第一次认真做菜

第一次从厨神到厨霸转型。说笑了。一直觉得生活中唯一过不去的坎就是做饭问题。目前有个非常能干的阿姨代劳,但不能一辈子这样下去呀。所以今天在阿姨的指导下开始向专业级别挑战。前两天也看了写关于厨艺入门方面的知乎文章,详见学做菜如何入门。其中人气第一的回答很多技术细节令我有醍醐灌顶,见之恨晚之感。文中推荐以青椒炒肉丝作为入门菜,因为荤素搭配在火候和刀功方面都有挑战。所以今天我也尝试了一把。

可惜阿姨实在太能干,把青椒事先给我切好了,所以也已成功一半了。外加还给我准备了豆腐干丝。接下来我只要管切肉。平时我对切肉也相当没有技巧。最后往往切成肉丁和肉块并存。主要原因是常温下肉太软,加之到不够快,所以很难切出好的形状。这次多亏阿姨事先给我拿出冷冻的肉,就可以像锯木头一样工整地切。下锅之前,还要把肉放在碗里用稍许料酒,白胡椒,生抽,以及足量的生粉。中餐中生粉的重要性跟油差不多。没了它肉绝对炒不嫩。白胡椒是第一次听说,但是肯定不会难吃。

根据知乎上文,肉炒的时候要热锅冷油。而且建议油放到1/4锅的容量。这有点夸张。所以我只是比平时多加了点油,按照我的健康标准已经过多了。可惜今天锅是热了,油却预热时间过长。结果肉一下锅就劈哩叭啦,没有做到知乎文中的不吸油的状态。不过油放的足够多,最后捞上来也能继续炒别的。文中还说一上来不要去搅肉,但因为我油放的浅了,根本盖不住肉,所以不得不很早就开始搅,当然也是比较轻微的。可惜很晚才意识到可以把大火调到最小,所以有几根肉丝炒的比较煳。最后阿姨过来直接命令出锅,即便有几根肉丝还微带血丝。

把肉直乘到最终装菜的盘子里。花了一点时间把肉和剩下的油分离。接下来炒豆干和肉丝就比较容易了。具体是将锅里剩下的油烧热,然后先将豆干丝倒下去翻炒,然后过大概20秒再放青椒丝。不久之后再放一勺盐,和稍许红糖。后者是为了提高鲜味,因为家里不用耗油等吃了会口干的调料。最后还有一个关键步骤就是尝咸淡。之前放盐总觉得一小勺太多。这次看了知乎文章才知道都是半勺半勺加的,所以直接放了一勺。看来咸淡正合适。

这是炒完了的样子:

20170709_183442.jpg

这是开吃半分钟以后的样子:

20170709_185210.jpg

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How do I pronounce my name?

Today as usual I arrived late to company breakfast, due to morning busy work with kids. As soon as I finished ordering, the receptionist asked for my name. So with some nasal stuffiness, I said John. After several repetition, he finally wrote down “Jong”. I had no idea how he came up with this highly unusual spelling. Maybe it is somewhat common among Koreans? Maybe he himself is also Korean? I then corrected his spelling. Just like other receptionists before him, he eventually figured it out and re-uttered my name with a theatrically condescending tone. Outraged by my inability to get it right the first time, I retorted: “how should I pronounce my name?” He then smiled and conceded that he had bad hearing. But surely there is something wrong with the way I handled the nasality of the word “John”. It’s one of those American words that has no dictionary perfect pitch.

My voice tends to lack the resounding quality of a leader, or even a domain expert. I attribute this not to my physical inadequacy, but a general lack of confidence. When I utter a sentence, it usually has not been completely thought out. Even if it has, my mind can vacillate mid-air. Throughout my higher education I have over-emphasized depth and originality of ideas and neglected presentation. It takes considerable deliberation to present a piece of information in a socially convincing manner, no matter how trivial it is. Indeed, great speakers tend to over-sell mundane ideas, over and over, without boring or embarrassing the audience. I might have missed a critical lesson for not going through the brutality of academic job search, which requires an inordinate amount of salesmanship. So as a stage II corporate parasite, I must voluntarily allocate quality time to re-establish my character independence.

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多努力分布 (multinoulli distribution)

Today a colleague of mine brought up an interesting mathematical statistics problem. What is the Jensen Shannon divergence between two multinomial distributions? In the discussion, he mentioned that he has reduced the problem to looking at binomial distributions. I misheard it as Bernoulli distribution, and started wondering what’s the name of the multinomial analogue of that. Surely it is not called multinomial distribution, since the latter deals with n objects, rather than 1.

Finally I read about Rademacher distribution, which is nothing but a rescaled version of Bernoulli distribution. Outraged by the excessive naming in mathematics, I started looking up the former curiosity.

According to wikipedia, the correct generalizing nomenclature is categorical distribution, or multinoulli distribution. I have never heard of multinoulli before, but the etymology is self-explanatory and Bernoulli seems respectable enough to coin a new word based on his name. The most natural Chinese translation becomes “how much effort?”. In fact, if one restricts to multinommial where n =1, then it’s the same as multinoulli distribution.

Back to the colleague’s problem: recall Jensen-Shannon is defined by
JSD(u, v) = \sum u_i \log 2u_i / (u_i + v_i) + v_i \log 2v_i / (u_i + v_i). For u = multinomial(n, \alpha) and $\latex v = multinomial(m, \beta)$, JSD doesn’t make sense unless n = m, which we assume. \alpha and \beta are vectors that sum to 1, and both of the same dimension k, otherwise again it doesn’t make sense.

There are n!/(n-k)! different points in the common state space. We can simply calculate the probability under u and v of each point. Taking the case of $k=2$, we are then dealing with the special case of binomial distribution. The calculation eventually reduces to a sum of the form
\sum_i \binom{n}{i} \alpha^i \log (1 + (\alpha / \beta)^i). Mathematica suggests that this is not reducible to closed form in terms of common special functions. I suspected that one could Taylor expand log(1 + \epsilon)  = \epsilon - \epsilon^2 / 2 + \epsilon^3 / 3 - \ldots and get item-wise closed form. It is true that each term in the resulting expansion is summable in closed form, but summing them together becomes just as difficult. In fact with each n, I end up with n terms in this roundabout summation in mathematica. So I am finally convinced that this problem has no analytic solution.

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回国有感

乘产假期间回国2周,收益颇多。这里主要谈一下治病方面的进展。不生病不知道体质的重要性,就像不发生金融危机就不重视市场秩序一样。人需要管的东西太多,作为一个有社会责任感的青年,故意放纵的情况是不太多的。多数是疏忽或者优先权错位。

去了一趟云南也看了中医。途中微信感慨了国内医生的敬业,却遭美国朋友嘲笑说中国人不重视锻炼。或许锻炼是比欧美人少,但是也是出于无奈。试想天天单程1.5小时的上班族,外加孩子,有时还要加班,哪有时间去锻炼?吃了几幅药也没见好转。看来锻炼是硬道理。我虽然在微信上严辞反驳说美国80%的肥胖病患率,但回到上海后也开始锻炼了。

重拾高中时的篮球,在校园内95后学弟们的寝室边上篮球场独自练投篮,虽然有老大徒悲伤之感,但球技也颇有长进。对健康却没有信心。如今受感冒咳嗽困扰,胃病似乎缓一缓了,但一些生理表征如隔膜横纹,过量饮食后导致体力衰竭的症状依旧如前,只是消化不良似乎没那么明显了。或许生理年龄到了换一种病的时候了。至于咳嗽,仍然受冷空气和疲劳诱发,似乎略有好转,但很有可能是短期受高强度锻炼兴奋所致。就跟两年前暑假骑自行车上下班是一样。体质虚弱没有好转。

打室外篮球另一好处乃阳光浴。平时我早上9点到10点半左右,可以足足晒1个半小时。国内阳光又没那么刺激,估计皮肤癌概率减半也是有的。今天在网上发现一些偏方也称晒背大有功效。据说长寿村也是晒出来的。这个观点在西医网站也看到过,说是阳光增强抵抗力,促进钙质吸收。之前在美国也略有小试,效果不甚佳,主要还是太在乎晒黑,皮肤癌之类的危害,和对加州阳光的恐惧。此番回去或许会坚持用防晒霜,并注意控制日晒时间,顺便带娃,可以缓解家庭矛盾又健身了。至于运动,还是需要适量。毕竟带娃已经有很大体力支出。最好还是乘身体需要的是有适当锻炼以下。比如一周一到两次球赛。室内运动尽量避免。等身体彻底恢复再考虑肌肉什么的。

如今回美最大的困惑还是如何面对家人在体力方面的要求。孩子9点前不肯去学校,也是逼不出来的。关键下午下班得早,可以乘机带他去公园玩,顺便晒太阳。或直接回家让阿姨接管。好过在路上堵车之苦。太早太晚都不好。关键要走的时间巧。早晨作息还得从长计议。

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Insurance policy

Only after my second child was born did I realize that I have been using the less economic insurance plans all these years. Even during years without major medical events, my family members, myself included, make hospital visits pretty frequently. The ideal plan in that situation is EPO. But I have been using a highly subsidized version of PPO sponsored through my company for the past year, since it was the best advertised one and seems to essentially level the deductible with EPO. What I did not understand is that for things like child delivery, EPO charges a flat $250 rate as reported by the Chinese community, whereas the PPO plan accumulates a bill in excess of $20k, which still charges $2k to me after coinsurance. Unfortunately the details are in the fine-prints, and it’s not in the insurance company’s best interest to make them transparent. Lesson learned. I will have to trust Chinese source of information far more than the English ones, because the latter just suck with irrelevant details.

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2.5 hour struggle with technology

I am not impressed with user-friendliness (or user-hostility) of either of the two major cellphone makers. Last night I had to port contact list from a Galaxy 5s to a newly bought iphone 7+ for my mother-in-law; for the record, I would never buy a luxury good like that for myself. Initially the solution seemed straightforward. The conventional means was to set up a google account (which my MIL hadn’t because of restriction in China), and export and import contacts there. It turned out that the galaxy device wouldn’t allow me to use gmail at all, possibly because it was configured for Chinese users, who have no legit use of google products. This in fact took me a while to discover and confirm, as I tried installing the gmail app from the built-in samsung store, which then prompted me to add an email account, only to be rejected because I don’t have google play store installed. The latter turned out to be unavailable in the samsung store, presumably because samsung didn’t want google to takes its market share of mobile apps. Even an unsophisticated user like me can easily sniff competitions going awry at the expense of users with these design choices.

The next option was to use the sim card as a physical medium of transfer. This again was a dead-end because when I tapped on the menu option on iphone 7+ that says import contact from sim card, I got instantly worm-holed back to the home screen without any explanation (or apology). Could this be a case of incompatibility with foreign sim card (previously used on a Chinese device)? I also tried switching the iphone locale to en/us, as iphones were notorious for incomplete feature implementation in secondary locales, but still had no luck. The complaint for localization bugs will be fodder for a later thread. After researching on the web about this turned up no relevant results, I was briefly flummoxed.

The saving grace was the realization that the iphone 7+ did carry a scanty few contacts from the old galaxy phone. Initially I thought it was due to an incomplete exportation to sim, but after switching the sim hosts several times, and consulting with my family members, I started looking at my MIL’s newly created gmail account (which is inaccessible on galaxy). Then it became clear that those few contacts came from an earlier porting attempt by my wife. So a third solution emerged: try loading the contact list directly into the gmail account, and then hopefully it will automatically sync with the iphone.

The next episode simply proves the adage that bad things all come at once. First it took me a while to figure out how to access the local file system on the android: there turned out to be an app just for that, fortunately already installed. It took me no time to locate the file storing the contact list. But how should I send it to other devices? Gmail is out of question. This left me with basically only one option: use wechat. In a moment of unequivocal stupidity, I logged out of my MIL’s wechat account and got into mine, and sent the file as an attachment to myself there. The goal was to retrieve the file on another mobile device/macbook so that it could eventually be uploaded to gmail. I then started checking my personal android phone for the sent file, but it was running soon out of battery. I connected it to the my mac air and made sure that the battery charging mode was on (indeed the data transfer mode was not supported any more by the itune version on my mac air, which was only 4 years old!). But the battery turned out to be really depleted at that point, despite the indicator showing 30% before shutting down. After a few failed attempt to reboot without instantly shutting down, I decided to plug it into a wall socket and simply wait. Meanwhile, I had the ingenious idea of sending the file to my wife’s android phone. It was no longer possible for me to log back into my MIL’s wechat account since she forgot her username and password, and my wife, being the only person knowledgeable in this matter, was upstairs breastfeeding or something and could not be disturbed. For about 10 minutes, I tried to use wechat on my mac air directly, only to find out that it required 2d bar code scanning from a mobile device, which was out of battery at the moment. Even though I eventually succeeded in this regard, the sent file was not showing up in any self-conversation tab, on either my phone or the laptop. So finally I forwarded the file to my wife’s phone, and it appeared instantly on her device’s end. Could that be a bug in wechat regarding self-conversation? Only John von Neumann knows. The rest was happy ending, though to be fair I could have spent that 2.5 hours babysitting my younger one or pretended to do some math in my head.

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How much it costs to raise a kid

Today my wife made the comment that it is actually easier on the parents to send the kids to extracurricular classes than having them stay home, despite the extra financial cost. So I was curious enough to do the following back of the envelope calculation. Assuming that we send one kid out every working hour during the week, that is 40 hours a week, so for 18 years, assuming $50 an hour, this amounts to:
echo “40 * 52 * 18 * 50” | bc
1872000

that is a whopping 1.8 million dollars, something only the top 5% of this country can afford. And this is just one kid, and non-weekend working hours. With weekend nannies, diapers, and other material cost, even if we lower the hourly rate to $25, I think the figure is still easily exceeding $1 million. So how on earth can people in this country afford to have a kid, let alone multiple ones?

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