Thoughts on Google in China

I stumbled upon this MIT Technology Review article: It was quite accurate and well-written. I have put it in my reprints section. Link:

I remember seeing it used back in its infancy back in 1999. Moreover, around 2000 probably, my mom showed me some newspaper article on the two Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Her words were something like, “they’re so young and already so rich and successful through this. If you’re really good at math, in the future maybe you could become like them too.” I was very little at that time.

There isn’t actually any serious math in most software engineering. Sure, PageRank has some math involved, with matrices and eigenvectors applied to “link analysis,” but overall, it’s more of an engineering, with the math just a tool. My math ability is quite strong but nothing spectacular, and my software engineering ability is probably quite mediocre though certainly good enough to be a software engineer at a top company, as I’ve already done.

Speaking of math, Sergey Brin’s father was a math professor at University of Maryland. Due to his being Jewish, he wasn’t able to officially be a graduate student in the USSR, but the system there back then was flexible enough to let him earn his PhD by passing some exams and writing a thesis with some original work in his spare time, while he worked in the Gosplan, if I remember correctly, the institution involved in economic planning. His dad was unable to get a full time job doing math despite the PhD, despite being quite a good mathematician. Eventually, their family took the difficult move to immigrate to the US, and Sergey ended up hating the USSR for “totalitarianism.”

We all know that USSR very much sided against Israel during the Cold War, so Jews there were by default persona non grata. Though you could become an exception if you really proved yourself not too Jewish in your politics or whatnot, as did Iosif Kobzon (the baritone singer of Soviet red songs considered the Russian Frank Sinatra) and some others. In any case, the USSR didn’t let Jews fuck up the country for their own benefit as the US has done, which is quite respectable. The Jews there made enormous contribution to arts and sciences with their talents, though not in a way that was so much “for the Jewish interest,” as has been the case in America.

I don’t exactly blame Sergey for his political stance. He’s a Jew, not a Russian. I bet he never really felt Russian, just like how I never felt American despite growing up in America. To align with the US over the USSR is very natural for a Jew, for reasons too obvious.

Before I developed some knowledge and credentials, I naturally saw Google very highly, almost blindly so. But over time, I saw some not all that great people becoming software engineers there, which is only natural given how many people they hire. A PhD student told me to my great surprise during my second year of college that I’m definitely smarter than the average Google developer. IQ wise that almost certainly is the case, but being a successful software engineer there is much more than about IQ.

Now I obviously don’t have any awe of Google. Almost certainly, it has the best distributed systems and AI technology. It has the most active users of any internet company in the world (its search engine, Gmail, Chrome, etc). I know and have interacted substantially with many engineers there. 90% of its money is through advertising, and because advertising is so lucrative when you are such a huge media platform, they can afford to pay its employees better, even if most of its engineers do pretty mundane work. Google has also done quite well at marketing, it’s come across as so cool and sexy, and for anybody to challenge it, that person would be mostly viewed as rather strange and uncool.

Larry and Sergey founded the company as graduate students at Stanford. They made a prototype search engine (pretty much a toy project) and I read they almost sold it for a million dollars (it was rejected because the other party found probably their thing not all that great). But after persisting with it and turning it into a company, they managed to secure enough funding and credibility that they could hire some really top notch engineers to make a top-notch technical product.

Yahoo was number one before Google (and was close to acquiring it even), but eventually, Google triumphed. One could say that Jerry Yang and David Filo could have become Larry and Sergey. Or maybe not. Larry and Sergey had a better background. US venture capitalists naturally would prefer Jews, especially a Jew from the Soviet Union who denounced it. Quality of technology is only one aspect of success. Connections and marketing tends to matter way more. Usually once you have enough of the latter, you can more or less buy the former. Larry and Sergey certainly weren’t the best at technology themselves, but they managed to hire people who were to create the real Google. In fact, people were telling me about how there are still traces of them asking some really naive technical questions on the Internet.

I remember Google’s leaving China in early 2010 all over the press. At that time, Google seemed so awesome, and the Chinese government seemed so uncool and shameful. Google appeared to have the moral high ground fighting against an evil communist dictatorship. They had like 25% market share at the time, while Baidu had around 60%, based on what I remember. Kaifu Lee was heading Google China and he was considered a big deal. (I’ve written on here about reading his Chinese book titled A Walk into the Future back in 2008 which after I actually learned math and computer science and actually spent time in academia and the software industry realized was kind of full of shit.) But after Google left, Kaifu also left. He failed to deliver Google in China. As for why Google actually left, that’s quite complex and hard to know for certain. Google will say it was due to being hacked and its principles against censorship. Baidu will say Google was losing money in China (I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case). Some will say that the Chinese government pretty much forced it out.

As written in that article from Technology Review linked above, the Chinese government has gained much more power and credibility over the past decade, though still disliked in the West. A decade ago, the Chinese government felt like China really needed Google and Silicon Valley giants for the technology and expertise and thus had to make certain concessions; now, that is no longer the case. A decade ago, people in China still really looked up to America. To challenge America’s credibility, especially that of its top institutions, like Google, like Harvard, would have given people some really funny looks in China. Now, with the benefit of China’s sizable advance in economy and technology, the trend seems to be turning. People are thinking more critically now in the face of an authority, including myself, reaching conclusions politically difficult to accept a decade ago.

From my reading and talking with people in China, as China gradually opened up in the 1980s, with more Chinese going to America and spread of American media in China, many in China lost confidence with the home country and eventually questioned the ideology and political system. The difference in level of technology and standard of living was one between heaven and earth. For instance, back then, cars were something that pretty much only organizations could afford. For the best of that generation, success meant being able to go to America for graduate school. Of course, the difference between US and China in 1980 was far smaller than in 1950, but people then did not think that way. They only saw superficially that the material standard of living in America was leagues higher. It was such that people even looked up to the four Asian tigers of South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore as examples to learn from, let alone Japan. After the 89 incident, the political climate in some sense went further in that direction despite the government crackdown and more people wanted to leave the country.

Now that China is far more developed, more people are realizing the foolishness and shortsightedness of certain behaviors and decisions back then and more openly calling them out. As a consequence, people now kind of hate Deng Xiaoping, who some would regard as having come close to having seriously ruined the country. Quite prominently, China in 1980s was already test flying some Boeing 707 like passenger aircraft that was heavily invested in from 1970 on. But much due to its association with the people in power during the Cultural Revolution that Deng’s faction sidelined afterwards, the project was cancelled and the fruits of the R&D, the expertise accumulated, was pretty much wasted. If not for that, China may well already have had her own passenger aircraft in service by 2000, whereas now the target is roughly 2025, after they decided to restart R&D of passenger aircraft sometime in the 2000s. Back then, the political climate was such that integration with America and the rest of the world trumped actual, high quality development. As for those top mainland Chinese who went to America, some did well in academia and industrial R&D, while many only became more or less average engineers or scientists, all within American institutions, as a passive, second-tier minority. Many of the seconds who might have tried to go to America but weren’t able to (or a minority of top people who were patriotic enough to not buy into America even in that climate) ended up heading important projects in China or getting rich in business. As a concrete example, China has developed her own satellite navigation system, Beidou, which entered worldwide service lately according to online sources, an alternative to GPS that came 20+ years later. The Chinese in China who lead that endeavor might not be as smart as the smartest Chinese in America, but they have valuable expertise that no group of Chinese in America could ever have. Beidou is much more valuable than Google, which is honestly quite easily replicable, just at lower quality and scale. In contrast, only America, Russia, and China have the technical expertise and resources to a develop a satellite navigation system.

I’ve come to realize more so over the past year or two that over the 40 years of opening and reform, China did not get all that much from America, nothing that close to outweighed the risk of being dragged into a fire, which I managed to (one could say, narrowly) escape. In contrast, what the Soviets gave to China the 1950s industry and technology wise provided China’s modern foundation; it has been decisive to China’s success today. Moreover, the political and cultural influence from the Soviet Union on China is actually a durable one which has drastically transformed the inner soul of the Chinese people and nation for the better. Remarkable that forty years of direct exposure and interaction with a powerful and subversive America could defeat it not, with the trend now turning the other direction. Continue reading “Thoughts on Google in China”











后来,我慢慢发现大多这些我接触的第一代移民的观念有很严重的问题。对于他们小时候的中国,个人是穷,没有钱,他们都学不了钢琴,但这不意味着不会有极少数孩子,来自特殊家庭或者特别有天分的能得到一些国家的资源成为钢琴演奏家(反正一个没很强的音乐天分的人学钢琴意义价值不大)。对于很多东西,他们看得非常表面,缺乏远见。他们觉得他们自己能和美国有关联,有不得了了,即使自己没啥地位,就是个非常普通的工程师,没想到白人都根本瞧不起他们。然后,一个在美国稍微混出点名堂来的华人,如李开复,那在这些人眼里就不得了了. Continue reading “卖国骗子李开复”


周五晚上,我想到可以把Ron Unz在他的媒体网站Unz Review上发表的关于孟晚舟事件的文章翻译成中文。所以周六就那么做了。少部分不太好翻译的地方我就漏掉了。结果是:

Averting World Conflict with China
The PRC Should Retaliate by Targeting Sheldon Adelson’s Chinese Casinos

As most readers know, I’m not a casual political blogger and I prefer producing lengthy research articles rather than chasing the headlines of current events. But there are exceptions to every rule, and the looming danger of a direct worldwide clash with China is one of them.


Consider the arrest last week of Meng Wanzhou, the CFO of Huawei, the world’s largest telecom equipment manufacturer. While flying from Hong Kong to Mexico, Ms. Meng was changing planes in the Vancouver International Airport airport when she was suddenly detained by the Canadian government on an August US warrant. Although now released on $10 million bail, she still faces extradition to a New York City courtroom, where she could receive up to thirty years in federal prison for allegedly having conspired in 2010 to violate America’s unilateral economic trade sanctions against Iran.


Although our mainstream media outlets have certainly covered this important story, including front page articles in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, I doubt most American readers fully recognize the extraordinary gravity of this international incident and its potential for altering the course of world history. As one scholar noted, no event since America’s deliberate 1999 bombing of China’s embassy in Belgrade, which killed several Chinese diplomats, has so outraged both the Chinese government and its population. Columbia’s Jeffrey Sachs correctly described it as “almost a US declaration of war on China’s business community.”


Such a reaction is hardly surprising. With annual revenue of $100 billion, Huawei ranks as the world’s largest and most advanced telecommunications equipment manufacturer as well as China’s most internationally successful and prestigious company. Ms. Meng is not only a longtime top executive there, but also the daughter of the company’s founder, Ren Zhengfei, whose enormous entrepreneurial success has established him as a Chinese national hero.


Her seizure on obscure American sanction violation charges while changing planes in a Canadian airport almost amounts to a kidnapping. One journalist asked how Americans would react if China had seized Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook for violating Chinese law…especially if Sandberg were also the daughter of Steve Jobs.

她的在加拿大转机时根据不明确的美国制裁违反的公诉的拘捕接近于一个绑架。一位记者问了美国人如果中国为了违反中国法律拘捕了雪梨·桑德伯格会如何反应,尤其假设桑德伯格又是乔布斯的女儿。 Continue reading “周末过得还相当充实,做了些翻译和业余的编程”

The Brahmins

The cognitive and personality profile, and overall achievement package, of Indians as a group is a rather interestingly unbalanced one. Sometimes they do spectacular things, like discovering the infinite series for trigonometric functions of sine, cosine, tangent, and arctangent as early as the 14th century, producing a good number of real geniuses like Ramanujan and Satyendra Nath Bose, and reaching Mars orbit on its first attempt, being the first Asian nation to do so, and doing so at a small fraction of the cost expended by NASA. An IMO gold medalist I talk to once said to me that there are probably more Indians than Chinese with IQ 160+ due to very high Brahmin IQ that has stabilized (meaning regression to a stable high Brahmin mean as opposed to the low Indian mean) over millennia of inbreeding within caste. I thought maybe. Certainly, I do sometimes get the impression that Indians, at least in science, are better than Chinese at breeding the type of genius with the right combination of technical ability and scientific discernment that manages to discover radically deep and groundbreaking science in a very independent and spectacular fashion. The Chinese have produced geniuses of the highest order (or close) in science the 20th century, like Chen Ning Yang in theoretical physics and Shing-Shen Chern in pure math, with Yang-Mills and Chern classes ubiquitous now in the literature of their respective fields, which are now very intertwined. However, they did so only after much training, exposure, and reinforcement based on the whole framework of modern science developed in the West over many centuries, and ancient China, on the other hand, did not produce in pure science anything near what Indians did, a sign of lack of genius and of poor taste, both in its rare individuals and at the collective societal level. On this, I like to think that Indians are Greeks and Chinese are Romans.

In sharp contrast to China, India in practical matters has been largely a complete fuckup, or at least vastly outmatched by China. It is well known that the ancient Chinese invented gunpowder and paper-making, whereas nothing of equal direct impact came out of ancient India. In modern times, China developed nuclear weapons way faster than India did, and even before that, defeated India in a war in 1962, which, even worse for India, was entirely her fault. Economically and infrastructurally, holistically speaking, India, exemplified by its frequent power outages and accident-prone train system, could be regarded as a few decades behind China, which is further confirmed by that India’s life expectancy and infant mortality rate is, today, where China had been at 20+ years ago. Given that the two had been around the same level in 1950, India’s development has unambiguously been a complete failure.

How to explain this? On this, I recall how my Chinese friend’s mom had said that it’s not because China’s elite is smarter than India’s elite, but because China’s grassroots is smarter than India’s grassroots. This is well-confirmed by international IQ studies which tend to put China’s average IQ at around 105 and India’s around 82, which is a 1.5 sigma difference. So even if India’s +3 sigma is as smart or smarter than China’s +3 sigma, there are too many dumb, dysfunctional people holding India back, from their needing to be fed while doing the routine work rather poorly. So, the smart, (usually) high caste Indians opt to go to America to escape India’s dysfunction, so ubiquitous that even the ultra-rich at home cannot immune itself. The best and brightest in that category tend to go through the IITs at home for undergrad, the most reliable ticket to a high paying tech job in the United States. That stratum of Indians has established by now quite a presence in top American tech companies and universities (just about every top STEM academic department in the US has several prominent Indian profs). For example, Microsoft and Google both have Indian CEOs, and plenty of Indian engineers and managers, with many of them in high ranking positions, especially at Google. In contrast, there are few Chinese in top leadership positions. When I learned that Google has several Indian SVPs but no Chinese, a guy from China responded with humorous ease followed by sarcastic insult,

不用担心,阿里巴巴的SVP全都是中国人,百度的SVP也全都是中国人,没有一个印度人。(In translation: Don’t worry, Alibaba’s SVPs are all Chinese, Baidu’s SVPs are all Chinese, not a single Indian) What does India have? Tata? Infosys?

This is, based on my experience, similar to how people react to the astronomical success of certain Indian academics, entrepreneurs, and business leaders in America. They will say,

Sure, an individual brilliant Indian does extremely well in America. But what does India as a nation get from that?

Even such brilliance of these elite Indians is somewhat questionable. On TopCoder, which plenty of Indians obsess over on Quora, now infested by low status Indians, India is ranked, as I am currently writing this, only 11th out of the 31 countries on there, with only two red (the highest category) coders, despite having more than twice the number of members as China, the second most populous nation in this algorithmic coding contest. They’ve actually done better in recent years. I remember back years ago when I participated, I, having been on the lower side of yellow (the second highest category) coder, would have ranked close to the top among the Indians. Of course, one must not discount the possibility that the best Indians have better things to do than practice for a contest where one solves artificial algorithmic problems, which is consistent with my having seen and worked with many Indians who are very competent at real software engineering, with quite a strong sense for systems design and real world production code, which are rather orthogonal to, and much more consequential than, what one sees in those contrived coding contests and interviews. Still, the dismally low performance of Indians on TopCoder still raises suspicions, because TopCoder, like the International Math Olympiad, which India is complete garbage at, is a 100% objective and fair contest, whereas success in the real world software engineering, determined by promotions and professional level, has a political and context component. It’s not just the Indians at home; even in America, where the smartest Indians tend to go, the Chinese kids beat the Indian kids by a wide margin on the elite math, computing, and physics olympiads, even when the Indian kids seem to have improved a fair bit over the recent years. From this, one can only conclude that Indians are naturally not that strong in the abilities which these contests load on, though of course they may be relatively much more talented in research and engineering, for which these contests are very imperfect predictors.

You, the reader, have probably noticed that up to now, we’ve focused mostly on brains and technical ability. Yes, they are essential, but personality characteristics (both individual and collective) and “soft skills” also matter, especially if one wants to rise to a leadership position. From my personal observation, Indians are, in general, very good at projecting confidence and assertiveness from the way the talk and present themselves, much better than Chinese are, at least in the American cultural context, even when you discount the language barrier Chinese face relative to Indians. I’m talking not only about how one says things in terms of word choice, but the vocal tone and body language behind it. Sure, you can disdain this as superficial, but it matters. Perception matters as much, and in some cases, more, than substance. There is also that Indians seem to have a stronger network and help each out more in the career world. Collective intelligence or ethnic nepotism, you be the judge.

I have stories to tell on this. First of all, I remember vividly how when I interned at the same place as an Indian schoolmate, he was the only one who scheduled, successfully in a few cases, coffee meetings with executives, as an intern (!!!!!), when it never would have occurred to me, or probably almost everyone else except him, to even try. One can sort of link this to collective intelligence, in that it is an indicator of discernment with regard to who matters (the executives) and who doesn’t (the engineer worker bees) within the political organization. And needless to say, you rise up in the organization by aligning yourself with the people who matter. Yes, my telling a full-time engineer this was met largely with a response in the likes of, “He knows who matters and who doesn’t. And even if he completely fucks up, he has nothing to lose, he’s only a 2nd year college intern. In any case, he gets good practice interacting with people who matter.” There is also that multiple people I know have complained about blatant Indian favoritism in interviews in the likes of what is described in this Quora answer. Yes, others have told me that when Indians interview other Indians, the bar is much lower. It’s not just in interviews. Another guy told me about how he once worked for a company that turned into ruins after Indian managers protected some Indian fuckups from getting fired. Personally, I have seen a case of Indians getting promoted way faster than those of other ethnic groups on a big team with an Indian director. So sometimes, I ask myself the verboten. Could it be that Indians really are far higher ranked in tech companies than their ability and contribution, because they are much more self-promoting and collectively nepotistic than those of other groups? Moreover, could it be that many people secretly think and resent this but are too afraid to say out of fear of being publicly vilified for “being racist” and having their careers ruined from alienating a national group increasingly powerful in corporate America? And that gradually, other groups, as they awake to the rigging of the game and get past, reluctantly, their moral objections, will quietly do the same, transforming tech companies and the American workplace at large into literal prison gangs contend, destroying whatever is left of the ideal of meritocracy and fair play in this country, ever more mired in identity politics?

Don’t get me wrong. There is much variance in personality and character and ability in those of any ethnic group, including for Indians, and much overlap between ethnic groups. Like, I know of this really brilliant Indian who donates most of his tech salary to very worthy causes, leaving little for himself, and he would be the last person I would expect, based on his characterized as autistic personality, to successfully climb the corporate ladder, though through sheer talent alone, he should do just fine in the appropriate position. Moreover, I have interacted with several Indians who had been very kind, tolerant, and helpful towards me. However, averages can differ by a standard deviation or more, with enormous social consequences.

I actually feel somewhat sympathetic for India and the Indians here. Somebody, on this, even said something along the lines of,

India is just such a shitty place that the Indians here have nothing to lose, so they play dirty political games and engage in the most spineless social climbing.

What can be done to resolve this? Immediately, I cannot think of anything other than drastically reducing the number of abjectly impoverished, low IQ Indians in India by simultaneously improving economic conditions and enforcing birth control on the poor and unable, so that less suffering and dysfunction is spread to the next generation. India could, instead of drinking the democracy Kool-Aid, learn from China, in a way compatible to its own culture and circumstances, just as China did from the West and the Soviet Union, to great success. Its elite needs to correct many of its deeply flawed social attitudes, and not only that, actually act accordingly with full force; otherwise, the excessive damage India does to itself, America, and the world at large with its internal dysfunction and exported corruption will always far outweigh what its elites contribute to science and technology. I can’t be optimistic on this though, barring some really radical change.

Fun with Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer is an epitome of all that’s wrong with Silicon Valley, and the world at large, increasingly influenced by it, culturally, in quite an undesirable way. She is an obvious pseudo-nerd (where here, nerd = really smart talented honest technical person) posing as one for marketing, like much of the SillyCon Valley elite. I’m not being “sexist,” for all that James Damore has triggered. There are women who are genuinely technically competent with good character, and Marissa does not seem to belong in that category. I had to be reminded of her again. How?

Well, I talk frequently with this girl who did undergrad (in CS and math) at MIT, who is now at Uber. She’s not that nerdy though.

In a group chat, she was like:
sigh it makes me worried about planning on staying at uber for 4 years
An uber (no-pun intended) nerd guy responds:
it’s ok to stay at one company if your career is actually progressing
if not then you should leave
i just wanna get promoted and then leave
but it’ll probably take all 4 years
Me (tongue-in-cheek, for those too autistic to detect sarcasm):
Her name why don’t you become the Marissa Mayer of Uber instead
The same uber nerd:
nobody likes Marissa Mayer
Another guy:
i think my name just noticed that they’re both female
with his superior pattern-matching mind

Uber nerd’s name, if you could, would you do Marissa Mayer

idk, she’s old
The other guy:
uber nerd’s name needs someone to intellectually stimulate him

Something I learned today about Microsoft

I recall when I was in high school, some old guy told me that Microsoft got really lucky with its IBM deal. I didn’t know about that, and I didn’t care enough to learn about that until today. Apparently, Microsoft bought the license for an operating system created by Gary Kildall and his company by the name of CP/M, from which they derived MS-DOS. It is said that Microsoft basically

Continue reading “Something I learned today about Microsoft”