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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Richard Thompson Live

John Bayley talked me into buying Richard Thompson's latest album Front Parlor Balads, which I enjoyed quite a bit, so when I saw that he was playing in Saratoga I bought a ticket. (Lisa couldn't make it, and everyone else I spoke to said, "Richard Who?")

The concert was amazing, and he's an great performer (he did the entire thing with an acoustic guitar). He's playing again tomorrow, so if you've got tomorrow night free, there are still tickets available. I will definitely see him again, and the next time, I'll buy 2 tickets and drag a friend along.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Coast to Coast Walk

Lisa & I are doing the coast to coast walk next year, and as part of my research I got a copy of the original book by Alfred Wainwright. And what a gorgeous book it is! You should own a copy even if you have no intention of doing the walk --- it is that pretty. The book is entirely hand-written, and the illustrations are done in ink by Wainwright himself. Wainwright hand-wraps and hand-justifies the entire book, and does it without the use of hyphens! (The book was written in the 1970s, before cheap wordprocessors but there were definitely electric typewriters that were very popular by then)

The text itself is written in an old-school style, assuming that the reader has already decided to do the route and does not need to be led by the hand or persuaded that this is a good idea.

Highly recommended.

Well, it's not too late to abandon the coast to coast idea and stay on in Patterdale. There is nothing ahead as good, admittedly --- the big fault of doing this walk in a west to east direction is that the best come first. Anyway, please yourself. Stay if you want to and I'll carry on alone, and no hard feelings. You'll think of something to tell the folks at home... Mind, you might find yourself thinking in the next few days about Shap and the limestone plateau beyond, and wondering what Swaledale is really like and whether the North York Moors are as attractive as people say. Yoou could have regrets. And (let's be clear about this) you can't expect to get your money back for the book if you prefer not to continue the walk... Coming with me? Good. I thought you would.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Fortune on Andrew Grove as a manager

But Kinnie and Carter had trained at the Grove school of management—Grove's MO as a leader has always been to depend on "helpful Cassandras" to make sure that he doesn't win an argument he ought to lose. The two were blunt. "Andy, you can't do this," Carter said. Abandoning CISC for RISC, they argued, would truncate one of the most profitable franchises in business history for ... what? Leveling the playing field for Intel's competition? When the discussion ended, Kinnie and Carter had achieved a feat of monumental difficulty. They'd won an argument with Andy Grove.

The smartest managers instinctively understand that to manage effectively they need to surround themselves not with "yes-men", but with people willing to question and honestly state the truth. People who habitually do so, however, are not people who are comfortable to be around, and it takes truly great men who can set aside their egoes and truly listen and value those people.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

My favorite view of Mountain View.

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Black Mountain Summit

Left to Right: Shyam, Me, Yajie. Posted by Picasa

Black Mountain

At last, a clear view all the way to the Ocean from the top of Black Mountain! Posted by Picasa

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Yes, it was this cold in Tahoe.

Left to right: Mom, Dad, Me, Lisa. Posted by Picasa

Another view of Lake Tahoe from Kings Beach

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Lake Tahoe from Kings Beach

Sad to see the season go.
I'll miss the crackling of the air,
The loss of all I know.
Cowboy Junkies Posted by Picasa

Friday, November 25, 2005

Fantastic Voyage: The Science Behind Radical Life Extension, Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman

I heard Ray Kurzweil when he came to talk at Google. He did seem to be an incredible optimist, predicting a Vingian Singularity within the next couple of decades. My experience with such optimists is that they are invariably excessively optimistic—for instance, it’s 2005, and we have no space vessels capable of providing manned exploration of Jupiter or Saturn. We don’t have flying cars, nor do we have sentient computers.

With that, however, I nevertheless checked out Fantastic Voyage from the library in the hope that there would be substantial work already done on current medical technology to promise radical life extension.

The major thesis that Kurzweil & Grossman provide is correct—current medicine as practiced by drug companies and many doctors is focused entirely on emergency medicine, rather than on true health maintenance. We have drugs to rescue you when you get sick, and chemotherapy when you get cancer, but the current advice on diet and exercise is both contradictory and in many cases ineffectual. (For instance, Kurzweil and both my parents control their diabetes much more effectively by diet control and exercise rather than insulin or drugs)

Nonetheless, if you wanted to take Kurzweil/Grossman’s advice seriously, you’d have to watch your diet to a degree that most non-fanatics cannot. In addition, neither Kurzweil nor Grossman are serious athletes who’d consider a 60 mile bike ride merely an easy Saturday jaunt and a 200km ride a worthy goal, so their prescriptions absolutely will not work if you’re a serious cyclist/hiker/runner.

Their secondary thesis, that we’ll see nanorobots and a general understanding of human genetics and biology so thorough that we’ll be able to reverse aging and correct lots of currently incurable diseases, I don’t believe for more than a minute. Certainly, it’s tough enough debugging legacy code written by human beings. Trying to understand and debug code that evolved through evolution and understanding all the side-effects of messing about with our genes will take a multi-decade effort. I’d love to be wrong, but I expect that level of technology not to develop within my life-time, and destroying my enjoyment of food through a calorie restricted diet (which would eliminate my ability to enjoy cycling and long distance hiking) isn’t something that I would seriously consider.

Ultimately, I guess I don’t fear death --- I do fear the deterioration of my body and mind, or long term pain. (Scarlet will happily testify to my general wussiness when it comes to pain)

I have a personal program to combat each of the degenerative disease and aging processes. Terry and I have a problem with the word supplement because it suggests something that is optional and of secondary importance. We prefer to call them “nutritionals” instead. My view is that I am reprogramming my biochemistry in the same way that I reprogram the computers in my life …

…I take about 250 pills of nutritionals a day. Once a week I go to Whole Health New England, a complementary medicine health clinic run by Dr. Glenn Rothfeld, where I spend the day… At this clinic, I have a half-dozen intravenous therapies---basically nutritionals delivered directly into my bloodstream, thereby bypassing my GI tract. I also have acupuncture treatment from Dr. Rothfeld, a master acupuncturist who helped introduce this therarpy to this country 30 years ago.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

I am in awe...

Watching the Chosen Collection, I come across a segment where Joss Whedon is talking to the other writers on the show...

Writer 1: "Then Joss told me that he was writing a musical. I asked him, so who's writing the music! He said, I'm doing it! My response: yes, we know you're going to write the lyrics, but who's going to write the music? He said, I am! I'm teaching myself to play to piano, and I'm going to write the music."

Writer 2: "So he shows up after his vacation and gives us the manuscript and a CD. We grabbed it, assigned roles to each other, and read through the script. Every time we hit a song, we'd push play on the CD. After it was over I wanted to go back to my office and burn the place down. This was what he did in his down-time!"

Most of us know that the best software engineers are more than 300 times more productive than the median software engineer (in any organization). But we don't frequently stop to think that this applies across all creative/technical professions! It just boggles my mind that someone could teach himself to play the piano (in his downtime) just to write a musical, and then compose music. I am in awe. Piano lessons for me were incredibly painful, and I can't imagine being able to pick it up like that.

Slate on Cycling in LA

So, for now I'll just enjoy my secret Los Angeles secretly, feeling my blood pressure fall as I sail past all the six-cylinder, leather-upholstered pressure cookers around me.

My experience is that social pressure to not be different plays a bigger part in discouraging cycling for transportation than laziness or even lack of cycling skill. It's nice to see Slate acknowledge that even in Los Angeles, cycling is viable and a good alternative to car driving.

Monday, November 21, 2005

View from Black Mountain

I couldn't help myself. With the temperatures at 73 degrees in November, I had to climb Black Mountain on the way to work. 27 miles, and about 2800' of climb. It was actually warmer on top of the mountain than at the bottom, and descending Page Mill road Monday morning at 9:30am is a delight --- there's almost no traffic whatsoever. Posted by Picasa

Why I'm not rich and famous

Scott Adams has gotten at least 4 days of material out of his surgery to correct a deviated septum. When I got the identical surgery 3 years ago, I got 0 days of material out of it. Clearly, he is smarter, wittier, and funnier than I am. He's probably better looking too. He gets so much more out of life than I do. Though looking back at it, I'm not sure I wanted that much more out of a septoplasty than I did. Waking up in the middle of your surgery is an interesting experience, to say the least.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Piaw & Lisa attending a wedding dinner

Yes, that's the look of a man faced with impending doom... Posted by Picasa

The perils of wearing Google stuff in public

Last year, while waiting to ride with John and Pamela Blayley, I wore a Google jersey (so I would be distinguishable) and waited at the corner of Canada Road and Woodside Road. There, some other cyclist recognized the jersey, rolled up to me, and said, "Can I borrow a million bucks?"

Then this summer, while Touring the French Alps, Mike Samuel and I wore almost nothing but Google jerseys, but only one person even bothered to comment on it, so I thought Google-mania was over.

Then this weekend I made the mistake of wearing a Google sweatshirt to Las Vegas (to attend a wedding). The guy at the Thrifty Rental Car counter spotted it (and asked me about it --- I was quick to say that I got the sweatshirt as a result of a favor I did for someone), and my orbitz negotiated rate went up immediately. (Not by a lot, or so much that I wanted to immediately shop for car rental prices, but enough to annoy me) I don't know whether it was just standard practice for them to bait and switch customers like this, or whether it was the guy behind the counter, but...

Tossing out my dress shoes...

After the wedding (ceremony & dinner) I had to attend last night, I tossed my dress shoes into the trash. I will never willingly subject myself to shoes that uncomfortable again. Either I'll buy comfortable dress shoes (do those exist? I'm convinced they don't --- or at least, not without spending gobs and gobs of money that I don't have), or I'll attend all functions in my sneakers/trail runners. If the torture my feet were subject to last night was at all similar to what women put up with with high heels, I'm surprised that there hasn't been a revolution/movement to toss all heels into the trash.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

26" wheels versus 700c wheels

> Let me say that a 26 inch bike is not the slug you might think. Equipped
> with a decent stoker, you'll be passing club riders with margin to
> discuss the weekend's touring route.

I beg to differ. We switched from a steel 26" frame to an Al 700c
frame. The 700c wheels were more comfortable, faster (time up Old La
Honda road went from 40 minutes to 31 minutes!), and just plain
handled better on smooth pavement and unpaved bike trails in Europe as
well as the San Francisco area.

Bill McCready has an old post that explains why:

And I agree. If you have power to spare 26" wheels will still be
faster (John & Pamela Bayley were much faster than we were up the 20%
grade that was El Toyonal road in the Berkeley Hills on their steel
26" tandem bike with lumotec lights still on their bike), but if
you're looking to squeeze every bit of performance out of the bike and
have an exciting ride, 700c is the way to go. Bigger wheels = more
comfort over bumps = more speed! The only disadvantage is durability
of the 700c wheels, but as long as you have a good wheel builder or
learn to build wheels yourself that will be no problem whatsoever.
(Oh, and don't buy DT spokes:

I think that any difference in selection of equipment between tandems
and singles is exaggerated. If you wouldn't be happy riding a 26"
single bike with slick tires, you're not going to be happy with a 26"
tandem either, given the same conditions. I never rode a single
aluminum bike until we bought our aluminum tandem, and after that I
bought a single aluminum road bike and found that the single aluminum
bike handled just fine, compared to the steel bikes I owned.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Are you happy now, Christine?

Christine's been complaining that I don't have titles in my blog posts. So now I've turned them on. No, I'm not going to go back and edit all previous posts. Not without a bribe, anyway.

Buffy: The Chosen Collection

To quote Larry Hosken circa 1993, "Who says money can't buy happiness?"

Buffy was what changed my mind about American TV. I'd grown up watching shows like Macross and Escaflowne. Shows with long story arcs that required you to remember characters from previous episodes, and that expected you to understand that people change because of events that happen to them. In other words, TV that required that you had an attention span, attention to detail, and a good memory. When I had to watch TV shows like Starsky & Hutch, or "CHiPs", I was extremely disappointed at how characters seemed to stay static from week to week.

Joss Wheldon makes use of every narrative trick in the book. And to top it off, just when you think that he's going to run out of ideas, he pulls another rabbit out of the hat and makes you rethink your assumptions. He's done episodes where for 30 minutes nobody says anything (just when you thought that what made Buffy great was the incredibly witty dialogue). He did an entire episode of Buffy as a musical, without breaking continuity, and while making the episode a keystone in the plot development. You can't watch Buffy with your brain turned off.

I've watched every episode of Buffy through Karl Pflegler's Buffy library from work, and the Santa Clara County Library, but when the entire collection came out I knew I had to buy it for myself.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Hwy 9, Skyline, and Black Road

40 miles, 3658feet (1115m). Fantastic weather. 3.5 hours (and there I was thinking this would have been a 2.5 hour ride). The extra miles (used to start this ride from Saratotga) and the headwind at the end made it harder than expected, but I'm definitely a big fan of Black road.

At the Lexington Reservoir, around 10:00am.

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Tanya enjoys the view

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Another view of Big Sur from Skyline Blvd, this time at 9:30am

. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, November 13, 2005

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Alcatraz

Not a great picture, but it clearly illustrates one of the best things about the Bay Area: 70 degree weather in the middle of November! Posted by Picasa

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Questions from someone looking for an engineering job @ Google

How soon I can apply for other positions at Google if am rejected for a particular position?

There's no limitation. However, Google has a long institutional memory. If you did badly for reasons of cultural fit, it is unlikely that any subsequent application will be successful. If your first set of interviewers are credible, it will take an extremely strong referral notice from an employee who was a previous colleague to give you another chance.

What's the total interview duration in general?

45 minutes each, 5-8 interviewers (including phone interviews)

I am not a spontanious person in nature and hence chances are likely that I don't do good in interviews. But am really excellent on the job. What's your advice in my situation during interview?

Practice, practice, practice. Get a few friends to do mock interviews. Or try an alternate way of getting into google, through one of the many programming contests we sponsor, for instance.

What's the good reference you recommend to get the basics of computer science(I may not know all the fundamentals that I learn thro' my job).

Two classic textbooks: If you can read both books and do the exercises easily, then you are probably qualified. (If you click through and read the reviews, you'll notice that the first SICP reviewer is Peter Norvig, a Google director)

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The perils of having a blog

Someone's been spamming folks advertising for jobs at Google in my name, using my e-mail address. This is annoying as heck, and I hope I don't end up on too many spam lists as a result. The perils of having an on-line identity are certainly high now compared to when I first had a web-site back in 1993.

I could certainly take down the blog instead. What do you think?
Take that, Seattle-ites

Sorry, Scarlet, your misfortune is my good weather. We had crummy weather all winter last year (ok, crummy by California standards) --- even Bike to Work day in May got rained out. Now let us Californians have the weather we pay our state taxes for! :)

One things is for sure is that the pacnw is in for a much wetter winter compared to last year as it started raining there two weeks ago and don't see any let up in sight. It will take a very strong wave over the top of this ridge to be able to bring any change in the weather this far south.
Scott Burns on Retirement

I definitely disagree with Scott Burns on politics (especially his views on Social Security), but the man does write a great financial column:

Work, Part 2: Men need to pay more attention to women. They're a lot more adaptable than we are.

My wife retired this year, kind of, and she is as happy as I've ever seen her. She works for good causes and is useful. But the money meter is no longer running.

The weaker sex (men, if there was any doubt) would live longer if we could only see life as a cooperative festival rather than a competitive struggle.

Work, play and opportunity cost: The greatest dilemma of continuing to work is fairly subtle, something you don't think about at 30: Every hour spent working is an hour lost to play.

Money: In the big picture, it is less important, not more important.

Some will criticize this statement, noting that it's easy to say money isn't important when you have plenty of it.

But one of the true blessings of being older is that objects don't mean much. Friends do. Objects cost money. Friendship is free. It comes from the unlimited currency of the heart

Investing: But 40 years of investing has taught me that rented brains seldom help us build our nest eggs. Rented brains feel a deep spiritual need to build 20,000-square-foot log cabins in Jackson Hole with the return on our money.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Piaw's reviews of headphones for the ipod

First of all, forget the earbuds that come with the ipod. They are terrible, and not at all what I would consider either comfortable or practical. Note that despite my mention of helmet compatibility in these headphones I neither endorse nor encourage the use of headphones while riding your bicycle in traffic!!

Sennheiser PX 100 Headphones

I paid about $38 for these when they went on sale a while back on, and they are great! Plugged directly into the ipod, the sound is neutral, and almost as good as my Sennheiser 600s with an Airhead amplifier. They fold up neatly into a box the size of a spectacle case, and are very comfortable to wear on hikes as long as 4 hours or so. These are my favorite headphones for hiking or general walking around.

Koss KSC 75

These are the ones to get if you can't stand having a headband over your head, or have to wear a helmet while listening to your music. They fit nicely on the helmet exterior, and despite the loose feeling connection, don't fall off easily. They sound great for $14, and while not as nice as the PX 100s, are cheap enough that if you destroy them you won't feel guilty about them. The plug is also a very ipod friendly 90-degree plug, which isn't true for the Sennheiser.

Koss Sport Pro

At $22, these are disappointing. I bought them when I gave my mom my KSC 75s, and they do work under your helmet, but the headband isn't super-comfortable under the helmet. (You can tilt the headband backwards so it doesn't interfere with the helmet) They do fold up neatly into a nice compact package and clamp nicely to your head so they don't allow as much road noise as the KSC 75s, but despite that they still do not sound as nice as the KSC 75s and are a far cry from the Sennheiser PX 100s. I only recommend these if you've already tried the KSCs and found that they don't fit your ears for one reason or another.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

View of the Santa Cruz pier from the Boardwalk Posted by Picasa
View of Monterey Bay (& Big Sur) from the top of Skyline Blvd
(Photo digitally enhanced in Picasa with a graduated filter) Posted by Picasa

Saturday, November 05, 2005

More riding

Up Old La Honda, down 84, up Alpine road, down Page Mill. 50 miles, and 1400m of climbing (4593 feet). It was gorgeous, of course.

Thoughts from the ride: it's hard to make friends as you get older. For one thing, everyone's incredibly busy, with kids, with work, or with their existing friends. The days of saying, "Can you come out and play?" and then spending the day hanging out and doing stuff are perhaps one of the luxuries we don't get when we're adults. But when you do get a chance to do so, it's a lot of fun, and really something to treasure.

I thought of us
So hard to talk these days
Did we change
Or were we strangers all along
Tell me what caused us to turn away
--- Wall of Silence, The October Project

Friday, November 04, 2005

My favorite Halloween picture.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Scott Burns predicts a recession

And I believe him. Together with the imminent collapse of the housing bubble, we're going to see some tough times:

... Skeptics should consider this brief list:

•The rising cost of gasoline. With the typical household consuming about 1,000 gallons a year, an increase from $1.50 a gallon to $3 meant a purchasing-power loss of $1,500.

•Rate increases for electricity and natural gas.

•Rising medical co-pays and other out-of-pocket expenses for health care, plus rising employee health insurance premium costs. Premium costs were up 10 percent in 2004 alone.

Another way to see the same thing is to examine wage gains.

In 2004, the average weekly earnings of private nonagricultural workers rose only 2.2 percent. The consumer price index rose 3.3 percent over the same period.