I usually get up at the crack of noon.
But this morning, I was woken by a fuzzy white loon
Whose sandpaper tongue dragged across my poor face
Whilst jumping on my chest with exceptional grace.
I ponder (as I grab his leash, preparing to leave):
Am I walking the dog, or is the dog walking me?
I usually get up at the crack of noon.
WASHINGTON - In the wake of Miley Cyrus’s horrific twerking spectacle at the recent MTV Video Music Awards and the resulting media storm that followed, the Obama administration has announced a new public relations program during a press conference this morning.
“We have decided to coordinate national security announcements with Hollywood in the future,” said White House spokesman James Carney. “Seeing how little attention people paid to the Syria crisis because of Miley Cyrus, we believe that we can achieve a consensus much more quickly if we announce major national security decisions at the same time that some random celebrity does something scandalous.”
At the height of its popularity, the #twerk topic on Twitter had around 800,000 mentions a day, while #syria had less than 100,000.
The White House proposal details many possible scenarios in which such a partnership would prove useful, including:
- Coordinating reports of drone strikes with nip slips on national television
- Timing releases of massive budget overruns of national security spending with new episodes of Breaking Bad
- Leaks detailing dragnet government surveillance at the same time as a high-profile celebrity breakup
Critical response thus far has been ecstatic due to news that the partnership may result in the revival of cult TV shows like Firefly and Arrested Development. Administration sources also suggest a new season of 16 and Pregnant may also be in the works.
“Some people might criticise us for bringing out the bread and circuses,” said Mr. Carney. “There may be some truth to that.”
“But when we bombed Libya, there wasn’t much of a stir even without this program. It’s more that the American people don’t really care about stuff that happens outside of their backyards. No administration can change that.”
Becoming a Pintern is no easy task. It is possible to prepare for some jobs, but to work at Pinterest, you must be born to do awesome. That’s right. Awesome.
I’ve interviewed at a few companies in the valley. In fact, I recall the interview process of the startup I interned with last summer, where I submitted my resume, had a phone screen, and came in for an onsite. When I entered the office, I was promptly chained to a chair, given a laptop, slathered in Vaseline, then asked to dive into the virtual 3D world of cyberspace and upload a virus into an alien mainframe that, surprisingly, ran a Unix-like operating system.
Tangentially, thank the gods for Java: write once, crash anywhere.
I was first contacted by Pinterest while I was studiously attending my 8 AM algorithms class as usual (read as: in bed at my apartment with my head under a blanket). I heard a knock on the door, but when I went to answer it, I found only a poster of Ryan Gosling on my porch emblazoned with the words “Hey girl, I’ll pin yours if you pin mine.” and an email address @. I was barely able to write the email address down before the poster spontaneously self-destructed into a ball of flames, leaving only a faint scent of cologne and a complimentary EC2 credit.
(I suspect that they had obtained my contact information from a resume that I submitted to a16z. On the other hand, most of the MIT interns were recruited in person by a muscular, Hindi-speaking, Pinterest-hat-and-t-shirt-clad, fratty, Caucasian, MIT student named Jeff who, on the first day of work, called me a nerd.)
My first phone interview was with a recruiter. I remember our conversation going like:
Recruiter: So, our engineering teams are Infrastructure, Web, iOS, Android, Platforms, Black Ops…
Me: Uhhhh, wait. Black Ops?
Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m allowed to divulge much about the actual process of the interview program, since Pinterest is going to be getting a new class of Pinterns next summer (which you, yes YOU, should be a part of). What I can say is that one of my co-Pinterns won a national spelling bee in the seventh grade, and that may have been a factor in his employment. Of course, for the sake of anonymity, I won’t name any names. ANURAG.
But yes, I worked with Black Ops this summer. Black Ops is the team responsible for porn, spam, security, machine learning, and trolling bad guys in general. In terms of daily work, our work was a mix of building out infrastructure and CV/ML stuff. The work was pretty involved, but it was satisfying that the service I built was running on millions and millions of actions on the site. Black Ops is also the best team because of malic acid, bughouse chess, and Marty. We would have stand-up meetings right before lunch, and we would end them by getting into a circle, putting our hands together, and screaming “ONE TWO THREE BLACKOPS”
Did that answer your question? No? Oh.
If I was asked to organise the requisite traits of an ideal Pintern into easily digestible bullet points, they would be:
-Go: Working at a startup means that you can (and therefore must) move a lot quicker than larger companies: there is no bullshit, it’s very easy to deploy code to production, and there is a lot of work to do. Therefore, because a significantly higher proportion of one’s time is spent engineering than at most big companies, the ideal Pintern must be able to architect, code, and iterate (pinterate?) at a pretty quick clip.
For example, most of the recent Pintern projects were pushed to experiment/production before the end of the summer, like this pretty major feature that Jeff made: . Another one of my fellow Pinterns (ANURAAAAAAAG) was swooning after a makeathon after our CEO (Ben) said that he was “really jazzed” at a feature that Anurag built for our analytics platform. The next week, it was shipped. Bam.
Everyone recognises that a key advantage that Pinterest has is the ability to execute beautiful results quickly, and so must the ideal Pintern.
-Knitting: Pinterest, like most startups, is a team. And Pinterest works, plays, and pins as a team. The ideal Pintern must work well with others, which usually means being nice to people. People at Pinterest are very diverse (old-school to new-grad, dropouts to Ivy-Leaguers) and, in all honesty, kind of weird. However, everyone is very respectful and good at working together with members of both the same or other teams. Some of the most valuable lessons I learned were from talking to the two guys behind me (on the Platforms team) about how to become a better engineer and, sometimes, a better person. People grab coffee pretty regularly and just talk about life or work or whatever’s on their minds. (Also, if you are ever at Showplace Coffee, ask for the chocolate shot. It’s amazingtasticlicious.)
Getting work done but also being an asshole generally does not fly, unless you’re an asshole ironically, which is hilarious.
-Be Authentic: It’s terribly important to be truthful with people both inside and outside the company. When the ideal Pintern feels there is a better way to go about doing something, he/she should voice disagreement respectfully but forcefully. There is no punishment for expressing one’s honest opinion.
The number one priority of the people at Pinterest is still to build a better product: open disagreements, suggestions, and revisions achieve a better outcome than design-by-edict. As a concrete show of transparency, meeting notes are sent to the entire company so that everyone has a general idea of what’s going on.
This principle also applies in being honest and forthright in interactions (pinteractions?) with one’s coworkers. I tend to be most authentic when I am trash talking a fellow Pintern while playing Ping Pong.
-Putting Pinners First: In the end, the number one priority of the team is to serve the people who use Pinterest. Everything else is a means to that end. Whenever Pinterest has to make decisions on what to prioritise or what to build, the number one question is “How will this benefit pinners?” The ideal Pintern must be very knowledgeable about Pinterest as a service. For example, many people can’t answer the question “what is your favourite pin?” It is also generally inadvisable to make a Pinterest account 15 minutes before an interview and then say you are a power user.
What struck me as unique about Pinterest is that I’ve seen previous companies enshrine designers or engineers or managers as king, but the organisational structure of Pinterest is very egalitarian: the designers work on an equal level with the engineers with the managers with the community team, because the overall focus is on building a better product.
-Poopin: Working at Pinterest is absolutely wonderful, but it is not perfect. Every company has an insidious dark side, and Pinterest is no exception: some days, I would go home and cry myself to sleep because of how tough life got mid-way through my internship. I am talking, of course, about the vile phenomenon known as poopin.
Say you need to go to the bathroom or get a snack. Very likely, you will leave your laptop unattended. If you did not lock it, then, congratulations, you will probably come back to your computer to find that someone has sent an embarrasing email from your account to your friends, coworkers, and loved ones such as “hi i am peter the pintern and i like to poopin.” The effect that this “tradition” has is simply debilitating in a way that words cannot describe. You simply cannot trust anyone around you. A single moment of laxity is rewarded with a lifetime of fecal embarrassment.
As a result, the ideal Pintern must be mentally strong and constantly vigilant in order to withstand the poopin perversities that pervade the Pinterest plant.
But in all seriousness, Pinterest was an awesome place to intern at. This last summer has been one of the best summers of my entire life: I got to build cool stuff that shipped to millions of people, hang out with a lot of chill people, and enjoy San Francisco during the summer, among other things.
If you are interested in a Pinternship, I would talk to a Pinterest recruiter or a former Pintern. But for the time being, I will miss everyone at Pinterest dearly. <3
Did that make sense?
A train roars through the tunnel before lurching to a screeching halt. The doors hiss open, and intimidatingly fashionable natives strut out, nonchalant. They’ve seen it all before, and you can tell by the way they talk (fast, and hard: there’s a unique sort of staccato in the way they say “Fuck you”) and the way they walk (~4.8 feet per second, twice the speed of Liberians), that they have places to go and people to see and too little time to do it all.
You can easily tell the natives apart from the less impeccably dressed, slightly overweight throngs of tourists holding cameras, by the way that they stand next to things, posing, smiling, snapping boring pictures of the hopelessly mundane. Dull things examined closely can become interesting in some sick fetishistic sort of sense: I suppose it’s better than picking up a habit of Instagramming your food before you eat it.
I ate street food that afternoon while sitting on the corner like a bum, watching hundreds of lives-in-progress/sacks-of-slowly-rotting-flesh pass me by. By the way, try the halal on 53rd and 6th if you get the chance, it’s the bomb.
In retrospect, that last phrase was not intended to be subtly racist, nor was it a reference to the recent events in Boston or Iraq.
30 minutes in line with hipsters and fashionistas outside the MoMA, and the ambient temperature is about 50 with 5 degrees of wind chill, a “warm” day, though for a Californian, anything under 60 is frigid: then coat check, spiral stairs, impeccable white walls all around (less is more, etc.) and then quiet. I am in the Abstraction exhibit on the 6th floor. There are a few people wandering around and looking at the paintings, lost deep in their own thoughts. Look at the intense concentration in their eyes and you can see they’re jacked in: reality has shrunk to just them and Malevich, Kandinsky, and Mondrian.
“What the fuck is this?”
“No, it’s a black rectangle on a red rectangle on a canvas. A three year old could draw this.”
“They do. And their paintings sell for millions of dollars.”
“Then a lot of people are willing to pay money to be confused.”
“You’re thinking about it the wrong way. The painting reacts to you only if you react to it. You get from it what you bring to it. It will meet you half way but no further. It is alive if you are. It represents something and so do you, because you are a space, too, as much as the canvas is.”
I turn around, only to be greeted by the awkward stares of an entire roomful of people.
I should probably stop talking to myself.
There was once a man named Sidney Bradford.
Sidney Bradford was a machinist by trade, but he perceived the world differently from most of his peers. He saw with his hands: he could do his job as a machinist because he could tell his tools apart by touch. Sidney Bradford had been blind ever since he had been 10 months old.
Then, at the age of 52, he could see.
After receiving a corneal transplant, he suddenly had one of his five senses restored. After a lifetime of seeing with his hands, now objects that he thought so familiar – having touched and felt and handled them every day of his life – were now so new, so completely alien. Feel a wrench every day for your entire life without sight, and I guarantee you’ll not be able to recognise it when you open your eyes. What sort of person can feel the colour blue?
Sidney was horrified. He couldn’t make any sense of these things that he could now see: he could not recognise other people by their faces or identify objects that he had only known before through touch. He could not identify visual idiosyncrasies or interpret the illusion of perspective in two-dimensional art. Now, a barrage of perceptions and sensations had revealed itself to him and he couldn’t make sense of it. Rather than opening up a new world for him to explore, sight had poisoned the one that he thought he knew.
Two years later, he died. Wikipedia says that “no specific cause of death was noted.” Reddit claims that he was so terrified and confused by his new surroundings that he committed suicide, which is definitely the more interesting interpretation. Perhaps he saw reality in all of its objective horror, without the decades of developmental context that makes it palatable to people who had sight all along. And who can blame him? When the white lines in the middle of a road look like white poles standing up, when seeing people eating looks like food disappearing into a gaping maw…
The fact is, it’s damned hard to unsee things. Even though he could close his eyes at any time, I think that Sidney Bradford couldn’t endure the thought that everything that he thought, everything that he knew and touched and perceived, all the fundamental perceptions that defined his personal reality right up until he regained his vision: all of it was wrong.
So it goes.
I highly recommend reading The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, by Murakami. It was the first book I read where I understood all the words, but couldn’t tell you what the hell the book was actually about. When I reached the last page, I just sat and stared at the last paragraph for a good 30 seconds.
“Good god,” I thought. “What an amazing troll.” I remember flipping through a bunch of blank pages, thinking that someone must have cut out the last chapter, or that maybe it was some sort of trick by the author and the epilogue was actually separated from the last chapter by 10 blank pages. But nobody did and it wasn’t. At the end of the book, nothing was resolved, but it took me a long time to realise that it didn’t matter.
It’s not meant to be understood. People realised that if they wanted to depict something real or something natural, they didn’t need to draw a portrait or write a description of it when you could just whip out a camera and a microphone and get something much more accurate than anything a human could make. Some art, literature, and music doesn’t necessarily have deeper meaning that you have to think about a bit harder to understand: I think they try to point out humanity’s natural tendency to try and make sense of the naturally disordered; fitting the best approximate curve to a cloud of data points. Lie down on a grassy field and stare at real clouds: look, that one looks like an elephant, there’s a pillow, and hey Johnny, that one’s prettier than your mom. The clouds aren’t supposed to look like animals or objects. They’re just Rorschach cards and broken mirrors; stare at them and they stare right back at you with their own twisted perspective.
After you finish the main storyline in Skyrim, the game doesn’t stop. Before, you always have a clear goal: “Kill the dragon.” “Save the Princess.” Now, you must find your own way to amuse yourself in an open sandbox world rather than have the game instruct you in what to do. And in a sense, that’s like life after college. The Real World.
When you’re a kid, there’s always things to look forward to, and these things are usually separated into four-year chunks. Graduate from middle school. Graduate from high school. For many kids, graduate from college. But what then? Suddenly, independence, in all its liberation and terrifying responsibility. Barring some hierarchical paths (graduate school, promotion through bureaucracies), the fact of the matter is that most people I know have no clear, universal goal that they can pin to the wall and say, “This is what I am working towards in life and this is how I’m going to get it.”
Existence is inherently meaningless. Contrary to what some people say, we’re all specks in the universe’s shit, and in the super-long run, nothing really matters. But what is really interesting is how people can respond to that lack of meaning by creating their own structured expectations of what they want their own lives to mean.
Carl, the Asian Programmer Hippie, pursues happiness by studying whatever intellectually interests him, which is currently computer science. Sonya (The Intense One) needs a little suffering and a little stress in order to push herself to do good work, hopefully in a field that would allow her to make a significant impact on the world. Rafi (the mild-mannered crypto-anarchist) wants to be President of the United States, and everything inbetween is a stepping stone.
I’ve met a lot of intelligent, competent, and thoughtful people in my life, and it amazes me how they can all look at the Rorschach ink blots of existence and disagree so vehemently on what the fuck card X really means.
My name is Peter Gao, and I am a professional troll.
On a frigid Friday night a few months back, I bump into Vivek while walking on Sproul. He’s got a group of kids with him, but we’re both walking in the same direction. As I engage in the obligatory shaking of hands and exchanging of names with these strangers, I’m reasonably sure that I will never see most of them again. Public school is liberating in its anonymity.
“So what’re you up to tonight?” I ask as we walk past Golden Bear Cafe. Sproul is empty. It’s a Friday night, and nobody wants to be on campus on a Friday night.
Except, apparently, for us.
“We’re going to small group to do some Bible study!”
I burst out laughing.
A note here. I cannot keep my fucking mouth shut. One may even venture to say that I have a medical history of not being able to keep my fucking mouth shut. Not in the sense of “I told Peter who I have a crush on and now everybody knows,” but rather “Mr. Daren told me that I was an arrogant, irresponsible brat, I told him that he was a creepy, disgustingly obese waste of space, and that’s why I’m here in detention.” There’s that moment right before I open my mouth where I know what is the correct response to a person’s question, but instead I think: wow, wouldn’t it be hilarious if I said this instead? And boom, I’m running away from a bunch of pissed off teachers/gangbangers/Scientologists. In fact, the Gao family has a proud history of not giving a fuck and proudly informing the world of it. My very existence can be attributed to my father’s flagrant ignorance of my maternal grandmother’s sincere request for him to “stay the hell away from my daughter.”
Family reunions are a lot of fun.
I may have just unintentionally pissed another random person off. Honestly, though, this was a complete accident. Vivek doesn’t strike me as the Christian type: perhaps it’s because everyone else in the group he’s with is Asian, and he is the only Indian man of the lot. Or maybe because it’s a Friday night, and it takes a rare breed to be daft enough to enjoy the start of the weekend with communal circlejerking about Jesus as opposed to partying or, as is more likely for people of our particular persuasion, coding in the basement of Soda.
Vivek seems to know better than to give a shit, but one guy furrows his brows. I can’t seem to remember his name. Given that he’s an Asian kid, I’m sure I’d have a reasonable chance of correctly guessing it by pairing a generic Anglo-Saxon first name and a generic Asian last name.
“I don’t understand what’s so funny,” David Kim says.
“Oh, nothing, nothing. Being Christian is cool.”
Asian kid seems undeterred. I know now that he is not a Cool Christian who spontaneously bakes cookies and is nice to everyone, like Ben Tien. The way that he’s looking at me, I realise that he is one of those kids who clears his throat in slight annoyance before asking complete strangers to say Grace before they lunch and cringes visibly when he realises he’s talking to a person of LGBT persuasion.
Ray Chou is a Crazy Christian.
“So what are you doing tonight?” he asks.
Tell him the truth, I think. You’re off to Soda to work on a project.
“The usual Friday stuff,” I say. “A wild night of sin and debauchery.”
His smile twitches. I imagine the mental gears inside of his head sparking and screeching.
“Do you believe in Jesus Christ, Peter?”
“Actually, I believe in Satan.”
I can hear a needle drop.
“Like… believing that he exists?” Oliver Liu asks.
“No,” I reply. “Like, I sacrifice goats and stuff.”
The machinery inside of his head explodes. The gears, already wobbling at unsafely high speeds, are now flying apart and scattering to the repressed recesses of his mind. He is being liberated by creative destruction caused by the brittle fracturing of his undoubtedly repressed mind. I secretly hope the mental shrapnel will endow him with a sense of humour.
His smile is gone.
“I see,” Eric Nguyen says.
We’re almost at FSM Cafe, and we’re about to go our separate ways.
Oh no. His mouth is opening again. Probably to say something denigrating with a snobbish tone of moral superiority. Think fast: talk about how Jesus was actually black? Tell him about my aspirations of becoming an abortion doctor so I can kill babies for a living?
Maybe I should be nice, the angel on my right shoulder whispers. It’s evident that he is taking me too seriously. With a bit of work, I could probably bring us back into “say hi to each other when passing in a hallway” territory.
But I feel that feeling again. That sense of giddy adolescent invulnerability from knowing what the right thing to do is but deciding that being horrible is simply too much fun. The devil on my left shoulder cackles in glee. “lololol do it op be alpha as fuck gogogo”
At this point, I’m going to hell anyway, so fuck it, go hard or go home.
“Anyway, Jack Chan, nice to meet you.” I say, just a little bit before he can push air through his vocal cords. “I gotta say, you’re pretty easy on the eyes.”
To love your enemy is infuriating. Thank god I’ll never see him again.
“I want to see you again. Vivek has my Facebook and my phone number’s on my profile page, so if you wanna meet up for coffee or anything, just hit me up, bruh. See y’all later~”
I turn right, walking through Memorial Glade towards Soda. As I hear the hurried pitter-patter of their feet as they run in the opposite direction of me as fast as possible, I can’t help but wonder what a strange person that Danny Zhang guy was.
In the wake of the recent tragedy at Newtown Connecticut, I would like to first say that my thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of this horrific crime, who have suffered such incomprehensible loss that no father, mother, son, or daughter should ever have to face.
But as we emerge from this terrible event, a central question remains unanswered: how do we protect America’s children right now, starting today, in a way that will never allow this to happen again?
The only way to answer that question is to face up to the truth. Gun bans, gun restrictions, and gun-free zones give psychopaths and murderers a free pass to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk. The status quo is unacceptable and must be changed.
Politicians may hem and haw, crowing about their so called “statistics” and “studies” as they figuratively pump bullets into our children with the total irresponsibility of their gun control policies. The truth is obvious: the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a bigger gun.
Therefore, to protect Americans from this sort of senseless violence from ever happening again, I propose that every man, woman, and child citizen of the United States be armed with an M249 fully automatic “light” machine gun and 200 rounds of military grade 5.56 mm armour-piercing assault rifle ammunition, because the only way to fight crime is to shoot back.
American taxpayers pay to provide armed guards to protect what we hold dear. Sports stadiums. Banks. Foreign dictators sympathetic to the United States. When our President is guarded by elite Secret Service agents, why shouldn’t our children, who we value most in the world, be able to protect themselves with weapons that can shoot 13 bullets a second? Rather than prevent criminals from easily (and legally) attaining military-grade body armour, why not give every citizen weapons that can penetrate military grade body-armour?
The benefits of provisioning ordinary Americans with light machine guns are too obvious to ignore. For example, obesity is a serious problem that kills more Americans than guns and smoking combined. However, carrying around a 22 pound “light” machine gun at all times would give Americans much needed exercise and help combat the epidemic that is sweeping the nation, another example of a way that guns can help save lives.
Additionally, there exists in this country a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people: video games. The same way that all kids who play NFL 2K12 eventually grow up to become professional football players, filth like Bulletstorm or Grand Theft Auto are raising a generation of machine-gun-wielding, violent, Russian-accented gangsters. If every American had an M249, then our children would be raised on a healthy, positive way of relieving stress: shooting human-shaped silhouette targets in real life either for recreation or to practice shooting another human being. In self-defense, of course.
Now, I can already imagine the craven calls for blood that the critical liberal media is already cooking up: what about all the people who are hit by stray bullets? I concede that, yes, some people may be hit by stray fully-automatic self-defensive gunfire from untrained elementary schoolers. But it’s OK because freedom.
In these times of strife, it’s important to remember what’s dear to us. Our children, for example. But more importantly, our guns. It is an obligation of American citizens to possess heavy firepower that could harm innocent people, because our military has tanks and we should have tanks too and if they have better hardware than me or my neighbor, that’s tyranny. And let us not forget the unalienable rights of the recreational shooter. Joe the plumber should be able take a deserved break from a long week of work, kick back in a lawn chair with a can of beer, and shoot pieces of metal from a mile away with an anti-tank rifle. He should be able to bond with his son Joe Jr. by firing off a few hundred assault rifle bullets at watermelons in their backyard.
As we all know, guns do not kill people: people kill people. Taking the weapons that people use to kill each other with will not stop mass murders from happening again. When the headlines tell of another 250 people who were brutally strangled to death at the bare hands of another raving madman, know that gun control supporters will have blood on their hands. The killer won’t, because strangling is a generally bloodless method of murder.
There’ll be time for talk and debate later. This is the time, this is the day for decisive action.
We can’t wait for the next unspeakable crime to happen before we act. We can’t lose precious time debating legislation that won’t work. We mustn’t allow politics or personal prejudice to divide us. We must act now.
For the sake of the safety of every child in America, I call on every parent, every teacher, every school administrator and every law enforcement officer in this country to protect our children with the only line of positive defense that’s tested and proven to work: machine guns.
It was three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, and I was staring at a spoon. This was no ordinary spoon. I had just finished mixing my piping hot tea with it when I noticed something that I had never noticed before.
“Well,” I think. “I guess I wasn’t really staring at the spoon.” The spoon was a pretty ordinary spoon, made of iron, as solid and capable of holding liquids as any other spoon. Oh god, but There Is No Spoon. Except, of course, the spoon that I thought I was staring at, but that was less interesting than the stuff that I was actually fixated upon.
There it is. The steam, rising off the still-hot might-be-spoon, caught in the yellow glow of the dusk sun. I’ve stirred boiling tea-water countless times before, but this is the first time I notice the individual wisps of white scattering dusk sunlight as they dance aimlessly about.
“What falls and falls and stays still?”
I watch, transfixed, as the translucent trails of water vapour curl, drift, and fade into nothingness as more rises, as if from nowhere, to replace it. Watching that steam rise, I think of Brownian motion and chaos theory. How scientists tried to figure out why their shower curtains blew inwards and discovered that modern mathematics and physics were insufficient to predict how hot air moved. As the tendrils contort fractally, I see how thousands of years of human knowledge, how generations of bright-eyed wonderers seeking to explain the world around them, can only approximate the machinations of nature. I could try to paint it or take a picture of it, but I could only capture a small fraction of the true complexity and beauty of nature’s shapes, so much information lost by the limitations of human vision and digital pixelation.
Ciao Bella, the party’s over: set fire to tears, what do you know about quarks? Could Laplace’s demon truly see, with its unblinking, all-seeing eye, everything that is and can be? If one knew the states of every single little discrete entity (if that were even guaranteed) in the entire universe, would it, no, could it, know the future with complete certainty? The way the steam disappears just as quickly as it comes, I imagine what it must be like looking at humanity from the perspective of a star or a planet. What are we all but a motley collection of particles, gathered together to twist together for a brief few seconds or years or decades, just to dissipate back into the void from which we came.
The same way the spoon will eventually grow cold and steam no more (its warmth having dissipated into its surroundings), the twisting of our essences will all end eventually as our energy is irrecoverably lost to entropy: heat death. For a minute, I am a nihilist. The fate of our universe is set in stone, and all that changes is the route we choose to get there. No hope. No point. And me, friends, family, civilisation, humanity, Earth? A speck in the universe’s shit. Nothing.
The tea was great!
"WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAAAAAAANNN", he screamed, as he charged towards me either to give me a hug (as he claimed a few seconds prior) or to slowly skin me alive, cleave my limbs off to eat, kill me, and fuck my still-warm corpse, as he had done to the poor guys whose blood-soaked remnants were strewn in a harmonious feng-shui arrangement across the floor.
His buddy had taken a round to the torso, and was now slumped over on the ground suffering from a severe case of “melon sized hole in the thoracic cavity” syndrome. My rifle, a cast-off, beaten, big-ass-bullet-shooting, old-school six-shooting revolver bolt action, was reduced to being a glorified club, considering that it was out of its valuable big-ass-bullets, and the presence of a shirtless, blood-covered maniac barrelling down on me with uncomfortably nice promises was not helping me shove a fresh revolver clip back into the rifle.
Mr. Psycho is nary a foot away, spouting gibberish: the pizza-cutter-and-pick combo he brandished as an axe glinted evilly in the light of the harsh dual suns, and there. Tap the clip. Rack the slide. Front towards screaming fucktard. Bang: his head does a weird sort of jerk, and right before the pink mist explodes from the occipital lobe, he gasps, “BURY ME UPSIDE DOWN” and he falls.
Since my character has probably killed hundreds of these guys by now, he’d probably just move on to the next group of baddies to methodically exterminate. In fact, the only break he’d probably take was for lighting a fresh cigarette, stealing all their shit, and pissing on their corpses. That’s what Borderlands 2 encourages, anyway. No room for pacifists among psychopaths.
But I stop a bit, and I think. “Bury me upside down.” I look it up, and it’s actually part of a larger quote:
"When I die, bury me upside-down, so the world can kiss my ass."
Max walks in. He has a belt on, but not around his waist. One end loops around his stomach, the other end around his right arm, tying it to his stomach.
"What’s with the belt?" I asked.
"It’s actually pretty easy to get entangled in these sorts of things."
"But not so easy to get out."
"So… why are you wearing your belt like that?"
And Max walks out.
Yesterday, I was on a bus coming back from Oakland with a few friends after a night of completely sober, totally undrunken revelry when we started asking each other about the most scared we had ever been in our lives or the closest that we had been to death. When it was my turn, I told them I could only answer the latter question.
I spent most of my time in high school building robots. It was a lot of fun, actually, because I got to play with all of these big, dangerous, and powerful dual purpose machines. I say dual purpose, of course, because one purpose is to make some beautiful, awesome shit, and the other is to maim you for life. One of our machinists gave the tools names, and I can understand why. It’s sort of an abusive relationship (or a kinky one, depending on your point of view) when your girlfriend demands periodic sacrifices of blood to lubricate herself.
One day, Doug is pushing something through our brand new table saw (I think aluminium, though I don’t remember if it was plate or shaft). One of our mentors (a fucktard in 3 parts for reasons that are outside the scope of this post and in 1 part for reasons that will soon become apparent) had just taught us impressionable, slightly unstable teenagers how to use a tool that is basically a big metal disc with intentionally sharp jagged edges spinning around at about 123 miles an hour. He taught us wrong.
And because he taught us wrong, I had the good fortune to see the saw blade violently disassemble itself with the sound of a sharper, deeper clap, (I believe the layman’s term is “explode”), sending bits of aluminium and wicked shards of the blade shrieking out very fast, bouncing off the other equipment in the shop, and embedding in the walls of the shop.
I stood there for a few seconds and then took off my safety glasses. I had been hit by exactly none of the shrapnel.
"Huh." I remember saying.
"Well that was interesting."
Doug was lacerated by one of the shards from about his index finger to his wrist. He screamed in pain, turned off the saw, and ran out of the room while trickling blood across the shop floor. He had to get stitches and bandages, and two days later he was bragging to kids in his classes about how badass you had to be in Robotics.
By most standards, we were pretty lucky. If any of that fragmentation hit us in a meatier portion of our bodies or nicked an artery, we would probably have been pretty seriously fucked up.
The weird thing was that I remember checking my pulse after Doug was in the ambulance and we were cleaning the blood, and it was at about resting level. It had been at about resting level for the last few hours.
And that shock, that sudden rush of retrospective rush of fear, confusion, and shock that people talk about after traumatic events: it never kicked in. I dunno about Doug, but even though he got cut bad, even though we were both pretty close to getting seriously hurt, I didn’t and still don’t feel a goddamn thing.
I’ve gotten really into reading Vice.
Their stories are all over the place: one video is about a staffer who decides to trip acid while covering a dog show, and another is about following a menagerie of eclectic characters (including a General Butt-Naked) around a Liberia that struggles to emerge from crippling poverty and the scars of decades of civil war. They write sardonic literature, do drugs, and have a grand old time seemingly showing how few fucks they give as long as they still have money from their subscribers to keep going.
Watching their videos, I get a sense of ridiculous envy. Somehow, I wish I could travel to malaria-ridden warzones, meeting strange, sometimes batshit-crazy people, revelling in random hedonism and weirdness and the interesting global adventures that never seem to take place in Palo Alto.
Lots of older people give me advice. Some people say, “Do what improves our world.” Others say, “Do what’s responsible so you can feed your family and live a comfortable life.” Everyone says, “Do what you love most.”
I don’t think anyone considers the possibility that the latter choice could be mutually exclusive from the former two. What does one say to the man who chooses the Marines over Microsoft because he loves to kill? To Chris Jeong, who went to Libya for a summer to find something more viscerally satisfying than his internship at a finance firm? If a near death experience doesn’t even spike my heart rate, why would a desk job make me excited to come to work every day?
I think I like Vice because when I read it, I have dreams filled with danger, adventure, and excitement in exotic, foreign lands. And it feels incredibly selfish. My parents busted their asses to come to America so I could get a good education and seize the opportunities that they never had as strangers in a new country. But I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. I can’t be. It feels strange that, instead of becoming a doctor and helping people or instead of becoming a software engineer and making useful things, we would prefer to go travel the world, meet new and interesting people, amuse themselves with the prospect of a sudden and violent death until all of that gets boring or hedonism goes out of fashion or the dice lands on the wrong number and we do end up in shallow, unmarked graves in the middle of nowhere.
Older people tell members of our generation about how we’re going to cure cancer or AIDS. How we’re going to go to Mars. Maybe this is just me, or maybe this is just a random late-night, ill-advised, sleep-deprived phase I’m going through.
It’s not that we want to see the world burn. But is it worse if we simply don’t give a fuck?
When I see him, he’s standing at the side of the room, looking across the lecture hall with his hands in his pockets, letting out a tormented sigh.
It’s a Tuesday, and like most Tuesdays in EE20 lectures, every nerdy Asian EECS student enrolled in the class is leaning forward in their seats, hands poised intently over paper, waiting for Babak to casually drop the date of the next pop quiz or mention a hint of a solution for the (massive) problem set that they are now openly panicking over outside of class.
Unfortunately, as all of the aforementioned nerdy Asian EECS kids arrived ten minutes early to lecture, there is now nowhere to sit. He nibbles at the corner of his lip pensively, a cute little gesture I saw cross his face when he was hunched over a hard combinatorics problem at his table, illuminated by the faint yellow glow of the desklamp that he brought to college. “A bit of home”, he said, as I drew a blanket over me to stave off the cold winter night.
His brows furrow into an expression of either intense concentration or mild annoyance as he scans the room, looking for a familiar face or an open seat in the sea of strangers whose eyes are now glued to the squiggly lines on the board being given form with the squeaks and scratches of a dusty white chalk.
He’s tall, with tousled dark hair that gleams dully in the fluorescent lights of the lecture room like the feathers of a raven. His eyes, jet black and intense, move towards the back of the room, wander a bit, and then fixate on me. We lock eyes: a flicker of a smile crosses his face almost imperceptibly, but unmistakeably teasingly. My heart flutters as I wave to him, before it drops right into my stomach when he strides assuredly up the steps to the row where I sit.
His shirt fits his lithe frame perfectly, his jeans highlighting the rippling of muscle underneath as he ascends the stairs two at a time. He’s fit, strong, but built like a cheetah. His muscles are defined but streamlined, not brutishly overstated like the meat-headed hulks that constantly pump iron at the RSF. At Parkour practice, I would be doubled over in pain and exhaustion after a workout, only to look up and see him moving effortlessly ahead, offering quiet encouragement with his calm, reassuring purr.
My chest pounds as he shimmies across the crowded aisle and settles, catlike, into the seat next to me.
My mouth opens, then closes again. I struggle for a second, remembering what I was thinking about before my train of thought lifted off the tracks and flew corkscrewing into the sky, before I turn, look into his serene face, and say:
“You’ve got pretty eyes, bitch.”
“Uh… thanks, Peter.”
The girl in front of me turns around quizzically.
“No, not you.”
She gives me a look that could best be illustrated with a ಠ_ಠ, before she turns back to the lecture and the monotony of college life sets in once again.
I organise my weekly to-do list with Google Calendar with the handy little “tasks” feature that lets you put check boxes and text on certain days or at certain times, and have it periodically shout at you if you haven’t completed it yet. About two weeks ago, I put a task on a Saturday night named “WRITE BLOG POST” and then continued on with my life.
One minute, I wake up in the dark with no idea where I am or what I’m doing, and for a second, I flail around in a panicked frenzy before I realise that it’s 9 in the morning, I’m in my room, and class doesn’t start for another 2 hours. Another minute, I’m running from class to a midterm. And then I’m running back home so I can complete a problem set due the next day. Open my computer after classes, and 20 pop-ups come up. “DO EE40 HOMEWORK”. “GET PAPERWORK FOR JOB TURNED IN”. “REMIND SELF TO STOP WRITING IN ALLCAPS”. But when I wake up in the dark again on another early morning, I realise I’m in a friend’s room, the project is due in 3 hours, and GODDAMNIT START PANICKING YOU HAVE TO DEBUG
When midterms were over, the pile of tasks in my calendar started to get crossed off, and I was lying in a field at Stanford next to the Enchanted Broccoli Forest with a friend from high school a day ago, my phone makes a happy little “ding!” sound and my reminder from two weeks ago comes back. “Well, I suppose I should regain my ability to write, huh.” I put away my phone (it utters a little “Fuck You!” as I lock it), spend the next ten hours in a blur of hacking and sandwich! and boom, here I am.
School and life can be as packed as you want it to be, and sometimes I feel like a fish in a barrel with a redneck with a shotgun taking aim at me. But, and I don’t mean to sound like a masochist, the work is supremely satisfying when you are interested in what you study. And the best part about college (compared to the totalitarian state that is high school) is that you can pretty much choose to take only the courses that you are interested in. Bring on the pain, because it hurts so GOOD.
In other news, Ron Paul visited campus, and I got within tackling range of him because I pretended like I was supposed to be there. That was fun.