A bumper sticker for Chinese “Tiger Moms”

Friday, February 11th, 2011
A bumper sticker seen in China
Sometimes Chinese parents show how they really feel about their child with a carefully-chosen bumper sticker.1

a close-up of the Baby On Road bumper sticker
What’s a “Tiger Mom”? If you have to ask, that’s good. You’ve obviously been studying math or practicing piano for hours and hours, keeping clear of the internet. I take back what I said about you being garbage.

When I saw this sticker I laughed aloud2, then reflected on the fact that if my parents had sported this on their Toyota station wagon when I was growing up, I’d probably have been a better student. Fear of unknown unknowns3 is a great motivator.

OK, so the bumper sticker has nothing really to do with the “Tiger Mom” meme, but that phrase is all over the net and the whole concept alternately interests me and cracks me up. My theory is that any truth to Mrs. Chua’s newly-named stereotype has little to do with being Asian4, and much to do with the fact that it wasn’t easy for people to immigrate to the US from China in the 1960s-80s and the process disproportionately selected for the hard-scrambling type. Many of those immigrants later decided5 to imbue in their kids the same drive that served them in getting through that filter. It’s just like the Johnny Cash song “A Boy Named Sue“, but with the parental focus being toughness mental rather than physical.

But no need to be so serious; The best Tiger Mom jokes I’ve come across so far are the article “New Parenting Book Sparks Outrage” from The Onion, and Jen Kwok’s “Tiger Mom Rap!”.

  1. Yes, I smudged out the license number, just in case China’s “Human Flesh Search Engines” are on the lookout for people with unharmonious bumper stickers. []
  2. …then I stopped laughing and wondered whether the driver could have purchased this sticker as a deliberate joke, which would still be funny but less so. Unlikely given that the median level of English literacy among locals of this area in nil. []
  3. Rumsfeld, Donald, “I never promised you a WMD”, Press Briefing (Winter 2002 Edition), GWB (ed.), URL = <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/There_are_known_knowns>. []
  4. …except for the Orientalist-tinge to the naming of the meme. []
  5. …or had less choice in the matter than that, since people may often just use the same parental behaviors that were modeled for them when young, or maybe their nature trumps nurture and the filter selected for genetically-driven type-A peeps. []

Apple’s Market cap to exceed Microsoft’s? Time for a Windows 7 party?

Sunday, April 25th, 2010
Everyone and their uncle seems to be talking about how Apple’s market capitalization1 is close to exceeding that of Microsoft. Apple did pass Microsoft on the S&P 500, but the S&P calculates a company’s value only based on public shares, and over 10% of Microsoft isn’t on the market.

I figured it’d be fun to keep an eye on this little competition. So I threw together the google spreadsheet embedded below. If2 Apple’s market cap exceeds Microsoft’s, the phrase “Bill is still happy.” will change to something more Applelicious, and I’ll copy my former Apple coworker’s idea3 and throw a little party to celebrate the contribution of both companies to the US economy. I’ll use leftover party favors from the Windows 7 party I was selected to host last year and still feel guilty for not having thrown.4

I welcome any suggested changes or additions to the sheet. Enjoy.

Disclaimer: I think Google Spreadsheets are neato. I think stocks are baseball cards, and invest accordingly. Nothing above is meant to be used as stock buying advice, but my brother probably has a 2001 Ichiro Suzuki Rookie Card you could buy.
  1. Market Cap definition from Wikipedia: “Market capitalization/capitalisation (often market cap) is a measurement of size of a business enterprise (corporation) equal to the share price times the number of shares outstanding of a public company.” []
  2. or when :) []
  3. As proof that I was ever acquainted with the man whose startup may be next to rock the S&P, note that I’m just barely visible in the last of the photos in the image gallery on that linked blog post of Sachin’s. []
  4. I didn’t throw my planned Windows 7 party because I was ripped away from my everyday life and transported to Michigan for months to work on a film. it’s the sort of thing that can happen in my business. []

Baseball scorekeeping app for iPhone

Friday, October 30th, 2009
iScore Baseball Scorekeeper app description in iPhone app store
I don’t remember who asked me whether there were any baseball scorekeeping apps for the iPhone, but a quick search shows that there are several, including a highly-rated one called “iScore Baseball Scorekeeper”.1

Were I a journalist, I’d note the existence of this and other such apps and would try to spot some pattern that said something about the pace of technological progress, society, our selves. Something about holding fast to old traditions while updating them to take advantage of the devices on which we increasingly depend in this day and age. I can almost hear the report, the calm NPR-commentator-voice, talking with old folk in the stands at Wrigley Field, the sound of peanut vendors hawking their wares carefully mixed into the background to provide a sense of place to underscore the sounds of pencils scratching away, recording the last play.

Since this is a blog, I can and prefer to take the path of cynicism, of snark, and instead I’ll say the following: “Can apps for dedicated trainspotters be far behind?”23

  1. If you’re curious about Baseball Scorekeeping, this Wikipedia article may be of use. []
  2. If you’re curious about Trainspotting, there’s a Wikipedia article for that. []
  3. OK, I admit that in the past I’ve thought that it might be enjoyable to learn how to mark up a baseball scorecard, but that was just the OCD talking. []

The wine that will “change lives, cities, and ways of thinking.”

Sunday, September 13th, 2009
Img 3043-1
Strangely-enough, this wine is marked down to the price range at which I’d be willing to buy one of its wheeled namesakes.
I saw this wine bottle on the clearance rack at Meijers and, though this alcoholic beverage likely has nothing to do with any two-wheeled self-balancing electric scooter, I couldn’t help but remember all the Segway hype from 2001.

The quote in this post’s Title is from Segway creator Dean Kamen, who has invented many extremely-cool devices, but his predictions for a future built around that scooter have yet to be realized. This Slate article does a good job recapping the more outlandish bits of Segway hype and expectations.

Stirling Engine diagram from Wikipedia Commons
I remember rumors circulating before the Segway launch that Kamen was going to release some kind of antigravity flying machine based on the Stirling engine. I have no idea what that means, but the diagram of a Stirling engine over at Wikipedia is the most unintentionally suggestive engineering-related image I’ve ever seen. I’ve put a tiny thumbnail of it at right, but for greater impact view it at full resolution over at Wikipedia.

Img 3044-1
Hints of chocolate, blackcurrant, and outsized expectations.

Another earth-toned Michigan meal

Sunday, September 13th, 2009
photo of a plate of food

The editor and I drove a few miles West the other night to get some food just outside of Lowell, and ended up stopping at La Te Da’s. From the road was visible a large banner across a truck reading “American Food”. As we approached the door, I noticed an older sign on the restaurant that read Hunan Garden. Perhaps there’d been a recent change in ownership?

side-by-side menus
The two menus side-by-side. Click photo to enlarge.
Once seated inside, all became clear, or somewhat clear. The waitress/owner handed us two menus each, one a La Te Da’s menu and one Hunan Garden. She’d opened Hunan Garden at that location about 12 years ago. Recently business had slowed so she’d changed the name of the place to La Te Da’s and had made a new menu of all-American food, but she also hands customers the old menu containing American Chinese food standards as well as a section of burgers. At the bottom of the new La Te Da’s menu small print states “A Hunan Garden Restaurant”.

It’s a family-run place, everyone working there was a niece or nephew of the waitress/proprietor. Nobody in the family appeared to be Chinese. I asked her why her original restaurant had been named “Hunan Garden”, why Hunan?1 She responded that Hunan is a Chinese vegetable2.

Faced with two menus and a bewildering array of choices, I went for one of the daily specials, the “fish fry”. The cole-slaw and the breading on the fish were both pretty tasty.

  1. I figured maybe she’d met someone from the region, or liked Hunan cuisine. []
  2. It might be time to edit that wikipedia entry. []

Bing vs. Google –- browser load times compared

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009
I remember back in the early days of the internet, before Google’s search engine produced results that were so clearly better than everyone else’s1, I immediately favored it because their uncluttered webpage and the search results loaded at lightning-speed when compared to the competition.

These days Google is king of search and their remaining competitors are also-rans. Microsoft, in a major play for the search market has revamped their search engine. Not content to merely improve the engine, Microsoft has also decided to change its name.2 So The engine previously known as “MSN Search”, then “Windows Live Search”, then “Live Search”, has been rechristened to “Bing”. I maintain that they were undoubtedly inspired to use the name “Bing” as an homage to this great moment in the film “Groundhog Day”.3

My cursory test of Bing shows that it’s a decent search engine, but I don’t have to scan as far through Google’s results to find links I consider relevant. For example, in a search for “Bing” on both engines, Google returns Microsoft’s search engine’s page as its first non-sponsored result4 and the wikipedia article on the service as the 3rd result. Microsoft Bing’s results first show several “News about Bing” links at the top, followed by a link to the Bing page, and then the “Bing Crosby” article at Wikipedia. The wikipedia page on Bing is two links later, halfway down the page. Since I was not looking for news articles on Bing, Google’s search results were better for me, with everything I wanted within the first 3 results. This isn’t a dealbreaker. I could still find what I needed in Bing’s results, and I’d be shocked if Microsoft doesn’t continue to improve their service –starting with algorithms that move more frequently-clicked results for a given query to the top of the list5.

Google edges ahead in this cursory test, but not enough to cause me to scowl and turn away from Bing in disgust. How about speed? I cleared my browser cache, opened up Safari’s Network Timeline, and loaded google.com and bing.com one after the other. The results are telling:

Graph of time to load bing

graph of time to load google

A proper fail. Bing’s page is obviously bloated compared to Google’s, and took about 5x longer to appear in my browser and 10x longer to completely load than Google (4.26 seconds vs. 478ms). This isn’t just due to Bing including 82kb of pretty pictures in the front page, there’s also a significant difference in the speed at which results pages load. When I executed an identical search on both pages, Google’s results appeared in less than a second and Bing’s again took several times longer. I’d consider such a difference in the metric known in tech circles as “Teh Snappy” a dealbreaker, but for two factors:

  1. Bing organizes its search results, particularly product and video search results, in interesting ways. I have yet to properly experiment with this.
  2. Microsoft pays users6 to use their search engine to shop for products. Yay, money.

So for now, I’ll occasionally use Bing for net searches for the sake of variety and experimentation, and I always use Bing as a gateway to eBay or other online vendors, so that I get money back for purchases made (amounts vary — I think the cashback for eBay purchases is around 8%). 25% of the purchase price of my iPhone was given back to me due to my use of this cashback feature back when the engine was called “Live Search”. I like to think that Microsoft paid me to buy an iPhone, but the reality is probably much more complicated.

To my mind, Bing isn’t a home run, but it’s interesting, particularly if they continue to pay me to use it. That may sound like faint and cynical praise, but it’s more than I can say of any search engine that’s tried to compete with Google in years. I look forward to seeing how the engine develops.

  1. I remember being partial to huskysearch, savvysearch, and metacrawler in the days pre-Google. []
  2. This can probably be read as a tacit acknowledgement by Microsoft that there are few users of the previous incarnations of the search engine to confuse. Bing! []
  3. Or perhaps the name change is just Microsoft’s way of stimulating the “product branding consultant” sector of the economy. Bing! []
  4. And also as the sole sponsored result. Microsoft is paying to advertise their search engine in the search results of their chief competitor’s search engine. []
  5. If Mr. Crosby is really a more popular result than the article on their search engine, MSFT’s marketing team needs to work harder. Perhaps an ad in which a couple listen to a Bing Crosby song and then the wife vomits on the husband? Bing! []
  6. Or do vendors who list products on Bing pay users for using Microsoft’s search engine to find their products? I’m not exactly sure where the money comes from or why. []

My Michael Jackson memorial

Thursday, July 30th, 2009
The sweetie returned from a trip to Europe with a couple of UK celebrity rags, and I noticed an empty picture frame on a shelf in her living room. The urge to combine these two items into an object greater than the sum of its parts was overwhelming. I think the new family photo on the shelf is unobtrusive and I’m curious how many visitors to the apartment will take notice. Consider it a memorial to the king of pop.

Regarding MJ, I had a Thriller LP when I was a kid and I should find it next time I’m at my parents’. It’s probably next to my Ofra Haza LP –another pop singer who died too young, and who according to Wikipedia “turned down an offer to support Michael Jackson on tour” in 1990. Apophenia or Connections?

See the full gallery on posterous

Posted via email from Zachary’s posterous