Thursday, September 30, 2010

Long and hot days

Only 10 blog posts (including this one) during the month of September?? This is unacceptable. I was looking over my blog earlier this week. Some months are more exciting than others. Can't believe I've had this thing going for three years now. Credits to my readers. Otherwise, my writing would just be lost in cyberspace.

Today is the one year anniversary of the September 30, 2009 earthquake in Padang, Indonesia. I think the city was planning to have an evacuation drill to commemorate the event and to raise tsunami evacuation preparedness. Hopefully they managed to get that going. Did you know you can get email notifications from USGS about earthquakes? You can set your region and magnitudes of earthquakes you want to hear about. There were two big earthquakes 6.2 and 7.2 Mw near Papua yesterday. A tsunami alert was raised and then canceled. Don't think there was much damage because the area is sparsely populated.

Yesterday was the longest day on campus so far. I got up at 7am for an 8am class and stayed on campus until midnight. Had class in the morning, until around noon. One of my professors didn't show up. I wonder what happened. We still haven't gotten an email about it. I hope that class is still happening because I need to units. Went to a SWE lunch after that. The pizza was pretty good. Cleaned up my office in Blume a bit and worked on homework in there for a while. Went over to Y2E2 and worked on some more homework.

The evening was all ESW stuff. During undergrad, I did a lot of ESP stuff. Now we're just moving down the alphabet. There was an ESW general meeting where we introduced the organization, talked about events, introduced the officers, and the summer interns talked a bit about what they did over the summer. The president sent out an email earlier this week asking for 2 slides for each team. We sent in our 2 slides and talked for our allotted 5 minutes. I think we confused everyone as to what the project involved. The other teams had more slides and more talking. Apparently they didn't get the memo... But it's okay since we're giving a longer presentation on just our project tonight (Thursday).After the meeting, we stayed in Y2E2 and worked on that presentation and other ESW stuff until midnight. I was really tired by 9pm but we managed to finish the presentation. I should make sure everything works beforehand...

ESW national conference next week. Going to the midwest. Exciting.... I don't think I have any friends out there so it's much more difficult to find a place to stay. It's no problem finding a place to crash in big cities like SF, Boston, NYC. But Indiana is different story. Not even sure I can identify the place on a map... I really need to travel the US. 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Getting back into grad school life, sort of

I just spent most of the day relearning undergrad structural analysis. So painful. I don't know why I am taking advanced structural analysis. Never really liked this stuff. I feel like every time I attempt to learn these things, I just keep looking up examples and follow along. Not sure a whole lot of understanding and intuition are coming along. I found out though, that I should have a pretty good background in this stuff because apparently I took pretty good classes back in Cambridge. If I had actually managed to learn that stuff, I would be in really good shape. I'm not sure I did though...

I got the motherboard of my new computer replaced, for the second time in a year. Also got the power cord, usb connections, sound connections, all replaced. The computer decided to freeze every once in a while the past few days. Probably due to a fried motherboard. I was really hoping for a long lasting computer. I suppose I'm putting my warranty to use. I should write down the date that the warranty expires so that I can make sure I get parts replaced if I need them. Apparently you can even ask for things like rubber feets. So I'm thinking I'll need a new screen and probably webcam before this is all over. The LCD screen is missing some pixels from the last technician who came out.

Going to the ESW national conference next week in Purdue. Need to find a place to stay. So if any of my readers have friends in Purdue that I can stay with, let me know! It should be an interesting conference. I think the talks are pretty interesting. I'm very interested in finding out about other projects. I want to know what other people are doing out there.

I was looking at the Human Development Index from Wikipedia earlier. They categorized countries into 4 categories: Very high, high, medium, and low human development. I realized I have spent significant amounts of time in all four categories (well, not so much for the 'high' category but I think that's okay...). I feel really lucky to have had these experiences. I know it's not good to generalize and countries have different regions where the HDI might be very different. But I think, especially for people who live in "very high" areas to grasp the idea of a "developing country" since there is so much variance. The range is very big. Sierra Leone definitely skewed my idea of a "developing country" so I'm definitely glad to have spent some time in West Sumatra where people are much better off. I think even for people who do work in developing countries, it might still be hard for them to imagine life in the "low" category.

The week after the ESW conference, I'm going to a conference in Hollywood. Still need to work out the details for that one but I've already booked the flights. There are so many conferences and seminars out there. I feel like I've managed to discover a lot of professional societies in the past year. Maybe there are more of them out here since there's not only the normal ASCE stuff, there's also a bunch of seismic related organizations. There are overlaps on event advertisement so I don't feel the need to join every single one of these things. But there are a lot of events though. I've also been trying to participate in some geology related things as well. Getting to the point where I'm hesitant to even write down events because I don't actually want to go to all of these things.

Been feeling rushed and busy the past few days. I feel like I haven't had time to do stuff on my own. There area always events (see above paragraph) and meetings to go to. There's just so much stuff happening. Maybe it's just that I haven't gotten into a routine yet. And I haven't started working yet so it feels like I'm waiting for something to happen. Speaking of working, I haven't seriously begun to look into job stuff yet. Definitely feeling like I'm punting on that one. I need to come up with a game plan. I mean, I can start emailing my contacts but I think I should come up with some general strategies and goals first. Maybe later this week...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

First week!

Another epic first week of school. I have to say, this has definitely been one of the weirdest, most jam packed, and exhausting first week of school ever. I guess part of me still feels like I'm somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. There is still a lot of work to do for the ESW project but I didn't quite expect to be doing so much right after getting back to Stanford.

Monday and Tuesday, I went to a lot of classes. Both days ended with doing ESW stuff. I was really conflicted about my classes after Tuesday because I felt like I went to good classes both days. But I decided on classes Wednesday afternoon after talking to some more people about my choices. Usually I do whatever people tell me NOT to do. But I think I'm going to try out this "listening to advice" thing. Might be a good idea. Anyway, classes that I am taking this quarter:

GES 283: Soil Physics
CEE 280: Advance Structural Analysis
GP 160: Intro to Computing in Earth Sciences
Independent study for the ESW project

As you can see, the three classes that I am taking are all in different departments. I'm so glad I chose to go to school in a place where they are flexible about graduation requirements. I mean, I really think you should get a lot of freedom in class choices when you're doing a Masters degree. At this point, you should know what you want to do (to some degree) and tailor your learning to what (you think) you want to do in the future.

I went back home Wednesday night. I woke up Wed morning pretty convinced that I was going to go to some Thursday classes and therefore, unable to make it home. But all my classes are on MWF so I decided to go home Wed afternoon and got to spend mid-autumn festival at home with my family.

Thursday, I spent some time work on more ESW stuff and organizing in general. At night I went to a SFGI awards talk. Most of the topic was over my head but I had seen some of it before through working at Arup. I think I really need to do some studying in the subject of soil dynamics and seismic soil stuff. Seems extremely important for working in a seismic area.

Came back to Stanford Friday morning. Had to get up at 6:45am in order to take BART, MUNI, and Caltrain back. All three public transit systems worked very smoothly since it was rush hour and it didn't feel like I was in transit very long. The Stanford shuttle though, was another story. That thing is so slow. At least all three shuttles were waiting for Caltrain passengers when we got off the train. They were all available and ready to go.

I had class until 11am, went back to my dorm for a little bit, and then went back onto campus again carrying a giant poster. I feel like I'm always dragging weird stuff across campus. After dropping off the poster, I went to stand in the really hot sun for 4 hours, recruiting for Stanford Splash at the undergrad activities fair. Because this is California, the activities fair is outdoors. It was super sunny with no clouds in sight. I got sunburnt.

I was really tired and dehydrated after this and headed off to the CEE grad welcome reception. There was food and friends to catch up with. It was really good. Didn't managed to meet a whole lot of new students though. Oh wells, getting old. And then, I went with Joanna to a IEEE BBQ where we were amazed by the amount of guys in attendance. I guess it shouldn't be a surprise by now but it somehow still is. Then, I went home to my roommate's birthday party where I tried really hard to stay awake because I was super tired by that point. People went off to the Rains Welcome Back party afterwards but I couldn't get myself to go outside again and went to sleep instead.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Random Experiences in SF

It hasn't been a week of classes yet and I'm already feeling sleep deprived. Luckily, I am sitting at home in Oakland right now and caught up on sleep. I thought I'd catch up on some blog writing as well.

I spent last Friday afternoon in SF with Erika, Javi, and Mike. Erika was on her way to camping in Yosemite and decided to spend a few days in SF as well. That afternoon was definitely a memorable experience. So much random-ness. By the time I met up with her, it was late afternoon, nearly time for Javi to get off of work.

Erika wanted to go to the Presidio but it's a bit far and I didn't think there would be very much to do there. So we went to Japantown instead. I have only been there once before and didn't get a chance to walk around. We walked around in the shopping areas, gawking at the extremely expensive prices. Who would pay $15 for a pencil?!

We made Javi meet us in Japantown so that we can head to a food truck festival that Javi found out about. We were walking to the bus stop when we literally ran into a couple of people who were looking confused at a sign. The sign was advertising for an event that was happening inside the glass doors of the building. The couple told us that the event was free but "no what they thought it was going to be" because there was music and alcohol inside. I think all I heard was "free" and at this point Javi spotted the cupcakes. There were 5 or 6 layers of mini-cupcakes and he really wanted some. So we walked in, pass the people who were trying to get us to register, and went up to the cupcakes table. There were a lot awkward people milling around, not sure if they are supposed to eat the cupcakes. Erika grabbed a plate and started to take the cupcakes and other pastries. So naturally, everyone else started eating too. Only takes one person to initiate these things, I guess. All the pastries were really, really good.

We went upstairs to check out the rest of the building. We really had no clue what was going on at this point. We hung out a bit on the stairwell of the 3rd floor because we wanted to check out the store but they didn't allow food inside. Once we got inside though, we found a very strange store. The employees were dressed up like anime characters and they carried very eccentric looking clothing. This store has no store front and you really won't know about its existence unless you entered from downstairs and made your way up these backstairs. We were wondering how this store gets its business when we realized that their customers must do all their clothes shopping at that store. (The other customers were dressed as goth and other related things.)

We went back down stairs to find free alcohol sampling and even more food. There were noodles, kimchi watermelon, and egg rolls. There was a long line for registration and we had no reason to register but then I spotted the Pocky sticks in the goodie bags. So we got in line and got handed a bag of random stuff include a stress ball, two CDs, some flyers, a bottle of Red Bull, and a bottle opener. We ate more cupcakes and head out after stuffing ourselves. Extremely random and awkward event. I don't think anyone knew what they were supposed to be doing at this event. There was even dance music playing in the background. We saw the flyer for the event but it was really not helpful.

We finally headed out to meet up with Mike, who was coming from Berkeley to meet us for dinner. Erika and Mike wanted Afghan food so they picked a place to meet up. Javi and I tagged along, not knowing what to expect. We finally got to the place and Mike already got a table. He greeted us with "omg Erika, this is just like the place in Cambridge!" Apparently both of them love this Afghan place in East Cambridge ( They spent some time being really amazed that they were able to find the exact same place in SF, across the country. The menu, the decor, even the cups were exactly the same. We found out from the waitress that this was indeed the same place.

We ordered food and a pumpkin appetizer. They served the appetizer with bread and three sauces. I saw staring at these three sauces and had a strange feeling I saw them before. I dug into the candied pumpkin appetizer and definitely had a deja vu moment. Mike was saying something about the Cambridge place being close to the Galleria and I suddenly remembered going to a restaurant with Mahalia, Stella, and John O. I realized I had also been to the place in Cambridge! Such a strange evening. The food was really good. I ordered the first thing on the menu and I thought that was much better than what I had ordered back in Cambridge. I have a feeling I'll be back at this place sometime soon because I told Mahalia and now she's really interested in going.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Autumn Quarter 2010

Another school year is about to start! I suppose I should have spent some time cleaning up my bike so that I can use it tomorrow... Er... maybe I'll do that tomorrow morning? I've been so busy lately. That workshop really took up a lot of time. And now I'm working on a poster for ESW. There are a few things I have been meaning to write about but haven't had the time.

I did managed to go grocery shopping this morning though. Got a lot of food. Vegetables are so much cheaper than meat. I feel like I should be buying so much more veggies. I guess this is a good thing. Really enjoy making food and deciding what I want to eat. I mean, free food from BBQs and such is good and all, but it's just not the same. I think my cooking is better. ha!

Got a chance to do some running lately. Found a small dirt trail that goes through some neighborhoods west of campus. It's really nice! I want to do that again sometime. But I have to go slightly uphill, clockwise on Campus Drive to get there though. I've done so many counterclockwise runs on Campus Dr that running the other way seems weird. It is really nice to get a change of scenery though. I think this is very important. With old routes, you know what to expect and are tempted to stop because you know how much longer the path goes on. With new routes, the uncertainty keeps me going. I don't want to stop in case I get stuck in the middle of nowhere. 4 weeks until the half marathon! I want to do it in under 2hrs. Need to protein load.

8am class tomorrow! Tomorrow is going to be a long day. I think I will need to bring snacks.... Sorry that this post is so lame. I will have more interesting stuff very soon.

Friday, September 17, 2010

design thinking workshop

Haven't blogged for a while because I've suddenly become really busy. Got back to Stanford early Sunday morning and went straight to class. Yup, class on a Sunday. I've been spending my week at Stanford participating in the design thinking workshop. Several departments offer summer college classes that happen the week before classes begin, mainly to let you have the chance to explore a new topic or a topic in depth.

This design thinking workshop has been really great so far. We learn about the design process from different people in the They would talk a little bit about a topic and then have us do an activity. These activities are usually very quick and require us to respond without much thinking. Don't think, just do. It's really refreshing.

I've never thought about design as a process. It's certainly not a static process. It's very fluid and the process can be different in for different products. But the core of the class is really about recognizing the barriers that hold you back from being creative and innovative. I think engineering teaching is extremely rigid and while we pride ourselves in "problem solving," we never really think outside of the box. We're not even aware that this box exists. I think this workshop has given us some of the tools to get outside of this box.

The is part of the mechanic engineering department (sort of). They offer several classes including a bootcamp in design thinking in the fall. I'm seriously considering taking the class. Although I feel like doing boot camp, ESW project, other classes and working part-time would really be too much. One of them might have to go. Well, in order to take the class, I would have to swap it with one of the other classes that I'm planning to take. But I'm not sure that will be enough. Anyway, we'll see. I'll probably go the first day and see what happens. There's an application process. And with all things that involve an application process, I like to think that I'm not really the one making the decision and so I can relax and let it happen. This is not true though because I can usually tell if I submitted a good application or not.

Anyway, last day of the workshop. Maybe meeting up with Erica and Javi in the afternoon!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Back to Reality

Haven't written much about being home because it doesn't seem like very much compared to all the activities of this past couple of months. Didn't want to disappoint my readers by going back to my lame real life. I think being away makes me feel like I need to go catch up with friends every time I come back. You don't feel a pressing need to get back in touch with people when they're always only an hour away, max. So I've been spending a lot of time meeting up with various people the past week, in addition to moving and unpacking.

I moved to a new apartment in Rains. This is part of the reason why I came back so quickly after leaving Padang. The other part is that I wanted to do this summer workshop next week. If I had gotten a ticket to come back later, I probably would have opted out of the workshop because I would want to spend a few more days at home.

Anyhow, moving was a long process. I nearly everything in boxes already so it really shouldn't have taken very long. But, just my luck, the days I was back at Stanford were some of the hottest days ever. I was also jetlagged so I felt tired during the afternoon hours. The first day of moving, I think I only managed to spend 2 or 3 hours moving all the boxes over. If I had more energy, I think I could have done it all in one day but I was exhausted.

So it's official, it was much easier to adjust to the time difference by changing time zones gradually. On the way to Padang, I stopped in NYC, UK, and Malaysia for 3 nights each before reaching Padang. The time differences were +3hrs, +5hrs, +7hrs, -1hr. Much easier to manage than half a day of time difference (-13hrs) on the way back.

I've met up with several people for lunch and dinner already. Really looking to more of these catching up sessions. It's good to hear about what other people have been up to. I guess I haven't been gone for very long but it certainly feels that way. Also I feel like once school starts, I will have very little spare time. Hard to have 2-3 hr lunch and/or dinner when I barely have time to sleep. Better sleep more this week...

Sunday, September 5, 2010

SEA Wrap Up Part 4: Taipei

I think I wrote quite a bit about my adventures in Taipei in a previous post. So I'll just post some pictures here and call it a day.

This is inside the Sun-Yet Sen Memorial. Wish I had time to look and read through all the exhibits. Some of the exhibits even have English. I really didn't have time to read it all. It really interesting though. I think most of the place is a big auditorium for special events. The actual exhibits are free. I didn't managed to find the historical exhibits for a while because I came through a side entrance.

This is inside the Taipei airport. They even have special resting spot where you can read about Taiwanese cultures, like the aboriginal people of Taiwan. This airport was definitely on par with the Singapore airport, minus the massage chairs. Maybe I just missed the massage chairs?
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This ends the SEA Wrap Up series. From now on, it will be back to "normal" life. I hope my readers will not be too disappointed. It's amazing how much people were reading this blog this past summer. I will certainly blog more about ongoing efforts with the ESW Padang project. So stay tuned if that's what you're here for.

SEA Trip Wrap Up - Part 3: Singapore

Sunday, August 30, 2010 - Singapore. I've been wanting to go to Singapore for years. Heard a lot of good things about this city and have been wanting to see what it's like. I think I got a pretty good tour of it with friends from Cambridge. They were super nice and showed me around town. But first, getting to Singapore.

After eating dim sum in Melaka, I got on a bus to go to Singapore. My taxi driver from the hotel to the bus station was pretty nice and told me exactly where to go. There were several bus companies that go from Melaka to Singapore. They are all the same price: 22 ringgit. I took the Melaka 707 Express which had really nice seats. There are only 3 seats per row instead of 4 so the seats were big. We got to Johor Bahru and got through Malaysian customs fine. Didn't even have to take our things from the bus. It was pretty fast. Then we had to drive quite a bit to get to Singaporean customs. It felt kind of weird not to do them one after the other. I guess it's the same when you're flying but it felt weirder on land.

The line I stood in took super long. The guy was just really, really slow. I should have switched lines but the people in front of me were on the same bus as me so I stuck with that line. After a painfully long wait, I emerged in the bus terminal only to find that the bus had left (they only wait for 20 mins)!! Luckily, I met three other Malaysians who were in the same situation. They're all pretty young, like me, and all Chinese. They were speaking Mandarin and.... my Mandarin was just not good enough to follow. Sigh... Anyway, they speak English as well but they obviously found it weird that my Chinese was so bad. They decided to take the Causeway bus so I followed them. One of them even gave me 3 Ringgit to get on the bus. It costs 6 ringgits and I only had 3. They were really confused as to why I (an American) was taking a bus from Melaka to Singapore. I wish I talked to them a bit more but I was worried about this whole situation. My phone hadn't managed to connect with the SingTel network and I was having trouble calling my friend.

That entire situation just seemed so ridiculous and crazy but everything turned out okay, due to the help of friends and kindness of strangers. I got help from these Malaysian Chinese kids who were also traveling to Singapore. The SingTel sim card I had was given to me by a friend while I was in NYC. I managed to call up a friend from Cambridge who was back in Singapore and she picked me up from the bus station. We had dinner and she handed me over to another friend who I stayed with for a couple of nights.

Anyway, the next day (Sunday), I was taken around Singapore by a couple of friends I had met in Cambridge. The friend I stayed with spent quite a while planning out my day so that I would see everything in one day. She did a pretty good job. We went through Chinatown, Little India, walked through a housing complex and market, the waterfront, ate at hawker stores, even watched a bit of the national day rally speech when we got home. I think I blogged about how amazed  I was by the Singaporean city planning so I'll skip that here.

From Melaka

My friends were super fun to be with. Really glad they spent the time taking me around because otherwise I would've done everything a lot slower because I would have to rely on maps. Well, actually, we picked up a map at the tourist office and my friends put it to good use. They were using it quite a bit. We even lost our way trying to get to the waterfront to see the Merlion. We were tempted to ask the tourists next to us who were also trying to find their way. haha.

I flew out Monday morning and pretty much the entire family was at work by the time I got up. I don't know how I managed to sleep past all of them getting up. One of my friend's brothers got up and called a taxi for me. I think I can manage to call a taxi myself but they insisted that he get out of bed and help me. I was grateful for all this help of course because I wouldn't have been able to tell the driver how to get to the house. Anyway, they live really close to the airport and even with the rush hour surcharge, the taxi only cost S$10. It was raining and I had a lot of luggage so it was definitely worth it.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

SEA Trip Wrap Up - Part 2: Melaka

Saturday, August 28th - Melaka. The bus took us to a shopping center next to a Tescos. By this point, I was really tired of carrying around all my luggage. They're pretty heavy. So I decided to get a taxi rather than trying to figure out the bus system. I met a pretty nice taxi driver who knew where the hotel is. The first taxi driver I met blanked on the name of the hotel and walked away. It was really strange. It was like he didn't care about getting my business at all. They weren't very keen on helping me with my luggage either. Anyway, I got to the hotel, checked in, and showered in the rain shower. The room was pretty decked out.

I needed food so I went out for a walk towards the city center. There were plenty of food places along the street that the hotel is on. I ate at a Chinese place where they served noodles with fish cake. Pretty good stuff since I was starving by that point.

The historical part of Melaka is pretty easy to find. Everything was labeled in Malay and English. There were a lot more tourists than I expected. I walked around the historical hill and harbor and found little cendol stand. They were swamped with customers so of course, I had to get my share. The cendol was really good. Not as sweet as the ones in Padang, which is good. They were closed by the time I got back to the same place two hours later. Sold out! I got the cendol at around 6pm and was in a big rush to find a good place to watch the sunset. I was walking along the river when I noticed that the sun is nowhere near setting. Then I realized that there is a one hour difference between here and Padang but it's really not that far. So sunset was at 7:30pm instead of 6:30pm. This threw me off my schedule.

From Melaka

From Melaka

From Melaka

I tried to go to Bukit Cina but ended up back at the historical hill. So I watched the sunset from there. The city doesn't really face west so it wasn't all that great. I spent a couple of hours walking around Jonker Walk, a night market in Chinatown and got some snacks. I ate dinner on the way back to the hotel.

From Melaka

From Melaka

fried potato on a stick
From Melaka

curry fish balls. spicy!
From Melaka

When I got to the hotel, my host was in the lobby talking to four of his friends who were also staying at the hotel that weekend. They had come to Melaka to scout out venues for a conference that they are holding. They were getting directions for some food places and took me along with them. So I had a late snack of satay, Melaka style. Then in the morning, they took with them to a dim sum place. The dim sum were serve on these small metal plates. The actual dim sum are super small but really tasty.

dim sum in Melaka
From Melaka

Really wish I had more time to eat around the city. Didn't even get to try the chicken rice balls! It was a nice trip though.