Monday, April 30, 2018

[Daily] Monday 2018.04.30 - Timeboxed Panic, Routine Obligations, New Books

About every Sunday night now, I'm arrested by panic about the upcoming week and weeks. I lose about thirty minutes gazing off into nothingness while I visualize the work, meetings, and insurmountable goals ahead. Then life goes on, the week comes, the next arrives. I would prefer to cut out this activity, and console myself with the thought that it's timeboxed and maybe even necessary.

There are two coffee shops below the office—Blue Bottle and Illy. For the first six months I was a regular customer at Blue Bottle and learned almost every barista's name. For my tastes, their cappuccinos are the most consistently good in the city. Yet for the past month I've only visited Illy, where the cafe au lait is consistently weak. What I get here, ironically, is a feeling of anonymity, and a more extended period of calm in the mornings because Illy doesn't fill up as fast. I'm further deterred from Blue Bottle knowing it's going to be a little awkward going back—I'll have to explain. This situation seems more complicated than it should be and non-ideal for any coffeeshop: routine turns into relationships and relationships turn into expectation, then unfulfilled expectation becomes a deterrent for return. How do you stop it? High staff turnover, stand-offish service, or a staff of robots? I begin to see the appeal of CafeX (if only they had seating).

Last night I picked up two fun books I saw at Booksmith:
  • Zizek's Jokes [some excerpts] — as the title says. Jokes of Slavoj Žižek.
  • Nabokov's Favorite Word Is Mauve [review by NPR] — a statistical look at famous authors' writing styles.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Chinese Re-literacy, Month 1

Since returning from Taiwan four weeks ago, I've been practicing reading and writing Chinese almost daily.

While I'd hardly call myself old (except in the soul), it hit me this trip more profoundly than others that one day my parents will die and I will be on my own to carry on relationships with the half of my cousins who grew up in Taiwan. This visit was a big family reunion on my mom's side. I rarely see my extended family, much less all together, and probably spent more time with my cousins—both American and Taiwanese—in this trip than all others combined. I was surprised how much I enjoyed talking to them, even if the communication was sometimes challenging with lack of English fluency met by rusty Mandarin.

So that was a kick in the butt to revive and improve my Chinese literacy. And there's the promise it will be a useful skill at work. Instabase will be processing Chinese documents for sure.

I've also realized that to not act would be throwing away a lot of advantages I've had. My parents spoke and still speak Mandarin at home, so even if my vocabulary is limited to household talk and I'm literate at a 2nd or 3rd grade level, that's a big step up. One of my cousins reached out on Messenger last week to ask for help filling out a job application to be a nurse at Google Taipei. The application is in English. She started the conversation in English, but we hit a point where I had to ask her what she meant—her grammar was off enough I couldn't be sure of the meaning—and we switched to Chinese. Even with my pasting most of the conversation into Google Translate, which is pretty bad about half the time for Chinese actually, the conversation was more productive. What I needed was her words to be read into pinyin (the sounds of the words) by Translate, and Translate to give me the written words for some phrases. Thus was the state of affairs despite my metaphorically sitting on the couch eating chips w.r.t. my Chinese skills the past 10+ years. Basically, being bilingual from your parents is a cheat code.


About a year ago I bought a mini notebook from a home goods store in Cole Valley that has since closed down. Lately I've begun to favor smaller notebooks because they're easier to carry around and to fill up, which leads me to write in them. This Decomposition Book (which I'll now get on Amazon) measures 6.25 x 4 inches. It works well for Chinese because it has grids. I use the Decomposition Book for building up my "curriculum," and a throwaway pad to do rote drilling.

My curriculum comes primarily from, which I've been a member of since 2009. I smiled when I saw an email from them a few months ago announcing they were being featured on Product Hunt—it was a bit like seeing an old neighbor in the regional news.

My first instinct was to go directly to the site to pull words from lists I created back in 2009.