Thursday, November 26, 2009

More pictures from hiking

One of the highlights of the trip was Mono Lake. Mono Lake is the site of the LA water wars. Basically a bunch of rich people wanted to develop the San Fernando Valley and LA area and built a bunch of infrasture to divert water from all the tributaries of Mono Lake down south. The lake receeded a lot before the courts put a stop to it. This exposed some calcium calcite columns that are known as toufa columns (the tall things in the picture below):

This is a hot spring that was not very hot. Mono Lake is in the background. On the third day, we went to some hot springs. Some people jumped in. I waded. It wasn't very hot and kind of slimy. I'm sure it was worth it but I didn't feel like being cold because it was 30 degrees out.

Another thing I was really happy about was that I got to see what glacial till is (picture below). I worked on a few projects in New York and Canada this past summer that was on glacial till and I had no idea what it was. It's basicaly sand and rocks. But I feel much better knowing what it is and have more confidence next time I run across a project that involves till.

If you look closely at this picture below, you can see some people. We hiked and climbed all over these rocks. In the background, you can see the Sierra Nevadas.

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4,000 Year Old Trees!

The world's oldest trees are not redwoods. They are the Bristlecone pines that grow at 10,000 ft. They're actually really pretty if you take a close look at them.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pictures from hiking!

We just came back from a day of hiking around in the mountains nearby. We were up at about 10,000 ft so we were all huffing and puffing from walking uphill. We talked about the geological history of the surrounding area. Pretty interesting stuff actually. Makes me want to take the introductory geology class. Anyways, here are some picture.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

On a geology trip!

There will be some awesome pictures coming soon to this blog! I'm currently on a geologic hiking trip with the School of Earth Sciences. We left Stanford at 7:30am this morning, drove for about 8 hours and are now here in Bishop, Ca. We drove through the Sierra Nevadas and are now on the east side of the mountains. Apparently, the west side gets all the precipitation and the east side is totally dry. It seems like it snowed half a foot on the mountains yesterday. We saw some really amazing landscapes coming here. A couple of the guys in the car were really into taking pictures. My camera was buried in my backpack in the back so I didn't take any. But I'm sure there will be lots of chances on this trip to take cool pictures.

Today was also the day of the Big Game (Stanford vs. Cal). Stanford lost by a narrow margin. They were doing really well in the first quarter. The game started at 4:30pm. We got to Bishop at 4pm and went into town looking for some place that would show the game. There was a bar that was advertising the game but they wouldn't let us stay because not everyone is over 21. We basically walked around town and ended up coming back to the research station that we're staying at. We were able to get the game on the internet. So we ate dinner while watching the game.. Dinner was really good. We have a cook here. Looking forward to the next few days.

I'm amazed that last week wasn't as stressful as I thought it would be. I had 6 homeworks due even though I'm only taking 4 classes. I managed to sleep like I normally do and got 7-8 hours of sleep every night. I even managed to run the Dish twice. I think this trip will be good since it will give my legs a chance to recover from running up and down hills.

Friday morning, I woke up an hour early (at 7am) to run the Dish because I thought it would start raining at 9am. But it didn't. Oh wells. It was still a good run. I took care of a few things during the day and there was a happy hour at the Blume Center in the afternoon. Friday was the birthday of two of the people in the program so we all sang happy birthday to them. I'm glad the department has money for things like this.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Watching water drip

This is the project that I've been working on for the last month:
It's a model of 1 dimensional infiltration of water into unsaturated soil. Basically, it's how water flows into dirt, while raining. This project felt like doing research. I guess it's a very guided version of research (training for research?). Anyway, I'm glad my model decided to work. I've been hacking away at it for the last month. I had most of code written (all the calculation bits) but just needed to make arrange them such that they gave me what I wanted. And tonight was like do-or-die. Everything started coming together at around 10pm. It's still not perfect. The bottom of the first two graphs should not have bands like that. But that's something that has to do with the data interpolation and not the code.

Anyway, this is kind of satisfying. I did this in Matlab. Given that I didn't know what a 'function' was or how to write a 'for loop' at the beginning of the quarter, this is pretty good. All my other classes feel like undergrad classes with many assignments that are very guided. The hydrology class makes me feel like I'm actually in grad school!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Intense Day!

I ran The Dish Loop ( this morning! I decided to do this before going to sleep last night. I think I live about a mile away from the start of the loop and the entire way there, I was trying to decide if this was actually a good idea. The path is very scenic and but the elevation changes are a killer! There are some very steep hills all along this 3.3 mile loop. It took me 43 minutes to jog+walk the entire thing. It was intense.

But I really enjoyed it so I think I will try to make this my weekday run from now on. For the past few weeks, I've been running a 1.7 mile trail that goes up a small hill on a dirt trail. I've extended this to 3 miles with a couple of additions but it's getting boring running on the same path over and over again. I liked it because it was quiet and I encountered very little traffic along the way. The Campus Drive loop (3.8 miles) is nice but I am only going to do that on the weekends because there are too many cars on weekdays. It's funny because the amount of traffic here is nothing compared to NYC but I find it more enjoyable to run in a quiet setting.

After the morning run, I proceeded to do finite element stuff for the entire day. I just got back, actually. I worked on a finite element assignment for my hydrology class with one of the guys in the class. We managed to finish it before class! So that's one less thing to worry about. After the hydrology class, I proceeded to work on my finite element class. There are two assignments due so a few of us just spent the last 6 hours of so working through the assignments. So that was one intense day.

This being on the same time zone as my family thing is not working out. I used to be able to call home when I'm done with stuff. Even if I'm working with other people on homeowork until midnight, I can still call home. But now, I have call at a reasonable hour for both parties. Such a weird concept.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Weekend Activities (start of week 8)

This weekend has been intense. This is measured by the fact that I did work on Friday! Very impressive considering how little motivation I usually have on Fridays to do any work at all. I visited the shopping center nearby for some stuff on Friday morning. I've passed by this shopping place many times now but never had the opportunity (excuse) to go visit. It's actually pretty nice. There were outdoor cafe tables and all the stores were close together so it's not like you have to cross a huge parking lot to get from one store to another.

I went to class after this and then went to the Blume center so that I can be in a productive environment (vs. my room). And I found people working in the lounge area and the offices. I couple of people I knew were doing some major psetting.

After a couple of hours of cranking out a pset, I went to play frisbee with some friends (mostly Rains people). It's been pretty cold out lately. My fingers were numb afterward. But it was fun to spend some time outside. Last time I played frisbee with these people, the group was all EE except for me. The department balance was better this time but the gender balance could have been better! haha.

The graduate Asian American club hosted a karaoke night with American and Chinese songs (mostly). Shuo and I went for an hour or so. I was very impressed the snacks that they got. I think they bought out the snack aisle at Ranch 99. It was fun. I came back early enough to still do a couple of hours of work before going to sleep.

Saturday morning, Shuo and I went running. We ran/walked my usual 1.7 mile trail. We did weren't really satisfied by this because we walked a lot of it. So we decided to go run Campus Drive (3.8 miles) too. We ended up walking part of this too. The run felt really good though. We were going pretty slow and I felt like I could keep going at that pace for a long time. I wasn't breathing hard at all. We went for brunch after this and ate a lot of food. By the time we got back, it was already noon! I spent an hour skyping with Yalu, finished doing laundry, and proceeded to spend the entire afternoon studying.

At some point in the afternoon, I got an email from a next door neighbor inviting Shuo and I for dinner. There are two guys who live diagonally across from us who go to Ranch 99 every week. This Ranch 99 gives you $1 coupons at their hot foods section for every dollar you spend at their regular store. We went with one of them last week and gave them our coupons. So this week, they managed to get half a duck and bbq pork with the coupons. They had enough coupons that they didn't have to pay at all. So they invited us over for dinner. I contributed a shrimp and snow peas dish. The guys both took pictures of the food. They said they cook every day and take pictures of all the food they cook. So funny. I wonder what they do with all these food pictures. The dinner was fun. So glad we chose this dorm!

After this, the neighborhood had a s'mores 'study break'. Actually I don't think they call it a study break here but that's what it amounts to. The CAs had a fire going in a pit and had a ton of marshmallows, gram crackers, and chocolate. I love roasting marshmallows. It was super cold out though. I had on a sweatshirt and the jacket I usually wear in Boston. After an hour, I was wishing I had on snow boots! I was super tired afterwards from the sugar crash.

We went running Sunday morning as well. I managed to do some work before making lunch. I invited Anna over for lunch and the three of us got a chance to chat. She graduating this quarter and is looking for a job. It's actually pretty hard to look for a job right now. Many engineering firms don't even post their graduate openings until the spring.

I napped and did a bit of work after this. Then I went over to a neighbor's place to work on that hydrology class. We worked 3 hours on the newest homework and I think we finished it. It's funny because we're not sure if we're finished or not. One of the questions seemed to simple. I came back, ate dinner, and wrote up the homework. Again, really like this dorm because it seems like everyone is here!

And... that was my weekend. Another typical weekend (I hope!).

Monday, November 9, 2009

Transitioning from undergrad to grad

[updated Sunday 11.15.2009. Original entry written on Monday 11.9.2009]

Feeling a little burnt out from all this work right now. I guess it's good that Thanksgiving is coming and I'll get a break from school stuff. I've spent a couple of weeks now working on a project for the hydrology class that required coming up with a matlab program that solves a partial differential equation. It was officially due last Monday but only 3 people managed to turn it in. These 3 did not include me. My program is currently spitting out extremely unreasonable values. I think I need to tweek both my program and my understanding of the problem. The cool thing is that I've been working with someone else in the class and we've made very good progress cranking this project out together.

But seriously, Matlab has definitely taken over my life (in addition to my computer!). I feel kind of unprepared for this. I feel like I should have done more computational stuff in undergrad. But then again, a lot of people come into grad school without any experience with numerical methods or computational stuff. So I guess I've at least used the program before and 1.00 (Java) has helped with understanding how programming works.

This gets into a topic that I've been thinking about for a while: "How well has my undergraduate education prepared me for graduate school?" I don't know if I should be looking at this question in a general sense or more a more self-specific sense. None of my classes this quarter builds on what I have learned in undergrad. I'm taking all my classes outside of the civil engineering department. I think the general idea for graduate school is that you're supposed to learn, in more detail, in a field that you're interested in. But it hasn't really been the case for me so far. I think this quarter has been more about filling in the gaps and learning more tools that will help later on. So instead of individual subjects, I guess this quarter has really pushed me fall back on some "skills" I learned in undergrad that are relevant to grad school:

Math. I'm glad I took 18.014 and 18.024 because after having gone through a year of trying to do math, I really got a feel for theoretical math. I still can't do "real" math for my life but it has helped a lot in understanding finite element lectures. At the very least, I'm not sitting there wondering what those upside down As are! Two of my classes this quarter is very focused on solving partial differential equations with finite element and finite difference methods. I'm really glad I took linear algebra. I took that class for fun but I think it should really be required for civil engineering. I mean, operating Matlab requires some knowledge of linear algebra! So I guess in conclusion, I think I'm fairly prepared for the math I'm seeing so far, both theory and application.

Programming (Matlab). There was an attempt back in sophomore year to get us (civil engineering sophomores) to use Matlab. But I think they abandoned this idea after we all got extremely confused and overloaded with work. I don't know what they're doing now but I think it could have been more structured and we could have gotten more out of it. But we were required to take 1.00 which taught Java and basic programming things. I have to admit, I can't program Java at all anymore but I did learn how programming works in general. I think it would be 10x harder to learn Matlab without having gone through 1.00 or a similar class that teaches programming instead of just using the language as a tool. I mean, at the very least, I know that "x = y" does not equal "y = x". So I guess I'm semi-prepared in this category.

Geology. I have no preparation in this area whatsoever. Geologists are required to learn about engineering stuff like stress and strain. But engineers don't have to learn geology. For my field of engineering, I really need to learn geology. But there way that civil engineering programs are set up, there's very little time for this. Freshman year is general classes. Sophomore year is general engineering concepts. Junior year we get to learn a little bit of structural and geotechnical engineering. Senior year is where we get to take one or two advanced analytical, engineering classes but we also have to take senior design and project related classes. So I guess going to grad school is giving me the chance to fill in this gap.

Hydraulics, hydrology. I think that one fluid mechanics class back in sophomore year has held up pretty well for me. I also took a class in Cambridge and I think those notes will be useful at some point. I think I could have used more preparation here but there are also plenty of graduate courses in this area that assumes nothing more than basic fluid mechanics. Again, for this topic, grad school is giving me the chance to pursue an interest that I didn't have time for in undergrad.

So in general, I think my undergrad has given me a pretty good background to work off of. I've definitely been well trained in problem solving and thinking skills. I guess I've come a long way since graduating from high school. I've thought a lot about the high school to undergrad transition as well. But I think that warrants a separate post.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Week 7 (out of 10)

It's the middle of week 7 and I've just finished all the work due this week! Yay. Okay, there were only 2 real assignments due this week and I probably should have finished them over the weekend. Next week though, will be one of these five assignment due weeks. Actually, it's more like 6 since one of my classes require us to turn in corrections. I think the week after that will be the same deal. But it's okay because in 2 weeks, it will be Thanksgiving. And I think things will calm down after Thanksgiving. In fact, I will be basically done with one of my classes before Thanksgiving.

My advisor forwarded me an email this morning that was advertising another ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) seminar. This time, it's a 2 hr lunch time talk on excavation shoring and underpinning methods. Glad he thought of me when he got the email. This is the monthly meeting of the San Jose chapter of ASCE and I wasn't on their list. I didn't realize how close San Jose is from here. I've always thought of it as this far away place! But it'll still take me an hour or so to get there by public transit. I think it will be worth the effort though. Another opportunity to collect business cards! Actually, the talk is being done by two people who work at a local geotechnical company called Cornerstone. I had sat next to one of the principals of this company at the last ASCE seminar. And I recently found out that one of my classmates in hydrology worked there for a year. It's a really small local company but I guess it's not so small when you look at the size of the geotech community!

I feel like I'm eating all the time these days. Probably because of all this exercising. The question of the day has become "Do I run tomorrow morning or not?" Mahalia and I checked out the pool yesterday. We went at 6pm because the pool is only opened on M-F from 10-2 and 6-8. It was dark already and I really thought that it was going to be empty. But it was packed with people. There was a high school swim team practicing, water polo team, diving team, swimming lessons, and lots of people doing recreational swim. The water was salty. Yeah, weird. But I didn't get any allergy reactions though. Whenever I swam at the MIT pool, I always got a huge histamine attack right after. It basically felt like a bad case of seasonal allergies. But it didn't happen this time so I think it's definitely something in the Z-Center pool.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The week after the midterm

The weather here makes me happy. Blue skies, very warm. It's so unreal. This week's workload is more manageable than last week. I only have two things due at the end of the week but I have a couple of assignments early next week that I really need more make more headway with.

I got a more detailed itinerary for the Owens Valley trip that I'm going on during the first part of Thanksgiving. It seems like a really awesome trip. We're basically spending 3 whole days hiking through parts of the Sierra Nevada. I'm really excited for the trip. But it basically takes up the first part of Thanksgiving break, which I was planning to do some work. I definitely won't get much done at home. So hopefully, I won't have much in the way of stuff due right after the break.

This morning I went out for my 4th consecutive day of running. I usually don't run everyday. I think it's a good idea because I haven't managed to hit 3 miles for the past couple of days. I just felt really tired. My muscles feel really tight. Tomorrow I'm going swimming with some people so hopefully that will help my muscles relax. I haven't been to the pool here yet. It seems like a very nice and well-kept pool. We're going at 6pm though because the hours are limited. Hopefully it won't be cold tomorrow night!