strictures and structures

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

Month: October, 2010

the tale of @TaskRabbit, and cupcakes

TaskRabbit is a nifty startup that matches people with cash and no
time to people with time and no cash. Too busy to pick up your
laundry? Get a runner from TaskRabbit to do it for you! Can’t build
your Ikea bedframe because you stay up partying every night?
TaskRabbit can rescue you too!

TaskRabbit came by Twitter recently to strut their stuff and offer us
an employee discount. I have all my shit together and had no practical
use for a runner, but I loved the idea of ordering people around.

I solicited Twitter and Facebook for ideas. Here are some of the ones I got:
–Leave unwrapped In’n’Out burgers on a playground!
–Put fuzzy handcuffs in unlikely places.
–getting my laundry is pretty hilarious.

They say people who ask for advice never want it. It’s true. I
dismissed every single suggestion I got and went with this instead:

Title: handing out sweets to strangers in public
Task description: I want you to bake some chocolate chip cookies.
Let’s say 60. Then, I want you to hand them out in public. Please get
some photos of people taking and eating the cookies. I would like at
least 10 photos. Also do not let anyone walk off with more than 2
cookies, because I cannot abide that kind of greedy behavior.

I was worried at first that no acceptable runner would take the task.
The first offer I got was willing to do it for $70, though I’d priced
it only at $40. The other runners who responded seemed curious as to
why I wanted to do this, but uninterested in actually doing it.

Finally, the lovely Laura S. bid on the task and offered to do it for
only $35. What a deal! Laura really threw herself into it. Not only
did she suggest cupcakes instead of cookies, a far more substantial
treat, but she also offered to wear a sign with the slogan of my

Once again I hailed Twitter and Facebook for advice. I let Laura pick
from among these suggestions:
–A picture of Samuel L. Jackson, and the caption, “CUPCAKES
–“Enjoy this sweet treat!”
–“Pay it forward”
–“god gave us wheat, but man invented cupcakes.”
–“free poison cupcakes”
–“don’t worry, they’re not poisoned”
–“gluttony is a sin. free cupcakes!”
–“death is an eternal void. enjoy a cupcake while you still can.”

Which one did she pick? Check it out in the photos!

art is switching around your senses. seeing with your fingertips, and feeling with your eyes.


also, sometimes stuff happens when Glee isn’t quite interesting enough
to keep my eyes on the screen.

material: some Chanel ad, one poorly sharpened HB pencil, and a
zebra-shaped eraser that i got as a cheap prize at some Chuck E.
Cheese knockoff.

the title of this post is a quote is from Thomas H. Cook’s excellent The Chatham School Affair.

wherein i prove i am superior to Disney

mulan shi

The Ballad of Mulan

ji ji fu ji ji
click click click clack clack
mulan dan hu zhi
Mulan sits and weaves
bu wen ji zhu sheng
but I hear no sound of weaving
wei wen nu tan xi
I hear only Daughter sighing
wen nu he suo si
I ask, “What is in your heart?
wen nu he suo yi
Daughter, what is on your mind?”

nu yi wu suo si
“Nothing is in my heart,
nu yi wu suo yi
“Nothing is on my mind.
zuo ye jian jun tie
“I saw the draft scrolls yesterday,
ke han da dian bing
“The Khan is calling his armies.
jun shu shi er juan
“There were twelve draft scrolls,
juan juan you ye ming
“And each scroll bore Father’s name.
ah ye wu da er
“Father has no strong son,
mulan wu zhang xiong
“And Mulan no elder brother.
yuang wei shi an ma
“I will buy a horse and saddle,
cong ci ti ye zheng
“And go to war in Father’s place.”

dong shi mai jun ma
In the east market, she buys a fine horse,
xi shi mai an juan
In the west market, she buys a saddle and stirrups,
nan shi mai pei tou
In the south market, she buys a bridle,
bei shi mai chang bian
In the north market, she buys a long whip.

dan ci ye niang qu
In the morning, she bids farewell to her parents,
mu su huang he bian
In the evening, she sleeps by the Yellow River.
bu wen ye niang huan nu sheng
Mother and father are calling her name,
dan wen huang he liu shui sheng jian jian
But she only hears the river gurgling, “jian, jian.”

dan ci huang he qu
In the morning, she bids farewell to the Yellow River,
mu su hei shan tou
In the evening, she sleeps in the Black Mountains.
bu wen ye niang huan nu sheng
Mother and father are calling her name,
dan wen yan shan hu ji sheng jiu jiu
But she hears only the sound of the enemy horses whinnying, “jiu, jiu.”

wan li fu rong ji
The war bears her ten thousand miles,
guan shan du ruo fei
She crosses the mountains as if she could fly.
shua qi chuan jin tuo
The icy air carries the sound of the night sentries naming the hour,
han guang zhao tie yi
The winter light gleams on iron clothing.

jian jun bai zhan si
After a hundred battles, generals die,
zhuang shi shi nian gui
After ten years, soldiers return home.
gui lai jian tian zi
The war ends, and the Son of Heaven summons them,
tian zi zuo ming tang
He sits in the Hall of Brightness,
ce xun shi er shang
The scrolls decree many promotions,
shang ci bai qiang qiang
And gifts to thousands of men.

ke han wen suo yu
The Khan asks what she would have,
mulan bu yong shang shu lang
Mulan needs no imperial office,
yuan jie ming tuo qian li ju
She only wants a sturdy camel,
song er huang gu xiang
To return this child to her village.

ye niang wen nu lai
Mother and Father hear Daughter coming,
chu guo xiang fu jiang
They totter outside, clinging to each other.
ah zi wen mei lai,
Big Sister hears Little Sister coming,
dang hu li hong zhuang
She hurries to put on her makeup.
xiao di wen jie lai
Little Brother hears Big sister coming,
mo dao huo huo xiang zhu yang
He whets his knife and goes to the pigs and sheep.

kai wo dong ge men
I enter my room through the eastern door,
zuo wo xi ge chuang
I sit on my bed by the western wall,
tuo wo zhan shi pai
I throw off my wartime armor
zhuo wo jiu shi shang
I slip on my dress of old.
dang chuang li yun bin
By the window, I bind my cloud-like hair
dui jing tie hua huang
Facing the mirror, I apply yellow makeup.

chu men kan huo ban
She goes out to see her comrades,
huo ban jie jing huang
Her comrades could die of shock,
tong xing shi er nian
For twelve years they fought together,
bu zhi mu lan shi nu lang
But they never knew Mulan was a woman.

xiong tu jiao pu shuo
The buck hare stamps his feet,
ci tu yan mi li
The doe hare squints her eyes,
liang tu ban di zou
When the two run side by side
an nen weng wo shi xiong ci?
Who could have known if I were a man or woman?


Translation is difficult even in the easiest of times, and the
translation of poetry is notoriously difficult. Translating ancient
Chinese into English, in my mind, is not only difficult but
impossible. Chinese is a wonderfully compact and efficient language,
and it is very easy to rhyme. It is also easy to have a pleasing
meter. I don’t think it would be correct to say that it’s a better
language for poetry than English is, but it’s certainly easier to
write something that just sounds nice. One reason “The Ballad of
Mulan” has lodged itself in my head so thoroughly is because of its
rhyme and meter–and because each line is so short! (Notice also how the original poet kept every single line at only five syllables. There are exceptions, such as the final line, but they differ for dramatic effect.) I include the
pinyin for the original Chinese to give you some sense of how much
meaning is packed into each Chinese ideograph and how lovely it would
have sounded, recited aloud, in the original language.

This ballad, unfortunately, is somewhat lacking in the kind of
beautiful imagery that survives translation. The heart of it is the
story, of course, but what really makes it a wonderful poem is the
efficiency with which the words were chosen, which of course cannot
survive translation. At least…it can’t survive my

No offense is meant to Disney. I really liked the movie, it had a
great song, and the ending scene when Mulan returns home actually
makes me slightly teary-eyed. I am also so very glad to see Asians
being heroes on the silver screen, rather than the token martial arts
master who exists only to teach the white boy or girl who is the true

Side anecdote: I asked my dad how Mulan could have possibly passed for
a man in the army. He thought about it for a moment, and said, “well,
you know, she was probably really ugly.”

diss of the day: singularitarians

I love the singularity. I’m against death and aging. I would be first
in line for transhuman enhancement.


I’ve read and enough to know that
while I agree whole-heartedly with what they write about, I am
dead-set against the idea of actually hanging out with any fellow

I solidified my reason in the shower just now. Happy people don’t care
about life extension. They have enough life. Unhappy people do,
because they need more time to clear away their regrets.

Who would you rather hang out with? I know which one I’d pick.