February 27, 2009
The kids keep asking me to join the xbox team because they think it would be cool, but I think working at Lego would be even cooler if only for the business cards. They write your info on a mini-fig. Even better:
"Reportedly, LEGO even attempts to match an employee's features with their own minifigs."
Totally impractical, but I love it.
Thanks to my brother, Ives, for pointing out this article from Wired's Geekdad column. (He's totally impractical too, but I love him as well.)
February 23, 2009
I just came across this photo I took last summer in Tokyo, which I clearly forgot to post at the time. What a ridiculously awesome sandwich. I'm pretty sure the Japanese on the poster says, "An honorable way to die. Get one today!"
Three all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, bacon, and an egg on a sesame seed bun... (The song and the sandwich are clearly better with the egg, bacon, and extra patty.)
February 19, 2009
When we decided to move to China, a lot of people asked about my level of Chinese language ability and then commented something along the lines of "boy, Chinese sure seems hard." After spending some time here now working with smart people who speak English as a second language, I think I can assert that English is hard too.
Sure, there are lots of funny and sometimes incomprehensible "Chinglish" signs where I can't figure out how the person writing it could possibly have constructed such sentences, for example:
But, there are a bunch of common mistakes I see my colleagues and others make that demonstrate how whimsical and arbitrary English can be. One big class of mistake is correctly deciding when to add an "s" to the end of a word. I see sentences like "We need to hire more talents" or "We collected a lot of feedbacks." It's very difficult to explain to someone why a person can have a lot of talents, but a team looking for people hires talent. It's similarly difficult to explain why you can't have two feedbacks. Of course, there's no good rule for determining a priori whether a word is an enumerable unit with singular and plural or a category/group word with no plural. It's even more confusing when the same word like talent can be used in both ways.
Even the China Daily got this wrong in today's paper.
So, my hats off to the billions of people around the world learning English and even more kudos to my colleagues and everyone else who actually do business or go to school using English as a second language. It's a hard language.
February 8, 2009
Last night we went to a delicious and fun restaurant called The Noodle Loft. This restaurant is Shanxi-style and reflects that's province's fascination with noodles. They make a vast assortment of noodles there, all by hand, using a variety of techniques -- pulling, pinching, throwing, shaving with a knife, whacking off with a chopstick, and so on. We had four different types and barely scratched the surface.
One really cool preparation is where they make an entire serving of pasta from one very long noodle. The chef stands about 4-5 feet from the boiling water, pulls the dough from behind him and throws the single strand into the pot. He repeats this motion, pulling more yardage of noodle from the dough and throwing it. It's hard to describe but fun to watch. Here's a (bad) photo of the action. You can kind of see the long green noodle in motion.
On top of their good food, they had a show kitchen so you could see all the action. It had a bar around one edge with seats for a close-up view. The boys enjoyed watching everything and then got in on a the dough handling when one of the cooks gave them each a blob of dough. Andrew (11) declared that he might want to work there someday. (He's deciding between noodle chef, US Marine sniper, and Microsoft game developer. Pretty wide range.)
The Chinese name (面酷 - mian4 ku4) is way better than Noodle Loft. I think it can be translated as "Cool Noodles", "Extreme Noodles" or even "Cruel Noodles". Either way, it's a great place that we'll be headed back to.
(I've included a scan of both sides of their business card to help you find it. I'll try to do this going forward when the card has a map or other useful info.)
Michael (8) rode a bike by himself today for the first time! This accomplishment was something of a surprise really. Unlike Andrew (11), who has always loved biking and mastered two wheeling at an early age, Michael has demonstrated no interest (negative interest in fact) for quite some time. Yesterday, however, as I was peeking into the new Trek store that opened nearby (I didn't bring my road bike and am thinking I might want one here), Michael suddenly showed interest in a cool new Trek Jet 20. Despite the relatively high price (due to China's import markup), Michelle and I decided to take advantage of this mood swing and bought the bike.
He tried riding yesterday and almost had it, but he couldn't quite get it all working. Then today, while I was getting my bike and Andrew's out for a ride, Michelle and Michael took another swing at things. By the time I came out, Michael was cruising down the street!
He's still working on starting and stopping, but he rode out to the nearby convenience store about five minutes away later this afternoon. Quite a feat! He's very excited and proud of himself. I think we'll be cruising around the 'burbs together before you know it.
(Separately, Andrew completed his longest ride ever today, almost seven miles. It was a good day for biking.)
February 4, 2009
It's probably no surprise that fireworks are a big part of Chinese New Year (CNY) celebrations (they were invented here in China after all). But, I was (and still am) surprised at the quantity and duration of the fireworks. Every night (and pretty much during the day too) from about a week before CNY people have been letting loose with a vast assortment of pyrotechnics, from sparklers (although they're much bigger here than in the US) to full-on aerial starbursts. I'm told this will go on until fifteen days after CNY with a final hurrah on that last day. There's a constant booming like distant artillery pretty much all the time out here in the suburbs; I'm told in the city it can get so loud that you can't hear the TV. Some evenings we can smell the burnt gunpowder in the air.
Before the CNY holiday, fireworks stands started popping up all over the place, like latte stands in Seattle. The big boxes in front of the tent below contains the big aerial shells you see at public Fourth of July events. They go for about 1000 RMB (about USD$145) -- very pricey, especially for people making Chinese wages. A huge string of firecrackers way bigger than anything I've seen in the US (they look like machine gun ammo belts) goes for 20 RMB (less than USD$3) by comparison.
Our ayi (the woman who helps us around the house with cleaning and such) runs a fireworks stand during this time of year where she says she makes the equivalent of six months of ayi pay in a week. She was kind enough to bring us a bag of what she called "safe for kids" fireworks -- sparklers, Roman candles, fountains, spinners, and a small rocket multi-pack.
We set out to the designated fireworks area in our neighborhood with some friends after dinner. After struggling with crappy lighters (we were rescued by a kind neighbor), we started out with the Roman candles. The kids quickly figured out the Roman candles were like magic wands and started yelling spells from Harry Potter. True to form, Andrew (11) sent stunning and disarming spells while Michael went directly for avada kedavra -- the killing curse. Here's me helping Michael (8).
We then moved to the 2.5 foot long sparklers. Here's Andrew in front of the rest of the family and our friends waving two sparklers around. Notice all the firecracker paper on the ground.
A van pulled up and some serious looking guys came out with some really serious fireworks. They started out with a few long strings of firecrackers. You can see Andrew and Michael below waving their relatively pathetic sparklers as they watch the three strings of firecrackers going off.
Then they brought out the big guns. We were almost literally under these huge shells with paper (and in one case a ball of flame) falling on our heads until we backed off a little. I was probably fifty feet at most from the launch point in the shot below. This went on for a good fifteen minutes. They had clearly spent a fortune and were enjoying themselves. We were happy to enjoy the show too. Our hearing recovered surprisingly quickly.
This scene was repeated in thousands of places around the city. Here's Andrew on a pile of firecracker paper in front of a restaurant where we had breakfast one morning. People clean up the mess the next morning and then start all over again.
I kind of wish we'd been downtown on New Year's Eve to see the mayhem. We plan to get a hotel downtown next CNY to really immerse ourselves in this fun custom of our new home.
February 3, 2009
My friend Nigel Parker, who works in the Microsoft New Zealand office and who I met on my trip there almost three years ago, does some amazing things as he shows off cool new Microsoft technology. The latest thing combines two things I love - great technology and sailboat racing.
Right now the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series races are underway in Auckland. These races are in Americas Cup class boats with Americas Cup crews. Even for sailing enthusiasts, it's hard to watch sailboat racing, but Nigel helped build a very cool race viewer using Silverlight (a very slick newish product from Microsoft) that makes following the races easier to understand and frankly more fun.
He has such a cool job and is good at it...
(BTW, go Team New Zealand -- I can't root for BMW Oracle, even though they're the American team...)