Thursday, July 31, 2014

Little Alan Plays Piano

Like any good Asian-American boy, I took piano lessons when I was a kid. 

Earlier this week, my old piano teacher (Hi Mrs. Cook!) sent my family a video of me from 1996, when I was 8 years old. 

Check this shredding out:

Monday, July 28, 2014

An Update to VanToai.com (Version 3.0)

I redesigned VanToai.com last week. This is the third layout for VanToai.com since the domain was registered in 2010.

I originally bought VanToai.com in January 2010, because I was going to be graduating from UMD in a few months, and I wanted to transition from using my .edu email address to Alan@VanToai.com.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A nibble on my nipple.

Talking with two of my buddies here in Saigon over lunch just now, I remembered a random funny story that happened to me when I tried surfing for the first time in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

It was the last day of an awesome 1-week winter-term study abroad program I did with a bunch of my friends from UMD our Sophomore year, back in 2008

The American Cultures Scholars crew in Puerto Rico - 2008

I'd always wanted to try surfing, and went out for a 3-4 hour lesson before our flight back to DC that evening. 

I remember standing in the water up to my chest, next to my board across from the cute Puerto Rican girl that was giving me some instructions on how to paddle or something. 

Out of the blue, I felt something clamp down hard on my right nipple and looked down just in time to see a fish speeding away, and a light trail of blood emerging from the fish bite. 

The cute instructor, laughing, told me she'd been surfing there for over 10 years and had never seen anything like it. 

And that was the first time I ever tried surfing.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Track of the Day: Above & Beyond - Indonesia

I've been listening to a lot of Above & Beyond lately.

They've been broadcasting a weekly podcast for over 3 years now, and have over 300 of them out there, so it solves the problem having consistency in sound/taste while having a variety of actual songs.

A&B tend to be trancey and more blissful/ethereal (usually, they can go deeper and heavier too), which is what I like to listen to when working.

This track was on one of their more recent podcasts and I can't get enough of it. Dark and beautiful:

Monday, July 21, 2014

Kindness as a muscle.

There are two ways to think about kindness. You can think about it as a fixed trait: either you have it or you don’t. Or you could think of kindness as a muscle. In some people, that muscle is naturally stronger than in others, but it can grow stronger in everyone with exercise. Masters tend to think about kindness as a muscle. They know that they have to exercise it to keep it in shape. They know, in other words, that a good relationship requires sustained hard work.

Masters of Love (The Atlantic)
Lately, I've found that kindness, empathy, and compassion are areas where I have room for improvement.

Said another way, I've found that I catch myself being a self-centered, self-optimizing asshole from time to time. Sometimes I do (or say) things I end up regretting later as asshole-ish, or I'll meet and interact with people who humble me with their kindness and empathy.

So with those reflections in mind, it was refreshing to read the Atlantic article above, particularly that quote about kindness as a muscle.

It seems that kindness, like other aspects of our personalities and characters, is a practicable and learnable skill.

Great news for reluctant assholes everywhere.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The NSA's response is classic

"Snowden: NSA employees routinely pass around intercepted nude photos"
“You've got young enlisted guys, 18 to 22 years old,” Snowden said. “They've suddenly been thrust into a position of extraordinary responsibility where they now have access to all of your private records. In the course of their daily work they stumble across something that is completely unrelated to their work in any sort of necessary sense. For example, an intimate nude photo of someone in a sexually compromising position. But they're extremely attractive.

And the money shot:
...In an e-mail sent to Ars, NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines wrote: "NSA is a professional foreign-intelligence organization with a highly trained workforce, including brave and dedicated men and women from our armed forces. As we have said before, the agency has zero tolerance for willful violations of the agency’s authorities or professional standards, and would respond as appropriate to any credible allegations of misconduct.

However, she declined to respond to direct questions as to the veracity of Snowden's allegations or if anyone at NSA had ever been terminated or otherwise punished for engaging in such behavior.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Microsoft is becoming an exciting company to watch.

On Thursday, Microsoft is planning to announce layoffs that will substantially exceed the largest layoffs in the company’s history, according to several people briefed on the decision who spoke only on the condition of anonymity. Previously, the largest layoffs were in 2009, when 5,800 or so people were affected.

In his 3,100-word memo to all employees last week, Mr. Nadella said Microsoft would announce organizational changes in July to help it simplify and move faster. “We will increase the fluidity of information and ideas by taking actions to flatten the organization and develop leaner business processes,” he wrote. “Culture change means we will do things differently.”

Large Round of Layoffs Expected at Microsoft (NYTimes)

Sometimes - as was the case with Zynga, for example - I get the sense that layoffs are an indicator of imminent demise. Under Nadella, I get the feeling that these Microsoft layoffs are an indicator of an imminent rise.

Maybe it's just a story I'm looking for after watching Mayer at the helm of an increasingly relevant Yahoo. Whatever the case, Microsoft under Nadella is becoming an exciting company to watch.