Archive for March, 2010

Snowshoeing at Spooner Lake

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

We were in Tahoe last weekend for my research group's yearly retreat. Downhill sports aren't an option because my wife's head is held on with super glue and duct tape, so we decided to try out snowshoeing. We surveyed the various options in the South Lake Tahoe area and decided on Spooner Lake. After renting the snowshoes and the trail pass it was $30/person for the day. We hiked for 3 hours and covered about 7 miles (GPS data here). We stayed on the snowshoeing trail most of the time except when finding a nice lunch spot and cutting between trails. The snow was all very nice and powdery, even on the trail, because the area looked like it was very lightly used. It was a fun snow alternative to hiking, although I couldn't see doing it very often right now because we can hike year round. If we lived somewhere where it snowed though, I would definitely get some snowshoes. Even sweeter would be snowshoeing to work. Here are some photos from the hike:


Solar Panel on the Cheap

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

I took a class on solar energy this quarter (EE237 - Solar Energy Conversion) that had a fairly nifty final project. They provided the cells (EverBright, purchased on eBay) and we were supposed to build a panel in groups that minimized the energy cost ($/Wh) by using the cells and any form of light concentration. We took the quick and dirty approach of cardboard and aluminum foil, but ended up making a pretty nice looking panel that performed decently. The cells are supposed to generate 1.75 Wp (peak power output) so 12 cells should have put out about 21W, while the panel put out about 30W. We had expected about 60W, but I think that cracks in the panels and reflector roughness were our downfall; also, we never got around to testing the cells without light concentration so who knows how good they actually were. I'll hear in a few days how it compared with the panels made by the other groups in the class. We'll probably lose to the group that used a huge lens capable of melting a penny (!), unless they managed to fry their panels with the light intensity. Either way, I wanted to share the pictures.


The Cove

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

I just saw The Cove this weekend, and it was a very well done movie. The plot is thrilling, the animals are easy to like, and the antagonists are easy to gang up on.

However, the movie really saddens me. It's so easy to attack someone else's culture and habits, while avoiding your own issues. The movie derides the Japanese for saying that hunting dolphins is part of their culture - but you could easily turn that back on Americans and ask us why we torture cows, chickens, and pigs.

For every dolphin that that is killed in Japan, 365,000 chickens are slaughtered in the US every year (9,000,000,000 vs. 23,000). And I'm not saying that killing dolphins should be ignored, but you shouldn't throw stones in a glass house. I wish the movie had been made about one of the three species we really torture here. I wish it had been closer to home.

People will get excited about this cause, support it, and change absolutely none of their personal habits. I was sitting next to someone who was appalled at the movie but will continue to eat fish, not even considering all other meat. He couldn't see the connection. It is easy to get excited and go to Japan and be an activist - and much harder to simply reduce the quantity of meat you consume. There are celebrities involved! and beaches! There is a lot of glamour and no sacrifice required.

I'm glad dolphins are getting a champion, but who gets to draw the line between which animals are sacred and which aren't?

Daily Cal

Monday, March 15th, 2010

I've picked up on minimalism lately and because of that I've been going through old papers and mementos and either scanning or trashing them. In the process I ran across that Google flyer as well as this sticker I made. The design was originally for the Daily Cal - another funny adventure.

Recycle or I'll burn your house down

The first time I went to the Daily Cal office was because of my first freshman roommate, Amelia. She liked to write and had started going to the office the first week of school. I was up for anything that first semester, so I decided to go with her after a while and see what it was like. (In high school I had been EIC and Design Editor for the yearbook, so a newspaper wasn't that foreign)

It turns out that they actually paid you to do design work, fantastical, so I took my first college job. The Daily Cal was a little crazy... it takes a lot of time and is definitely a labor of love, especially for the writers. They would work on an article for 8 hours or something and maybe get paid $10 for it.

So I got immersed in the atmosphere and during my 3 years of school was a designer (layout text/pictures in software), then design editor (same but in charge of schedule/making sure layouts are consistent), then did some production (the night job, last design tweaks and fix and major issues once everyone else is asleep) and finally was the production manager (in charge of production).

The production job was the most fun, and the most painful. You were in charge of sending all of the final layouts to the printer and making sure there weren't any software glitches. It might also involve redoing layouts if stories changed late at night and the designers had already gone home. My memory is sketchy, but I think I would typically work 3 nights a week from 6pm till around 12-2am depending on what kind of night it was.

The fun part was the thrill of not knowing what was going to happen. I also did a lot of homework because there was a ton of downtime. The pain was waiting on those nights when you wanted to go home early and always ended at 2am. I got paid by the hour, one of the few jobs like that on staff, and few people have the skills/interest needed, so it worked out nicely for me.

Anyway, the sticker came from my design days. The business manager of the Daily Cal (one of the few adults) wanted to do some recycling promos and asked me to mock some stuff up. (I made extra money on the side sometimes doing this). I've always thought most recycling stickers are extremely boring so I made a couple variations with a grunge theme. (I drew that campanile and a sather gate by hand.) I didn't even use that text! It was more mild, "Recycle because it's good for the planet" or some such boringness. It was still rejected, but Joey liked it. He came up with the slogan above, "Recycle or I'll Burn Your House Down", so I printed a few stickers just for him for Christmas. Such a simple ending, but it evokes a lot of memories.

Isn't it fun to reminisce?

How it started

Monday, March 15th, 2010

I never actually meant to work at Google. I was applying for grad school when I was handed this flyer on campus:

Big Brain

I was pretty cocky back then, so I took my resume and emailed it to requested address with a subject of "I think I have a big brain". (Little did I know that ATS - the candidate tracking system - is automated and does not care what the email said.) 2 phone screens later I was invited on campus, and still didn't care if I was offered a job because Mountain View was pretty far from Berkeley (ie Joey) and as most of you know, I don't drive.

The campus interview was amusing. Joey dropped me off very early in the morning and I actually went to the wrong building. (B42 instead of B40 - this was also back when we had much tighter security and I was questioned to death about why I was even there) I was sitting next to these other interviewees who were really old (ie not inexperienced new grads) and I felt out of place and slightly frightened. No one there knew what to do with me.

Then, magic happened. I was picked up by some recruiter and taken over to the new grads place, and it was wonderful! There were donuts and swag! Everybody was just milling around and talking! Smiling and friendly! I felt so much better. We each had 3 interviews and then it was off to lunch and a tour! This was all still just for fun until someone mentioned shuttles. Apparently a shuttle had just started from east bay to campus and I was suddenly much more interested in working.

The process at Google tends to take forever, and I actually cared now that there was a shuttle, so I was waiting on pins and needles. And - funnily enough, my hands and legs started feeling like pins and needles too! And I had to go back for my second neck surgery on April 1.

The timing of everything gets fuzzy in my last semester of senior year, but Google sent me an offer, and I thought it was pretty amazing to actually be offered real money. I took a while to accept and in the meantime they sent me a basket of flavored popcorn, and another bucket of candy. When I did accept they sent me an ipod - I almost swooned. I had so little money then that when my macbook hard drive died I actually booted off that ipod for a while.

I had the surgery, moved in with Joey, and started taking the shuttle every day to work. Almost 5 years later, I'm still there and it's all because of a funny flyer.

Painted faces

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

I don't wear makeup.

Actually, I haven't worn makeup for a while - I gave away everything I owned about 2 months ago - I just felt funny telling anyone, and then I felt funny for feeling funny about telling anyone. It reminds me of this article.

I haven't been wearing makeup during the day for at least 8 years, but now I no longer wear it to dress up either. I watched the movie America the Beautiful and it really made me realize that makeup is silly. All the women (and men) are just competing against each other, each trying to outdo the rest with more and more makeup. If I start wearing makeup in high school, then you will feel pressured to start in junior high. If I wear makeup on special occasions, then you'll need to start wearing it every day.

And then there is just the overall impression that you aren't pretty enough. No matter what. You must wear makeup in order to fit in. Everyone does it. Shouldn't we just appreciate people as they are?

I think you can be beautiful without putting anything on your face. and there are so many benefits - it feels nicer, you don't have to worry about it getting messed up, your skin stays cleaner, and you don't have to spend all this time and effort on something that isn't worth it.

Don't get me wrong - I'm still vain in many ways. I like to do my hair, and put on nice clothes. It will take time to get past the social pressure, but I just think everyone would be better off with less makeup in the world. And if the makeup succeeds... it's just going to get messed up anyway.

I know some people will never give up the stuff, but I've stopped, and it isn't due to lack of caring, lack of knowledge, or any other lack that I do not wear makeup. I've made a conscious decision.