strictures and structures

if only we stopped trying to be happy, we could have a pretty good time

‘Twas the night before Demo Day

‘Twas the night before Demo Day, and all through the house,
Came a furious clicking, of keyboard, and mouse.
A worried non-technical founder did pace,
His PowerPoint done, he felt out of place.
The hacker was hacking, but to no avail,
The demo was plagued by bugs and travails.
The night felt so bleak, but there soon came a crash,
Down through the chimney fell a fat stack of cash.
It was followed thereafter by two shiny black shoes,
Clearly those of a VC, but which one–whose?
The figure emerged, the founders sucked a breath in–
For who should it be, but Marc Andreesen?
How commanding he looked! Yet how genial and merry!
He strode to the demo, and typed in a query.
“This product looks great! I wanted to chat,
“Let’s sign you on now! Immediately! Stat!”
He signed all the papers, then spun on his heel,
And went back up the chimney as if drawn by a reel.
The founders logged on to tweet with delight,
“We made it, you suckers. Have a good night.”

rites of passage in a typical Chinese family

Jane: Dad, why is your nickname for me “puppy”? Why don’t you ever use my actual name?

Dad: Traditionally, in China, you start out by calling a child an animal. It is only when they prove that they can survive that you give them a real name.

Twenty-six years, and he’s still calling me “puppy.” No wonder he made his plans for retirement without counting on me for support.

what my parents think of amy chua

Jane: Mom, would you take your stories about raising me and Zhao, publish them in a book, and then sell them to all the white people?

Mom: No.


Jane: Hey Dad, what do you think of that tiger mom?

Dad: If she thinks Chinese culture is so superior, why is she in America?

if wishes were crayons, this would be red



Part of the wall of Tahquitz Canyon. 1/4/2014. As usual, the camera phone forgives many flaws.

I would have spent longer drawing this, but I had been sitting so long that the sun had moved and changed all the shadows.

I had this phrased much more coherently somewhere, but the general gist was something like this: nature has an inherent beauty that is missing in all man-made things. Even the most culturally divergent human mind shares a structure that is the same as your own, so to some degree, interfacing with man-made things involves some kind of recognition or recreation from your own mind. Whereas, any interaction with nature forces an interaction with something indifferent and alien, imposes a process of discovery and exploration. From that comes romance and mystery.

Which is why drawing big rocks is fun and drawing buildings is not. HAH. Suck on that, architects!

Dad, on matrimony and women

Dad: Are the people in that photo married?

Jane: I guess so.

Dad: Life would be so much easier if nobody got married. Actually, life would be much easier if everyone were dead.


Jane: Oh, it’s okay, Mom. You needn’t go to such trouble on my behalf. We all know girls are worthless.

Dad: I wouldn’t say “worthless.” You can always marry them off. I just draw the line at slaughtering and eating them.

something I’m grateful for

I have much to be thankful for, this Thanksgiving. My list of blessings is too long to count, so let me confine myself to giving thanks for all the amazing people I know. (Oh, “amazing” doesn’t even begin to cut it.)

To the nanotechnologist from Singapore, to the retired executive who biked across America, to the writer who makes a living out of being slightly evil, to the mechanical engineer writing award-winning poetry, to the other mechanical engineer who through his prodigious rock-climbing and fencing skills resembles nothing more than a real-life Westley from The Princess Bride, to the literal rocket scientist, to the geography bee champion cum algebraic topology student and general Renaissance man, and many others…I feel so lucky to know you all. It’s people like you who push the boundaries of the human condition, and yet affirm it in all its guts and glory. You’re all insane. The kinds of people who make good feature articles in magazines.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for being so wonderful…

…so I don’t have to. Praise mediocrity! Amen.

dad gets defensive

Dad: You shouldn’t downplay traditional Chinese medicine, Jane. Some practitioners can lay their fingers on your wrist and tell if you’re pregnant or not.

Jane: I don’t believe that’s true at all.

Dad: You know what you are? You’re anti-science, just like the people who locked up Galileo.

Jane: Excuse me? Are you comparing me to the guys who burnt witches at the stake?

Zhao: I think, maybe Dad meant to compare you to people who deny tenure.

Jane: Which in academia, is still equivalent to death.

East versus West cultural difference #217

Jane: Mom, how do you say “abominable” in Chinese?

Mom: What? You mean “bomb” like blow up?

Jane: No, as in, “this thing is so bad it should not exist.” Like, I don’t like this fish-tomato dish and I want to say “tomatoes are an abomination.”

Dad: I don’t think that’s true of anything. Everything on this world has a reason for existing.

Zhao: There isn’t a word for “abomination” in Chinese, because Chinese people are much more reasonable than Americans.

insomnia, or, i hate this fucking planet

One advantage night has over day is that every hour looks the same. This is especially relevant to the insomniacs. It’s 4:30, and paradoxically, I’ve grown *more* alert as the night drags on. I stare into the dancing gray dots that my eyes interpret as darkness, and I am glad it all looks the same, 1AM having the same despairing look as 2AM as 3AM as 4AM. If I don’t watch the clock, I can pretend it’s only been an hour since I began this battle.

But it’s too late. Orpheus-like, I already looked.

Spare me the platitudes about exercise, about keeping regular hours, cognitive behavioral therapy, about sunshine, warm milk, and lavender. They say an entrepreneur has to be absolutely delusional to believe that they could succeed in the face of overwhelming odds. It’s all right for them to give up when rationality breaks in and they realize they’re overmatched. Well, if that’s for them, why not also for me, and my fellow brothers and sisters in suffering?

If there is any consolation, it is only that this night isn’t so special. It has happened before, and will happen again. 

ceci n’est pas une rose



By any other name, it ought to be “this is a pencil sketch of a rose.”

Look at me, I put in two literary references into this blog post!

I think this one is pretty decent. It feels weird to say this, but I think I’ve mastered the basics of drawing 2-dimensional things. I can tell what the shadows on the petals are and why they are the way they are, and knowing these things, I can communicate with my pencil (or really, Miss Ellen Cassidy’s pencil) the three-dimensional structure of the rose. I’m also pretty happy with the leaves. The weight of the lines is too similar throughout, though, but I didn’t have a pencil sharpener. 

It never fails to astonish me how much better everything I draw looks once it’s been filtered by the lens of my shitty little camera phone. I look at it and it’s like what, did I do that on purpose? Whoa. 


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