Madly In Love with NYC

Three years ago, Mi and I visited Alice in Seattle over July 4th weekend. We had a great time. But i thought Seattle was way too homogenous comparing to SF, too clean, too new, too YUPPIE. SF was a lot more diverse and gritty than Seattle. I was very proud of our little city by the bay.

The past Sunday we landed in NYC for our first vacation with Noah. and for the first time i realized the hugh contrast between SF and NYC. SF is too homogenous, too clean, too new, too YUPPIE.  Mostly it is too filled with the same kind of Silicon Valley people.  But NYC, OMG. all the bibles i’ve been reading on city planning, on how to create a vibrant and energitic city. They were all written based on NYC! They are living it!

The amount of energy is contagious. So many people, so many shops, so many neighborhoods, so many stories happening, 24/7. Gui and Matthew came with us this time, too. They were equally impressed. “It is like Europe and China combined, but better”. “it is a truly urban cosmopolitan.”

London, Paris, and Rome were all once the cosmopolitan center of the world. Now they are still great urban cities where people have been enjoying urban living for centuries. But they are no longer as diverse as they used to be. Like Paul Theroux said in “The Pillars of Hercules”:

The great multiracial stewpot of the Mediterranean had been replaced by cities that were physically larger but smaller-minded…they…had sorted themselves out, and retreated to live among their own kind. I had yet to find a Mediterranean city that was polyglot and cosmopolitan.

Even under the Ottomans, Smyrna had been full of Armenians, Greeks, Jews, Circassians, Kurds, Arabs, Gypsies, whatever, and now it was just Turks; Istanbul was the same, and so were the once-important cities of the Adriatic..It was hard to imagine a black general named Othella living in Venice now, though there were any number of Senegalese peddlers hawking trinkets there.

Certainly London and Paris are better than the current port cities of the Mediterranean. But when it comes to diversity they can’t hold a candle to New York. I met a British trador on my 3 weeks Ecudor trip, and we became really good friend. She blurred out once at dinner during our trip, “i’ve never met a Chinese person outside of a Chinese restaurant while i was in Europe.”  That was 2002. Things must have improved in the past 10 years. But the US have at least a few decades ahead of Europe in that respect.

Not sure if i’m crazy, but i’m seriously tempted to move to New York for a year or two. Just to experience such a great city first hand.  It is amazing it takes me this long to appreciate it.  I’ve visited NYC after i graduated from College. One would have thought being young, i would have loved the fast pase and the aggressiveness of the city. But it only intimidated me then.  Somehow, walking the same street, watching the same fast paced city living around me, i’m no longer bothered by its aggressiveness or its fast pace.  Maybe it was like swimming in treacherous river.  On one hand, i’ve learned a thing or two about myself and the world, so i could navigate it better. On the other hand, i also felt more grounded that I am no longer afraid of being sweeped away by the current.

Oct. 2002, when I visited Mi in NYC for the first time, he took this photo of me in the Temple of Dendur.

Nine and half years later, May 2012, he took this photo of me and Noah at the same place in the Metropolitan Museum. 🙂

Bees! Bees!

Coming to work today I got a couple of warnings from facility about thousand of bees swarming in a corner of our building complex. Our building cafe’s chef even did a special post about “swarming behavior“. Basically a beehive split into two when a new queen bee leaves and takes thousands of worker bee with her.

So this new group of bees coming out and doing house hunting in our neighborhood yesterday, and they decided to settle on a flowering tree in the front of our building.

The looped off area is on the right hand of the photo. In the center of the looped off area is the said flower tree.

I snapped the photo above from my window. It is raining and i saw people walking by and taking photos of the flowering tree with their cellphone.

Here is a close up photo our cafe chef used in his post:

Closeup on the bees on the tree trunk

Facility is trying to figure out how to gently tell the bees that this real estate is not for rent and they  have to move.

We’ve all heard all the cellphone towers have reduced bees population lately. And there happened to be a few mobile carrier’s cell installed on top of our building. We are wondering if the bees are attracted to these signals in the air?

Update: A little more research on Colony Collapse Disorder in bees, turned out the cause are not cellphone related, but more to do with infections or chemicals.  So our little plaza may not be a bad place for them, afterall, except all the foot traffic…

 

Mystery Orchid #2

Eight years ago, when I first tried my hands at keeping orchids at home. I came across the orchid community on orkut.com. I used to browse that forum full of admiration, watching those orchid expert describing how excited they were cuz the dying orchid they picked up from a-store/a-florist/a-side-walk were finally about to bloom and they had no idea what it looked like.

At the time, orchids that i bought just withered away after their store-bought bloom were spent.

Then, things change, and I learn.

Two years ago, I witnessed my first mystery orchid bloom, it was every bit as exciting as those orchid people described in that orkut community.

Today, the second mystery is solved. The process of waiting for it to bloom is like reading a very slow going novel…that has a very satisfying ending.

Dtps. I-Hsin Sun Beauty ( Phal. Salu Peoker x Dtps. Leopard Prince)

Mom picked this one up from the garbage dump of a florist near her work place. I’ve had it for a little over a year, i think. It grew two new leaves in that period. Originally mom suspected the entire batch (there were three of them) were the most common kind white moth orchid. But as the flower stem developed this winter, the colorful dots hidden inside become more and more prominent.

Looks like mom’s first orchid, a birthday gift from my sis back in 2002.

Siena 2009

During our trip to Italy in the Fall of 2009, we fell in love with Siena at first sight. Finding the couple of images from Siena for this new WordPress theme brought back flood of fond memories…

Piazza del Campo

Biccherne Covers

Gui suggested Siena as we were planning our trip. She reminded me of its appearance in the book we both loved: “Winds of War” by Herman Wouk.

He took a bus to Siena, a three-hour run up a rutted scary mountain road. Twice before he had visited the bizarre little town, all red towers and battlements and narrow crooked streets, set around a gaudy zebra-striped cathedral, on a hilltop amid rolling green and brown Tuscan vineyards.

Since the fourteenth century – so Byron had learned – nothing much had happened in Siena besides the Palios. A rich city-state of the Middle Ages, the military rival of Florence, Siena in 1348 had been isolated by the Black Death, and frozen in its present form as by a spell. A few art lovers now drifted here to admire the fourteenth-century paintings and architecture. The world at large flocked to Siena twice a year to watch the mad horse races, and otherwise let the bypassed town, a living scene out of an old tapestry, molder in the Tuscan sunshine.

Coming from the tourist swarming Florence, we loved seeing all the university students and locals walking around town when we got off the bus at Siena(an hour and 15 minutes bus ride away from Florence). We loved going into churches and museums and finding ourselves the only visiters and we could linger in peace without being asked to pay at every door way like in Florence.

The only drawback was our visit coincide with a sudden chilly spell that literately froze the town. It was not so bad during the day when the sun was out. But in the evening, the temperature dropped to 2-3C. The first night we put on every single piece of clothing we had in our luggage and braved the evening streets. We quickly admitted defeat. Grabbed two sandwich from the nearest deli and returned to our hotel room for some warmth.

We also encountered our first pleasant surprise of the trip: Biccherne Covers at “Archivio di Stato Siena” (Siena State Archive).

Biccherna is the Italian term used to describe small painted panels, named after the chief financial office of Siena, were initially created as covers for the state ledgers or administrative balance sheets between the 13th and 17th centuries. The biccherne provide a fascinating window into the daily life of an Italian city-state and evolving republic at the dawn of modern economic thinking.

In 1257 the Office of the Biccherna, …inaugurated the custom of commissioning panel paintings from the best artists in the community to function as the covers of its semi-annual collection of public ledgers.

The layout of the boards remains unchanged: at the top there is the painting and at the bottom the inscription bearing the date, the names of the main components of Biccherna, the arms of their families.

We first encountered these covers on our first walk to the Duomo (the “zebra-striped cathedral” described in Winds of War). A young man sitting in a small shop painting his version of these covers. They were fantastic. I then found out about the free tour at the State Archive where hundreds of such cover has accumulated and being preserved.

I loved the combination of the painting, the inscriptions, and the binding materials: gold plate mixed with jet-black inky background, metal studs, leather strips. They looked like those magic books from Harry Potter! ZM loved the varied and vivid arms from different families.

Who would have thought something so beautiful could have been created for tax records! Only in Italy!

The two books on the left were from the State Archive. The two on the right were done by the young man in the shop.

No photos allowed during the tour, so i only managed to snap a couple of not so well preserved books in the display case prior to our tour.
No catalog of the covers can be found in any of the bookstores in Siena. I only managed to get a thin little book with Italian and some small photos of these covers before we left Siena.
But i managed to find a few more digital copy of the cover (most of them are not of very good quality) and made a Picasa collection. It is a shame this treasure remained so little known:

Biccherne Cover – Siena

Here are a few more photos from our trip.

People enjoying the sun at Piazza del Campo. I loved this Piazza, it is so airy, lively, and peaceful. It reminded me of the square in front of Pompidou at Paris.

I loved this photo that ZM took at the back of the tower of Siena. Real people actually live here! It is the biggest disappointment we had of Florence, there don't seem to be any real people living in the center of town anymore. It feels like a theme park.

We were the only visitors to this Church on top one of Siena's three hills: Santa Maria dei Servi. We ran into an old couple from New Mexico on our way out. They insisted on taking this photo for us.

"The Zebra-Stripped Cathedral"

One of many pathways leading to Piazza del Campo

A good meal at Antica Trattoria Papei.

Our hotel receptionist recommended Antica Trattoria Papei to us. It is one of the local’s favorit restaurnts, too. The meal was good. The view was fantastic. It was tucked away in the back of the Campo, but it has a view open up to the valley and half of the town below. On our second and last night in Siena. We walked across the Campo, through the narrow medieval path way, toward the open terrace where the restaurant was located. I loved the church bell echoing through the valley. The bell tolled for the slightly fading dusk light, for the green valley opened up in front of us, and for the last shade of pink in the horizon.

I love Siena.

The 84th Oscars

As per our tradition, we had Gui and M over for dinner + Oscar viewing last night. Unfortunately Noah was in one of his fuzzy mood. But thank to M’s astonishing ability to keep Noah entertained, I actually managed to watch most of the show.

Most of the dresses are not bad looking this year, which is a vast improvements from previous couple of years. maybe it is another sign the economy is indeed picking up? Ugly dresses == recession?

The first surprise for us was how much Billy Crystal heavily made up face looked like the Chinese actor who used to play Mao Ze Dong.

Funny quote from David Denby at the New Yorker “Culture Desk”

Angelina Jolie, mounting her own pedestal as America’s sex symbol, thrust a very powerful right thigh out from a slitted black dress (the rest of her looked as lean and steely as a piece of gym equipment; you saw the skull beneath the skin). A bit later, one of the screenwriters on “The Descendants”—Jim Rash, slender, bald, and bespectacled—did the same thing with his tuxedoed leg, a neat bit of parody. Rash has been around a long time, essentially as a TV scriptwriter. With that spirit, someone should turn him loose with a movie of his own

A funny tweet from someone i’ve never heard before

Chris Rock, stop being genuinely funny – it’s very jarring.

Here is Chris Rock’s bits that comes so natural and so funny comparing to the rest of the show:

“I love animation,” he says. “I love animation because in the world of animation, you can be anything you want to be. If you’re a fat woman you can play a skinny princess. If you’re a short wimpy guy, you can play a tall gladiator. If you’re a white man you can play an Arabian prince. And if you’re a black man, you can play a donkey, or a zebra. You can’t play white, my God!”

Rock has done his fair share of animated work, including a zebra in the “Madagascar” movies. He would like you all to know that it wasn’t difficult. “I hate when people go on TV and tell you how hard it is to do animations. ‘Oh, Jay, it’s such hard work.’ No no no, UPS is hard work. Stripping wood is hard work,” he says, explaining that for animation, he just had to go into a studio and read his lines out loud.

“And then they give me a million dollars,” he added.

The Cirque du Soleil show was very cool! Almost made me want to watch a Cirque Du Soleil show live…

I’m happy that Meryl Streep won the best actress award. Apparently she hasn’t gotten one since 1982 (Sophie’s Choice). Even though she is the most nominated actor for Academy Awards (total of 17!) The New Yorker did a good summary of all the wonderful acceptance speeches she has been given at various award ceremonies. Her last night’s addition to the collection is equally funny and moving: “A Meryl Streep’s performance condensed in three minutes.”

As for the ultimate price — the Best Picture award — I don’t feel strongly about any of the movies (even though i’ve only seen half of the nominated films). I did see both Hugo and The Artist. Personally I like Hugo a little more. Kinda like last year’s oscars, The Social Network would have been my pick because it is a more interesting movie.

China Best-Selling Novels, A Suicide and a Trial, A Bronx Bakery – New Yorker Digest

CV1_TNY_02_06_12Blitt.inddThe New Yorker magazine has been great lately. They are putting out one great issue after another.

Interesting Read from the issue of Feb. 6, 2012.

1. Working Titles by Leslie T. Chang, Best-sellers for a busy nation

What do the Chinese, some of the hardest-working people on the planet, read in their spare time? Novels about work.

2. The Story of a Suicide by Ian Parker, a gay freshman and the online world

I didn’t have an opinion about age limit or the lack of from all the big sites: Google, Facebook, Twitter. Until i read this article. The story illustrated a regrettable tragedy that could have been so easily avoided only if people involved actually “TALK” to each other instead of just living their life on line…

Given the fact that teens are cruel by nature, and they don’t understand their action will have consequences. The web just magnified the destructive force of their words many folds, maybe age limit is not such a bad thing, afterall?!

3. Out of the Bronx by by Ian Frazier, When private equity bought the bakery

Lastly, the cover is pretty funny. Its title is “The Big Game”. 🙂

GroupThink, Obama’s Presidency – New Yorker Digest

Jan. 30, 2012

Jan. 30, 2012Just

Just finished reading the latest issue of New Yorker. Really enjoyed two articles in particular.

1. Groupthink by – The brainstorming myth

First half of the article explained why brainstorming (w/o criticism) doesn’t work, but brainstorming with debate does.

Even when alternative views are clearly wrong, being exposed to them still expands our creative potential.  In a way, the power of dissent is the power of surprise.  After hearing someone shout out an errant answer, we work to understand it, which causes us to reassess our initial assumptions and try out new perspectives.  “Authentic dissent can be difficult, but it’s always invigorating,” Nemeth says. “It wakes us right up.”

The 2nd half is about how buildings make a group more creative. Examples including Pixar building designed by Jobs, and Building 20 of MIT.

The lesson of Building 20 is that when the composition of the group is right — enough people with different perspectives running into one another in unpredictable ways — the group dynamic will take care of itself.  All these errant discussions add up.  In fact, they may even be the most essential part of the creative process.  Although such conersations will occasionally be unpleasant–not everyone is always in the mood for small talk or criticism –that doesn’t mean that they can be avoided.  The most creative spaces are those which hurl us together. It is the human friction that makes the sparks.

2. The Obama Memos by Ryan Lizza, The making of a post-post-partisan Presidency.

Obama was learning the same lesson of many previous occupants of the Oval Office: he didn’t have the power that one might think he had. Harry Truman, one in a long line of Commanders-in-Chief frustrated by the limits of the office, once complained that the President “has to take all sorts of abuse from liars and demagogues. . . . The people can never understand why the President does not use his supposedly great power to make ’em behave. Well, all the President is, is a glorified public relations man who spends his time flattering, kissing and kicking people to get them to do what they are supposed to do anyway.

Obama didn’t remake Washington. But his first two years stand as one of the most successful legislative periods in modern history. Among other achievements, he has saved the economy from depression, passed universal health care, and reformed Wall Street. Along the way, Obama may have changed his mind about his 2008 critique of Hillary Clinton. “Working the system, not changing it” and being “consumed with beating” Republicans “rather than unifying the country and building consensus to get things done” do not seem like such bad strategies for success after all.

“Genius…, is supremely normal.”

“The normal is what you find but rarely. The normal is an ideal. It is a picture that one fabricates of the average characteristics of men, and to find them all in a single man is hardly to be expected.

“It seems to me that what makes genius is the combination of natural gifts for creation with an idiosyncrasy that enables its possessor to see the world personally in the highest degree, and yet with such catholicity that his appeal is not to this type of man or to that type, but to all men. His private world is that of common men, but ampler and more pithy. His communication is universal, and though men may not be able to tell exactly what it signifies that they feel that it is important. He is supremely normal.

–W. Somerset Maugham, “The Summing Up”

I read Maugham’s little autobiography of a book “The Summing Up” in early 2009. The quote above struck me as unique and amusing. Late 2011, when i was reading Jobs biography, i found myself kept on returning to this quote.

The world’s perception of Apple’s recent success (starting with ipod) was due to Jobs’ design genius, and his consideration for his users. But reading the biography, one realized that is a lie. Jobs couldn’t care less about users. 99.9% of us are nothing but moron’s in Jobs mind anyways. So how do we explain this conflict of superb received design and Jobs condescension of common men?

The only explanation i can think of is that Jobs wasn’t designing for the users. He was designing for himself, period. And it just happened, his taste has the mass appealof a genius. Using Maugham’s metaphor, most of us have our own little quirks. What we like don’t translate to what most others will like. But Jobs happened to have the “appeal that is not to this type of man or to that type, but to all men.”

On top of that genius, Jobs is probably the most persuasive deal maker silicon valley has ever seen. iPod, even with its gorgeous design and superb craftsmanship, would have still failed if Jobs weren’t able to secure those deals with record companies. That kind of deal making is what makes Apple stand out among all other tech companies.

The rumored Apple TV would be a good case to watch. I dont’ doubt Apple has the technical ability and design talent to make their TV a beauty. But the key is whether they can make the required deals with media companies like Jobs did for iPod.

Oh yeah, and the “rebel” image Jobs put up with the 1984 Superbowl commercial? That’s a lie, too. Jobs was probably the biggest control freak who won’t be out-controlled by anyone else. So if you think the deal he signed with carrier is meant to liberating the users, think again. Users are just being locked up by Apple instead of carriers. Pick your prison. But don’t’ delude yourself thinking you are free.

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Holiday Party onboard USS Hornet


When i joined my current company, i went to its holiday party (with Gui) then just to check out the scene. ZM refuses to go to any social gatherings that has a dress code. I wasn’t into holiday parties. So i’ve never been to a holiday party after that first year.

The venue of this year’s party is so unique that I was intrigued. When i told ZM, he expressed interest too. It became an even easier decision when i found out there is not really a dress code. Anything from Black-tie to jeans and t-shirt are welcome.

We spent most of the time below the party–engine room, sick bay, Torpedo berthing–or above the party — flight deck, the Admirals Bridge, the Pilot House, and the Combat Information Center. Fascinating! The scene at the party was equally good looking. The 40’s theme goes very well with the interior of the hangars of the aircraft carrier. Many guys showed up as sailor or pilot. Some were in dashing Navy Officer suits. Most women showed up in full 40’s style wear to the t. The music was chosen from the 40’s as well. So were the dancing.

What really caught me by surprise was how good the food was. The open bar certainly helped. I also loved the desert table, which has the name of “Port of call – France”. yumm.

Holiday Party onboard USS Hornet

Holiday Party onboard USS Hornet

I looked up “40’s fashion” before hand, and they really aren’t my cup of tea (thank heaven’s I didn’t have to live in the 40’s). Since ZM was just going wearing his everyday clothing, I don’t need to be too formal either. So i just threw something together from my wardrobe. I stayed warm and comfy, and i get to wear this skirt that i bought for a song many many years ago and never had a chance to wear it! (I had on a very comfy pair of boots under that skirt).

Amazed and Surprised

If you are like me, having spent better half of your working life being told to tame your “tactless communication style,” “try not to upset anyone this time” “why do you always have to get into a fight?” Imagine how surprised i am when i’m sitting at my annual review meeting with my new boss and being told specifically, “I’d much rather you stay animated than not.  Sometimes it is no avoiding upsetting people, and that is okay.”

It is like sitting an alcoholic at an open bar. My jaw dropped to the floor.

I couldn’t think of anything to say until much later.

I wonder whether it is because my previous bosses have curbed my “tactless communication style” so much that my new boss had no idea which kind of liberty he just give me. Has he any idea what kind of spectacular “shock” i am capable of unleashing?!

but it is a refreshing point of view. Having been working for so long and having been through the same old annual review for so long, i’m surprised to learn that “it is okay to be yourself.” I have to admit i like the sound of it.  I had the urge to just get out and pick a fight.

Just kidding. 🙂

Melancholia

Melancholia

There is a memorable line from “A River Runs Through It“: “we can love completely without complete understanding.”  That’s how i feel about this movie, “Melancholia“.

I don’t understand it completely, but i find it deeply moving. Now thinking back, i realize it is also beautifully made: the cinematography and the music, which i just found out were from Wagner’s Opera “Tristan Und Isolde.”

First part of the movie is about a luxuriously arranged wedding goes horribly wrong, mostly because of the erratically behaving bride. Normally i might have started disliking the bride being such an irresponsible brat. But since i just finished reading Water Isaacson’s “Steve Jobs”, Justine’s struggle with depression seemed largely innocent and heartbreaking comparing to Jobs cold manipulation and abuse of others.

I absolutely fell in love with the 2nd part.  Charlotte Gainsbourg’s acting is phenomenon, the story telling, the music, the landscape, everything is perfectly done.

Some of the reviews mentioned how in the face of disaster, Claire (by Charlotte Gainsbourg) freaked out but Justine (by Kirsten Dunst) was completely calm. In an interview with the director Lars von Trier, he mentioned that in the face of sudden disaster, usually victims of severe depression tend to be calm compare to normal population because they go through the kind of devastation all the time.

In the Fresh Air interview, Dunst said her understanding is that Justine is the one calling Melancholia to earth because that was her planet, she could be calm because she was returning home.

But what moved me the most was why Claire was panic. It was not because she was afraid for her life, or her bourgeois existence (granted, i love the castle she and her family live in!). She was panic because if it was true, if Melancholia really was going to hit the earth, then Leo, her young son, won’t have a chance to grow up.

That line made me cry all the way home. I think probably all parents of young children could relate.

Think about it more, given how chaotic the universe really is, isn’t it miraculous that nothing significant has hit our planet all these time?!

For that i need to watch Melancholia one more time.

What a Week!

It is Noah’s first week at day care.
Winter storm started on Monday ended our shortlived(barely 2 weeks?) Indian Summer.
Apple announced IPhone 4S which was largely criticized as underwhelming.
Then the real big news hit everyone by surprise: Steve Jobs, the star of our century, Passed Away.

Shortly after i started on my first job, one evening as i was leaving, i found a graphic artist friend was also working late, we started chatting. He was telling me about the new documentary on “BLUES”. We started talking about how great the beginning of 20th century was, with all those stars born, all those exciting social changes and the World Wars were brewing. I remember myself sighed, “We live in such boring times, comparing to that.”

Soon after that conversation, dot com boom was in full swing, then the bust, then the election drama that got Bush in the office, then 911, the wars, Obama, Steve Jobs announcing ipod, iphone, ipad, macbook air, the financial crisis, the rise of China, etc. etc.

I couldn’t dream of a more exciting time to live.

“Be careful what you wish for…”

Comfort Zone

Had to do some UI mockup at work, after trying out a few UI mock tools, i finally pulled out emacs and started code them up myself. I did a few years of web UI coding in my last job. Many many times i had the urge to throw my monitor out of the office window. Learning javascript does that to you. But now, for some strange reason, i felt immense comfort to be back in the UI land, tweaking the elements on a page, learning new css, jquery tricks. Even the frustration generated by javascript felt somehow familiar, and comforting.

In my spare time i started re-read Peter Hessler’s China trilogy. Good writing always put me in a good mood.

So here i am, good reading plus css make me feel a gentle kind of happiness that i haven’t felt for a long while.

Shows how much i dislike working with hardware. ha.

Shuttle Roulette

We’ve been planning Friday evening dinner with friends on a very adhoc fashion. When deciding the actual meeting time, I always start from the point i get home, then determine the travel time from home to the restaurant. Since i take company shuttle, we had to plan our dinner based on the shuttle schedule.

Not until a few weeks ago did i realize i don’t have to plan everything based on the limited shuttle time that reaches my neighborhood. Instead i could take advantage of all these shuttles that reache different neighborhood of the city and just meet friends in the said restaurant. duh!

But one drawback is i often underestimate the effort required to walk one block of San Franciscan street, especially when steep hill is involved. Last time we met in Zarzuela. I got off the shuttle at Van Ness and Union, and had to pick up my jaw from the floor. The “only 3 blocks to Hyde on Union” happens to include two consecutive steep hills. I really earned my dinner that day.

Today in a minor panic i realized i just missed the Noe Valley shuttle i meant to take. ZM was going to pick me up from the shuttle stop and go north to Chinatown for dinner. Quickly i glanced the upcoming shuttles in SF. and realized there are 3-5 shuttles coming a few minutes apart that will drop me along the way from Noe to North Beach.

I could just play shuttle roulette. Whichever one i happened to catch, there is a way for me to get to dinner on time.

I wonder if an European style public transportation will damp my admiration for our shuttle system someday… I pray that day to come sooner…

City Living

1. Crossroad Cafe
A serendipitous morning like this makes me appreciate the beauty of city living.

For the first time, we made it to Crossroad Cafe on Delancey street for breakfast. Because I heard they have bagels shipped from New York City. The bagel was so-so. But their patio was spacious and beautiful, with nicely landscaped trees, plants, and bird-bath. It reminded me of those cute little courtyards of “bed and breakfast” during our travels. In the back of the courtyard, a large wrought iron gate framed the languide view of Embarcadero Blvd. with the expansive bay as its backdrop. San Francisco Marathon was in full swing on the boulevard. The morning was overcast but temperature was perfect. Warm coffee in hand, sitting under the shade, surrounded by lush garden, watching the runners passing, what more could one ask?

2. Two Picasso Exhibits
There are currently two Picasso exhibits on display in San Francisco. After seeing both, I much prefer the less expansive and less crowded The Steins Collect MATISSE, PICASSO, AND THE PARISIAN AVANT-GARDE at SFMOMA. Maybe because i’ve been to the PIcasso museum in Paris a few times, so the paintings in de young seemed less impressive to me. Meanwhile, those in SFMOMA seemed more interesting partly because many are new to me, partly because having both Picasso and Matisse on view made the exhibit richer and more interesting.

3. Foggy July
In my limited experience of living in SF, July has always been the most foggy and cold. Last July was especially so. I remember having to wear thick sweaters at night after coming home with Noah. This July, heavy morning fog materialized as usual, but temperature has remained warm. We can wear short sleeves at home most days. Bliss. Cereus has been blooming nonstop in the last couple of weeks.

The Dragon Wakes

dancewithdragons

I’m at 70% of Book 5 of “A Song of Ice and Fire”. Full of respect for GRRM’s discipline. Seemingly minor characters in previous books end up playing important roles in the following books. One example is Theon. I flipped through a lot of Theon passages in book 4, now I realized I need to go back and re-read those since Theon is a linchpin in Book 5. Similarly of those iron borns story. Both Gui and I had complained about them in book 4. Now I sensed the iron born fleet will be coming to main stage. The seemingly boring parts were just stage setting, in the grand scheme of things, they all matter!

A very satisfying reading experience. So grateful for a world with writer such as GRRM.

The Wall

For those who is reading “A Song of Fire and Ice” series, “The Wall” has a special meaning. But today I just want to talk about a normal climbing wall.

Shortly after i joined my current company, i’ve heard a group of people were trying to get an indoor climbing wall put up on campus. I was ecstatic when i first heard. Imagine that! A wall right at our door step. i don’t even need to leave campus! I could pop in whenever i have half an hour to spare, try a route, sweat and feel all the stress melting away; then walk back to my desk and continue working. No gym membership fee, no driving. Ah, how grand that would be!

As the years went by, it kept on falling through. Each time there was a gym renovation, the mirage of “the wall” would appear. We the bright-eyed wall lovers would dream of “the wall” for a while. Then the gym would finish renovating, reopen, and no wall. 🙁

After a couple of incidents like this, i stopped dreaming.

But the small group of people who started it didn’t give up. Last May the dream came true! We got a wall installed in a lobby of a building that just finished renovation! What’s more, i found out one of the guys B, who led that small group of people, turned out to be a new director who came to our department not too long ago! B told me the group started pushing for a wall since 4-5 years ago. Persistence paid off!

But by then i was 2 months away from delivering Noah. And my department was scheduled to move to the opposite end of the campus from where the wall is located. Then i hurt my left wrist nursing during my maternity leave and it took months and months for it to heal.

Fast forward to this year. My wrists are good to go. I’ve left my department during a re-org. Now i work directly across the street from the wall. Yet i’ve been dragging my feet.

W is new to the company and joined our team a few months ago. He is a big outdoor person, and has been taking full advantage of the wall and loving it. He kept on inviting team member to go with him during one of his climbing sessions. Yesterday i finally said okay i would go and i would bring my shoes. He said there are harness and self-belay ropes, which means even for top-roping you don’t need a partner! There are also lots of bouldering routes.

So i made sure to have a few minutes this morning dashing to the basement to grab my climbing shoes and chalk bag, before leaving for work. In the afternoon, managed to drag myself away from all the meetings and walked across the street in the warm South Bay sunlight.

It, Was, Awesome.

The bouldering area is approximately only 1/3 of the size (length) of the bouldering “cave” in Santa Clara Planet Granite. But there are quite a few good routes. (Oh, climbers in the company set up the route themselves) I spent about half an hour trying out two routes, and worked out quite a sweat. I forgot how happy i get when i’m on a bouldering route. Pure Joy.

The best part was how convenient it all was. It takes less than 5 minutes for me to walk downstairs, cross the street and be on the wall. There is also a gym in my building, so i could use the locker room on my way back for a shower.

Remembering the days when i was working in Sunnyvale, I thought it was already very nice that i could drive over to PG during lunch time and have a bouldering session for an hour, then drove to a deli for food, and back to my desk 2 hours later.

I’m now in heaven. My arms are sore but my heart is dancing, hands sweaty.

Gonna try bouldering at least twice a week from now on. W was very eager to show me how the self-belay rope worked. It looked neat. But i found myself happiest on a bouldering route.

Oh, and B, the new director who started all these, who keeps his climbing shoes in his car, still hasn’t made it out to the wall, not even once. W said he will for sure drag him there one of these days…

Does Power Corrupt Absolutely?

The New Yorker, May 23, 2011
The Secret Sharer
Is Thomas Drake an enemy of the state?
by Jane Mayer

When President Barack Obama took office, in 2009, he championed the cause of government transparency, and spoke admiringly of whistle-blowers, whom he described as “often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government.” But the Obama Administration has pursued leak prosecutions with a surprising relentlessness. Including the Drake case, it has been using the Espionage Act to press criminal charges in five alleged instances of national-security leaks—more such prosecutions than have occurred in all previous Administrations combined. The Drake case is one of two that Obama’s Justice Department has carried over from the Bush years.

The Trial and Tribulation of a KDFC Listener

San Francisco Bay Area had an excellent classical radio station, called KDFC. It occupied its own preset dial in our car and our stereo system. Same was true for our friend Gui & Matthew. We also bookmarked its website on our phone and laptop so we can pinpoint what was playing at any given time, too.

The frequency was not terribly strong, and especially bad around where we live now. So after we left Cole street, we haven’t been able to listen to it at home. We still had it in our car.

One day out of the blue we found out that it was bought by public radio. What does it mean? I vaguely remembered hearing about people protest such a move, but it didn’t really register in my mind until i get in my car one day and found out 102.1 FM no longer broadcasts classical music! Only then did i realize this has been the one and only classical radio station in the entire bay area.

It became unbearable when i drove to work a couple of times last week. I found myself turning off the radio all together. There must be a way!

Last weekend, i sat off to find a way.

Starting from kdfc’s website, where i learned the radio station has changed its frequency to 89.9FM and 90.3FM. Didn’t sound so bad! Happily, i started tuning my stereo at home trying to see if we can get any signal. Nothing but white noise. 🙁 Same for the car radio when we were driving around for errands.

What else? kdfc.com indicated that web streaming is another way, that means i need a speaker set for my laptop at home and probably a dedicated laptop if we want to listen that way semi-regularly. Not practical for the car.

Then i saw it has an iphone app that turns the phone into a little radio. This could work! Our car has an Aux cable that can connect to a MP3 player. At home i will only need a speaker set for an iphone.

I quickly tried the app on my iphone. it worked great! And we also have ZM’s old iphone 2G that had been laying around doing nothing. We could use the iphone 2G at home and use my iphone when we get in the car.

Except ZM had unlocked the iphone 2G when he just got it so he could use a non-ATT SIM when he was traveling. It means the phone’s OS was frozen in time. The time it was frozen in happened to be pre-app store. I decided to upgrade the phone even if it means it would be locked again. Since we weren’t planning on using it for a phone anyways.

But what i didn’t expect was that once upgraded to its proper OS minus the hacking, I can no longer activate the phone without a proper AT&T sim! Now i have a little brick that only allows me to dial 911. urgh.

So back to jail break land. Being the original iphone is like being the only dinosaur survived the ice age. I went through three different processes, which all claimed to work for iphone 2G. but none did succeed. Just when i thought all hopes were lost. Last night, i found yet another jailbreak site for the original iphone. Lo ‘n’ behold, it worked!

Finally, we welcomed KDFC back to our lives. Oh, the Joy!

New Yorker Digest

Whatever reading time that I had has been allocated mainly for my new favorite – Kindle. Miraculously, i did manage to squeeze in a few New Yorker articles along the way, constantly trying to rescue the fragile magazine from Noah’s grasp.

1. (May 2, 2011) The Consequentialist – How the Arab Spring remade Obama’s foreign policy. by Ryan Lizza

I heard Ryan Lizza talking to Terry Gross while i was driving home. Upon arriving home, i found this new issue has just arrived! I dug into the article right away.  Typical of anything Obama related in the New Yorker, this is a fascinating read. I want to quote the entire article!  Instead, i will just leave this little teaser here:

During the peak of the protests in Iran, Jared Cohen, a young staffer at the State Department who worked for Slaughter, contacted officials at Twitter and asked the company not to perform a planned upgrade that would have shut down the service temporarily in Iran, where protesters were using it to get information to the international media. The move violated Obama’s rule of non-interference.

White House officials “were so mad that somebody had actually ‘interfered’ in Iranian politics, because they were doing their damnedest to not interfere,” the former Administration official said. “Now, to be fair to them, it was also the understanding that if we interfered it could look like the Green movement was Western-backed, but that really wasn’t the core of it. The core of it was we were still trying to engage the Iranian government and we did not want to do anything that made us side with the protesters. To the Secretary’s credit, she realized, I think, before other people, that this is ridiculous, that we had to change our line.” The official said that Cohen “almost lost his job over it. If it had been up to the White House, they would have fired him.”

2. (April 25, 2011) Brand-New Bag – The man from Coach goes upscale. (Reed Krakoff), by Ariel Levy

I was more mesmerized by the description of his townhouse in Upper East Side, NYC; than by his fashion line. Impatiently finished reading the article (afraid of missing any bits of description of his house), i went on-line and found this article from Vogue:

Reed and Delphine Krakoff: Design for Living

Krakoff Living Room

Krakoff Living Room

Cool Sheep Chairs

Cool Sheep Chairs

3. (April 18, 2011) The Grand Tour – Chinese vacations in Europe, by Evan Osnos. Other than “Chinese” are the new “Japanese” in the tourism, it is interesting to see the places Chinese grand tour includes, e.g. Karl Marx’s birthplace: Trier, Germany

Kindle Screen Saver

丰子恺 - Kindle Screen Saver

丰子恺 - Kindle Screen Saver

Over the weekend, i just jail-broke my kindle to install a Chinese themed screen saver. During the process, i learned that previous Kindle edition allowed user to customize the screen saver with images of their choice. With Kindle 3 (even Kindle 2.x?), however, the screen saver is locked down. One has to jail break it before installing her own screen saver.

It seemed a silly product decision.

Until this morning when i read this: Amazon to Sell the Kindle Reader at a Lower Price, but With Advertising Added.

Aha!

“We want red food!”

Meal menu at our company cafes are color coded. Green means healthy. Red means unhealthy, Yellow means somewhere in the middle. The cafe in our building happens to be one of the healthiest among them all. It means when you walk in there, most days you see only green and yellow colored items on the menu.

We had some engineers from an Asian partner company coming and working with us for a week recently. By the third day, they had the color code figured out. When their host, to save time, took them go the cafe downstairs, they solemnly demanded, “We want red food! Red means delicious!”

Contacts Sync for iPhone

One major pain of changing mobile phone used to be the difficulty of contact syncing, until Android came along. We are all started building up our contact info in the Gmail Contacts. and switching phones requires zero effort to get the same group of contacts show up instantly.

Well, until you have to switch to an non-android phone. Noah has been chewing on my android so much that it finally gave in. Today i had to switch my sim back into the Iphone 3G i have been using around the house as a clock. I was so shocked to find out i had zero contact when i tried to call Gui this afternoon. Then i remembered iTune updated my iphone recently.

After being spoiled by Android for so long, i had no plan of entering my contact by hands back into a phone. So i found out about this: Macs inside Google: OS x.10.5.3: Sync Google Contacts.

Worked like a charm.

Paris Journal: Like a King

A hilarious and informative read from New Yorker Archive:
Paris Journal: Like a King–How to have a baby in France
By Adam Gopnik

In New York, …, pregnancy is a medical condition that, after proper care by people in white coats and a brief hospital stay, can have a “positive outcome.” In Paris, it is something that has happened because of sex, which, with help and counsel, can end with your being set free to go out and have more sex. In New York, pregnancy is a ward in the House of medicine; in Paris, it is a chapter in a sentimental education…

The Social Network

The Social Network

The Social Network

Finally watched this film. I liked it. A couple of articles from the New Yorker provided very good contextual read relating to the film.

The last paragraph from David Denby’s review summed up my main impression after watching the film.

Zuckerberg’s tragedy, of course, is that he leaves behind his friends as well as his intellectual inferiors. It may not be fair to Zuckerberg, but Sorkin and Fincher have set him up as a symbolic man of the age, a supremely functional prince of dysfunction. Charles Foster Kane was convivial and outgoing; Zuckerberg engages only the world he is creating. But those viewers who think of him as nothing more than a vindictive little shit will be responding to only one part of him. He’s a revolutionary because he broods on his personal grievances and, as insensitive as he is, reaches the aggrieved element in everyone, the human desire for response. He’s meant to be a hero—certainly he’s Fincher’s hero, an artist working in code who sticks to his vision and is helpless to prevent himself from suffering the most wounding personal loss.

I also really like the scene when the twins to go and meet Harvard’s president Larry Summers. David Denby’s interpretation of the scene seems amusing to me.

Fincher and Sorkin treat the brothers as squarely honorable traditionalists. They go to see Larry Summers (Douglas Urbanski), then the president of Harvard, to complain about Zuckerberg, and one can feel, in this seemingly unimportant scene, history falling into place, a shift from one kind of capitalism to another. Fincher and Sorkin wickedly imply that Summers is Zuckerberg thirty years older and many pounds heavier. He has the same kind of brightest-guy-in-the-room arrogance, and little sympathy for entitled young men talking about ethics when they’ve been left behind by a faster innovator.

As if to vindicate Denby’s claim above, here is a little revelation from Jose Antonio Vargas’s article that closes up this perfect circle.

In the early years, Facebook tore through a series of senior executives. “A revolving door would be an understatement—it was very unstable,” Breyer said. Within ten days of hiring an executive, Breyer told me, Zuckerberg would e-mail or call him and say that the new hire needed to get the boot. Things calmed down in March, 2008, when Zuckerberg hired Sheryl Sandberg, a veteran of Google who was the chief of staff for Lawrence Summers when he was Secretary of the Treasury. She joined Facebook as the company’s chief operating officer, and executives followed her from companies like eBay, Genentech, and Mozilla. A flood of former Google employees soon arrived, too.

Zukerberg and Sandberg really gets along. Zukerberg and Summers probably would’ve too.

While David Denby’s review is about the movie and the director. Jose Antonio Vargas article extended the story outside of the movie, the saga continues…

Meanwhile, however, most of Zuckerberg’s close friends, who worked for Facebook at the start, have left. Adam D’Angelo, who has been friends with Zuckerberg since their hacking and programming days at Exeter, teamed up with another former Facebook employee, Charlie Cheever, to start Quora.com, a social network that aggregates questions and answers on various topics. Chris Hughes, Zuckerberg’s Harvard roommate, left to join the Obama campaign and later founded the philanthropic site Jumo.com.

In part, the exodus reflects the status that former Facebook employees have in the tech world. But the departures also point to the difficulty some people have working for Zuckerberg. It’s hard to have a friend for a boss, especially someone who saw the site, from its inception, as “A Mark Zuckerberg production”—the tag line was posted on every page during Facebook’s early days. “Ultimately, it’s ‘the Mark show,’ ” one of his closest friends told me.

In late July, Facebook launched the beta version of Questions, a question-and-answer product that seems to be a direct competitor of Quora. To many people, the move seemed a vindictive attack on friends and former employees. In an interview, Cheever declined to comment, as did Matt Cohler, another friend who left the company, and who invested in Quora.

Chris Cox, Facebook’s vice-president of product, said that Facebook Questions is not an attack on Quora. “We’ve been talking about questions being the future of the way people search for stuff, so it was a matter of time before we built it,” Cox told me. “Getting there first is not what it’s all about.” He added, “What matters always is execution. Always.”

The surprising fact that i didn’t know before reading Vargas’ story was that Zuckerberg’s “classical streak.”

It is very fitting, in a way. The fact that most of his close friends have left reminded me of Kings and Emperors from history, when they started killing their generals after the empire has been built. Because an empire belongs to the King, and to the King only.

Another fun fact from Vargas’ article. “The West Wing” was Zuckerberg’s favorite tv show, until he found out the script writer of this movie is the same person, then he took “West Wing” off his “favorite” from his facebook page. On the other hand, when Vargas’ told Sorkin that Zuckerberg is a big fan of “The West Wing”, Sorkin felt a bit awkward “I really wish you haven’t told me that.”

Lastly, if you are like me, you might also want to read the script:
The Social Network.