On middle-age

Posted in personal at 12:35 am by wingerz

Today is my birthday and I am well into my adulthood. The past few years I’ve noticed my attitude towards things shift, especially as more and more overlap between dealings in personal and professional contexts overlap. A few things I’ve been thinking about:

  • Don’t take anything that’s important to you for granted. I feel extremely fortunate to be constantly surrounded by loved ones. Every day I am delighted to spend time with Jen and our kids. Thanks to Jen for being the foundation for everything good in my life.
  • Identify the right tradeoffs. In the past I think I’ve always been looking for a way to do it all, and I have gone into situations thinking that there would be some absolute best outcome. Over the past few years I’ve come to realize that it’s not so much about looking for the absolute best thing, it’s much more about identifying the important factors and trading those off against things that aren’t essential. It’s also about making a good decision with the (sometimes limited) information available. If you don’t know what you’re trading off by pursuing a path, then you probably aren’t aware of the entire situation. This applies in all sorts of contexts – obviously at work in engineering complex systems, but also at home. There aren’t people in the world who ‘have it all’ so much as people who know what makes them happy and seek it out above other things.
  • Build people and culture. Over the past few years I’ve read a lot of parenting books and management books. The ones that resonate the most are generally about putting people in good situations, trusting them, giving them autonomy (including the freedom to make mistakes), and supporting them wholeheartedly. Channel the best parts of human nature – love, generosity, curiosity, and creativity. Creating a strong culture and value system makes that possible, especially when you can’t oversee every decision (because who wants to do that?).
  • Luck and execution both matter to success. Somehow, despite highly valuing both of these things I’ve underestimated both of their impacts. Every success story requires ‘being in the right place at the right time,’ no individual has the power to manipulate the environment to the extent required to set up these situations. But that’s not enough, once someone’s in that situation it’s up to her to execute, which can only be done reliably well with discipline and mastery of craft.
  • Confidence is elusive. Impostor syndrome has been getting a lot of buzz lately; engineers may be predisposed to it, and engineering managers even more so. I think it’s only been in the last year or two that I’ve felt fully confident in my ability to lead a team, despite having done it for nearly half of my career. I’m not sure what would have gotten me there sooner, maybe fewer people telling me that I was smart when I was growing up.

Other random tidbits:

  • Take care of yourself. Sleep, eat well, exercise.
  • Wake up at the same time every day.
  • Take care of your personal finances.
  • Don’t skimp on spending when it comes to the things you use frequently.
  • Travel before you have kids.
  • Life’s best and most basic pleasure: good food with friends and family.


Building my own computer

Posted in personal, technology at 12:53 pm by wingerz

My earliest memories of playing around with computer hardware were in high school, when my mom agreed to buy 8MB of RAM so that we could upgrade from the 4MB that our computer came with. Back then it was over $300, an inconceivable amount of money. I struggled with putting it in and I think we eventually figured out that I was being too delicate with the motherboard. In any case it was quite a stressful situation.

Later on in college I got a 3DFX card and it was amazing. Since then most of my computing has been done on a laptop (Thinkpads for 7 years and then MBP for 5 years). I had never put together an entire machine myself.

In any case, JR has been wearing me down over the past few months. For the most part it’s been easy for me to ignore his advice to get a gaming PC. The last thing I need is another platform to collect games that I don’t have time to play, no matter how cheap they are on Steam. But eventually I started looking into it. I still couldn’t justify the cost, but then the power of rationalization kicked in. I figured that if I installed OSX on it, Jen and I could use it as a family computer (mainly for organizing photos), which is something we’ve been wanting for a while but unwilling to splurge on a nice laptop or Mac Pro. Plus it could be a fun opportunity to build my own computer for the first time, something that was missing from my resume.

The research phase was really fun. I probably collected 40 links to PC-building websites that I’ve saved away. In particular:

Newegg and Amazon made it incredibly easy for me to quickly turn a whim into a pile of parts on my doorstep.

I raced to read every instruction manual and online resource I could find, and put the machine together over the course of a couple of evenings. Of course, when I went to turn it on, nothing happened, which was my biggest fear all along. I fiddled with a few ore things before taking the entire thing apart and trying to test individual components (which was really hard since I didn’t have any tools or extra parts).

I found a computer repair shop that (for a small fee) offered to help me test my motherboard and verify that most of the computer was working, so I swallowed my pride and brought some of my parts in. The guys were super-nice and excited on my behalf. My motherboard turned out to be broken, so I ordered a new one and we put the computer together and now it’s working.

A couple links that were helpful:

I’ve got all the parts hooked up now, but need to spend another few hours organizing the cables and putting all of the fans in. Right now it’s a mess of black wiring. But it works! Some highlights:

  • Dual boots Windows 8 and OSX, each OS has its own SSD
  • Windows: Bioshock:Infinite runs nicely, along with some cheap Steam games I’ve been accumulating over the last few weeks.
  • OSX: Lightroom installed and working. Will probably do some development on this side.

Overall building my own computer turned out to be a really fun experience. I obsessed over it for a few weeks. There are definitely some fun problems to wrestle with, mostly on the spatial front (in what order should these components get installed into the machine? Where do all these cables go?), and who doesn’t love looking around for good deals on components? In retrospect I probably should have been more patient with the whole process. Jen was super-supportive throughout the entire thing, even when we had a pile of parts that were assembled into a completely unresponsive paperweight. I also borrowed a lot of evening and weekend time from her and the kids.

I also realized that it would be a waste for me to only build one machine after doing all this research. So I’m on the lookout for friends who are looking to build a computer (or reasons for having more than one computer in the house).

Finally, thanks to everyone who got excited on my behalf and offered support on this project all throughout the last few weeks.


Finishing things

Posted in books, games, personal at 1:23 am by wingerz

Somehow I unintentionally ended up wrapping up a lot of in-flight consumption last weekend. Kind of a strange cross-media collection of things.

Principles of Product Development Flow. Goes deep into the theory side of things, but a lot of great ideas in here, especially around looking at work queues and economics. Not the first agile development book I’d recommend reading (that would be Kanban), but maybe the second.

End This Depression Now. Trying to be less clueless about things in general.

Giants of Enterprise. Fascinating read about 7 American businessmen (Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, George Eastman, Charles Revson, Thomas J Watson Sr., Sam Walton, Robert Noyce) about their personalities and business acumen. I’m surprised that IBM training doesn’t have more material on Watson Sr. The last chapter, about Robert Noyce and the emergence of the Silicon Valley, is definitely worth a read for software engineer.

Chrono Trigger. Crossed off the biggest item on my SNES to-play list. I’d started it several times in the last 10 years but always lost momentum. Really enjoyed the combat and story. Felt bad that I GameFAQ’ed my way through the final bosses, but would have felt worse if I never beat the game. Still like FFVI (or rather, my memories of FFVI) better.

Archer Season 4. Meh on the season finale.

Arrested Development, seasons 1-3. Have been chipping away at this for months and wrapped it up right before Season 4 started (we’re about 2/3 of the way through).


Why I watch sports

Posted in sports at 6:04 pm by wingerz

It’s been a tough year to be a Laker fan, though I’d argue that the team as constructed, with injuries, did about as well as anyone could have hoped. By the time Game 4 against the Spurs rolled around and we were starting Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock, it felt like a fitting ending to the season. Just wish Kobe had been out there, since there’s always a little bit of hope when he’s on the court.

But even during this trying season, I’ve still tried to carve time out of my schedule to watch a few quarters here and there and have been following the playoffs closely. Some of my work buddies see watching sports as a waste of time and really want to have nothing to do with them, but it’s still something that I really enjoy. Here are some of the reasons (mostly with examples from the past few months – obviously the examples get more compelling as you look across the past few decades).

The drama. Once in a while, something really unlikely happens, and it’s amazing. Or it’s heartbreaking. Either way, seeing something unfold live is breathtaking, and you immediately text/IM/call your friends who are also following along.

The meaning of winning. The sporting world is full of reminders that, at the end of the day, it comes down to whether you’ve won or not – it’s not about how much fun you’re having or your individual performance or anything else (though those can be nice to have). And oftentimes winning comes down to execution, which boils down to dedication, which boils down to character. Everyone playing at this level is insanely talented, but it can still be pretty easy to tell who wants to win the most. One note on Kobe – personal issues aside, his combination of talent and drive is incredible, and by playing on the US Olympic team and showing those guys what it really means to care, I think it’s made all of the top NBA players better.

The team. A team that plays well together is a work of art, a tribute to the players, coach, and management of the team. I love seeing how personalities mesh and different approaches players and coaches take to get the most out of each other. It’s also interesting to see whether coaches can take advantage of their talent or try to shoehorn players into the wrong system. Love seeing different leadership styles in players and coaches.

The market for talent. Everyone knows what everyone else makes, and that can be awkward. Drafts are especially fascinating because there’s so little information to go on (1 year of college in the NBA), interesting to see what general managers and scouts pick up on. So, in trying to put together a team that plays well together, here’s what needs to be considered: huge discrepancy in salaries, salary cap, having a fixed number of openings on the team, competition from every other team. Something always has to give.

Second-guessing everywhere, every time. The Internet is watching, all the time – in-game decisions, team moves, strategies, everything.


Happy Father’s Day

Posted in blog, family, personal at 12:21 am by wingerz


Most of my childhood memories of my dad are around our weekly routine. Riding with him to school in the morning, reciting poetry or quizzing him on I-ching hexagrams. Hearing the garage door open at 7pm, signaling dinnertime. Hanging out on the couch together for a bit while he read his newspaper and listened to me read Chinese before he went back to doing some work on the computer (It used to be a terminal. A real terminal.). On Saturdays we’d go hiking in the morning and have dim sum afterwards. On Sundays I’d typically accompany him to his office at Caltech. The afternoons would pass slowly, as I wanted to go home. Oftentimes I would be encouraged to work on math problems or sent to the campus library to confirm bibliographic references (physically going between the 7th, 8th, and 9th floors of the Millikan Library to look up journal article authors, volume numbers, and page numbers). Highlights of the long day would be lunch at Carl’s Jr. and half an hour of kicking a soccer ball around at the athletic fields.

But all of that comes from my memories, and these ones are the strongest because they were enforced week after week. I’m not sure what my dad was like when I was a baby but I got some clues this past year. When Camille cried, he recited Chinese poetry for her enjoyment. He mentioned being more interested in hanging out with her once she’s developed some abstract reasoning powers so that he can teach her math. He didn’t change any of her diapers.


The word routine has all sorts of negative connotations, but ours rejuvenates me. Every morning when Camille wakes up, I am the first person that she sees. I’m not sure which one of us is more excited to be there – her because she can be liberated from her crib or me because she is ready to hang out again. And then there’s the hour or so at the end of the day where we eat a leisurely dinner (Camille doesn’t dine any other way due to her small mouth and passable motor skills), romp around the family room, and read a story together.

The routine is punctuated by exhilarating miniature milestones. Yesterday Camille stood up once while she was trying to get out of my lap. I didn’t think much of it because I don’t really count something as a milestone until she is able to do it repeatedly and deliberately. Today, she kept standing up on the bed (and throwing herself backwards and forwards – we’ll have to talk to her about that), and it was awesome. We didn’t even know this was a milestone; people usually just ask “Is she walking? Is she talking?” No one mentioned the standing, but of course it makes sense in retrospect.


When my parents came to visit over the holidays, we spent an afternoon in Half Moon Bay. Camille and my dad were on the same nap schedule so we left them in the car together while my mom, Wing Ning, Cameron, and I went for a walk. After a while we got an anxious call from my dad. I heard Camille bawling in the background, undoubtedly hungry. I hurried back to the car. When I got there, my dad was holding Camille tight, expertly soothing her, and she was no longer sad.

My dad always knows a bit more than he lets on. I can imagine myself in Camille’s place in his arms over 30 years ago.


Cooking vicariously

Posted in family, food, personal at 1:07 am by wingerz

As some of you know my sister has totally one-upped me in the kitchen by attending culinary school. She’s starting posting some of her class writing assignments on her blog. I’m hoping to pick up some good tips at home over the holidays.


I got a lot done this month

Posted in personal at 12:32 am by wingerz

  • my team launched a ton of FB integration features
  • my team launched yelp.fr
  • slept at the office once
  • got my wisdom teeth out
  • got some new toys: another stainless steel pan, slow cooker, some knives, and a 50d
  • celebrated our 5-year wedding anniversary (actually I still owe Jen dinner) and 31st birthday

Finally caught a break today with the team today: enjoyed 9 holes of frisbee golf and a quick ultimate game in Golden Gate Park. Nothing like running around and getting grass stains everywhere on a gorgeous spring day to recharge after four intense weeks of working late nights and weekends.


Giving thanks

Posted in family, food, personal at 3:40 am by wingerz


Thanksgiving really is the best holiday – totally focused on the most important things in life: family, friends, and food. We decided to stick around here for the holiday; Ellen and Will came up with their dogs to celebrate with us.

I’m still in a food coma so I’m going to keep this short. The menu:

Roasted salted turkey with gravy: Not bad, but not quite as moist as I expected after reading about it. I may give it another shot some time. It was pretty good though, better than the pre-brined turkey I got last year but it sounds like it didn’t match the brined turkey from a few years back.
Mashed potatoes ATK make-ahead recipe, only required 15 minutes in the microwave today.
Stuffing with fennel and sausage: “Tastes kind of like your croutons,” according to Jen. I’ll take that as a compliment. Needed more fennel-y taste.
Salad: Red leaf lettuce, Granny Smith apple slices, plumped-up raisins, toasted almonds, with an creamy apple cider vinaigrette. I discovered the raisins at the farmer’s market. They’re amazing.
Picked cucumbers: Jen’s mom made some Asian pickled cucumbers.
Bread: Plain ol’ white bread.
Maple pecan pie: I always find this pie to be too sweet but the Liaos love their pecan pie so I can’t show up without it. This version of it has no corn syrup, which is great (just one cup of maple syrup instead).
Apple pie: brought by Ellen and Will.


Just a game

Posted in basketball, personal, sports at 12:08 pm by wingerz

from latimes

Over the past week I’ve been going through basketball withdrawal. There was a playoff game on just about every night for the past two months, and, much to Jen’s chagrin, I watched parts of just about all of them. I’ve been obsessing over the Lakers more than usual this season. This year started full of promise: it was last year’s finals team with the size of Bynum, the energy of Ariza, and extra motivation from the fresh taste of bitterness from the previous year. A few random highlights from the playoff run…

It all comes down to execution. Both Denver and Orlando had mental lapses down the stretch in their close losses, and the Lakers were able to capitalize. In both series, around game 4, the opposing team felt like they were playing well enough to be up in the series, but neither closed out close games. Seeing the Lakers, with their insane number of options, execute their offense well is a thing of beauty. Their defense still isn’t perfect, but it came together at the right time (and it really helped that Orlando’s point guard situation was in shambles).
Redemption for the Lakers. Pretty much the entire starting lineup (plus Lamar Odom, minus Trevor Ariza) has come under fire over the past two seasons. It’s been great to see them all have incredible playoff moments.
The front line is ridiculous. In a league without a lot of great centers, it’s great to have Pau and Bynum. I think Bynum’s ready to have a big, injury-free year next year. Gasol has been a workhorse all season long, putting in a ton of minutes and delivering consistently. And it’s still amazing for me to see Odom leading the break, making nifty moves around the basket, and draining 3s.
Kobe is good. Maybe he isn’t the most fun guy to play with, but you can’t argue with his drive, skill, talent, or ability to motivate the players around him. His work ethic is raising the quality of play across the NBA. His talent doesn’t give him a sense of entitlement; he’s still working harder than any other player out there.
I love Trevor Ariza. The guy made big play after big play all season long. He became a deadly 3-pt shooter. He’s got a cute kid. It still blows my mind that he only made 4 3-pters in his NBA career before this season.
The economy matters. Teams were making salary-driven moves during the season, and the downturn could affect the market value of free agents. I’m still hoping that Kobe is willing to come down a bit so that there’s enough money to sign Ariza or Odom.
Ariza or Odom? I think it’s really tough to give up either guy. If forced to choose, I think we keep Odom, even though he’s older. His combination of talent and size is so unique, and he is an incredible team player. Plus can’t Kobe just teach the whole team how to shoot 3s? I’m kidding. I’d love to have them both back.
Stepping up. The leadership and motivation of the team was called into question on several occasions in the playoffs. Still not really sure how Houston took us to 7 games. You’d think that this would never be an issue, but seeing the lapses really highlights how easy it is to momentarily lose focus.
This one feels good. So many fantastic storylines this season. Really happy that it ended this way, and I’m looking forward to next season!


The Hard Sell

Posted in personal, photos at 10:58 pm by wingerz


A few weeks ago Jess and Cy came to visit on their spring break. It was great to hang out with them again, can’t believe it’s already been six months since I moved from Boston.

We decided to spend the weekend outdoors. On Saturday we drove down to Big Sur, stopping in Carmel to pick up a few sandwiches (from Bruno’s) for lunch. Unfortunately, all hiking trails east of Highway 1 were shut down because of a fire that swept through last year. We found a nice trail at Andrew Molera State Park (part of this trail), satisfying our thirst for adventure by crossing a shallow stream. Wrapped up the day with a fantastic dinner at Passionfish.

On Sunday we went sea kayaking in Monterey. We did a guided tour of the harbor, coming pretty close to some seals and sea lions (unfortunately, no sea otters).

A few more photos from the weekend.

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