Monday, February 28, 2011

Last days at Stanford - random thoughts

Long day today! These last few days seem like they will drag on forever. I got up at 7am this morning and didn't get back to my apartment until after 8pm. At one point after eating dinner, I really wanted to nap. There was no good place to do it though. Somehow senior year at MIT didn't seem like this. I guess I knew that I have more school ahead of me. Maybe I need to re-read my blog posts...

Trying to schedule some lunches and dinners with people before I leave. But my schedule is pretty packed. So it's kind of difficult. I guess I can do stuff after my final on Monday and presentation on Tuesday. I'll just be packing. I should really schedule stuff for those days.

The reason I got up really early this morning was because I had a group meeting at 8:30am. I feel like I've dragged myself through this team project based class. I guess I'm glad I decided to take it because I think I've gained some long sought after knowledge. And the team has been interesting to work with. Definitely wasn't used to this whole team meeting business after taking a bunch of classes where I just did my own work. Team dynamics is very interesting. People tend to do things differently, i.e. play the game in different ways. Maybe even interrupt the rules of the game in different ways. But it gets very dangerous if you find out half way through that not everyone on the team is playing the same game.

I guess this is one of the things I really need to look out for when I start working in Hong Kong. I feel like I know the subtleties at American workplaces. I'm not sure I know what to expect or lookout for in HK. And then there's the fact that the it's a UK based company so there are a lot of people from the UK and Australia around. Never been to Australia. No clue what the culture over there is like. It'll be an interesting experience.

This entry is going to be a bit random but I have a sudden urge to keep a better record of my last days at Stanford. I went to the farmer's market on California Ave for the first time yesterday. There is a farmer's market there every Sunday. I've just never had the motivation to bike over there. Then I realized that the shopping express stops at California and that I can get everything done by the time the shuttle comes back from the San Antonio shopping center. Lots of time saved. I got some apples, tangerines, a leek, and some broccoli. Can't get everything you need there because some things are very expensive. Anyway, it was an enjoyable experience.

I've been bringing a lot of fruit with me on my long days on campus. Keeps me from buying food on campus, usually. Today, I brought along 2 tangerines, 1 apple, a tupperware of fried rice with sausage, and one PB&J. I ate the two tangerines before lunch (they were very small). I was saving the apple and fried rice for dinner so clearly, one pb&j was not enough for lunch. So I ended up getting some sushi on campus. And then when I came back, I had another pb&j with milk. I feel like I'm eating a lot these days. But food is very important. Can't think without fuel!

Also, Boston trip planning is in the works. I think I'm going to buy the ticket soon (later this week). Need to start letting people know! I'm aiming for the weekend of April 9th. I hope this doesn't overlap with the April dates of all the civil engineering society meetings. All the March meetings seem to be next week. I should figure out these things, I guess. Last ASCE, SFGI, SEAONC, etc meetings I'll get to attend in a while. Maybe there are ones in Boston? I should check those out too.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Music Eggs

Chickens that listen to "age appropriate" music produces bigger eggs with a bigger yolk! Better eggs come from happy chickens... I bet these Music Chickens probably get better treatment in general though.

Is it the Chicken, the Egg or the Music? - Scene Asia - WSJ

Monday, February 21, 2011

Martabak Mie!

This is one of the variations of martabak we had while in Padang. I decided to try to make it because I had just bought some IndoMie. This consists of one package of IndoMie, 2 eggs, and small amounts of chopped red and green onions. I boiled the noodles, mixed it with the egg batter and then put it in pan, and cooked it like an omlette. It turned out pretty good. Didn't have any chili sauce or sweet soy sauce to go with this though.

One of the cafes at Andalas university served this and we would always get some rice to go with it. For us, it was just too spicy without the rice. So I decided to put the bit of leftover rice I had on top of this. I got a small bag of black rice a few weeks ago and have been mixing it with the white rice I normally make. The meat to the side is the Vietnamese pork with potato starch thing. I picked up a roll of it at the Asian market on Castro St on Friday. I thought this particular recipe (for the meat thing) uses too much potato starch.

Not too much flavor in all this though so I ended up adding some ketchup on top of the rice. Unfortunately, I didn't take a picture of this with the ketchup.
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Blogs and blogging

Reposting an article about (or the decline of) teenage blogging:

Blogs Wane as the Young Drift to Sites Like Twitter -

I've always wondered how reads my blog. I set up google analytics on this thing a long time ago and check occasionally. I think I know who my main readers are but there are some from random places that I always wonder how they found this blog. Maybe it's all the travel stuff. I should try searching the places that I have been to and wrote about to see if it comes up. It's not something I usually do.

This weekend has passed by pretty fast. I didn't do very much yesterday. The morning was productive. I went running, ate breakfast, did laundry, wrote a paper, and then ate lunch. It sort of went downhill after lunch. I think I ate my meals too closely spaced together and fell into a food coma.

Some of the Asian grad student associations put together a Lantern Festival Night Market last night. I went a bit late and the line for food was really long. I had already eaten dinner so I didn't bothered to stand in the long line. I looked around for people that I know but only saw a few acquaintances. I think after a while, you must feel old and out of place when doing a PhD. These Masters students come and go. You can make friends with the new ones but they will drift away after a year or two. They get to leave. I suppose that's why people move off campus or just have their own lives even though they live in the dorms. Anyway, I spent a bit of time talking to some 1st year Masters students about the importance of networking. They're in the process of (or trying to start) finding internships.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Countdown Begins!

Only 3 more weeks of school. Moving out of Stanford in about 31 days. And moving out of the country in about 2 months... A lot of people have asked if I feel excited. I honestly don't know if excited is the right word to be using. I have been looking at HK life-related stuff pretty excessively these past few days. I think I've gotten the internet situation figured out for the most part. I think there's only one major internet provider so that makes things easy. But the specific plan that is available depends on where I live. Next up is electricity and water. Updating my budget as I go along.

Speaking of the budget, I've been trying to come up with a monthly cash flow plan. I know that there will be a lot of unforeseen expenses when I actually get there. But one thing that I didn't think about before is the grace periods of my loans. A 9 month grace period is actually pretty significant since I am basically starting my job right after I graduate. So I can potentially pay off the smaller loans completely and my monthly loan payments would be less than what I'm calculating right now. I'm not exactly sure how to make such a cash flow plan though. We're supposed to be making one for my financial literacy class. The instructor said that she will bring in some samples next class. But since the class is on Mondays, and next Monday is a holiday, we won't get to see these samples for a while!

On the topic of holidays. I think I will enjoy them a lot more when I am working. Holidays in grad school is just the same as any other day. No classes but it's not like I spend a lot of time in class anyway. I'm still holding my office hours as usual. It's really no big difference to me.

I went to Kaiser today to get my annual check up and such. On the way back, I walked around Castro Street a bit. It was raining so I didn't go very far. But I did run into an Asian supermarket. I think it is run by Vietnamese people but they have all sorts of Asian foods. I called my roommate to ask if she wanted to make dumplings for dinner tonight because her boyfriend mentioned at one point that he really likes dumplings. I got a pack of dumpling skins and we went grocery shopping for the rest of the ingredients later at night. It was really fun. I should have gotten a whole lot more dumpling skins though. We used pork and ground turkey. Not entirely sure the ground turkey was a good move though because it was a bit dry.

Anyway, looking forward to some hard core studying these next few days. Might be going up to SF on Sunday because a friend is here to visit. I don't know if it will all work out though. I don't have that much motivation to go up there. But it would be nice to hang out. Kind of wish I can couple it with some other errand. Not worth it to go anywhere unless I have at least 2 things to accomplish!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

HK Housing, TA-ing, etc.

Another long week! Just finished a midterm today so I don't really feel like doing very much. I've been hooked on looking at apartments in HK lately. I finally tried searching in Chinese and lo-and-behold, the prices were much cheaper, in more central locations, and less furnished. Okay, the places are smaller too but I honestly don't need a big fancy place. One thing I've found out is that if I search for 1 bedroom, the results will typically consists of one-bedrooms within a multi-bedroom place. So now I'm only searching for studios. Sometimes it's hard to tell. I think I know what I want to find so it shouldn't be too difficult. Part of me wishes I can be there already so that I can call these people and go look at places. Good thing I had that experience of looking for apartments with Yalu and friends in NYC. It'll be a different experience, of course, but it's good to know what to look for. Imagine going into this apartment looking business for the first time in a different country!

I had to cover lecture for the foundations class yesterday. I went over the notes in detail but it was very different having to write things out on the board. It's a very interesting experience. I was nervous at first but I think I got the hang of things about halfway into the lecture. Hopefully, I didn't seem too incompetent! hahaha. Unfortunately, I also had the lecture on bearing capacity, which is a subject that I don't particularly enjoy myself. I've "learned" this topic about 3 times now, Cambridge, MIT (I think?), and Stanford (last year). And these shape functions still annoy me. I was looking over my geotech notes from Cambridge and they are actually pretty good! Their 3rd year course is actually pretty advance. I don't think I was ready for it at the time. And the notes, true to the Cambridge style, doesn't give you everything you need to know.

In contrast, students here expect their professors to give them everything they need to know... But students here do have more stuff going on and really have less time to go sit in the library and figure things out for themselves. I think some kind of middle ground is needed here.

Anyway, the latest foundations homework requires the students to do some analysis of slopes. They are much more realistic problems than the typical textbook problem. So there's much more variability and some thinking is needed. I would be able to figure out these problems now, having been taught the theories in school and applied them in internships. I'm really glad that my coworkers have pushed me to think beyond just inputting data and clicking solve. I think that's what I need to do with the students on this homework. I'm not sure they've realized that the program doesn't do much more than an excel sheet and that they really need to know what they want. Hopefully some of them can think for themselves though. Because if every one of them needs me to walk them through the problems, that would be overwhelming for me. I think this was supposed to be a 10 hr a week job....

Other news, my allergies have gotten better due to the recent rain. It's good that there hasn't been too much rain. No big downpours. Just enough to keep my allergies away.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Shopping in HK

This article is so funny:

It's about how Hong Kong people are afraid of online shopping and would order things online but meet the seller in person to exchange the goods. This is not to save on shipping but to check out the credibility of the seller and the condition of the goods. I guess this is a by-product of a really good public transportation system. I guess I was worried about the condition of the goods when I first started online shopping of used stuff. But got over it really quickly since it was so much more convenient than having to go find it in a store.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Conclusion of EERI Conference

I think I should keep track of how many miles I fly this year. It might be a new record. I got back from San Diego a few hours ago. Really tired out from this conference. I'm not sure why. I really didn't do anything other than sit in presentations. I think it's just the fact that I have a lot on my mind these days. There's always something I think I should be doing.

The sessions on Friday were more technical and more interesting. I was definitely more in the conference mode on Friday. I met a lot of interesting people during lunch, the poster session, dinner, and casino night event. The food at the hotel was generally very good. The desserts were very big! I almost felt like I should go running. But I really wasn't feeling that well the entire time. Not that I was sick or anything. Just, low on energy.

Seeing all these great presentations have made me realize that I really need to work on public speaking. I don't think I would have been able to handle speaking in front of such a distinguished audience, even if it's on a subject that I know very well. I think I need to come up with some sort of plan for this... Suggestions are welcomed.

More presentations on Saturday morning. They split up the group into structural and geotech. I went to the geotech one and thought that it was very well done. The topic was on Vs30 and if it is an effective parameter on the characterization of sites. There were four speakers, all very well respected and distinguished in the field. I think they all came to a consensus about the basic use of this parameter and then presented their own research and a bit about the future of seismic site response analysis. It was very interesting. I think some of it was still too advance for me but I was able to follow most of it. Again, I wish that they allotted more time for discussion because I think the audience also had things to add. Actually, I was surprised that some of the audience didn't seem as comfortable with site response analysis as I thought they should be. So maybe I know more than I think.

The flight back had a lot of EERI people on it. It felt like a very short flight. I changed my seat so that I would be next to Veronica. I accompanied her to the luggage pickup and we ran into a guy who was also going to Stanford. So I got a ride with him and his friends. It turned out that he's dating someone I know in my department. And he also worked at Arup HK for a year as a structural engineer before doing a PhD at Caltech. Small world or self selecting community?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Conference. Day 1

Wow, long day of conference-ing. I walked to the hotel where the conference is held this morning and got a bit lost along the way. I think I managed to take the long way even though it was supposed to be pretty easy to get there. So I ended up getting there a little bit late. And as if the day couldn't start any better, I didn't see our poster and abstract in the huge book that they gave us. Turns out, we were supposed to reply to say that we're coming to the conference after the poster got accepted. I think I just missed that part in the email entirely. I read the email in a rush and didn't re-read it until two nights ago. Partly because I wasn't sure we were going to make it to the conference. Anyway, talked to the organizers and they'll try to squeeze us into the poster session venue. But the abstract isn't in the program... Sad... would be nice to see my name in these things. oh wells, guess I'll just have to submit more stuff in the future! Many more opportunities. I'll be keeping a lookout for them.

The theme of the conference is Earthquakes Without Borders. So a lot of the talks are about the San Diego and Tijuana area. Some of the talks got pretty specific to the San Diego region. It was nice to know about things that are going on in this area, I guess. Some of the topics were interesting. Not sure all of them have been very interesting. But I think tomorrow will be more technical so I'm looking forward to those. There are a lot of important people in the earthquake engineering community attending this conference. I guess I shouldn't be surprised but it's pretty amazing to see the names of all the attendees. I haven't been doing so well with the networking at this event. Definitely not in the game.

I hope there is some sort of earthquake engineering community in Hong Kong. It's not a very seismic region. They can feel the waves from earthquakes on nearby faults but there are no active faults in HK (that I know of). And it's just not the same... There was a younger member panel and one of the students asked if it was necessary to live in a seismically active area to really get into earthquake engineering. I really think the answer is yes. They do earthquake stuff out on the east coast but in non-active areas, it's more like a hobby. It's not something that you live with. It's just different when you live next to a major fault and have to think about bolting down your furniture, having enough water in case of an event, etc. I've heard that the head of the earthquake engineering for Arup is in HK though. I have seen his name on a few internal publications and have been wanting to meet him for a while. It would be cool to get on some seismic design projects just to keep learning about the subject.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

San Diego!

In San Diego attending the EERI (Earthquake Engineering Research Institute) annual meeting. It's nice that I have this kind of flexibility in grad school to just fly out and attend a conference. I don't know how I would have done it in undergrad.

My flight was full. I was really surprised because there were a lot of empty seats when I booked. There were even a standby list. I think it's because it was both a Continental and United flight. It was sold and advertised by both companies. I was hoping for a less full flight so that I can be sure I have room for my poster. We managed to finish the poster yesterday and got it printed at Meyer. I didn't know they do poster printing at Meyer but it turned out to be the cheapest (and possibly the fastest) place to do it at. There were undergrads staffing the desk but they were pretty good at what they do. Undergrads look so young...

One of my friends came to pick me up at the airport and we went for Mexican food (which is very popular here). We talked for a while and did some catching up. Actually, I think I talked a lot. This tends to happen when I do things like going to Indonesia for the summer and then deciding to move half way across the world.

Watching the Food Network right now at my cousin's place. Watching this stuff always makes me want to try out new stuff. I think I should expand my skills as far as what I make. I think there's a lot more stuff out there that I usually don't cook. I'm usually making veggie stir fry with some kind of meat. The other day I got inspired to jazz up my steel cut oatmeal with raisins, cinnamon, and honey. And I added fresh blueberries and bananas to it before heating it up. Really good and because I cooked big pot of it, I just reheat it in the morning.

Looking forward to some good talks and meeting interesting people tomorrow!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Relevant learning

This article talks about the lack of support that kids get about career choices and the large amounts of college drop outs.

I think it's very true that many (most) students don't see value in their high school and college classes because they feel like it's knowledge that they will never use in life. I think I've been lucky in that I've done several internships and have been able to apply things that I've learned to work. Every time I do an internship, I'm amazed that many concepts that I've learned actually applies. And I leave the workplace with more motivation to learn things at school. This may not apply to everyone and every industry but I think that internships really help reinforce what you learn in the classroom and give you a sense of direction.

Anyway, nowadays I'm surprised to hear high school students complaining about classes and how their classes are not relevant. Algebra absolutely relevant. I don't know what I would do without algebra (and calculus). And it's not that you have to know every single concept. You can always go back and revisit things to apply them to what you're working on. It's just much easier if you've "learned" it once before. I guess I'm also surprised that there are grad students who complain that their classes are not relevant...

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Halfway - the weekend

Went on a site visit this Friday to one of the new buildings that UCSF is building in the Mission Bay district. I didn't realize that they were building an entire campus' worth of buildings down there. Very impressive. The building we visited was mostly up and they were lifting machinery when we were there.

Went home afterwards. It took me a while to walk from the construction site to the BART station. I should have just taken the bus. Walking was made even more difficult because I was wearing my steel toe work boots. They are heavy and slightly too big. I'm not sure they are entirely water-proof either. I will either have to dig up my old military boots or get some longer boots for future site visits. Construction sites might be wet and rainy in HK.

I only stayed home until Saturday morning. Took BART back to San Francisco and I walked around Chinatown for a little bit. I got some food items that made all my stuff really heavy. Again, I should have just taken the bus from Chinatown to the Caltrain station. But thinking since this route is not much longer than the one I usually take, I decided to walk. I made the train that I wanted to take but after I got on the train, I realized that I would have to wait 40 minutes after getting to Palo Alto for the Shopping Express shuttle to come along. Which meant that I could have waited for the next train and still have made the shuttle. This lack of public transportation options during the weekend is so frustrating. I ended up chatting with Yalu for a long time because of this.

After getting back, I was really tired out from all the walking and carrying around stuff. Did laundry and then rested a bit before going grocery shopping. It seems that Shopping Express that comes to the residences is always late and the one picking us up from the shopping center is either early or on time. This means not a lot of time for shopping! I'm pretty efficient these days though.

Later that night, I worked on the team project for my infrastructure class and then finished reading a book. Met up with a former roommate from MIT who was visiting. She is starting a new job so she's doing some traveling and visiting people in between her jobs. Seems to be doing well. Some people never seems to change though.

It's been a really nice and warm weekend. I was wearing shorts outside on Saturday. I think I could have done the same today (Sunday) but I decided to spend the entire day indoors because of allergies... At least I got a lot of work done. I never seem to be able to do as much as I would like to on the weekends though. Not sure where all the time goes. Things just seem to take longer than I expect.

I can't believe this quarter is already half way over. I've barely written anything about how my classes are going or any of the usual stuff. It's been overshadowed by this whole job thing. I think about HK a lot these days and school just seems so unreal. Sometimes I feel like I'm just going through the motions. But I do feel like there's a lot to learn this quarter. I think all my classes (even the one I'm TAing) is potentially very relevant to what I'll be doing. I guess I just can't wait to apply them in real life!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Week 5 - Halfway!

Wednesdays are now my favorite days. My Mondays and Tuesdays are so long because of seminars at night. Wednesday is the first day of the week where I get to come back for dinner. Last quarter, I spent a lot of time in my apartment and really enjoyed being able to relax during meal times. I typically watch an episode or two of Detective Conan while eating. I think watching TV, movies, etc are really relaxing because things just happen on the screen without any effort or input from the viewer. Definitely took a longer time to relax before starting to do work again.

I read an article recently, can't remember from where, about where people work best. The article was about someone who found that the office environment is not where people work best because of distractions like interruptions and meetings. He says that work is like sleep, you have to have a long period of time to do it. And if someone interrupts you (while you work/sleep), you need to start all over again. If you keep getting interrupted, then it's impossible for you to do real work (get into deep sleep). He proposes that offices should try out things like, "no talking Thursdays" where people are not allowed to interrupt other people on Thursday afternoons. Emails are okay though because people can check their emails when they want to. It's a voluntary distraction. I think I agree with having a long stretch of period to work. It's really hard for me to make use of 1 hour breaks that I have during the day. I always wait until I have a long stretch of time before starting on a new homework. But I think there's a difference between starting something new and continuing something that you have been working on. It definitely helps to take breaks and come back to something that you've started. Anyway, I've always wondering how middle managers get work done since they're supposed to be helping out the younger people and have to attend meetings with the higher-ups. Hm...

Tomorrow will be a semi-long day because I have a meeting in the morning and then holding a tutorial session in the afternoon. I'm holding two sessions to help students learn to use a software. It shouldn't be too difficult but hopefully the number of students will be evenly spread out for the two sessions. Always a challenge. My last quarter at school is almost half way through! This week is Week 5 but it feels like I've just gotten settled in with this new schedule. The quarter goes by so quickly.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Updates on life

Writing from my office in the Blume Center. I'm supposed to be doing homework but for some reason, I can't seem to concentrate. Too energetic so must use some of that energy in typing this blog post. My weeks are very top heavy. I have a lot of stuff going on Mondays and Tuesdays and then things die down. I spent much of the weekend grading. Finished grading one set of homeworks but haven't gotten to the next set yet because I don't all the solutions. I think I got the hang of grading now so it should go pretty fast.

Just got a facebook message from a friend of mine who said he had lunch with my former boss. The engineering world is so small. I guess I shouldn't be surprised by these things. It makes me happy to think that we're all somehow connected.

Upcoming highlights:
  • Site visit to a construction site on Friday. Not sure if the work boots I have with me are adequate. I should look at them again and decide if I want to get some boots. I would probably need more than one pair of work boots anyway so it's probably a good investment. Finding the right size is difficult though. 
  • Not sure if I should/can make it home this weekend. There's no way I can go back on Thursday - Chinese New Year. But if I'm going to be in SF on Friday anyway, I can take BART home after the site visit. Although I think I will be fairly busy this weekend since midterms are coming up. And also, more conferences, see next point.
  • Going to San Diego next week! Attending the annual meeting for EERI - Earthquake Engineering Research Institute. Leaving Wednesday night and coming back on Saturday. It should be a very interesting conference. The Blume Center is contributing to travel costs. Hopefully it's warm down there as well.

New Favorite Website

This is now one of my favorite websites:

It's a forum for people to post questions, answers, and discussions about expat life in Hong Kong. There are some really good info! People are very active on this forum.