Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: Highlights, Milestones, Reflections

2010 has been an eventful year. The highlights include:
  • running two half marathons and Bay to Breakers
  • going on a cruise (first time!)
  • going to Indonesia and Southeast Asia
  • flying around the world
  • working part-time while doing grad school
  • baking bread
  • figuring out what I want to do after graduation
One of my resolutions for 2010 had been to run a full marathon. But I think that was over ambitious so I'm going to have to settle for completing two half marathons. I think I was too enthusiastic when I started training. This sport can get a lot more complicated than just running. Shoes, clothes, food, even can make a difference. I think I've started to eat healthier or at least watch the types of food that I eat and how my body responds. 

I started working part-time in the middle of winter quarter. It took a while to adjust to working many hours and while going to school at the same time. Despite being busy, I thought I had a pretty balanced academic life spring quarter. I managed to bake my own bread once a week, go running several times a week, get all my work done, and slept at least 7 hours a day. 

The Bahamas cruise was fun. It involved a lot of planning though. I guess my friends and I are just that kind of people. I had been thinking about going on a cruise ever since traveling Europe. Not sure it was our type of vacation though. I think it was too chill and we just all ended up eating a lot. But it was fun. Glad we went. 

I've been reading about the Chinese zodiac lately because next year is the year of the Rabbit. Several websites and sources have said that rabbits tend to be lucky people. So far, my luck has held out. I got my wish to go to Southeast Asia, something that I have been wanting to do for a while. Such an interesting region.  I'm also really glad I got to work on an interesting project that uses my skills as a civil engineer. I hope these projects keep coming my way. 

My summer concluded with flying around the world. It was one epic adventure. So now I'm making up for it by staying local this winter. The fall quarter was one hectic one. I attended two conferences and ran a half marathon. Helped out with the Indonesia project and now a Peru project. Took a structural engineering class and am really glad that I am not a structural engineer in real life.

As for what I'm doing after I graduate in three months, I've almost got it figure out. In short, I don't think I will be staying in the US for the first few years. Mostly likely going abroad and learning geotech in a more fast-paced construction environment. One of my friends at Stanford predicted this a month before I started hearing from potential employers. Still waiting for things to come through though.

I hope more of this luck will come my way in 2011. Happy New Year!

After holiday sales and last day at work

Wow, just spent a few epic hours at Walmart. We had just finished dinner and I was taking a nap when my cousin called and asked if we wanted to go to Walmart because they were having their after-holidays clearance sale. We didn't end up getting very much stuff. Got a cat scratcher thing that is supposed to dull the cat's claws for half the original price. We didn't even know it was on sale until we got to the register. It's essentially hard cardboard. Can you believe we were willing to buy cardboard for $25?? Anyway, the cat has yet to dull his claws on this thing so we'll see if it's even worth all the effort.

The head of infrastructure treated all of the infrastructure group out to lunch today. Very generous of him. We filled three tables. It was hard trying to keep the geotechs separate. We had too many people to fit into one table to begin with.

I left the office relatively late today. Later than everyone else in my group. Leaving gets harder and harder every time. Anyway, we got an email in the afternoon saying that we can leave at 3:30pm because no one seems to be doing any work. This was not true for our group. I was really rushing to finish up stuff but didn't managed to do everything I wanted to do. Still made pretty good progress though. People came to say goodbye as they were leaving. No one seems to doubt that they will see me again but half of them were wondering if and when I will be joining the SF office as a full time employee. .

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wrapping things up

Tomorrow will be my last day at the SF office. I still have so much work to do! I think this is mainly a byproduct of not really knowing what I'm doing in the first place. Had to get a lot of help from other people. One person in particular was very adamant about reducing the work and not wasting time. Wish he had brought up these points to begin. Instead, we got slammed with some new perspective just as I'm about to leave. Better late than never, I guess. I just hope that I can make some good progress tomorrow. Even though the other intern is helping out a lot, it's tough to hand out work. I really want to explain the geotech and engineering aspects of what's happening to him so that he's not just doing random data entry. But this all takes time and I end up not being able to do my own work.

Almost want to say I miss the days when I'm just doing work that has been handed down to me with instructions. Didn't have to figure things out on my own and realize three days into the project that I've done everything wrong. But I am definitely learning a lot and feeling more and more capable of doing engineering work as I fix my own mistakes. Really hope I can find a good mentor when I start to work full time. Of course it's nice to have many mentors but I need that one person who I can always go to for help.

Can't believe I start school again next Monday. People at work are shocked that I'm not taking any time off between working and starting school again. Definitely a workaholic. I've been ignoring all school related stuff for the last three weeks though. There are a few things I need to take care off before or as soon as school starts. But I feel like I can't focus properly until I get back to my dorm room. It's all about the environment. I know some people study for their PE exams at work (after work hours) because it's just easier to concentrate.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Last Monday of the Year

Last week of break. Going back to school next week. Starting classes again next week. Seems a bit unreal. I feel like I have been out of school forever even though it has only been two weeks. I think it's been really good for me to do something during the break. Working always makes me more motivated about going back to school. I always end up feeling like I have a lot to learn and am more eager to go and learn it. 

Today was an interesting day at work. Two new people started instead of just the one person. The other person is an intern who will be with the group for the next three weeks. I saw the full time person waiting in the lobby and introduced myself. I think I should've done the same the week before but I think I was in a bit of a rush that particular morning. 

I managed to help out with the new intern. He's only a sophomore and hasn't taken any soil mechanics so it's tough to explain things to him. I really don't think geotech reports make much sense to him. They barely made sense to me after taking soil mechanics. We had a lot of computer problems in the morning though. Anyway, I managed to give him some work. Hopefully I didn't confuse him too much. 

I realized I have a lot of work to do. I was bogged down with some calculations and graphing work last week and didn't really look at the whole scope of what I was supposed to be doing. Anyway, I feel like I have a much better idea of what's going on now. I feel like I've been doing more and more open ended work that are not necessarily prescribed step-by-step. Really feeling like I'm almost there in terms of being able to realize what is needed to be done and doing the appropriate things. Just need a bit of guidance. Can almost let go of safety lines and think on my own. Almost...

Had dinner with a friend. It's so good catching up with people in person. I feel like we're all on the threshold of something. Or maybe life is supposed to take us to many places. I always thought that once we graduate, we would all pick a career and stick with something for a while. But it's more like we've been released from four years of undergrad and now we're free to bounce around. Maybe we're supposed to meet up with friends after months and years and go, you've been up to what?? 

Lots of people doing after-holidays shopping in SF. The downtown area was packed with people with lots of bags from Macy's, Forever 21, etc.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

This holiday season can be characterized by me eating a lot and getting fat. The house is filled with so much food!

I got out of work early on Thursday and did a little bit of shopping in downtown SF. The BART was pretty quiet in the morning. I even got a seat on the train. It's usually impossible. The office was pretty quiet as well. I moved over to another desk to make space for the new person starting on Monday. Can't believe we're getting two new people at the end of the year. Anyway, the IT people had his laptop, computer screen, and Blackberry all ready in the morning. A couple of the other guys wandered by and were eyeing the laptop and phone, wondering if his was better than theirs. There was talk about swapping out his stuff. He can't miss what he doesn't have! haha. The guys at work are so funny.

I went running with my brother on Friday. We went around Lake Merritt in about 35 minutes (3.1 miles). We stopped twice but this was a lot better than last year. Last year, we walked most of it because my brother didn't have any endurance. One of my friends came over and we attempted to make bread. But her yeast didn't work (expired in 2005) so we tried going to the stores near my house to get some yeast. But apparently Chinese and Vietnamese people don't use yeast. All they had was baking powder. We went to 3 or 4 stores before giving up and going to Lucky's. So after about 5 or 6 hours of baking, we finally had some dinner rolls.

The family was invited to a dinner party in SF. The dinner party was held by a long time friend of my mom's. They have a big extended family and someone always cooks for either Thanksgiving or Christmas. We haven't gone for a long time. The kids are all around my age and it was kind of strange to see the younger kids all grown up.

We made our own turkey on Christmas day. We started kind of slow with just turkey and sweet potatoes. I made cake and pre-made pies. Eventually, people showed up and we had a good gathering of people to eat all the food. My cousin and I tried to play the Super Mario Galaxy game on the Wii but found out that we suck. Advancing through the levels was so painful... I think I ate too much food in general.

Snowball was really scared the entire day for some odd reason. We think it's the smell of the turkey cooking in the oven. He was hiding under the bed for a long time. My mom convinced him to come out with some dried squid but he refused to go into his room and hid behind the TV. But dad opened the door to the bedroom and he zoomed under the bed. So he stayed there until really late at night and didn't eat, drink, or use the bathroom the entire day.

It's back to work tomorrow. I need to iron shirts tonight. This will be my last week at the SF office. For real, this time. It should be a quiet week though. Pretty sure I'll see all these people again and keep in touch with them over the years. But sometimes I still wonder why I am giving up my spot here. Already too comfortable, maybe?

Monday, December 20, 2010

random thoughts

My arms are tired from playing the Wii. Don't even want to type now. Some of these Wii Sports things are not that great. Kind of arbitrary as to what happens. The games we ordered should come tomorrow or the next day so that's exciting.

I'm so glad my Discover Card gets me 5% back on travel purchases between Jan-March. I think it's because people usually don't travel or plan their travels during those months. But I always do... Last year, I maxed out the benefits. There's a cap of $800 of purchases. That's a maximum of $40 cash back! The card has different things that you can get 5% cash back every quarter. I might have maxed out this quarter's which is restaurants and fashion. You can get quite a bit of money back if you manage to buy things at the right time. Speaking of which, I should really get rid of my American Express card since I am no longer a frequent flyer of Jetblue. It did come in handy when I was purchasing southeast Asia travel stuff though. Apparently AMEX is favored at select locations.

Argh, this waiting-to-hear-back-from-job-offers thing involves constant checking of emails. Okay, I do it anyway but now there's more suspense. I don't know why things take so long. Don't they have these letters all ready and all you have to do is insert name, salary offer, benefits, and other details? I should really figure out what the HR department really does. I feel like I can learn a lot about how the company functions.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas is near!

Family just got a Wii today. I tried to convince them to buy it off of Amazon in order to avoid paying taxes. Things a little bit cheaper there too. Instead, we went to Costco and got the console and a charger. Then went to Walmart to get an extra remote. We also got a big screen TV as well, great for gaming. My mom wanted to do this in case we needed to return it for whatever reason. Costco doesn't have a restocking fee and they're generally really good about taking things back. Anyway, we ordered a couple more games online after we got back. I have to say though, the Wii Sports and Sports Resort is keeping us pretty busy. I totally owned ("pwned") my brother at the boxing game.

I went to work most of last week and will be working most of the next two weeks. We have a new persons starting tomorrow and another new person starting next week. It's kind of exciting for the group. I think everyone is looking forward to meeting the new people. At least, I am. The group is not so big that it makes a big difference when there's a new person. It's always a question of how they're going to fit in and what projects they will work on. I think the first few weeks is tough for everyone because people's roles have to shift to accommodate the new person.

Anyway, while I really enjoy working, I'm kind of glad I'm not doing this ridiculous commute next quarter. Never living 36 miles from work again! I'm going to be taking 10 units again, TA-ing a class, and helping to run a seminar. So I'll be pretty busy. But I think I'm going to try to take some more chill classes so that I can have a more balanced life. I felt like last quarter was not balanced at all. I didn't have time to do anything else other than studying and working on projects all the time. Didn't do very much running. Hardly baked. Didn't hold any dinner parties. Maybe it's because I had all these conferences in the beginning of the quarter and it threw me off of having a schedule. Last spring, I had a project class, worked, but still managed to bake bread for myself and work part-time two days a week.

I think next quarter I am going to start up my marathon training again. Running a marathon was my new year's resolution for 2010. I don't think that's going to be resolved this year. But I did managed to run 2 half marathons so I guess I'm not too far off. I'm going to try to do a marathon next year (2011), preferably in the spring. The Oakland one still scares me (first 10 miles are up hill) but I suppose it's something I can train for. I would rather start out with something flat. These hills make a really big difference.

Most of my readers should know about the status of my plans for after graduation by now. It something I really want to write about but don't think I should be announcing these things before they're final. But don't worry, once I've decided, I'll be writing about my preparations.

Can't believe Christmas is next week. Still need to get presents!

Monday, December 13, 2010

TA-ing next quarter

I think I'm officially a TA now. Had a meeting with the person who is teaching foundations engineering today. I think it will be an interesting class. The class is listed as a 2-3 unit class. If you want to take it for 3 units, you need to participate in a project. The students will act as geotech consultants for a land slide project, run analysis on what happened, and make recommendations as to the remediation scheme. I think it seems like a pretty interesting project and I think the students will learn a lot about geotech engineering. But it seems like a lot of work for me. I can see myself answering questions from students all the time, especially towards the end of the quarter. It will get a bit crazy, as always.

I think my internship experiences will come in handy for this class. I had a feeling this was going to be the case. I knew he would be bringing in some stuff from industry. So I was not so surprised to hear about the project part of this class. Anyway, hope I will learn something too.

After the meeting, I met up with a friend for lunch at Ike's Place. It's a sandwich shop that moved from SF to Stanford. The sandwiches are pretty interesting. Maybe I should have gotten a gift card from them today since they were half off. Another friend of ours walked by and the three of us sat there for a long time chatting.

Ike's Place is located in the Forbes Family Cafe of the new Huang Engineering Center. If this sounds familiar, that's because there's also a Forbes Family Cafe at MIT (Stata Center). There is a huge monitor and video cam set up that is currently displaying something along the lines of "We at MIT congratulates you on the opening of the Huang Engineering Center. Look forward to talking to you." So I think they're going to set up some kind of streaming so that people at the two Forbes Cafes can talk to each other. It would be pretty weird to see friends walking by on the other side.

Packed a bag of mostly work clothes to take home. Feels weird to have to think about what to bring home. It's usually the other way around. Anyway, going home after work tomorrow. Don't really want to lug all my stuff to work but I guess it's necessary.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Failed attempts at cooking

I think something/one is trying to tell me to either go home or eat out. I've had the worst luck in making food this weekend. I really think it's luck and not skill. heh. That apple crumble and crab cake I tried to make failed. And then I tried making hash browns this morning but for some reason, the potato in the middle wasn't cooked all the way through. 

Later today I tried to make carrot and mushroom soup. Very simple, just cook the carrots and mushrooms and dump into blender.What could go wrong? Well, apparently you can put too much water, salt, and pepper. So I had a salty, hot soup. It wasn't inedible though but I had to run out to buy some bread to go with it because it was salty to eat by itself. It was also too watery to be a meal. So I guess the soup deal wasn't too bad. 

I went running in the afternoon. I took my MP3 player along and managed to run Campus Drive without stopping for breaks. I guess I'm back to being so out of shape that I need to have music with me. It's really awkward though, to have things in your ears and wires flying around. I would rather not have them but they do help with motivation. What I really need is a live band that travels with me. Wouldn't that be nice? lol. I might make use of the gym tomorrow since I wouldn't have access to one at home. 

Highlights of today include washing my bedsheets, watching lots of Conan, registering for winter classes, and making a to-do list for tomorrow. Registering for classes is always anti-climatic. I always spend a lot of time trying to find interesting classes. But I can't really decide what to take until I've tried them out the first week. So for now, I've just put in enough credits to be a full-time student. Technically tomorrow is a weekday so hopefully I will be more productive in terms of getting academic things done. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Done with autumn quarter!

Officially done with the Fall Quarter. Turned in my take-home final Friday afternoon. I feel like the end of this quarter has been a lot less dramatic than the past. I guess it might be because I'm still working on ESW projects. But I guess things in life don't finish either. I think it's such a privilege to be a student and be able to turn things in without really having to put up with the consequences. The worst thing is a bad grade but what does that translate to in real life??

This morning, I slept until around 8:30am, which is late for me. I went out for a run and found that I am very out of shape. I just felt so tired during my run. I took a lot of breaks. No pressure to make the run quick so I took my time. I think my body performs better in the afternoon though. I tried to make crab cakes when I got back. They didn't turn out to be very good though.

One of my roommate's friends brought over a crab. But my roommate was too freaked out by it and refuses to eat it. So I boiled it and had some of it. It was very good. I left it out but no one else touched it. It had been it the fridge for a few days so I thought it wouldn't taste very good anymore. So I tried to make crab cakes. I think I put too much flour though. I'm not entirely sure what crab cakes are supposed to taste like. It always seemed like a waste of crab to me to make them into cakes. Anyway, it's dungeness crab season over here and all the supermarkets and restaurants are selling them.

After failing at crab cake making, I tried to make apple crumble with the leftover apple and pears we have. That didn't turn out very good either. I think it's because I used whole wheat flour and that absorbs more water than white flour. Sigh... Not a good day for cooking overall. For dinner, I had dumplings (pre-made, came out of the freezer).

I finished doing laundry and decided to go walk around downtown Palo Alto. It was a really nice day out. I was outside in short sleeves. I didn't do much but it was good to go walk around. I really enjoy being able to go to a busy or semi-busy place and just wander around. I don't know how people live in quiet suburbs.

Haven't done much today. I figured I should let myself relax a bit before taking care of stuff that I have been putting off.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


I had the hardest time falling asleep last night and staying asleep. I woke up at around 4 or 5am and could not fall back asleep. I read a bit from a book that I borrowed about networking. It's a pretty interesting book. I'm not sure all of it is applicable but I would like to give some of the tips a try. Anyway, what I really should have done is read the papers for my take home final. As soon as I started doing that, I had no trouble falling asleep! haha.

It's been pretty nice out the last couple of days. I think it might rain Wednesday and Thursday though. I wish it rained Monday and Tuesday instead. Then I wouldn't be tempted to go outside. Now I'm sitting in my office because I just felt the need to leave the apartment for a little bit. It just gets too depressing to be sitting in my room all day. Especially since my room doesn't get very much sunlight. I really hope that the stuff I learn will be put to use in the next few years.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Whew, the quarter is almost over

I am so glad I am not a structural engineer in real life. I don't think my buildings would do very well. I just took the final exam for my structural analysis class. It was a traumatizing experience. Anyway, it's over. I ate lunch with a friend who had also just finished a final exam. The two of us just sat around in the sun and chatted for a long time. I came back to my room afterwards and took an hour long nap. Now I just have a take-home final to finish by Friday. I'm hoping to finish it by tomorrow night though.

It amazes me how rapidly things spread on Facebook and YouTube. Lately, I've been seeing friends from (literally) different parts of the world posting the same articles, notes, videos, etc. It really amazes me that my friends who are completely unrelated could be reading about the same things. Somehow, everyone is talking about the same article or making comments about the same video. And these things are not like world headlines or anything. I wonder how all this social networking will change the future of people's social lives.

Next quarter will be my last quarter at Stanford. I will finally get to TA a class! I'm looking forward to it. I mean, it will probably be a lot of work but it should be interesting. I can now justify having an office in Blume. haha.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


I went to sleep last night thinking about how school is ending soon and I have to move on with life. I've been talking to my "career mentors" lately. I'm really thankful for meeting a group of people who have been great mentors. I thought about what makes them different from any other people at work. I came to the conclusion that they're people who make it a point to give me advice and help me out without me asking them directly. I think everyone at work will help me if I asked them to. But I've been extremely fortunate to meet people who look out for me.

I started a little notebook with career advice. Yesterday, I went to Borders and got a couple of Moleskin notebooks. I went because I got $5 on my Borders account. I think it's a holiday thing. Anyway, armed with this $5 and a 33% off coupon, I was able to get a two-pack Moleskin notebook for $1. I also got a Piccadilly notebook but the quality is just not as good. It's always the little things but the overall workmanship is just not the same. Anyway, I feel like I get some great advice from people and I should write them down so that I can revisit them once in a while.

Hopefully I'll have the chance to pay it forward and help out younger engineers. I suppose I can do that already with undergrads who are just starting out in civil engineering. Civil engineering is not as specific as some people might think. It's really a category of related jobs. And you can be totally lost as to what to do with an undergraduate degree in this field if you haven't found what you want to do.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hello December!

Too many things happening these days. Extremely busy the next 1.5 weeks. Homeworks to turn in, finals to take, wrapping up projects, and working. I got up at 6:15am today (Tuesday) and got back to my apartment at 8pm. Not sure why I still have so much energy. I don't seem to be as tired from working as I used to be.... Must be a sign that I'm not doing enough. hahaha.

Sunday and Monday were long days. I got back to Stanford on Sunday at 3:30pm, after eating dim sum, going to Costco, and Ranch 99 with my parents. I headed over to Y2E2 to finish up a programming project with my partner for the structural analysis class. Again, I am so glad I am not analyzing frames for work. I think I would go crazy looking up properties of W whatever beams. Anyway, we worked on the project non-stop until nearly 6pm on Monday, when it was due. I only got 4 hours of sleep Sunday night. All (mostly) because of one negative sign. We spent a lot of time debugging and playing around with things and finally got the program to work properly after going back and checking one of the original files. I can't believe I didn't catch that error earlier...

I can't believe it's December already. In about 3.5 months, I will be done with school. Not sure how I should feel about this. I mean, I know what it's like to go to work everyday (e.g. summer internships) but I'm always thinking about going back to school in a few months. It's like swimming in the same waters but now I'm letting go of the guide lines. Eh, not sure that's a good analogy.

Not entirely sure what's next but I've been extremely lucky all my life. I seem to always get what I ask for. This is usually a good thing. I am usually convinced that I know what's best for myself. It may not turn out to be the best decision in retrospect but somehow I always get what I want. I should seriously think about buying some lottery tickets...