January 2009

January 31, 2009

25 Random Things About Me

Categories: Random junk

All of you on Facebook must have already seen dozens of these "random things" lists go by; after being tagged a few times, I figured I should finally write mine. This is a lot like the "Five Weird Habits" thing that went around a few years ago. I'll try to not to repeat anything from that post or write other stuff that's already on the blog.

Some obligatory instructions for the Facebook crowd:

Rules: Once you've been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you.

To do this, go to “notes” under tabs on your profile page (look under the plus sign), paste these instructions in the body of the note, type your 25 random things, tag 25 people (in the right hand corner of the app) then click publish.

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  1. My dad came alone to the US from Hong Kong when he was sixteen to go to college in the middle of Iowa with virtually nothing but a Lutheran Brotherhood scholarship. I can't imagine how scary that must have been. He's my hero for this and many other things.
  2. I was born in Bozeman, Montana; grew up in Woodbury, Minnesota; went to college at Stanford; interned in Austin, Texas; married and started a family in Seattle, Washington; and now live and work in Beijing, China. Not a typical path I suppose, but it probably explains my fondness for hot dish, Mexican food, oysters, and jiaozi.
  3. I didn't speak English until I was two and started going to nursery school. That was probably the high water mark of my Chinese fluency. I'm still working to get back there.
  4. In third grade I was in a photo sequence on the front page of the Minneapolis Star Tribune sports section for a ping pong tournament I was in. (The headline was "Tension, concentration, and then oh boy!") It's probably the only time I'll ever be in a sports section unless it's in a "weird story" or "weekend warrior dies exercising" article.
  5. During junior high and high school, my family owned two Chinese restaurants as side businesses, Jack Yee's and Loon Phung. They weren't very authentic, but boy people sure loved the gloppy chicken chow mein and chop suey.
  6. I love the 3M Company. My parents both worked there, I worked there in high school and interned there, and they helped pay for my college education. Almost everyone I knew growing up had parents who worked there. It was and is a great company. I still buy their products whenever I can.
  7. My first job was as a cashier at Target back in high school. This was before scanners so we had to learn to be "Touch Key Professionals". Within the first month, we had to pass a test to "ring and bag" fifteen items in a minute with no errors. 3M offered me a job to write Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheets before I took the test, but I know in my heart I was fast enough to pass.
  8. I competed in speech in high school in a category called "creative expression". Senior year I took second place at the state competition with a piece I wrote called "The Ting Dynasty". I don't think you could do a talk like that anymore for political correctness reasons, but this was Minnesota in the mid-80's.
  9. I didn't drink at all or date much until after high school. I had a lot more fun in college.
  10. I almost became a marine biologist after spending the summer after freshman year at Hopkins Marine Station in Monterey diving every day and counting the weeds on the bottom of the bay. In fact the only class I TA'd in college was SCUBA. I sometimes wonder how my life would have been different if I'd gone that route.
  11. My pledge name from my fraternity (Kappa Alpha Order) is "Disco Flow". I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to work out how I got that name.
  12. I was president of my fraternity. Being president is probably the least fun you can have in a fraternity -- taking care of drunken people instead of partying, having the fire chief lecture you about the dangers of filling your house with hay for the "Longnecks and Longhorns" party, or having to explain (with a straight face) the merits of pledges carrying bricks to the Dean of Fraternal Affairs "We want the pledges to understand the weight of responsibility they are about to take on..." Still, I was honored to be chosen by my brothers to do this, learned a lot, and wouldn't have traded the experience for anything.
  13. I ran for Council of Presidents (like student body president but with a group of four running as a team) at Stanford, forming a new student government party, Students First. We lost after a run-off election. It was super draining emotionally; I don't think I'll ever run for office again (my abortive 2004 presidential campaign not withstanding.)
  14. I scored the only hole-in-one during the testing of Microsoft Golf 1.0 for Windows, the first product I ever shipped.
  15. I love explaining stuff to my two sons (unless it's for the umpteenth time.) It's so cool when they get excited by learning things.
  16. The first time I presented to Bill Gates, he noted dryly that something I said was "totally irrelevant". It took a while for my heart to start beating again. Fortunately, the next time, he cut off our senior VP to back me up. (And then there was the nearly disastrous demo...)
  17. I especially adore food pairings. Whisky and oysters. Truffles and port. Sauternes and foie gras. Ice cold milk and hot brownies. Bacon and more bacon.
  18. My brother and I had very similar resumes for the first twenty some odd years of our lives - same schools, same activities, same jobs, etc. but we're very different. He's really great (world class even) at a few things where I'm decent at a lot of things, we have super different political views, and we have pretty dissimilar interests now. It's interesting that we're so different after coming from such similar experiences. That said, I think he's cool and respect him a ton.
  19. I have something like ten or eleven patents pending in stuff ranging from user interface design to computer security to automatic photo processing, but I couldn't tell you what they were just looking at the names of the inventions. The legalese squeezes every bit of human-readable information out of them.
  20. My hobby is collecting hobbies. As an adult, I'm a current or former certified rescue diver, golf ball liberator, boat owning sailor, trigger happy photographer, green belt in Shaolin kung-fu, weekend brewer, nightly whisky connoisseur, chord-pounding pianist, longish distance road biker, half marathoner, non-fiction reader, Harry Potter addict, tennis ball whacker, directionless geocacher, paper poking shooter, Rock Band rocker, skier in remission, foodie, and blogger. I like knowing stuff about a lot of things.
  21. My wife is even more beautiful now than when we first started dating seventeen years ago. More important, we're better friends now.
  22. Snakes wig me out in a huge way.
  23. My favorite place in the world is on a sailboat early in the morning with a cup of hot coffee in my hand.
  24. I learned to flip my pen around my thumb just after high school and haven't stopped flipping it since. I really can't stop.
  25. I never seem to know the words to songs. I mis-hear them all the time (I thought Secret Agent Man was Secret Asian Man for a long time. Probably just wishful thinking.) Rock Band, Lips, and karaoke have been very educational.

OK, so there you go.

Posted January 31, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

January 27, 2009

On a Clear Day You Can See Mount Fuji

Categories: Travel

Mount Fuji from my hotel room.

The remarkable thing about this photo is that you can see Mount Fuji. While Tokyo is hardly a clean-air city, it's definitely cleaner right now than Beijing. It's been a nice relief to not be able to taste the air for a little while.

Posted January 27, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tokyo Wedding Scene

Categories: Photos

I snapped this picture from our hotel room the other morning. It's not a great shot technically or even artistically, but I love it. There are so many little stories here: the happy couple and their friends, the old guys at the back chatting amongst themselves, the woman in the geisha just out of the top of the frame getting her photo taken, the ladies at the back of the crowd laughing.

wedding

Posted January 27, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Belly Full of Ramen (and Soba)

Categories: Food and Drink Travel

Since I arrived in Tokyo last week, I've been on a minor ramen frenzy. I'm guessing many of you have only had instant ramen in a styrofoam cup. As I wrote before, I love them, and the Japanese voted the instant noodle the greatest Japanese invention of the 20th Century. I agree. That said, real well-made ramen is a thing of beauty and way, way better than the instant stuff.

Like many good things in the world, ramen comes from China originally (la mein in Chinese). Then, like many other good things in the world, the Japanese took someone else's idea and made it really great. It was all I could do this week to not drag my family and friends to ramen for every meal (it turns out the Japanese have other good food too...)

Jangara Ramen

I've written about these guys before after I went last summer. This time, I went to two different locations. The first was in Akasaka near the Live Search team's office. This was much smaller than the Harajuku location, with just a few seats. My foodie colleagues and I actually went after the team dinner, even though we were totally stuffed, just because we wanted to eat the yummy ramen. This time I had the Bonshan ramen, an even richer, whiter pork broth full of tongue coating collagen and deep flavor (they claim that it's good for your skin too!). It's really simply luscious. I think it's even better than the signature Kyushu Jangara. Like a junkie, I actually went back to the Akasaka Jangara after the next night's dinner, but cooler heads prevailed this time. (Wimps.) I later reprised our summer visit to the Harajuku Jangara with Michelle, the boys, and my cousin Jessica, who is working in Japan. The line was long, but it was worth the wait. They have English menus, and the staff handled my English/Japanese/pantomime ordering with ease.

Jill, Helen, and John outside the Akasaka Jangara Ramen 
My colleagues Jill, Helen, and John outside the Akasaka Jangara Ramen.

A bad photo of the Bonshan ramen in Jangara Ramen. 
A bowl of Bonshan ramen at the counter. (Sorry for the lousy pic.)

Empty ramen bowl. 
The aftermath.

 

Tetsugama Ramen

We chose Testugama mostly out of convenience since it's close to our hotel in Roppongi Hills. Like Jangara, it's Kyushu style (so pork-based soup) but theirs are lighter tasting. Like many ramen places, you actually order at a machine first, putting in money and then pushing buttons for the things you want. You get a stack of little tickets which you then hand to the waiter.

I ordered the spicy soup with hard noodles. (You can order hard, medium, or soft noodles. This isn't a statement about the doneness of the noodles; rather it's about the type.) This was so good Michelle claimed eminent domain and took the bowl. I enjoyed her shio (salt) based ramen instead. Their gyoza (dumplings) were also delicious. We really liked the feel of the place -- very friendly. I'm sad we discovered it so late in our trip; I'm pretty sure we would have gone back again otherwise. They do not have English menus, but the waiter did a fine job pointing out the major things we might want on the order taking machine.

Tetsugama's entrance
Tetsugama's entrance

Michael (8) in front of the order machine Tetsugama Ramen.
Michael (8) in front of the order machine.

 My spicy ramen at Tetsugama. 
My (soon to be Michelle's) spicy ramen. (I started eating before I realized I should take a photo, so the lovely presentation is a bit messed up.)

 

Restaurant Kurosawa

I should also note that we had a great soba dinner at Restaurant Kurosawa, another repeat visit from our summer trip (I didn't write about it that time, mostly out of laziness.) Kurosawa makes handcut soba with great buckwheat texture and taste. It's really different from the ramen noodles I mentioned above. Michael (8) loved the cold soba (dipped in sauce) so much that he ate half of another order. They also have other delicious dishes including a simple yet amazing tomato salad. For a noodle joint, it's not cheap, but boy, it's good. They have English menus.

Roppongi Restaurant Kurosawa storefront
Roppongi Restaurant Kurosawa storefront

 

Amazing tomato salad at Restaurant Kurosawa
The amazing tomato salad

I want to go out and eat more now...

Posted January 27, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Happy "Niu" Year!

Categories: Random junk

Happy Chinese New Year! 2009 is the year of the Ox (BTW, "ox" is "niu" in Chinese and pronounced like "new", hence the multi-lingual pun in the title. I admit it's less funny after all of the explanation.) The Chinese horoscope website I've quoted in years past seems to be stale now, so I found OnlineChineseAstrology.com instead. Maybe it will be more accurate... Here's what they forecast for the year:

The Ox is the second sign of the Chinese zodiac. Like its predecessor and complement, the Rat, it signifies new beginnings. The main difference is the Ox is associated with building to last and slow but sure action. Even more so than last year we all have to make good choices, as that which is begun now is likely to have long term consequences.

As with last year, this is an Earth year. The difference is this one is yin rather than yang. It is thus likely to be less tumultuous. On a personal level, better results are more likely to be achieved by reacting to circumstances and going with the flow rather than aggressively charging forward and initiating a lot of action.

Unfortunately Earth has a destructive relationship with the Ox's fixed element, Water. In fact this is the fourth in a run of six years governed by an unlucky conflict of elements. This fact should come as no surprise to those who have followed US and world financial markets or the unspeakable horror that has persisted in Iraq.

The combination of Earth and Ox, however, is not at all a negative combination. Its primary characteristic is durability. It suggests an environment dominated by cautious pragmatism rather than quixotic dreaming. Things will get done.

Furthermore, they will generally be successful if done in harmony with the spirit of the Earth Ox. This applies both to the type and amount of new projects as well as the approach to accomplishing them. That means focusing on just a few, long term projects. It also suggests proceeding in a cautious yet determined manner. Finally, it counsels avoiding taking unnecessary risks and yielding to the temptation to seek short term gains.

Since this is an Earth year, those people born in a Metal year will generally fare better than others of their animal sign, while those born in a Water one are likely to do worse than those born in Wood, Fire, and Earth years.

The year 2009 will be a period of lasting accomplishments. This is true for individuals, societies and the human race in general. There may be times when motivation appears to be lacking. In fact the big challenge everyone faces is to generate the enthusiasm and desire to act. Those individuals and organizations that do will create enduring benefits for themselves and the world.

It seems a little crafted for current events, but whatever, I'll take it. For me as a monkey the guidance is pretty clear and seems good most of the time:

How the Monkey fares:

This year offers the Monkey some opportunities to go far with talent. Your generous nature may leave you stretched in several different directions, so it is important to stay focused in order to achieve the goals you have set for yourself this year. You will be given the opportunity to impress the right people in business as well as in your personal life. Don't hold back this year, for this could be one that will leave an impression over the course of the next few years.

So, time to let loose in 2009 and be impressive in a focused way!

Ironically, we're in Japan during the first Chinese New Year since we moved to China, so we missed all of the fireworks. We hope to catch some of the temple fairs and such when we get back later this week.

Happy New Year!

Posted January 27, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

January 19, 2009

Our Move to the Beijing 'Burbs

Categories: China

Sorry for not posting last week. We finally moved from our temp housing downtown to the suburb of Shunyi. This was really a multi-part process. On Thursday the week before the movers took our things from the apartment; this was the stuff we carried on the plane, our air shipment, and the few things we had bought to date. Then, on Friday, we received our sea shipment with our furniture and the balance of our stuff. We were excited by the prospect of finally having all of our things in one place.

Unfortunately, our new house was not ready to move into. There were still workmen inside patching up a few things, the place was very dusty and dirty (with sand and bugs in our bathtubs for instance), and (as we discovered later) many systems not ready for prime time.

As we started cleaning and unpacking, we had to debug these systems one-by-one: getting the heat turned on in every room, getting hot water to come on in the master shower, turning on the dishwasher, and so on. Pretty much each of these problems involved one or more visits from our neighborhood maintenance staff. Thank goodness for these guys. I can't think of a analogy in an American neighborhood; I suppose it's more like the kind of thing you might have in an apartment. You call the office with a problem and sometime that day, the guys come over and try to fix your problem. They were largely successful despite my weak Chinese explanations; I hope I understood their responses too...

Now, a week later we have most systems working pretty well, and we're liking the house a lot (this was not the case during some parts of the past week). The biggest remaining issue is that the phone and CAT-5 wiring in the house is messed up in many locations. I had beat my head against the wall until two or three in the morning trying to get the network working one night; when the maintenance guys came over, they found a bunch of the jacks were miswired and others were not passing any signal at all. I've got wireless working on the first floor now and have bridged to another wireless adapter on the second floor (although this is a slow/spotty connection). It will take some more doing to get this last part fixed.

In the US, I doubt the house would have passed the bank inspection, but I understand this level of construction quality is normal in China. It seems like people settle for "good enough" quickly here; even the maintenance guys seemed confused why I wanted more heat in the house, implying that I was expecting too much to be in short sleeves in my house in January. This is somewhat understandable I suppose since the house is so much nicer than how 99.99% of the country lives, but it will still take some getting used to.

I'll post some photos soon...

Posted January 19, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

January 8, 2009

House "Cleaning"

Categories: China

One of the seemingly attractive things in China is that it's relatively inexpensive to hire people to do service work like cleaning. Given how dusty and polluted the air in Beijing is, you always have to be cleaning here. These two facts seem to match each other well.

However, based on our limited sample size to date, the low price may not actually be much of a value. The quality of the cleaning jobs we've seen in our temporary apartment, the new house we're moving into, and even good hotels like the Grand Hyatt has been pretty uniformly poor. According to Michelle, who has been in the apartment while housekeeping was cleaning up, the housekeeper goes through the motions of cleaning but isn't especially particular about actually getting anything clean. She would move the vacuum cleaner around the floor but not hit each spot on the rug, for instance. After the housekeeper leaves, the place is neat but not clean. She seems to be optimizing on following the process without regard to the results.

As with any population, I'm sure this one has a curve with good, average, and incompetent cleaners. I don't know where these folks were on the curve, but I'm not optimistic. We'll have to be very selective about who we work with going forward, but I suspect that once again, we may get what we pay for.

Posted January 8, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

January 7, 2009

Chinese New Year with Live Search

I haven't written too much about my new job in Live Search yet, so I thought I'd share a cool thing we just shipped. The time around Chinese New Year is called Spring Festival (春节 - chun1 jie2). For this year's festival, we've started showing custom background images on the Chinese Live Search home page. As you mouse over the image, little hotspots will appear linking to fun and useful information. This is similar to functionality we have on the US Live Search page, but it's really the first time we've done this kind of thing outside the US. I think the images are really beautiful and worth checking out every day. Here's the first image (click it to see a full sized version):

chunjie

In addition, we've built a custom page that combines a lot of features we have to help users with their Spring Festival activities. For instance, lots of people travel home to be with their families (it's the largest human migration in the world), so we have a service to search for train tickets. We also have a fun activity built by our partners in Microsoft Research Asia that helps you compose and share couplets (对联 - dui4 lian4)  -- traditional poems. OK, I'm told it's fun. Since I can't really read Chinese, I don't know. Anyway, if you can read Chinese, check out the page at http://chunjie.live.com/

These are the first of what I hope will many efforts by our team to really make Live Search feel and work like a service really built for Chinese users. I don't think that's the case today with a lot of products built by American companies.

Posted January 7, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

January 3, 2009

Not Something You See Every Day

Categories: China Photos Random junk

I snapped this shot last week near Houhai (the old Beijing lakes area behind the Forbidden City.)

 Beijing clown getting his bike fixed.

Captions anyone?

Posted January 3, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Better Than TV

Categories: Kids

Andrew (11) and I went ice skating today at the China World mall near our apartment; Michelle and Michael (8) watched (Michael wanted nothing to do with it.)

Andrew has only been ice skating once in his life and that was when he was two, so he struggled a bit, especially at first, falling a lot.

As they watched Andrew falling repeatedly, Michael said to Michelle: "This is better than watching TV!"

Schadenfreude is a bitch.

Posted January 3, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Going to Work on Sunday

Categories: China

It's Saturday night here in Beijing, and I'm getting ready to go to work tomorrow. Now, for a lot of Microsoft folks (and others in our industry to be fair) working on the weekend isn't unusual (unfortunately). Tomorrow, however, is an official work day in China.

Here's my understanding: The Chinese government realized it was a good thing to give people three day weekends; it's good for the economy since people will travel more. However, when a holiday like New Year's Day falls on a Thursday, what do you do? Easy -- give everyone Thursday and Friday off and then have them work on Sunday! This way, there's a three day weekend and there's no lost day of work!

I give the Chinese government high marks for creative thinking here. Definitely out-of-the-box.

Posted January 3, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

January 2, 2009

Gross Beijing Air

Categories: China

The pollution is Beijing is certainly well-known and well-discussed; the term Greyjing has emerged to describe it (even making the New York Times 2008 Buzzwords list -- worth a read, btw.) You've all probably seen the photos of the horrible air, but here's something that surprised even me. There's so much dust in the air, even indoors, that our printer is covered in dust every day.

Dust on our printer due to the dusty Beijing air.

Michelle cleaned this printer less than a day ago. You can see how it's covered in dust again. I'm guessing the dry air isn't helping -- lots of static electricity. We're living in a brand new apartment on the 30th floor, so it's not like this is a drafty old building near the dirt.

I can only imagine what it's doing to our lungs. I'm looking forward to receiving our air purifiers in our sea shipment soon.

Posted January 2, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Happy 2009!

Categories: Random junk

Man, how did another year slip by? I think I need to count 2008 as a good year. I made reasonable progress on everything I set out to do in my blog post kicking off last year. A quick recap:

  • Spend more time with the boys
    I feel pretty good about this. Among other things, we went camping, played in Japan, held long discussions about right and wrong, introduced them fine cuisine, hiked the Great Wall, ran through a corn maze in the dark, and started exploring our new home. Of course, it's probably the everyday things like reading, chatting, and playing together that are even more important than some of these adventures; we did pretty well there too.
  • Work out more
    I barely achieved this goal. I managed to train for and complete a bike ride from Seattle to Vancouver as I set out to do, but I did the least possible training for it and was pretty bad about exercise afterwards.
  • Learn to play an instrument well
    I played a lot more piano last year and did take piano lessons for the first time in probably thirty years or so. I'm still not proficient, but I improved and really enjoyed it.
  • Learn to speak another language to adult fluency
    This was another "get started" goal. I certainly improved my Chinese last year, although probably not as much as I'd hoped. This year should be better on that front...

In addition I feel good about the progress we made on IE8 including getting the betas out. It's a good product and will be a solid release I think.

Of course, the biggest news from 2008 was our move to China. This idea was no where on my radar in January 2008; in fact, we had just bought a house and new cars and were ready to continue our nice life in Bellevue. I'm actually pretty proud of all of us for seizing this opportunity instead of doing the easy thing. It's already been a great experience.

I think my personal (non-work) goals for 2009 will center around taking advantage of our new surroundings as well as continuing some of the themes from 2008.

  • Spend more time with the boys and Michelle
    Of course, this goal doesn't end after a year. We should have lots of opportunities to do cool things together. I'll have to make a special effort here though since my commute is longer here, and I expect to travel more than before.
  • Do a pull-up
    I'm embarrassed to admit I can't do a single pull-up. The combination of my weight and lack of strength are the killer here. To do this, I'll have to get stronger and lose weight. I've already joined the gym at work and am looking for some more fun things to do like martial arts and finding a riding group that might make it easier to achieve this. Doing a pull-up should be a good measure of my progress.
  • Significantly improve my Chinese
    I will certainly improve my Chinese just living here since I'm speaking, hearing, and reading tons every day. The challenge will be to accelerate my learning beyond this natural improvement curve. I plan to find an instructor and formalize this effort.
  • Take advantage of being in China
    We have this great opportunity to experience lots of cool things being here. I want to travel, see the sites, eat the food (making good progress here already), meet the people and really just make the most of our time here. It will be easy to fall into a routine and live a mostly American life here. The effort will be in seeking out new things continuously.

Here's to a great 2009!

Posted January 2, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)