Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Geotechnically speaking...

I'm taking a class this quarter called Engineering in Geology Science. Half the class is civil engineers while the other half are geologists. I think this class more more catered to the geologists but I think I can still gain a lot from this class. Today, the professor went over basic soil mechanics and "how (geotechnical) engineers view the world." All the other civil engineers in the room were undergrads. The professor directed a lot of the questions to me and I really felt I understand the basics of geotechnical engineering. Even though I don't think I've done that much more academically than the undergrads, I think I have a much better feel for the material than they do somehow. I have definitely felt big leaps of understanding between last few internships. I think this constant switch from working and academics has done a lot more for me than I give credit to. I feel much more capable to solve problems, read engineering literature, and understanding concepts in general.

Before thinking about all this, part of me thought that school was got in the way of me learning on the job. Three months is a really short time and having to go back to school cuts into the learning process. And when you start a new job, there's so much more to learn than just the technical stuff. But apparently, I gain a lot more intellectually at school as well because I have felt better and better prepared for each successive internship than the last. So it's kind of sad that I will be stopping school indefinitely in about a year... scary thought!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Day 1 of Third Quarter

Again, I started writing this on the Caltrain. This time, I’m going back to Stanford from Oakland. This morning, I woke up with my brother and took the bus with him to downtown. I took the BART over and wanted to catch the N light rail to the Caltrain station. I should’ve known that the light rails were all underground, in the same station as BART. But of course, I exited the station, walked around, and realized I had to go back into the BART station. Anyway, I still ended up catching an express Caltrain but apparently there’s some problems with the crossing lights and we’re now going super slow. I think I will still make it back to Stanford with a lot of time to spare. I think I can drop off these apples, oranges, and giant lemons that I got from home.

Starting a new quarter again! It still feels so weird to be starting another quarter after having done two. I want a longer break in between. I have a feeling this quarter will go by quickly though. At least this quarter, I have an office in Blume. Finally! I need to go claim my spot as soon as I get a chance. Now I have a place to stash all my library books instead of having to lug them back and forth from my apartment.

This quarter, I only have one required class and that’s Computational Poromechanics. This will be a difficult class but I’m looking forward to it nevertheless. Even though I only have one required class, I have a lot less choices to pick from since I decided on my other two main classes a while back. I’m taking a class called Engineering in Geology Science. This is a class in the geology department where geology students, after having taken the intro geology class, are learning about engineering. I haven’t taken any geology classes and I’m hoping to learn more geology here than engineering. I’m not sure if the class works this way… The last class is the ESW Indonesia project. I’m looking forward to starting the design process. I think we have some good teams. I foresee lots of work for this class but hey, saving the world is hard work. I have to choose a seminar so that I can have 10 units. Feels weird not to be shopping around for all my classes.

I just realized yesterday that I’ve signed up for Bay to Breakers and it’s in 7 weeks! I really need to get back into shape. I don’t think I’ve ran over 2 miles in one go since the half marathon. Need to work up the mileage and get back the cardio strength again. On the other hand, I think my knees are doing fine now. After Bay to Breakers I’ll start training for the marathon. I think I will try to aim for one of the San Jose marathons in October. Hopefully I’ll figure out what I’m doing this summer soon so that I can put together a training schedule. And maybe do another half marathon sometime in the summer.

I went to my first class at 10am this morning and did not get back to my apartment until 8pm. I went to 5 classes total. One of which is social dance but it was still a lot of classes. I think I like all of them so far. The second class I went to, I went into the wrong classroom the first time around. I thought it was weird that there were no guys and then the professor started speaking French!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Back fromt he Bahamas!

Pictures are coming soon!

I feel like I’m always on Caltrain these days. I’m writing this on Caltrian right now on my way back home. I’m staying home this weekend and going back to Stanford probably Monday morning. I think that should be fine since my classes don’t start until 10am on Monday. And unlike weekends, BART and Caltrain have very nice schedules during rush hours.

Got back from the Bahamas late last night. What a crazy trip. I can’t believe I went on a cruise. I’ve been wanting to go on a cruise since trekking around Germnay, I think. I thought it would be a lot more relaxing to have food and lodging already taken care of. These assumptions were true but I didn’t realize how different going on a cruise was compared to all the traveling I’ve done so far. People go on cruises to relax. The stops aren’t really the highlight of the trip. We were definitely overzealous on the first stop and were disappointed that there wasn’t a whole lot to explore and see. People also do excursions like swimming with dolphins, which we didn’t do. It’s so easy to spend a lot of money on these cruises. You have an onboard account and you just use your keycard to charge everything to it. Alcohol, soda, excursions, casino credit, specialty restaurants, duty free shop, etc.

I guess being away for a week is not that long. I only managed to get one important phone call during that time. No important emails. Well, I guess everyone else is on spring break as well.

It was really nice to hang out with friends who I haven’t seen in 6 months. It’s been half a year guys! Not sure when I’ll see them again since none of us know where we will be in a year or two. I feel like this Masters degree is more of a transition phase. I’m getting more into my field while buying time to figure out what I want to do.

Maybe I should write more about the trip itself.

The trip started for me last Saturday night. I took an overnight flight from San Francisco to Fort Lauderdale. The Jetblue terminal in SFO is in the international terminal. It was kind of weird to be flying domestically in the international terminal. On the way back, the plane had to taxi forever to get to the terminal since I think the landing strips for domestic and international flights are separate. Anyway, I slept for most of the trip but I was still super tired by the time I got to Florida.

Sunday was a day of waiting and meeting up with people. Even though our group is only 4 people (including me), we were all on different flights and got into different airports. Good thing we all have cell phones and managed to meet up without much of a hitch. We got a hotel on Miami Beach and was too lazy to get off to see downtown Miami. We just wandered around the neighborhood near the hotel and sat on the beach.

It started raining on Monday when we were going to the port. It started pouring when we got to the port. So the whole check-in process felt a little rushed for us even though we arrived before we could board the ship. Once we were on the ship, the eating began. Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) does Freestyle cruising which means, you can eat whenever you want. This meant that there is food available almost 24 hours a day at various buffets. So we ate a lot during this trip. Good thing my metabolism is pretty high due to running because I would just feel extremely sluggish and full the entire trip. I managed to get a few short runs in during the trip. I really need to work up the mileage again since I signed up for Bay to Breakers in May. I have a month to get back in shape… oopse.

The cruise was 4 nights long. We made 3 stops in the Bahamas: Freeport, Nassau, and Great Stirrup Cay. There wasn’t much to do in Freeport. We landed in the industrial zone and had to take a taxi 11 miles to get to the touristy area and beach. The touristy area had lots of straw market shops. These shops all sell the same stuff. We got tired of them after a while. We also got off the ship really early and there wasn’t a whole lot of other people around. We hung out at the beach for a while and went back onto the ship a little after noon. I think we were disappointed that there wasn’t very much to explore.

I think we enjoyed the time on the ship though. There were some pretty good shows. We also spent time just sitting around on the deck, in the hot tubs, and made use of the sauna and gym.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Spring Break!!

I'm leaving my apartment in an hour to go to the airport. Flying to Florida!! So excited. I was insanely busy this week. I took 2 finals and booked 20+ hours at work. Anyhow, end of Quarter 2. Almost halfway done with Stanford.

In a few hours I will be chilling in Florida and then cruising to the Bahamas. The small talk this week involved plans for spring break. Everyone was so jealous that I'm going on a cruise. The weather here has been really warm lately but I haven't really been able to enjoy it. I guess I'll get my share of beach and sun in the next week!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Quarter System

This quarter system thing feels really weird. I'm used to doing 2 semesters and then having a long break. But now, I have a week of break and then it's back to school again. So strange... I think it would just all seem like one really long term if I wasn't going away for spring break. Stanford can be such a bubble. So hard to leave. One of the people in my program said that the last time he went to SF was when he came to visit!

Looking forward to vacation and a fresh start for the new quarter. I've been really busy these past few days. I think I'll write about this when I'm at the airport or something. The thing with being an intern is that you always get put on the most urgent projects. I stayed at the office forever the last two days. I think my group works pretty hard in general though. I think they tend to stay longer than people in other groups.

Taking a class in the geosciences department next quarter! Engineering in geological sciences. Should be an interesting class. No more mechanical engineering/computation mathematics classes for me!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Busy, busy!

Last week was pretty epic. I finished up homework for the quarter early in the week so that I can attend the geo forum. The geo forum was really cool. I got to see everyone I worked with in NY this past summer. Thursday was really long day of presentations but they were all very interesting. The forum started off with "state of the region" reports from various offices, something that is not really shared so freely in any other setting. I feel so lucky to be interning right when this forum happened. I got to put faces to names that I've heard of. And I even got to know the SF people better. Working part-time and sitting away from the group has not helped in allowing me to get to know the team very well. I hope they continue this forum thing. I think it's very useful even though it means that people have to take time away from their projects. I think most people were stressed out by this but it's good to get to know other people since the community is so small.

Next week is going to be another pretty packed week. I have a final on Monday. I'm going to work Monday afternoon and all of Tuesday. Work is very busy because there are a few deadlines looming in ahead. But Grace is visiting! We're having dinner on Tuesday night so I have an excuse to leave the office at a reasonable hour instead of sticking around until the crickets come out (this happened last Friday - the staying late part, not the crickets). I have another final on Thursday night. Stanford schedules in 4 finals a day so the last final is from 7-10pm. So late! More time to study, I suppose. Going to work on Friday. And then I'm off to tropical places Saturday night!! Looking forward to a week of beaches and relaxation.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Guy's Names

I feel like whenever I'm in a public place or with a bunch of people, if I shout out a common guy's name like David, Eric, Andrew, Ben, etc, I would get many heads turning my way. I know at least two people (people who I'm actually in contact with), who have those four names I just wrote. Is just me? Or is it actually something that other people encounter as well? It's so difficult sometimes to keep track of which Nick we're talking about. I feel like this doesn't happen with girls as much. Or is this because I'm in grad school and there are way more guys than girls?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Someone asked me what is the best way to run around campus such that he would get to see the actual campus. It took me a little while to point out a good route but I think I managed. I've found that people are always asking me directions. Maybe not as frequent as once a week but at least once a month. This even happened in Germany! Yeah, people asked me for directions in Germany. My cousins said that it's because I always look like I know what I'm doing/where I'm going. I guess that's a good thing... I have to admit that when this happen today, I was in a good mood since I just read the birthday card that Yalu sent. But in general, I think it's another one of those things that I still have leftover from doing Sea Cadets and ROTC. These military things teach you to look like you know what you're doing even though you have no clue. I mean, no one wants a leader who don't know what he/she is doing. Have been wanting to blog about this for a while now.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Where did the weekend go??

I didn't even go grocery shopping this weekend. I can't believe it's over already. I spent Saturday doing laundry, cleaning, writing up notes, going to dinner at a friend's place, and then skyping with X and Y (hehehe). I managed to do some of my foundations homework. Sunday went by quickly. My parents, brother, aunt, cousins, and cousin's friend came over. They're supposedly here for the Splash student rep meeting but my parents took it as an excuse to come visit. Anyway, I finished foundations and then started on multiphase flow stuff. I think I'm almost done with multiphase flow, which is good. If I can finish that tomorrow, the I can work on continuum mechanics for all of Tuesday. Really need to do well on this last assignment.

I think foundations engineering is the only class that's directly related to geotech in this entire curriculum. I can take plenty of water flow class like subsurface flow, multiphase flow, groundwater, etc. and they're related but it's not the same as having a class on geotech or soil mechanics. Now that I'm working again, I feel the need for more knowledge in my chosen field. And I had a sudden urge to look at Berkeley's program again. But when I looked at the brief class descriptions, I don't actually think I'm missing much. I think between the geotech classes at Cambridge (which I need to review) and the random classes I've taken here, I've covered most of their curriculum. I've even gone into more depth in some areas like finite element and porous media flow than their curriculum. Not sure if future employers (especially those in this area) will buy this though. I think I need to sit down at some point and figure out what exactly have I learned these past few years. I need to make a academic profile for myself. Relevant academic topics. I think the Berkeley grads would probably be fine without such a thing since their program is well structured.

And at some point, I need to re-learn the stuff I supposedly learned in Cambridge. Looking back at the notes, they're turning out to be surprisingly useful. I didn't know what was going on back then. I think now that I've worked, I have a better idea of what I need to know. And I didn't copy my notes that year. Big mistake. Need to make up for that and fill up some notebooks. I think these notes will actually be useful in the near future.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Long(er) days

Last two days at work were very busy. Actually, I've been really busy at work ever since the second week... I was literally the last person on the train last night. Ran the last block and made it just in time. I'm glad I'm busy and doing useful stuff though. Otherwise, it would be a waste of time. I'm working on a project that is supposed to be done by the end of next week. But it's not a high priority project and my supervisor is busy with other stuff. And I've spent most of my time the last two days working on a different project. I finally got time to look at my own project today and made some good progress. Hopefully, I will have something substantial and write up draft of a memo next week. Next week will be crazy though.

Thursday and Friday is the geo-forum. Thursday is an intense day of presentations. I laughed when I saw the agenda. All the technical talks are 30 mins max. All the non-technical talks are 15 mins. Some technical talks are 15 min. This includes time for questions and discussion. Knowing how much some people like to ask questions and express their opinions, we are going to run over by a lot. I mean, seriously, 15 min is the time it takes to set up the See and Share. Can't wait to see people from New York again! It's funny how I already know more people than most people at this meeting. This meeting is supposed to be a meet-and-greet for the company's geo-teams. I know more than half the people on the list already. I realize why they chose SF even though most the biggest group is in New York. Because the NY office simply can't accommodate something like this! The SF office has nice big conference rooms that can easily fit everyone.

Hopefully I'm going to get lots of work done this weekend. 3 homeworks due next week. But one of them should be easy, like always. I'm almost done with the other one. And then there should be one more (the really hard one that I always stress out about) but it hasn't been posted yet.... And the policy is that we're supposed to get a week to do it. So.... not sure what this means. Maybe it won't be due next week?? That would be nice. It's not nice to have something due during finals week but I would rather have a homework than not, because I do learn a lot from those homeworks. And they're the only practice problems we're going to get for the final.

I think this working part-time thing will be much better next semester. I will be going in on Tuesdays and Thursdays, full-days. None of this half day business. I'm sure my "full-days" will be more than 8 hr days though. The upside is that the days are getting longer. I woke up today at 6:30am to sunshine outside. Two weeks ago, it was still dark when I woke up. And I realized that if I wake up just 10 mins earlier, I can catch an earlier, faster train and get to the office half an hour earlier. So that saves me 20 minutes! I'll try this out next week.

I'm still super excited about going back to Cambridge and visiting friends. The timing couldn't be any better. Going to start booking one-way trips again!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


I think I have enough points with Virgin Atlantic for a trip to England. Well, one way and out of New York. But this one-way, from New York flight would only cost $113.50 (taxes and surcharges). I flew with Virgin Atlantic a lot during my year at Cam but never realized I had enough miles because they have a Spend Miles option and a Reward Flights option. I thought they were the same. They aren't. I have enough miles with the Spend Miles option. I guess this option has restriction on dates while the Reward Flights don't. Anyway, maybe I'll fly back to Cambridge for a few days in June. Most of the people I met at Cam were first years so they're all graduating this year. This would be the last chance I get to see them before they all go separate ways!

Cute Tiger

There are a lot of interesting shots of Shanghai in this article:

What I want you to get from this is the picture of a really cute tiger. It's in the picture with the caption "Taikang Road." It's the stuffed one that's hanging. So cute! I want one! =)

Dead week

My birthday's coming up! But I don't think I will be celebrating this weekend. People are too busy. I'm too busy. Next week will be a very busy week. I have 2 long homeworks due. But I'm looking forward to next Thursday and Friday though because I will get to see the people I worked with this summer again. And life should get increasingly better after that. I'm thinking about doing a potluck like last year the weekend after my birthday. I talked to Yalu about this. The conversation was really funny. Apparently the term "dead week" has a different meaning here. It does not mean a week of no classes and/or work so that the students can study. Abridged version of the conversation:

Yalu: it is called dead week

what is dead?...the students...?
me: yeah, there's no policy here about not having work due during dead week
Yalu: from all the work?
me: yeah
Almost to the end of the quarter! I think I like the shorter terms of the quarter system. I definitely think there is more material to learn in my classes but I think I've learned a good amount. Classes don't just drag on forever. And I get to choose new classes for next quarter and learn different stuff. I really like this flexible curriculum. If I went to Berkeley, I would be in the middle of my last semester there already! Last classes I will take for a while. Scary thought.

Work is going pretty well. I'm working on a project right now where I'm basically the only person working on it. I think we need to get a report on it out really soon. Maybe I'll get to write the report. That would be the most responsibility I've been given so far! Definitely more involved than just making graphs and preparing drawings. This is a fairly large project in size but we're doing consulting work on it, not design. I guess it's nice that the scope of the project is fairly small because otherwise, I would not be the only one working on it. Definitely more interesting and challenging when you're supposed to be making decisions on the project instead of just carrying out orders.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Refugees in America

This article hurts on so many levels. I know there are many NGOs working with the Karen people in Burma and Thailand. I wonder if these NGOs know about the struggles of these people as refugees in America. Must be easier to fundraise for refugees in the jungle than refugees in America. Now that these people are out of the jungle, they have to deal with getting mugged, and all they have is food from food stamps. All this is happening in the Eastlake district in Oakland. My family lives there.