Hulu: Candy on a Stick

hulu News Corp and NBC’s joint venture now has a name, “Hulu”.

It brings back the winter memories of street vendors in Beijing shouting out “Hulu! Huuuuu lu!  Bing Tang Hulu!”.  The little sing-song cry is as recognizable to Chinese kids as the good humor ice cream truck music here (If you hear ice cream truck music in Beijing, it means you are about to get sprayed by a street washer truck).  You can buy Hulu on every street corner for pennies.

You can see tasty pictures of Hulu.

The company is probably doomed, and probably will never be big in China.  But it’s a great name.  Better than Gu Ge.

(BTW, in this climate of alarm over Chinese food contamination, it is interesting to note that Tang Hulu vendors often sprinkle a bit of sand in the candy coating to make the hulu crunchier.  Sand!  In the food!  And people eat it without complaining!)

Best Chinese Restaurants near Microsoft

We don’t cook at home, and eat primarily Chinese.  We’ve helped many people relocating from China, San Francisco or San Jose find the good places to eat around here.  My wife and I have eaten at each of these places at least 10 times, and much more frequently in some cases.  This is just the list of very best places within close proximity to Microsoft, and doesn’t include our regular Pho places or Sushi places.

Click here for the map of Best Chinese Restaurants near Microsoft, with mini-reviews.  I never say no if asked to eat at one of these 20 fantastic restaurants!

Best Pho Places near Microsoft

I eat Pho about twice per week on average; more often in the winter.  Pho is inexpensive beef noodle soup: rice noodles, beef, and broth.  A complete meal for about $5.  I usually get a mix of steak, brisket, and meatball, and mix in lots of jalapeno and lime.  My wife gets tripe, tendon, and other spare body parts.  There are probably 100 Pho restaurants in the area.  Here is a list of some of my favorites — I eat at these places constantly.

Pho Express in Kirkland.  This is right in my neighborhood, and is now my favorite Pho place.  Saigon City is the only other local place that compares.  Very authentic, family restaurant now run by second-generation.  The pho is excellent quality.  Clean place, always clean and fresh ingredients.  It’s a big place, and always packed.  Bubble tea, too.  Pictures below: Seafood Pho!  2 types of seafood meatball!  I normally get bo vien on side, so this is awesome!  Chopsticks wrapper says that the chopsticks have been certified as sanitary by government of guangzhou (they are pretty clean) . 🙂  Picture of the menu.

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Saigon City.  Definitely not a chain place.  Like eating at somebody’s house.  The “Saigon City Special” Pho is awesome.  Greasier broth than some places, but tasty.

Pho Hoa. Probably the biggest chain in the world.  Not as good as Pho Express or Saigon City, but fairly good, consistent quality.  Have eaten here about 100 times.  Good location, so always packed with MSFT people.  They will periodically try to skimp on quantity.

Pho Tai.  Kind of hidden location, in plaza behind Maple Garden.  Suprisingly good Pho.  Better than Pho Hoa.  Clean broth, good quantity, fresh ingredients.

Pho Than Brothers. Redmond near Redmond Town Center.  Good, clean place.  Not my first choice, but have eaten here at least 15 times (they used to be called Pho Saigon and something else) and never disappointed.

Taste of Pho – Marysville, WA — this is right near the Seattle Premium Outlet mall.  Quality ranks right up with Pho Express; very fresh and delicious with good portions.

You can see these places arranged on a map at Live Local.

Anti-China Propaganda Orgy

The American news media is now fully in the grips of a bipartisan anti-China orgy of propaganda.  The collusion between parties is far more complete than anything I’ve ever seen in American media.  Every day, the crescendo gets worse.  Today I saw “specials” running on three different channels purporting to cover the “crisis” of dangerous toys from China.  “YOUR KIDS ARE NOT SAFE!” the headlines scream.  The New York Times is running a Sunday special explaining how China is polluting the world at “epic proportions” and abusing human rights.

Don’t fall for it.  The only thing of epic proportions here is hypocrisy.  I cannot believe that watchdogs like GNN have not yet called shenanigans on the press.  And it is especially ironic and saddening that this overt conspiracy of the economic hitmen is succeeding most successfully in duping those very people who claim to stand up to the global pillaging by multinationals.

Toys: something like 80% of the world’s toys are manufactured in China.  If anything less than 80% of toy recalls originated in China, I would be mighty suspicious.  But you have to wonder, why toys, and why now?  The bulk of toys have come from China for many years now — are we to believe that suddenly all of them went bad at the same time?  In fact, the reports don’t actually claim any change in the quality of toys from China.  Most of the toys now in dispute have been sold in America for years.  All that has changed is that AS OF TODAY, ALL THOSE TOYS YOU’VE BEEN BUYING FOR YEARS, ARE DEADLY!!!

Strangely, China seems to have been selectively shipping those deadly toys only to the U.S.  Or the Europeans are as yet too stupid to panic.  Since they are too stupid to realize the danger they are in, I recommend we send over U.S. military to liberate the Europeans from dangerous Chinese toys.  It’s the least we can do for our white brothers across the pond.

Of course, white people are no longer having enough babies to replace the population, so the “YOUR KIDS ARE IN DANGER!” ploy is of limited use in stirring up jingoist passions against the Chinese.  Thankfully, the same protective instincts kick in when you tell someone that “YOUR PET IS IN DANGER!”  Now we find that the Chinese have secretly been poisoning all of America’s fluffy, adorable little Caucasian pets with some additive that we’ve never heard of before (one is reminded of Dr. Strangelove and the “body fluids”).

It’s no longer stuff that your kids and pets put in their mouths, though — it’s even the fish you buy at Walmart.  Nobody does the math to figure out what percentage of Chinese-originated food fails inspection versus food from other ports.  It is considered sufficient journalistic integrity to simply sound the klaxon, “A PIECE OF FOOD FROM CHINA DID NOT PASS INSPECTION!!”

We have known for decades that the American press thrives on scare-mongering based on stuff you put in your mouth.  It’s only now that we realize it was all just practice for the day when we had a trade partner who provides more than 50% of our goods.

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But the whole oral fixative complex is child’s play compared to the real game.  The real game is about pollution and carbon credits.  The popular media would have you believe that multinationals only outsource to China for cheap labor.  But there is a far more important reason to outsource to China — it’s a different jurisdiction for pollution and carbon credits.  Outsourcing based on displacement of energy consumption has accelerated in the past decade — I know several people in both the U.S. and China engaged in such projects for the government and multinationals.

The concept is simple.  Let’s say that I manufacture plastics to sell to toy manufacturers, and this is a very energy-intensive process with many raw materials.  Let’s say my manufacturing process produces a million tons of carbon per year.  If I move the factory to China, and strike a deal with some local province to help them build the requisite energy production locally, I save on logistics costs (since the toy factories are in China now) and some production costs (due to kickbacks, and the fact that R&D is still partly government-funded).  And the pollution stays in China.

And when all of our computers, monitors, and worn-out toys become toxic waste, we ship it back to China.

It’s a thing of beauty.  All of the toys still go to kids in America, and all of the profit still flows to American companies.  But now the pollution gets blamed on China.  The civilized world can circle round China, like the self-righteous johns circling round the prostitute, and demand that she buy carbon credits to wash away her filth.  Since we took all the profits to begin with, the only choice for China is to trade it off with debt.  At a minimum, the carbon credits scam can be used to make sure that China’s overall position relative to the EU/US block is never too advantageous to her.  The lunatic fringe of nationalists can applaud such a brilliant economic hitman ploy, if it were not for the fact that China’s threat to U.S. is already vastly overrated. 

Especially in the case of the toy market, the hardline approach being taken by American toy companies is sickening and immoral.  The Chinese companies were already completely uncoordinated; putting each other out of business in self-destructive price wars and commoditizing things which should be protected behind moats.  Buying commodities from China is like stealing candy from babies.  It was shameful exploitation to begin with.  In the midst of this, the U.S. toy companies are now using threats, intimidation, and jingoism to get further concessions.  The Chinese are already being exploited far beyond any morally acceptable point — whipping up the American population into an anti-China frenzy to get more concessions will only make things worse.  As it is, at least two export-oriented officials in China have lost their lives in the past month, and undoubtedly hundreds of thousands of workers are facing harsher working conditions.

Anjani’s “Blue Alert” and Old Navy

Old Navy is currently running ads with Anjani’s “Blue Alert” as backdrop.  They have now ruined the best song on her latest album.  To hear it the way it was meant to be heard, visit her blog with your speakers turned on.

The song lyrics are a poem written by Leonard Cohen.  It is pure poetry, you can read it here.  But if anyone needed proof that Cohen’s poems need someone like Anjani to breathe life into them, this is it.

For starters, the voice for these poems is supposed to be sultry, slow, experienced, and maybe a little bit sad; like a lounge singer.  The Old Navy commercial features a peppy, smug voice.  Did they even read the lyrics?  Right lyrics, wrong voice.  The contrast is jarring.

Then the three women in the commercial add to the dissonance.  They picked three younger models with exuberant strut and youthful makeup.  The only thing they got right for the archetype was the hair (long and straight, no embellishments).  The person singing this song would move languidly, and would be seasoned enough to dispense with the swagger.  Right hair, wrong walk.  Jarring.

Seriously, it is total crap.  WTF were they thinking?  Anjani could have done the whole thing.  Did the producer’s niece need a job, or what?

While I’m at it, I might as well review the rest of the Anjani album.  It is not bad, but “Blue Alert” is the best song by far.  It’s worth it just for that song, and a couple of others like “Innermost Door”, “Never Got to Love You”, “Half the Perfect World”, and “The Mist” are pretty good. 

The others are OK on the music, and not so OK on the poetry.  The lyrics are all Leonard Cohen, and his poetry has gone steadily downhill in the past decade.  So much so that I find his recent stuff downright grating (Book of Longing?  Give me a break).  I don’t even know how many of the remaining songs on Blue Alert were recent, but suffice it to say that I find Cohen to be about as profound as Richard Gere these days, and annoyingly as prolific.

Nassim Nicodemus Taleb: The Black Swan & Fooled by Randomness

I’m going through my pile of finished books to review those worth recommending.  Both of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s books, “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable” and “Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets” are highly recommended.

 Nassim Nicodemus Taleb is a man “in whom is no guile”.  I’m accustomed to reading books by wise people and picking out the errors in their thinking (since nobody is perfect).  For example, my copy of “Knowledge and the Wealth Of Nations: A Story of Economic Discovery” is filled with “WTF?” highlighter marks despite being an OK book.  But these two books are overflowing with honest, direct, and well-communicated insights.  The one-line summary, which many people fail to get, is “Fear of black swans is the beginning of wisdom”.

Taleb is a disciple of Mandelbrot and Popper, two thinkers I’ve quoted here over the past 7 years.  In fact, I think that people should read Mandelbrot and Popper before reading Taleb.  Taleb adds tremendous value by expositing their philosophies and promoting tons of clever ways of communicating the ideas in anecdote and phrase: examples include “survivorship bias”, “narrative fallacy”, and “black swan”.  Taleb should be required reading if only to enrich our vocabulary with convenient Platonizations.

You should start with “Fooled by Randomness”, and read “The Black Swan” next.  If you give yourself a couple of months between volumes, you will have time to develop some of your own insights as to where the first volume was weak — if you’re anything like me, you’ll be delighted to see that Taleb is actually improving and maturing his philosophy, and correcting assumptions.  In fact, despite the minor flaws, the first book might be the best.  It is concise, direct, and entertaining.  In the second volume, Taleb adds a bunch of new insights and Platonizations, but it’s also more biographical, and he seems to go to extra lengths to explain things that may have confused slow-thinkers reading his first volume.  I think he was misguided to try to make it more accessible to people (“pearls before swine” is an analogy he gets wrong in his second volume, incidentally), and it results in a more tedious book, but both books are essential.

In fact, a curious thing has happened in the past 2 years since Taleb began to be famous.  I increasingly hear people reference his platonizations while betraying that they don’t actually understand what he wrote.  These are super-intelligent people who are good at using appeals to authority to bolster rhetorical arguments, and well-meaning people who simply want to know what the “system” of making wise choices is.  This was an obvious danger, since Taleb is writing about truths that most people don’t really want to know.  They want to think they know, and they want to act like they know, but deep down they don’t want to think all the way through to the logical conclusion.  That’s why mainstream economists have tended to ignore Mandelbrot, and no amount of erudite exposition on the part of Taleb can combat human nature.

This is why I recommend reading Mandelbrot and Popper first.  If you understand the implications of what they are saying, and really truly want more, you’ll find more of it in Taleb.  To my friends at Department of Defense who were lapping up Mandelbrot in 1992, Taleb is like a drink of fresh water.  But if you don’t come to Taleb thirsty, you’ll at best walk away with an arsenal of “clever turns of phrase” that you can use to “dazzle and awe”, all the while lacking deep understanding.

Taleb acknowledges his debts to other thinkers perhaps better than anyone, and you could read him just for the overview of epistemology.  And while I think Cicero was far stupider than Taleb gives credit, I agreed with almost all of his assessments of past thinkers.  The only minor nit I have is that he leaves out some of the thinkers who I feel are inextricably intertwined with these issues.

Although Mandelbrot exploded the “empirical” establishment, Goethe deserves credit for resisting clearly and first.  Goethe not only pointed out the dangers of blind-faith empiricism, he was the first to codify the self-similar quality of nature which became Mandelbrot’s “fractals”.  And the writer who previously attacked blind-faith empiricism and Platonization with the greatest erudition was none other than Owen Barfield.  While reading Taleb, I couldn’t help but feel that many of the insights and arguments were ripped straight out of Barfield (This isn’t evidence of plagiarism, rather lack of citations is a good indicator that Taleb never read Barfield, since he would have remembered someone with a mind so alike to his own).  Many of Barfield’s influential essays were written when Mandelbrot was a young man, so it’s hard to imagine Mandelbrot not having been influenced by Barfield.  “Saving the Appearances“, and “Where is Fancy Bred” are two interesting examples — though the entire book “The Rediscovery of Meaning and Other Essays” is recommended for insights of the Taleb-type.

This oversight can be forgiven, and Taleb claims to care primarily about “uncertainty”.  But the problems of platonization, narrative fallacy, and cognitive biases are tightly related to the philosophy of poetry.

Handwriting a Dying Art, Let’s Kill Truth Too

Purveyor of beauty Khoi Vinh laments the deteriorating state of his handwriting.

I’ve noticed the same with my handwriting.  He and his readers draw the conclusion that beautiful writing is a casualty of technology.  I recently had a related insight, about technology’s impact on beauty in general.

Tim Sneath recently helped the British Library digitize some of the most beautiful handwritten books in history.  The moment of insight came to me several months ago as I was looking through the copy of William Blake’s notebook hosted therein.  As you read through his notes (and those of the other great thinkers represented there), you’re struck by how much effort it must have taken to distill and refine his thoughts.  Looking through the notebook, you realize that this was Blake contemplating and refining insights which would eventually become jewels of wisdom.  This was his thought process, an extension of his mind.

It’s hard to imagine using such crappy tools as pen and paper to do serious thinking today.  If Da Vinci, Blake, and Milton were able to reach such heights of wisdom without copy/paste, search, C-Pen, Amazon.com, and keyboards — what does that say about people today?  We ought to be able to arrive at truth 100x quicker than they did, but we definitely don’t.