Monday, September 28, 2009

Week One

That's week one of ten (1/10). It has been intense. I didn't know shopping for classes could be so exhausting. It felt different from MIT. I think it's because I'm shopping for classes in 3 or 4 different departments and always feeling intimidated by the 3rd year PhD students who are taking the class. At MIT, you know there's always a few of those crazy smart people in your classes no matter what. But this is a different kind of crazy smart. I feel like I'm intruding into these PhD student's fields of expertise. Anyhow, I'm settled on my classes. Mostly because I got tired of getting up so early and just gave up on giving some of these classes a second try. Basically, I'm taking 3 class + 1 seminar and auditing 2 more classes (so far). I'm not sure if I will actually have time to audit these classes but we'll see what happens.

Turns out, all my classes need Matlab. Being as cheap as I am, I decided to download Matlab from MIT and VPN into the MIT network to use the software. I'm not sure buying the student version is worth it. The student version seems to be missing some critical components. Anyhow, my new computer is fast so it's fine in handling all this computation but then it died. Yeah, here's the story of how it died.

So on Wednesday night, I spent 70 minutes on the phone with Dell people trying to figure out what's wrong with my external monitor. Before getting on the phone I had been playing around with the self help for the longest time. The problem was that there were horizontal streaks moving up the screen, especially for gray colors. After being transferred around in India, they finally figured out that my computer came with "gold" support. This "gold" support allowed me to be transferred to someone who is actually a technical person and spent a lot of time with me trying to figure out what's going on. Eventually we decided that it was the laptop's VGA adaptor that was acting up because the screen works fine with my old laptop. This is really bad because that part is connected to the motherboard and they need to replace the entire motherboard.

So I scheduled a time for Friday morning for the Dell technician to come. Friday morning arrived and I waited around forever. The guy arrived at noon (I have class at 1:15pm). He said he can't park outside (permits only) so we ended up doing everything in the parking lot on top of his trunk. I knew this was a bad sign... Anyway, the guy seemed to know what he was doing and proceeded to take apart my computer. He basically had to take everything out. (Actually, I really think it's just the VGA adaptor. Not sure the motherboard is in fault here.) All this didn't take very long but then the computer refused to turn back on after everything was in place. In fact, it started to turn the fan on and off but the display didn't show anything. After a while, it was pretty clear that something major was wrong and the guy said he would schedule something for Monday where he (or someone else) would replace the entire computer.

So now I guess it's lucky that I have another computer. BUT I had been trying for the longest time to get my old computer to connect to the residential wireless and failed. I called up my RCC (the guy who's supposed to help me with residential computing). Just my luck, the guy was leaving for Santa Cruz. He helped me register manually but then my registration didn't go through. Normally, he would continue to help me but he had no internet access on the beach. So I called up two other RCC before I finally got someone who actually helped me out. Something with overlapping registrations.. It was just one huge mess and I finally got Internet again on Saturday.

Luckily, not all of my weekend evolved around computer issues. Friday night there was a huge grad party at Rains. There was beer, glow sticks, chips, and dancing. It's so great to be so close to the action because I only had to walk to the next block to get home afterwards. Met a whole bunch of people. It was pretty fun.

Saturday morning, I went running and then went with Shuo and Meihsin to two lunches. That's right, two! We went to this Chinese student thing where people actually spoke Chinese. They ordered real Chinese takeout with seaweed and such (not those Americanized Chinese food). And then we left after a little while to go to the Asian American BBQ at Rains. There were burgers, hot dogs, and ribs. It was pretty awesome. I ate too much! I sat around chatting with people. I was really afraid that I wouldn't see any of the people I met during the first week again but turns out I see a lot of these people pretty often.

After eating 2 lunches, I was all set on doing homework for 4 hours but then as I was getting my internet issues resolved, a friend of mine called. She's from MIT and I haven't seen her since we both got here. So of course we chatted forever and then she wanted to go to the shopping center. And... of course I went with her. She seems to be a little lonely since she lives in Lymen where people are not as social and she doesn't have a bike. It took her 30 minutes to walk to this side of campus.

I got back at 6pm and went straight to the football game. All students can get into football games for free. Stanford has a stadium. It was really fun to be cheering with everyone else. Not like that one time I went to watch an MIT game at all. There were a ton of families, people selling food, cheering leading squad, band, and even a half time show. Big score boards with LCD screens. It was a lot of fun even though I didn't really follow all the plays.

And... after that, Meihsin convinced me to go to a bar with her and some of her bio friends, where I ran into Joanna, who I had just been to the game with. Funny how these things worked out. We stayed at the bar forever chatting. This totally destroyed any intentions of me studying on Saturday.

Sunday is less exciting. I spent the whole day studying. Did laundry. Cooked dinner. Finished a lot of two psets. I really hope my textbooks come soon. Really need them.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Shopping for Classes

Brief update. I've officially started graduate school. It's been 2 days. Two really LONG days. I can't believe tomorrow is only Wednesday. I've attended about 8 classes so far. I have two required classes I have to take this quarter. This leaves me the flexibility to choose one more class (plus a seminar). It's not as straight forward as I thought it would be. More and more interesting classes keep coming my way.

I've managed to order some books for my required classes. I'm going to meet with my advisor again tomorrow and settle on one of the four choices I have for my third class. I think I will also sit in on two classes that don't really have anything to do with geo. My advisor said to talk to him in a couple of weeks about research once I get settled in. I think I will be really busy this term.

The two required classes:
(1) Structural geology and rock mechanics: I think this class will be interesting. But I lack the MATLAB skills and geology knowledge. The class is pretty diverse in terms of these knowledge and skills so I'm not the only one. But I think it will still be rough getting up to speed on some of these things.
(2) Finite Element: This class is sooo abstract. It's like being in 18.014 again... The professor uses mathematical symbols liberally. I'm glad I have some theoretical math background though because most of the other people in the class are engineers. But a lot of them have had some exposure to finite element and finite difference methods. This class also involves MATLAB.

The 4 classes that I'm considering (need to choose only ONE):
(1) Crustal Deformation (3 units): very interesting stuff. not sure I will be able to follow. professor seems cool and will NOT be teaching the class next year.
(2) Surface and Near Surface Hydrological Response (3 units): I didn't make it to the first class because my advisor told me about the class that day. I did manage to pick up the syllabus and this class looks useful.
(3) Sedimentation Mechanics (4 units): A little intimidated by the 3rd year geoscience grad students in the class. The class seems somewhat interesting. Includes field observations and lab work. Not sure if I can keep up but we're doing dimensional analysis for the first few lectures, which I think I can handle.
(4) Hydrogeology (4 units): Not sure why this is 4 units. This class seems the easiest of all the classes. I think it would be somewhat useful and interesting.

I'm leaning towards the 3 unit classes because this would let me take a one unit class on using MATLAB. I think I need the MATLAB class if I want to survive this quarter (and future quarters). Anyway, any opinions/advice would be appreciated.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Almost time to get serious!

This week has been pretty fun. It's definitely more chill than undergrad orientation but I think I got more out of it. I think on Tuesday night, I was sitting in my room and had a sudden realization that I was sitting there all alone doing mundane stuff like reading manga. It reminded me of Cambridge for a second. In Cambridge I mostly hung out with the other MIT people and sometimes with Caius people. But I didn't really feel like part of the community.

Luckily, I don't think that's going to be the case at Stanford. In the three days since I last blogged (Wed, Thurs, and Friday) I've gotten to know a bunch of people. I always thought that it would be pretty unlikely to make very many friends outside of my department. There was a "speed-friending" event on Tuesday night where I came back unconvinced that I would ever see some of these people again. But that's not true because of mutual friends, roommates, facebook, etc. Anyhow, this paragraph has been very vague, let's get on with what I have been doing for the past week.

Wednesday. Shuo left on her bio retreat plus camping trip and won't be back until Sunday. I biked around town that morning and walked around downtown Palo Alto for a little bit. In the afternoon, I went on a couple of library tours. I thought it might be important since I plan to use the libraries a lot. The first tour started in the Green library which has the biggest collection on campus, mostly humanities stuff. They gave a good overview of how the libraries worked and such. I met someone there who had just arrived from China for a masters in East Asian studies. Very interesting. After that I followed the group to the Engineering Library for a tour of the engineering and sciences libraries. I chatted with an MIT Course 2 grad on the way. The tour itself wasn't very informative but afterwards I walked to an ice cream social with a few civil engineering people. They had Coldstone Ice Cream! yay. I invited Karina (MIT course 2) and Joanna (Berkeley, CEE) over for dinner that night. We talked about random things for a few hours after dinner and visited each other's rooms. Later that night Joanna and I picked up Mahalia from the train station in Joanna's car. We also gave a Structural PhD student who is going to TA some of the grad classes! On the way to finding Mahalia's apartment, we ran into some guys walking around Rains, and we chatted for a while. So, long day.

Thursday. Got up early to go to the CEE orientation. I walked there with Mahalia, Lauren (also MIT CEE), and Joanna. I should have walked my bike over too. Long walk back. Anyway, the presentation itself was not very interesting. It was pretty much the same one that they gave during the preview day. When we split into our groups, I went with all the structural people. We introduced ourselves and I asked if anyone else is doing geo. The room was completely silent... So either I'm special or one of the Stanford coterms is geo. Apparently if you were a Stanford undergrad, you don't get invited to all these grad student welcome things. I thought that was lame. I went to visit the Geophysics department and talked to a professor after the presentations. Now I'm even more conflicted about my classes. So I'll basically be shopping around lots of classes next week.

Later Thursday afternoon, I went to the President's reception. He lives up on a hill. I gave up biking after a while. I met some geophysics students there. The speeches were not all that useful but the food was good. I went with Mahalia and Lauren afterwards to the shopping mall. It took forever to get there because the shuttle made so many stops even though it was full. I got a few things and came back for the Plains of Rains welcome dinner. I met a bunch of people at the dinner, all either Stanford or Berkeley undergrads. Some of us met up to go to the Grad Night Out after the dinner. This is basically bar hopping except that Palo Alto doesn't have very many bars. On the way to the shuttle, we met up with some more Stanford people, which was good since they knew where things were. We ended up walking downtown because there was a huge line for the shuttle. It took almost an hour to walk there. We ended up walking back too. I was pretty tired coming back but I realized that none of these people were MIT and I met most of them only a few hours ago. This made me happy. One of the guys had commented that night that he doesn't understand how Americans can talk for hours about random things with people they've just met. I added that it's okay for them to never get back in touch with these people again. I don't think that will be the case here though.

Friday. I got up early to go to Kaiser to get some shots and xray done. That took the whole morning but everything's done now. I just need to pick up the xray results and deliver them to Vaden and get my entrance medical things cleared. There was an activities fair for graduate students in the afternoon where they also served lunch. It was burning hot in the afternoon and this fair was outside. I walked around with Joanna and we picked up a lot of flyers advertising free food events. After this we went to a safety training by the civil engineering dept which had pretty useless info. I got a strainer at the Rains yard sale for $1 on the way back to my apartment. I got ready to go home for the weekend. Joanna and her boyfriend gave me a ride to the Caltrain station. Turns out, I know her boyfriend from ROTC back in high school. That was like 6 years ago! Talk about a small world.

So now I'm sitting at home again. I'm going to a banquet tonight and then back to Stanford tomorrow. Classes start next week!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Day Two: The Frosh Move In

I think I nearly ran over a couple of parents today. So this morning we went towards main campus and there were a ton of cars and people. I remember reading that today is the move-in day for freshman. I wonder why they made it on Tuesday. Must be tough for the parents. Anyway, there were also a ton of upperclassmen all wearing red t-shirts that say something like "I love freshman" and "May I help you?" They were giving directions, holding signs, and even helping unload cars. I thought this was really nice. All the freshman events were staffed by these staffed by upperclassmen being helpful.

Today feels like a very productive day. I got a bunch of stuff done. Shuo and I got frozen yogurt in the morning with other people living in the "Plains of Rains," which is buildings 215 and 216. Then I got my Stanford ID. So now I can check out books, go to the gym, etc. Got my bike registered and got lights for them. Now that I need to bike everywhere, my helmet is always either clipped to my backpack or on my head. And I'm keeping the lights along with a set of hex wrenches in my backpack. After that, we checked out the bookstore, which is very much like the Coop except with more humanities books. I thought each department had very little classes that required books compared to MIT. Their course readers have very nice covers.

We came back for lunch. I met someone while getting my ID who had gone to Skyline. She went to Berkeley for undergrad and is now a first year Masters student at Stanford. She's also doing civil engineering - design and construction integration. She said she recognized me from a scholarship panel that we both went to senior year in high school. And if that's not enough, she's living in the same building! She's living on the first floor. The world is so small. She came by my apartment in the afternoon and we chatted for a while.

In the afternoon, I went out again to talk to the financial aid office. There were a few freshman there asking about their finaid too. After that, I went to see where the Geoscience buildings were. The Mitchell building turned out to be right next to the engineering library. So I went to check that out for a little bit. They seemed to have a good collection of books but not as much as I would have liked. I didn't manage to find any geo-related books but maybe they're all in the geology library? There are a lot more libraries here than at MIT so all the collections are probably more spread out. Then I went to check out the Language Lab in the Meyer library. The library itself is very nice but the language lab is nothing like the one at MIT. They're just computers with a couple of programs to record yourself and such. No foreign language learning CDs or videos or cassettes. The language centers at MIT and Cambridge were loaded with stuff. But maybe these resources are more departmental here?

I spent the rest of the day chilling. Shuo and I ate dinner together (i.e. heated up her leftovers). I organized and decorated my room. My desk is a mess of wires but at least there's not pile of papers anymore. I like the big monitor and all but having a monitor, laptop, mouse, keyboard, and corresponding cables take up so much room! Not sure if this will work out when I have to pset. But maybe I'll be doing a lot of stuff on the computer? We'll see.

Day One: It's too far!

I am so sore from biking around today. I spent the whole day riding around trying to get stuff done. First thing in the morning, I went to the Stanford Hospital because I need to get a chest x-ray done for TB. The hospital is more than a mile away and I was getting tired just riding on a flat road. And then I wandered around the hospital forever trying to find the right department. Turns out I wasn't even at the right place. Apparently the Vaden Health Center is where students are supposed to go and that's unrelated to the hospital. Vaden is actually really close to where I live. Go figure. I managed to find Y2E2 again and chatted briefly with the CEE financial aid person who said that my fellowship cannot carry over to the next year. Then I went to Vaden and it turns out I'm missing an immunization. I had to go there twice because I didn't manage to bring my immunization records with me the first time. Can't believe I was so unprepared.

After this I went out to lunch with Shuo and her parents. Her parents left for SoCal afterwards. Lunch was good. Refueled me for the what happened next.

So I got a monitor to go with my laptop but didn't managed to get a keyboard. None of the keyboards at home use USB so I had to go and get one. So after lunch Shuo and I went to Fry's Electronics. Shuo probably regrets going with me now but that was an adventure too. We didn't get lost but we had to go pretty far away and part of it involved riding on a really busy street. We stopped a few times to look at the map. On the way back we stopped by a grocery store that had a pretty good selection of food. I think I can find cheaper food but that place is supposedly the closest one to our dorm. I saw a sign on the way back that said that there's a Trader Joe's coming soon. I hope "soon" will be soon enough. Anyway, after the grocery store, we went to the Stanford Hospital again because that's where Shuo's classes will be. We biked back to our dorm from there so that she knows the way.

We got back in time for the Rains (our dorm) welcome BBQ. There's apparently a ton of MIT people here. I think I met 4 more people who are from MIT, in addition to the ones I already knew. At the grad student speed friending event later that night, someone came by and introduced herself and said, "tell me you're not all from MIT too!" Turns out she had just finished talking to a bunch of people from MIT. lol. Anyway, I hope I see some of these people again. Shuo and I stocked up on the free food from both events. At the end of the speed friending thing, we each took a plate and filled it up with the leftover sandwiches. One of the people I had just met was like, "wow, that's a really great idea. I'm going to copy you before other people start copying you."

At some point, I need to find some time to organize my bedroom. Mainly notes and such. I'm already starting to pile up things and classes haven't started yet!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Moving Again

I'll be moving to Stanford in a few hours. This year has been very intensive in terms of flights, trips, packing, etc. It started off with a trip to Africa in January. And then packing up all my stuff from four years of college and getting most of them home in June. I spent a long, long time packing stuff at the end. It felt like I would never be able to pack up that room. And then I moved to NYC where I spent June at an apartment near Penn Station and then two months in Times Square. I moved back home a couple of weeks ago and started packing for Stanford.

I realized I have a lot of junk. I'm a collector at heart. It's probably due to stamp collecting which I should take up again at some point. I have a ton of stamps and supplies, I just need to get the stamps in the albums. Anyway, I'm the kind of person who loves to show off my entire collection of [fill in the blank] on a bookshelf or some kind of appropriate display. But there's no way I would have the room for all my collections of junk. Maybe I should switch my career to organizing museum collections. I think that would keep me happy for a while.

Anyhow, once I get to Stanford, I think I will be running around and taking care of a lot of administrative type stuff. And of course, getting to know my surroundings. I will need to figure out some practical stuff like groceries, how to get to classes, where the bike racks are, where to find food on campus, the library system, check out the gym, etc. Time spent at home went by too quickly as always. Looking forward to another adventure ahead.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


I went to visit my high school on Wednesday and spoke to a few ESA classes about college life and going to college. The school itself seems to be doing well. Fresh paint and new classrooms coming. The kids seem the same as ever. There's so much potential. These kids can go far if they know what's out there. I wish I could help out somehow. Should I dedicate some time to help these kids out? How should I do it? What should I do? I suppose I can help them with college applications and essays. I can do that from afar. I can be much more effective if I get to know the kids personally but I don't think I have that kind of time. I wish I can convince these kids to apply out of state and to "Ivy Leagues." I really think some of them have a chance.

As I was walking to the school, I remembered that that school was the reason why I chose to study civil engineering. I had heard the story of a Navy Seabee talk about his rewarding experience of building a school in a developing country. I had just finished 9th grade at that time and immediately thought about doing something for my high school. I thought that if I studied civil engineering, someday, I can come back and help rebuild the school so that it can actually accommodate the 2,000+ student and staff that it does. I think that was what made me stick with civil rather than going after, say, mechanical engineering back when I was still choosing a major.

Anyway, speaking of civil engineering, I'm having a hard time sticking to this 10 unit limit. I think I'll just end up sitting in on a lot of classes. I just realized today that one of the classes I wanted to take in this quarter is actually offered in Winter instead. And if that wasn't bad enough, I realized I forgot to include one of the required classes in my plan. So I had to rework my entire plan for the year. I'm pretty sure Borja is my advisor but he's away until the first day of school. So I'm a little concerned about who will be taking care of advising his students during orientation.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Back Home!

We went fishing today! Didn't manage to catch any fish but it was fun. We have two fishing poles that we got a long time ago when we used to go to San Francisco to fish but haven't used recently. Usually you have to buy a fishing license to fish but the East Bay Parks have two "no license" days (July 4th and Labor Day) where you can fish for free. Anyway, we got all sorts of bait but apparently none of them worked. Casting the line was a challenge. There were a lot of people fishing but we didn't see any big catches. I think the serious fishermen came in the morning and were probably leaving by the time we made it over there (noon-ish).

I have one more week before I move over to Stanford. I've been repacking since I got home. I have so much junk. I've accumulated so much stuff over the past four years. And now there's so much stuff I want to bring over. I have a couple of boxes of notes and books that I feel like I need to have. It seems so weird to be packing all this stuff since I'll only be there for a (relatively) short period of time. Anyway, I hope this bookshelf that they provide is big. I think I'll need the space.

Sad news. I think the Oakland Libraries canceled their subscriptions to the Primsleur Language EAudioBooks on NetLibrary. Those things were so useful. I was just going to resume my foreign language learning hobby too. I mean, they could have been more useful had they decide to subscribe to the text that went with the audio but still... Anyway, I think I'm going to explore some more languages, just for fun. Now that I'm in grad school, I'll probably be meeting a lot more international people.

Stanford has this really cool website where you can plan out your classes. You can enter the classes you plan to take and it'll show you which requirements (undergrad) your courses will fulfill, their schedule (if available), number of credits, and expected number of hours of work per week. I entered my classes for the autumn quarter and apparently 10 units is considered a heavy load. Anything above this is an "insane load", which I found weird since I think most of the other Masters students will be taking more than 10 units.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to classes starting and having somewhat of a regular schedule again. Of course, once classes start, I'll wish it were vacation. When I'm at home, time just seems to pass by so quickly, without me ever seeming to accomplish anything. I guess I probably should go through my pile of magazines before leaving though.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Leaving NYC

One more hour until I leave for the airport. It's been a great summer. Job was cool. Volunteered a lot and saw some interesting neighborhoods in the process. Hung out with Yalu (finally a summer together!). Learned a lot about looking for and living in an apartment (MIT totally spoiled us with guarantee housing).

The past few days were pretty relaxing. Yalu, Mike, and I went to see a free HD screening of an opera outside the Met. There's always so much free stuff to do in NYC. I think I need to keep tabs on stuff like this for San Francisco. I probably could have done more of this stuff this summer but I worked pretty late (compared to previous summers). I mean, I've been to nearly all the big museums in Berlin, for free. Anyway, Saturday night was pretty long. It involves celebrating Yalu's birthday...Looking forward to the sunny, not humid weather.

Anyway, Xin moved into my room on Sunday and I moved all my stuff over to Yalu's room. We slept late on Sunday, watched a movie, ate lunch, and were napping when Xin showed up. That night we went out to a Thai place for Yalu's birthday. Should have taken pictures... I forgot I brought my camera. I didn't take very many pictures this summer. Wayy too many tourists taking pictures around me that I didn't feel like taking any myself.

Yesterday (Monday) I attempted to do some souvenir shopping but wasn't very successful. I did end up eating a frozen yogurt and one and a half ice cream cones though. I've been wanting to try out this Red Mango place and Mr Softie for the longest time. Didn't think I would try them all in one night though. I also attempted to run the Central Park loop. That was a total disaster. My left leg started feeling extremely tired after a short stretch. I managed to make it to the reservoir and back. It took me forever to do this since I was walking a lot of the time. My MP3 player also started acting weird. So it was just really sad. I think I need to get new running shoes. Hopefully my muscles will be in better shape when I get home so I can start running the lake again.

Looking forward to being home and having catching up with people! Once I get home, I'll be unpacking and repacking again. So much traveling and moving in the last four years. It feels strange to think about "settling" somewhere.