Archive for July, 2007

Book Review: The Black Swan

Saturday, July 14th, 2007

41TF4H15VEL._AA240_.jpgFirst, the title: it refers to the long-held Western belief that “All swans are white.” This was a belief given up in a second once Australia was discovered and a black swan sighted. What the experts had counted upon was untrue and it unsettled ornithology. That anecdote is the whole point of the book: you cannot predict anything with any great degree of accuracy.

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Look for me in the Chinese tabloids (Part 1 of n)

Friday, July 13th, 2007

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Where am I and how did I get here?
“This one is your wife and this one is your lover,” the bartender explained, pointing first to the glass of ice cold water and then to the flute of complementary champagne. It was approaching midnight, and here I was at the Agnes B Fashion Showcase, surrounded by models and Chinese cultural icons. But let me rewind the tape a bit and explain how I ended up here…

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My Additions to the Class of 2007 Time Capsule

Friday, July 13th, 2007

It was Thursday before graduation. Senior Dinner on the Quad that night had been somewhat chaotic, but ultimately delicious and a nice opportunity to say goodbye to friends and reminisce on the old days.
My friend (who asked to remain anonymous) and I, doing quite well for ourselves after several glasses of wine, decided to take a stroll around the Quad. Oh, our beautiful Quad.
Once we passed under an arch to start walking through the arcades, it didn’t take us very long to reach the plaques and time capsules of years past, and soon we came upon the placeholder for the 2007 plaque, which was covering our class’s time capsule.
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I had received the e-mails from our class Presidents requesting “suggestions” for items to go into the time capsule. Because every other request for suggestions from the Presidents had been disappointing (hello Gioia), I hardly even paid attention, and didn’t send in any ideas.
But as I stood there looking at the covering over the capsule, I suddenly regretted missing an opportunity to make a mark on the history of the Class of 2007. We attempted to remove the covering over the capsule.
Surprisingly, it came right off. We didn’t know it at the time, but most of the “official” items going into the time capsule had been removed for the night following the capsule ceremony, while the plaque was not yet sealed in place. All they had left behind was a green Energy Crossroads Conference bag, a crumpled dollar bill, unattractive women’s lingerie, and some other stuff.
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Feeling that the capsule was overly female and not gay enough, we set ourselves on a mission to find and bring back items that would more adequately represent the Class of 2007. To be sealed in our Time Capsule for all of time.
Here’s what we came up with:

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Biggest Rip-Off You’ll Forget You Ever Made

Friday, July 13th, 2007

My Rant Against the Student DIS-Advantage Card
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To the Class of 2011: Listen up.
To all Classes before: Comiserate with me.
Two years ago, perhaps to the day, I received yet another pack of mail from NSO [New Student Orientation] or FDO [Freshmen Dean’s Office] or some other acronym’ed place on campus. This particular one suggested I buy 2 things. One was a sweatshirt/t-shirt combo from the Stanford Store. I did so, because I wanted to have a cool Stanford hoodie and all of that. (The deal still exists, here). The second was the option to purchase a Student Advantage card. I did this, too, since I figured I would want to have access to the myriad of savings the card brought with it.
The sweatshirt I still have (and wear) but that Student Advantage card was a mistake. Here’s why. I never use it. In fact, now that I think about it, I can’t think of one person who does, or one reason why I should. The thing is, the card offers little– if any– local deals, and the most frequent thing it does is periodically spam you with its latest ripoff, er, “deal.” I know, I know, it looks great– savings from Urban Outfitters or Amtrak– but it’s actually useless.
I don’t know, maybe I’m weird and I’m the only one who stupidly bought one. Or maybe everyone else bought one too and actually uses theirs. (If that is the case, please let me know in the comments section below). All I know is that the damn thing was a waste of money for me.

Get Married…and…er…Have a Kid?

Thursday, July 12th, 2007

I am married.
Anyone who has read my postings here will know that occasionally I refer to the hubby or the spouse.
I have a partner, and we have been married. In August we will have been married for four years, which is just a blink of the eye compared to my parents, who have been married to each other since they were 18.
I have been married for four years and I am childless.
This is an issue.
Not for me, not for my husband. God knows the middle of a dissertation is not the time that I want to contemplate spawning, and hubby wants a permanent job before I get knocked up (and incidentally, wants me to stop referring to having a child as spawning).
It’s a problem for my parents (specifically my mother) and other members of my family.

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Naming the Old Union Eatery

Thursday, July 12th, 2007

Mondaire Jones, our Exec VP, has just distributed a flier asking students to submit ideas for the name of the new Old Union eatery to olduniondining at gmail dot com. I can only imagine, after the results of the contest for naming Tresidder’s cafeteria, that someone will suggest “Union Cubed,” and that the naming committee will think it’s just too cute to resist.
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By the way, before we try to name it, how about telling us what’s unique about it? If it’s just another unhealthy Cyber Cafe-esque Stanford Dining attempt, let’s not mince words with the name. “Fatty” or maybe “Freshman 15” will do.
Continue reading for the contest guidelines…

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Fun Look at the Past

Thursday, July 12th, 2007

Here’s a republished article from 1982, about the author getting his first computer:
“Computers cause another, more insidious problem, by forever distorting your sense of time. When I first saw the system in the back room at Optek, I was so dazzled by the instantaneous deletion of sentences and movement of paragraphs that I thought I could never want anything more. When the scientists at Optek warned me about certain bottlenecks, I had to stifle my laughter. In particular, they warned me that I might grow impatient with tape recorders as a way to store data. You have to understand, they told me, it can take five or ten minutes to load a long draft into the computer from tapes, whereas a disk drive (which would add a thousand dollars to the cost) could do the job in seconds. Typical vulgarians of the machine age, I told myself. How could they imagine that I would object to five or ten minutes, when I had been spared Darlene?
Three weeks later, I was griping constantly about the tapes and scanning the pages of Byte magazine, looking for a good deal on a disk drive. Ten minutes was intolerable when everything else happened in a flash…”
It’s a pretty funny thing to read in retrospect, especially the part quoted above, seeing as the emphasis is always faster, faster, faster.

“The Stanford Party Crew of 2011”

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007

IvyGate reported on a Facebook group called “THE Princeton ’11 Party Crew,” and specifically, the breathless reporting by one group member of his alcohol-related activities. This member, interestingly, is one Antonio Villaraigosa Jr, who, of course, is the son of the embattled LA mayor, who himself is watching his chances to succeed Arnie just slip right out of his hand. The Princeton Facebook group is here, and IvyGate’s backup of the incriminating wall post is here.
This of course caused Villaraigosa Jr. to delete his posts, and everyone on the Princeton group to freak out. One wall-poster put it at its pithy best: “We got screwed…yay.” I’m not sure why Ivy Leaguers act the way they do, but I noticed further back on the Princeton group wall posts, some Harvard girl was posting that her school was better: “However, Harvard is widely recognized as top dog. While I don’t hold anything personal against any of you, it’s fun to acknowledge the reality that Harvard parties dominate any of your “get togethers.”
And then I also noticed that a Stanford student went ahead and stuck the Cardinal into the inane debate about which campus parties harder: “But you guys sure are ripping them off. Stanford had a ’11 party crew group long before you guys made one. I think the display of envy is apparent. = )” The Princeton and Harvard people agree, in response that “Stanford isn’t worth our time.”
What is amazing about all this is that none of the students have actually attended college.
Yes, they may have partied during their Admitted Students Weekend or whatever (Stanford is alone among top schools in its draconian dry policy), but that hardly means anything when upperclassmen are trying to get clueless high school seniors drunk.
I think it hit the proverbial fan when media-and-gossip-gadfly blog Gawker picked it up, calling it “Fun with Facebook.”

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I had it all wrong

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007

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D-22, Beijing, July 11, 2007
Today was some day. Like most mornings, I woke at 6:30am without the aid of my alarm clock (praise be to jet lag), and stumbled into my office at around seven. Waiting for me were the edits for my introductory chapter which, I’m happy to report, should be finalized within forty-eight hours from the time I get back to work tomorrow.
More importantly, I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Professor Wang, the man with whom I conducted oral histories back in 2003 as part of my dissertation research. Four years since we last met. Four years. Unreal. The cab ride to get there took over an hour, due to Beijing’s unbelievable traffic these days, 50 minutes of which I spent experiencing hypertension. The driver, a nice fellow, had an absolutely booming voice, one which nearly caused me to have a panic attack. He told me all about the woes of Beijing cabbies these days – believe me, there are many! – and by the end I felt as if I’d just spent an entire set with my ear up against the loudspeaker. But then I saw Professor Wang…

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Michael Moore Bitch Slaps CNN

Tuesday, July 10th, 2007

Before a live interview with Michael Moore on CNN, Wolf Blitzer runs a short video segment claiming that Michael Moore “plays loose with the facts” in his new documentary, Sicko. Boy did that make him angry. Check it out:

For Moore’s online rebuttal of CNN’s claims that he fudges the facts, see here. It’s quite well-cited and shows that CNN isn’t being very honest, either.
By the way, I saw Sicko and loved it — if not for its balanced treatment of the issue, then for being a reality check on the downsides of our system. And as an artistic piece, it’s priceless. I relished the absurdity of the scene where he sails to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba with three ailing 9/11 rescue workers on a little dingy, demanding that the 9/11 heros get “some medical attention, the same kind that Al Qaeda is getting.”
“They don’t want any more than you’re giving the evildoers, just the same.”
Guantanamo Bay being, of course, the only place on American soil that provides free, universal health care.

Presidential Psychology

Tuesday, July 10th, 2007

One of the most interesting aspects of the 2008 presidential campaign to me is observing the ambitions of the different candidates. Each of them, it seems, has this overbearing desire, an ambition, to be the President of the United States (POTUS). This sounds banal. What I mean, however, is the desire for the presidency seems to be rooted in personal psychology rather than position papers. It’s all about being the POTUS.
Like, for example, Mitt Romney. He can’t stop talking about his father, George Romney, a popular governor of Michigan who lost the 1968 Republican nomination to Tricky Dick himself, Richard Nixon. G. Romney was leading in polls until he doomed himself by opposing the Vietnam War. Would Romney be running if his father never made the attempt? It’s hard to say. How much of a father-son dynamic is there?

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East by East East

Tuesday, July 10th, 2007

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Ch-Indie Cred
On July 7, I headed to Ch-Indie Fest II, an outdoor independent music festival with a name you could only get away with in China. Accompanied by my friends Andrew, Frances, and Alex, I can tell you that the solemnity of the anniversary on which it fell (seventy years since the Marco Polo Bridge Incident) was out of sight, out of mind.
The fest was held at 2 Kolegas, one of the more popular venues in the Beijing music scene these days, from my understanding. The club of my Beijing youth, Scream Bar, relented to the bulldozers over five years ago, and I still don’t think I’ve recovered. For a few months, I held a Thursday night residency there, playing for fifty RMB and all the Tsingtao beer I could handle. Tsingtao is a light beer and it goes down easy. Which is all to say, I could handle a lot back then.

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Why the American Auto Industry is failing

Saturday, July 7th, 2007

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So for my job, I had to drive back from SFO yesterday in a Chrysler Aspen, which you can see on the right. It’s an awful car, representative of the poor ideas of Detroit these days. It bounces like a mechanical bull, turns like an elephant around a dime, accelerates suddenly and flightily like a little girl from a bee; it is a poor car. It has some superficial luxury but is totally unworthy of whatever was paid for it.
Point being is that the problems the American auto industry are having is partially a part of the labor problems and costs therein (the conventional reason for Detroit’s failures), but mostly because the cars made there are crappy engineering-wise. Clearly what probably happened is that Chrysler thought, “Well, it’s an SUV and luxurious, so whatever.” Whatever pretty much happened. That’s the attitude that led to Ford leasing its hybrid technology.

Video Electronica

Friday, July 6th, 2007

Check out this new video from Jack Conte ’06. After graduating from Stanford with a degree in Music, Science, and Technology, Jack turned down admission to USC Film School in hopes of making a living in the indie music scene. He just released a new EP and is about to head out on a West Coast tour. I’ll be posting an interview with him soon, but I thought I’d share this new video he sent me. Pretty cool. Special props for accordion, Jack.

Dramatic Chipmunk Gift: The little things Facebook does to show they care

Thursday, July 5th, 2007

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As you no doubt know, the five-second Dramatic Chipmunk video has taken the Internet by storm, spawning an entire series of Star Wars knock-off videos, chipmunk remixes, and dramatic staring contests. BustedTees has a dramatic chipmunk shirt. There’s even a Facebook App.
For everyone who thought the Internet would usher in the reign of the lowest common denominator, here is your Exhibit A.
I’m with Dan Hopper when he says he’s come to believe that “not all of these videos are actually made by people, but merely willed into existence by the Internet.”
If you’re curious about where the original video came from, click here.