ellipsix informatics
2014
Dec
16

Adventures in China: The Christmas

Guess where this is?

pile of presents in restaurant lobby

This is the restaurant where I went to dinner last night. A fancy, yet very definitely Chinese restaurant. In China.

News flash: Americans aren't the only ones obsessed with Christmas.

Okay, to be fair, nobody turns Christmas into an obsession quite like the United States. I think the frantic rush to start making preparations in September is a uniquely American tradition. But the celebration is catching on among the Chinese, especially young people, in a big way. From what I hear, a lot of Chinese are taking Christmas as an occasion to spend more time with their families. And businesses are capitalizing on the spirit by putting up holiday-themed decorations — lights, presents, and even decorated trees are everywhere.

ornamented stairs at Best Western

tree at Best Western

As I write this, I've been sitting in the Beijing airport for five hours listening to a loop of "Santa Baby," "There's No Place Like Home For The Holidays," "Silver Bells," "Jingle Bells," and a rather Hawaiian-sounding rendition of "Let It Snow" (notable for the contrast with the complete lack of snow outside).

I guess the lesson is, if you're tired of the Christmas frenzy, you might be able to hide, but you can't run. It's everywhere.

2012
Nov
22

The gift of versatility

The "official" start of the Christmas season is here, and you know what that means: rampant commercialism! 5 AM sales, crowded mall parking lots, and frilly and sparkly red and green things that have already been filling store shelves since October August. 'Tis the season, I guess.

Anyway, odds are that you'll be buying gifts for somebody soon — if not for Christmas, then for a birthday or graduation or wedding or some other special occasion, unless you've achieved a level of social awkwardness that most of us can only dream of. Shopping for gifts is usually tricky, because you have to guess what to get people. Or at least that seems to be the popular opinion. Personally, though, I have no objection to gifting money, because it's actually mathematically better.

Let's say you're going to buy me a book (because I did you a huge favor last summer, and what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, and shut up it's a hypothetical scenario). Suppose you spend $25 on this book. I'm certainly going to appreciate the thought, but there might be only an 80% chance than I'm going to like the gift. So effectively, there's a 20% chance that you're giving me nothing. The expected value of your gift is only $20.

If you give me a $25 gift card instead, it's overwhelmingly likely that among the thousands of books at the bookstore, I'll be able to find one that I know I'm going to like. So on average, you're giving nearly the full value of that $25.

The only thing that makes the expected value of even a gift card fall short of its printed value is the chance that I won't be able to find anything at the store that I can use. That's why cash is so useful: it's completely unrestricted. You can use it for anything, so there's no chance of you losing its value by being unable to find something to do with it.

And if anyone complains about how you haven't put any thought into finding something for them, just say you're giving the gift of versatility, the best one of all.

2011
Dec
21

SE Chat Santa Hats

Here's a little treat for the holidays: add Santa hats to all the gravatars in Stack Exchange chat! You can copy and paste the CSS below into a user style, which you can enable in Firefox with the User Style Manager extension, or download a userscript that will insert the styles for you.

Screenshot of SE Chat Santa Hats

This includes all the extra markup you need to copy and paste directly into Stylish:

@namespace url(http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml);

@-moz-document domain("chat.stackexchange.com"), domain("chat.stackoverflow.com") {
 div.avatar {
  position: relative;
  display: block;
 }
 div.avatar:before {
  content: url("http://static.ellipsix.net/ext-tmp/santahat32.png");
  position: absolute;
  top: -8px;
  right: 3px;
 }
 div.avatar-16:before {
  content: url("http://static.ellipsix.net/ext-tmp/santahat16.png");
  position: absolute;
  top: -4px;
  right: 0px;
 }
 div#active-user div.user-gravatar64:before {
  content: url("http://static.ellipsix.net/ext-tmp/santahat64.png");
  position: absolute;
  top: -18px;
  right: 0px;
 }
}