Waiting dogs

Posted in Random thoughts at 9:00 am by ducky

I have been struck and somewhat puzzled by how happy my friends’ dogs have been to see me. My old housemates’ dogs, for example, would get all excited to see me, even after a gap of several years.

I realized last weekend that the dog has no idea where I’ve gone, when I am coming back, or even if I am ever coming back. It must be like someone going off on a sailing ship 200 years ago: no idea where they are, when they will come back, or even if they will come back.


Times they are a-changing

Posted in Politics, Random thoughts at 2:58 pm by ducky

Wow.  Obama announced his six national security advisers today, and white men were in the minority.  Eric Holder and Susan Rice are not white; Hillary Clinton, Janet Napolitano, and Susan Rice are not men.

A few days ago, I read that Condoleeza Rice phoned Barak Obama twice during the Mumbai terrorist attacks and was profoundly moved by the mental image.  It’s not that there haven’t been black people in positions of power before.  I’m sure that Rice phoned General Powell more than once.  (While I dislike almost everything about G. W. Bush, I do have to give him props for not being afraid to appoint people of colour to high positions.)

What struck me was that it was a very powerful black person in one administration phoning a very important black person in the next administration.  This demonstrates that it is not tokenism, nor a fluke of one administration.  It says that having people of colour in positions of high responsibility is not odd or unusual.  And that’s the way it should be.


LOLcats representing the human spirit

Posted in Art, Random thoughts at 10:52 am by ducky

A while back, I wrote about LOLcats being a stand-in for ethnic groups, allowing us the humour of shared stereotypes but without having to saddle an ethnic group with those stereotypes.

Jay Dixit has a more expansive, romantic take on it: LOLcats are stand-ins for humans in all their glory and pathos.  By being stand-ins, they are less emotionally dangerous:

By articulating profound feelings through cats and marine mammals speaking garbled English, we’re able to shroud genuine emotions in pseudo-irony — which means those animals can evoke deeper emotions without fear of mockery or cheapness.

I’ll put it more simply: humour is pain at a distance. Using cats (or dogs or walruses) lets us put even more distance between us and the pain. We can thus tolerate situations in LOLcats that would be too painful if it were about humans.

Hmm, I wonder if this is why animated cartoons so frequently starred animals (e.g. Mickey Mouse, Roadrunner, Foghorn Leghorn)…


Vancouver's ambition

Posted in Canadian life, Random thoughts at 10:15 pm by ducky

Paul Graham wrote an interesting essay called Cities and Ambition, in which he put forth the idea that different places had different messages about what was important. He said that in the following places, the following goal was most valued by the community that lived there:

  • New York: being rich
  • Silicon Valley: being powerful (which I would rephrase as “changing the world for the better via technology”)
  • Boston (Cambridge): being smart
  • LA: being famous
  • DC: being connected
  • Berkeley/SF: living better (which I would rephrase as “becoming a better person”)
  • Paris: appreciating art better
  • London: being high-class (aristocratic)

There’s no way you can prove or disprove something as fuzzy and general as this, but it feels correct to me. I remember how right it felt to move back to Silicon Valley from LA. In LA, I was on the sidelines, what I cared about was just not at all what LA was interested in. In Silicon Valley, everything aligned with what I cared about.

I naturally thought about my current home, Vancouver. What does Vancouver say? My immediate thought was that Vancouver tells you that you should have work/life balance.

My friend Michelle Chua has a slightly different take. She thinks that Vancouver tells you that you should have fun.

Michelle pointed out that there were ten game companies within a two-block radius of my house. She thinks that the game and film industry do well here because they are all about having fun, and fun is legitimate here. Interesting.


Good deeds remembered

Posted in Random thoughts, Uncategorized at 11:15 am by ducky

Twenty-five years ago, I was 19 and working in Delft, Netherlands for a summer. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but I ran low on cash a week before it was time to go home. This was before ATMs, so it was tricky to get more. There were no places in the Netherlands that would advance me cash on my Visa, but I heard that there was in Brussels.

I took some of my dwindling supply of cash, bought a ticket to Brussels, and discovered that the place I needed to go wasn’t open. (Maybe I had been foolish enough to try on a Sunday? I don’t remember.) Worse, I was about USD$0.50 short of the fare I needed to get back to Delft.  I asked a stranger for 50c, he handed me a buck and I immediately took off to the ticket counter and got a ticket.

When I got my ~50c change, I realized I should have given it back to the stranger.  Ooops.  But he was lost in the crowd, so I instead got myself an ice cream cone — the only food I’d had all day.

I think he spotted me a bit later, eating the ice cream cone.  I was embarrassed to have him see me eating the cone, so I hid my face.  He probably figured that he’d just been had.

So Mr. Stranger?  Whoever you are?  If that was you 25 years ago in August in the main train station in Brussels, I wasn’t a runaway or drug addict or anything — I was exactly who I said I was.  To this day, I remain very grateful for your generosity on that day.  The buck might not have meant a huge amount to you, but it made all the difference in the world to me.  Thank you.


My (almost) lunch with Steve Wozniak

Posted in Random thoughts at 12:00 pm by ducky

One day, probably twenty years ago, I was in a car with a bunch of friends of mine, and Arthur asked the question, “If you could have lunch with anybody, who would it be?” I immediately answered “Richard Feynman”, having just finished one of his highly entertaining books. A chorus of voices rang out: “But he’s dead!” “You didn’t say they had to be alive”, I retorted.

After a bit more thought, I chose Steve Wozniak. He was famously geeky, and interesting to me because of that. I had heard that he had started a company Unuson, and was excited about what new technology The Woz might bring out. And he was alive.

While Arthur’s challenge of who to have lunch was was purely hypothetical, it got me thinking. My father had been in the Physics Department at the University of Illinois with two-time Nobel Prize winner John Bardeen. I had realized years later, after Bardeen had died, that I could have probably gotten to chat with John Bardeen if I had asked when I was a kid. The idea of lunch with Steve Wozniak gnawed at me, and finally I wrote him a letter, telling him that I would like to have lunch with him. I expected him to say no, but to my surprise he said yes.

It turned out to be difficult to actually schedule the lunch, between my schedule and his, but we finally got a date and time settled… and then I had to cancel because of jury duty. After that, it fell through. I don’t remember precisely what happened, but I have a vague recollection that he simply got cold feet. This made perfect sense to me; if I were a wealthy celebrity, I don’t think I’d meet a stranger for lunch!

Still, the experience made me bolder about asking to meet people. At one point a few years ago, a talented young man named Ping Yee popped up on my radar. On the day when I saw his name in my daily San Jose Mercury News in two different articles on two different subjects and ran across his name in some source code, I decided I would try to meet him. I think he was kind of bemused and puzzled at that, but I ended up having a very interesting lunch with him.

While I was at Green College, I invited a number of the university’s top brass to have dinner with my husband and I, in order to give them more exposure to Green College, and I was a little surprised at the number who accepted.

I still haven’t had lunch with Richard Feynman, though. 😉


Rape by soldiers

Posted in Politics, Random thoughts at 11:49 am by ducky

There have been reports that peacekeepers have been raping children. This is bad, but unfortunately not surprising.  History seems to show that if you give men weapons, little accountability, and few dating options, they will rape.

There is a solution that seems blindingly obvious to me: send women soldiers.

I wonder if there is a place for an all-women, international peace-keeping army.  I can imagine that would be a great way to serve.


it's not just me!

Posted in Hacking, Random thoughts at 8:31 pm by ducky

It’s not just me! Someone else gets frustrated by Web sites that won’t allow dashes or spaces in credit card numbers!

It is just unfathomable to me why any Web site would not insert the ONE LINE OF CODE to handle spaces and dashes. I am glad to see that it’s not just me.


geek humour

Posted in Family, Hacking, Random thoughts at 9:38 am by ducky

My husband and I are geeks. This manifests itself in many ways. One way is that when we moved up to Canada from Palo Alto, we numbered all of the boxes and logged all of the contents of all of the boxes.

In anticipation of our move to a tiny tiny apartment in downtown Vancouver, I packed up a box of books and class notes to take down to our storage locker in the US. Jim said that he’d been assigning new boxes numbers in the 200 series — 200, 201, etc.

Me: “Jim, would you be a name service for box numbers?”

He pulled out his PDA and got ready.

Me: “Um, ‘Hello.'”

Jim said nothing but was suppressing a grin. He continued to say nothing.

Me: “Doh! Right! Carriage-return, carriage-return!”

Much laughter ensued. We are such geeks. 🙂

(When taking DIRECTLY to Web servers, i.e. not through a Web browser, you have to issue a command like “GET / HTTP/1.0” and follow it with *two* carriage returns. One won’t do, and it’s a really easy mistake to make.)

(PS, Yes, I know that HELOs (used in email protocols) don’t need two carriage returns.)

(PPS, Yes, I know that technically it’s CRLF, CRLF, not CR, CR.)


Welcome to Canada, please stay

Posted in Canadian life, Random thoughts, University life at 4:29 pm by ducky

Canada made a change yesterday to the International Student Post-Graduation Work Permit. From about two years ago to yesterday, there was a program in place where if you

  • graduated from a Canadian college or university
  • had a job offer
  • applied for a permit

then you could get a work permit for a year at the company you had the offer from. The company would not have to go through a process of proving that there were no Canadians who could do the job. (If you and said company parted ways, you could change the permit.)

One catch of the program was that while you were not working, you couldn’t leave the country without forfeiting the right to that permit. You were legally allowed to be in the country and look for work. (You just couldn’t leave.)

For many people, not being able to leave might not be a hardship, but I have lots of family two hours south of UBC. If something happened to my mother, I would need to leave Canada. So I figured I had to have a job before I graduated, and looking for work while trying to finish my thesis was a pain.

Now, the requirement for a job offer has been dropped, and the period has been extended. I have get the right to live and work in Canada for three years or as long as my program of study was, whichever is smaller. (This probably means two years.) Not only that, it is a totally open work permit. I can work for anyone, and I can even not work for an employer (i.e. I could consult if I can’t find a Real Job).

This relieves the stress of looking for a job enormously!

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