Tuesday, December 23, 2008

just tell me what to buy, part II

I was just reading some of last Sunday's Business section of the NYT out loud to my sister, trying to distract her from her nausea (she has a stomache virus). Have you ever read a newspaper out loud? It's weird. Sometimes things unintentionally (i can only hope) rhyme.

Anyway, there were two articles that got me thinking. One was about Facebook and social media advertising by the big guys, like P&G. Summarizing, it's totally not working. Everyone is an idiot. P&G has some sort of fan page for Crest Whitestrips that has 18,000 fans, and they had to do a massive amount of college promotion just to get that. As I'm sure you know, 18,000 is pathetic for something that's supposed to have as wide appeal as Crest Whitestrips.

The second article was about Jay Leno and his move to the 10 PM EST/9 PM CST hour. The author was in favor because he has a lot of trouble staying up late anyway. He said something about the midnight 6 minute commercial break, and I was totally confused. People still watch things real time? And are subjected to commercials! How novel. I DVR, download, or stream almost all of what I watch.

Here's something that I'm not sure I really believe: did TV advertising ever really work? Maybe it used to work, but does it still work? I really don't think seeing an ad for some GM car while watching Heroes makes me any more likely to buy that car. Does it work for anyone? It usually just makes me cranky. The thing I miss most from commercials (since I watch everything on DVR or online) is seeing what's happening on other shows, and what new things are going to be on. That's because, duh, I'm watching TV. I probably will watch more TV in the future, and showing me some new show is a well targeted placement.

That's one of the problems I've always had with social network advertising. The targeting is so crappy that the ads are just annoying, and people are never willing to shill out their friends (the NYTimes article had 3% responding to a survey saying they might do this). Showing an ad for Tide or Crest Whitestrips is a shot in the dark. Ads on search engines are so much better -- you actually know I'm looking for the thing and probably in a buying mood.

But I finally made a connection in my head (everyone else probably already knew this) -- social networks really could be awesome for recommendations. This relates to thoughts I've had recently on the fashion/style/beauty blogs I read, but I'll get to how in a second. First, the situation: I want a new pair of boots. My sister keeps raving about her Kenneth Cole Bard Tenders (I don't know what that name means either). I am probably going to buy a pair based solely on her recommendation. How powerful is that?

I posted on Friend Feed that I bought a pair of Steve Madden boots, and someone said that they're crappy quality. I got them, and lo and behold, they sucked. The recommendations from my social community can be really valuable, and I'm more likely to take them. Most of the people on Zappos said the boots were great. Of course, almost all the reviews for shoes on Zappos are positive. Clearly people who order from Zappos are crazy.

The problem is when you introduce compensation into this lovely circle of recommendations. I'm not going to trust people if they're getting paid (ugh. the Sugar blogs), but at the same time, shouldn't they get paid? My sister loves her shoes, and tells everyone about them. She's helping me and she's really helping Kenneth Cole.

I've found that I'm even willing to take recommendations from random blogs, if I like the authors enough and feel like we have similar tastes. I read the Daily Obsession, and I keep thinking I should unsubscribe because they keep recommending things that I have no need for at the time that I read the post. But then a post will come up for something lovely that I am interested in at that time. I absolutely hate that about blogs -- they broadcast information at you when you might not be ready to get it. How much has not been useful to me because I got it at the wrong time?

Social networks should do a better job of mining and relating my favorite brands and products, and making it accessible in a highly targeted, time-independent way. Maybe I can't make money from my purchases and findings about products because of a conflict of interest, but someone should.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

ah, the stresses of life

This post [penelope trunk] made me want to hire an attorney just so I could yell at him when I get stressed. Can you really do that to attorneys? Can I yell at my CPA? I have one of those. Of course, I avoid him and leave his emails unread in my inbox because I still haven't filed my taxes for 2007.

Monday, November 17, 2008

screaming girls and their mothers

This is hilarious. I love it when the new york times is forced to report on stuff like Twilight and High School Musical. They get so confused.

Back on the stage at the King of Prussia Mall, Mr. Pattinson continued to stand awkwardly but, somehow, fantastically beautifully at the same time. A local radio D.J. fed him written questions from the audience, but his answers were buried by screaming.

“Do you guys care about the questions, or do you just want to talk about nothing?” Mr. Pattinson asked.

A young woman in a shirt emblazoned with the Cullen family crest spoke for many: “We just want to look at you.”

Friday, November 14, 2008

GOOP: My new favorite newsletter

Gwyneth Paltrow is starting to brand herself, and it's awesome, though strangely named: goop.com

I think this is quite brilliant. Who doesn't want to be Gwyneth Paltrow? I do. She's gorgeous and gets front row tickets and backstage passes to all the Coldplay concerts. She's also intriguingly weird (macrobiotic diet, no "white" foods).

There's a lot of fashion and beauty conscious denizens on the internet, people. And what do we want? Simple. TELL ME WHAT TO BUY. Tell me exactly what to do to look pretty and feel good. Tell me all the hair putties and buckled boots and straightening irons and weird cleanses you've tried, what worked, what didn't, what's the best value, etc. Seriously. I've said this many times: The internet is great if you want to buy a digital camera or HDTV, but horrible if you're trying to find not too tall gray suede boots that are comfortable to walk in and won't fall apart for a good price. Places like Zappos are getting there, but they need to be kicked into the 21st century of web browsing (filtering and searching on Zappos sucks). This is something I'd love to work on, actually -- what sorts of information do these people want? How do you keep the advice independent but still make money? When you recommend a product, should you get a cut? How do you handle the wide variety of body shapes, sizes, and tastes?

Any ideas, or awesome websites you like? i have a bunch of fashion blogs in my Google Reader (Omiru is definitely a favorite).

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

David Brooks on "The Behavioral Revolution"

David Brooks had this op-ed piece in the New York Times:   The Behavioral Revolution. I feel like the following quote (describing Nassim Taleb) sums up so much of why I have issues with purely market based solutions:
He subscribes to what he calls the tragic vision of humankind, which “believes in the existence of inherent limitations and flaws in the way we think and act and requires an acknowledgement of this fact as a basis for any individual and collective action.” If recent events don’t underline this worldview, nothing will.
There are fundamental flaws in our rationality (which David Brooks lists):  overweighting recent events against old ones, believing that good things are the result of action on our part while bad things are more likely to be bad luck, overrecognizing patterns that don't exist.  The brain is a massive pattern-recognizing machine!  We need to rethink our ideas on what it means to be a rational actor.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Friday, September 19, 2008

The parking spots outside ritual


end of an era

The movers are packing up my room right now.  Goodbye, 752 Shotwell.  You have seen many roommates and I have many fond memories of times spent here.  From moving in right before going to India in December 2003, to coming back in January 2004 with some horrid stomache virus and spending the next week curled up in pain on your pristine, unfurnished floors.  The apartment never was that clean again.  Living with Radha (hi Radha!) for a fun year, Todd moving in to the room we accidentally had painted a lovely girly shade of lilac, Todd moving out, Greg moving in (and immediately painting the room white), Radha moving out, Adrienne moving in, Greg moving out, Josh, the unlikely but awesome punk DIY vegan, moving in, a stable year or two with me/Adj/Josh, and the beginning of the Plant Era.  Josh moving out and Sarah moving in, and the Plant Era became the Plants Are Taking Over Era.  Adrienne moving out and Ricky moving in, a stable year or so with me/Sarah/Ricky, finally learning how to ride a bike, and now Sarah is in San Diego, I'm moving to Cambridge, and the apartment gets new tenants in Omar and Audrey.  It's a great place!  Countless people have crashed on these floors.  I think everyone who lived here was converted to the way of the Tivo.  Many bottles of wine were drunk.  Mounds of burritos were eaten.  Too many walks were made between here and the shuttle stop.  The neighborhood is getting gentrified right under our eyes (hello Limon Rotisserie -- oh, and if you haven't been there, it's delicious and inexpensive) while simultaneously experiencing a crime spree inching up the city's murder rate dramatically.  

Though you might not be able to tell in California, fall is finally here.  A new year is starting.  It's time to say goodbye to fond old places, and make memories in new ones.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Thursday, September 4, 2008

republican national convention

Have you guys been watching this? Did you SEE Fred Thompson's speech? It looked like everybody in there was about to cry. Summary: He went into very specific detail about all the torture McCain endured during his 5.5 years of capture in Vietnam. Wow. I don't know the whole story, but I have to admit, the man seems to have some integrity.

The Huffington Post has the video and text of the speech. I encourage you to watch it.

Hmmm. Other sources indicate there were some slightly (very slightly) less honorable moments during his time there, but on the whole I don't think they detract much from the image Fred Thompson presented.

I didn't really see any of the Democratic convention, but this Republican one is definitely something to watch. It's like another world.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


ok, i am kind of embarrassed to admit this, but I am super excited about the Twilight movie coming out. This is probably one of the most popular series/anticipated movies that you know nothing about. The books were absolutely delicious in a candy coated romeo and juliet kind of way, and they made my daily shuttle rides go by extra fast. Well, for about a week, which is how long it took me to blow through all four books. The last book was totally weird, but satisfying. And check out this trailor:

How hot is that?! I'm happy they chose Catherine Hardwicke to direct (she did Thirteen); I think she'll bring the same sensibilities that Alfonso Cuaron brought to the third Harry Potter movie. I can't wait to see how (if?) they depict the most gruesome scene of the fourth book, when the movies continue.

Yay. Prepare for your local movie theater to be swamped with adolescent girls on November 21st!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

spam honeypot

I totally understand why they didn't want people to have fewer than 6 characters in their name. Is this some sort of chat-request record?

I don't use this email account. Every single email in there is unsolicited.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Lollapalooza 2008 Recap

Music i saw at Lollapalooza (definitely not entire sets for all these bands):

Rogue Wave
The Enemy UK
Louis XIV
James Curd (DJ)
The Black Keys
Mates of State
Bloc Party

Booka Shade
Explosions in the Sky
Does it Offend You, Yeah (the DJ set)
a tiny bit of Lupe Fiasco

Black Kids / Chromeo (I wandered)
Iron and Wine
Girl Talk (i nearly died)
Mark Ronson
half of Kanye West
half of Nine Inch Nails (awesome)

My thoughts: It's hard, man, staying out in the sun all day and running up and down Grant Park to see all these damn hyped up bands. After Friday, and my sunburn, I was like, I'm taking it easy. Hence the shorter schedules Saturday and Sunday. Also, 75,000 people on one field for Radiohead basically means that unless you're willing to be a rabid psycho and camp out for half the day, you're going to be waaay in the back, watching the pretty flashing lights -- that sort of sucked, cause i love Radiohead, but i've seen them twice already. oh well. Everyone said their concert was terrific, and it did look that way. From 0.4 miles away.

Girl Talk was excellent, and I was totally right up in front, along with this douchebag 7 foot asshole and friend who started humping people and saying mean racist things. Also stuff like "I'm tall. yeeaaahhh. you better get out of my way, i'm going right to the front." who does that? I am posting his picture in retaliation:

Doesn't he look like a douchebag? If you see this man, punch him in the nuts. thank you.

Anyway I was up in the front until people started moshing and falling everywhere and it got really scary. Then I hightailed it to the side, because I am a 5'2 scaredy cat (see, this is why I didn't go to rage). The funniest part was the end, when he put his music on autoplay and surfed the crowd in a big inflatable raft:

There was so much shit left on that field after the show -- shoes, a bazillion plastic cups, clothes. There was a bra hanging from a tree:

See, I'm not kidding. Is Gregg Gillis really worth your bra, ladies? I mean when it gets down to it, he is just clicking buttons on a macbook.

Anyway, the DJ tent (Perry's) was all around very good and fun. Lots of awesome music and dancing there. Also, I was surprised by how much I liked the quieter bands like Iron and Wine and Explosions in the Sky -- it was so pleasant to just chill out in the grass and listen. CSS and Mark Ronson were sort of lame, in different ways. Wilco was very good but boring since I only know Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and they only played 3 songs from it, and I kind of regretted a little not at least checking out the Rage Against the Machine show, though I heard they had to stop playing 3 times because people at the front were getting crushed through the front barrier. Insane.

Kanye is a baller, and puts on a great show. I even had an excellent stairs position, so I could see everything, but I had this nagging feeling that I would regret it if I didn't go see Trent Reznor. So halfway through I ran across the gigantic park and made it to NIN right in time for Terrible Lies, soon to be followed by Head Like a Hole. which was AWESOME. so incredible. I don't think of myself as being really into NIN, but when I was in 9th grade, man. I bought their CD. I remember that supposedly one of our high school math teachers DATED TRENT REZNOR when she was in high school. and she was a CHEERLEADER. that's the type of thing that blew our minds when we were 14. The second to last song was Hurt, which was also great.

All in all I'm way too old for this shit. If I do this again, I'm going princess and buying VIP tickets. I am so dirty right now. My feet really really hurt, my hair is disgusting, and my shoulders are sunburnt. I'm pretty sure I've lost some hearing, too. Also, Bud Light is really gross. None of the shows were as amazing as Daft Punk 2007, which ranks as the Best Concert I Have Ever Been to in My Life, but it looked like Radiohead might have given it a run for its money if I were closer. I don't think I'm able to anoint a best of Lollapalooza 2008! And for all my whining, it was fun, and made me realize I should listen to more music (I used to listen to new music like crazy, but then Napster shut down and I got confused. Oh yeah, I'm that old). But first, tomorrow I am going to get the most gigantic pedicure ever.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Monday, July 28, 2008

a nice story on tax cuts

Today I just had a chat with my roommate where he expressed incredulity that anyone could even consider voting for McCain. I listed a few reasons; I mean the majority of the country voted for Bush in 2004, so clearly there's some strong polarization and probably a bubble surrounding us in liberal cities (I'm not convinced that things have changed thaaaat much since 2004, either). The last point I raised was taxes. Obama will almost certainly increase taxes, and there's a smaller chance of that happening with McCain. Then we got into a little discussion on higher taxes -- if it's only the richest, say, 5% (this is generous) affected by the increased marginal tax rate, then why should the rest of the voting electorate care? They're not the ones being taxed. I pointed out that an innate part of being American is believing in your own economic and social upward mobility. This seems sort of weak. Or maybe, the rest of the voting electorate actually thinks about it in the way written out by this economics professor (story emailed to a mailing list I read). Ha. I don't have that much faith in the electorate's intellectual upward mobility.


Thursday, December 30th, 2004
Never Hurts to Say It Again

A friend of mine sent me this analogy of why the Left hates tax cuts,
and why they shouldn't:

"Understanding Tax Cuts"
by: David R. Kamerschen, Ph.D

Sometimes politicians, journalists and the liberal
left exclaim; "It's just a tax cut for the rich!" and
it is just accepted to be fact.

But what does that really mean?
Just in case you are not completely clear on this
issue, I hope the following will help. Please read
it carefully.

Let's put tax cuts in terms everyone can understand.
Suppose that every day, ten men go out for dinner
and the bill for all ten comes to $100.

If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it
would go something like this:
The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.
The fifth would pay $1.
The sixth would pay $3.
The seventh would pay $7.
The eighth would pay $12.
The ninth would pay $18.
The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.

So, that's what they decided to do.
The ten men ate dinner in the restaurant every day
and seemed quite happy with the arrangement,
until one day, the owner threw them a curve.

"Since you are all such good customers," he said,
"I'm going to reduce the cost of your daily meal by
$20." Dinner for the ten now cost just $80.
The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes so
the first four men were unaffected.
They would still eat for free. But what about the other six men - the
paying customers? How could they divide the $20 windfall so that
everyone would get his 'fair share?'
They realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they
subtracted that from everybody's share, then the fifth man and the sixth
would each end up being paid to eat their meal.
So, the restaurant owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce
each man's bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work
out the amounts each should pay.
And so:
The fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% savings).
The sixth now paid $2 instead of $3 (33% savings).
The seventh now paid $5 instead of $7 (28% savings).
The eighth now paid $9 instead of $12 (25% savings).
The ninth now paid $14 instead of $18 (22% savings).
The tenth now paid $49 instead of $59 (16% savings).
Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four
continued to eat for free. But once outside the restaurant, the men
began to compare their savings.

"I only got a dollar out of the $20," declared the sixth man. He
pointed to the tenth man," but he got $10!"

"Yeah, that's right," exclaimed the fifth man. "I only saved a
dollar, too. It's unfair that he got ten times more than me!"

"That's true!!" shouted the seventh man. "Why should he get $10 back
when I got only two?
The wealthy get all the breaks!"
"Wait a minute," yelled the first four men in unison.
"We didn't get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!"
The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up.
The next night the tenth man didn't show up for dinner, so the nine
sat down and ate without him. But when it came time to pay the bill,
they discovered something important. They didn't have enough money
between all of them for even half of the bill!

And that, boys and girls, journalists and college professors, is how
our tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the
most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them
for being wealthy, and they just may not show up anymore. In fact, they
might start eating overseas where the atmosphere is somewhat

David R. Kamerschen, Ph.D
Professor of Economics
University of Georgia"

Of course the story begs the question of why not just make everyone's deduction equal or the amount of taxes that they are currently paying if an equal portion would take them negative. But, it does show how you can spin numbers almost any way to play on people's ideas on "fairness".

Taxes are hard. In more ways than one.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

the wire

ok, stop what you're doing and go rent the first season of the wire. like, immediately. this is the best show i've ever watched on television. and ok, that might not be saying much coming from me, queen of gossip girl and degrassi and pre-teen stuff like icarly, but seriously. i can appreciate good television, and this is it. something clicked in the middle of the first season and now all i want to do is hunker down and watch seasons 2-5 immediately, forsaking all other human contact and sunlight (sunlight makes this annoying glare on the television). this is just an amazing story. i find myself, in typical weird white guilt fashion (i'm not white yes i understand that) wanting to go to oakland and find some projects and be like "oh, do you pack heat? is the stash in a different place than the money? have you been arrested?" and all sorts of other horrible stuff like that that i probably shouldn't be saying in public. is every police department in the country like this? it's incredible. i love mcnulty, kima, daniels, bunk, omar (he is my FAVORITE), stringer bell, bodie, all of them! and i never, ever, ever want to go to baltimore. this is like the anti-tourist video for baltimore. apparently the mayor had some issues with it as well. every character is an anti-hero, real and raw.

go watch the wire! now!

Saturday, June 21, 2008


The midsommar pole which we made from scratch!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

inspiration point

I'm volunteering in the presidio today! Yay invasive species removal.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

greek theatre

I'm back in town! We're at the national/modest mouse/rem concert. pictures and tales from new zealand soon to come.

Friday, May 16, 2008

rejoining the real world

I did it. I finished my first semester of graduate school.

Kind of momentous, since it's been, oh, many years since I last took a class (I think I have reached a place in my life where I'm actually embarrassed to admit how long I have been out of school. sigh. ok fine 5 years! i'm old!).

It's been insane -- rushes of adrenaline two minutes before a midnight OSDI deadline, furiously fixing typos; reading 24 papers in one weekend before a networking test (oh wait, i meant, "re-reading". right). I had a lot of things due around the same time which was really stressful, but since 3:30 PM yesterday I've been free. Blissfully free. I haven't felt this light in a long, long time.

I think I'm going to miss being here this summer, which I didn't really expect. Last night I strolled through Cambridge on my way back to Porter Square and saw evidence of spring everywhere, it was beautiful and heady. I missed the seasons.

I feel like the world is open before me right now. I could study anything, do anything. It's pretty awesome. I'm looking forward to my sister visiting this weekend; we're going to a Red Sox game (my first time at Fenway -- I had to lay down the law and tell her she couldn't wear a cubs shirt, I don't want to incite the rabid fans); we'll do lots of shopping and girly stuff, I think it'll be nice. I can say good bye to Boston and then furiously pack up all my stuff, fly to SF, furiously unpack/repack, and then leave for New Zealand the next day. I'm ready for lots of touring and hiking and wine drinking.

And a nice, relaxing summer at work. Cause after MIT, the working world will be a piece of cake.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

dim sum

At koi palace in daly city, which is totally dleicious. this is how much we ordered. Each mark is a dish!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

the boston marathon

Is monday. the finish line is 1 block from my apartment.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

trying to make a home in boston

Latte art at cafe l'aroma and the sunday times. The weather is really picking up and i'm starting to love my neighborhood. People are awakening.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

the new yorker

I remember when I first started reading the new yorker. There were old issues that happened to be around the gym at work, and having read someone's blog who seemed to like it a lot, i started picking up issues and reading whatever article seemed most interesting while I worked out. The New Yorker is quite dense, and honestly more than a little pretentious. But I found stories that made me want to rip the pages out and preserve them, reading them over and over again to capture the people and experience the author was describing. There are some articles that told such lovely stories.

I subscribed, and over the past few years the only magazine that has piled higher with unread copies has been the Economist, which I finally gave up and canceled. It's unfortunate -- I do love the New Yorker, but I can't keep up with it. It has gone from a leisurely activity, a surprise, to a weekly duty. It doesn't help that certain people seemed to jump on it and complete each issue well before the next would arrive, leaving me 5 deep.

I never transferred my subscription when I moved to Boston, but I also didn't cancel it (probably something psychological about being unwilling to close doors there). When I was home for spring break, I grabbed the issue with the prettiest cover art, glanced at the index, and started reading. It was the style issue. I was reminded of how even if they continue piling up ad infinitum, I will continue to subscribe, because some of the articles are so poignant I want to cry. In this issue I read about Isabel and Ruben Toledo, a fantastic cuban couple so creative and productive and immersed in each other (the abstract doesn't do it justice), and I was so moved I think I'll have to rip out and save the pages as I did with the article about Diller Scofidio + Renfro, a design firm in New York. They did the ICA in Boston. Now that I look them up, I realize each story is about a husband and wife pair who create beautiful things. I love the idea that their relationship manifests itself in their collaboration. I love the picture of Isabel hoolahooping while Ruben dances in the background of their loft. I think I will have to throw all of my New Yorkers into the air and read them randomly as they land.

Edit: Here's a great walk through of their living space: nymag

Friday, March 21, 2008

updates on living in boston

They have these two papers, which I refer to as USA Today for the T, called the Metro Boston and Boston Now. These little bundled men stand outside the T in the morning handing them out, saying things like "here you go sweetheart" and "smile!" When I leave after 10 AM (which is all too often) they're gone, but I can find the papers strewn about the stations and on the train. They have a nice simplistic view of the news (in today's Boston Now, they had a timeline of everything China was doing wrong, starting with the pet food incident and ending with Tibet) and for some reason they constantly seem to talk about sexual predators. Such and such sexual predator is going to jail. Groping on T is up. Some law changed with regards to sexual predators and now they can't live somewhere. etc etc etc -- either this city is sexual predator central, or these papers are obsessed.

Every morning when I grab a paper I would wonder why anyone would pay these bundled little men to hand out free papers, but then I found out they are advertising cash cows. I guess commanding every commuter's attention in the morning is highly valued.

They're building a new cancer building next to Stata, so there's a big fenced area blocking what used to be my route from the T. They have these nice big trees on the sidewalk, which now have signs posted about a town meeting where I think they're going to discuss removing them. I daydream about attending and giving an impassioned speech defending trees and green in our urban landscape -- as if the MIT campus could get any grayer.

It's a strange experience. Sometimes I don't understand what I'm doing and sometimes I feel quite inspired -- like at a talk Nikolai Zeldovich gave yesterday, on HiStar. Inspired and depressed that he seems to have solved all the problems here, leaving nothing for the rest of us -- his thinkpad is RUNNING HiStar. I'm not sure if you can appreciate the work that must have gone into making this robust enough to use. He rebooted in the middle of his presentation to show us how it checkpointed user state, and it flawlessly resumed. The audience applauded.

What a strange place I'm in.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

the economist going downhill

Obamaworld versus Hillaryland

Oh Economist, how are you wrong? Let me count the ways...
  • I drink wine
  • I'm a liberal, young (well relatively) professional
  • I eat sushi
  • I am intensely worried about America's past sins and its woeful image in the world
  • I'm a latte drinking elitist
I voted for Clinton. And I know several others who fit that list (but not necessarily the characteristic i'm sure your mind is going to, dear reader, that i'm female) who did as well! Seriously, who writes this junk? Why is it ok for the media to make a bunch of so-obvious -they're-wrong generalizations, throw them out there, and call it reporting?

Friday, February 29, 2008

making coffee

I don't really have any idea how to properly make coffee. All I know is that when I asked the hipster-looking guy at ritual how long beans stay good after you grind them, he sort of sneered and said "about 10 minutes."

So, tada, that picture up there is my brand new grinder! As mentioned before I bought a little french press which I was quite excited to use, but the words of ritual coffee man stuck with me and I decided I needed a grinder as well. Of course, I'm cheap, and lazy, so I wandered into Crate and Barrel (about 3 blocks away, did I mention the kind of area I live in?) and bought a coffee grinder. Despite all the instructions telling me to buy a burr grinder, this one has blades. I figure I'll start small.

I also got beans from Starbucks (did you know they give you a free drink if you do this?), sugar, and half and half. I'm ready to go! Then I went online and found these awesome instructions (with pictures!) and I went about making my first cup of coffee. Above you see the probably not uniform-enough grind, and below is my first ever french press cup of coffee!

Yeah. I don't think it looks right either.

And here you see it with the coffee in the cup. It actually turned out this cup was awful (too watery) so I threw it out and made a much stronger cup. I still haven't gotten it to taste as good as Starbucks from the store :(. But there's something very nice about the ritual of waking up each morning, grinding beans, and pressing down the little plunger to make my coffee.
Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

for those of you with iphones

what (preferably concerning networking) about your iphone frustrates you the most? besides the fact that it's slow. For instance:

  • would you like to be able to take pictures and have them automatically sync with a folder on your computer?
  • cache certain information locally without expressing it explicitly?
  • do you notice your battery draining when you do certain wireless-intensive or GPRS-intensive tasks?

Actually, come to think of it, anyone who uses their phone for more than talking might have ideas. Please let me know! Thanks!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

one laptop per child

A very nice charity related offer went around my company a while back -- as part of the "give one, get one" program (offered by the olpc folks) you had the opportunity to buy one of the olpc laptops, and you would get a second one for free sent to a deserving child in the developing world. My company matched this, so you'd be responsible for 4 laptops. People I never really thought of as particularly charitable went out and bought a laptop, which I thought was quite amazing. I didn't. For some reason i could never really put my finger on, the whole olpc concept made me slightly uncomfortable. I didn't understand why the answer to poverty in Africa was a laptop when getting clean drinking water is such a problem. I understand that this laptop was designed very well, but that design is based on a lot of specifications that i'm not sure make sense. I guess what I'm saying is, why a laptop?

This article sums up my concerns nicely. So often people try to help but end up mis-targeting culturally or not defining the objectives correctly. Is a laptop that's readable in the sun really what's going to help people get out of poverty? Is that what's necessary? Or is it a cool design challenge?

I have this innate sense that what will work in Africa will be deceptively simple. It will be removing cotton subsidies in the US, or a robust, cheap device that filters water for drinking and increases the average lifespan, thereby making people *want* to be successful and entrepreneurial because they will be around to enjoy it. Or maybe it will just be getting the governments stable and honest. Or a successful African entrepreneur who builds a business on the mobile networks (why is this a laptop and not a phone?). It won't be a fancily designed laptop that is the western world's idea of what an african child wants to use.

The charitable world doesn't have a market allowing successful ideas to rise and unsuccessful ones to fail, so how do we evaluate the effectiveness of an effort, when a charity has an incentive to pretend that what it's doing is great, even if it isn't?

This is clearly a very cool laptop, with awesome design principles and creative ideas. Apparently the give one, get one program sold 162,000 laptops. But I think the cool things they did with this laptop are perhaps more targeted towards kids in developed countries, and as such these principles and cool ideas should live and die on the market like any others.

From the article:

Q: We understand that Bill Gates and some others in this business have criticized this initiative as untenable. What is your response to this?

A: I don't respond to such criticism. Because criticizing this project is like criticizing the Church, or the Red Cross.

-Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the $100 laptop movement, as quoted by
The Daily Vanguard, Nigeria

Monday, February 18, 2008

fancy schmancy coffee

This weekend I'm in SF (sunlight! my apartment! omar! good food!) and I have been drinking all the ritual double lattes I can get my grubby little hands on. Saturday we were at the City Beer Store, and ended up wandering over to the new Blue Bottle cafe at Mint Plaza to gawk at their fancy coffee machine.

For those of you who don't know, SF is turning into pretentious coffee central. and this is with just coffee, not espresso. Blue Bottle was well known for having great coffee, but they only had a dinky little kiosk in Hayes Valley, so Ritual generally won out in the cafe wars. Blue Bottle just opened their new place in Mint Plaza, and they have a 20K Siphon Bar Coffee machine. Just in case that wasn't clear, I mean 20K as in 20 Gs. $20,000. This site has some excellent pictures and videos of a 20K pot of coffee: laughing squid.

So I went, and we ordered something Columbian. It was gorgeous. The presentation was lovely, and the server brought it with some caramel candy he thought would "pair well" with the coffee (seriously?). Despite my misgivings of paying $13 for a small pot of coffee (people are starving in africa!) it was fantastic. so good. I went to Ritual the next day to try their Clover machine (much less visually impressive, but only 3K 11K) and was not as impressed.

On another coffee note, I bought one of those little french press things for $2 at a garage sale, but I have no idea how to obtain, grind, or properly store beans. Take that coffee industry!

Monday, February 4, 2008

just go vote tomorrow. unless you're stupid.

If Mrs. Clinton gets the Democratic nomination, there is some chance — nobody knows how big — that we’ll get universal health care in the next administration. If Mr. Obama gets the nomination, it just won’t happen.

-- Paul Krugman, NYT

Sunday, February 3, 2008

kinetic machines

I went to this event at the MIT Museum on Thursday, and I saw these amazing kinetic machines. The exhibit is called Gestural Engineering: The Sculpture of Arthur Ganson. My favorite was the 11 scraps of paper:

Kind of reminiscent of the paper bag in American Beauty, no?

This was also cute:

All videos taken with my cellphone, sorry about the low resolution.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

on systems research

ok, bear with me, because i really don't feel like spending a ton of time reading what other people have had to say on this subject and digging up references. i hope this post is not something that deeply embarrasses me in the future. if it is, oh well! that's what blogs are for!

so when i initially applied to grad school, i thought i was going to do theory. after all, i was already at a company building stuff, what was the point of leaving, getting paid a lot less, and building stuff with fewer tools and fewer machines? people in industry i talked to seemed to concur. then i actually applied, and during the process realized that a candidate who hasn't done any real math in 4 years perhaps wasn't all that appealing as a theory student. but that's ok, cause i met the theory students, and though they're very nice and smart i'm pretty sure that's not who i am.

so anyway i'm here, and i'm trying to understand what it means to do research in systems. it's this weird combination of showing some novel properties, building a big system, making something run on it, and measuring the crap out of it. i don't think it makes any sense whatsoever from an industry perspective, because you have to do something new in systems and prove it (not just make code work) and it doesn't make sense from a mathy perspective because even if you came up with and proved some amazingly cool networking algorithm you actually have to build it and slap a measurement on it or no one will believe you.

i've been doing a lot of background reading on platforms lately. The paper I linked to before references Marc Andreessen's blog post on platforms, which is quite interesting. I think it's fairly clear that things are moving in the direction of what he deems the "level 3 platforms", or these big containers where developers can upload code, pay per cpu cycle/gb of storage/mbps of bandwidth and not have to worry about administering their own servers. i think it's very cool and democratic and will bring about lots of neat things on the internet.

of course, what becomes very tricky here is trust. first of all, who in their right mind would run one of these containers running all this crazy uploaded code? the code writers could wreak havoc, so first off you want controls in place to protect the container from them, but these controls probably limit what the code writers can actually do (and might make them code to weird made up standards). second, you need to have some sort of isolation between the programs running around in there so that they don't completely annihilate each other, but this is hard too and might require a lot of overhead.

one thing people don't think about enough (i think) is, well, when there are orders of magnitude more applications out there (which there will be, because it's easier to write one now), how do users discern between them? how do they know which ones they can trust? which ones are going to steal their cookie, or monitor their web usage, or spam all their friends? and given that all these apps are going to be running in one big container, they could presumably share stuff more easily (this can happen even with level 1 platforms, with level 3 you can do even more) so how do you control what gets shared and what doesn't? like on facebook, maybe i'm ok letting an app see where i live or where all my friends live and mapping that on my profile, but i don't want it to send out invites to all my friends. right now there's no way to even set that! so i only install certain apps that i think are ok, but sometimes i might get burned and end up emailing half my address book telling everyone they've been turned into a vampire.

anyway, i think this is interesting, and i think it's worth working on. but i don't know if it's useful to work on it in a research environment, because i feel like we might get stuck having to be too secure, and whatever we build isn't going to be anywhere close to what eventually gets done. i guess if we're lucky, the ideas from it will trickle into industry and some company will build something resembling it. then sometimes i think this has to be done in a research environment (or at least open source) cause this needs to span companies. either way, it's interesting, i like thinking about it, and i'm happy i have something to work on in my first week :)

unfortunately there's a massive amount of work to do and my new roommates also have a tivo, so i have to try very hard to keep from falling back into my tv addicted ways.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

a week plus on the east coast

I'm here! I'm doing it! I'm a grad student! You have no idea how weird it is to say that.

Random thoughts and observations:
  • Why do people endure such cold? Why would they ever build a university somewhere where they have sleet?
  • You get a lot of discounts as a student (my T-pass is half price and i get into a bunch of museums for free).
  • The T is much awesomer than the BART.
  • Cambridge/Boston has lousy, lousy, lousy food compared to the bay area (even if you leave my previous employer out of it). Campus food is the worst of all. If you are from California, DO NOT eat at Anna's Tacqueria. Yech.
  • MIT's campus is seriously, horribly depressing, but the stata center is really cool and i will spend 99% of my time here so that's ok.
  • People here are all brilliant. all of them. i walk through buildings with doors labeled things like "Quantum Nanostructures and Nanofabrication Group". I feel like if I open the wrong door I could accidentally create a black hole.
  • We are actually responsible for restocking things ourselves. Like no magic people come and restock the fridge with milk. and someone has to go steal sugar packets from the 4th floor every so often. crazy.
  • I was using way more open source/universal stuff at work than I realized.
  • they make 64-bit laptops now
  • I am capable of administering my own machine! who knew!
  • MIT has charm school. this scares me.
I'm living in Back Bay, on Newbury Street, which is really nice. I'm still getting started on research, but I think initially I'm going to work on this.

So far so good. But we'll see how things are after classes start next week.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

coming out with a new position

I've spent so much time trying to explain to people why Hillary Clinton would make a better president than Barack Obama (Her intelligence. Hard work ethic. Deep, detailed knowledge of the federal government and how to get things done. Ability to execute. Foreign policy experience) that I often don't get a chance to reflect upon Obama's strengths. This article in the New Yorker is an interesting comparison between them (I'm sure the bastion of liberal intellectualism is squirming on who to support).

One thing I don't feel like is mentioned enough about Obama (too many people have talked about the polls on his likability across party lines) is the way the conservative machine could chew him up and spit him out if they felt like it. I think we all too soon forget what happened to McCain in South Carolina in 2000 (remember the spin that his adopted daughter was a mixed-race out of wedlock child?) or to the AARP when they opposed Bush's social security plans. The AARP was villified as being unpatriotic. who does that? Just because they haven't started yet doesn't mean it won't happen -- one benefit of a Clinton nomination is that pretty much all her dirty laundry was vetted in the nineties!

Ok, so that's not a strength. Man, this is hard. Ok, Obama is extremely charismatic. And inspiring. And having a figure like him standing up and conveying policy to the people would be really valuable when trying to deal with our intensely polarized political climate -- which is why I have a new position to announce:

Obama for Vice President!

Given the vitriol between the two camps it might not be possible, but who says you have to be President to be an inspiration? I think he would make an excellent VP. I simply don't trust Obama to have the ultimate role of running this country -- he hasn't demonstrated any evidence that he would do a good job. But I think he'd be quite good in the public eye, and I really think he has strengths concerning presentation and uniting differing opinions that Hillary lacks. If they could get along, they'd be a great team.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

a really excellent dinner

At jardiniere. Omar is having the tasting menu.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

where to park your money

I found the most awesome blog today. The Finance Buff, who has these amazing calculators just built right in to help you make financial decisions.

I know a lot of people go rate-chasing, after EmigrantDirect or HSBC or whatever bank of the moment is offering the highest rate, but I'm way too lazy to move my money around that much. In addition, I did a bit of calculation a while back, and I found that those rates aren't even comparable to Vanguard's CA Tax Exempt Money Market Fund (for me). The thing that most people don't realize (and honestly, probably don't have to think about because they are in fairly low tax brackets) is that what you really need to look at is after-tax return. I'm in a high tax bracket right now, and also in a state with a high income tax, so basically no matter how I dice it (excluding AMT, which I don't want to go into right now) I shouldn't even bother rate-chasing since Vanguard's fund is so awesome after taxes. If you're in CA, NJ, NY, OH, or PA, you should think about this too. And the finance buff guy person has this super cool calculator so you can figure out what's best for you! He He/She even links to all the funds' pages so you can find current rates, and shows you how to add in AMT (just leave that part blank if you don't know what AMT is. It probably doesn't apply to you).

Anyway, what I found was that right now I'd need to get something like 5.3% in a taxable account to make it worthwhile to move my money from Vanguard CA Tax-Exempt, and no one is even offering that. The best I found from www.bankrate.com was Countrywide, which is offering 5.11%, and Countrywide is scary and possibly evil. I don't understand why more people in CA don't use the Vanguard fund -- it's so much easier than shifting money between banks and paying attention to teaser rates.

Back to the AMT thing -- the finance buff guy person also has this great explanation of marginal tax rates in AMT. Marginal rates are confusing. Explanations are good. Yay.

oh btw ianal ianafp etc etc etc. aka this is not financial advice, you probably shouldn't make any decisions whatsoever based on what i say.

Oh, and of course the way I find all this stuff is through postings on an internal mailing list. I need to figure out how to mine this data better -- half the time someone emails something, I glance at it, and it enters into the deep abyss that is all the email that's not in my inbox. There's so much valuable stuff in there.

Edit: I made assumptions about this person's gender, which are totally unverified. Fixed.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


i have to say, i've come around. i like starbucks. Interesting article from Arts and Letter's Daily on the guy reading the book on Starbucks. I like this bit on Fair Trade:

Starbucks hasn't made much of a commitment to fair trade. But to Clark, this isn't very damning, because he doesn't regard fair trade as a viable solution to the coffee problem. Fair trade farmers, he says, get paid a fixed price, so they have no incentive to produce quality coffee—"It's an open secret," he writes, "that Fair Trade beans have historically been much lower in quality than their unsanctified cousins." And how many consumers will really pay a higher price for worse coffee? Starbucks, meanwhile, buys high-quality beans on the open market, for which it typically pays a few cents less per pound than the sanctioned fair trade price (last year, it paid more). Clark believes that this approach has the potential to raise living standards for far more farmers than fair trade, which is, essentially, an elaborate charity. "If you want to advance the welfare of farmers and their families," he concludes, "you'll have to indulge your taste for high-quality beans as often as possible."

Yes! A reason to buy lots of delicious overpriced coffee! Another thing I'm going to miss from Google. We have 5 canisters downstairs right now of delicious premium barefoot roasters blends.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

update on my life situation - moving to boston

I am leaving for boston in a week! I'm starting a phd program at MIT in computer science. I'm going on leave from work for a few months, but I plan on being back full time over the summer. I'm going to start in the PDOS group. I was accepted for Fall of 2007 but I deferred for a semester, if you're wondering why I'm starting in January.

I don't really see this as a big move, as I will still keep most of my stuff here in SF and come back to visit frequently. I'm excited about doing something new and exercising my brain in different ways. I'm sort of freakishly paranoid about losing connections between neurons. My father so conveniently told me on my 25th birthday that this is the age at which you stop building new ones (your brain plateaus) but I think engaging in different kinds of strenuous mental activity can help combat that. I'm betting MIT will oblige.

I love working at Google and I'll miss it a lot, but I realized that 1) if I'm ever going to go back into research I had better get on it and 2) I really, really, really need to do something different. And change the ruts I've gotten stuck in with the way I think. I'm not sure how this will go (if I'll really be there for six years) but I think it'll be a great experience no matter what happens.

I'll miss everyone in SF very much! I'm scared of the cold! I'll be doing some kind of going away thing next weekend, and if you're ever in Cambridge send me an email. I think my first trip back is president's day weekend so if you're in town you should clear time in your busy schedule to see me.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


Ritual, i missed you!

Thursday, January 10, 2008


I was reading this great bit in the WSJ titled, very simply, "Why Hillary Won." I found myself more and more in agreement with the author as he touched on the inaccuracy of polls, the demographic of those who vote for Clinton vs. those who vote for Obama, and a few of the flaws with Obama and the strengths of Clinton (it's no secret I'm a Clinton supporter and of course who doesn't like seeing their viewpoint validated). An interesting point made about Obama's experience:

Mr. Obama has failed to rise to leadership on a single major issue in the Senate. In the Illinois legislature, he had a habit of ducking major issues, voting "present" on bills important to many Democratic interest groups, like abortion-rights and gun-control advocates. He is often lazy, given to misstatements and exaggerations and, when he doesn't know the answer, too ready to try to bluff his way through.


Mr. Obama is an inspiring figure playing a historical role, but that's not enough to push aside the former First Lady and senator from New York. She's an historic figure, too.
Continuing, the author laid out very simply the road ahead for the nomination. Then I got to the end of the article, and I saw the following:

Mr. Rove is a former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush.

Oof. Do I feel played. Competing gut reactions: My Clinton-loving instincts vs. the nausea induced by Karl Rove. So what's the agenda? Why did Karl ROVE, of all people, write this?