to discuss a fantastic work by intel seattle. in elder care homes, a major problem is social isolation amongst the elders. having had a grandmother who was in a nursing home, i intimately understand the problem. workers at homes really try to keep the elders engaged with various others (family, friends, people at the home).

so what intel did was create a very simple display. it shows a solar system, with the central object, the sun, representing the elder. the orbiting "planets" are people in the elder's social network. the distance between a planet and the sun is a reflection of the social closeness of the elder and the person, at that time. in this case, the proximity was based on interactions (phone calls, visits, length of these interactions). the display showed preliminary success when compared to a control case. indeed, elders who used the display would try to bring in outer planets by getting in touch with the represented people.

so, now the question -- why is this just for elders? it likely seems strange to think of having such a detailed reflection on your relationships. we keep this stuff in our head. but as a mechanism for self-reflection, and potentially as a mechanism for mak

i'd want to incorporate a few things into this display:
- reflection of my impression of the relationship. maybe just an emoticon on the planet?
- a method for seeing the movement of the planets over time, so you can see how different relationships have evolved. the faded trajectory above tries to do that

anyway i think i'll end here and continue these thoughts in the future.

Monday, July 21, 2008

obama in the new yorker

the recent cover-controversy issue of the new yorker has a great article about obama's political days in chicago. to all the obama people who are disappointed with his recent big flops (public financing of presidential campaigns, fisa), get real. he's a politician. running for president. as the new yorker writer puts it:
Perhaps the greatest misconception about Barack Obama is that he is some sort of anti-establishment revolutionary. Rather, every stage of his political career has been marked by an eagerness to accommodate himself to existing institutions rather than tear them down or replace them. When he was a community organizer, he channelled his work through Chicago’s churches, because they were the main bases of power on the South Side. He was an agnostic when he started, and the work led him to become a practicing Christian. At Harvard, he won the presidency of the Law Review by appealing to the conservatives on the selection panel. In Springfield, rather than challenge the Old Guard Democratic leaders, Obama built a mutually beneficial relationship with them. “You have the power to make a United States senator,” he told Emil Jones in 2003. In his downtime, he played poker with lobbyists and Republican lawmakers. In Washington, he has been a cautious senator and, when he arrived, made a point of not defining himself as an opponent of the Iraq war.
on the cover: i think hertzberg's analysis is on point. not the best cartoon, but people are way too sensitive. i think it's quite amusing, but no where near as funny as the recent ahminijad cover:

recall that around this time ahmadinejad claimed there were no homosexuals in iran, and senator larry craig had his unfortunate footsie incident in a public bathroom.

human research: how to

i'm taking an online course about research on human subjects. after each module they administer a quiz. after the 'international research' section they were really grasping at straws.. here's one of the questions.

Question 4 Multiple Choice/Single Answer - select only one answer (1 point)

Which of the following is the LEAST important activity when protecting human subjects in international research?

(a) Assessing local transportation conditions
(b) Considering local customs, norms, and laws.
(c) Consulting with members of the community from which subjects will be recruited.
(d) Determining if the research might present unique risks to subjects given local socio-economic conditions.


Sunday, July 06, 2008

basia bulat

my roommate introduced me to basia bulat, a musician with an amazing voice, supposedly from my high school.

anyway, yesterday i sat down at home, turned on the cd player, and hit play, not knowing what might come forth. it was this song, and i love it. give a listen:

Before I knew - Basia Bulat

Saturday, July 05, 2008

on creativity

i watched a fascinating video from TED that discusses creativity in children, and how schools kill creativity. in a class i took this past semester, we spoke on exactly this problem -- that schools, by foregrounding scores and academic performance, and consistently backgrounding creativity and subjects where creativity is crucial, were destroying the creative spark that exists in all children.

of course, the immediate retort, especially if you're talking about educating children from populations that typically don't have good access to educational resources, is that there is a particular system we live in, and if you want kids to be successful, then they need to play the game. if they don't play the game, you risk putting them in a situation later in life where they can't succeed because they haven't developed the skills that the system expects of them. in the TED talk, which i've pasted below, the speaker, ken robinson, a longtime educator, states that he believes creativity is the skill that's worth something in these times.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

party in the castro

i don't have good memories of events in the castro -- hallowe'en two years in a row was a disaster. the first year, i was bombarded by the fumes of burning white sage, which drives my head bonkers and makes me want to vomit. the following year crowding and gunshots made the night a scary time, and not in a "boo!" way.

so, i was a bit skeptical about the pride party in castro on saturday. but i biked over to see what was going on and meet up with people. it was worth it.

first, it wasn't ridiculously crowded. second, the live and canned music was simply fantastic. the freedom band played with gusto and their dancing baton throwers were marvelous. but i want to focus on two stories of sweet obsessiveness. my role as the observer really reminded me of poe's purloined letter, but more on that another time.

the river dance kids

when i first got to the event i saw these two young adults (maybe university students) intently staring at each other as they coordinated a paired river dance, kicking and bobbing their bodies in sync while staring deep into each other's eyes. it was highly coordinated, and very amusing.

what was odd was that two hours later i came by the same spot and they were still doing it! the girl took a big swig of water this time, and after i told neha that i had seen them doing the exact same thing two hours ago, she thought they were definitely on something more than a dance kick.

perhaps. new people were around them, taking in their hypnotic version of the river dance. i couldn't help thinking that regardless of the condition of their heads today, their legs are going to be in a lot pain.

the tender gay couple

staying power was certainly one of the themes of the night. for instance, between 18th and market on castro a number of people had opened up the windows of their houses and proceeded to put on quite a show. asses shook. bodies flailed. howling was de rigeur.

this one bare chested man, high above the fray, had the most beautiful smile, and forced his chest out the window and implored the crowd, in a boisterous but kingly way, to be happy and enjoy. we were trying, and doing quite well, i think. then i spied the tender gay couple.

two men, late forties or early fifties. they held each other fairly close, and were looking, with sweet, kind eyes, at the bare chested smiley man hanging out the window, high above the throng.

at first i thought: "isn't that cute!" the couple had a shared slight smile, and they looked at peace and quite content. bare chested smiley man and tender couple really made my night.

then, an hour later, i ran into the tender couple. can you guess where they were looking? they had not moved! their legs were like cement and i tell you they were oblivious to me stumbling into them. their eyes were laser-like, focused on bare chested smiley man, who continued to survey his kingdom.

the castro. it felt like a wonderfully fun community. even the obsessive behavior was pleasant. i think i'll make this the yearly event and skip hallowe'en.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

omar khan is a common name

at least five people have sent me this story (and here, and here).

it is amusing, no doubt!

but then i remembered how damn common my name is. so, to give you a sense of this, i did a google search for omar-khan (the hyphen forces the words to appear together, kind of like quotes). anyway, i get 93,000 results as of 6/21/2008. i then googled the names of everyone who told me about this story. no one comes close. go ahead, google your name, see how it goes.

my name is pretty damn common. it's not john smith levels, but now you perhaps know why my name was on a list of suspected terrorists.. ie, it wasn't me, just someone making my life miserable :(

correcting my vision

in new zealand, i went bungee jumping. what a thrill! but the unfortunate part was that i couldn't wear my glasses, and so couldn't clearly see the rock face below getting precariously closer with each passing millisecond. tragic! more generally, there are moments i just wish i didn't have to deal with my cumbersome glasses.

and i hate contact lenses. i hate putting them in. they feel sort of funny in my eyes, and while i'm sure i can get over that, i just don't like the idea of constantly putting my finger in my eye.

so i went and did a lasik consultation at a place my eye doctor considers "ethical," in her own words. and it really did seem nice. but now i need to decide if i will take the plunge...

anyone have thoughts?

Saturday, June 14, 2008


my friend chris recommended the band elbow to me, and i've been eating up their stuff. this tune, "grounds for divorce," has a slow brewing tension and an easy rock feel. at the same time, it's quite repetitive, and the video emphasizes that fact. i think that repeition is a nice piece of the meditation on a particular time in life.

plus i just like the lead singer's voice.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

hillary clinton and stupid blog comments

i am sad that it's almost surely over for hillary's presidential run.. i really think she would've been the better candidate. so i was reading news stories and blogs and calming myself and i just had to write this:

i, like many people, enjoy reading the comments that appear after news articles, blog entries, etc.. but when you go to a highly trafficed blog or news story that accepts comments, you often have to filter through just pure trash, like the first comment on an LA times article concerning hillary clinton's likely concession event this saturday:

Those who would seriously think of not supporting Obama because he beat Hillary are being emotional and not very analytical. ........women!
Submitted by: David
6:22 PM PDT, Jun 4, 2008

i want something that can just filter this and other insulting, stupid comments. now, don't misread me: i am perfectly happy to read comments that go against my opinion, that are by respectable commenters.. but as for the stupid comments, i wish they could be compressed into one bullet that says "500 stupid comments" and i could read them if i wanted to revel in the stupidity of those around us.


the san francisco budget

sf requires the mayor to issue a balanced budget, and that budget came out today, and it makes some tough decisions, cutting 150 city jobs and reducing certain services (also increasing spending for things like cops, the roads, etc..). anyway, i won't go into the details here, you can read more at the chronicle site.

what galls me is all the reader reactions i'm seeing. newsom either cut too much or not enough. or not the right thing. or spent too much on X. what i find so startling is that i have yet to find one response which says something to the effect of: "man, maybe the voters passing a ballot measure which guarantees money to X (say, the library system), handties our politicians needlessly." no one seems to trust the politicians very much here, and they'd rather put the budgeting decisions in voter hands. well, if you do that, you have to realize the consequences, because voters aren't going to produce an entire budget. they just impose constraints.

here's a bewildering reader comment that the chronicle actually printed, for some bizarre reason:

There are so many ways to cut costs. One would be having a database of interpreters who are paid only when they are called out. Or a database of people who will volunteer their time. Then again, everyone that is from another country who chooses to live here should only be allowed to do so if they can read, write and converse in English.

- Mary French, 52, Lower Nob Hill, San Francisco (see here)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

new zealand sheep shearing

you can't help but wonder about the lives of sheep when you visit new zealand. i must have already seen tens of thousands of them. there are roughly 40 million sheep, and only about 4 million people on this island!

now, every year lambs are born, and we can all guess their fate. but what about those tens of thousands of sheep i've seen roaming the countryside? why, they are used for wool, of course! we wanted to see how they shear sheep, and boy did we... check out the two videos below.

sheepy doesn't look too happy, but she was bouncing about afterwards. getting all that extra hair off might be nice.

Monday, May 26, 2008

fine fine dining in beautiful sydney

hi all. i know i haven't posted in a long while. i was finishing up the semester at berkeley, and then immediately off to sydney and new zealand. i've only now got a bit of time to finally post something. so here it is:

daniela, lori and i had a wonderful food overload at tetsuya’s, a french-japanese restaurant in sydney. i have seen tetsuya’s near the top of some “best restaurant in world” lists, and some people had mentioned it to me, so it seemed only natural that if i could get a reservation, i should go. here we are:

tetsuya’s serves an n-course meal (n > 10) that is, quite simply, superb. the signature dish, Confit of Petuna Tasmanian Ocean Trout with Konbu, Daikon & Fennel, is to die for. just the right amount of fishiness, a nice spiciness on top, wow. the other dish I strongly remember is a palate cleanser apple sorbet with apply jelly that lead into dessert. it tasted like granny smith apples, transported me back to apple picking in ontario in the fall, and put a big smile on my face. here are pictures:

of course, there were other good courses, but these two resonate.

in addition to the meal, we matched it with the “you will drink about a bottle of alcohol” wine pairing. of course, that wasn’t the name, but that’s how the server described it. well, pairings are good, and though i can’t remember anything too fantastic about the wine, other than a cab and dessert wine that I thought were excellent, the wine certainly put lori a bit over the top, and we had some interesting arguments/conversations.

here are two discussions that i think you, dear reader, will appreciate.

the first involved a painting in the women’s bathroom. we disagreed on what it depicted, with omar and daniela in one corner, lori in the other. i actually saw this painting by briefly going into the women’s bathroom, because i had to understand the controversy. daniela was kind enough to capture it with the camera, and so you too can join in the discussion. what does this painting depict?

the second controversy erupted over this dish, comte with lentils:

now, in my mind, food can make a statement about food. this dish was perhaps trying to make a statement about what dessert is, and how flavors can be paired (the red beans, traditonally sweet, were not so sweet and the cheese was a different touch). but just like art can make a statement about other art, the form of that statement, and how it appeals to the visual sense is of the utmost importance for the statement to be very successful. so, in my mind, i thought this food statement fell on its face because it just didn’t work at all in my mouth.

this is not to say that i wouldn’t appreciate a food that doesn’t taste good. i would, if it really did something else that was quite profound. same with art.. i’ve seen some pretty “bad” art that i nevertheless liked because of the connection i thought it made. but i guess i have a really high bar when it comes to food that tries to make that movement. i can’t even remember what lori was arguing but notice a picture of her below… clearly she’s having a good time :)

finally here's a fun video of a required dunking we had to do to make the taste just right:

Friday, May 09, 2008

paper or plastic? how about both

while shopping today i observed the most annoying and interesting thing in the checkout line. the cashier asked the patron "paper or plastic?" she thought for a moment, and then said "both." both! the cashier looked at her funny and then she said "you know, paper inside the plastic." -- ah it's for ease of carrying, very nice.


waste -- we don't even think about how much we waste. today while shopping i thought "huh, it's sort of dumb to use these new plastic bags for my vegetables when i have the same ones just sitting at home." well, at least i took a canvas bag to the shop -- ease my conscience a tad.


on my birthday my net stuff accumulation was +12 toy horses - 10 marbles.. give or take. oh, and of course gifts of wine. and a poster.


looking around my room now, i realize i have so much junk, and i wonder if anyone would find much of it useful. like, what the hell is that easter egg basket with the frizzy pieces of string going to do to improve anyone's life? waste. though, maybe i can get raja to ride in it.

hmm... maybe it is better that it just inhabits a spot in my room -- who knows, it may end up in the landfill otherwise.


Thursday, May 08, 2008

on a sustainability campaign in my building

"they" are running a sustainability campaign in my building. it's an interesting idea, but the execution could use some work. anyway, "they" posted all these papers around the building giving information to inquisitive people. in the elevator, you can see that the info sheet was defaced:

in fact, on the left hand side "they" write that consuming less (just not buying) would be best if it were possible. someone scrawls "recession" around that point. another person hits them for a grammar mistake. lots of "wasting paper" comments. this is tough work!

in the bathrooms, "they" put stickers near the lights which attempt to encourage you to turn off the light if you're the last one inside. our lab discussed these stickers briefly, and i've been watching this one. i wander into the bathroom at various times of day just to see if the switch is off when i go in. it hasn't been off for the past few days. this campaign has been ignored.

what would i have changed in their campaign? first, i think they've have a great start. they've got the building manager behind them, which is fantastically important. next they need more people from the lab spaces in the building to come on board. they need to consider whether the messaging is appropriate for the audience -- are those blank white sheets with tear-offs in the elevator actually appropriate? why not make the whole thing a bit more fun and irreverent? undergrads and grads love that.

well, i'm just happy they are trying. as they say in industry: "ready, fire, aim"
finally, i love the "they" construct

Saturday, May 03, 2008

baby mama, videoblogging and chompin the bit

tonight i saw baby mama with some friends. all the friends were women. i went to a chick flick with a bunch of women. warning bells? meanwhile, men all around me were cozying up to iron man, which looked far more appropriate for me.

but i baby mama'd anyway. and instead of typing up my thoughts, here's me, video blogging! what? yeah!

i have to work on my delivery. could use some plants behind my head. i'll work on presentation and the set, i promise, if you think this is worth doing.

finally, i chose a wolf parade song that i thought was an appropriate contrast to this one-shot, easy-does-it-margaret culture.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

earth week and me

it was a busy but productive earth week for me. lots of things happened at berkeley. last semester i worked with a group of students to help identify areas where the campus could improve energy efficiency and lower its greenhouse gas emissions (see our report here). last monday, i presented those results at the chancellor's sustainability summit. you can read about the summit here, but let me tell you one story that really resonates with me.

the doe library reading room is a beautiful place to study on campus. here's a picture:

notice the skylight at the top of the picture, it's a bit hard to see. what's harder to see is that there are actually lights all around the skylight. and those lights, until very recently, were on, 24 hours a day. why? well, the switch for those lights was up a ladder, through a room, and behind a locked cabinet. would you want to be the one to turn them on and off?

that just shows you how different a time it was, even only a few years ago. the completely needless waste of energy just wasn't important. but that has changed. a campus group fixed the library lights by installing wireless controls that made it very easy to turn the skylight lights on and off. similar measures are popping up all over campus, not just for lights but for all kinds of energy inefficiencies.

TGIF Grant

in other news, me and my friend sam borgeson won the flagship grant from the green initiative fund at berkeley for our project titled UC Berkeley Campus Dashboard. we're going to make a centralized store for consumption data, broadly construed, for all the berkeley campus. electricy, water, steam, waste, etc.. all in one place! don't you want to get your hands on this data? then we will create some compelling person-facing applications that use the data. we're very excited!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

finally updated my academic page

i've had a filler page in place for my academic page for quite a while. i finally threw something together on the plane back from boston. see here. let me know if there are little things you'd do that would drastically improve it. NOTE: little things! i know lots of big things could be done :)

Saturday, April 12, 2008

undulating hand skin

last night in boston i encountered the most power hand drier i have ever used. the way it man-handled my skin made me want to film it. and i did! WARNING: the video is a bit disturbing.

after making this video i realize i need more powerful video editing software. there were things i wanted to do that just aren't easy or possible in windows movie maker. i'm learnin..

the paradox of choice

the trader joe's in back bay is ridiculously tiny. it has 2 full aisles and then two sort of half aisles. but i would choose to go to that trader joe's almost always over any other one, or any other grocery store. why? because it has mostly what i need, and because of the paradox of choice. before getting into this, let me tell you what inspired me to write this post. neha and i were walking back from the trader joe's and she told me that she had tried the shaws grocery store, which was also nearby. she said it was huge and had everything but it took her over an hour to navigate all the aisles and she just became so miserable with all the choices. she said she thought that was strange, but in fact it's not strange at all, and it's well-known in psychology that if you give people "too many" choices they can become overwhelmed and paralyzed, and may not make the best decision or any decision at all.

this leads to barry schwartz, the author of the book "the paradox of choice," a layman's guide to the problem described above. here's a short blurb from the intro to his ted talk:
In Schwartz's estimation, all that choice is making us miserable. We set unreasonably high expectations, question our choices before we even make them, and blame our failures entirely on ourselves. His relatable examples, from consumer products (jeans, TVs, salad dressings) to lifestyle choices (where to live, what job to take, whom and when to marry), underscore this central point: Too many choices undermine happiness.
if you find this topic interesting, i highly recommend that you watch either the ted talk (which is short) or the google tech talk given by barry, which is much longer and embedded below:

i also recommend an nytimes article describing some of the basic research in this subject.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

omar to the duomo

i took pictures along a small street as i approached the duomo in florence. then i quickly put it together with my favorite song of the moment, crimewave by crystal castles. check it out. notice that the duomo, the large red-domed building, approaches and falls back to the music (or, at least that's what i wanted!)

now i should go to sleep :)

Friday, April 04, 2008

food and fun in london

bea and franz had the idea that szechwan food was in order for friday night. so most of the staff and me went out to eat. the food was fantastic! but there was one dish that was pure torture, pictured below:

if you're wondering what those red things are, they are red chilis. this was a dish labeled chicken with red chili but more accurately would be chili with chicken. the chili were strong, and you couldn't help but eat at least 5 during the meal. the NZ sauv blanc really helped, but i'm still a bit smoking.

to give you a sense of how serious szechwan food is, consider this fish in broth dish. before delivering this dish to our table, the server scooped out hundreds of red chilis. i guess they add flavor.. the peppercorn-like spices in this dish numbed my face, but the flavors were well worth it.

here's bea and franz, looking happy after a happy meal :)

and here i am, happy and blurry after a tasty meal and drinks out. i wish i could come to london more regularly
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Thursday, April 03, 2008

jet lagged, but well-fed, in london

i am in london and so happy to be back. it was so vibrant last night that despite my jetlag i felt the energy. as i lie awake in the hotel room, here are some pictures:

being tax season, i was amused by the name of this small cafe. i definitely need coffee, and usually something stronger, when i deal with amt.

but now onto eating. i thought i'd be doing my best eating while in florence, but bea certainly knows how to make someone feel welcome after a long flight. she brought me all this food, and i dipped into all of it. oh, and the food included the famous cupcakes, but i ate that before even thinking about taking a picture :)

here's the spread. quiche, sandwich in plastic wrap, fruit salad, some meaty tasty thing, and a muffin!

i really felt quite upside down when i was eating -- topsy turvy with both joy and jetlag.

more food hiding in the bag. it doesn't want to be eaten but it knows it will be!
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justice department lawyer dismissed because she's gay

i listened to this NPR story about leslie hagen, a lawyer with the justice department who routinely performed outstanding work, was widely lauded by her colleagues, and was ultimately sacked for dubious reasons. anyway, it has recently come out that the likely reason for her removal was a rumor that reached her superiors: hagen is a lesbian.

what! what grounds is that!

this story made me angry in a way i wasn't when katrina happened. i just felt much more emotional. i think there's two reasons for this: first, it's much easier to get emotionally caught up in a single story, rather than the plight of untold numbers. this seems to be a a quirk with our minds that doesn't let us emotionally scale up with the numbers, at least not easily. in fact, without a face on the tragedy, we lose interest.

but it's not just that. there's something about an individual injustice where the individual really appears alone. in addition, while discrimination based on sexual orientation happens every day in this country, this was a somewhat unique confluence of discrimination, our federal government setting a very bad example, and an invasion of a private space.

first i wanted to hurt george bush. then i wanted someone to ask him point blank how he'd approach this situation -- but what would i expect to get from this line of questioning?

oh my blood is just boiling, i need to infuse it with some tea leaves, calming leaves, maybe lavender.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

earth hour thoughts

yesterday, from 8 to 9pm, people all across the world turned out their lights and celebrated earth hour. san francisco was one of the headline cities. i'm interested to know if any of my readers participated, and if so, what you did. i'll tell you what i did:

i decided that i wasn't just going to turn off my lights, but try to minimize my consumption completely by doing as little as possible that required electrical energy.

at 7:55pm i was hungry and i realized that with all the lights out i was going to have a hard time making food (not to mention that i didn't want appliances running from 8 to 9pm) so i rushed to make some toast. tasty! but this reminded me of anecdotes from campus energy saving competitions, where students would shower and use their computers in other buildings to reduce their consumption in their own building, which was the object being measured. since 8 to 9pm is what mattered, i pushed ahead my cooking -- so did i really make a savings?

from 8 to 9pm i can honestly say i did very little that used energy, but i still consumed! i became bored and so i started eating snacks. but two good things happened: i practiced my didj. i was belting out eighties hits on my didj, no small feat :) i also sat in the dark and day dreamed. very amusing scenarios played out in my head, but i'm not going to share them here..

From Best of Austr...

overall, i found the experience quite trying, and i'm actively attempting to reduce my consumption. candle light would've been nice, but i didn't even have that.

summary: of course, no one is going to live in such darkness, so the experiment was more about raising my own awareness of my highly consumptive behavior, and trying to be at peace with doing less, having less. the collective action of 8 to 9pm is also quite important, because hopefully SF is going to go to the power company and get some numbers (for instance, sydney supposedly saw 10% less energy draw last year during earth hour).

building awareness in the dark, that's a funny idea eh?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

tiburon and beyond

today neha and i went to tiburon. it was beautiful. beer and greenery, slideshow below:

on tiburon: i was really hoping something in the nytimes article from 1909 might've been right about tiburon, but i'd say the only truth is that the place is staid and beautiful. read more here.

A PERFECTLY GOOD ISLAND.; Neither Cannibals Nor Treasure Found on Tiburon In Gulf of California.

December 24, 1909, Friday

NOGALES, Ariz., Dec 23. -- The mystery of Tiburon Island, Gulf of California, has been dissipated effectually by the return yesterday of seven Americans who had passed through Nogales on Oct. 18 on their way to explore the island which they supposed to be inhabited by man-eating Seri, Indians and to contain hidden treasure and rich mineral deposits.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

crystal castles

jeff introduced me to crystal castles, an electronic music band out of toronto. i love their song crimewave so much that i purchased it on itunes, an extremely strange thing for me to do. listen to it here:

you can also see jeff in this short youtube clip (love the mustache):

Sunday, March 23, 2008

timbuk2 bags: shine a light

neha and i went to the timbuk2 store in hayes valley yesterday, looking for a new bag to replace neha's bazillion year old version. the sales person, noticing i had a camera, told me to take some pictures with the flash on. what an event! here's our first sample, sans flash:

now i turned on the flash, and voila, a beautiful pink!

this set is not pink, but in some ways much more dramatic. this is the same bag, i kid you not!

bikers should feel quite safe with these bags on their backs.

neha did get a bag, but not the following, it was too big and she probably could've carried me in it:

this seems quite relevant:

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

date ideas

a friend of mine is going on a date, an early date (not the first date!), the "getting to know you better" date. criteria: date should be fun, possibly creative! so i whipped out some thoughts, which my friend suggested i share more widely. anyway, i think these are all great things to do not just on a date but in any situation where you want to have possibly unique fun in the city:

please add your suggests in the comments!
  • what about golden gate park? there are such great places to walk there. you make sure the de young is somewhere on the walk.. you don't pay for the museum, instead you go up to the observatory tower (free) and look out at the city. simply fantastic
  • if you want something a bit more secluded, do buena vista park. wonderful walk up there (only during the day, don't be there at night, i hear).. you must take a hat though because it gets quite windy and you don't want to freeze
  • want to include a car in the game? do the "rediscover sf" tour by following the 40 mile or whatever number it is route.. go to twin peaks, go to the presidio, go to the palace of fine arts. spend a bit of time in each place, a bit of time in the car. you each bring some CDs and each car jaunt one person picks a cd and plays a few songs. this way you get outdoors and indoors
  • ok, if you do more a night thing, then i recommend getting wine at the hidden vine during some portion of the night. it's a small place but really cozy and romantic. i've had many a good time there
  • playing carnival-like games seems like a fun thing to do on an early date. unfortunately, i don't know where you go around here to get that, but i toss out that idea
  • are the two of you "into" something? a variation of the car tour.. each of you could pick a theme and then devise a map of the city to point out that theme. you guys share maps and see how you could both integrate your themed experience into one experience that mixes both and lets each person share.. or you could do one at a time.. but i think sharing is good, especially early on..
  • volunteer somewhere together (recall this is a brain dump, my fingers pushed that out, i refuse to backspace)
  • bike somewhere. take your bike to sausalito, or across the GG bridge, or go to the south west part of town and do the loop down there around the lake.. or go to the embarcadero.
  • oh my god coit tower is the most beautiful place.. i think.. if it's a sunny day.
  • ok now i'm going to bed. you'll think of something!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

denver's driving change program -- almost!

read the following then see my commentary:

Denver hopes to reduce car emissions by encouraging better driving

The city of Denver has unveiled a "Driving Change" pilot program designed to reduce vehicle greenhouse-gas emissions by encouraging drivers to ease off the lead foot. Starting in May, 400 public and private Denver vehicles, including that of Mayor John Hickenlooper, will have a device installed to monitor time spent braking, idling, accelerating, and speeding. Analyzed results and personalized recommendations for reducing fuel consumption will then be posted on the internet. Vehicles account for approximately 30 percent of Denver's greenhouse-gas emissions, and the program hopes to cut fuel consumption 20 percent among Driving Change participants.

sources: Denver Business Journal, The Denver Post, Associated Press

ok. here's the big problem! the feedback needs to be immediate, and it needs to be relevant. they have relevant ("personalized recommendations") but they don't have immediate ("posted on the internet"). dear lord. have they learned nothing from the prius? prius people drive so strangely because they are playing this game where they are changing their driving behaviors in ways they think might optimize the gas mileage. with these additional indicators, the prius drivers (or the mayor, whatever he's driving) could do a much better job.

put the indicators in the car. they don't have to be dangerous.. which is one comment i hear from some prius drivers who turn off the dashboard because they find it distracting. the indicators can be ambient. use colors! i am going to send this idea to the people administering this program...

UPDATE: i emailed the mayor and the green program staff. hopefully someone sees my email!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

gavin newsom on green movement

this is a good interview with gavin newsom reflecting on the current state of the green movement. here's an apt quote:

Right now we're almost seeing the movement increasingly trivialized by everything turning green...every single magazine and newspaper and TV program.

It's important and powerful because it raises awareness, but it misses the point that needs to be raised, one of accountability, transparency and measurement, the hard work that needs to be done. And it's not just buying organic cereal with a recycled tote bag. So when I talk in terms of (San Francisco's) 70 percent recycling rates, the highest in the nation, I feel good about that but not great.

i like his point about accountability, transparency and measurement. i think these are three things we really need, and there isn't a lot of talk about them in the general media.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

making movies

i made the following movie with windows movie maker. what a handy free utility. it's installed by default on XP. there's also a great user forum.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

fun sunday

today i had a wonderful day and i would like to share that sense of happiness with you, dear reader. today, the weather was marvelous. breathtaking. i wore a short-sleeved shirt and soaked up the sun. first, i went to tartine and braved the long, long line to buy a large assortment of pastries. the best, by far, was the morning bun, depicted below:

such a bun is pure heaven to bite into (notice the consumed part in the lower right). i could get one of these every day.. maybe i should. see how long i can handle it.

after tartine i took my bounty to rockridge (twice in a weekend! it's where the hip, environmentally conscious folks i know live). i haven't really explored rockridge. it was stunningly beautiful on this gorgeous day. check out some of these house pics. i want to get out there and wander around.

then i came back to the city and relaxed and did some work. but, sensing i needed beer, i messaged jono and we headed over to the city beer store. as usual, we had a wide ranging conversation that had enlightening moments. jono told me about these wasps that invade ant colonies and spray a chemical that causes the ants to fight each other. in the confusion the wasp leaves some of its eggs, which the ants, after coming out of their confused melee, care for. brilliant, especially considering how much larger wasp eggs are than ant eggs.

on my way back i found verification that my reference to berkeley as "berkel" in text messages etc.. was not so off base. seems berkel has a long standing tradition, at least on harrison street in the mission.

finally, raja is now sleeping on my bed. he has returned to his loving friend (me). he had been avoiding me and occupying andrew's room for quite a while. but he's back, at least for now. here he is asking me with those big beautiful eyes: "may i share this bed with you, om?"

of course you can!

finally here's two songs from the once soundtrack, which neha got me:


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