Wednesday, December 26, 2007

50 drawings project

For my art class, Hybrid Drawing, which explores different materials and methods in drawings. Find them here.

Look here for our class's website. It is still rather primitive. (I may say this because I made it.)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Are you smarter than a 5th grader?

Today my sister Victoria, a fourth grader, acquired the board game version of the game show Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader? The game consists of various questions of levels 1st grade through 5th grade in Social Studies, Geography, etc. I told Victoria to make a blog so she can write about the facts that she missed. To make things fair, I was also required to blog about the question I missed.

Question (1st grade social studies): What frontiersman blazed a trail across the United States to Kentucky?
Answer: Daniel Boone.
Now I must say something about Daniel Boone in my own words. Daniel Boone (1795-1820) was a settler, pioneer, and hunter and one of America's earliest folk heroes. Boone is most famous for blazing the Wildnerness Trail through the Cumberland Gap in Kentucky. He founded Boonesborough, one of the first English-speaking settlements beyond the Appalachians. Boone also fought during the Revolutionary War, during which he was captured by the Shawnee Indians for a while. According to Wikipedia, he is "imperfectly remembered" as an "iconic" figure in American history: many legends and tall tales have developed around Boone.

Senselessness of hunger

In catching up on my Newsweek readings I came upon a really nice Anna Quindlen article, Real Food For Thought, about America's "hunger epidemic." She really highlights the senselessness of the inequality, discussing how much hunger there is even when restaurants etc. have so much food they need to throw it away. She points out real problems and offers solutions, describing the food stamp application process and how it can be improved to make it actually accessible (by making online application possible, by making the application simpler).

I would like to point out that once again, we see the theme of possible food redistribution not happening because it is not the economically optimal strategy. (We--meaning I--saw this theme for the first time in the freegan articles, when it talks about how freegans find many treasures in dumps.)

Women in society

Apparently there is a word for workplace discrimination against women. From the NY Times article Buzzwords 2007:
maternal profiling n.
Employment discrimination against a woman who has, or will have, children. The term has been popularized by members of MomsRising, an advocacy group promoting the rights of mothers in the workplace.
(I found it amusing that other buzzwords that made it into the article included "lolcat" and "make it rain.")

There is also this other article about how baby girls are becoming more valued in South Korean society. As women are entering the workforce and making lives for themselves, older people find that their daughters are much better caretakers than their sons. This is a big change from the time when wives were expected to serve their fathers-in-law meals on thier knees. Progressive. It's an interesting article, though--I recommend reading it.

Think global warming won't affect you?

Read As Earth Warms Up, Tropical Virus Moves to Italy yesterday about how tropical tiger mosquitoes are finding their way to Castiglione to infect people with chikungunya, a relative of dengue fever. This kind of thing normally goes on in the Indian Ocean region.

This is much more serious than an article I'd read last year about how US metropolitan areas are seeing earlier pollination and more irritating flora and fauna as a result of elevated carbon dioxide levels.

Think before you reach for that unrecyclable paper cup.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Best way to acquire a functional skill set in Haskell

Write yourself a Scheme in 48 hours - super easy tutorial explaining the steps involved (from downloading GHC and compiling your first program to compiling and running the full interpreter) in building a Scheme interpreter. Very niiice.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Internet is great for holiday presents

The best presents I got for people this holiday season were:
  • A rubber stamp (with a red ink pad) of my boyfriend's face on it. I made the image using Gimp (a Linux version of Photoshop) and playing w/ the brightness/contrast and using the Cartoonize filter. I found the "STAMP OF APPROVAL" circle using Google image search. I had the stamp made at
  • A t-shirt for Jie and Rob (the two characters pictured on the shirt) with a picture of Jie licking Rob while both of them are ice cream cones. The picture is from an actual photograph; the ice cream paraphernalia is from Google image search. We made the shirts at (They are pink.)
Both presents came out very well, which is why I am inclined to do a little bit of free advertising for both companies.


Today I went Christmas shopping with my friend Liz within the framework of "reducing waste." (Please refer to my blog post 3 back containing the link to "The Story of Stuff.")

This might be one of those things that is much funnier if you are there, but for each candidate for purchase we produced arguments for whether it was "waste" or "not waste." For example, "This blanket and dog toy kit is not waste because Mike's dog doesn't have a blanket. Mike only has a single blanket and has to lend it to the dog while he's at work. Though the dog will chew through the toy very quickly, it is not waste either because she will use it." And also, "This sequined Christmas tree is definitely not waste because I really like it and want my sister to have it."

Okay, so perhaps we abused the term a bit--like when I walked into a store and, upon seeing very ugly sweaters, exclaimed, "This is such waste!" Also when we were faced with a wall of gift bags and I singled one out with the explanation "If you bought this bag, that would not be waste." (I did follow up with the explanation that because the bag was the prettiest, it would provide the most opportunity for reuse.)

While most of our afternoon was pretty silly, focusing on waste did prevent me from buying quite a few items that would have likely become waste within a few weeks. (These items included various articles of clothing and a frog sponge holder.) The conclusion is that there is too much junk out there and most things are or produce waste. :D

Health care systems

In reading back issues of Newsweek today I came upon an article describing the "medical tourism," the phenomenon where people travel to other countries for medical procedures. Before this article I had associated "medical tourism" with people going to Mexico for transgender surgery before it was legal here and people getting vanity procedures in various exotic locations. Apparently many people go to Singapore becaues their medical system is just that good. People from India and other Asian countries go there for various surgeries because of the good care and because of the availability of organs for transplant and people from the US will go there because they can get the same procedures (with high quality) for a fraction of the cost.

I had heard about Singapore's health care system during some conversation about the ills of America's privatized health care, but I hadn't realized that it was so good that people would fly across the world to take advantage of it. I examined Singapore's Ministry of Health page and concluded their health care system is organized and friendly. (They even have a thing where you can compare the costs of treatments at different hospitals.) From their website, "Primary health care includes preventive healthcare and health education. Private practitioners provide 80% of primary healthcare services while government polyclinics provide the remaining 20%. However, public hospitals provide 80% of the more costly hospital care with the remaining 20% by private hospital care." Also, for those who care about numbers, "In 2005, Singapore spent about S$ 7.6 billion or 3.8% of GDP on healthcare. Out of this the Government expended S$1.8 billion or 0.9% of GDP on health services."

I also looked up the World Health Organization's ranking of world health systems. (A total of 190 countries are ranked.) The ranking method compares each country's sytem to what the experts estimate to be the upper limit based on resources etc. It also compares each country to other countries. The assessment was based on the following 5 indicators: overall health of population, health inequalities within the population, overal level of health system reponsiveness, distribution of responsiveness within the population, and distribution of the health care system's financial burden within the population. (Read the report.)

The United States is 37th, behind Costa Rica and before Slovenia. (Shameful, no, that with all of its educational and technological resources the US is not further up?) While one might wonder if the US is so behind due to inquality (still inexcusable), I'm inclined to believe the overall level is not as high. If you are curious, Postpartum Impression is a New York Times piece on the French health care system.

The top 10 are:
1         France
2         Italy
3         San Marino
4         Andorra
5         Malta
6         Singapore
7         Spain
8         Oman
9         Austria
10        Japan

Not trying to push my values onto you or anything, but here's a quote from WHO's report:
"It is especially beneficial to make sure that as large a percentage as possible of the poorest people in each country can get insurance," says Dr Frenk. "Insurance protects people against the catastrophic effects of poor health. What we are seeing is that in many countries, the poor pay a higher percentage of their income on health care than the rich."

"In many countries without a health insurance safety net, many families have to pay more than 100 percent of their income for health care when hit with sudden emergencies. In other words, illness forces them into debt."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Giant microbes

It is pretty awesome that GIANTmicrobes, a company that sells plush microbes, exists. A quote from the website:

"We make stuffed animals that look like tiny microbes—only a million times actual size! Now available: The Common Cold, The Flu, Sore Throat, Stomach Ache, Cough, Ear Ache, Bad Breath, Kissing Disease, Athlete's Foot, Ulcer, Martian Life, Beer & Bread, Black Death, Ebola, Flesh Eating, Sleeping Sickness, Dust Mite, Bed Bug, and Bookworm (and in our Professional line: H.I.V. and Hepatitis)."

The amazing thing is that they are cute.

Questioning the consumer economy

Various things in life have caused me to consider the merits of our consumer economy:
  • The Story of Stuff - the beginning of this video makes it seem like it's not going to go anywhere interesting and that it's aimed at a younger audience, but I think this video says some good things about perversity of the perceived obsolescence and unnecessary waste that goes on in our society. Think before you shop.
  • Killing the Consumer (Anna Quindlen) - this is not my favorite of Anna Quindlen's pieces as it didn't leave me wholly convinced of her argument. While I don't agree with her argument that the government and various "responsible organizations" making decisions about what is good for people, I do agree with Quindlen that tobacco companies have disgusting motives. This article discusses how Camel No. 9 is terrible because it markets death to unsuspecting young women. (For their market preservation, in fact, as lung cancer has become a bigger killer of women than breast cancer.) Beware of the market?
  • Freegans - are people who live an "alternative" lifestyles as vegans who try to cut down on their carbon footprint, boycott unethical products, and do good for the community. Extreme freegans forage through the trash and eat what they find. (Apparently, very fresh foods and intact products can be found in the trash. There are also freegans who actively redistribute stuff they find in the trash. This makes one question what the fuck the people--usually business--who threw it away are doing.) In some back issue of Newsweek that I picked up around the house they ran an interesting pair of articles, one by a woman who tried to live as a freegan for a month, and one by someone denouncing freegans as not being socially responsible at all. I am not sure how I feel about freegans, but I know that I don't feel good about all this careless waste that goes on. It's about time people started questioning consumer values en masse.
I have also been questioning the enormous amounts of pressure put on students, faculty, and various other people in academic settings. The stress and work of the last two weeks caused me to develop a muscle spasm in my neck that is now being treated with muscle relaxants. Oy.

Friday, September 07, 2007

installed ubuntu on the laptop

like it very much so far, except can't get docking/undocking to work. :/

Sunday, September 02, 2007

jv field hockey page

find it here.

grad school links

i don't know how official/correct this is, but:

shopping week dream

for those of you who don't know, shopping week happens the the first week of school and is a time for students to attend various classes before they have to get their study cards signed with their actual course selections at the end of the week. shopping week is generally a fun time because people can go to many classes (or no classes at all). it tends to be slightly overwhelming because:
  • there are many good classes during the same time slots. (this is less true when you are just looking at computer sciences classes, but it happens there as well.)
  • many (maybe most) professors begin assigning work during this time.
  • there are many people going to many classes, so especially in humanities courses that seem interesting it is very crowded an difficult to get a seat.
anyway, at least twice in the last few weeks (or maybe week!) i've dreamt that i've forgotten to go to a bunch of classes for silly reasons and then been mad at myself because of it. once i think i didn't go because it was raining, and then last night in my dream i didn't go because i had been sitting around. (last night i also dreamt that i lived right on the ocean so that when i put my shoes on the back porch to dry i had to tie them to the post so the tide wouldn't wash them away...) anyway, it seems like i fear being a senior and not being able to take classes anymore... and perhaps my dream last night also reflects my sadness about leaving the beach and santa monica.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

compare apples and oranges

or harvard vs. yale, frogs vs. bears, etc. here:

see how many people on the web love/hate one thing over another, at least according to what google search results turn up. you can compare up to 4 things; it's rather nicely done.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

amusing discovery in "similar links" to my webpage

i finally got around to updating my webpage this morning. i decided to google myself (i come up as the 2nd "jean yang" but my webpage has descended to the 8th result). what i found really amusing was that the following link comes up for similar pages: Summer Plans for Children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorders. i searched all over my page for signs of me being a child with ADD, but nowhere did i mention that:
  1. i am a child, or
  2. i have attention span problems.
i do, however, mention summer... those of you who know my work habits closely may be quite amused.

anyway, view all similar pages if you are so inclined. the others are less interesting, but they do a good job i suppose.

uploaded old robocup videos to youtube

youtube is actually kind of amazing. :)

2006 highlights (world cup in bremen, germany and us open in atlanta, GA):

2006 us open (atlanta):

image resizing video

holy crap; this image resizing video is amazing. they show how they have targeted resizing of images based on features etc. they can also nicely cut people out of pictures. it sounds boring but it's the coolest video i've ever seen.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

robocup world cup '07 video

listen closely to the soundtrack. binary solo!

special thanks to michael parker for allowing me to spend all 10,000 hours involved in making his video at his home, on his windows machine. also thanks to mp for keeping me sufficiently hydrated for all 10,000 hours--no small task.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

facts of the day

song of the day: God wrote in LISP. the end of the song says it all:

And when I watch the lightning
Burn unbelievers to a crisp,
I know God had six days to work,
So he wrote it all in Lisp.

Yes, God had a deadline.
So he wrote it all in Lisp.

i must point out, however, that God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, which translates into his having infinite memory and processing power. memory- and processing power-constrained mortals may often need to program in lower-level languages...

link of the day: gethuman. see/do company ratings for getting a human at the other end of the line.

new food discovery of the day: japanese curry. (i had it for the first time at hurry curry on sunday).

Monday, August 20, 2007

lynn conway

read more at her site. transgender female computer scientist at university of michigan; has a fascinating biography and autobiography on the site. she did a lot of groundbreaking work in computer architecture and wrote introduction to VLSI systems.

the joys of google calendar

look at my schedule.

that is actually 3 different calendars:
you can show multiple calendars in a single embed by concatenating them like this:
(you can also view page source on my schedule)

i think this is pretty amazing. also, these things have been around for a while but not many of my friends use them, so i'd like to tell you that you can do the following with google calendar:
  • add other people's calendars to your view so you can choose to overlay their schedule on top of yours to schedule things.
  • invite people to events via google calendar. (there is an invite guests option in event details.)
  • get e-mail/text message reminders of your activities.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

exercise promotes neurogenesis

read the NY times article lobes of steel. a summary: though the human brain begins to shrink in your thirties, experiments on mice suggest that neurogenesis still takes place and that aerobic exercise promotes neurogenesis. this article also mentions other studies that show positive correlation between exercise and good brain health--it is on the whole very pro-exercise.

an interesting thing to note is that marijuana, moderate amounts of alcohol, and chocolate also seem to promote neurogenesis.

this is the most amazing thing in the world--i think i'm in love. rememberthemilk is a site integrated with google things that lets you make to-do lists using a very nicely done ajax interface.

some of the nice things about it are as follows:
  • you can have different categories of task--think firefox or igoogle tabs. (some default categories are personal, work, and study.)
  • you can set various things about a task, such as the due date and priority. you can get reminders via e-mail, IM, or SMS at a pre-specified period of time before the task due date.
  • you can have task contacts and send/receive tasks. you can also share tasks. (this seems really good for organizing things in clubs etc.)
  • the site has a really good look and feel and the ajax makes you feel like everything is very fast.
  • you can also use this app offline.
  • it's integrated with maps etc.
i haven't fully explored it yet, but some things that would be nice for it to do are:
  • make it easier to specify task due date (by popping out a calendar or something) and other relevant information about a task.
  • allow the user to put more details involving a task. (sometimes you need to store notes, addresses, etc. having to do with a task...)
  • allow for specification of a specific time of day as a deadline.
  • allow for priority as a function rather than flat setting. (an e-mail i need to write in september has low priority now but will have much higher priority as the "due date" approaches.)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

find the jean

since i never take any pictures of my own, you may try to find me in these:

Thursday, August 16, 2007

hammer factory factory

this has been going around the internet for a while, but here is a link to joel spolsky's satire on software factories. as someone said, "there are too many nouns in java."

sexual harassment policy facts

i don't quite remember all the details, but we had a sexual harassment seminar earlier this summer and some of the facts i learned were quite incredible. apparently it is important to be educated on what constitutes sexual harassment because it is one of the things that the company is not responsible for--the court could rule to have me (the harasser) pay the whole settlement. (usually they rule for the accused to pay for part of it and the company to cover the rest--it is often half and half, maybe?)

anyway, this lawyer who deals with this sort of thing came in and told us about some of the cases they dealt with. he said that usually borderline cases go to court, so you usually don't hear about the extreme ones.

here are some things i learned about sexual harassment policies:
  • for verbal harassment, the plaintiff needs to give notice before filing a complaint.
  • for other sorts of harassment, no notice needs to be given.
  • intent doesn't factor into the ruling because most people do not intend to harass.
i learned the following about the ramifications of such policies:
  • not laughing apparently counts as "giving notice." there was a case in which the plaintiff found a coworker's sexual jokes offensive. thought she never gave notice, the fact that she never laughed was enough.
  • if you have a screensaver that shows images from the internet and accidentally shows pornography, someone could successfully file a complaint against you.
  • if you have an offensive piece of art (or photograph), someone could file a complaint. (perhaps this is why we only have rothko reproductions around the office.)
  • even if the person you are harassing enjoys it, someone else could become offended and successfully file a complaint. the courts consider third party harassment legitimate.
  • doing anything obviously harassing is considered harassment and you/your company could be forced to pay a lot of money. (these sexual harassment cases seem to settle for far higher than family leave cases, for instance.)


some facts of food:
  • did you know that cupcake shops are a trend? well , they are. there was an NY times article a while back about how people were leaving the movie industry etc. to start bake shops. today i tried yummy cupcakes for the first time. quite good--seems to be me mostly frosting. i see why people like them, but i really don't know why they would be so big. why cupcakes, of all desserts? (not cookies, or scones, or danishes?) such things are beyond me.
  • following the theme of trends of deviating from health-consciousness, it is apparently the thing for girls to emphasize their appreciation of red meat. (there was an article "be yourselves, girls, order the rib-eye" about this in the NY times.) apparently all sorts of women emphasize (truthfully or not) it is still trendy, however, for guys to be vegetarians because it is the women who are judging them.
  • eau de vie seems like a nice, sophisticated thing to drink.

some facts of life:
  • some high schools are now having students pick majors. (read related article here.) the reasoning is that these schools haven't been doing too well on standardized tests, so giving students majors will help keep them engaged and give them an edge in the college admissions process. i am not sure how well it is working--the article quotes students feeling locked in, parents worrying about students not getting exposed to a broad range of things, etc. i think this is a fairly terrible idea because it is patching a symptom rather than getting anywhere near the source of the problem. the fact that students are not engaged in high school is a result of failure in proper education during in elementary and middle school years; the fact that something that seems as meaningless as a high school major could provide an edge in college admissions reveals grave problems in what college admissions are valuing these days. these days i believe the fact that college degrees have come to mean very little shows that this system isn't really working out too well for us; our society forces people to spend (often wasted) years paying money instead of earning any with the threat that if they don't do this, they won't be able to find a decent job down the road. many of these people still end up not making the experience worth real cost + opportunity cost... i don't have a good solution in mind.
  • on a similar note, some colleges are now charging different tuitions for different majors, with more lucrative majors costing more. i don't know how i feel about this yet.

some facts of jean:
  • perfume of the day: davidoff cool water wave. smelled nice, but too generically nice. liked bright crystal better.
  • today was the birthday of john in my team. his status message was "8 + 16 = 25?" which makes perfect sense given that he turns 25 on 8.16, but i, being too dense to understand this, IMed him about his incredible mental math. (well, it was only an off-by-one error...) to make up for this, i made him a birthday page.
  • i originally titled this entry "8.16.06." my attention to detail is incredible.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

some facts i have learned this summer

i have learned these mostly from reading the new york times. some facts are from other sources.
  • vitamin C may not actually do that much to prevent colds.
  • echinacea, on the other hand, is effective in boosting the immune system to protect against colds.
  • while it may look like they are exhibiting phototropism, palm trees in LA are leaning away from prevailing winds.
  • there has been local selection among human populations in the last few thousand years. some evidence for this is the prevalence of lactose intolerance in european and asian populations and things like that. differences also include those in brain development/function.
  • i also learned a lot about sexual harrassment policies and how goofy they are. perhaps i will discuss this in its own post.

supporting the enforcement of namespaces

yesterday i was plagued by a terrible bug for a very long time. what was happening was this: i was using a class X* that was calling some third-party library that included a class Y*. i was calling a function in X that caused the destructor of Y to be called. whenever i called this function, i would get a seg fault occurring when the destructor of Y was called. some odd symptoms of this bug were that a string destructor was being called, but there were no strings anywhere, and i did not experience the bug when i took out certain linking dependencies.

when my host finally figured out what was going on, i had to laugh because it was so incredible. it turned out what had been going on was some dependency was bringing in another class Y had contained a string. when X called the destructor for its Y, the other destructor was being called, causing all sorts of problems. this should have been something caught by the linker, but for some reason it manifested itself as a runtime error.

lessons to be learned:

  • the linker does not always know best. trust nothing!
  • everything should be in a namespace. such problems could have been avoided if we had a n1::Y and a n2::Y.
  • C++ is a beautiful language with very good enforcement of abstraction barriers.

one of the above statements is not like the other.

*names have been changed to preserve anonymity.

ma vie

this is going to be a long post. haha, every time i say that i usually have to take it back sometime later due to my highly reliable attention span giving out. :) this is going to be the post in which i tell you about what i have been doing with my summer--as if you care. i will label each section of this post with a relevant heading so you can pick which parts to skip.

so, dear friend, i will begin by describing the superficial circumstances of my life. as you may recall from from episode the previous, i have been living in sunny southern california toiling away in the document mines by day and biting the necks of unsuspecting victims by night. this is only on weekdays, of course. on weekends i lead a normal socal existence, usually spending my saturdays going to the beach and then out to dinner with some of the other interns and my sundays hanging around and doing nothing. sometimes on saturdays i'll go for a really long run down to and along venice beach.

the fascinating climate of santa monica.
santa monica is truly paradise on earth--it never rains and the temperature along the coast hovers around a balmy 70-80 degrees. apparently we enjoy this good weather here because of something called the marine layer. (i had never heard of such a thing before moving out here, but it is a layer of cool air formed from cool ocean water that seals in the comfortable weather.) one day i asked john, a guy on my team, why it had been cold that week and he explained that everywhere else in LA it was actually quite hot--in the valley it is often in the 90's. california weather is quite fascinating.

google santa monica, most beautiful google on earth.
i would not have said this a week ago, but this past week we move to our new office on the corner of 2nd st. and santa monica ave. (Click here to see where it is on the map.) it is a triangular-shaped building with tiered balconies 2 blocks from the ocean. google has the 3rd and 4th floors, so from the balconies/windows we get an unobstructed, amazing ocean view. if i look to my right from my 4th floor desk through a layer of plexiglass and then the glass of the balcony door i see something like the following inspiration poster--except it is real:

the great part is that the balcony actually has a hammock on it. :) i am certainly not complaining.

i got a haircut.
i don't have a good picture of me with this haircut yet, but aliza suggest i get my hair cut like jean seberg in a bout de souffle (breathless).

my experiences as a code monkey.
besides enjoying the good weather, i have really been enjoying my work this summer. it is the first time i've really had good coding standards (in terms of readability/efficiency) enforced upon me. for instance, before i hadn't really paid attention to things like passing in a pointer to a string to set the value instead of returning it to avoid the copy, appropriate use of "const," etc. etc. etc. i have learned to develop a tolerant appreciation of C++ as a language good for developing fast code on a large scale (in terms of number of developers). of course, for personal endeavors i still prefer C because it is much more conducive to being a speed demon, and when you are writing stuff on a smaller scale much of the objected oriented style is quite unnecessary.

i probably can't say much more about what i've been working on and that kind of thing, but i will say that they treat us quite well. i have 2 24" monitors, a pretty nice keyboard and mouse, and pretty good headphones. i will miss all of this greatly when i return to my 19" monitors and crappy mouse/keyboard/antiheadphones at school.

Friday, August 10, 2007

books, books, books

I am really too tired these days to write much, but I'll list out the books I've read so far this summer and some brief comments.

  • Laughter in the Dark (Nabokov) - I've commented on this one earlier. It's Nabokov's last book written in Russian, translated (of course) by N himself. How can you not love a book that begins: "Once upon a time there lived in Berlin, Germany, a man called Albinus. He was rich, respectable, happy; one day he abandoned his wife for the sake of a youthful mistress; he loved; was not loved; and his life ended in disaster."

  • Ethan Frome (Edith Wharton) - kind of nice? I wasn't in the mood for that whole gloomy New England life of misery business.
  • Pale Fire (Nabokov) - N messing with your mind and playing with the English language. A fun book.
  • Hitchhiker's Guide to the End of the Galaxy and Restaurant at the End of the Universe (Douglas Adams) - good, funny, but I would have enjoyed it more a couple of years ago.
  • Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert) - a nice read? For an 19th (?) century middle America version that is more obviously satirical, read Sinclair Lewis's Main Street.
  • Sons and Lovers (D. H. Lawrence) - you may know that I don't like Lawrence because he is a giant womanizer. I decided to give him a second (or maybe third) chance with this book because it's his most read, a staple of Modernist English literature, etc. etc. etc. Yeah, not impressed. The book (a semi-autobiographical work) talks about how all women in protagonist Paul Morel's life are in love with him. There is mother, whose life revolves around her love first Paul's older brother than for Paul himself. Then there is Miriam, based on Jessie something-or-other from Lawrence's real life, who hangs around Paul and hangs on his every word. (Real-life Jessie alleged never spoke to him again after reading his portrayal of her in this book. Good for her.)
  • Missing Mom (Joyce Carol Oates) - nice, but too contemporary for my tastes. :)
  • The Stranger (Camus) - a nice read? If you like that kind of depressing existentialist stuff. (I do.)
  • Confessions (Saint Augustine) - inspired to read this because my friend Liz is getting married in St. Augustine's church, I discovered this is quite a fascinating book. (I'm not very far into it yet.) Especially considering this was written in 400 AD or something like that, Augustine is quite the modern saint. Confessions is addressed to God and goes through Augustine's life. T.S. Eliot and James Joyce were two modern writers Augustine influence. Here is a great passage: "I came to Carthage, where a caldron of unholy loves was seething and bubbling all around me. I was not in love as yet, but I was in love with love; and, from a hidden hunger, I hated myself for not feeling more intensely a sense of hunger. I was looking for something to love, for I was in love with loving, and I hated security and a smooth way, free from snares. Within me I had a dearth of that inner food which is thyself, my God--although that dearth caused me no hunger."

Sunday, July 15, 2007

remove before washing or wearing: RFID tags and you

i've finally realized they are RFID tags. i had bought some clothing yesterday and was annoyed that i had no scissors with which to cut them off. i asked my roommate for some scissors and we proceeded to have a conversation about the purpose of the tags. i conjectured that the tags are there to keep you from washing the clothing and then returning it. this conjecture holds for the tags that could be little packets of ink. i remember, however, that my roommate aliza once said she never cuts off the tags and is fine.

after cutting off one of the tags i held it up to the light and made a shocking discovery. it was an RFID tag! you know, the ones that are stuck on to various things you buy from target-like stores and fall out books you order. (RFID stands for "radio-frequency identification" and the tags, which store information, can be read from several meters away and does not have to be in the line of sight of the reader. for basic information, read Wikipedia on RFID. )

i found it very interesting that my clothing comes with RFID tags. it makes a lot of sense, since it is more effective than using bar codes. i am sure they use the tags for purposes of scanning etc. within the store, but tagging clothing with RFID potentially gives stores much more power. if you don't cut off your tags, they could potentially do a lot more (possibly unethical things) to track how/where the clothes are being worn.

one lesson is that RFID tags are much more powerful than barcodes. first of all, you can't just cover it up. i quote source 1:
"Surveillance is getting easier, cheaper, smaller, and ubiquitous. Sure, it's possible to destroy an RFID tag. You can crush it, puncture it, or microwave it (but be careful of fires!). You can't drown it, however, and you can't demagnetize it. And washing RFID-tagged clothes won't remove the chips, since they're specifically designed to withstand years of wearing, washing, and drying. You could remove the chip from your jeans, but you'd have to find it first."

a more practical thing to get out of this is you should remove your tags so that you don't set off alarms when you go into stores. (please see source 3 below.) apparently many people have had the embarrassing/inconvenient experience of setting off alarms because they neglected to remove tags.

in reference to a conversation i had with aliza and josh sharp last summer about the government's ability to track us, i would also like to quote source 2 to show that i am not unnecessarily paranoid:
"At this point, you can be triangulated and tracked based on your cell phone signal, even when you're not talking on it. "

  1. RFID chips are here - article about history of RFID, its current uses, etc.
  2. an informative forum post about this stuff
  3. Old Navy Tags - a guy sets off the alarm b/c he did not remove a tag from jeans he'd bought several months prior to the incident
  4. Benetton Clothing to Carry RFID Tags

Friday, June 22, 2007

oh, i forgot to write about the people

i may indeed be autistic. :)

the people are nice. i usually have meals either with my team and their friends and/or with these 2 other interns, gregory and luke, who are also into programming languages. we sometimes talk about our programming languages club (which doesn't exist).

in general the people are quite interesting. everyone is laid back (most people wear free t-shirts to work every day), not pretentious, and smart/curious without being annoying about it. at meals we'll talk about a wide variety of things: sports, random engineering projects (potato guns, etc.), how things work, why things work, life, liberty, etc.

a story: google had switched over to biodegradable silverware and people were complaining about it one day, and someone said that her friend claimed that his biodegradable spoon had dissolved while he'd been stirring coffee. to see whether or not this fact was true, someone else put a spoon in hot water. the spoon got more bendy but did not dissolve. this cup of water + spoon ended up on my desk, and while looking at it one day i started wondering whether or not it the acidity of coffee may have contributed to dissolving the spoon. after some deliberation and procrastination we tried to confirm this by soaking biodegradable utensils in coca-cola (pH of high 2's or low 3's. 3 days later they still had not shown signs of physical deterioration. unfortunately we were never clever enough to try hot coffee itself.

another story: this one guy at work is known for doing the pepsi-coke challenge. people had talked about it and i figured he just gave people cups of the stuff and asked them to taste. what i discovered is that he is quite intense about this, labeling 20+ cups (i want to say 24 because it is divisible by 2 and 3...) with the letters of the alphabet and pours coke into half and pepsi into half, marking down which he put into which. he then gives participants 3 cups, 1 of which is different, and has them say which one. when i did it i did it wrong b/c i went back and retasted but i still got it wrong. :( 2/3 of us go it correct, though.

that is all for now.

reporting from the second day of summer

it's been a while since my last post, so i'll start with the immediate facts of my life and work my way outward into the past and future, zooming out on the level of detail as i go. i am currently sitting in my new apartment (where i'll be staying until the end of the summer). it is dark except for the kitchen light and the light at the table where i am sitting and the windows/balcony door are open. this is my favorite time of year because i have a lot of summer left... i wonder if i'd have such enthusiasm for good weather if i lived somewhere with no winter. the weather (and good food) are two of the few things about which i still have strong feelings--i certainly want to still be able to be excited about some things.

anyway, life is pretty good. i came out to california june 3 and spent a week training at the googleplex in mountain view. when we weren't in training sessions we were let loose to explore the campus and code base. we also had access to the cafes, which are shockingly good. (i'd read about how the food is gourmet and even seen pictures of it, but i didn't realize how heavenly a place could really be until i experienced it for myself...) please see my facebook album for a picture of one of my lunches. :)

the following week i came down to santa monica, and it has been amazing. the weather is PERFECT (albeit a little cool, but if it were too perfect I'd be spoiled) and it is so pretty. now i will proceed to take you, my loyal reader, through a day in my life.

[BEGIN SECTION WITH MANY DETAILS. SKIP IF SO INCLINED. i include many details for emphasizing how amusing i find my routines--and my obsession with food.]
first, a typical weekday. i set my alarm for 6:20 and have thus far been pretty good about getting up around then. i check my e-mail (note how I no longer need to check the weather!), get dressed and go for a run along the beach. (i alternate between going left and going right every day.) i return sometime before 8, shower, eat an orange or some other piece of available fruit, and then walk to work. the walk is about 30 minutes. though i often encounter many allergens on the walk to and from work, it is very nice. anyway. upon arriving at work i obtain a bowl of cereal (i've narrowed down my choices to rotating between 3 kinds of kashi healthy-tasting stuff) and fill it with reduced fact milk (which, i've discovered, is a very nice compromise between whole and skim) while i make a cup of coffee. as for my coffee choices, i rotate between 5 of the 6 kinds of coffee. i decline to try the 6th because the name is too generic. (if you'd like to know, i put 1 thing of cream and 2 cups of sugar in my coffee.) after i obtain these food items i go to my desk and begin working. this lasts until 12ish when we all go up to the 3rd floor. every day i make myself a sandwich, usually on whole wheat bread, always with salami and often including various kinds of (sometimes spiced) pastrami. i switch between various cheeses but always include tomatoes, lettuce, and pickles (but on the side). 98% of the time i toast my sandwich. i'll finish off lunch (which i eat outside, often with gregory and luke) with fruit, and then i will really finish it with fruit on the bottom yogurt, which i'll eat at my desk. at 4 i take a break to eat yogurt and then at 7 i eat dinner. (tuesdays are sushi; wednesdays are indian.) i go home within an hour or so of finishing dinner, and then i will go on the internet or read or watch tv until bed.

now, as for the work itself, i'm working on video search--in particular, search quality. as for what i actually do, i sit at my desk all day and keep pretty much to myself. the people around me talk a lot, though, so it's a really fun atmosphere. people will pair program things, which is really cute. i like work a lot because people have a good time but work hard--they'll stay at work for what i initially thought was ridiculously long times, but they'll enjoy it. i enjoy going to work, being there, etc.

as for the weekends... i haven't had many weekends here, but the first one i spent w/ many parents. i stayed w/ thomas and the carrieros for a day, and then the next day i had dinner with justin moe and his parents. the weekend afterward i spent friday hanging out w/ people from work, saturday hanging out w/ interns at the beach, and sunday going to dim sum. (dim sum did indeed take up the better part of a day...)

in conveying so many details i've exhausted my desire to write, and probably your desire to read as well. talk to you soon, friend.

Monday, May 28, 2007

home so far

i enjoy being home so far but soon it may get to be too much. since returning to pittsburgh i've been enormously productive at avoiding all of my actual responsibilities. (forwarding my mail, making sure i have a place to live next week, etc.) on saturday i finished reading edith wharton's ethan frome. i'm not really in the mood for that kind of thing right now; the book didn't really appeal to me very much.

i also tried to resume reading l'etranger in french, but my slowness at reading in french discouraged me from getting very far in that.

yesterday i started reading nabakov's laughter in the dark, the last of the books he wrote in russian. it is very nice.

yesterday i also reunited with liz. <3 we walked to heinz chapel, where her wedding will be next summer, and speculated on good colors for bridesmaids' dresses. the best choice seems to be this copper/champagne color that matches with the stone on the ground. it's pretty ridiculous that liz is getting married; i am not ready to even have close friends who are participating in remotely grown-up activities.

fortunately, after our somewhat grown-up activity we did less serious things. we went to american apparel (the only store i like anymore) and bought matching dresses with plans to decorate them with some sort of "liz and jean" design:
(hers is blue; mine is pink.) after that we got our makeup done at sephora and showed the lady our dresses so we could match them. i was amused by the fact that the 2 ladies there guessed my ethnicity as follows, in the following order: cambodian, hawaiian, vietnamese, "fiji-ism," something with some sort of asian, and then "you're not chinese, are you?" i guess i did get pretty tan. :) the one lady also assumed liz and i were out of school, which was nice because most people ask if i am over 18 (sometimes over 14 >:o). maybe it was because liz has the bling rock, a.k.a. her engagement ring. later liz and i decorated our dresses--you may look on facebook for pictures. the actual wearing of our dresses in public was somewhat anticlimactic, but that is to be expected.

today i went shopping and discovered that i have little interest in spending money and in acquiring additional material possessions. but perhaps it is just my current mood.

Saturday, May 26, 2007


influenced by some rather convincing times articles and the availability of extremely tasty coffee at my office last summer, i became a regular coffee drinker. since i have yet to encounter valid and convincing evidence regarding the possible adverse effects of coffee, i am quite curious. the benefits of coffee are supposedly as follows:
-good for cardiovascular health
-one of the main sources of antioxidants in the american diet
-good for weight loss--according to max chalfin, it's a mild laxative?
-possible preventative for alzheimer's?
apparently up to 3 cups of coffee a day is not bad for you and may be good.

the one negative effect someone has mentioned to me is that coffee prevents people from entering into deep sleep during which the body produces human growth hormone to repair and rejuvenate. (on the bus from santa barbara to los angeles last summer i sat next to this guy who spent a couple of years starting a company making specialized alarm clocks... he told me that he had attended many conferences on sleep and such things...) since the completely unbiased times articles failed to mention this at all, i am not sure how much this counts against coffee.

if you know of non-sketchy evidence supporting the other side, please comment with a reference to the source, if possible. :)

summer at last

some number of days before the summer solstice, my summer vacation commences. i vow to update this more frequently than i have in the past, but this statement is pretty much meaningless for the following reasons:
-because nobody reads this, i am not held very accountable ;)
-every summer i vow to write in my xanga->livejournal->blog often and i never do because i am much more interested in living life rather than recording/reflecting upon it. it is for this reason that i also rarely take photographs anymore. (i used to be much better at this in high school before my life actually became interesting.)

let me begin by describing my current circumstances. i finished ("failed miserably on" would be a better way to describe it) my last final on wednesday and spent until today tying up odds and ends to move home. moving out was particularly exciting this year because due to storage limitations i rid my life of a great deal of material possessions. i am now at home in pittsburgh enjoying summer rain, eating large amounts of food, and trying to read books while my mother tries to lecture me on life habits. my summer schedule is as follows:

june 3 - leave for santa monica
june 4-9 - intern training in mountain view
june 9-september 5 - google
june 1-8 - robocup world cup in atlanta, GA

my plans for early september are currently up in the air. i hope to do the reach for the beach relay september 14-15.

this summer i would like to do the following:
-figure out my thesis topic. current candidates are:
1) implement haskell type classes using ML modules
2) make my own version of make
3) do something with latex (unlikely to happen)
-walk around a lot.
-learn haskell.
-spend a lot of time in the sun.
-update my blog. :)

on my reading list is the following:
-ethan frome (edith wharton)
-of mice and men
-pale fire (nabakov)
-laughter in the dark (nabakov)
-more virginia woolf
-l'etrangere (camus)
-other things but i can't remember them right now...
please send recommendations.

enough for now. more later. ;)


Sunday, January 07, 2007

i will follow up the last entry with 3 more entries

1) the symptoms (the subtle and the not so subtle) of inequality in society; why it is necessary for more equality. why some mode of assimilation is necessary. how people think they are treating people equally by giving a level playing field, but why this is impossible.

2) support for my statement that it is not cool to be a girl. the difference between getting attention and being taken seriously.

3) how gender roles should be reconciled in the education system, including discussion of possible biological differences.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

gender issues: talked about way too much; not enough done about it

the other day, i received an e-mail from someone at harvard medical school trying to form a hms chinese community. how refreshingly nice, i thought, as my impression of the hms people was that they are workaholics who care not for community. i am not one to join organizations grouping me with people who are supposedly the same, as i have never quite fit in. freshman year, i thought maybe i'd make more asian friends and excitedly signed up for the asian american association and chinese american associations. i never quite made friends with those kids and mysteriously fell off the mailing lists a few weeks after joining. despite this, i still like to think about the possibility of having a community; sometimes it gets old being alone.

it is likely this loneliness, or some derivation of it, that caused the formation of the women's center. never one to have much respect for groups that encouraged "women just being women" as it struck me as fluff, i did not waste too much of my time considering the merits or lack thereof of the center until a discussion at dinner the other day. my one roommate said that she thought a women's center was unnecessary, as there can never be equality if different genders are engaging in separate activities.

i do not advocate that men and women function in completely different societies, but if we continue this "equalization" of men and women we would just have women assimilating into the society that men have created. this is not to say that women could not do well playing by men's rules, but those rules are certainly ones by which the women are not used to playing. most (if not all) of the differences between men and women are imposed by society rather than biological in origin; this is what causes adult men and women to have, with great probability and on average, sufficiently different personalities for society to associate different traits with "male" and "female."

we can compare the assimilation of women into male-dominated society, then, to something like the assimilation of an immigrant group into american society--some assumed physical differences (asian people tend to be smaller; women tend to be smaller), no assumed biological mental differences, assumed goal of equal playing field where people are evaluated based on skill rather than some weighted evaluation (think affirmation action). the successful immigrant groups could not have risen in status and power without joining together to help each other out. take the chinese-american community, for instance. the general sentiment among them, at least among the community i know in pittsburgh, is one of "we are weak, but if we join together we will be stronger, and one day people will listen to us." do you know _how_ much people help each other out? when i was growing up, my parents' chinese friends would help each other find apartments, teach each other how to drive cars, drive those without cars to the grocery store, and pretty much do anything within limit to make sure those "fresh off the boat" would be able to get a decent start in the new land. of course there was competition between chinese people when they crossed each other's paths in the real world, but the most important thing was to promote the image of the chinese as a race.

back to the subject of women. why do women not help each other out like this? in many cases, they do. although i admit to knowing nothing about the implementation save for the weekly e-mails, the harvard women's center is a good example of women joining together, if not helping each other in their assimilation. i would say the biggest reasons women do not help each other out are the same reasons many chinese do not identify with the chinese community: competition and to be cool. competition is a biological thing--people tend to compete with those most similar to themselves because they are fighting for the same niche--ultimately, they would attract the same sort of mates so the to be better than other things of the same "class" is beneficial, yada yada yada. the being cool part is also a big deal, something that people tend to ignore. perhaps until i got to harvard, it was certainly never cool to be chinese. it is generally not cool to be part of a minority group, and after all asians are the nerdy, backward minority, are they not? i mean, being asian did not automatically make me uncool, but asians will generally agree that at least before college, they had to work in order to break the stereotypes. the same way, it's really not cool to be a woman in many respect. certainly when you are trying to get your way for something, being a woman with cleavage or wearing a short skirt is helpful. but if you want to be taken seriously--girl, are you kidding? you better chug those beers, run those sub-seven-minute miles, and participate in those halo tournaments like one of the boys. and if you are caught association with too many other women--sorry, no longer cool.

it is way past my bedtime, but the main points you should take away are that there is a big difference between the way men and women are treated in society, society has created male and female cultures, one way to have equality is for women to become like men, and it is very important for women to recognize that they should help each other out. another important thing is that i don't actually advocate full "assimilation" of women into our present male-dominated society. you see, the assimilation is never a true assimilation, both for immigration and for this gender divide; ideally, each group would learn from the other. okay, really bedtime... more tomorrow, and if not tomorrow, the next day...

my other roommate and i had a discussion about how women are treated at harvard. she has written an article about this here: