11.20.08

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)…

10.18.08

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.

09.17.08

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.

06.08.08

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. 😉

05.27.08

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.

05.12.08

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.

05.10.08

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.)

04.22.08

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!

really strange phishing

Posted in Random thoughts, Too Much Information at 9:19 am by ducky

I got email from a “Carlie Martindaley” today that sure looks like phishing:

Ducky <at> webfoot.com,   (the email address was properly formatted in the message I got)

Hello Ducky,

I am from your Middle School years and finally got your email.

I have fallen in love with your shoes and I just wanted to know, did you spray paint them? They are so shiny, like fresh glass on a mirror, I cannot resist sending this email. Please tell your shoes, I love them, and thier laces are the most beautiful things.

From,

Annoymous

  1. Starting off with my email address before my name looks fishy, like a computer generated it.
  2. I don’t know any Carlie.
  3. I don’t know any Martindaley.
  4. I didn’t go to Middle School.
  5. I haven’t painted any shoes.
  6. I haven’t sent any old pals email.

The strange thing is that there was no call to action in the message!  The only links were a mailto URL attached to my email address (I took it out for the purposes of this post) and a generic Yahoo ad at the bottom of the page.

Strange.  Maybe the spambots have gotten lonely?

03.22.08

Snowboarding

Posted in Canadian life, Married life, Random thoughts at 9:26 am by ducky

My beloved husband has been wanting to try snowboarding for a while. When I realized late on Thursday that Good Friday was a statutory holiday, we made very quick plans to go to Grouse Mountain, a local ski area. Jim and I talked by phone briefly, and later in the day, when I was in the midst of something, got a message from him, asking me to to confirm that I wanted him to go ahead and buy tickets etc. Sure, sure, go ahead.

Um. I didn’t read the email carefully. He asked if he should buy snowboard rental and lessons for both of us. And I said yes. Oooooops.

I took one snowboarding lesson seventeen years ago that was a total disaster. I was up at Tahoe for a M-F trip, and took the lesson on Monday. I was so sore that I couldn’t ski on Tuesday. Or Wednesday. Or Thursday. Friday, I gave up and came home.

I was thus quite nervous about another lesson, especially since I am seventeen years older now. However, the instructor was better, and I am seventeen years wiser. I didn’t try to push it, and took frequent rest breaks. The snow was also nice and soft yesterday — there had been about 11 cm of new snow in the past 24 hours, and so I fell into nice fluffy stuff and not onto ice. (A ski patrol guy we sat next to at lunch told us that he was not allowed to ever say that the snow conditions were “icy”. He was required to say that the snow was “hard”.)

Looking at the lesson from a distance, you wouldn’t think it would be so strenuous. After all, I would simply slide down a little hill, sit down, rest, take off my board, stand up, walk up the hill, sit down, rest, put on my board, stand up, repeat. So it would be sort of like walking up a hill carrying a relatively light board, sitting down and resting every five minutes.  Not so hard, right?

Wellllll…

  • While you are sliding down, you have to have your knees bent and springy. This takes some exertion.
  • There are two ways to go down: facing down the hill and facing up the hill. In both cases, you have to lean into the uphill edge. I found going down while facing up the hill enormously physically strenuous for my feet. I found pulling my toes up (to dig in my heels) much easier than pushing them down. I could pull up my toes by pulling up my whole foot. It didn’t seem to be adequate to push my foot (e.g. the balls of my feet) down with my calf; it seemed I also needed to push with my toes e.g. tense the muscles in my arch. I happen to have a very very narrow foot with a very high arch, so it felt like I didn’t have a lot of muscle mass in my arch to point my toes down. It was actually painful to go down the hill pushing with my toes. I suspect that I was doing something wrong.
  • Standing up on the board from a sitting position when facing down the mountain, is really difficult, and takes quite an exertion of strength. Your feet and board are way in front of your center of gravity. You have to get your center of gravity above the board — while still keeping pressure on the uphill edge of the board. What I learned to do was to grab the downhill edge with my right hand and pulling while pushing myself up with my left hand. Jim’s physical geometry and flexibility are such that he was not able to grab the downhill edge of the board like I could.
  • While standing up, if you let the pressure off of the back edge of the board, the board will start to slide. Having the board slide while you are shifting weight is a really easy way to cause you to immediately re-enter a sitting position. Thus, the number of standing-ups  probably averaged four or five per trip down.

Note: It is much easier to stand up if you are facing uphill with your board downhill from you because you can get your center of gravity several feet off the ground just by kneeling. However, then you are facing up the mountain, which is difficult. Once I learn how to do turns reliably (shifting from looking uphill to looking downhill), my life will be much better.

Jim wants to do three or four more snowboarding lessons. Ulp. I guess the exercise will be good for me.

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