Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity

I went to the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear (hosted by Jon Stewart & Stephen Colbert) this past weekend on the Mall.

After attending the inauguration in sub-thirty-degree weather last year, I promised myself that I wouldn't go to another one of these massively populated events. Sure, it's a great adventure and one of those things you'll remember for the rest of your life, but the physical toll it takes (i.e. freezing for 8 hours in the middle of the night with not even enough room to sit down) is a bit of a turn-off.

Unfortunately, I'm a sucker for hype and the second I had heard that they were hosting this rally, I decided I had to go. I also had friends fly up from Dallas just to attend, so my hands were tied.

The vibe at the rally was not completely unlike the inauguration - I preferred this event much more though, for several reasons:
- Instead of stupidly staying out all night and getting to the Mall at 4am like I did in January, we decided to just get there early in the morning.
- The weather was way better - I will take 50s for 6 hours when the sun is out vs 20s in the early morning hours any day.
- Signs! The biggest story of the rally was probably the creativity and originality of the signs that people brought. Colbert and Stewart encouraged people to make signs reflecting the spirit of the rally, and I saw some really great ones (Here's a few: http://www.buzzfeed.com/mjs538/the-100-best-signs-at-the-rally-to-restore-sanity).
- Swag! They didn't give out anything at the inauguration, but a few blocks away from the rally, they gave out towels, horns, hand fans, and stickers. You can never have enough swag.

The rally itself was nothing short of spectacular, and I admire their ability to have an entire rally that steered clear of politics (they didn't feature politicians, and shockingly, didn't even remind anyone to vote). It was very much a live version of their respective shows, while mocking the modern-day rally (and the media coverage of them). It lived up to Stewart's slogan - "a rally for the rest of us." It was a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon in DC, and Stewart's closing speech emphasized the non-political nature by saying he didn't want anything else from the crowd - his only call-to-action was for people to attend the rally.

My favorite moment of the rally was definitely the song they sang together:
Rally to Restore Sanity and/or FearJon and Stephen - "I'm More American Than You"www.comedycentral.com
Rally to Restore Sainty and/or FearThe Daily ShowThe Colbert Report

A close second was participating in the Mythbusters experiments - including seeing how long it took to do the wave (250,000 people doing the wave has to be a record, right?), and having everyone jump at the same time to see if we should create a mini-earthquake!

The Mall has probably never seen a rally quite like that before, and it was pretty awesome to be a part of it.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Wedding (no, not mine)

I'm pretty sure my only readers are currently on their honeymoon ;), but I'm going to jot down my thoughts on the whole wedding madness of the past week while they're still fresh.

For those who stumbled on this blog, my sister got married this past weekend - the main ceremony taking place on Saturday afternoon, with various ceremonies and parties happening both before and after, all culminating with a grand reception on Saturday night (and a smaller after-party at the hotel where the couple's friends were staying).

Overall, the events (the music party on Friday and the wedding/reception on Saturday) went very well. There were many, many reasons and wild cards that could have made them a disaster, but everything turned out great.

We were very skeptical about our decorator since she didn't speak English very well and was terrible at returning our calls and emails. However, her work spoke for itself - her crew was the first to arrive at both the music party and on Saturday, and the decorations were far more beautiful than we had imagined.

The agenda for the music party had changed several times during the week - with pretty much every family member out of the 17 staying at home having an opinion on how things should go. Luckily, my uncle (my mom's sister's husband who flew in from India) was a very entertaining MC and we had some great dances, songs, poems, and musical performances. I think the only thing that we could have done better was to hire a professional DJ - our 'open dance' was a collection of songs that can be danceable, but only at certain parts of the songs. Being a DJ is a lot harder than it looks.

The wedding ceremony on Saturday was flawless. We asked our family friend from Austin to conduct the ceremony - he became a priest after retiring and has done hundreds of weddings for the Austin Indian community. He's great because he explains each step in English and is also very entertaining and funny. Although I didn't have an actual seat on the mandap, I feel like I was up there for most of the ceremony.

The reception went pretty well also, despite a few hiccups. There were some emotional speeches, an awe-inspiring musical piece by my cousins from Amsterdam who are professional musicians, a fun game devised by my sister's best friend, and some great dances (one by my aunt from London, who's a professional dancer).

I'm a little upset that the DJ messed up on the slideshow - the video was fine, but for some reason, you could barely hear the audio. My sister said she could hear it just fine, but some people later mentioned they couldn't hear it in the back. I was pretty shocked how many compliments I got for the cheesy dance I did with my cousin. We didn't have a chance to practice much with everything else going on, and I honestly don't think I did that great of a job - but I'm glad everyone else enjoyed it so much!

It's definitely been an exhausting week, but I'm happy that all the events went smoothly. Everyone seemed to have a great time, and I'm not aware of any major drama.

I have 2 major takeaways: 1) it's way better to elope than to go through this wedding madness, 2) I will not miss hearing my name being called every 5 minutes for a week.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Perfect Weekend

I went to the Bay Area last weekend for a surprise 50th birthday party for my uncle (my mom's cousin), and it was the by far the best weekend this year.

My aunt rented a house close to the beach on Half Moon Bay (about 30 minutes from SFO airport), and got food catered for the surprise party on Saturday.

My parents, sister and I got in on Friday night, and the different arrivals of family members throughout the weekend kept the surprises coming for my uncle. A lot of the people were already there, but my cousin from New York came in on Saturday afternoon, and my sister's fiance came in on Sunday morning just for the day!

I'm not sure if it was because we were on the beach, or because we were in a rented house, but everyone was in a really good and relaxed mood for the entire weekend.

Oddly enough, we didn't even do that much. On Saturday, after the party, we went down to the beach to watch the sunset, and my grandaunt (my uncle's mother) gave gifts out to all the women in the family. On Sunday morning, we went to pick up my sister's fiance and later went to a 4th of July parade (complete with a "Down with Big Banks, Credit Unions rock!" float - only in Cali).

The trip reminded me a lot of the cruise my family went on a couple of years ago. Although we didn't do a whole lot, everyone was in a great mood and that made the trip really memorable (even though there's not a whole lot to remember ;)). I think it also helps a lot when it's neutral territory so it's a vacation for everyone.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

More BP madness

The lighter side:

An arguably better written version of my last post:


Wednesday, June 09, 2010

BP Rant

As an engineer, I've been alternately baffled and angry that it took so many attempts to plug the leaking well.

I understand that the BP engineers were under a lot of pressure to get a solution in place quickly and efficiently, but it's shocking that they wouldn't know what the conditions were under water. They knew what the conditions were when they drilled the well in the first place - why was that knowledge all of a sudden gone when it came time to plug the hole?

If they only failed once, and within a few days of the initial leak, this would be somewhat understandable. However, it has taken 40+ days and more than 4 attempts to date before they pseudo-contained the leak.

If this was any other company (the one I work for included), they would have lost customers and heads would roll. This is not the case at BP simply because they are the largest oil company and it really seems like they geniunely do not care.

While there are obviously many lessons to be learned from this oil leak - and indeed the short-term history has been drastically altered by this event - I find the engineering aspects to be the most fascinating. Based on the fact that it took so many half-assed attempts to clog the leak - before settling on a method that actually increased the oil output for a couple of days - it appears that there is much more emphasis on building oil wells than there is on preparing for disaster recovery.

Luckily, there are very few oil leaks. But it is still astonishing to me that there isn't more effort directed at what to do if one does occur - pretty much every other high-availability, high-risk organization has some sort of contingency plan and it is a shame that BP did not have one.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Gov 2.0 Expo

I took most of this week off from work (what's up, 7-day weekend?) to attend the inaugural Gov 2.0 Expo in DC.

I realize that I'm clearly not the target audience for this type of conference (my manager bluntly told me that I'm a weird kid for taking days off work to attend an expo), but it was definitely an informative and inspiring experience. The best part is that there was zero pressure since I was literally just there to listen and observe - I'm assuming this is akin to auditing a class in college.

To sum it up, the Gov 2.0 movement - headed by Tim O'Reilly (who also galvanized Web 2.0, xml, web services, and laid the foundation for much of the social networking we have today) - is aiming to create a more open, transparent government by leveraging the lessons/tools of Web 2.0.

Obviously, this is a monumental task given that the government - at all levels - is notoriously slow to change and adapt, and due to non-trivial obstacles that stand in the way (e.g. data integrity, security/privacy, fundamental shift in power from top-down to bottom-up, etc.).

However, the past 2 days have shown that the movement is well under way with buy-in (and measurable, substantial results) from many of the major players - speakers included White House personnel, an Australian senator, former British government officials, and many generals from the Department of Defense.

While some of the 50-minute sessions seemed to drag, and became repetitive by the second day, the 10-minute keynote speeches were nothing short of inspiring and a complete validation of everything the conference was aiming to achieve.

The challenges facing Gov 2.0 are vastly different than those that faced Web 2.0. For a social network to be successful, it was necessary to already have a network in place. People were only likely to join Facebook or Twitter if their friends were already on Facebook/Twitter.

Although the aims of Gov 2.0 are varied, it seems the big push right now is for openness - or making the data that each agency holds (e.g. The Smithsonian only displays 1% of its total collection at any given time) available to the public in some form. The first way that comes to mind is via web services or crowd-sourcing. While discussing the Smithsonian, it was brought up that there are thousands of amateur photographers who would love to photograph the collections in the vaults and upload them to the website or via an app.

However noble the intentions of the general public may be with regards to making use of the vast amount of data that is currently locked up in these agencies, there is a justifiable concern that the quality of this data will raise eyebrows. This data has never been seen by the public - and probably not by the majority of the people within the agency. Making this data available in a form and with a level of quality that would be acceptable to the public is a non-trivial undertaking.

It is also worth noting that making this data available to the public on a grand scale creates a great vulnerability to an agency that is used to making all decisions internally and with limited public input. With all the lip service that is paid to wanting public feedback and valuing public opinion, it is a major policy and procedural shift to consider the public's viewpoint in every decision.

All in all, it was an exciting conference and it was great to see some fascinating and impactful applications of technology. Web 2.o was a necessary predecessor to Gov 2.0 in order to energize a population of users and developers - and to allow the the technology itself to catch up to what is needed in order to process these massive data sets in a timely manner. It will be very interesting to see what direction Gov 2.0 heads, and to see what our government looks like in a few years.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Can't stop laughing!

I don't know what it is about this comic, but I think it's hilarious. Oh, Pig.

This is probably going up in my cube. If people didn't think I was weird before, this will definitely change their mind. It reminds me of my favorite Richard Gere quote that adorned my cube back in Dallas - If I was a giraffe, and someone said I was a snake, I'd think, no, actually I'm a giraffe.