Friday, January 15, 2010

Week 2 of Winter Quarter

Just thought I write something about what I've been up to other than cooking all the time. I swear all I do these days is think about food: when I should eat my next meal, what am going to eat, how am I going to make it, etc. It's a very time consuming activity.

I can't quite believe it but school has been going for 2 weeks now. I haven't turned in a single piece of homework yet. But no worries because I have homework due for all my classes next week! I effectively have a four day weekend this weekend because I don't have class on Friday (today) and Monday is a holiday. Not holidays make much difference to me because I really don't have very many classes going on.

Unfortunately, this quarter, I have two evening/late afternoon seminars. One of them meets on Wednesday and goes from 4:15-6, which is okay, just bearable. The other one meets Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7-9pm (8:30pm-ish). This is too late for me. Really cuts into my prime studying time. And after I get back, I'm usually incapable of starting on anything that requires a lot of focus. But I guess I'll just have to deal with it since the seminar is interesting.

This Tuesday and Thursday seminar is run by ESW (Engineers for a Sustainable World) on tsunami evacuation structures for Padang, Indonesia. Padang has the highest risk in the world of tsunami right now. It's sitting on two active faults that are basically ready to unleash tsunami-generating earthquakes. So building new evacuation structures, creating building standards, education, retrofits, etc are really important and desperately needed. The ESW chapter at Stanford seems to work pretty in depth with a few NGOs in different countries but in terms of sending interns over the summer and holding classes and such depends on funding. They don't seem to have a steady source of funding and is always applying for more. I don't really understand how all this fundraising business works but I imagine it to be pretty intensive.

Anyway, regarding the work in Padang. Last year, the ESW team came up with some designs for evacuation structures, retrofits, and such and sent 2 summer interns. The summer interns met with a lot of different organizations, found a new partner in the local university, surveyed a lot of buildings, and did a lot of groundwork in general. They also managed to win a competition that gave them money for more interns this summer. A month after they came back, there was a big earthquake near Padang in September. The earthquake luckily, did not generate a tsunami. The interesting thing is that one of the Stanford professors applied for funding to go back to Indonesia to access the damage. So they got to go back for a few days and see how the structures that they surveyed over the summer did in an earthquake. Their findings were really interesting. Some sites that had been identified by different organizations as potential evacuation sites suffered big failures. Other ones did fine but had so much facade damage that local people didn't want to go into them for shelter even though they were find structurally.

The plan for this year's ESW team is that during this quarter (Winter), we would have a speaker series and listen to experts from different fields on things related to Padang. And next quarter (Spring), we would have a design class where we work on plans for evacuation structures. So I started attending the seminar thinking that if I didn't get to go to Indonesia over the summer, I wouldn't have much motivation during the design class. Plus I wasn't sure I wanted to go to Indonesia this summer. I think after only two weeks of attending the seminar, I find that I am wrong for both of these accounts. All the design work that we will be doing in the spring are going to be very real and definitely be put to use by local people, local NGOs, and hopefully the government as well. And going to Indonesia to help put all these design ideas into practice would be a very relevant civil engineering experience. One of the proposed projects is a soil berm, basically an artificial hill that people can run up during a tsunami. This soil berm would have intermediate uses such as foundation for building(s), park, etc. Given that we can find the right location, I even think the soil berm can be constructed in the course of 2-3 months. A new building would take longer since someone has to buy the thing. But let's not get too excited here. They can only send 2 people and there are definitely more than 2 people in the speaker series right now. Not everyone will want to go but I bet the competition will be fierce.

In other news, this weekend is turning out to be very interesting. Today alone, I got invites for dinner on Saturday, birthday party on Sunday, and lunch of Monday. So it will be a fun one. The structural dept is having a ski trip so a lot of those people will be out of town. Kind of glad I decided not go to. I hope they have fun though. There's supposed to be a big rain system coming to California over the weekend and sticking around for the next week. Lots and lots of rain. Guess they'll be getting fresh snow. I signed up for a day-long ski trip with another department though. That's more like my type of thing. One day of fun in the snow, albeit a long one. The structural dept one is a weekend long trip and the cost only covers the lodging and not lift tickets or rentals. I heard that some people are just going to hit the slopes for a day and then spend the rest of time chilling and bonding. I really don't think all that bonding time is necessary. You end up making useless conversations that you don't even remember the content of an hour after the conversation ends. What's the use of these meaningless talks? Sometimes I think Americans are too skilled in the art of small talk and all they do is small talk.

This is getting really long because I drank a cup of tea with two teabags in it. I thought I would be able to do some work tonight. Turned out to be false hope and now I'm not sleepy. For the last couple of weeks, I've been reading one Sherlock Holmes short story a night before going to sleep. I really like them. I bought a big book of them but never got past the first mystery. I had more motivation after watching the movie and yesterday I borrowed a few more books from the library.


yalu said...

I guess it depends on the people - sometimes you can find out a lot throgh small talk!

YW said...

I LOOOOOVE Sherlock Holmes!!!