Thursday, May 31, 2007

In conversation with Dickolas (Non-random quotes from a couple days ago, provided with context)

I just opened up my gmail

and the "sponsored link" at the top is "Apparel for Busty Women"


"Are you Busty but not plus sized? We have Styles for the Busty Figure"

I'm trying to figure out what I wrote in my e-mail to warrant that

are you maybe "plus-sized"?

yeah, but I try not to write e-mails about it

Monday, May 28, 2007

I have GAS

Once I got in an argument with my mother and she complained to me that I would never stop wanting to buy guitars. I told her that no, I won't buy more guitars, I have a good working set now and I basically have all my bases covered. Well, I suppose mother may actually know best here, because I have a serious case of Guitar Acquisition Syndrome at the moment, without money to finance the habit.

This morning the apple of my eye was the Epiphone Masterbilt AJ-500R, a very classy low-to-mid-range acoustic guitar in the style of Gibson's classic J-45, with all solid construction and a nice, plummy low end. Today also happens to be Memorial Day in the US, which means Guitar Center (their spelling, not mine) has its annual Memorial Day sale. I told myself I'd go early in the morning to buy a harmonica or two, nothing more; deep down, though, I knew that if I saw that guitar for anything south of $450, I'd buy it. I still have not forgotten that argument with my mother, and damned if I don't want to prove her right. Moreover, if I'm being really honest, what I really need is an amp. However, I figured it was defensible as my very nice Martin acoustic is languishing unplayed at home in PoCo, and all I've got here is a beater beginner's Yamaha which comes from the time before beater beginner's Yamahas were actually good guitars. Even above and beyond that, the neck is frustratingly narrow, which precludes me from good clean fingerpicking.

As it happens, I didn't get an early morning start on account of mild food poisoning, which led me to not return to basic function until 2PM today. I viewed this as a positive, as the more I thought about that Epiphone, the more I wanted it. This is good, I told myself (although that's about the only good thing that this current bout of food poisoning has done for me today). Yes. I am master of my urges.

At 4PM I went to Guitar Center and made a beeline for the acoustics.

There was still one AJ-500R on the shelves, and sure enough, it was still as nice as I remembered. I thought about checking out other, cheaper, acoustics, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I've been playing for a long time now. This guitar deserves to be owned by me! Just as a reference point, I picked up a used Gibson J-45 and plucked a few notes on it. Very nice, but for $1600, that's not happening.

The salesman dude who helped me the last time I was there saw me playing that and said "Wait, $1600? That's not right...." I put the guitar down and went back out to buy a harmonica, but the salesman found me and said "Hey, if you like the J-45, it's eleven with case".

Whoa! Whoa! Whoa.

I didn't snap it up. And remember that guitars are way cheaper than just about every other kind of instrument; saxophones, pianos, violins all cost thousands upon thousands. And don't tell me you've never had GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) yourself. A new graphics card for your computer. Seasons 5-7 of Friends. A new pair of shoes. A new dress. You've not had my life -- don't judge me.

But now I am telling myself "Hey, $1100 for a guitar that will last a lifetime is pretty decent. The Martin might get damaged in transit if I tried to bring it here. This guitar works better with my voice than the Martin anyway. It's not even a top-end Martin. It's still technically my dad's guitar. What I said to Mom only applied to electric guitars. It'll retain its resale value. This guitar deserves to be owned by me!"

Damn you, Gibson.

Current Music: David Bowie - Andy Warhol

Sunday, May 27, 2007

What's Wang This Week

This is my favourite clip -- an outtake, no less -- from the excellent documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, a film about Wilco and the making of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

I've been following the news about Jim Balsillie wanting to buy the Predators and moving the team to Canada. I of course would love to see this happen, especially if the Preds go on to win the cup the following year, just like what Colorado did to Quebec City. My officemate is from Tennessee and he tells me that the Preds don't have much of a fanbase in Nashville (hell, he's a Pens fan), so I think this would be great. Living in California, I think I have a good understanding of how little hockey means to Californians and most other Americans I have met. It's like sticking a square peg into a round hole. It doesn't work. I imagine it's not much better in Tennessee.

Of course, it's easy to say that as an outsider. However, I was a Vancouver Grizzlies fan, and I still feel jilted by the NBA. I figure it could have worked in Vancouver had they not had inept management and had basketball players actually wanted to play in Vancouver. It would really have helped had the team won more than 22 games in any one season while they were in Vancouver.

Jim Balsillie, if you manage to move a really good hockey team like the Preds to Canada, I promise that I will try not to make jokes about your name ("Bals").

The only thing I have trouble imagining is where they would put the new hockey team. Having never been to Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge, or Hamilton, I shouldn't say, but I would never have thought of any of them being real major-league sport cities, much in the same way I wouldn't imagine a hockey team in Burnaby or Surrey; yet that is probably where the team would end up. Another team in Winnipeg might be nice, but they can probably afford to hold out until the Coyotes inevitably get tired of trying to keep ice frozen in Phoenix and move back.

[table of women beside ours]:
[office gossip and chatter]

[leans over to me, conspiratorially] Large groups of women scare me.

[thinks this over] ... I scare large groups of women.

Current Music: Wilco - The Thanks I Get
EDIT (12:46AM, June 4/07): fixed the spelling of Jim "Bals" Balsillie's last name

Answers to last post's riddles

What do you call a man with no arms and no legs in a jar? Phil

What do you call a man with no arms and no legs, stage centre? Mike

Friday, May 11, 2007

What's Wang This Week

Yeah, so I didn't write much for a couple of months there. Sue me.

Around two months ago, I agreed to give a talk the day before Spring Break on stuff I worked on as an undergrad. This required me to remember the stuff I worked on as an undergrad, which basically amounted to re-learning it. So that took a couple of weeks. It was stressful but the talk went quite well, so I was pleased as punch to be heading into Spring Break on a high note. More or less immediately after the talk, I learned that I couldn't schedule my qualifying exam for next semester, because I'm a foreigner and they need me to do it by the end of my 3rd year so that they only have to pay resident tuition for me. Hooray!

I ran the hell away from my problems for the week of Spring Break and then I came back to Berkeley, put my head down, and powered through. I had five weeks to prepare for my qual, which seemed like not much time, but I had to give another talk two weeks before, so I did a big crunch for the first two weeks, and then spent the last two weeks trying to keep focused on fixing up my presentation, but ended up mostly just annoying my officemate. Anyway, last Thursday I did the qual and successfully avoided not being the first person in history to fail the qual in this department. Hooray!

So I told Tim the other day, "if it were possible to make love to a song, then right now I'd be trying to convince you that a half 'Rat Trap' baby is yours".

-- Théa

(I mean, it's an alright song.)

I celebrated passing the qual by doing all of the lazy fatass things I would ordinarily do that I hadn't done because I was doing qual prep. The day after my qual I returned to Fenton's, a local ice cream place where I once ate three pounds of ice cream in 20 minutes to get a free t-shirt. Because the first time was so, uh, hurried, I went back so that I could actually taste their ice cream and see if I liked it. (I did.) I washed that down with a few White Russians, because when I go dairy, I go all dairy.

And now I am blogging, because I have so many wonderful quotes to share with you from the last two months. I'll try and write them down as I remember them.

... and so none of the American students who got into both here and Stanford came here. They all went to Stanford. Three of them even had the gall to write a rejection e-mail saying "Thanks, but we're going to Stanford. But we'll see you soon for an assistant professorship!"

Oh. [pause] But, I mean, those guys didn't seem like they were very strong students. They won't get jobs here.


The week prior, Regan and her family visited San Francisco and I took time out to go have dinner with them. (I justified it since that was the day of the department picnic and I may as well take the whole day off if I'm gonna take half the day off.) We went to a restaurant called The Stinking Rose (motto: We season our garlic with food!) which is, you have probably guessed, a garlic-themed restaurant. (It seemed like a solid opportunity to take a girl to a garlic restaurant.)

I was looking for the cricket scores, so I called Vince because I knew he would be in front of a computer.

-- Shankar Bhamidi

Previously I had eaten at a place called Wild Garlic in Vancouver, which I had thought was a pretty good garlic restaurant. Well let me tell you something: The Stinking Rose does not fuck around. When they say they are a garlic restaurant, they mean it. Their signature appetizer, the Bagna Calda, consists of about 60 cloves of garlic roasted in olive oil and butter with just a hint of anchovy. This stuff was so good. You could take a piece of bread, cut it in half, then spread three cloves of garlic on each half. Roasted garlic is of course super-mild, so this isn't bloody murder or anything, but after about 20 cloves of it, it does start to build up. I decided to try the garlic relish that was just sitting at the table, thinking it would be a bit of a good change. That's when I remembered that raw garlic is not super-mild. This stuff was set to stun -- and I liked it. The onslaught didn't stop there: each entrée had about six cloves of pickled garlic on top for garnish. No, not for garnish... for flavour. They do not fuck around with that shit. I went home and drank some green tea, which helped with the breath a bit. But then the garlic breath came back, so I brushed my teeth. That helped a bit too, but then it came back again. I started to imagine that every time I got it out of my mouth, the garlic would just come back again because I had eaten so much that it was coming out of my skin, or at least coming out of my esophagus, so I gave up and went to bed.

So, anyway, the day after my dairyfest was spent mostly eating good bread from the Cheeseboard and playing Super Paper Mario, which was a post-qual celebratory purchase. As I ate this bread, I thought it would be great to make a Bagna Calda of my own for dippin', so I looked up recipes and found one that actually comes from The Stinking Rose's own cookbook. Excellent, I thought, so I was about to head out the door to pick up the ingredients. But! Then I happened to scroll down and got a look at the nutrition facts: one serving contains 72% of the recommended daily fat intake, and the recipe yields 8 servings1. And I was going to eat... more than 1/8th of what I made. I decided against making it. Ordinarily I might still have done it, but remember that I ate probably upwards of a pound of ice cream and then at least half a cup of cream the previous night. Instead I made their super-strong garlic relish, since that was one of the two recipes they have on their own website, and consequently I don't think I've had good breath at any point in the last week.

So, after the department picnic, my brother had two comments. First, that there were a surprising number of normal people there.


Second, "Why is it that every social group I meet in California is led by an Asian guy in touch with hip-hop culture?"

[thinking: "Brad? He's sort of in touch, maybe... but he's not my leader..."]

he meant you


I think he's thinking of when you said "That's how I roll"

(Later I also remembered that I took a cup with a few drops of iced tea in it and poured it on the ground for my fallen homies. That's how I roll.)

One week before the exam, the jazz ensembles had the final concert for the semester, which was rather poorly timed for me, but was fun nonetheless. Besides that, I've spent most of my music time playing guitar and singing to myself in my apartment. I do this a lot really late at night. This week it's been ridiculously hot in Berkeley, so I had the window open. For the first time, the neighbour actually came and knocked and asked me to keep it down, probably because it was like 2AM. This had never been a problem before; I assume it was a problem this time because everyone's windows were open on account of the heat. Anyway, that's embarrassing, and I'm just glad I wasn't playing "Let's Get It On" or something at the time.

I've spent a lot of my playing time practicing playing the harmonica and the guitar at the same time. For the never-played-harmonica crowd out there, what you might not know is that between phrases you basically have to shake the spit out of the harmonica. This was a fairly disgusting thing for me to learn when I started playing harmonica, but then I decided to just run with it. (In fact, the first thing I learned about harmonica was to play it by blocking holes in the harmonica with my tongue.) The big challenge for me -- besides my awful coordination, which is a deeper problem than just musical -- is that when you play the harmonica in the harmonica holder, the thing angles downwards, and I drink a lot of water, and as such my mouth is rarely dry. As such, spit doesn't just collect in the harmonica: it flows into the harmonica. I basically bought the harmonica holder so that I could play "5 Days in May" by Blue Rodeo, you see, and I can typically get through the first harmonica bit just fine, but then after a couple of verses and one chorus, I go to play the second harmonica bit but the harmonica just doesn't work. There has to be a way to keep the harmonica going, some kind of automated spit valve maybe, but I have no idea what that could be. I don't particularly relish the idea of jumping up and down to try and shake out the stuff while I'm not playing it.

Speaking of which, I have no idea how you horn players do it. Spit in your instrument? Gross.

Do me a favour. Next time you're with a woman, take screenshots.

-- Steve Kwan

So I've been introduced to a whole family of jokes recently that I never knew existed: the "man with no arms and no legs" jokes. A friend told me yesterday that these jokes were maybe popular 20 years ago but they are enjoying a recent resurgence, much like synth pop. What do you call a man with no arms and no legs lying in front of a door? Matt. What do you call a man with no arms and no legs hanging from the wall? Art. The laughs just keep coming!

What do you call a man in a...

Does this man have arms and legs?

Oh, crap.

So yeah, I've been coming up with a few of my own. What do you call a man with no arms and no legs in a jar? What do you call a man with no arms and no legs, stage centre?

What do you call a man with no arms and no legs in a jar?



The day of my qual itself was kind of weird. On one hand, the qual went decently and I passed, so that was great. However, that was also the day of Game 5, Canucks/Ducks, and we all know how that turned out. It was a day of ups and downs. Also, Adam and I decided to order pizza for the game (up) but the pizza was disgustingly greasy (down). It did come with good wings though (up). A few days ago I found out that Roberto Luongo's "equipment malfunction" in Game 5 that made him miss the first five minutes of overtime was actually a bathroom break. So it was a disappointing end to the Canucks' season (down), but fortunately the ending was about as amusing as it gets2 (up).

Unfortunately, I no longer see Luongo as superhuman.

In discussion with Angie, it was suggested that I celebrate my post-qual freedom with five steaks. I had this thought that I would have five steaks, and then after the fifth one, I'd get back to work. Well, this weekend I cooked a brunch of steak and eggs with some "hash browns" (that is, I slice potatoes and fry them until they're done). It was gonna be great; just like the steak and eggs I used to have at ABC Restaurant as a kid. The only thing missing would be the slice-of-orange-and-parsley-sprig garnish. Well, I learned a tough lesson that day: there is such a thing as a steak that is too big for lunch. (Also, it probably helps if it hasn't been frozen for weeks and thawed in the microwave.) Also, I learned that three eggs is much more than I remember. I think the underlying lesson here is, I'm too old for this. Anyway, that one meal was just so overwhelming that I'm just going to forego the other four steaks and get back to work.

I went to see Sloan last week, the day right after this massive explosion totalled a very busy junction on the freeway. Fortunately, that meant all public transit was free, so we got to the concert without paying a dime in tolls, gas, or fares. The concert was fantastic. They played way less new material than I was expecting, and way more of their old hits. I realized then that Sloan has now become a band that could really just play their big hits (or at least big Canadian hits) for an hour and a half. (Chris said something like "Okay, thanks, now we're gonna play a few off our newest record, before we get back to the hits. Thanks for your patience." It was awesome.) Also, I realized I am now old.

What do you call a man with no arms and no legs flying through the air?

Current Music: Feist - The Reminder

1. To be fair, if you only spread the garlic on the bread and don't use all the oil/butter, it's probably not so bad for you.
2. Look, potty humour is funny, okay? I ain't got to apologize to you for that.

Thursday, May 03, 2007



EDIT (1:44AM, May 4/07): changed the link to a more permanent, but no less sad, recap of the game

T-minus 12 hours until qualifying exam

It's go time, bitch.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Last night I saw Sloan in San Francisco. It couldn't have come at a worse time for me, but as we waited for them to get set up, I got all giddy and I knew it had been a good idea to see Sloan instead of working more on my quals.

During the second or third song, Patrick moved over a bit and started scanning the audience. He sort of stared in our direction, so I yelled and threw my hands up in the air. He grinned, nodded, and pointed, then hustled back to his microphone to lay down some harmonies.

In that instant, I forgave him for "Backstabbin'".

(Jay gave a little nod when I did the same to him.)