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.

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.

More Jingoist H1B Politics

USA Today, Fox News, and others are running blindly with the US government propaganda campaign, “Chinese Spying on the Rise!”  The message you are supposed to get is that “all Chinese high-tech workers in USA are spies”.  This is part of the ongoing battle of the politicians to kick out anyone with education and talent, and instead turn USA into a low-cost labor pool.

The so-called journalists should be ashamed.  These stories selectively pick out some anecdotes (from 1987, no less) and present a skewed and one-sided story.  Read the USA Today article, and replace every instance of “Chinese person spying” with “Black person mugging a white person”.  It is quite possible for a reporter to find statistics of several “black people mugging white people” and present them in sequential order to paint a picture of “black on white crime on the rise!”  But it would be unethical, immoral, and dishonest.  Such a reporter could claim that he was “just presenting the facts”, but he should be fired anyway.

To be balanced, the article should mention that the U.S. does this to China all the time.  It should also mention that other countries do this to the U.S. all the time.  And it should mention that the “bad apples” are a diminuitively small portion of the overall Chinese immigrant population (the article smears “Chinese high tech workers”, a clear reference to H1-B, when the actual culprits were all citizens).  What percentage of Chinese immigrants are criminals versus other immigrant groups?  The article gives us no insight into this, instead expecting us to believe that all Chinese high tech workers are spies.

No American journalist could write about other minority groups this way and keep his job.  Why China, and why now?

I think the answer lies in more than just H1-B politics.  George Bush has been trying to pick a fight with China since his first day in office.  The Democrats are no better — the “food/toothpaste quality” scare and the “global warming credits” are both ways to put economic pressure on China.  This is all a concerted anti-China propaganda effort, and it’s shameful that reporters are falling for it.  We had 200 years of virtually uninterrupted freedom of the press.  Let’s not give it up so easily.

Kijiji in USA

Rafat Ali reports that Kijiji has quietly launched in the USA, ostensibly a competitor to Craigslist. Kijiji is owned by eBay, which also owns a big chunk of Craigslist. Just last month, I was talking with an eBay employee who spent the previous year in Shanghai working on Kijiji, and she didn’t give any hints that this would happen. Wang Jianshuo has been with Kijiji from the start, and was one of the first bloggers at MSFT. He just had a baby boy (congratulations!), which may explain why he didn’t blog about the Kijiji expansion.

I don’t know what to make of it. I don’t think this is to compete with Craigslist as Rafat says, but maybe will be used as leverage in partnerships. I agree with Rafat that it doesn’t make sense to have a bunch of competing brands, and would speculate that eBay will eventually settle on one (and that will be Kijiji). But I could be wrong – I have no idea what lessons they learned from the disappointment of PayPal in China; and maybe they have decided that owning a lot of geographically-specific brands is better.

 

Streamed Template Processing for Data Binding in Silverlight

This is a sample of doing streamed template processing to perform Data Binding in Silverlight.  I had to edit out the description, since MS Word + WordPress was generating invalid XML (how hard can it be?) which was causing feed validation errors.

The full template processor, with the MiniCache and PullMePushYou helpers, is less than 300 lines of code.  You can download the working project (VS Orcas) here.

Eating Chinese Making you Ill?

Every few months, a Chinese employee will send an alarming e-mail to the thousands of Chinese employees at Microsoft, saying “I got sick at restaurant ‘X’, and they had 4 critical red health violations at their last inspection, so STAY AWAY!”  These people usually mean well, but tend to shout “fire” without looking line-by-line at the health inspection reports for all of the other restaurants they visit.

Here is some news for my readers: nearly every good asian restaurant in the Seattle area that I review and recommend gets multiple critical red violations in health inspections!  You can look up health violations here, and even subscribe to get notified of health-related shutdowns here.

Before reacting too quickly to the score on a health inspection, you should look at the report and make your own judgment.  A “temperature violation” at a Sichuan restauarant that scores 85 (100 is the worst) is different from “toxic materials” at a German restaurant that scores a 40.  The whole point of Sichuan food is that it’s spicy and kills the bacteria.  It’s really absurd to think of a single restaurant in Sichuan that keeps its food at 39 degrees all the time.  As another example, take a “temperature violation” at a Korean place that serves Kimchee and spicy Tofu.  Kimchee is just spoiled vegatables, and requires lots of bacteria to make.  It is not even possible to make Kimchee at the “safe” temperatures of the health inspectors.

And if you get sick at a restaurant and they scored a 75 two months ago, the score is probably not related to your getting sick.  A 75 two months ago could be a good explanation why you got sick two months ago, but odds are that the restauarant is one of the cleanest in town for the next couple of months after that score.  If you’re going to worry about a high score, worry about the restaurant that’s going to get the high score next week, not the one that got it two months ago.

Finally, if you hear someone smearing your favorite authentic asian place in Seattle, take it with a big grain of salt, do your own research, and check again in a couple of months.  Many of these people in the restaurant business here have rivalries and histories that resemble a soap opera.  Every month someone is leaving one to go to the other for some really dramatic reason, and rumors swirl about love affairs, shady dealings, financial ruin, and anything else that might get people to stop going to one restaurant or the other.  As long as the restaurant hasn’t been shut down, you shouldn’t care who the proprieter’s bitter ex-wife is scheming with, nor whether they got a couple of “temperature violations”.

Scoble’s Ex-Girlfriend is Mad?

This morning, my wife woke me up to tell me that some woman was talking out of my computer, about “you f-ing the girl next door” uncensored. When I went down to check it out, I found that my computer was playing the full version of Lily Allen’s “Smile”. While it was a relief to find that it wasn’t actually a bitter woman talking directly to me, I naturally wanted to be able to explain to my wife how someone had managed to wake us with a song about a bitter ex-girlfriend.

After eliminating Messenger as a possibility (whew!), I started eliminating open tabs on IE. It turns out the music was coming from FaceReviews.com. Some more investigation showed that it was actually coming from Robert Scoble’s Kyte.tv channel, which was embedded in FaceReviews.com. Navigating to his channel on Kyte.tv shows what happened:

Now, who would do such a thing? Whoever it was is not very ladylike, since it’s not nice to send the “f” word to random unsuspecting people’s computers, nor is it ladylike to use “jack” as a verb.