The cat and the little goldfish

There once was a cat who lived in a house in the centre of London. In fact, it was a very nice house. Cat’s owner was a girl named Tabitha, but she was away most of the time. Cat’s job was to inspect furniture and to make sure mice didn’t return. (They left 6 years ago)

One day, Tabitha received a present of a little goldfish. The very first minute they were alone, the cat came to the fishbowl to have a drink and to ponder on how he’s gonna eat the fish. That’s when the fish spoke. ”Hello. I’m a little goldfish. Have you seen my shiny gold fins? Do you think they look pretty?” The cat said “eeeh… I guess”. He wasn’t used to having long conversations. “That’s great! The carp said that brown is the prettiest colour and the prawn said that…” This way, they started talking and the cat forgot that he wanted to eat the little goldfish.

Next morning, the cat came again and the same thing happened. And the next morning. And the next one too. The cat continued to come and the little goldfish continued to ask questions. “Does my shiny gold tail look pretty?” “Do my shiny gold scales look pretty?” “Do I look fat?” And each day the cat would forget that he wanted to eat the little goldfish.

One day the little goldfish asked the cat, “does this mole look cancerous?” The cat leaned close to the water so he could see. And in an instant, before he could stop himself, he opened his jaws, grabbed the little goldfish and swallowed her.

The cat regretted his impulse right away, but it was too late. He ate his only friend. But then, he heard a voice. “Sooooo…, does it look cancerous? I once knew a squid who had a mole terribly small and he said…” The voice came from his belly.

And so, the cat and the little goldfish became the best friends and went everywhere together.

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The best friend you never had

When Marnie Was There

– What’s your name?
– Anna.
– I’m desperate to get to know you.

That’s not the kind of conversation you have with a stranger you just met. But it’s how Marnie decides to approach the subject and it works because Anna is an awkward, lonely 12 year old in need of a friend. Over the next few encounters they learn about each other, share secrets and even say things like “I’m your friend forever” and “I love you”.

I’d like to believe this happens in real life, but believing won’t make it true. And the movie, Studio Ghibli’s When Marnie Was There, doesn’t push the point either. You see, Marnie is a ghost and everything that happens between the two has mystical, twilight kind of quality. But just because it’s not real doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. Through Marnie, Anna learns about compassion, intimacy and forgiveness and those things transform her ‘real’ relationships.

One outcome of their friendship is especially interesting. When two protagonists meet, they couldn’t be any more different. One is outgoing, gregarious and warm, the other is furtive, anxious and tongue-tied. And yet, as time goes, we see that they have far, far more in common than appearances might suggest. It’s a trap I have fallen in so very often, seeing a person laughing in carefree manner and assuming they belong to different species from me altogether. In a way, this is a movie about masks people wear and facades they build: you can hide equally well behind both joy and gloom.

I don’t always get to choose my mask, but when I can I’d like it to be the one of joy. Hisako, a much older and wiser version of Anna in the film, summarized it well.

She had a lonely life, but she lived it fully. Always with a smile, determined to be happy.

Marnie, you’re my hero.

P.S. The film comes with one of the most beautiful songs I heard in a long time, Fine on the Outside by Priscialla Ahn. Damn you Academy if you pass it over.

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My Facebook friends

Reactivating a Facebook account after four years’ absence feels like attending a pre-school reunion at the age of 90. Who are all those people? Did I know them? Do they know me?

my facebook friends

What should I do with all this treasure?

  • Disable the account and go back under the rock. Or to the real life, depending on your persuasion.
  • Kick everyone I don’t know out.
    • Won’t work because my friend count will drop sharply and everyone will think I’m uncool.
  • Write to everyone I don’t recognize and try to casually figure out who they are.
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She is 20-something, she says, and I start thinking. I am 20-something too. It’s good to be 20-something. You have the sense of youth and possibility with you, unlike those poor old 30-something suckers whose life is half-over. Plus, everyone knows that wild, booze-soaked, clothing-optional 20-something parties are the best! Not that I’m ever invited to those parties, but it’s good to know I’m still eligible. Technically. In case opportunity arises.

There is only one slight problem: I’ll stop being 20-something in a couple of months. (Unless I die, in which case, of course, I’ll continue enjoying the privilege forever) Being expelled from the cool parties I’m never invited to really stings! Perhaps I should invent a time-rewinder and go through my twenties second time. I’m an engineer, after all. It would be like rewinding a VHS tape and re-watching a movie from your favourite spot.

However, there’s another problem: I don’t want to be 20 again. Being 20 sucks. If I look at my life in the past 10 years, 20 would be at the bottom of the deepest ocean trench and 29 would be at the top of Mount Everest. It’s not always straight, smooth or easy road, but it’s sure better up here! And a lot of the things are clearer too. So many things I had no idea about…

  • Other people only look like they know what they’re doing. They don’t. Just like me.
  • People come and go. That’s life and there’s nothing I can do.
  • It’s not always about me. It is usually not. He’s probably just having a bad day.
  • It’s ok when people don’t like me.
  • I am not gonna live forever. One day, my eyes will be failing and I won’t be able to walk 50 meters without loosing my breath. That will be too late for bungee jumping.
  • It’s ok to cry and to not know what to do.
  • Things generally happen the way they should. If it didn’t happen, there is a good reason for it. All I can do is keep trying.

Hello thirties!

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Jeeves and Wooster

When she spoke it was with the mildness of a cushat dove addressing another cushat dove from whom it was hoping to borrow money” How does Woodhouse do it? How does he make sentences so damn funny without even telling a joke? I have no idea what cushat is, but this man still cracks me up! The only sensible explanation is that he’s a wizard and a genious.

God bless your soul, P. G. Wodehouse.

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Memory rooms

La Maison en Petits Cubes is the sweetest, gentlest film I saw in a long long time. That it’s only 11 minutes long makes the feat all the more amazing. It understands how we all have rooms in our memory we forget even exist. A bittersweet romance, an exciting adventure, a joke shared with a friend which nobody else could understand, they all eventually end up in a submerged room inside our memory somewhere. And sometimes I stumble into one of those rooms by accident, grateful and surprised it’s been there all along.

Reminds me of advice Mary Schmich gave in her famous sunscreen speech: “keep your old love letters, throw away your old bank statements”.

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Life Itself

I want to be Roger Ebert when I grow up. Not just because he was the world’s most respected, famous and influential movie critic, but because of who he was. It’s his qualities that make him admirable, not his achievements. He is my first and so far only role model.

Roger Ebert - Esquire

When I read a typical film review, I can’t shake off the feeling that the critic is settling a personal score with the filmmaker. It is like a gang of kids who enjoy torturing stray cats behind an abandoned shed. Hitting, cutting, kicking and burning poor animal just for the feel of it. I heard somewhere that every critic secretly wishes he was a filmmaker himself and suspect that has something to do with all the vitriol. People who can’t taking it out on people who can.

Roger Ebert is (was) the only critic I know not afflicted with this camera envy. Even when he really disliked the film, he was never bitter or belligerent. He sounded genuinely disappointed, the way an old man might feel about the mess his wayward grandchildren have gotten themselves into. That comparison seems even more appropriate given how much Roger cared about cinema and how many modern filmmakers he helped to gain their footing.

I like movies too much. I walk into the theater not in an adversarial attitude, but with hope and optimism (except for some movies, of course). I know that to get a movie made is a small miracle, that the reputations, careers and finances of the participants are on the line, and that hardly anybody sets out to make a bad movie. I do not feel comfortable posing as impossible to please.

Continue reading

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Modern man’s search for meaning

Have you ever woken up and realized that you didn’t want to go to work?” This is what Kasey Edwards calls “being over it” and “loosing your give-a-shit”. You were an enthusiastic career climber for a couple of years and then, bang, you don’t see the point anymore. I have no idea why Amazon suggested to me the book called Thirty Something And Over It (has it been reading my blog?), but it hits the spot.

I long ago noticed that looking for meaning and satisfaction in work is the major trait of my generation. (Some also call it “sense of entitlement” and “narcissism”) Instead of just settling for something that pays the bills, we want to utilize our “creativity” and save the Earth in the process. It’s no surprise then, that none of the older self-help manuals quite help here. I’m pretty sure if venerable Viktor Frankl lived to this day, he would call me a self-indulgent wanker who needs a good whipping. And he would have a point: my search for meaning was prompted by getting a job at Google, while his – by surviving a concentration camp.

But I also feel like our modern problems, however petty, still deserve to be taken seriously. A writer once said to me that the world will never have enough books written. There will never be a point in the future when writers aren’t necessary because Dickens and Hemingway have said everything worth saying. The stories always need to be retold by new generations to remain relevant. In the same way, despite the glut of self-help manuals around, I feel Kasey Edwards is doing something useful by addressing the whole meaning-of-life question from the Gen Y perspective. Continue reading

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How nerds pack

I was looking forward to writing here about my meeting with Spike Lee, a director famous for Malcolm X, 25th Hour and a whole lot of other fantastic films, but now that it happened there’s nothing to write about. Except that people tend to have less stature in real life than you might assume from a professional headshot.

The few scenes I saw from The Sweet Blood of Jesus (his new film, funding which through kickstarter had brought me this adventure) were also troubling, but I’ll write it down on lack of post-production gloss. I’m sure (means hope), in the context of the whole film they will work better.

Somewhat disappointed, I went to Barnes & Noble at Union Square for some binge-shopping. 2 hours later, $130 lighter and with 5 new books, my spirits started to improve. Now I just need to find a way to pack them in my suitcase, in addition to 2 books I got from Spike and a small army I brought from home:


Looks like some of my clothes will find a new home at Salvation Army, but I’m also feeling oddly proud of my nerdishness. Books are almost like pets in that sense: you make emotional connection with them. Which, I think, puts them a rank higher than handbags, beer cans and most other collectables. Plus, unlike pets, you don’t have to feed books and they don’t chew on your internet cable… Ok, I’m stretching this argument, but I’m still sure book-junkies are superior to most other addicts (:

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Who wants to be called a ‘ninja’?

When will you make something

Here’s an ambitious piece in New York Times which took me over a week to read. Today people tend to get very opinionated about Silicon Valley and startup world and most of the articles on the subject are remarkably one-sided. Here, Yiren Lu takes time to consider every issue from different angles. And he covers a lot of difficult questions, from accusations of agism to skipping college, from need to be “cool” to the second web bubble.

I particularly like how he gives voice to something that bothers me as well: lack of purpose in modern tech world, spawning technology just because we can.

I was asking a friend, a former computer-science major who now works for a hedge fund in New York, why he chose finance instead of tech. “There are so few start-ups that are doing things that are worthwhile to me,” he said. I protested: “What about Facebook?” He looked at me, and I thought about it. No doubt, Facebook has changed the world. Facebook has made it easier to communicate, participate, pontificate, track down new contacts and vet romantic prospects. But in other moments, it has also made me nauseatingly jealous of my friends, even as I’m aware of its unreality. Everything on Facebook, like an Instagram photo, is experienced through a soft-glow filter. And for all the noise, the pinging notifications and flashing lights, you never really feel productive on Facebook. A couple of months ago, I installed a Google Chrome extension called “Kill News Feed,” built by Neal Wu, a senior at Harvard who incidentally previously worked at the social network. Now when I absent-mindedly surf to, my News Feed is gloriously blank except for one line of text: “Don’t get distracted by Facebook!” it says.

I want to find that hedge fund manager and shake his hand!

Author also covers a touchy subject of age in the software world. (I would say “startup world”, but Google is not one and we have only few people over 40 here) Too often the cultural element in this debate is missed. Let me repeat it: culture is the key. Bank executives want to hire people like them, with shining black shoes, MBA and a necktie to match their suit. Startupers also want to hire people like them, with passion for latest technology, strong algorithmic skills and reasonable disregard for impossible. And, God forbid, no neckties. Both environments are perfectly normal and self-reinforcing.

Older engineers form a smaller percentage of employees at top new-guard companies, not because they don’t have the skills, but because they simply don’t want to. “Let’s face it,” Karl said, “for a 50-something to show up at a start-up where the average age is 29, there is a basic cultural disconnect that’s going on. I know people, mostly those who have stayed on the technical side, who’ve popped back into an 11-person company. But there’s a hesitation there.” The flip side of the kind of cohesion I saw at Stripe is that it can be off-putting to people outside the circle. If you are 50, no matter how good your coding skills, you probably do not want to be called a “ninja” and go on bar crawls every weekend with your colleagues, which is exactly what many of my friends do.

And more…

“Top tech companies emphasize rigorous algorithms problem solving and de-emphasize prior experience, which is where an older engineer is going to shine,” McDowell said. “Older engineers are also very likely not to have computer-science degrees; even if they do, C.S. was a completely different field 30 years ago.”

I could argue with few things in this article, but overall this is a remarkably mature piece from someone who, turns out, is only 21! (Am I being agist now?)

In conclusion, if you want to see a parade of belligerent bigots, read (many of) the top-rated comments for the article.

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