“Rock Band” Makes You Feel Cool

An invariant in my personality is an obsession with precision, pedantry, and pedagogy. This perfect storm is responsible for my unusual interest and aptitude for math and computers. But this was not a conscious choice, and with the good fortune of being able to breeze through math course came the curse of nerd-dom ostricization. My tendencies in this direction are too strong to ever hope to not be a nerd. I’ve always refused to “celebrate” the nerd way. Some of it is overcompensation, some of it surprising. For example, I’ve never seen an episode of Star Trek. As I like to say, I don’t trust anyone too much into anything. I’m a nerd, but I’m not a geek. (OK, I have a blog. Sue me.)

This repudiation of the geek lifestyle has caused me to drift away from video games that interested me when I was younger. My current job has brought me back into that world though, because… well, it’s that industry. So the office has XBOX 360, Wii, a giant TV. We got the game “Rock Band” pretty much as soon as it was available.

“Rock Band” comes with a guitar controller (with buttons instead of frets), a microphone, and a drum kit. You play and sing along with real songs that you’ve probably heard on the radio, like Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So”, and it scores you based on how accurately you follow along to the score that scrolls by. If a tone is assigned to you and you botch it, that note doesn’t play in the song, and the discordance socks a body blow to your musical memory (and makes the virtual crowd more likely to start booing).

It doesn’t take long before you actually start to get the hang of it, and surprisingly, feel like you are contributing to the songs. You really do learn certain musical skills, especially timing.

If the difficulty level is appropriate — not too easy that you get bored, but not too hard that you get frustrated (see also this Wikipedia article) — you really start to get into it, and become one with the music. You begin to understand what it might be like to be a real rock star. It’s a coolness simulator.

These effects are real. After I’ve played the game for a while, I really do feel more at ease. I feel more confident. I am more chatty with strangers.

Of course, the irony is that playing video games is kind of dorky. One might claim this it’s just a fantasy world, where people pretend to be something they’re not. But there’s no denying that it does have an immersive coolness effect on its participants’ mood. So how to reconcile this apparent contradiction?

Who cares? Cool people don’t care what other people think.

♩ Shake It Like A Polaroid Picture ♫

According to this article, wiggling your eyes back and forth can help your memory. Who’da thunk it?!

People read these articles all the time on the internet. Typical reaction: “Huh! How about that?” Then you read the next article.

Well, I decided I would use try to put this little bizarre tidbit to work for me. A few days ago, I was at a karaoke thing (“event”?) and I was trying to remember the artist that performs the song “Toxicity”, a song with a lot of desperate yelling, which I of course very much enjoy. I could remember they were Armenian, thanks to frequent mention by Adam Carolla on Loveline, but I couldn’t remember the name.

So I wiggled my eyes back and forth for a few seconds – maybe 15 seconds. And it came to me. “System of a Down”. The song was not in the book, but hey, I validated a new memory trick.

Try it yourself next time something’s on the tip of your tongue. Look left, look right, repeat. You have nothing to lose but your dignity.

Bosch Acquires Health Hero Network

The company that employed me for nine and half years, up until October, was acquired by the private German company Bosch.

Press Release

The details of the acquisition were not disclosed publicly. However, as a shareholder, I received detailed information about the acquisition. Since Bosch is private, it’s a cash buyout, so I guess I am getting a bunch of cash in the next few days.

It’s more than just a few bucks, but it’s certainly not enough to change my life. If I had known this was going to be the ultimate payoff, I probably would have done something else for those nine years. But it’s a nice feeling of closure that this chapter of my life is finally (almost) over.

Eye Em Dee Be

I am on IMDB!

Earlier this year, a documentary filmmaker came to a show I was doing in a comedy contest at Tommy T’s in Pleasanton, California. He filmed my set, asked me a few questions on camera and had me fill out a waiver. Then today I found out the film is on IMDB, along with the cast.

Good heavens.

I’m in the big time now, baby.


Since I live and work in essentially the same building when I am in Vancouver, I decided not bother getting a car, as transit is quite good here. Instead, I joined a car sharing program called Zipcar.com. It ends up costing about $10.50/hour Canadian to use a car in Vancouver… enough that it’s not a slam-dunk, but much cheaper than buying a car to use it just a few times a month. The problem is that it makes the cost of using a car so explicit in its hugeness that I, in my cheapness, end up using it very infrequently. But I digress.

Another problem is that there are two cars near me, and although they have always been available the few times I’ve tried to reserve them, they are far enough away that walking to them it is a little bit of a nuisance. The bus stop is much closer, which has the perverse side-effect of making taking the bus more convenient (at least at first). So when a co-worker told me that there was a Zipcar parked in the garage downstairs from where I live and work, I was very interested. He said it had been there for quite some time, so I thought maybe I’d discovered a car that hadn’t yet made it into the system.

So on Saturday afternoon, I went down there to get the “name” of the car (all cars have a human-ish sounding moniker to uniquely identify them). This VW had the somewhat unfortunate name “Jabilo Jetta”. Then I came upstairs and looked on the Zipcar web site. Still no car that “lives” in the building, so I searched Google for “Zipcar Jabilo Jetta”.

Two hits, both on the Zipcar.com web site. But clicking through revealed no reference to the car on the web page. So I clicked on the Google cache, and it said this car lives at 10th and Tolmie Street, not too far away. However, there was no reference to the car on the Zipcar web site at all.

So I called customer service. I explained to the fellow that there was a car in my basement that had been there some time, and that it was not on the web site. He looked it up and said there was no reference to the car. I told him it was definitely there, and it was definitely a Zipcar (the cars advertise the web site pretty blatantly), “so if you’re lookin’ for it… it’s in the basement”. He asked me the license plate, so I put him on hold for a few minutes while I went downstairs to check it out.

I gave him the plate info, and there seemed to be a little activity on his end; he put me on hold a couple times, then talked to his supervisor. While I was on hold, I started to get the horrible feeling that I was overreacting and that perhaps someone who spent a lot of time in the building also spent a lot of time using this car, and I prepared to feel horribly embarrassed.

He returned and informed me that that car had been reported stolen. “Yay!” I chirped. “I’m a hero!” He took down details about where the car was located.

I asked him what would happen next; if someone would come reclaim the car or if the police would get involved. He said he was not sure, but he would file a report and then it would be out of his hands.

Alas, the bad news is that car does not live here, so it personally does me no good. Nevertheless, it was still pretty neat to help recover a stolen vehicle. Maybe I will buy a trench coat and grow some jowls, and you can all just call me McGruff.


I’ve been in Vancouver for about two months now, commuting to the San Francisco Bay Area once in a while. Tonight I did a show in downtown Vancouver and decided to rent a Zipcar (a car-sharing program I signed up for) instead of taking the bus because it’s a venue I’d never been to and I’m just getting over a cold so I didn’t want the added stress of trying to figure out how to bus there.

It was a good show and a fun night. As I was walking back the half kilometer from where I dropped of the Zipcar to my apartment at one in the morning in the 1ºC (34ºF) weather in my comedy outfit, I could see my breath and thought about how living in California has really spoiled me climate-wise. My comedy friend Sean Strycker, a born-and-bred Californian, was up to visit this weekend, and, he remarked how cold it was here, and yeah, he’s right. He was just realizing something I have known for a long time: namely, how lucky and spoiled Californians are about the weather (well, the ones that live on the coast at least).

Canada is a great place with cordial, decent people, and Vancouver is pleasant and beautiful city. And it’s got the most moderate climate in all of Canada.

And yet… it’s still so cold.

Big Changes Ahead

I’ve been working for a company called Health Hero Network, in Mountain View (then Redwood City and now Palo Alto) for the past 9 1/2 years. That’s a very long time for a Silicon Valley job!

I had been trying to figure what to do after leaving HHN for some time now, and consider several ideas. I am at my strongest building something out of nothing, so I knew a start-up was the way to go. In particular, I’ve had enough of working for “the man”, and wanted to be at a start-up I can consider my own.

My brother Erik has an internet start-up based in Vancouver, and I am going to help him out as the main and initial network and server-side expert. We hope to have a preliminary web site up within the next few months.

The office is on the west side of Vancouver, out at the University of British Columbia (UBC). I will be up there a lot — about 80% of my work days will be in the office, so probably 65-75% of the calendar days.

I will be keeping my California apartment in Sunnyvale, but will also be renting a place in Vancouver, and commuting frequently.

I expect to be doing comedy frequently in Vancouver and getting to know the players in the scene there.

So what does this mean to you? If you are accustomed to seeing me in California, you probably won’t see me around nearly as much. If you live in Vancouver and have gotten used to seeing me once in a while… well, I’ll be there much more often!

BART and CalTrain… sitting in a tree… H… A… T… (pause)… I… N… G…

Summary: after waiting for over 20 minutes for BART, it arrived with too tight a margin to transfer to CalTrain. So I had to wait an hour and a half more.

Flying back to San Francisco from Vancouver one Tuesday night in August, I’d planned to take public transit to get back to my place in Sunnyvale. Two reasons: it makes me feel like a responsible citizen (er, responsible permanent resident holding a green card); and I’m cheap.

My flight was scheduled to come at 8:17 PM, and the next CalTrain from Millbrae was scheduled for 8:49 PM… pretty close call, since you have to take BART to get the CalTrain. I was a bit worried, so I upgraded my Alaska flight to first class for about $60, figuring I could carry on my luggage and sit near the front of the plane, hastening my exit.

Sure enough, I sat in row two, and had no trouble getting overhead space for my huge bag. The plane came in early, just after 8 PM, so I zipped off and took the blue AirTrain to the BART. I was at the BART station by 8:19, which I thought was pretty good… had nearly a half hour to get to CalTrain.

But the BART display sign said the next train was due in 22 minutes. What?! That would be 8:41. That seemed like it would cut things pretty close. I found a schedule and it claimed this BART would arrive at the CalTrain station at 8:47 PM. That gave me two minutes to exit BART, cross over the tracks (yes, you have to go up a flight of stairs and down another to get to the southbound CalTrain), buy a CalTrain ticket and board the train. It seemed pretty tight, but I figured they must know what they are doing… why would they hold off BART until 8:41 if people couldn’t make it to the CalTrain, after all?!

OK, I’m sure you can see where this is going.

I sat there, doing nothing for over 20 minutes, waiting for BART. It finally arrived around 8:41, as it was supposed to. I got on. And waited. And waited and waited and waited. What seemed to be forever turned out to be only about three minutes, since I noted the BART left at 8:44. Which I thought was pretty inconsiderate, since we kinda needed to be at the Millbrae station for the 8:49 train, and after all, that’s where EVERYONE on the BART was going… the Millbrae stop is the end of the line, so pretty much everyone was transferring to a train.

As soon as those BART doors opened, I booked it. I ran as hard as I can with luggage… I ran to the exit, jammed in my BART card, ran up the stairs, whipped out my ticket as fast as I could out the CalTrain ticket machine (which of course took a good 10-20 seconds longer than it should have due to credit issues and Murphy’s Law), ran down the stairs… just in time to see several other people just touching the doors as they closed on the southbound train (some of whom I later confirmed did not even stop to buy a CalTrain ticket because they knew it would be so close).

Yes, that’s right. After sitting around for more than twenty minutes, I ran as fast as I could (given my luggage burden) and still did not make the train.

Next train at 10:24. Yes, a good 95 minutes later. It ended up taking me much longer to get from SFO to my home than from YVR (Vancouver airport) to SFO. I repeat: I spent more time TAKING THE TRAIN than the plane.

I was obviously very annoyed by this. The infrequency of the BART and CalTrain and the closeness of the schedule would imply to a reasonable person that they would mesh and that CalTrain would “wait” if there was a delay in BART. But no. If I had known, I would have taken a cab from the airport to the CalTrain.

And thus, no good deed (in this case, taking public transit) goes unpunished.