Archive for the ‘Humor’ Category

That’s Not My PC

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

Due to a cease and desist letter from Usborne’s lawyers, I have removed this book from Amazon and from this site.  Lawyers tell me that though the parody can be defended in court, it’d likely cost on the order of $25,000 to successfully defend it.  It’s unfortunate that they’ve chosen to attack me on this, given that I’ve been a fan of their books for years, but I can’t afford to defend this right now.

I’ve left the original post as-is below, but I’ve removed the actual PDF file from this site.

— original post below —

I’ve just published my first children’s book, That’s Not My PC, now available on Amazon.  It’s a parody of a series of great children’s books published by Usborne that started with That’s Not My Puppy.  The series’ format is simple:  in each page, the narrator highlights one characteristic of the object on the page which identifies it as someone else’s.  (“That’s not my PC… its keyboard is too gritty.”)

That's Not My PC -frontcover That's Not My PC -backcover

That’s Not My PC is a parody of this series meant for the Internet generation.  It even contains 14 bonus pages of games and puzzles!

You can view the full book as a PDF here [edited and removed due to lawyers].

Please spread the word! It makes a great gift and is an excellent conversation piece.

Ace Ventura Delivers Again

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

One of the Ace Ventura movies begins with a hilariously-exaggerated scene of the main character delivering a package by essentially drop-kicking it down the hall and manhandling it the entire route.

I received an exercise bike via UPS recently.  Below is pictured the state of its arrival (I am not making this up):

DSC_0607 DSC_0600 DSC_0601 DSC_0602 DSC_0603 DSC_0604 DSC_0605 DSC_0606

As if in knowing acknowledgement, the delivery guy had circled the phone number on the UPS note where you call to complain about damaged deliveries.  He at least seems to have a sense of humor.

Farewell Shanghai

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

Well, we’ve left Shanghai and have returned to Seattle after a year in China.  It was a great year that gave me many insights about key differences with the local software industry as well as with local culture.  I aim to share some of those thoughts in an upcoming post.

Forbidden CityIn the meantime, I leave you with two pictures.  The first is all about  globalization.  You’ll see that I’m pointing at the bottom-right corner of a sign that explains a key historic building within the Forbidden City.  Until about 1911, no civilian had ever seen the inside of the Forbidden City because only the emperor and his staff were allowed.  Now anyone can visit and see the hidden gems of history.  Well, that and the logo I’m pointing to in the sign:  it’s an Amex symbol.  That’s right –Amex has managed to get its logo plastered on every sign in the Forbidden City.  Globalization at its starkest, I suppose.  Next thing you know, Tide With Bleach will be sponsoring the Washington Monument.

IMG_1692 The second photo is just for fun.  It’s an outdoor statue outside of the Jin An Temple in the heart of Shanghai.  Outdoor statues have been gaining popularity both in Shanghai and in the US, as far as I can tell.  Hours of entertainment.

Postcards From The Edge

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

Here are some oddball photos from Shanghai that have been stacking up for a while, in no particular order.


This was taken at Carrefour, a huge French conglomerate that’s popular in several Asian countries.  Two things were novel (to me) about this shopping cart:  a) it was on an escalator-ramp, which allowed for carts to move from floor to floor, and b) the wheels magnetically lock once you push the cart onto the escalator.  This latter feature is just so clever.  No struggling with the cart’s weight!  (When I first encountered this unexpected feature, though, I thought that the cart had gotten stuck somehow.)

IMG_0590The second picture is a billboard that I photographed inside a mall (the JLife Mall next to what used to be Shanghai’s tallest building, the Jin Mao Tower).  Call me a bigot, but I’m not sure that everyone gets the warm fuzzies when a sign claims to help you “enjoy” a “German dental experience.”  Are the Germans famous for dentistry in a way that I’ve not heard of before?

IMG_0385Then we have several food-related photos.  The first shows the cafeteria where many Microsoft employees eat.  The photo was taken at 1:20 pm, a time when in the US you’d still expect many people to be eating.  But as you can clearly see, the cafeteria was abandoned at this time.  No one would sell me any food, even though it was within the official opening hours of the cafeteria, because the workers were all eating and cleaning up.  In Redmond, you’d have employees eating well through the afternoon.  The China employee culture is very precise when it comes to lunch time.  People don’t eat at 11:50.  They stop heading to the cafeteria at 12:20.  The elevators are impossibly jammed at precisely 12 noon.  It’s like an unspoken agreement here.

IMG_0548IMG_0478The Lay’s chips, you’ll notice, are “Ziran Steak Flavor.”  I love market customization – like 7-Elevens selling tea eggs in Taiwan, or KFCs selling passionfruit juice in China.  The potato chips were pretty tasty.  Speaking of KFC, the one above is one of the most uniquely-decorated I’ve seen.  It’s on the famous West Lake in Hangzhou.  The Colonel sure gets around.

IMG_0222What’s a story about China without something being broken?  Left, you see a child seat.  The safety buckles are all broken, and the seat furthermore features several choice pinch points for little fingers.  What makes this seat truly awesome is that it’s essentially the same seat that we’ve been given in many restaurants, both native and foreign – complete with broken buckles each time.  In fact, I’ll go on record for saying that we have never once used a child seat in a Chinese restaurant that had working buckles.  This suggests perhaps some design feedback to the company that makes these seats (or alternatively, some feedback to parents who care about their children’s safety).

IMG_0214The red button you see on the left is meant for emergencies.  It calls the police or the guards in your apartment complex (you’ll remember from a previous post that there are guards everywhere in China).  It’s a sort of “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up” type of button that features prominently in multiple rooms in many apartments.  The red button would be a pretty awesome idea – if it actually did anything.  I pressed an unlabelled one when I first got to Shanghai.  Nothing happened for days.  It reminds me of several friends who I’ve talked to over the years who, when dialing 911, got a busy signal.  Does this bother anyone?

IMG_0578These last two highlight subtle humor in language and culture.  “Wall Street English” is a huge chain that offers English tutoring.  They have video ads that feature hip Asian people confidently proclaiming, “I speak English – Wall Street English.”  This is perhaps only bested by their main competitor, “English First,” which loves featuring billboards of an Asian woman tied at the wrist with thick rope to a white man.  I guess it’s supposed to be a we’re-in-it-together sort of thing, but it strikes me as… odd.

IMG_0551Lastly, the trash cans.  Kudos to the Chinese for having trash cans that typically come separated between regular trash and recyclables.  This is a great move.  But you’ll note the particular recycle bin on the right is labeled “Unredeemable.”  True in literal meaning, comical in connotation.

Sonicare Review Haiku (it’s true!)

Friday, August 15th, 2008

So I finally buckled down a few months ago and bought a Sonicare toothbrush.  Talk about “things I should have done ages ago.”  My teeth now feel squeaky clean.  I have to watch how quickly I smile, lest my head ring with the familiar squeaking of freshly washed Tupperware.  But enough about personal hygiene.

The real question is this:  Sonicare has a regular model, the e7300, priced at $75.  Then there’s the model marketed to “teens” (since we all know their teeth are way different from adults’), the e3000, priced at a meager $25.  What’s the real difference between the two models?  Well, dumb stuff.  Like the e7300 has several LEDs to tell you how much power is left.  Like the e7300 pauses every 30 seconds to say hi and help you count down your two-minute recommended brushing time (~which~ model is for teens again?!).  Like whereas the e3000 takes AA batteries, the e7300 has a sealed-in, completely un-replaceable, only-the-factory-knows-how-so-you-might-as-well-throw-the-whole-brush-away-when-it-goes-bad battery.  Talk about planned obsolescence.  The environmentally conscious among you can simply use rechargeable AA’s on the e3000 and essentially get the same toothbrush for a third the price.

At least that was my theory.  But ever the scientist, I had to find out empirically whether this holds true.  So three months ago I bought both brushes.  My wife and I used one each.  I figured I’d keep an eye on both brushes to see whether, indeed, buying the cheaper one is the slam-dunk, obvious thing to do.

Three months later, the cheaper brush suddenly stopped working.  No rust, no apparent damage, no other contraindications.  It simply stopped coming to life.

Now, the brand- and marketing-conscious among you will simply say, “I told you so.”  “You get what you pay for.”  That whole bit.  But I beg to differ.  Since the e3000 costs a third the price of the e7300, I’d have to have two more go bad before we’re even talking the same game.  I haven’t decided yet whether the e3000 was simply manufactured to die early.  But I plan to find out, once again empirically.  I will, yet again, buy an e3000.  In fact, even if that one dies, I plan to buy a third one.  At that point, if the third one dies before the first e7300, we can debate whether or not my fourth brush should still be the cheaper one.  That would be the apples-to-apples comparison.

In the meantime, I’ve written up my experience in Haiku form on Amazon (it’s pretty obvious which review is mine — look for the familiar Haiku spacing).  For all I know, it might be Amazon’s first Haiku review.  Click to it and vote it up!  Let’s see if we can make the Haiku review some sort of cult phenomenon, like flash mobbing.  You can say you were there when it all started.

ADSL Setup in Shanghai

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

So here I am trying to set up an ADSL connection in the place we moved into.  The owner had been paying for ADSL for quite some time, so presumably it worked.  But neither of the two Ethernet connections in the house seemed to have signal in them, so I ended up calling the ADSL repair folks.  In Shanghai, this means China Telecom.

The repair guy comes over, tests both Ethernet ports, and verified that there indeed weren’t signals coming out of them.  He then goes into the phone panel in the house and begins disconnecting all sorts of wires.  It’s a mess in there, a veritable bird’s nest of thin-gauge technicolor wiring.  But no matter.  He starts cutting and ripping them all out.  Finally, he connects two tiny wires together.

Back upstairs.  Now testing the phone jacks.  Doesn’t work in the office.  No worries, let’s try the guest bedroom.  Ah, the phone line seems to work there.  Let’s now connect an ADSL modem to it.

Great.  Everything now works from the guest bedroom.

Me:  “Great!  Can we now get it working from the office?”
Phone-Love:  “How about you just use the Internet from here?”
Me:  “The guest bedroom?  I was thinking of using the computer from the office… it’s the one with the Ethernet port, right?”
Phone-Love:  “The port’s not working.  The phone line there’s not working either.”  It, by the way, doesn’t seem to cross his mind that his chop-job in the garage might have had anything to do with this.
Me:  “But isn’t the point of the Ethernet port that our network connection should come through it?  Can’t we get that working?  Or at least the phone line in the office?”
Phone-LoveDead serious, with no self-detected I’m-From-China-Telecom irony.  “That’s not my job.  The phone line upstairs is broken.  Not sure what that Ethernet port was for.  Why don’t you just use the guest room to access the Internet?”

If it’s not the China Telecom guy’s job to get a phone line working, I’m not sure whose job it is.  But no matter.  Here I am, coming to you from the guest room.  That’s not all — there’s more.

I bought an ADSL modem from Metro City, a mall in Xujiahui that sells all sorts of computer goods.  (It also has a fabulous food court in the basement for those marathon shopping trips.)  If you’re going to buy an ADSL modem, I’d highly recommend getting one that has an English interface.  The local brand, TP-Link, does not have English menus.  So good luck there — you’ll probably recognize one or two familiar-sounding terms, like DHCP or NAT.  But the rest won’t be usable.

I pat myself on the back for being smart enough to get a D-Link, whose interface is indeed in English (mostly).  Herein begins the fun.  I plug in the ADSL modem, enter my username and password, and nothing happens.  No Internet.  I look around the menus and discover that I might need to modify “VPI” and “VCI” numbers (which apparently vary from carrier to carrier).  Onto the phone to China Telecom speedy helpdesk.

Me:  “Hello, I’m trying to get an ADSL modem configured for use on your network.”
ADSL-Love:  “You don’t need to configure anything.”
Me:  “I’ve put in my username and password, but there’s still no connection.”
ADSL-Love:  “Oh, right, you do need to put those in, but then it’ll work.”
Me:  “It doesn’t.”
ADSL-Love:  “It’ll work.  You don’t need to configure anything.”
MeAt this point, instead of trying to articulate the reality of the absolutely nothingness that was going on in my office guestroom, I take a different tack.  “What are the VCI and VPI settings for China Telecom’s ADSL?”
ADSL-Love:  “You don’t need to know those.  You don’t need to set them.  You know, for those settings, you should call your modem manufacturer.”
Me:  “But aren’t those settings carrier-dependent?  The manufacturer wouldn’t know those, right?”  “Carrier-dependent,” by the way, is a gross exaggeration of what I said in my second-grade-level Mandarin.  The literal sentences were probably something more like, “Aren’t those switches which I here set modem only you know?  Not modem maker?  You have numbers?  VCI, VPI?  Capiche?”
ADSL-Love:  “No, you don’t need to set those.  Your manufacturer can help you.”

As you’ve probably guessed, D-Link has absolutely nothing to say on this subject.  Rightfully so, since those settings are indeed carrier dependent.

To save you new-to-Shanghai folks some ADSL Love of you own, here are the critical settings you need to know:

Protocol:  PPPoE
Channel:  PVC0 (that’s channel zero)
VPI:  8
VCI:  81 (decimal, or 51 hex, depending on your router)

These settings will only work in Shanghai for ADSL.  Other parts of China are sometimes run by different carriers.  The parts that are China Telecom outside Shanghai may have different VPI/VCI settings.  In those cases, you don’t need to configure anything.  It’ll just work.  Or you could call your modem manufacturer.  Heheh.

For a full (though possibly outdated) list, search online for “china telecom vci vpi.”  There are a variety of sites that list ADSL settings worldwide (primarily for Linux drivers, apparently).

"Next Time I’ll Bring a Knife"

Friday, June 20th, 2008

Overheard on the elevator today while going up to work:

Man:  “I think it’s my third time here.”
Woman (colleague):  “We’ve been here four times.  But you missed one of the meetings.”
Man:  “That’s right.  A total of four times, but I missed one.  I can’t believe after all these meetings that we’ve still not reached an agreement with them.”
Woman:  “Tell me about it.”
(This is a rough translation, since in Chinese the literal phrase “tell me about it” doesn’t mean what it does in English.  If you want to imagine more of a Chinese flair to this conversation, just roll your eyes and lament, “AYE-yoh,” or you could use the popular, “AYE-yoh-eh.”  Let your arms flap a bit in exasperation.)
Man:  “Well, if we don’t get an agreement with them today, next time I’ll bring a knife.  ‘Oh, Mr. Chen, I think we should discuss…’ POW!!<Mr. Chen makes a forceful stabbing motion in the elevator>  “That’ll show ’em.”

The good news is that Mr. Chen, Deal Closer Extraordinaire, got off the elevator one floor before the Microsoft offices with his yet-unperturbed colleague.

This conversation got me thinking.  It used to be, say, in the early 1990’s, that these sorts of jokes would be lightly chuckled at and filed away in the Dark Humor section of water cooler lore.  But somewhere in the last decade in the US, these jokes stopped being funny.  We’ve essentially applied the famous airport TSA sign — “All jokes will be taken seriously” — to our lives.

Has this change happened in the US because of all the workplace violence, all the Going Postal, the last few years?  Or is it just I that thinks these jokes would no longer be funny if said in an elevator in the US?

Let me know your opinion.  A barrel of laughs?  Nervous staring and shuffling in the elevator followed by a quick call to building security once you’re out of Mr. Chen’s earshot?  Which would happen in the US?  Has our culture changed?

POW!!  (Just kidding.  Plastic butter knife.)

WWFMD: What Would the Fire Marshall Do?

Sunday, May 18th, 2008

Fire safety standards are quite different from those of the US in several buildings I frequent here in Shanghai.  There don’t seem to be as many accommodations to make sure that people can evacuate quickly and safely in case of fire.

For instance, in my apartment building you need to do two things before you can exit from the main door:

  1. Press a small, recessed green button to the right of the door.  This button, if left un-pressed, keeps the main door locked so that people on the inside can’t exit.  Someone please write in to explain to us the logic of this.  I see this design in most buildings in Shanghai.
  2. Pull the door towards you in order to exit.  Which direction a door operates is something that was resolved decades ago in the US, what with all the tramplings in movie theaters due to fire scares and what not.  Doors in buildings should always open outward.  That way 300 people don’t all get logjammed at the entrance when trying to rush out of a burning building.

The same weirdness happens even at work.  The Microsoft building in Zizhu (a small town in the southern outskirts of Shanghai) not only has these oddities, but has the additional death-blow of requiring a cardkey in order to exit.  To get into the offices, you understandably need a cardkey.  But apparently the building designers thought it’d be Super Extra Double-Secret Secure if you also required a cardkey to get out.

I, and this is no joke, got locked between two sets of doors in this Microsoft office.  It was my first day of work so my cardkey wasn’t yet recognized.  A guard let me into the first set of doors, at which point I realized that I couldn’t get into the second set of doors since they also required a cardkey.  When I tried to go back into the lobby to explain this, I was faced with yet another card reader.  I could neither go into the offices nor go back out into the lobby.

Good thing I didn’t have to use the restroom and that there wasn’t a fire.  I suppose one could argue that if both things happened simultaneously — that is, if I both needed to use the restroom and there happened to be a reasonably small fire that, say, 500 mL of bodily fluid could easily put out, given some patience and steady willpower in the face of adversity — I’d actually be alright locked in the Fire Hole.

As it was, I just waited for another employee to leave for the lobby and tailgated behind him.  He at least had the decency to let me out without demanding to first see my cardkey.  (“I’m sorry, sir, but you’re going to have to wait here.  I can’t let you out if you don’t have a Microsoft cardkey.”)  What exactly makes a building more secure if you need a cardkey to get out?  Someone enlighten me.

Recently Spotted in Shanghai

Friday, May 16th, 2008

Every once in a while, I hope to report on interesting sights spotted in Shanghai.  This edition will be about firearms.

Several days ago, I was in a taxi when a scooter passed by to my right.  On the back of the scooter, strapped casually pointing sideways, was an M-16 assault rifle.  The scooter was being driven by a normally-dressed guy, the same sort of person you see all the time riding scooters in Shanghai.  No military uniform, nothing.  Just a rifle you could film Commando with.  Given that my mental schema when traveling in public doesn’t include looking down the barrels of military weaponry, much less military weaponry riding on the back seat of what essentially was a Roman Holiday Vespa, it took me a while to actually figure out that an assault rifle had just gone by.  My camera made it out moments too late.  Let’s hope that scooter doesn’t get into a traffic accident anywhere.

While we’re on the subject of serious weaponry…  I was just about to step out of a mall today (Metro City Mall at Xujiahui) when I passed a guard standing inside the mall doors holding, I kid you not, a pump-action, short-handle shotgun.  People were walking within less than a foot of the muzzle without even a second thought.  Here’s the thing though:  it seems to me that in order for you to choose a shotgun for this particular mall-door duty, you must either expect never to have to use it or you must not care about civilian casualties.  There were scores of people within 20 feet of this thing.  How could you ever fire it without hurting others?

On a positive note, I suppose the shotgun must really beat the pants off of RFID door alarms when it comes deterring shoplifting.

Once again, I didn’t get a photo of this.  Not because I wasn’t quick enough, but because it seems to me that in general one should probably not photograph prominently-armed guards from close range, with an indoor flash nonetheless.

Sweet Freedom

Monday, May 12th, 2008

World of Su is back in action (at least mostly)!  As you’ll recall, I’ve been unable to get to this site because of the China’s national firewall.  I’m told that the firewall is particularly eager to block blogs because, after all, you could in theory say anything.

Although I have part-time access now, I’m still figuring out a way to get full-time access.  It may end up that we’ll need to pay a third party in order to do that (using a pass-through proxy).

Picture 001 Picture 001 CloseIn the meantime, not to disappoint, I’ve included photos of a sign marking a bathroom stall in Japan’s Narita Airport.  For those of you not familiar with Japan, there’s a national obsession there with bidets and feature-rich toilets (you heard that right).   It’s common to have toilets with fancy electronics on them, controlling everything from the heated seats all the way to ambient background noise (I Am Not Making This Up).  Good times, good times.