Sunday, May 24, 2009

Adventure in New York: Looking for Apartment

I've been helping Yalu, Celia, and Helen find a place in NYC. We went down to NYC by Chinatown bus Friday early afternoon and we literally hit the road running. We had appointments for all of Saturday but one of the brokers called and said he wanted to meet us Friday night. So we got to New York and went around to a few places. It was pretty tiring to run around that late.

This first broker we saw was not that great. They're a big real estate company that doesn't really care about taking our time to do search and bringing us to places that's out of our price range. I had found three places on their website but we didn't bring a copy of the spreadsheet that had all our research on it. So they took their time looking for places for us. They weren't very happy that we had other brokers in mind. I mean, seriously, you can't possibly go through only one broker and try to find cheap places. I think going through only one person is for people who are more flexible in their price range.

Saturday was one big adventure. Saturday morning, Celia and I met up with the first of our 3 appointments. This guy was unfriendly and not helpful. The place he took us to actually didn't have what we were looking for. And the place is like a hotel. The three bedrooms were already rented out earlier that week. This broker didn't check. We didn't like the broker or the manager there. So, we chilled for a while and met up with another broker who was much better. He showed us places in our price range and was really helpful.

Anyway, long story short, Saturday was a whole day of running around and then chilling at MacDonald's to chat about things. I'm not going to write anymore about the current situation since it's still all up in the air. Here's the important part though: I learned what I need to bring if I were to look for an apartment:

- A copy of any research done
- A camera and its charger
- A cellphone and its charger
- A checkbook
- ATM card (to withdraw deposit money with)
- Proof of employment (offer letter or pay stub)
- Notebook and pen

All very important stuff for apartment hunting, some of which we didn't have with us. Anyway, I hope it all works out.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Done with MIT

Yesterday, after finishing my last final at MIT, I spent the whole evening reading Inuyasha and finished the series. It's unreal to be done. I can't believe it's over. It seems like I still haven't gotten over the fact that I'm here at MIT. I remember my first semester I would always look at 77 and Killian with awe and disbelief that I'm here. In two weeks, I'm going to say goodbye to them. I know I can always come back but it won't be the same. I won't be a student here anymore.

Anyhow, between now and graduation, I need to do quite a few things:

Ship stuff home
Pack for New York
Pack some more
Do fun things with friends

I'm helping Yalu and Celia look for places to stay in NYC. I mean, I'll be staying there too so I guess I have some sort of stake. I helped call a bunch of places today. I guess since MIT is so generous with 4 year housing, I've never had to look for apartments and deal with rent before. This will be educational. hahaha. So... we're all going down to New York tomorrow (Friday) and spending 2 nights there. This way, we can spend the entire Saturday going around and looking at apartments. It will be exhausting. I hope it won't be too hot. It got hot over here all of a sudden. huh, actually, the forecast say "chance of storm," which is probably worse...

Yalu, Mike, and I went to watch the new Star Trek movie today. It was pretty good. It wasn't full of inside jokes (although there are moments that fans can appreciate) and was a pretty good movie overall. Very action packed and still had a good complex plot. Even Yalu liked it. Shocked!

Anyway, I think this weekend will be adventurous again. Yalu and Lucy in NYC, the Start of the Summer Adventure.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Norwegian Independence Day

On May 17th, Yalu and I were busy studying for our finals when Yalu heard drums. We went over to our window and saw a procession of ~30 people walking along the bridge. The first person was waving a huge flag. I thought the flag looked Scandinavian. Neither of us knew what was going on. I looked up the flag online and found that it was the Norwegian flag. I had a hunch that it must be some important holiday so I looked up Norway on the Wikipedia and indeed, it turned out to be the Norwegian independence day. Anyway, here are some pictures.

Open Culture

Very cool and useful website:

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Senior Awards Dinner

Last Friday was the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department's Senior and Annual Awards Dinner. It was a really nice dinner. Probably one of the nicest senior dinners ever. First, it was held at the Endicott House, which is a house own by MIT used for conferences and retreats. This place is a really fancy place and is pretty expensive to rent out. The department also rented one big bus and 2 small shuttles to take students and faculty there. There were a few faculty who took the buses since it was at the end of the work day. There were also quite a few non-seniors who attended. I think more than half the department went.

We got there at around 6:30pm and it was still really light outside. We had some time to go outside and enjoy the gardens. I've been to the Endicott House a couple of times before for the department Christmas party. But since it was for the Christmas party, it was held in the winter so it was dark when we got there. The gardens were so nice that we even had dinner outside in the patio. It was pretty warm out.

The dinner was pretty good. We had a starter of clam chowder and then we had the senior recognition. All the seniors got a graduation diploma frame. The ones that sell for $160 at the Coop. So that was really nice of them. The actual dinner was buffet style. Xiumin and I tried to get people to sit at our table. We started a new table because by the time we got back to the patio area from the garden (we went to take pictures, of course) the other tables didn't have two seats next to each other. I tried to wave Mahalia and Stella over but they didn't see us. Anyhow, we ended up having 2 environmental engineering professors and 2 env eng. PhD students at our table. One of the PhDs is from Singapore and the other is from the Philippines. We chatted a little about MIT and differences in undergrad experiences.

After dessert, there was the annual awards. The TA award went to our 1.060 TA (Tanvir). He must've been nominated by the current sophomores and probably with help from the juniors. The seniors didn't do anything. Last year our class nominated the 1.035 TA and he got the award. Anyway, I think we all agreed that Tanvir was a good choice for the award. I saw him when we got off the bus and we chatted. It was nice to see him again. He was very surprised to get the award. He said there was no warning. His professor just causally asked if he was going. The other graduate student award went to a grad student who apparently played guitar and such for departmental events. He sang La Bamba for us. He was pretty good.

I went on the big coach bus both ways. The ride back was sooo loud since everyone had wine and beer. Yes, there was alcohol at this event, even though there were sophomores and freshmen (we got wristbanded). Anyway, a bunch of us decided to go out afterwards. On the way to Central Square, we bumped into our 1.041 TA who was going to Boston with his girlfriend. We totally kidnapped him and made him come with us. I think they had fun though. I left when they decided to go to a different place. I was too tired. It was a lot of fun though. I don't think we've ever done such a social event.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Last Day of Classes

I just finished with all my classes at MIT. I can't believe it's been four years already. I have 2 finals to go but that's it. I'm done with my undergraduate education.

My last class of the day was 1.041, the class where we came up with the Portugal HSR system. The professor recognized all the seniors in the class. A lot of people showed up to classes. More than I expected actually. After we filled out the evaluations, he mentioned two pillars of MIT: (1) the Institute never sleeps and (2) MIT is a meritocracy. He said that one year (he's been here since the '60s), the Institute was facing a financial crisis and proposed the solution as (1) no raises across the board and (2) the school will shut down between Christmas and New Years. He said that this policy, while it is a financial solution, effectively wiped out those two pillars of MIT.

I guess these two "pillars" have indeed been very central to my life these past four years. The professor asked the class for opinions about what people think the ideals of MIT is. And Mahalia said that going to Cambridge made her realize that MIT really is a meritocracy, much more so than at other places. And it's really true. I think this is probably the aspect of undergraduate life that I will miss the most. People care about your performance and what you can produce. And that's about it. If you can't produce, it doesn't matter what kind of effort you put into it. And as far as the never sleeping part, yeah, we're all workaholics.

I wonder how different it will be at Stanford. And graduate school will be different. Everyone will be coming in with different undergraduate experiences. I think, unlike high school, most people will know themselves better. We'll all be less "mouldable" by the ideals of the graduate school.

I can't believe it's all ending.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

How do we manage to do so much?

Yesterday night some of us met up to practice for the Portugal HSR presentation. I was walking to the room and met up with 2 juniors who were in the class. I stopped to say hi and to chat about the project. They were really amazed and impressed by how much the seniors are doing. They were like, "don't you guys have a a ton of other projects? bridge, vertical farm, project evaluation, and you guys work still so hard on this one!" I guess I'm surprised too at how much we're able to do. Somehow things work out. It's one thing when you're working on a report by yourself and you have to stay up late to finish. But it's another thing when you're working on a project with 14 other people, some of whom are waiting for your results so that they can start. It's so much more pressure. Anyway, it's just been really crazy. I've been carrying around my computer, the charger, and mouse with me almost every day for the past few weeks now.

Anyway, things are getting better. The end is in sight! Our Portugal HSR presentation went well. By that I mean, I didn't mess up really badly. Our team had 5 presenters who were all girls. The other team had 3 presenters who were all guys. I think everyone noticed the contrast. I think their presentation seemed more professional, more clean. Ours had a lot more numbers and went for more of the wow factor. Anyway, I'm glad that's finally over.

I didn't get a chance to do my anthropology presentation but I'm not too worried about that one. Again, it's one thing to present something that you've done yourself and quite another thing to be representing your group.

Tomorrow we're presenting on the vertical farm. We finally have a grasp of what the farm looks like, how it should function, etc. It's all coming together! Yay. Tomorrow we have to start writing the report. We haven't started yet. This is possibly the "longest" week ever.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Epic Journey to the End

I'm always blogging when I'm the most busy because that's when things are happening. I mean, when I have time, that means nothing is going on.

So this semester I don't have classes on Mondays. And up until now, Mondays have been a day of work but still pretty chill. This past Monday was not so chill. I got up at 9am, printed out my senior design portfolio and turned it in. Then I went to Steam Cafe and sat there until 3 or 4pm. I don't even remember when I left. I met with 2 different sets of people and worked on 3 different projects. None of which are done. I came back, napped, and then resumed working. Ate dinner, and went to the building 37 computer lab and then the building 26 media center to work on different projects. The amazing thing is that both of these places had a good amount of people (they're usually empty). The media lab was full of people working on their videos or whatever. When I left, there were only 2 open computers. Then I went to a 10pm meeting for a group presentation. This presentation is the culmination of a 15 person group project. We designed a high speed rail network for Portugal. Yeah, no kidding. And our stuff are pretty legit too. I'm still up, working on this.

Tuesday, I have 2 presentations to give (anthropology and Portugal HSR). And Wednesday, we're giving our Vertical Farm presentation which is part of our senior design class. We're still researching stuff for this vertical farm. Can you believe it? We don't have a complete farm yet. And then on Thursday, there's 3 reports due: Vertical Farm, Portugal HSR, and project evaluation class. Luckily, project evaluation paper is almost done, just a few twiks. Can't say the same for the other ones.

Okay, wish me luck on these presentations. Hopefully I won't blank out completely.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


I'm looking forward to being done with all these reports and presentations. Just one more week! Yesterday (Friday), I spent 4 hours in a computer lab with two other students working on one project. We managed to produce a really cool poster but that's all we did. We still need to write a report and make a presentation. Seriously...

Last night, I also turned in an anthropology paper that I got an extension on. I have a final for that class and I have to present the findings from my fieldwork. My topics for anthropology assignments have been pretty interesting so far. But I could not find anything interesting for the longest time for this last paper. I wish I could present on my observation paper where I when to a couple of dim sum places and observed how people interact. That was interesting. Anyway, for this class I've now written papers on:
  1. Thai Genealogy
  2. Medical school application process
  3. Dim Sum (observations of interactions of participants)
  4. Hacking stories as folklore
Pretty interesting set of topics, huh? I've really enjoyed this class. I wish I knew about this earlier so that I can take more classes. Maybe I'll have time next year to sit in on some anthro classes at Stanford? Not sure...

Anyway, still need to be done:
  • Presentations: 3
  • Papers: 3
  • Finals: 2

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Senior Design Portfolio

One of our graduation requirements is to make a design portfolio of all the design work that we've done over the past four years. In putting that together I really got to see the progress of my engineering and design skills mature over the years. I really don't have anything from freshman year but we did a bunch of design projects in sophomore year. And looking back at them, I am surprised at the quality of them. Obviously, at the time, I did the best I could on each of the projects but they were just not well designed or thought through.

At the end of junior year at Cambridge, we elected to take two project classes that allowed us to use the skills that we learned over the year. One of my projects was the design of a quay wall. That was a really amazing design project. In the end, we weren't able to produce a very professional report but we did an incredible amount of analysis. We did a lot of calculations to come up with our recommendations. The really cool thing was that we were applying knowledge that we had learned over the past year to make those calculations. And when I started my internship last summer, I felt that that project was a really good learning experience as well.

And now during senior year, we're doing a bunch of projects for our senior design class. But I think the projects I did for D-Lab last semester will also be a big part of my portfolio. The rammed earth project was a research and design project that I really enjoyed and learned a lot from. I think that had I known what a thesis was, I might have opted to make it into a thesis. I always thought that a thesis was something that involved research on some mysterious thing. But I think the rammed earth project, or parts of it, could easily become a thesis and I would be able to have an undergraduate thesis. After speaking to a professor today over dinner, I realized that the department really didn't do much in terms of helping us with career choices and advising. I think having an undergraduate thesis would definitely help with graduate school choices later on. Anyway, this should probably be in a separate post of its own.

The point of this post is that I'm really glad to see that I've really have learned a lot about engineering design over these past few years. It's just really amazing to see my design skills mature over the years and from project to project.

Bridge Design

I can't believe it's already Thursday. One more week and I will be done with classes. Totally done with undergraduate classes. I can't even begin to think about what that means. But... I also have a lot to do between now and then. And I really should be working on all those things instead of blogging. But a few really exciting things happened this week so I feel like I need to write about them in order to calm down.

First of all, there was the bridge design. One of our projects for our senior design class was to build a footbridge that is about 2ft by 5ft and can hold 1 ton (2000lb) of weight. On Wednesday, we tested our designs. There were 8 teams. We all came up with different designs. And amazingly, the tests went very efficiently and everyone's bridges held up.

This is my team and our bridge. The concrete blocks were a total of 2000lb. We had enough confidence in our bridge to stand on it after loading it with so much weight. We worked pretty hard on this thing. We picked the design for its asthetics mainly. I drew it on Google Sketchup using the CAD skills I learned over the summer. The drawings were really helpful during construction because each one of the diagonal pieces needed 6 different cuts. And when we were putting it all together, nothing fit. We had a few panic moments trying to cut and move each piece so that they fit well together. And some of our wood were not straight so we had to work around that.

This is the bridge upside down. Anyway, we're all really proud of how well our bridges performed. And it was really nice to be doing this in front of the Student Center. A lot of people stopped by and watched, wondering what was going on. It's just nice to have something to show after all these psets, calculations, and classes.
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