Sunday, August 31, 2008

I can hear the Stone Temple Pilots from my balcony

belting out "Lady Picture Show." What.

Showing up somewhere with only the bags on your back is a challenge! I've been on a real spending spree this weekend, some good, some not so good. Like my bike: good! I got a Marin Larkspur, and I will not link you to info because I'm typing this on my iPhone. It is so smooth! I like it! (My bike, not my iPhone.) Mattress: okay. Mattress shopping sucks. They're all a bunch of snake oil salesmen, and whenever you balk at an upgrade ("oh, you have to get a Swedish Pillow-topped Mattress Protector") they give you the hard sell. ("well, if you enJOY dust mites crawling in your eyeballs...")

This was all written two nights ago, but not finished, because I have no internets yet and I was typing on my iPhone. The iPhone has been not a real life-saver but at least a partial life-maker-easier. Still, now I'm at work (compiling!) and it's nice to have a real screen and keyboard.

Bumbershoot yesterday rocked. I only saw two shows: Strange Fruit and Dan Deacon. Both were fantastic! I meant to see Battles/Del the Funky Homosapien/Human Giant, but they were all at the same time, and I went out to dinner with Jay and CMU friends instead, so I missed them all. Also, I meant to see Death Cab for Cutie, but by the time I got back, all the gates were "exit-only". What! Does this big purple stamp on my wrist mean nothing?! So I stood in the parking lot with my bike to listen in, wistfully tearing up as dreamy dreamy Ben Gibbard crooned "Transatlanticism". (no, seriously. It was pretty sad. Shut up!)

Also, I bought some sweet posters. I am so excited about them. Not as excited as I am about my bike, though.

Topic shift! I was thinking about blind taste tests. Say, for example, Coke vs. Pepsi. Say I think I like Coke better, but in a blind taste test, I pick Pepsi. Well! What do I know? I know that, with no context, in a blind taste test, I like Pepsi better. But real life is not a blind taste test! If I then go to the fridge, should I reach instead for a can of Pepsi? No. The whole experience, of tasting the Coke, looking at the Coke can, thinking "I am drinking a Coke," is better than the corresponding Pepsi experience. Clearly, here I should drink a Coke.

So why do blind taste tests at all? I don't know. In one sense, it's nice to dissociate your mind from the advertising monster that runs our world. Maybe you only like the Coke better because Coke has better ads, and you'd like to instead reward Pepsi for making a superior product. I guess in the Coke vs. Pepsi case, there's no difference. Okay, what if you're comparing El Cheapo orange juice with Super Organic orange juice? Say you thought you liked El Cheapo better, but after a taste test you found Super Organic tasted better... then you'd change your buying habits to reward the healthier/environmentally-friendlier company. Well, that's good. Still, you'd get more enjoyment out of drinking El Cheapo, and you knew this beforehand. You're sacrificing your enjoyment to save your health and the environment, no taste test required.

Okay, test case #3: to develop your palate. Say we're talking Crummy Wine vs. Le Super Wine. Are you trying to find out which you like better? Great, go for it. Maybe you like Crummy Wine better. Is there a reason you should drink more wine to eventually prefer Le Super Wine? (assuming they're equally healthy)... I don't know. Oenophiles would say that, if you have an awesome palate, you really totally enjoy awesome wines an awesome amount. I guess that's true too. Hmm. I feel like I'm tackling many different issues here. I'll leave this idea kinda half-baked. Let's just say that I'm now thinking that blind taste tests are a lot less great than I once thought they were.

Friday, August 29, 2008

My week at the Googleplex

It's over! I'm tired! That's why I'm sitting in my apartment this Friday night. And I have a flight tomorrow morning.

Okay. Post-mortem: Google is pretty cool. We had some talks in which we heard a lot of cool things. Stuff about how huge their datacenters are, stuff about how search works, stuff about how ads works, the exact PageRank algorithm, how to use their source control and build things, etc. That was neat.

Met some cool people. That was neater. Some are nerdy, but some are pretty cool. I'll never see most of these guys again, but some I will, because they're in Seattle too. Awesome.

Also bounced ideas around. That was neatest. The corporate world is not yet dashing my youthful optimism. It is instead reinforcing it! Course, I'm not even working on my main project yet, so we'll see how that goes next week.

I got to hang out with Will and Jing, Scott and Katie, and Andrew W. That was fun! I co-hosted Andrew's radio show, which was hella fun. He's quite a very good DJ. Will and I played Lost Cities (super-simple and still fun! go Rio Grande!) and the Catan card game (not as simple, but fun, maybe because I was winning the whole time), but not Agricola. Oh well.

And have I mentioned how great the food was? Highlights from the Googleplex include:
- No Name Cafe, featuring vegetarian and non-vegetarian food prepared sometimes in an ethnic style
- Pintxo 47, a "small plates" place with healthy, tasty, and appealing-looking small bits of food
- Cafe 150, where all food comes from within 150 miles of Google
- Slice Cafe, serving up smoothies and juices, like a kale, celery, and some other juices blend
- the minikitchens everywhere, each stocked with the sort of drinks that make you want to try them (Tejava and Honest teas, Henry Weinhard's root beer, Naked juices, etc.), espresso machines (made my first shot today!), granola and cereal, and other more real food if you're in a hurry
- the TGIF fun thing, featuring an assortment of pretty good beers, on the level of Stella Artois and Sierra Nevada

Anyway, I'm excited to get back to Seattle, buy a bed and a bike, and start living!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Usain Bolt, not Michael Phelps, saved the Olympics?

Okay, I'll agree with this. Partially. He was the high-profile athlete who had the most fun. And in a world of hypercompetitiveness, a (supposedly) low-tech happy guy from a country that is not a, you know, cold war powerhouse wins the biggest baddest races in record time.

It's the whole torpedo thing: if you want to be The Best at anything, you will fail. Some other jerk will go all-out, sacrifice his life, maybe take performance-enhancing drugs, and defeat you, because you chose to, I don't know, read a book sometimes, or grow a garden, or maybe have friends. So along with living a balanced life, you have to get into the mindset that not being The Best at anything is okay. The Olympics directly contradict that mindset: if you're not #1, #2, or #3 (or in China, only #1), you're a failure. I mean, Bolt would still be awesome if he got 16th in the 100m dash, just because he seems like a cool dude who's enjoying what he's doing. But nobody would have heard of him if he were 16th.

I don't want to bash Phelps, though: good for him, bringing a sport like swimming into the spotlight. Oh, and eight gold medals is cool, I guess. But yeah! Usain Bolt. What a champ!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Google, Day Two

Today, I played volleyball with my new team. And I learned deep dark Google secrets! No, I cannot tell you ANYTHING. Nope. Sorry. Then they gave us magic wands and taught us how to cast Wingardium Leviosa.

They trust us a lot! And everyone responds by being trustworthy! What a cool company culture! Plus I got a lot of free programming books.

My flatmate for the week is from Azerbaijan! How cool.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Google, Day One

It's been a day! A not so interesting day! Orientation, what do you expect. A lot of talks, some paperwork, and some great food. You know all that stuff you hear about the food at Google? All true. Tasty, healthy, tons of (vegetarian and meaty) choices, free, everywhere.

That said, I'm stoked about getting to start working (/learning) tomorrow! And about living in Seattle! Mountain View is kinda nice, but I sure did make the right decision. Mountain View is a big suburb. Everything is four miles away from everything else. And 1098209470 miles from San Francisco. Urgh!

But boy, the food is good.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

I started a new binder in my Great Ticket Collection today

Yow! This is it! The single biggest change in my life ever! Rivaling college, I guess. Whoo! Splendid.

I'm in Mountain View, CA, right now, for orientation for a week at the Google HQ. I'm going to Seattle on Saturday. Today I gained three hours, due to time zones, that I never have to pay back! How often does that happen?! I'm keeping them in a box for later.

Yesterday I dropped off a carful of clothes, toys, and STUFF to Goodwill. How liberating! And what a luxury! To say, I have this stuff, but I will get rid of it, only because it's in my way. I hope it will help someone, but really, to get rid of this was not a selfless act but rather kinda selfish. No worries! No more neuroses!

I have three bags I'm taking on the plane, plus three bags I took on the plane last time, plus two big boxes being shipped to me. I can move with fewer possessions than you can! But that's not really fair either; I left some stuff at home for archiving.

I went to my high school to see some friends and teachers. For those of you dear readers who went to my high school, I ran into The Fr. Ober, Mr. Skerl, Mr. Corrigan, Mr. Barker, and a couple others, although most had left for the day by the time we got there. Dave and Erik are living in Chicago! I've got to go visit.

Did I mention that my family threw me a going-away party? I got to see family, family friends, and friends. My friends from CMU came up. How lucky am I to have not only lots of family and adults around who would like to see me, but also friends from Pittsburgh who would drive up just to hang out with me and my family! At one point everyone started saying "speech! speech!" so I said the most succinct and absolutely true thing that came to mind, which was: "Thank you all for everything, I have no complaints whatsoever."

My mind is a million miles an hour. I'll keep on with the bullet points.

iPhone! It's great! A couple things I wish:
- notes synched
- camera had like some options, and maybe one more megapixel
- it did my laundry for me

And I'm watching all my photos zip past, as they import into iPhoto, in a hyper slideshow of my last four years. It's a wonderful life! (later edit: I'm not so fond of iPhoto. Why don't photo programs just mirror the file structure? Why do they have to keep trying to be fancy by creating "events" or some nonsense?)

I've got the Mirrormask soundtrack on my ipod. I mean, iphone. It seems vaguely appropriate in a stranger-in-a-strange-land sort of way. Okay, Mountain View is not a very strange land. In a lot of ways, this is the easiest life-changing transition possible.

Aaaaaand one more: a new charity option. Instead of giving money to a kid and feeding into a machine of aggressive street canvassers, what if I started lending micro-loans through Kiva? Have you heard of this? Anyone know anyone who's done it?

Signing off, exhausted but excited.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I don't own my name on Google anymore?

It's true! "Mr. Daniel Tasse", the new President and CEO of Ikaria, Inc., now gets the top spot when you search for Dan Tasse. Furthermore, the humble Snail Shell itself is not even listed! You can still find it if you try, but it's not in the top N. Huh. Did I lose out in popularity that quickly? Is Mr. Daniel Tasse instantly a lot cooler? ...or do weird things happen to your internet presence when you start to work at Google?

(nothing sinister; I can understand if they block employees' personal websites because of inadvertent release of trade secrets OR a conflict of interest from an employee trying to boost their own standings)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Super I-am-living-in-Seattle

Found an apartment! It was quite easy! It took one day. Jared and I looked at 9 places. It turns out that he cared more about space (in the apt.) than location, and I cared more about location than space. We might find ourselves at odds about this! Or even at loggerheads. However, luckily, we instead found ourselves in Capitol Hill, in a place that was quite big and in a great location. The drawback? It's a bit pricier. To quote Gramp, "Money doesn't solve everything. But it does make life a lot easier."

Anyway, this does mean I have a sweet sweet flat. It's so sweet. I'm so that rich young guy. My place just screams "I am so cool" in that way that I hate sleek places to scream at me. It screams "the life that you see in movies is actually possible, and you have it." It's the iPhone of apartments: no particular character, and it's expensive, but it is pretty, and it's got everything you need.

But you never spend less money, and you never take up less space. Trying not to get spoiled, trying not to get spoiled, etc. I think I can do it. And after all, why worry about getting spoiled? Why not wait until you are spoiled, and it's a problem, before you worry? Says Zen Dan. (Western Dan is super excited about everything.)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Fantasy X, Finally!

I'm done with this game! Whoo! I beat Sin, Seymour, and Jecht! (spoiler alert: those are the final bosses. another spoiler alert: yes, those are their names, even though "Jecht" is the only one that sounds even a little bit like a video game boss name.) I got a bunch of sweet treasures! Three of my characters can double-cast Ultima! Two more can hit for 9999 damage every turn! My stats are, like, really high!

Okay, I'm actually pretty happy about this. As I was almost done, I was really hoping for the game to end soon, but now that it has, I remember why I like video games. Sadly, I like them the same way I like cereal: addictively.

However, I like to review everything all the time, so here are my thoughts on Final Fantasy X:

- The gameplay is mostly pretty great. They keep improving from previous Final Fantasies. You don't have to spend much time leveling up, which is key; however, you do level up a lot, and whenever you do, you really feel like you're getting something cool, which is also key. All the characters are useful, in their own way, and you can switch them each in and out quickly and painlessly. You can see which characters will attack next, which lets you strategize a bit.

- The setting is kinda neat. You, Tidus (the main character), live in Zanarkand, but you are mysteriously thrown into Spira 1000 years in the future. You traverse a land of devastated beaches, forests, a cool magicky river called the "Moonflow", a heaven-like place called the "Farplane", imperial palaces, underground rivers, caves, mountains, and eventually the inside of Sin (a big monster).

- The storyline is melodramatic and heavy-handed. You're on this mission to defeat Sin, but (spoiler alert) Yuna, the girl, is going to die! Oh noes! And it turns out that the religious leaders are really corrupt and don't actually want to save the world like they say they do! But if we all stick together and fight, we'll figure out a way to save the world AND Yuna! (On the way, we will also overcome racism.)

- Some of the characters are pretty okay. There's Auron, the mysterious wise old guy who (spoiler alert) is actually a ghost; Wakka, the big dumb religious carefree-but-not-really blitzball player; Seymour, the aforementioned evilman; Cid, the brash airship pilot, etc.

- Some of the characters are not okay. All the girls are hard to take, except maybe Lulu, who is the old, wise one, but still wears dark emo makeup. Oh yeah, and often underdressed, surprise it's a video game. Seymour is like this good-guy-turned-bad, except they reveal that he's super bad in like the first scene. Jecht just makes fun of Tidus a lot, and oh yeah, he's his dad, and Tidus hates him a lot, and this is like a major important plot point because he really hates him totally a lot yeah.

- Tidus deserves an extra bullet point because he totally ruins the game. He is the worst. His voice actor must have been an understudy because the main guy got laryngitis. Or rather, the understudy's son; I'm not sure he's hit puberty yet. His facial expressions don't help. He looks like an action figure. His mouth doesn't close right. His eyes are like vapid but trying so hard to be full of meaning. Whenever he was talking, I wanted him to stop talking. Gaargh!

Sidebar for Final Fantasy VII and X players. The characters are exactly the same:
Cloud <-> Tidus, the adolescent hero with a giant sword (no innuendoes, good god)
Aeris <-> Yuna, the healer who is in love with the hero and also (spoiler alert) is going to die
Barret <-> Wakka, the dumb likeable big dude who fights a lot
Tifa <-> Rikku, the young girl who steals things and wears short shorts
Red XIII <-> Kimahri, the dog/cat/whatever animal who fights with you and doesn't talk much
Cid <-> Auron, the grizzled, wise one
Sephiroth <-> Seymour, the really super bad guy with the hair that's all crazy

Right? Hurgh. Nothing new under the sun.

But hell. Nice game anyway. Good combat, well-scheduled rewards, a lot of friendly interfaces, they let you skip a lot of the stuff that you wanted to skip. Lots of sidequests you could do if you wanted, and apparently a ton of extra monsters if you have all the time in the world. They're learning from all of their mistakes. All in all, I enjoyed FFX, and if I had another life's worth of free time, I'd probably play FFXII. And a lot of other video games.

"No more monkeys jumping on my head"

to quote Ultimate Donny. Epic battle with the monkey mind last night, which I lost. I can't even quiet all my competitive, rank-based, worrisome thoughts when I sit on a cushion and look at the wall, much less in my daily life. (and much less when I'm playing Settlers!) I just want to be happier, and there are particularly great people in my life who just want me to be happier too. I almost feel like I've gotten worse at this over the summer, which is not so good, and I can only hope that my meditation kick is actually helping and not actually leading me down a worrying spiral by making me think about my worrying too much. But things seem a little nicer in the morning, and I am still super-stoked about finding an apartment in Seattle.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Sponsorin' a kid?

Thinkin' bout sponsoring a kid via Children International. They seem good by the Better Business Bureau, Charity Navigator gives them 3 stars, 82% of the money goes to actually helping kids (11% fundraising, 7% other administration, which all seems pretty good if not exceptional), it's non-religious, and the cool part is that your money goes to one kid.

And you could write back and forth a little bit and so on. I used to think that that was no big deal, but now along with my hopes of putting humanity back in everything, a human touch to charity giving sounds better to me than, say, throwing money at the American Cancer Society. I used to think it'd be demoralizing, too, like "oh I have to write a letter to this guy Dan because he's giving me money," but the more I think about it, the more it sounds like it's not a bad idea. He's thankful for my support, I'm thankful for the opportunity to give him my support. I'm not paying him to write me a letter, or wanting him to write me so I feel good about myself, or whatever; I'd actually like to hear from a kid in Colombia or Nicaragua or India or whatever, and make a friend somewhere else. And as someone who has, I don't mind giving to someone who has not. I'm not quite articulating this right, but I have a good feeling about the idea.

Beefs: Everyone's mad at the CEO's salary. Whatever. It's 0.27% of expenses; it's not making a huge difference either way. The bigger beef is canvassers. Yeah, I'm no fan of canvassers. And yet, here I am, about to sign up for a thing after a canvasser tracked me down in Union Square in New York City and gave me the hard sell. The hard sell! I hate the hard sell! With the emotional appeal and everything! I mean, he was a very nice guy, but still, do not attempt to play on my emotions! I am a goddamn robot, I see right through it, and I get pissed.

It's $22/month, or as they like to say, "just 70 cents a day!", but that's still $264/year. I can handle that. Anything else I should be checking out before I sign up for this? Or are there any other charities that you, dear reader, particularly believe in, that I should be checking out too?

Panic! Don't panic!

So I was buying a plane ticket to San Francisco on August 24 so I can start training, and then one to Seattle on August 30 so I can start work. Even though I wasn't paying for it, I still agonized about it for a while, trying to get the best times and the fewest stops and so on. Finally, I settled on two separate one-way tickets (why I couldn't buy them together for the same price is a bit of a mystery). Bought the SFO-SEA leg from Alaskan Airlines, no problem. Tried to buy the CLE-SFO leg from US Airways, the website timed out. It said "Try again." So I did. Bought the ticket, emailed it to my family, just so they know my plans.

My mom emails me back and says "Why is it for August 30?"

I AM THE DUMBEST. I am so dumb, CMU should revoke my diploma so I don't dumb down their alumni reunions. Toast should be renamed "Dan Tasse" so the next time someone says that they're dumber than toast, they would actually be saying they're dumber than me. I am not the brightest bulb in the bunch, nay, I'm made of dark matter, actually absorbing light from the real bright bulbs. They're actually making another sequel to "Dumb and Dumber"; it's called "Dumb and Dan Tasse." I'm not in it. I'm too dumb to act.

So I'm freaking out. Because I'm the dumbest. However, once I calm down, I realize that in my internet silliness, I have accidentally bought a "refundable" ticket. You know, those ones you never buy because they cost more. Apparently the flight I tried to get on was out of cheap non-refundable tickets, so I had bought a refundable ticket. So, one quick (okay, not quick, like 30 minutes of hold, but bear with me) phone call, and it was all fixed.

The one time I buy a refundable ticket is the one time I have to change my ticket! And how can those Buddhists say that the world is full of suffering? (I'm joking. Partially.)

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

I've been out of town

Just most recently, at Sarah's house in West Virginia last weekend. Fun time! And I discovered that my recipe archive unintentionally gave her mom her first bit of internet presence. Hooray internet!

Unrelatedly, I found out a thing about life: you may find yourself, wearing a banana suit, singing "Day O" at a karaoke bar with a half team of kickballers and half dozen nurses providing backup vocals. This is a pretty great thing.

Go Nanners!