Confessions of a researchaholic

November 23, 2010

Unpretentiousness

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 1:27 pm
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A few nights ago I went to a local Polish restaurant for dinner.

I booked it online only half an hour before the reservation time. (It was a cold raining night and I was looking for something warm and potentially exotic, and it is not uncommon for me to make snap decisions.) Upon arrival, the hostess, after flipping through a stack of fax papers, told me that she could not find my reservation. So they sit me in the high stool bar area. Obviously it is a newly opened restaurant; they do not have a computer reservation system (and thus receiving online bookings through a fax machine which obviously can drop your reservations especially those made on short notice) or even a cash register (they used pocket calculators and locked their cash in a small iron treasure box). They are obviously under-staffed; the host and hostess are the only people serving tables, and they are so obviously overwhelmed that I can see the later’s frustration through the white eyes she gave to the former. And not surprisingly, it took about eons to get my orders taken.

And yet this turned out to be my best dining experience in recent memory. Their kitchen did not seem to be understaffed as they churned out food pretty efficiently. Nor are they under-skilled; in fact, the dishes are very delicious, and surprisingly similar to the Taiwanese food in a good way. But the best part is the overall ambiance. Many of the guests are Polish (or at least Eastern European); this is not only a testament to the authenticity of the food but also gives the restaurant a local cozy family style warm and yet a bit foreign and exotic feeling. Furthermore, since I sit in the bar area, I can clearly see the inner workings of the hosts: how they cut the bread, calculate bills (using pocket calculators), pack to-go boxes, unlock/lock their treasure chest, pour wines, and show exasperations.

I did not fully realize why I like that Polish restaurant so much until another dining experience in a French restaurant. It is also a good restaurant with excellent ambiance and Ok food, but somehow the staff, by speaking in fake French accent, turned me off. After some analysis, I realized the key reason is pretentiousness. I am not sure if it is just me, but there is something genuinely charming about seeing people behave in their simple, direct, and natural manners. If a restaurant is understaffed, I would love to see them overwhelmed and exchange white eyes. And if you are obviously not French, I would find it very unnatural to hear a fake French accent.

Upon further analysis, it dawned on me that it also has a lot to do with the fact that I like to read people. I have a pretty good intuition on what people are thinking and feeling, and what kinds of personalities they have. And years of experience taught me that how trust-worthy people are and how well I can get along with them is positively correlated to how well I can read them. In particular, if someone tries to resist my reading, it is usually a sign that he or she is trying to hide something. And that is usually not a good sign according to my empirical evidence.

P.S. Here is the info for that Polish restaurant. If you are around the Bay Area, I highly recommend giving it a try. Just do not make reservation on a short notice unless you happen to also like sitting in the high stool bar area.


Bona Polish Restaurant
651-H Maloney Street, Menlo Park, CA 94025

November 6, 2010

Looking for intern: somatic computing in MSR SF

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 10:52 am
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Jaron Lanier and I recently started a new project termed “somatic computing” in Microsoft Research San Francisco. We are looking for an intern who would be interested in working with us. For more information, please take a look at our project page.

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