A Trio of Japanese Sandwiches

Posted February 26, 2006 at 8:48 pm | 2 Comments

Well, I suppose I can try

try to eat this sandwich

This sandwich is fresh, home made, and delicious. We want you to try to eat this sandwich.

I never paused to appreciate the flexibility of sandwiches until I saw the label on this one.

the great thing about sandwiches...

The great thing about sandwiches is you can enjoy a variety of tastes with no fuss. Ham, lettuce, eggs, tomatoes, choose whatever you like depending on how you feel.

I found other sandwiches that beat this one in taste and freshness, but confidence? Never. This was one confident sandwich.

confident sandwich

You won’t find sandwiches anywhere else that can beat ours
in confidence, taste, and freshness.

Free Your Mind to the Deli

Posted February 22, 2006 at 8:06 pm | 3 Comments

There’s a Japanese proverb about Mt. Fuji that is often quoted in tourist guidebooks: “if you never climb Mt. Fuji, you’re a fool; if you climb it more than once, you’re crazy.”

I’m not sure if it’s worse to be foolish or crazy, but I guess I fall into the second category, since I hiked up Mt. Fuji twice last summer. The first trek up the mountain was a considerable struggle, but the second time around it didn’t seem so tough. My calves and lungs had adapted somewhat, and more importantly, I was confident that I was capable of the challenge, having accomplished it before.

The lesson I took away from this alpine adventuring was that humans are extraordinarily adaptable. At home in the States, I had always been a fairly stringent grammarian, but after living in Tokyo long enough, I developed a certain immunity to language mistakes. After a few months, I was no longer bothered (or even particularly amused) when I noticed the writing on the side of my saucepan that said “it supports people loving all cooking.”

I think it’s all a matter of conditioning. When you’re surrounded by signs and labels in a foreign language, and are effectively illiterate, you are so relieved to see something that you can understand that you willingly forgive mistakes. You also begin to realize the incredible difficulty of translating between English and Japanese; with my own understanding of Japanese being so abysmal, I was in no position to judge Japanese attempts at English, so I soon lost interest in poking fun at poor spelling or grammar.

What still fascinated me, however, were snippets of “Engrish” that gave glimpses into the Japanese psyche. The phrases that I found interesting may have had grammar that was completely correct, but they used combinations of English words or notions that would never be constructed back home, revealing differences in cultural attitudes, and taking on an almost poetic quality.

“The words make sense,” I often found myself thinking, “but the concept doesn’t.”

Splendid Double Harmony is here!!

I suppose understanding the Japanese spirit is also a matter of conditioning. After a few months I would pick up a bagel sandwich and glance at the wrapper, which said “BAGEL IS THE ESSENCE OF LIFE… AND LIFE IS THE REASON FOR BAGEL,” and it wouldn’t even faze me.

“Of course,” I would think to myself, “naturally, bagel is the essence of life.”

This was a dramatic shift in attitude compared to my first trip to a Japanese convenience store. On the way from the Narita airport to my orientation program in Hayama, our bus parked at a truck stop where we disembarked to buy snacks and drinks. I wandered the aisles fascinated, transported to a mysterious wonderland of enticing alien products in shiny plastic and aluminum packaging. A few months later, when I would step into a Lawson to pay my utility bill, I wouldn’t even give the rows of Collon or Calpis a second glance.



Evidently, I am among the privileged ranks who are allowed to buy this “Exclusive Elite” coffee from a vending machine.

Fortunately, before I reached a point at which I failed to notice these things completely, I managed to capture a number of little gems. Over the next few days, I will post some of my favorites. I’ll begin with a “deli” theme:

This is a nice hot deli from Pizza Hut. It makes you smile and be happy! Enjoy the deli while it’s hot. Try with Pizza! You will surely say “Great!” and want to buy it again.

Poet Your Mind
to the World
Free Your Mind
to the DELI!
Why don’t you
take a Rest?
at the CORNER before
Your Real!!

One Percent of One Percent

Posted February 17, 2006 at 12:56 am | 6 Comments
EE Times Cover

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the EE Times Story on me and MC Plus+ made the front cover of this week’s issue. I guess it’s not too difficult to get the cover spot when you’re competing against stories like “Optical Transistor Restructured for Double Duty” and “Gallium Arsenide Dielectrics: Set to Surpass Silicon?” Still, it was a thrill to be on the front of a magazine for the first time.

Unlike German television, the EE Times does have certain decency standards. At one point during my interview, while discussing RLPK Records, I had the following exchange with the reporter:

Monzy: Encouraging kids to study engineering is a noble goal, but unfortunately those songs are fucking terrible. Can I say “fuck” in the EE Times?
Reporter: Hmm… [Pause] That question hasn’t really come up before.

Evidently, the answer turned out to be “no”; you’ll notice a lot of bracketed edits in the interview, almost all of which correspond to profanity. Too bad — maybe the EE Times could broaden its readership if its stories had headlines like “Gallium Arsenide: Kicking the Shit Out of Silicon” or “Titania Nanotubes: Fuck Yeah!”

Anyway, here’s a scanned PDF of the article.

Geeks: The New Pimp?

Posted February 15, 2006 at 3:37 am | 10 Comments
Interview I finally acquired a copy of my appearance on German TV, and I was amused to find all of my song’s explicit lyrics fully intact. At one point during the TV shoot I recall asking my interviewer if it was OK to say English swear words on German television.

“Of course it’s OK,” she said. “You can say German swear words on German television.”

“Oh, right,” I said. “Sometimes I forget how ridiculous our FCC is.”

“Yeah,” she agreed, “in Germany I think the only rule about network TV is that you’re not allowed to show an erection before 8 PM.”

Rapping in Conference Room

I smiled and resisted the temptation to ask her what time of day my clip would be airing, recalling the tenacity with which the cameraman had pursued that all-important crotch closeup (which, you may notice, made it into the production edit).

So my lyrics were left uncensored; since I don’t speak German, the only parts of the clip I could understand were me saying things like “asshole” and “bitch.” Fortunately, one of the members of my “nerd posse” was kind enough to provide an English translation:

Taff Hosts

“Geek Rap”

Pro 7 “taff” 12/28/2005

(Loosely) Translated by Karl Gumerlock

Female Host (FH): In every school, there are the cool people, the smokers, the jocks, and the by far least-loved group of them all: the nerds. They really only exist so that you can copy off of their homework, right?

Male Host (MH): That’s true actually, was it really like that at your school?

FH: Mmm, sometimes.

MH: Sometimes, indeed. But this isn’t the case in America, where the nerds, who are also called “geeks,” try to show that they, too, have got it goin’ on. Therefore, a small, elite group has come together to try their hand at rapping about everyday life.

FH: Yep, you heard that right, something that you normally only hear from the gold-toothed mouths of real big tough guys.

[Cut to video footage]

Female Narrator (FN): Rappers are conventionally muscle-bound, bejeweled hunks; gangsters with huge cars and half-naked women. These guys, however, are mama’s boys. They have no cars, no muscles, and, of course, no women — the “geeks”, or “Streber” in German. Now they rank themselves in their own way among the “cool” people — they rap, and purposely in such a way that no one else can understand them.

[Rapping segment in English, German subtitles]

Monzy: We rap to a very limited audience. It’s pretty much like an inside joke — few really understand it. And to pick up on all of the references, you’d probably need at least a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science.

FN: Monzy is a star of the new scene. The Computer Science student at the elite Stanford University raps about computer circuitry, robots, and academic literature — all things that are important to him.

Monzy: Geek lifestyle is naturally a bit different from that of a gangster. Instead of huge cars and girls, we have Red Bull and computers, with which we spend late nights coding. But we, too, have a hard life: we’ve got assignment deadlines, professors that breathe down our necks, exams we’ve got to worry about…

FN: Ah yes, the hard knock life of a student. What would 50 Cent have to say about this? The 28-year-old rap star grew up in downtown New York. He lost his mother when he was a child, and was shot nine times. The story of his difficult life was adopted straight to the big screen.

Monzy: Well, I’ve never been shot before, so I can’t really rap about life on the street like 50 Cent does. I grew up in sheltered Minnesota, but my life has its own share of struggles and challenges, and that’s what I try to express through my art.

FN: One of these challenges takes the form of a rival from the East Coast. As is usual with big stars, Monzy takes shots at his competitor, MC Plus+.

[Rapping segment in English, German subtitles]

FN: And because Monzy is so unbelievably cool, he, of course, is popular with all the girls at his school. Honestly.

Monzy: You know, for me, as one of the biggest stars of this scene, it’s not too difficult. But some of the other guys, they have a hard time.

FN: Monzy goes even further. Although he used to be president of the math club, he now talks big about becoming a rap star.

Monzy: Yeah, I think geeks are in. Geeks are the new pimp.

FN: Excuse me?

[Film rewinds]

Monzy: Yeah, I think geeks are in. Geeks are the new pimp. [Narrator actually says: “Yeah, I think geeks are the up and coming, we’re the new stars.”]

FN: Good thing then, that none of the established rappers have heard about this yet. Otherwise people like 50 Cent might feel like their turf is being threatened. And that, they would absolutely not warm up to.

Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson: People who get in my face, I’d kill them, if my bodyguards didn’t keep me from doing so. [Noticeable disconnect here between English and German dialogue]

FN: So, Monzy would rather continue rapping with his geek friends, rather than risk being attacked by the hip-hop establishment — so that he may, tomorrow, continue to play video games.

JK and JN
Interview
Cruisin' on Bikes
Recording

Staying in Shape the Data-Driven Way

Posted February 13, 2006 at 1:54 am | 6 Comments
Garmin Forerunner 201

One of the coolest Christmas gifts I got this year was the Garmin Forerunner 201, a GPS wristwatch designed especially for athletes. It keeps track of your running or bicycling routes by logging timestamped GPS coordinates, and you can hook it up to your computer to download the data logs.

The software that ships with the Forerunner is pretty good for viewing aggregate statistics and tracking your performance over time, but it doesn’t allow you to visualize your routes in a particularly compelling way. However, the software does offer the intriguing capability to export your workout history to an XML file, so I decided to see what I could do with the data. Forerunner Logbook Software
Monzy's Running Log

After taking a little time to familiarize myself with the Google Maps API (and borrowing code from a number of clever web developers), I put together this Running Log. It lets me play back my runs on an overhead map, along with per-mile splits and an altitude graph.

Unfortunately the altitude data isn’t particularly accurate; I noticed several runs in which the initial and final altitudes were quite different even though the run started and stopped at the same point. But the resolution of the latitude and longitude data is great — most of the maps can even correctly show which side of the street I’m running on.

Let me know if you find any bugs or have ideas on how to improve the visualization. There are a number of features I’d like to add, but I’m hesitant to invest too much development time in it while I’m supposed to be writing my thesis proposal.

And be sure to revisit my log later this week, when Chris and I will be attempting a heart-shaped run for Valentine’s Day.

Holiday Hacking

Posted February 9, 2006 at 7:16 pm | 1 Comment
Circuit Debugging Every winter, the CS department has a contest in which each floor the Gates building competes to produce the most festive holiday decorations. This typically involves some form of yuletide geekery, such as Christmas-themed video games, robots in Santa hats, or pine trees decorated as Turing machines.
This year, inspired by that mad genius in Ohio, I built a computer-controlled light display that could be synchronized to music. A PC running Winamp drove 10 relays, each of which was connected to a string of Christmas lights. The circuit was fairly simple; a microcontroller accepted serial commands from the PC and switched a series of FETs, which in turn switched 120V reed relays. It’s probably inadvisable to run 120V AC through a breadboard, but I covered it with a cardboard box so that I could assure everyone that it was perfectly safe. Circuit SketchLight Control Circuit

Lights Display

To set the light show to music, I wrote a Winamp plug-in that allowed you to record a sequence of light transitions by pressing keys on the keyboard as the music was playing. While listening to a song, I would “play” the computer keyboard to produce a corresponding light pattern, and the performance was recorded and automatically played back the next time the same song was loaded.

Check out the video of the construction process and the final results.

So Much Drama

Posted January 29, 2006 at 6:24 pm | 14 Comments

When I recorded “Drama in the PhD,” I never expected it to generate quite so much Internet buzz. I think it started when Brad Fitzpatrick, the creator of LiveJournal, described it quite flatteringly in his blog as the “best fucking thing I’ve ever heard.” Various dorks posted line-by-line analyses of my lyrics on their websites, griping about the technical specifics of my jokes: “He really shouldn’t say he controls his flow better than TCP,” one nerd wrote, “since TCP doesn’t have very good flow control to begin with.” My dis track even inspired a cover by a student at the University of Delaware, though I can’t say that he did a particularly great job. All of the attention soon led to an article on Wired.com, discussing my not-so-bitter rivalry with MC Plus+.

Nerd Posse
My nerd posse looking tough, except
for Suchi who kept smiling by mistake.

Shortly after the article was published, a TV producer from LA decided to do a piece on nerd rap for German television (specifically, a lifestyle show on Pro Sieben called “Taff”). She asked to come to Stanford to film me and my “geek posse” in our natural habitat, explaining that she intended to present geek rap as a new American trend while juxtaposing it with gangsta rap in an entertaining way.

I quickly agreed to participate, but realized shortly after I got off the phone with her that I didn’t actually have a “geek posse” per se. But after a few emails I managed to recruit some friends who were excited enough about getting on an obscure German TV spot that they were willing to join my entourage. We dressed up in ridiculous “geek rapper” outfits and traveled around campus doing stupid things, like soldering circuit boards while drinking forties, beating up an old CRT, and cruising down Palm Drive on our bikes while scribbling on our PDAs and Tablet PCs. As far as I know the clip has yet to air on German TV, but Jawed recorded a pretty cool “making of” video that you can check out.

For me, the funniest part of the shoot was that the cameraman and interviewer clearly had no idea what any of my lyrics were about.

“OK,” the cameraman would say, “we’re going to shoot that again, and this time I’m doing a close-up, so when you say ‘suck on these nuts bitch’ I want you to make sure you do that gesture again where you point at your crotch.”

“Actually it’s ‘mark-and-sweep on these nuts,'” I corrected him.

“Mark-and-sweep?”

“Yeah, it’s a garbage collection algorithm, for reclaiming unreferenced objects to prevent memory leaks.”

“OK, never mind that, just remember to point at your crotch when you say ‘suck on these nuts bitch.'”

The same thing happened when I was being interviewed. The producer asked me how my music combined the elements of computer science and gangsta rap, and I said “well, for example, in the music world when someone is ‘unsigned’ it means they haven’t signed a contract with a record label. But in computer science an unsigned integer is one that’s always interpreted as positive; the most significant bit is used to double the positive range instead of specifying the sign.”

“That’s a little complicated,” she said, “do you have a simpler example?”

“OK,” I said, “uh, in computer science, ‘linear probing’ is a technique for resolving collisions in hash tables, but clearly in this context it’s referring to sex.”

“I don’t get it,” she said.

“Well, a hash table is this data structure with efficient…”

“No, I mean I don’t get how linear probing refers to sex.”

“Uh…”

But despite the occasional miscommunication, the TV shoot was a lot of fun, and I look forward to seeing how the clip turns out.


Photo by Gary Parker


Photo by Gary Parker

The latest event in this string of unexpected publicity was a request for an interview in the “Q&A” section of EE Times. MC Plus+ and I were both interviewed about our rivalry and about CS gangsta rap in general; I believe the story is slated to appear in this week’s issue. The magazine sent a photographer to Stanford and Purdue to take pictures of me and of MC Plus+, and I think they turned out really well.

Anyway, in the midst of all of this hype I decided it was inexcusable that I hadn’t recorded a rap song since last April, so today I laid down a new track entitled “The Pimping Lemma.” It’s a tribute to the brave women of computer science. Like last time, I’ll post the lyrics for you to puzzle through; it’s up to you to look up any rap terms or CS terms with which you may be unfamiliar.

Nerdcore

Posted April 21, 2005 at 6:23 pm | 5 Comments

Lately I’ve been getting into nerdcore/geeksta rap, a unique form of hip hop that is produced by and for nerds. Nerdcore artists range widely in quality, from the incredibly awful to the funny and clever to the truly sublime.

Being a PhD student in Computer Science, my favorite variety of nerdcore is Computer Science Gangsta Rap. I’ve found two artists that fit this category, MC:NP and MC Plus+.

MC:NP is OK, but MC Plus+ is the true champion of this subgenre. He’s a Computer Science PhD student at Purdue, and his lyrics have the wonderful property that you can’t understand all of the jokes unless, like me, you’re a big fan of both Computer Science and Gangsta Rap, since his rhymes frequently reference concepts and terminology from both.

I decided it was time to start up an east coast / west coast Computer Science Gangsta Rap rivalry, so I recorded this dis track that rips on MC Plus+. Spread it around, and maybe it will inspire him to respond in kind.

I was hesitant to insult MC Plus+, because really us Persian Computer Science Gangsta Rappers should probably stick together, but hey, this kind of pointless rivalry is what ends up selling records. If it worked for 50 and Game, maybe it can work for us. There’s also the fact that Purdue isn’t exactly on the east coast… but I think it’s close enough.

Here are my lyrics, for anyone who wants to try puzzling through my confusing jokes that attempt to relate drinking cognac to grammar-based parser generators.

Edible Computing

Posted April 14, 2005 at 6:22 pm | No Comments

Last week I was at CHI 2005 in Portland, Oregon.  CHI is the largest annual conference specializing in Human-Computer Interaction, typically drawing a few thousand attendees.

I gave a talk at the conference where I presented some research I’ve been doing on a new paradigm for Human-Computer Interaction that I call the “Edible User Interface,” or EUI.  Check out the three-minute video of my presentation.

If you’re hungry for more, there’s also my 4-page paper, which will be published in the Extended Abstracts of the conference.

Spoiler Alert

Posted March 30, 2005 at 6:20 pm | No Comments

I remember finding it very funny when Dennis got an email from Netflix suggesting that, based on his past selections, he would probably enjoy MVP 2: Most Vertical Primate. Note that not only is this a movie about a monkey who wins a skateboarding competition; it is actually a sequel to a movie about a hockey-playing monkey.

What’s kind of embarrassing is that when Dennis told me about his recommendation, the first thing I did was add the movie to my own Netflix queue. You see, like Dennis, I have a morbid fascination with really bad movies. A horrible movie is like a car accident; you know you should look away, but sometimes you can’t help but watch. And so my Netflix queue fills up with movies like Bubble Boy and Freddy Got Fingered.

Meanwhile, Jen, who shares my Netflix account, will add her own movies, which must confuse the Netflix recommendation algorithm to no end. I sometimes imagine a bewildered Netflix recommendation robot thinking, “what kind of person would rent Blade II and then follow it up with Sabrina? Perhaps I should suggest Me, Myself, and Irene, since it touches on multiple personality disorder.”

Still, occasionally I see a trailer for a film that looks so horribly bad that even I can’t stomach it. The problem is that even the worst trailers are designed to leave you intrigued, so later that day I find myself wondering about burning questions like “who wins, Freddy or Jason?” and “does Britney ever take off her top?”

Incidentally, I sat through both Freddy Vs. Jason and Crossroads (in the theater, no less), and the answers to those questions are (CAUTION: SPOILERS AHEAD!) “Jason” and (more predictably) “No.”

Anyway, for those movies that you can’t bring yourself to watch, but you still wonder about, The Movie Spoiler is a great resource. You can read a detailed plot description of the movie in question, and it will tell you exactly how the movie ends. Anyone can submit a spoiler to the website, so the plot descriptions are not always particularly well written, but they succeed in satisfying your curiosity for free in about five minutes, which is much better than wasting nine dollars and ninety minutes.

A while ago I went to the San Francisco International Film Festival with Ethan, who suggested that we watch a collection of short films called Motion Studies. I submitted a spoiler for Motion Studies to The Movie Spoiler website, but for some reason they didn’t post it, so I decided I would just post it here. CAUTION: SPOILERS AHEAD!

Continue reading Spoiler Alert…

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