Thursday, April 29, 2010

Trip Planning and other updates

Finally bought a flight!! Leaving New York on the 21st and getting to London the 22nd. I wanted to leave NYC a day earlier but couldn't use my points. This flight only cost me a little over $100 USD. Going to San Francisco tomorrow to get my visa for Indonesia!!

This office move thing has worked out really well for me. I feel much more like a part of the group now. Also, the office ordered a ton of boxes for the move. I think I wrote about these boxes already. I’ve been hauling home two boxes at a time. They’re really nice. Nicer than those printer boxes we used to get. These ones are sturdier, comes with handles, and even break down really nicely when not in use. One of these extra benefits that come with working, along with occasional free food.

Next Monday, I’m down to having only one class. I usually have three so this feels a bit weird. One of my professors is away for the entire week for a conference in Europe. We’ve had two Friday classes so we’re not behind or anything. But we get a break from going to class for a week. There is an ASCE dinner on Monday that a bunch of people want to go to so we’re not having our Indonesia class that day.

I’ve been really putting my connections to work for this Padang project. After I sent out an email to the coastal and rivers list, I got various responses with hints of where to find information. I finally got in contact with someone who’s been doing some really detailed modeling in Germany. He emailed me back last night with a ton of his research. They’re really nicely done models of tsunami inundation heights and flow rates. I feel so accomplished even though I didn’t actually do the work!

I still haven’t decided on an exact last day at work yet. It’s looking like the first week of June though. People have been asking if I will go back in the fall. I really don’t know how much time I will have. Especially if I am supposed to be going around making presentations on this Indonesia project.

I have to emphasize the need to find a good mentor at my first job though. Someone who has enough experience to realize that my questions are actually not very sophisticated even though they might be hidden under depths of complication (i.e. be able to see that my questions are actually quite dumb and offer a simple solution). It’s nice to have people closer to my age but some of these recent grads are just about as clueless as I am. Yeah, I made another 5 min call to New York again and it really expedited my progress.

I managed to get back to campus in time for the department happy hour. Ate a ton of ice cream and then stopped by the Rains Thursday social thing for more snacks.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Rain and more rain

Long post – written on the Caltrain

I stepped out of my apartment this morning totally unprepared for the rain. I was wearing khaki colored pants, non-waterproof shoes, and did not have an umbrella. This is really sad because I have 3 umbrellas. I did manage to get up without feeling totally out of it. I’m surprised that I’ve been able to wake up at 6:15am Tuesdays and Thursdays and feel awake. Or maybe it’s just because I have too much on my to-do list.

Saving the world is hard work. I wish I could do more but I just don’t have the time. I’ve been putting a lot of energy into this Indonesia thing. And because of that, I haven’t been involved with Splash at all. And they managed to get buses this year. I wish I could’ve helped out with that because I’ve been wanting to organize buses for the Oakland schools. We had a lot of problems with the kids on the buses not pre-registering. I think had I been more involved, I could’ve gone to the schools and helped them pre-register. Or at least make announcements about pre-registering. Also, I could’ve been working with another group on campus to start a D-Lab-like thing in China. I think I could’ve made a lot of progress with that. Too bad I’m only staying at Stanford for such a short time.

After getting off the train, I went to a nearby Walgreens to get passport photos taken. They’re so expensive but I guess that’s what happens when you don’t want the hassle of doing them yourself. Anyway, finally feeling like I’m making some effort towards this trip.

Still looking for someone to say commit to subletting my place. I think grad student housing is definitely a great choice for people doing research or internship here. It’s furnished and everything’s included in the rent. There’s even high speed internet.

I got a couple of boxes from the office today. The office ordered a bunch of really nice boxes for the office move. They had everyone who’s moving pack all their stuff, stick labels on them, and had movers come in to move everything. I wasn’t there for the massive move but everything was all set up at my new desk today. They moved the actual computers and phones too. Hopefully I can grab a few more before they put the boxes away. They’re really nice boxes. I think I have time though because people seem to be taking their time in unpacking. Everyone has a ton of junk that they never use and seem to be content with them staying in boxes.

I’m going to book some flights later this week. Maybe after I finish my take-home midterm tonight? Hopefully I’ll finish tonight… Wednesdays and Thursdays are supposed to be the best days to look for flights. So maybe I should wait… I need to keep an eye out for good flights though. There are too many options of where to fly from and to. Maybe I should make a spreadsheet with departure airport, arrival airport, price, stops, total duration of flight, time of departure and arrival. So many factors!! Can’t leave too early, can’t arrive too late

Monday, April 26, 2010

Where did April go??

Can't believe April is almost over and it's going to be May in a few days. This means I have less than 2 months before I fly to the other side of the world. My travel plans are still all up in the air. I have no idea what's happening. Roughly, I think this is what's happening:

Stay with Yalu in NYC before going to England.
Be in England from June 19-24th.
Get to Jakarta 25th or 26th
Go to Padang in July
Work on ESW stuff until early September
Travel around Indonesia or surrounding area for a week or so
Come back a week before schools starts again (Sept 9th or 10th)
Wrap up stuff from the trip. Get ready to make presentations.
School starts again on Sept 20th.

And I should go home for a few days before all of this, maybe. Or I can go home for a couple of days on Memorial weekend but that's possibly the busiest weekend ever.

Both of my finals are take-home. So they're not highly stressful. I'll be done on the 9th. I need to pack, which will take a couple of days since I'm packing up my room as well as packing for the summer trip. The CEE graduation here is on the 13th so I might want to be around for that to say goodbye to people. Too many things to do and not enough weekends!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Half Time!

I'm halfway done with academics at Stanford. Pretty crazy how fast things are going. I think I'm pretty happy with my decision of coming to Stanford instead of somewhere else (Berkeley). Anyway, that's a discussion for another time. This post is about what I have been up to the past week.

Tuesday. I found out at work that I will be moving desks. I feel like this happens to me at every internship. And my internship experiences change dramatically because of it. Usually for the better. I'm moving closer to my group but unfortunately, half the group is moving downstairs. I still don't understand why this decision was made. Someone, somewhere decided that people should be more "integrated" and sit by projects. But projects change all the time. And it's important to sit with your group because then other people know where to go when they need specialized help. And you can look around and find help when you need it. I think this will be one of my questions when I do interviews next year. Does the group sit together? I mean, it's actually a pretty dumb question because most of the time, the answer will be yes. But it's important. And it's always the little things that count. I don't care if my questions are non-standard and feels weird to potential employers. I think it's important to find a group that I like to work with. I feel like I have a lot of experience to bring to the group for an entry level engineer.

Wednesday. We had our mid-term presentations for our tsunami evacuation for Padang class. Things seem to be moving along for the class. Everyone has a ton of work to do regarding their project. I think we're doing really good work though. We definitely putting out engineering education to use. It's really amazing to see that I can really use my somewhat specialized knowledge to help communities around the world.

The summer trip is still in the pre-planning stages. We have a somewhat set date for arrival in Indonesia. But the tourist visa seems to be only for 60 days. The next step is 6 months and applying for that seems like a huge hassle that is very involved. The other option is getting a visa on arrival (valid for 30 days) and leave the country for a couple of days and get another one of these 30 day things. But even with that, we're still limited to 60 days and we want to be in the country for more like 70 days. So we would have to leave the country twice. I'm a little worried that immigration will deny our entry the 3rd time around. In which case, it will be a huge disaster. So if anyone has any bright ideas, speak up!

Thursday. I went to an ASCE dinner meeting after work. I should go to these more often because they are often free or super cheap for students. But this one only worked out because one of the ASCE officers at Stanford decided to organize a carpool and I was able to get a ride back with them. Otherwise, it would've taken me super long to get back to campus. I met some very interesting people. I met someone who is a long time coworker and friend of a coworker from a previous internship. I feel like this type of thing happens all the time. I think I need to get more involved in ASCE. I think I'm going to try to be active in the younger member committees or something when I get a job. It seems like a great way to network and find out what everyone is up to.

Friday. My soil berm design team met up with one of my coworkers from work. She gave us a lot of good advice on things to look into. I think it was pretty productive use of time. The only question is if we have enough time and energy to address all the issues. I feel like my team needs more team meetings where we tackle a problem. Maybe 4 people is too many and we would get distracted? I don't know if we should partner up and work on figuring out solutions to individual problems.

Saturday. I spent yesterday volunteering with SEAONC's Rebuilding Together day. We were helping out an elementary school with some renovations. I was painting the parent's lounge. There were other painting projects and building of benches and plant boxes. There were quite a few people from various companies. I was surprised to see many familiar faces as well. SEAONC is a structural engineering association. I'm a member but I don't think there are very many other geotech people. I feel like the geotech community doesn't really have an equivalent. There's the GeoInstitute but I'm not sure it's an equivalent.

Next week, I have a take home midterm for Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. I'm still trying to decide whether or not to go to the SFGI annual lectures on Thursday. The lectures start at noon and then there's dinner afterward. I usually work on Thursdays but I'm sure they won't mind since this is geotech related. I guess I'm just feeling like I don't have time. Because if I only work half a day on Thursday, I might want to go to the office on Friday as well.

Anyway, extremely busy, like always! Need to devote some time to studying Indonesian. Falling behind on my schedule already and I haven't gotten past chapter 4 of Teach Yourself Indonesian. Also, there seems to be a lot of buffalo in Indonesia. Now it makes more sense why my computerized flashcards was making me learn how to say water buffalo in Indonesian. I guess it would be nice to know when I go to a restaurant??

Saturday, April 17, 2010

I foresee drinking lots of tea in the near future

This quarter is probably going to be the craziest quarter ever. The quarter system is short and everything ramps up after mid-term. This is the end of week 3, which is usually when people start thinking about midterm exams and projects due and such. I just had a realization a few hours earlier that I'm not going to get very much sleep this weekend. I have so much work to do! My Mondays - Thursdays are packed so I have to be really productive during the weekends.

Let's see, I have a report due on Monday that I haven't thought very much about. A problem set due on Friday that I haven't even looked at. And then there's the Indonesia project. We have our mid-term presentations on Wednesday and I haven't started working on anything I signed up to do. Hm... And this weekend is Splash. I'm volunteering Saturday morning for registration. This is usually when they need the most help. But I probably won't have time to help out otherwise because of the above stuff.

Really excited to be going to Indonesia this summer. We're a little short on funding so if anyone knows of any grants or corporations willing to donate, let me know! I feel like we have a ton of things to do before going out there. We haven't even come up with a plan of what we want to accomplish this summer yet. Never mind buying tickets, getting visas, contacting people, etc.

And on top of all this, I still need to find some time to run because I want to run a decent time for Bay to Breakers. I know most people just walk the thing. But that makes it even better to take the running seriously! This seems to be a pretty big event because Caltrain is running special services for it. There are 3 or 4 trains that will run extra early that Sunday morning just to take people from the peninsula to SF in time for the race. Usually it's impossible to get to SF on a weekend by 8am.

I seriously can't believe it's almost May. Midway through this quarter also signifies midway through my time at Stanford!! It feels like I just got started at this place and I'm already planning my exit strategy. This Indonesia thing is probably not the best choice I can make career-wise. There are a lot of things I can do this summer that would make me even more employable after I graduate than going to Padang. But I think I'm employable enough and it's not everyday that you get to go help save a city.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


I'm going to Indonesia this summer! I don't think the reality has sunk in yet. But I think it will as soon as I start booking flights. I'm going through Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW). The ESW chapter at Stanford has been working on vertical tsunami evacuation structures for Padang, Indonesia. Basically tall things that people can go to when there is a tsunami warning because high ground can be too far away. We have 4 teams working on different projects and 2 people are going there during the summer to present our work to various groups. Hopefully we can get lucky and see some actions taken during the summer. This project is definitely a lot less directed than working directly with an NGO. We're partners with Geohazards International and an university in Padang. There's a ton of people involved and I'm not even sure I know exactly who's who. So this blog will see some action again!

Time to learn Indonesian for real. I've been trying to learn a bit of the language before applying for this internship. But the effort has been minimal even though I bought a book and everything. Now I really need to ramp up my efforts if I hope to communicate anything during the summer. The goal is to speak in complete sentences by the time I leave the States.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Update on my academic life

First weekend at Stanford this quarter! It's so good to have no-class and no-work days so that I can get my life in order. I don't have classes on Fridays so I essentially have 3 day weekends all the time. Which is desperately needed since I don't have any time during the week.

On Friday, my parents came to pick up my brother. I did laundry in the morning and did some cleaning as well. I went to the interview for the ESW Indonesia thing. So now I'm just waiting to hear back from people for summer stuff. I'm not looking anywhere else anymore. At least, I'm trying to convince myself that there's nothing else I should be doing. I've been reading a lot of career books lately and it's all about being proactive. These career books are very hit-or-miss though. I read one about interning and it was really lame. They had some very entertaining stories about extreme internship stories though. I just didn't think that things like being fired on the first day, being worked to death without being paid, or having 10 really unfortunate things happen to you on the first day is very representative of an internship experience.

I ran the Dish in the afternoon. I'm so out of shape, it's not even worth writing down how long it took me to do that loop. After that I took a long nap and then went to two happy hours. The structures group had a happy hour where we had breakfast food. There was lots of food so it was great. Then I went to the construction management BBQ, which they're thinking of turning into a weekly event. So I didn't do very much on Friday in terms of productive stuff. I got a chance to chat with people though, which is something I haven't managed to do for a while.

Major allergies these days. I really hope it rains soon. It's not just me. Everyone seems to be sneezing these days. The pollen is really bad in suburbia... And now that my mom got me some nice umbrellas from China, I'm all ready for more rain.

Today (Saturday), I went running in the morning. Then I went clothes shopping and managed to get a couple of shirts. I desperately needed some more shirts for work. I was rotating through a handful of shirts and really needed more even though I'm only working 2 days a week. Then I managed to do some homework before going to a group meeting. Group meeting turned into dinner. The only thing other than homework tomorrow will be groceries, I think. And bread making. I need to do that at some point this weekend.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What the World Eats

Very interesting article showing a week's worth of food for families around the world:,29307,1626519_1373664,00.html

This was done as a part of a book called "Hungry Planet - What the World Eats." I borrowed the book and it's really interesting. The authors traveled to a ton of places and interviewed families about their lifestyles. Part of the book is about globalization and changes in lifestyle. So they would interview the different generations to get a sense of how food - where it comes from, its preparation, etc. has changed for a family through the generations. They collected very detailed grocery lists and favorite family recipes. I think the book was very well done overall. Really gives you a sense of a family's lifestyle.

I think food says a lot about culture and environment. When I lived in Germany and England, after a while, I began to adapt their tastes in food. I started eating a lot more bread, muesli, yogurt, smoked fish, etc. When I visited my penpal in Germany, she cooked Chinese veggies and put cheese on the dish. I think it would be very interesting to do a similar study but on the different immigrant (non-mainstream) population of a country. How much of their "native" foods and traditions do they keep. What they have and have not taken up from their host country. Even the concept of what breakfast, lunch, and dinner varies by culture. Is lunch a hot or cold meal? Is lunch or dinner the biggest meal of the day? Man, I wish someone would pay me to go around and eat with different families in order to write a book about their lifestyles.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Third Quarter - Week 2... and the work keeps piling on!

I feel like I haven't blogged in a while. This is not true but time is really dragging by this quarter. I can't believe it's only Tuesday of the 2nd week. It feels further into the quarter already. I guess I don't have that much actual work to do yet but definitely feeling the lack of time. Mostly because I keep going home on the weekends. I can't get any work done at home so it becomes major time crunch when I get back to school.

Got out of work relatively early today. A lot of people are on vacation so I got to (finally) work on my own project. I'm actually writing the report for this thing now. It's really satisfying to be working on my own thing instead of helping other people with their plots and calculations. Granted, other people's projects are usually more interesting but still. I picked up some career books from the business school library. Not sure if they're actually helpful but it's good to be in that mindset of career development, I suppose.

Classes are going pretty well. One lecture class - Poromechanics. One seminar-style class - engineering in geology science. One project class - tsunami evacuation structures for Padang. And one actual seminar - infrastructure and risk. Poromechanics will get hard very soon. The geology class is interesting and shouldn't been very much work. Tsunami project is an ongoing thing. Work will never end for this. The infrastructure seminar seems interesting and not very much work at all. I think part of the reason why I feel stressed is because of this project class. Work for it never ends so it's not like you can read ahead or anything. But it's a good project so I'm okay with it.

Running Bay to Breakers soon! I'm excited. But I really need to get back into shape. Don't want to be in too much pain after the race... haha.

Pictures from the Bahamas!

Vacation was great. It was great to get away and not answer emails or phone calls for a week. Very important to be able to worry about real life once in a while. Especially because this quarter is already very busy. Or at least it feels very busy because I never seem to have any time. Can't believe it's only the start of the 2nd week!

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