Friday, December 24, 2010

French Toastcake

Or perhaps pancake toast? French pancakes? Pantoast?

I don't know quite what to call it, but it's delicious!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Simple Lessons from "Getting Things Done"

I just finished reading David Allen's phenomenal "Getting Things Done". I'm still practicing and experimenting with his techniques as I try to implement his system. My implementation is still a work in progress, but I wanted to note a few quick, yet simple takeaways from the book:
  • Psychic RAM: Open loops (e.g. that doctor's appointment you've been meaning to schedule, that bill you have to pay, that errand you have to run, etc...) drain our mental energy when they are only stored in our heads. And it's counterproductive since our brain usually reminds us of these open loops when we are least likely to be able to do anything abou it. Instead, your psyche is bombarded with constant reminders ("Oh yeah, I should really do that."). Allen argues that you collect everything. Don't store all these commitments in RAM; commit them to disk, to a system that you trust ;) 
  • Agreements with yourself: If you agree to meet someone for a date, and they stand you up, you feel bad, right? Well, those same negative feelings occur whenever you stand yourself up. You tell yourself you're going to finish that essay tonight and then you don't. Is it really a surprise that you feel torn up abou that? There are three solutions to this: 
  1. Make fewer, more meaningful agreements (i.e. don't just say "yes" without a thought) 
  2. Renegotiate agreements if circumstances change ("I was going to write the essay tonight, but I just remembered I have an exam tomorrow. That takes precedence and I choose to delay the essay")
  3. Keep them. Just do it ;)
  • Next Actions: All big projects or undertakings are composed of single atomic actions. Often times, big projects or wishes will be festering in our minds because we haven't taken a few seconds to clarify what our next action is. You want to buy a house? "Gee, that sounds hard, better not think about it right now." Well what would get me one step closer to that goal? "Hrm, I don't really know what neighborhoods are good or what prices I should expect. How much down payment do I need? But wait, Bob just bought a house. He must have some good tips. Let's call him up and ask him about what neighborhoods he's looked at or what price ranges are realistic". Not knowing leads to not acting. So ask: "What's the next action here?"
  • As I said, I'm still working on transforming some of these techniques into daily habits. But I'm really excited to give this a try. I'm currently trying to build my collection centers around Evernote, Gmail, and Google Calendar. I've also tried having another dedicated Posterous for this and a private Twitter stream to capture quick thoughts, but I haven't been able to make those into habits yet. If anyone has had success with other productivity tools or happens to have a Pensieve, please share :)


    Friday, December 10, 2010

    I do eat vegetables!

    Sent from my iPhone

    Friday, November 26, 2010

    Hello mobile

    Testing the posterous iPhone app.

    Friday, November 12, 2010

    Baking Breakfast

    Made banana nut bread and blueberry pancakes this morning. Even snuck in a quick workout while the banana bread was in the oven. My lab mates liked it, so I deem this culinary adventure a success :)

    Sunday, November 07, 2010

    Note to Online Video Advertisers: Longer is not better

    Recently, I've noticed a trend: several online video sites are showing more ads for a longer period of time. I understand the motivation might be to capture lost TV ad revenue online, but I think this is misguided. 

    With a quick 30 second ad, I'll probably just sit through it since I don't have enough time to do anything else. But as you increase the length of the ad to 2 minutes or more, I can and will just switch tabs to quickly read the New York Times. 

    What works for TV doesn't necessarily work for online. People's attention spans are fundamentally more fragmented online than in front of a TV. On a TV, you can flip to other channels or leave the room, but you're slightly more cautious since you don't want to miss the return of the show. 

    Online, you can easily switch to another tab while still hearing the background noise of the ad. Just as you can filter out the background noise in a cocktail party, you can filter out the ad noise while you're away from the video and return when you detect that the show is back. Even if you don't get the timing quite right, it's easy enough to pause and scroll the timeline back a bit.

    Shorter ads can be better targeted and more effective in grabbing users' attention. This is a lesson advertisers will have to learn well, especially as the TV and online worlds start to blend together even more in the coming years.


    Saturday, November 06, 2010

    First try at blueberry pancakes

    Sent from my iPhone

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010


    4:20 am PDT: wake up in CA, groggy, get read for my flight
    6:00 am PDT: clear security at SFO, start waiting at the gate
    7:00 am PDT: plane starts to board
    8:00 am PDT: plane finally takes off
    2:00 pm CDT: land in Chicago late, think I've probably missed my connection
    2:15 pm CDT: finally after deplaning, find out connecting flight is holding for us, but it's on the other side of the airport
    2:25 pm CDT: after a cross-terminal sprint, finally arrive at gate, board
    5:45 pm EDT: plane lands in Boston
    6:00 pm EDT: run after the Silver Line and barely catch it as it's about to leave the airport
    6:30 pm EDT: exit Kendall T stop
    6:45 pm EDT: open door to my room in Cambridge, start water boiling to cook dinner
    7:00 pm EDT: finish unpacking, start cooking
    7:15 pm EDT: finally have something to eat after nothing but unfulfilling airplane snacks all-day


    7:45 pm EDT: finish eating and washing dishes
    7:57 pm EDT: finish writing this up


    Saturday, August 21, 2010

    John Mayer at Shoreline

    After work yesterday, I went to watch John Mayer perform at the Shoreline Amphitheater. Owl City opened the concert with a bunch of their favorites like Hello Seattle and Fireflies.

    I first heard Owl City on Pandora a couple of years ago when they were still not widely known. I remember finding their style a bit eclectic, but fun. Seeing Owl City live was interesting for two reasons:

    1) Owl City is actually just one person (Adam Young) who started out playing in his Minnesota basement. I had heard that before, but seeing it for myself was a whole different story. It was really quite amazing to see what Adam was able to create on his own.

    2) The songs had very distinct beats that made it easy to move to the music. Seated on the lawn, I got a chance to practice some of the isolation moves I'd been learning in my beginning hip-hop classes.

    After Owl City finished, there was a forty-five minute lull before John Mayer took the stage. I passed the time people-watching, digitally and otherwise. On the large screen in front of the lawn, there was an announcement inviting viewers to text in messages to a Shoreline number. These messages then scrolled by on a ticker-tape on the bottom of the screen.

    It was almost like a live Twitter stream of people's thoughts except with some amount of anonymity. There were the expected shout-outs, the "I love you"s, the "happy birthday"s, and the "me + John Mayer = lovers"s. There were also some anonymous come-ons and snide comments: "to the boy in the green sweatshirt, I think you're cute and you could do much better...". 

    Besides being an entertaining way of passing the time, these snippets got me thinking. To the casual outside observer of these messages, the names are faceless and may as well be characters in a story. For any given message, there were probably only a handful of people who knew the context and stories of the people featured in the message. To the rest of us, it was just an anonymous blast, a stream of consciousness that probably would never get shared in person. How much of our days are spent internally voicing such thoughts that never get aired in public? And when they are aired in such anonymous mediums, are they still genuine or fictionalized?

    Anyway, I stopped pondering such weighty questions as soon as John Mayer burst on to the stage with Vultures. My first impression of John was that he looked slightly crazy with his unkempt hair and old-school headband, but that he was also completely comfortable and at ease in his own skin. His musical improvisations and impromptu, unfiltered comments in between set pieces only made him appear more genuine and strengthened his connection with the audience.

    I'll try to recount some of the ridiculous things he did, but probably won't be able to do them full justice. In the middle of one song, he broke off to do a series of faux rocker-poses "for the photographers" since every picture of him playing makes him look "like a damn fool". In the lead-in to Who Says, the first song he played from his new album, he asked us how many people in the audience thought he was high at the moment. "I'm not high... but that's what a person who's high would say..." And "I've done nothing but arouse suspicions... and myself...". And near the end of the concert, he unabashedly admitted that he'd had too much tea and had to go to the bathroom.  Seriously, I can't make this stuff up.

    John also gave the audience a bit of advice that resonated with me. "Eighty-five percent of the weight on your shoulders", most of what you worry about every day, is nothing. Burdened with self-consciousness, we often spend so much of our time fretting about little, inconsequential decisions, about how "our worst enemy" would rip us apart for it. Just let it go.


    Thursday, August 19, 2010


    Sometimes, I feel like being just a little bit Wicked! Not mean wicked, but crazy wicked. There are times when I'll be sitting at my desk, trying to work. But the more I try to concentrate, the more I just want to jump up from my desk, break into song, or do a little jig.

    Today was especially hard since I just saw Wicked for the first time last night and my head was literally swimming in songs from the musical. It probably didn't help that I was listening to the songs on Grooveshark while trying to work. But I couldn't help it; they are just so good!

    And several of the songs seemed to be simply beckoning me to break away from my desk and dance. Dancing through Life and Thank Goodness, especially, make we want to waltz every time I hear them. "I couldn't be happier..." that I finally got to see Wicked. I've been wanting to see it for the longest time. Now, if only I could be in a production of it... that would be wonderful :)


    Saturday, August 14, 2010

    Singing on a Bike

    This summer, most of my Saturday mornings have begun with a singing bike ride. Actually, several of my weekday morning bike rides to work have also featured similar musical numbers. And though I've been meaning to write about these rides for a while, I've never gotten around to it. So instead, I've decided to show you, rather than tell you.

    These bike rides are really quite exhilarating. I find it quite freeing, especially when my hands are off the handlebars and free to gesticulate along with the music. I'll occasionally throw in a few simple dance numbers too, but that's harder to do with one hand holding a camera ;)

    But when my hands are completely unencumbered, the bike's frame just becomes an extension of my feet. And at times like these, I'm often inspired to dance around turns while waving my hands maniacally :)

    Oh, and I've found that these shenanigans are best-saved for the early mornings when there are likely to be fewer witnesses ;)


    Zeppelins Are Not Made of Led

    I woke up at 5 a.m. yesterday to go fly on a zeppelin. Yes, we had to drive all the way up to Redding. Yes, it took us at least 8 hours to get there and back. And yes, it was awesome.


    An American in Berlin

    I just arrived in Berlin on Thursday (07/22) morning. I had an interesting, if long flight. I sat next to a nice German couple returning home from holiday. They were kind enough to teach me some simple German words and sayings. There was also a very cool language game on the plane's seat-back computer that helped me pick up a few more helpful phrases.

    After clearing passport and customs at the airport, I was in a taxi, riding through Berlin, through Europe for the first time. The first thing I noticed were the bicycles. At almost every street light and intersection, there was a cyclist riding alongside the cars.

    Update (08/14):

    I had meant to finish writing this blog post while in Germany, but I couldn't pull myself apart from Berlin long enough to sit down and finish this. In order to finish this before the trip becomes a distant memory, I'm transferring some of my hastily jotted notes here. They are mostly unedited and still organized in haphazard lists.

    A quick list of the differences and similarities between Germany/Europe and the U.S.

    • Bathroom Shower: the handle came out and then up and down, rather than from left to right
    • Window: opened from a hinge at the top rather than sliding up
    • Oh, also bathrooms are WCs
    • More bikes, more smoking
    • Most Europeans easily speak 2-3 languages: besides German, also heard a fair bit of French, Spanish, some Dutch, Italian, and Swedish
    • Water tastes weird: comes in bottles, usually has minerals in it (sparkling), and is often not free (one bottle cost ~4 euros!)
    • A lot of the same music
      • heard Into the Night blasting from a car the first night I was in the city
      • walked into a souvenir shop and heard Taio Cruz's Dynamite and Rihanna
    • Food was familiar
      • lots of pastas, chicken (hanschen) and fish were easily available
      • even went to a Faux-Sixties Diner one night and heard MJ's Bille Jean
    I also hung out with a bunch of people who were also attending the conference. Some quick notes:
    • Group of researchers from Barcelona: practiced my Spanish with them, went out the first night and explored Checkpoint Charlie; also learned that work hours can be longer in Spain
    • Group from Lausanne, Switzerland: Julien had worked at Qualcomm, San Diego; Reza had traveled to SFO for conferences; they all worked on research related to location privacy.
    • Bunch of folks at the conference knew each other from before, many attended the same conferences
    • Went with the rest of the conference party on a boat tour on the river Spree
    • Had interesting discussions about PhDs and why people did/were doing them. Interesting questions that came up: does research area actually matter? esp. if you go to industry? just showing that you can become the world expert on some topic within a short (~5 yrs) time?
    Besides meeting several people, I also explored a bunch of places (pictures on Facebook) all around Berlin, including Postdamer Platz, Alexanderplatz, Berliner Dom, Museums: National gallery, Checkpoint Charlie, Brandenburg Tower, The Riechstag, Tiergarten (felt like entering the Forbidden Forest), Holocaust Maze Art, Nollendorfplatz, the Spree, and some abandoned WWII bunkers.

    Me in front of the red bear in front of the Hotel Berlin.

    Over the course of my several navigating adventures, I got pretty good at finding my way around the city with my trusty map. The map was well-worn from use, with rain splotches, creases and folds from being quickly folded and stuffed in my back pocket. Interestingly, most of my adventures happened at late night since I purposely tried not to shift to Berlin time. Thus, I actually found myself awake past midnight for a change :) The flipside was that I found myself in an afternoon slump and usually crashed between noon and 3 p.m. local time (Luckily, I was still awake enough to give my talk!).

    While the night backdrop made my adventures that more thrilling, it also meant that I missed out on going to a lot of shops that closed earlier in the evening. For example, KaDeWe, the largest department store on mainland Europe, closed just before I got there a little after 9 p.m. local time.

    Oh, and one last observation: on my strolls through the streets of Berlin, I saw lots of happy couples and people just seemed more cheerful overall. Why do I not see the same happiness on the streets of America? Perhaps, it's just that I'm not as attentive when I'm not in the excited mindset of a tourist? Or does this represent a more fundamental difference between U.S. and Europe (or the rest of the world)?


    Sunday, August 08, 2010

    The Fourth

    I actually went outside to see fireworks this year. Trippy, right? The fireworks show followed a performance of the San Francisco Symphony at the Shoreline Amphitheater. The symphony played pieces that spanned several decades, starting with the '20s and ending with the 2000s.

    Several of my favorite pieces from the night were the Rocky theme ('70s), the Indiana Jones theme ('80s), and "Defying Gravity" from Wicked (2000s). But the highlight of the night was when the fireworks went up right behind us on the lawn as the Symphony began a rousing rendition of John William's iconic theme to Star Wars. Here are some of the better shots I was able to snap on my iPhone:

    View of the stage from the lawn

    Shots of the fireworks right above and behind us on the lawn


    Saturday, June 26, 2010

    World Cup: USA vs. Ghana

    The players mark their position on the field with an X. It's a distinctive shadow, four lines radiating out from the footballer in the center. A white dot of a ball bounces around from player to player. Ah, football! I usually don't watch Major League Soccer games as a rule, but the World Cup is a different affair altogether. It's amazing how much more fun this game can be to watch when the players are actually good.

    I'm currently watching the USA-Ghana Round of 16 match. I just saw Landon Donovan tie the game with a brilliant penalty kick. And now both teams are in the hunt for the go-ahead goal. Will one team break the tie in regulation? In extra time? Or will we go to penalty kicks?

    It's a bit sad that either the US or Ghana must exit the tournament at this stage. USA may be the home team from our perspective in the States, but Ghana, as the lone African team still in the competition, is the tournament's home team. And while I do want to see the US pull out the win, it's unfortunate that it would have to be at the expense of Africa's last chance at winning the tournament.

    As I finished writing this, regulation time just ended. We're going to extra time. This should be fun! :)

    Update (1:28): Ghana just went ahead 2-1. USA need some magic and good football now.

    Update (2:01): Ghana wins. Well played by Ghana. Bad luck for the USA.


    Saturday, June 19, 2010


    When I woke up this morning, I started singing Disney songs. Initially, it was "A Whole New World" and other Aladdin favorites like "Friend Like Me". Then a bit of "Under the Sea" with a chorus of "Be Our Guest". Here's a bit of my morning in YouTube videos:

    Awesome, the Christian in Christian Dior. And damn they don't make 'em like this anymore. Good thing we now have Pixar. I'm looking forward to Toy Story 3 unleashing another wave of nostalgia :)


    Thursday, June 10, 2010

    Why Do We Read?

    Yet again I found myself awake in the wee hours of the morning, a bit earlier than I had planned. And once again I felt compelled to write. Perhaps this is an indication of when my mind is most unencumbered and free to create.

    What was I pondering today? Why do we read? What are the motivating factors? And as I formulated an answer in my half-sleeping mind, I thought that I should write it down.

    I read for two reasons. The first, and most obvious one, is to learn about something new. This is the reading as pure information transfer view. When I read, I am, at least ostensibly, interested in what the author has to say. There's usually some nugget of information that I would like to glean from them. I can even classify reading for enjoyment under this branch of reasoning. There the information I collect from my readings has an intrinsic fun value to it.

    The second, less obvious reason, is to learn how to write. And this is really one that can help you salvage an otherwise poor reading experience. Because even when the informational content of what I'm reading proves to be a dud, I do still notice how the piece is written. Word choices, turns of phrases, idioms, these are all things that you can really only learn through repeated exposure to them in the written word. A neat little phrasing here, a tight sentence there, like a scavenger, I keep what I like and discard the rest. Indeed, even essays completely lacking in information content and rhetorical devices can still teach you something: how you don't want to write.

    If you don't already read to write, I'd encourage you to try it. At the very least, it'll make boring passages slightly more bearable if you have an ulterior motive for reading them. And it may even make you a better writer!


    Tuesday, June 08, 2010


    What's new since the last time I was at Google? They now have a danceplex! And throughout the week they have tons of classes in a variety of dance styles. Super cool!

    Today, I dropped in on a Capoeira class. Capoeira is a type of Brazilian dance form that doubles as a martial art. And let me tell you, it's harder than it looks. Actually, it looks pretty hard already. But from the first day at least, it seems even harder than that :)

    I exercise fairly regularly, but I still found Capoeira refreshingly difficult. I showed up in a t-shirt and jeans, which I now realize was a bad idea. Within minutes, I was sweating freely and my shirt and jeans began sticking to me like tape. 

    There were some moves that required you to do handstands or cartwheels which were a bit challenging for me. But it was still a pretty enjoyable experience. It really augments my daily exercise routine in new, exciting ways. I think Capoeira could turn into a very useful cross-training program for me. 

    And while it's a good workout, Capoeira is still, at its heart, a dance form. There are moves and steps that are coordinated to the beat of music. And all the figures can actually be done with a partner. Just as in other types of dancing like ballroom, your moves mirror your partner's. Some of the moves are even reminiscent of figures from other dance styles. For example, we learned one simple side-to-side two-step that's very much like the basic step in Samba.
    I'm excited to learn more about Capoeira and I hope I'll be able to stick with it over the summer.


    Sunday, June 06, 2010

    A Year in the Life

    Since I didn't blog much over the last year, I thought I'd just share the highlights of what happened:
    • Last fall, I joined MIT's ballroom dance team. Over the past few months, I've had a blast learning 19 new dances ranging from Standard-style dances like Waltz to Latin-style dances like Rumba.
    • I learned how to cook. The first thing I learned how to make was an omelet. Over the past few months, I've actually gotten fairly good at making several breakfast foods like omelets, french toast, and pancakes. And I've also experimented with several types of pastas and stir-frys. But I've only just begun my culinary explorations and hope to try out more dishes soon!
    • I learned how to bike. The last time I had tried to bike, when I was about five years old, I never quite got past the training wheels. What was different this time around? Google has free bikes all around campus :) By now, I'm actually good enough to partially bike to work.
    • I finished all the requirements for Course VI at MIT.  My favorite classes of the year were 6.003/6.011: Signals & Systems and 6.828: Operating Systems.
    • I went to New York City for the first time. Thrice. Once for Ballroom. Once for my Google interview. Once with The Tech. The city is amazing and I'd love to go back there again.

    Tuesday, June 01, 2010


    It seems that I'm always blogging during moments of transition. Start of a semester, let's blog it. End of a school year, let's blog it. Start of a summer job, let's blog it.

    My theory -- or at least the one I like to tell myself -- is that I'm too engrossed in the day-to-day act of living at other times to actually bring myself to step back and blog about it. Transitions offer that natural break in the flow of life that encourages reflection and pondering. The rest of life is seemingly relegated to a stream of tweets. (Though, I don't tweet that frequently either.)

    Still besides obvious transitions, aren't there any major life events to chronicle? Or does one week just bleed into the next? It often feels like that during the school year. But with the start of another summer, I'm hoping that I'll be able to blog more often and really capture those moments in-between transitions. That's the plan at least. Let's see how it goes :)


    Tuesday, January 05, 2010

    4 a.m.

    I'm a really light sleeper. I woke up to the sound of a laptop's warning beep that it was running low on battery. The laptop was in the next room. Across a couple closed doors.

    I couldn't fall back asleep and stayed awake in bed for an hour or so, just thinking. This blog post is already sounding very familiar, but I'll keep writing and see what it has in store.

    Though sleep eluded me, I still felt very relaxed and calm. The days have been a bit trying lately, but I felt quite at peace while I lay awake. I felt less weighed down by my problems. It was a nice, introspective session. It was almost like I was sitting on one of those comfortable reclining couches you see in psychiatrists' offices. (At least the ones on TV shows seem comfortable; I can't speak for real psychiatrists' offices.) Except there was no shrink. Well, not unless you count myself. Yeah, it was a bit like speaking to yourself as if you were an outside listener. I must say that I was a pretty good listener. I bet I could charge fairly competitive rates if I went pro.

    What was I pondering? People, mostly. And, you know, life. If you know me, you know that I get easily addicted to TV shows. I'm very careful about starting a new show, because I know that as soon as I do, I'll likely be hooked. I'm a sucker for a good story, whether it's a book, movie, or lately a TV show. I get pulled into the character's lives and I often frame my musings on life in terms of what I gleaned from identifying with a character on some show or book. I like to tell myself that the time I spend watching these shows is time well-spent understanding human character. Perhaps that's just a gross rationalization, but I'm going to stick with that for now.

    My musings on life usually culminate with an outpouring of affection and love for people. All the day-to-day prejudices, angst, and feelings of anger just wash away. All the petty troubles that plague my mind during the day don't seem as important anymore. And I realize that the Beatles were right along. All you need is love.