May 16, 2014
Mastering Margaritas

Mastering Margaritas

Whatcha reading?”

“The Master and Margarita. It’s pretty cool.”

Wait, aren’t you under 21?”

“What? No, I turn 21 next January.”

How are you going to make margaritas if you’re not 21?”

“No, why would I want to make margaritas?”

Then why are you reading ‘Mastering Margaritas?’”

“Dude no, I’m reading THE MASTER and Margarita.”

____________________________________

Some people say that beggars can’t be choosers. Those motherfuckers have never been to Berkeley.

It’s Wednesday morning, 3 AM. I’m walking with Rodney, just hanging out. Just hanging out at 3 AM. We eventually end up walking through People’s Park. This is a very bad idea. People’s Park is sketchy during the day when there’s a bunch of hippies and drifters shooting up on the grass, but at night, when the crazy feral hobos roam the park talking (and sometimes shouting incoherently) to themselves, it’s absolutely terrifying. It’s a good thing we’re both wearing sneakers, because there’s probably a ton of discarded syringes on the grass.

Rodney and I are pretty big guys. We’re both around 6 foot 2. He’s a pale white guy with spectacles who’s moderately buff. I’m a smiley Asian kid who’s pretty much just skin and bone. So I’m moderately confident we’ll be fine until some guy in the dark about 20 metres away starts screaming “GIVE US MONEY” and we start hurrying the fuck along before we get shanked by a dope fiend.

And out of nowhere, a hobo lady suddenly appears in front of us. I recognise her. She has fuzzy, short brown hair, is a bit fat, and has stark blue eyes that look far-off, as if lost in memories of innumerable sorrows and hardships. She looks wise. She also sits on the ground by Asian Ghetto and yells obscenities at people: I was getting lunch one day when I walked past her and she told me that I “looked like I was sucking a dick.”

But now she’s here, hands in her pockets, walking towards us. “Excuse me sirs, could you spare a quarter?” Her eyes, pale halogen searchlights in the morning darkness, move from Rodney and settle on me. “Not you,” she tells me. She tilts her chin at Rodney. “The nice American boy.”

We walk past her, around the corner, and down a block before we burst out laughing.

“Holy shit, dude, that was like, damn…”

“Yeah, I know, right? ‘Fine! Don’t take money from the people who own your country.’”

And that was that.

____________________________________

Captain’s log, stardate 31415.9. Morale is low. The end of the semester is three weeks away, and my “Fucks To Give” reservoir is near empty. I am running on Fucks fumes.

In the process of acquiring coffee, I have managed only to spill it all over myself. My arm stings from the burning hot caffeinated liquid, but my pride stings immeasurably more. My last clean shirt, pristine white only a few minutes prior, is now stained dark brown from the right sleeve down to the left waist. I am wearing a white shirt because I like wearing white clothing, and I like wearing white clothing because nobody can tell if I’ve stained it with toothpaste. While the same principle applies to coffee and dark clothing, I am reluctant to walk around all day smelling like espresso or, god forbid, rancid mocha milk.

Not that it matters. I was out of clean black shirts anyway. In fact, I have no clean clothes left at all. My shirt was one of the white Dropbox T-shirts with the blue logo that’s ridiculously soft. Though its super-soft qualities are uninhibited, I cannot suffer the shame of showing up to class with such a huge stain on it. There is only one positive outcome from this deplorable state of affairs: if I feel myself falling asleep during lecture, I can always put the stained part of the shirt in my mouth and suck on the coffee to wake me up. This fact is of little relief to me.

As I trudge back up the hill to Cory, I pass an advertisement displayed prominently on the side of a bus stop. “AVOIDING EYE CONTACT IS ONE SIGN OF AUTISM.” Thank you for telling me, Bus Stop Sign. It seems that 75% of my friends, my immediate family, my girlfriend, and I might be autistic.

Shit.

Plan of action is as follows. Go home. Do laundry. Watch Adventure Time. Look up whether the phrase “Fuck Bitches, Acquire Currency” refers to disregarding said females or copulating with them. Then, I shall eat some ice cream, and my sorrows with it.

End Log.

____________________________________

I started going to hackathons my freshman year of college, mainly because of a new club at my school called Hackers@Berkeley. Hackathons back then were fun, low-stress affairs: though they tended to last for a full 24 hours, people would go there and work on side projects or build something cool, whether it was hardware or software. Everything was really laid back. People would talk with each other, eat some free snacks, and code to the dull thuds and electronic growls of Daft Punk playing in the background. For about a day, we would move fast and make things. And at the end of a hackathon, each group would demo their projects in front of everyone and the coolest groups would get modest prizes, usually stuff like mechanical keyboards or tablets. I met a lot of the early H@B members at a Facebook hackathon, where we rode around on little plastic toy bikes in the middle of an auto garage that had been converted to a workspace. One of the Berkeley kids got a prize for making a webcam that displayed ASCII instead of images, which he build for (and I quote) “shits and giggles.”

Some time later, I went to a hackathon in Palo Alto at a startup incubator expecting the same sort of chill herp-derping with code that I was used to. Instead, it was a grueling 3-day-straight slog, a first-world white-collar sweatshop. Because the prizes weren’t just keyboards and iPads anymore: the prize was cash and a meeting with a group of high-power venture capitalists. So people went crazy. They brought their startup products and demoed them as hacks, while others were frantically building pitches of startup ideas so they could get funded and live the dream life of a legit Silicon Valley Entrepreneur. At the end, we built a little bracelet that hooked up to your smartphone and vibrated turn-by-turn directions so you wouldn’t have to look at your smartphone while driving. It was a crude little Arduino contraption that was held together by duct-tape, solid-core wire, and crushed dreams, but it worked. And the judges asked us questions like “Why does it look so ugly?” “Will it make money?” “Can you mass produce this?” We left as finalists, which was nice. But the winner of the hack (was there even such a thing as a “winner” of an actual hackathon?) didn’t actually make anything. Their presentation was a slide deck with wireframes and a pitch for their startup.

Hackathons have transformed into flashy, ultracompetitive startup pitch competitions. Organisers try to get more and more money from big corporate sponsors to pay for extravagant food, entertainment, and prizes. When a hackathon has a first prize of a million dollars in cash, the people you are sitting next to become competitors, not colleagues. Many hackathons now invite ridiculous amounts of people to attend despite not being able to reasonably accommodate them; college hackathons compete with each other month after month for the title of “biggest hackathon in the world” in a race to nowhere. WiFi fails under the weight of so many people. Attendees come and work ridiculous amounts of hours because of a financial reward rather than any sort of legitimate interest in making things. Then so many hacks are made that there’s not enough time to go through them all and judge them on their merits, and when hacks do get judged, they’re evaluated on how much money they can potentially make rather than their novelty or coolness.

I’m not saying that the first hackathons I went to were perfect. Subsisting solely on Red Bull and junk food is probably not healthy, and people would probably be a lot more productive if they slept more. But hackathon organizers today fundamentally misunderstand what makes a hackathon great. It’s not about the glitz and glamour, or about having the most attendees, or even staying up all night. Hackathons are about having a bunch of creative people coming together to work on something cool, and I think people who run hackathons have forgotten that.

February 10, 2014
From The Standing Desk of The Tech Elite

FRESH OFF THE (metaphorical) PRESSES: In response to baseless libel being spouted in the mainstream media, a lone, brave, extraordinarily wealthy soul speaks out on inequality, entitlement, and violent rejections.

_____

 My servant’s servant Siri has informed me of an article recently published in a local university newspaper that has been making its away around the techosphere (noun: “Latin: sphere of tech”). As I listened to her (it?) read aloud the contents of what weaker minds may deem “journalism”, I had half a mind to throw my breakfast of Kopi luwak and 4-dollar toast to the floor in a fit of blind rage. If not for the velvet seatbelt that restrained me to my Herman Miller Aeron chair, I might have ruined the Persian carpet covering the floor of the GoogleBus in which I was riding. I have decided to take a break from saving the world in order to publish this Medium post refuting the utter nonsense that this article has introduced to non-virtual reality.

Take, for example, the assertion that tech workers contribute to wealth inequality. While I am astounded that a member of the 99% was able to harness the mental faculties necessary to arrange such long words into something resembling a logical order, this “argument” is laughably untrue. Tech people are notoriously charitable and class-conscious. I would give a dollar to the hobo on the corner if I could, but I only carry card. Yet our malefactor of an “author” - in the incoherent ramblings that she would deign to call prose – would call this instance of almost-charitably a “violent rejection” of a vagrant who is evidently too backwards and homeless to own a smartphone or to operate a simple card reader.

When Facebook, Twitter, or [insert startup here] employees move into an area (fresh and invigorated from an IPO), wealth inequality in that neighborhood actually decreases. Tech workers displace people who cannot afford their apartments, and replacing those un-moneyed miscreants with high-earning tech workers lifts the average wealth of people in an area. If you were displaced by a tech worker moving into your former apartment, then it’s clear that you were too poor to deserve to live there in the first place. Soon, wealth inequality will all but disappear from some neighborhoods because they will be inhabited entirely by tech workers. People should not be decrying us noble techies. In fact, they should be thanking us for clearing their neighborhoods of the unwashed rabble.

This misconception becomes even more shocking when one considers the biased way that technical students are portrayed in this article: as blissfully ignorant, disheveled nerds being bred to become part of the Tech Elite (or as John proposed during our last meeting, the “Coderati”). Firstly, we are not disheveled. I wear designer jeans, for Google’s sake. And we in the tech industry do not harbour thinly-veiled contempt for those who do not work in our field. On the contrary, we have the utmost respect for non-technical people. It’s just that the things we work on actually matter. The characterization that CS majors are “doing it for the money” comes from those who are too stupid to study CS in the first place (though I admit the money is quite nice). Lastly, the idea that the Tech Elite can be bred is amusingly naïve. People are born as part of the Tech Elite. It is simply coincidence that most of us are born as white, upper-middle class males from elite colleges.

While I am astounded at the rhetorical diarrhea that spews forth from such a reputable publication as the Daily Cal, I have no enmity for the “author” of this utter balderdash. This article represents an utter mockery of quality journalism, but I am sure that the young lady who wrote this piece is quite talented at her job, and I will continue to be sure of this as I order my coffee from her in the future.

Light on the cream, please. And could I get some soymilk with that?

Sent from my iPhone

Steve Huckerberg III

_____

In response to: http://www.dailycal.org/2014/02/07/breeding-tech-elite/

January 14, 2014
The Date

A café, with a table for two. She and I are the only people here. Wisps of steam rise from the cups in front of us. Only the sound of the clock punctuates the silence with its steady ticks and tocks. She’s looking down at her tea and stirring it as my heart beats at a hundred and ten miles an hour and the little men in my head run around screaming and I realize that I can’t feel my leg. It’s fight or flight now, bitches, because it’s date number two and I can’t think of anything to say.

___

“Girls can smell fear, you know,” said Kevin.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I mean you can’t show any sign of weakness. Be nice. Be confident. Smile. Or else she’ll kill you and eat you alive, and in public too. You know what vagina dentata is?”

“Nope.” I said. “Kevin, are you sure about this?”

“You’ll be fine. Also, don’t be yourself, because I know what sort of person you are and you’ll scare her off.” He sits back in his couch. “I don’t even get why you wanna date people. Girls are gross. They have cooties.”

“I’m right here, you know,” says Wendy, Kevin’s girlfriend, who is sitting right next to him.

___

All of those years of playing video games have failed me. What a fool I was to think that Bioware RPGs would teach me how to talk to people. No user interface pops up with neatly defined topics of conversation whenever I engage in small talk. “What would Renegade Shepard do?” I think. Well, he’d probably flip the table and punch the universe in the face or something, because Renegade Shepard is psycho and that’s just how he rolls. That’s not going to be much help here.

She’s still looking at her tea, but now she’s cupping her hands around it. I know I can talk to girls. I’ve got plenty of friendgirls. Some of them don’t even run or yell obscenities at me when I say hi to them. I’m really good with moms. I’m like the best mom-pleaser in the world.

But somehow, with me being here, and with her being there, all that charming wit just disappears. I don’t know what to do.

Shit. Shit. Shit. She’s looking at me. Think of something to talk about. Anything.

I should tell her how much I love skulls. I really like the contours of her skull, particularly the way that her eyes fit so neatly into her sockets. On second thought, that’s a bit creepy. I should probably save that for the third date. The weather? No, fuck you Peter, you’re not 80 yet. Actually, this might be important for the future: is she anti-choice or pro-death?

“Abortion is not an acceptable topic of conversatiooooonnnnn”, echoes Kevin’s voice in my head.

OK. Maybe not anything. Try to act normal, or something close to it. Normal’s not normal if you’re not normal.

“So I have this eight-ball, yeah? Sometimes when I can’t make up my mind, I consult it. I shake it, and it gives me an answer, so it’s kind of like my god and stuff, and, uh…”

A look of amusement pulls at the corner of her mouth. It’s all no use; thinking is too hard. Fuck it. We’ll do it the O’Reilly way. We’ll do it live.

“…and, I um… uh… I like you. A lot.”

She smiles, and suddenly I know that everything’s going to be alright.

December 1, 2013
I usually get up at the crack of noon.But this morning, I was woken by a fuzzy white loonWhose sandpaper tongue dragged across my poor faceWhilst 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.
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?

August 30, 2013
White House Plans to Release National Security Decisions at Same Time as Wardrobe Malfunctions, Breaking Bad

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.”

August 30, 2013
What Does It Take to Become an Intern at Pinterest for Software Engineering

http://www.quora.com/Pinterest/What-does-it-take-to-become-an-intern-at-Pinterest-for-Software-Engineering/answer/Peter-Gao-2

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 @Pinterest.  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: http://blog.pinterest.com/post/5…. 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?

April 18, 2013
Curve Fitting

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?”

“It’s art.”

“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.”

“Hmph.”

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.

February 17, 2013
The Troll Within

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.

Awkwaaaaaaard.

“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.

December 30, 2012
A Modest Proposal

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.

November 27, 2012
Wisps

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?”

“A waterfall.”

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!

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