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Archived Posts for February 2023

Feb 23

Weekly Report: February 26, 2023



In a previous newsletter, I mentioned we have a lengthy power outage on average once per quarter. That’s not an exaggeration. This week, we endured our longest outage yet.

At about 1pm on Tuesday, our power went out and didn’t come back until Thursday evening — more than 50 hours later. It all happened as unusual weather arrived in Bay Area, with several inches of snow falling at altitudes of as low as 250 feet. It basically never snows in the Bay Area. Less than 5 miles away in Woodside, the scene looked like this:

Stephen Lam/The Chronicle

We didn’t get snow, but our area was buffeted by gale force winds that uprooted large trees, crushing power lines and transformers.

Within a few hours, power was out across swathes of Redwood City, Woodside, Atherton, Menlo Park, Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, and Stanford.

We ended up staying in hotels for 3 nights. The hotels were filled with locals — mostly families with young children and older people carting along oxygen containers.

At the first hotel, a Holiday Inn, we were offered a welcome bag of snacks at check in. “The robot will deliver them to your door,” the guy at the counter said, pointing to what looked like a trash can on wheels in the corner. I won’t lie — it was the most Silicon Valley thing ever, and I was more excited about it than was rational.

Some time after we got settled into the room, we got a call from the front desk. “The robot is outside your door.” I opened the door and there sat the robot. It did nothing. The screen on top of the robot featured two blinking eyes, with a speech bubble above in which was written “None.”

We stared at each other for a bit. After poking and prodding at the thing, I finally determined it wasn’t working, and called up the front desk. They fiddled with a few things on their end to no avail.

“We’re going to reset it and try again.”

Reset meant that someone had to come up to our room and manually wheel the robot back to its base. A few minutes later, the robot showed up at our door again. The result was not different.

Again?!” an exasperated voice from the front desk said after I called them. And once again, they had to “reset” the robot.

Finally, the front desk clerk showed up at our door, his arms overflowing with snacks and beverages. “Sorry about that — we’re having uh, technical issues. I got you some extra things.”

Gradually, the power started to come back on in various places. We noticed that power in the most affluent areas was restored first — Atherton, Woodside, Palo Alto — while Redwood City and East Palo Alto were out of luck for hours longer. Maybe a coincidence, but we have our suspicions.

The most annoying part of the outage was all the food we had to throw out from our fridge and freezer.

The Rewriting of Roald

I entered Year 3 as a 7 year old, and some of the classroom memories I retained from that year include:

  • My teacher read to us The Hobbit and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, which was the first time I was exposed to fantasy and set in motion a lifelong affinity for that genre.
  • He read to us The Great Piratical Rumbustification and proceeded to put the last three words of that title on the next week’s spelling test.
  • He read to us Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, my first Roald Dahl book. During the course of primary school, I followed up by reading most of the rest of his novels, as well as his autobiographical Boy and Going Solo.
  • He was telling us about what to bring to an excursion to the mangroves of the newly-opened Bicentennial Park and mentioned we should bring “several drinks”. I thought that meant seven drinks, which seemed like quite a lot to me. I put my hand up. “Sir, do we have to bring several drinks?” He looked confused and said, “Well, you don’t need to but I would recommend you do.” I was satisfied that I wouldn’t get into trouble if I didn’t bring seven poppers and it was not until much later that I learned what “several” really meant.

In hindsight, many of those memories involved books, which brings us to the topic of Roald Dahl. Dahl is best known for his children’s novels, although he also had a repetoire of adult writing. His books were formative to me growing up. Last week, it was reported that Dahl’s books would be rewritten to remove language “now deemed too offensive”.

The laundry list of changes includes describing Augustus Gloop as “enormous” instead of “fat” (?!), removing many instances of “white” and “black” as descriptors in non-racial contexts (such as where you might describe a “face going white” for when the blood drains from the face in fright), and excising any mention of Joseph Conrad or Rudyard Kipling and replacing them with Jane Austen and John Steinbeck. One can only surmise that the associations of Conrad and Kipling with colonialism have been deemed too painful to tolerate.

The changes are reminiscent of a “Harmful Language” list that was published by a group within Stanford University. As that list would have it, words like “brave”, “tribe”, “abort”, “stupid”, “victim”, “immigration”, “submit” and “American” were considered harmful. The list was widely pilloried, and the university swiftly had it removed.

Online, it would appear that the changes to Dahl’s books are facing a similar backlash. This Reddit post is basically filled with people who are screaming “nobody asked for this”. In fact, one of the only negative comments I came across online was a one-star review that someone left 4 years ago for a 16-book collection of Dahl’s writings sold by Costco: “I bought this excited to read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the rest of the books with my kids. Then we got into the Great Glass Elevator, which has a chapter devoted to totally worn out racist tropes that made me stop reading.”

They’re not wrong about the racist tropes. Check out this passage from Great Glass Elevator:

The President threw the phone across the room at the Postmaster General. It hit him in the stomach. ‘What’s the matter with this thing?’ shouted the President.
‘It is very difficult to phone people in China, Mr President,’ said the Postmaster General. ‘The country’s so full of Wings and Wongs, every time you wing you get the wong number.’
‘You’re not kidding,’ said the President.

The President again picked up the receiver.
‘Gleetings, honourable Mr Plesident,’ said a soft faraway voice. ‘Here is Assistant-Plemier Chu-On-Dat speaking. How can I do for you?’
‘Knock-Knock.’ said the President.
‘Who der?’
‘Ginger who?’
‘Ginger yourself much when you fell off the Great Wall of China?’ said the President. ‘Okay, Chu-On-Dat. Let me speak to Premier How-Yu-Bin.’
‘Much regret Plemier How-Yu-Bin not here just this second, Mr. Plesident.’
‘Where is he?’
‘He outside mending a puncture on his bicycle.’
‘Oh no he isn’t,’ said the President. ‘You can’t fool me, you crafty old mandarin!’

It just goes on and on, doesn’t it?

As a child of the 80s of oriental persuasion, I am acutely aware of racism and being bullied in the playground for how my eyes looked as a “fucking ching chong chinaman”.

But I don’t think rewriting old works is the right thing to do. This is the progressive equivalent of censorship, and not much better than the troubling wave of book banning in more conservative parts of America.

History can be a great teacher, and only if you are aware of what happened in the past can you learn from it. Changing Dahl’s words is kind of like attempting to avoid history because it’s too painful, and seems similar in vein to avoiding teaching about the Holocaust in school.

Older books are products of their times and make good discussion points. I think it’s better that a child stumbles across the phrase “queer ramshackle house”, gets confused, and asks an adult how a house can be gay. That can spark a useful conversation.

It doesn’t seem much different to studying Shakespeare, where there are a lot of confusing, archaic words and phrases that high school students spend hours scratching their heads over. And I’m not sure that reading Shakespeare perpetuates the use of those dated terms.

I am far more fearful about what my kids will find online, than in a book from centuries past. I am more fearful about what text-generative AI might mean for critical thought and disinformation.

The other thing is, and this is perhaps controversial, is that there is a time and a place for ethnic stereotypes, and that is comedy. There’s a reason why Russell Peters’ jokes about Chinese and Indians (and everyone else) are so hilarious, and that we find Colin Jost reading out Michael Che’s jokes about black people funny. That comedy is only funny if you’re aware about those stereotypes in the first place.

I think the approach taken by Warner Bros. is the right one. For some of their older cartoons, they now display the following disclaimer at the start:

The cartoons you are about to see are products of their time. They may depict some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that were commonplace in American society. These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. While the following does not represent the Warner Bros. view of today’s society, these cartoons are being presented as they were originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed.


Movies & TV

  • Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Disney+)
    I fell asleep midway through, so not that great. The first one was better. 2/5.
  • Only Murders in the Building (Season 2)
    This whodunnit series, featuring the unusual but endearing combination of Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez has really grown on us this season. It’s got a really random brand of humor that we like. We’re looking forward to Season 3, which is going to feature Meryl Streep and Paul Rudd. 4/5.


  • Holiday Inn Redwood City (Redwood City, CA)
    Where we stayed for the first night. A standard, no frills hotel room. Clean and relatively comfortable.
  • Residence Inn Redwood City (San Carlos, CA)
    This place was surprisingly good, and actually a great place to stay if you are a business traveler. All rooms have a kitchen, two large tables, and are clean, spacious, and well appointed. There’s also a laundry on site. The breakfast is not bad.

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Feb 23

Weekly Report: February 19, 2023


FTX’s Lawyers

  • Financial Times article reporting on the final days of FTX featured the following email that a partner from Sullivan & Cromwell, the law firm managing FTX’s bankruptcy proceedings, sent to SBF in an effort to get him to sign documents where he’d step down as CEO of FTX and allow FTX to file for bankruptcy.
    • EMAIL – NOV 10, 22:36 FROM: ANDY DIETDERICH TO: SAM BANKMAN-FRIED Can we please have an update? We have many people in NY and Delaware waiting to proceed. We have done the work we can without Sam’s signature. If Sam is not going to sign the instruction appointing Ray tonight, we will send people home and regroup in the morning. Australia has commenced voluntary proceedings and we can expect more shortly. If Sam is signing relatively promptly, we can stay around. Please let us know promptly if we should continue to wait. Andy
  • We now have learned just how “many people” from SullCrom were working on the matter and standing by. Per Coindesk: During a 19 day period from November 12 to 30, “A total of over 6,500 hours were worked by 32 partners, 85 associates and 34 nonlegal staff, the filing said. Hourly rates are as high as $2,165. The company said charges for senior staff already represent a discount, and the firm is seeking payment of only 80% of a $9.5 million total.”
  • The GC of FTX US is an ex-SullCrom partner, and while it may look a bit shady that he has given a ton of lucrative work to buddies at his old firm, this is actually an above-board and common practice for ex-law firm lawyers who go in-house (I have done this myself… but obviously not on this scale).
  • Meanwhile, SBF still thinks he knows better than everyone else and is allegedly trying to reach out to potential witnesses via encrypted messaging apps and using a VPN, raising the ire of the judge presiding over his case.

Further Observations

  • If you want to your son to be a partner at a Bay Area-headquartered law firm, you should name him Aaron Rubin:
  • In the 3 months after my son turned 2, his vocabulary exploded. He went from a smattering of single words to speaking 5-word sentences seemingly overnight. I found myself wondering whether the trajectory of our daughter’s speaking skills was as steep, but it’s actually really hard to remember. We thought it wasn’t, but when we pulled out videos, it turns out that she was pretty talkative at that age too. The takeaway is: take lots of videos of your children, including of random, seemingly inane moments.
  • The next generation of kids will be the first generation that will be able to see pictures of what their parents looked like during every single month of their lives. That’s kind of wild. My kids will only be able to see pictures of how I looked like every month of my life since my mid-20s, which I’m thankful for.


Charts, Images & Videos

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Feb 23

Weekly Report: February 12, 2023


Mostly random personal updates this week. Always so much work and so many household chores to catch up on after coming back from a vacation.

Air Travel Tips

Here are some international travel habits that I’ve developed over the years:

  • I fill up an empty Zojirushi water bottle with ice before I leave the house. It’s a very well-insulated flask — over a 24 hour period, the ice barely melts so you can take it through security because it’s not a liquid. Then, you can pour in water later on to melt some of the ice and get a cold drink.
  • I wear a long sleeved t-shirt onto planes. The cabin gets colder after take off, and it helps not having bare skin exposed to drafts. On the ground, cabins can get pretty warm if you’re somewhere hot and sunny. A light jacket that you have to take off is just one more item you have to juggle, so I prefer just being able to push up my t-shirt sleeves instead. Incidentally, U.S. airlines tend to keep cabins noticeably colder than Asian airlines.
  • My hands down favorite backpack is the MacPac Korora 16L. It’s compact with well thought-out compartments. There are two deep side pockets so water bottles don’t slip out and an easy-access zipped pocket at the top. Inside the main compartment, there’s a mesh divider and another pocket at the top that has slots for pens and a clip for hanging keys. It easily fits a 14” MacBook Pro in a sleeve, book, and jacket with room to spare. It’s been around the world with me several times — both on work and leisure trips — and has proven to be durable. It’s also water resistant.
    • I keep a phone charger cable and Airpods in the outside top pocket, and a backup battery and super compact Anker 65W 3-port USB-C + USB-A charger in the side pocket, together with a USB-C cable that has a dongle for converting one end to a lightning connector.
    • The only thing I would change is to remove the chest strap and buckles that are pretty useless.
  • We used to avoid checking in luggage if we could help it, but we can now no longer help it. Now we pack a light, empty duffle bag in our suitcase in case we need emergency extra space — such as when encountering a check-in agent that is insistent that the weight limit is 50 lbs and 52 lbs is completely unacceptable.
  • For the kids, we bought an inflatable footrest. It blows up to fill in the space in the footwell and becomes level with the seat. This lets the two of them sleep side by side across two seats each. When they’re awake, it helps provide a bit of an area to crawl around and reduces the amount of items that drop on the floor. Caution: some airlines don’t permit these because of purported safety reasons (we’ve been successful on American, Fiji Airways, and United, but not Air France).

Further Observations

  • I’ve been eyeing a weather station for years, so I was thrilled when I received an Ambient Weather one as a gift from my family last Christmas. We experience multiple long power outages each year, so I bought a probe thermometer that broadcasts data to the weather station and stuck it in the fridge to monitor the temperature. I figured it would be helpful when we were traveling so we don’t unknowingly come home to a fridge full of spoiled food. The weather station streams the data it collects online and sends text alerts when the temperature reaches certain thresholds (and we have a UPS for our internet equipment so the house stays connected for a couple hours even when the power is out).
  • Our fridge is set to 2°C and the temperature graph looks like this:
  • This is not the temperature profile I’d have expected. It never occurred to me that the fridge spends most of its time below 2°C, and sometimes below freezing. However, when you think about it for a minute, that’s the only way it could really work. The fridge doesn’t blow in air at the temperature it’s set at — it blows in really cold air at a fixed temperature and tries to average it out at the set temperature.
  • I contacted Amazon customer support recently after an order they had marked as having been successfully delivered actually hadn’t been delivered. It got weird:
  • Regarding the spate of layoffs in tech: what does it really mean when a CEO says they “take full responsibility” for over-hiring? Presumably it means that they are owning making the original decision that caused a bunch of people to then lose their jobs through no fault of their own? But we don’t really hear if there any real accountability or personal consequence to go with that responsibility… And what about the companies that go through multiple layoffs in succession?


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Feb 23

Weekly Report: February 5, 2023



  • We recently returned from a trip to Australia, my first in almost four years and the longest I’ve ever been away from it. It was also my kids’ first visit. Because of the age of our kids and jet lag, we set ourselves a modest goal of doing one thing a day. Apart from family, I only told like, 3 sets of friends that we were visiting Sydney, and even then we only managed to meet up with 2 of them. (Sorry everyone else — maybe next time!)
  • It was interesting seeing our kids meet their grandparents in person (for the first time ever for one of them), and fun watching them take in the sights of Sydney. Our hotel balcony had a nice view of the overseas passenger terminal at Circular Quay and watching massive cruise liners silently dock enthralled all of us early each morning.
  • We stayed at a hotel in the CBD for half of the trip, and my parents’ house for the other half. It was nostalgic taking my kids to the parks that I used to play in as a kid. Unfortunately, the one down the street from my parents’ house has been redone twice, each time ostensibly making the playground safer, but decidedly much less fun. Gone is the 3 metre-high straight metal slide, the flying fox, monkey bars, and swings on long chains that I loved to get height on. They have now been replaced with small, boring plastic things.
  • Sydney continues to grow. Lots of cranes dotted the CBD and the light rail system is now in full operation. We visited Barangaroo and walked through the lobby of the new Crown Casino building. The water park at Darling Harbour was a hit with the kids. Even the Circular Quay skyline has changed. When I used to work in Sydney, for a few months I had loan of a Senior Associate’s office with a thin window on the 57th floor that overlooked the harbour. There was an AMP building between us and the foreshore, but it was less than half the height of our building so the view was unobstructed. In the last couple of years, the AMP building has been extended, doubling in height and it now blocks some of those million dollar views.
  • For old time’s sake (and because my son loves trains), when relocating to my parents’ house, we took the train — the same route I used to take to and from uni. I felt like an old man reminiscing that back in those days, most of the trains weren’t air-conditioned, and there were no smartphones to occupy the time during the one hour journey.
  • The trip coincided with Chinese New Year, so we were fortunate to celebrate that with the grandparents and to see some of the festivities in Chinatown (that my daughter had only read about in books up until then).


  • On the way back from Sydney, we experimented with breaking up the flight by stopping over in Fiji for a few days. We decided to stay at Nanuku Resort, mainly because it offered free childcare (one babysitter per child, available from 8am to 8pm!). Also, because it was on the same island as the international airport, we didn’t need to take another plane to get there. (However, the advertised 2 hour drive from the airport turned out to be closer to 3 hours.)
  • Nanuku is operated by Auberge Resorts, and some of their executives were visiting it when we were there, including its CEO. After finishing up a kayak ride, we bumped into the CEO who took the opportunity to ask why we picked Nanuku (childcare), how we had discovered it (Google + Hyatt partnership), and encourage us — several times — to “come again and tell our friends to visit too” (talk about grassroots marketing!). He asked where we were from, and it turns out that he had grown up in San Mateo (the next city over from us) and was now living in Marin. He happened to be on the same flight as us back to San Francisco. When we joined the immigration line in SFO, our kids were acting up for whatever reason and screaming. He passed us in the queue and joked: ”I bet you wish you were still at Nanuku!”
  • The staff at Nanuku were all super-friendly and welcoming. Attention to detail was a bit hit and miss, but everyone was well-intentioned which to me counts for a lot. (For example, most staff knew the names of our kids, but it was 50:50 whether they remembered that we needed a high chair at meals for our youngest. There’s only one restaurant on the property.)
  • The resort had a very relaxed atmosphere, which is exactly what we were looking for. We arrived a couple weeks after peak season, so the resort wasn’t busy and at times it felt empty (which is a good thing at places like these). We overheard the Auberge execs worrying about how occupancy in February was going to be even lower.
  • They have a decent beach that guests don’t seem to use, and offered a variety of free and paid activities. We (tried to) learn how to start a fire using wood, weave a basket out of a palm frond, and grill prawns using bamboo. We also paddled a kayak down a nearby river, and took a jetski out onto the ocean. Susanne snorkeled out to a nearby reef but the water was too choppy for me (the wind picks up mid-morning so you need to get out early).
  • We booked partially on Hyatt points (great value at only 30K a night), and partially through the Amex FHR program (which offers discounted rates and a free couples massage). We had a room with a spa out the front and an outdoors shower, which both we and the kids loved.
  • One of the few resorts where the rooms looked better in real life than the photos!
  • The flight timings from Fiji back to SFO are good — night departure, long enough to get close to a full night’s rest, and not much filler time on either side. Due to the time zone difference, you land around noon on the same date that you leave.

Further Observations

  • Going to be interesting to see how the whole affair with Adani turns out.


Movies & TV

  • The Witcher: Blood Origins
    This 4-episode miniseries was a great way to whet the appetite for the next season of The Witcher, although Henry Cavill’s shoes will be tough to fill. It also stars Michelle Yeoh, who has had a great run as of late (unlike Henry Cavill).
  • Glass Onion
    Daniel Craig, playing a southern detective called Benoit Blanc, is a hoot in this thoroughly entertaining whodunnit.
  • Knives Out
    This is the first Benoit Blanc movie, but we only watched it after enjoying Glass Onion. Also highly watchable, but not as funny.

Charts, Images & Videos

Pandemic years aside, employment growth is gradual, and unemployment growth is sudden. We haven’t hit the “sudden” part of the current economic cycle yet.

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