Thursday, May 25, 2006

Summer = explosion of energy

I'm writing this email from MIT's Pika house, where I crashed on Matt Ritter's floor last night (he's temporarily staying in "The Coffin," which is a tiny attic with a tunnel-like space under the eaves for sleeping that looks like a crypt. He slept there, I managed to fit halfway under the desk, there was no other floor space.

Pika's as opposite from Olin's dorms as you can get. Paint is everywhere. Shoes are stuck to the ceiling. Murals. Loads o' junk. Nail holes. A machine shop in the basement. Random junk, castoff furniture, plywood and bolted-together chaos. And you know what? I like it. I've always wanted to live in non-shiny spaces. I mean, I love clean drywall and tasteful lamps, but sometimes the bohemian aesthetic is pretty darn liberating. I'm sure my parents would disagree.

Anyhow, I'm here to work on the website for the Vehicle Design Summit (VDS), which begins on June 12 (so we'd better have it up by then). Sold my soul to the Organizational Necessities last night as Matt and I spent several hours with Gannt charts and to-do lists; painful, but it'll enable us to concentrate so much more on hacking later on. For my part, I'm happy to not see a to-do list for a while. I want to go sink my head into Plone modules and PHP. I'm always afraid that I've turned into too much of a planner/manager and not enough of an engineer, and I think the solution to that is to Hack More.

Thinkcycle is exploding. I'm awed at the amount of work Ben and Chandra have poured into this in the last 24 hours (from the volume of emails, I swear Ben is doing this full-time right now). We're still trying to find our compass, but we're running so fast I think we'll hit it before we hit a wall. Working with the two of them is like the energy high I got from working on VDS with Matt last night, or even cleaning the suite with Eric on move-out evening. Good people get you in the flow state. I'm slowly learning how to make that happen more.

My grades are in, and they're non-catastrophic enough that I think my parents won't kill me. I've gone through the progression I wanted to - from caring too much about getting good grades (middle and high school) to trying not to care but caring anyway (first 3 semesters at Olin) to caring but doing poorly (4th and 5th semesters at Olin) to truly not caring and still doing well in my own way (now). I'd like to say that semesters 4 and 5 were deliberately planned to desensitize me from grades, but a more accurate depiction would be that it happened, I realized at the start of the ride that it'd likely desensitize me, and went along - although I think part of what I needed to pull out of the grades thing was a feeling of lacking control over them, just for a year.

Olin has slowly changed how I think and become aware of learning and teaching. It's still in the vague transitional phase where I can' write down how, though. I need something to accelerate the process - I need to go to some other school for a while and get shocked into seeing Olin culture from the outside again. Still figuring out how to do this.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


The day after move-out, and I'm back in the Olin library to drop off a present and look for some books. This school appears to be hard-coded into my DNA.

Congratulations, '06. You've left quite a legacy to live up to, but we'll do our best.

It hasn't yet hit me that we have alumni, that my class is seniors, and that '06 won't be coming back next year. I've been too busy and exhausted to process anything of that magnitude, but since I slept for 12 hours last night (the first time in 3 weeks I've slept for more than 4 continuous hours, the average sleep-time being ~2.5) it'll probably hit soon.

In the last 48 hours, I've...
  • Ridden to the airport between JP's bike and Rayona's luggage, with my knees scrunched up in the fetal position because there was No Other Room
  • Gone on a late-night cleaning frenzy with Eric Gallimore to get our suite in shape before people discovered we were still vacuuming 5 hours after we were supposed to move out (VanWyk, you left two books and your plant behind).
  • Given my cousin Audrey multiple piggyback rides, which in retrospect wasn't such a great idea since my back had just finished hauling luggage
  • Watched the first Commencement. It was the most exciting graduation ceremony I've ever seen. Two especially cool things: the diplomas are the golden ratio, and each senior gets to have a quote of their choice read as they recieve theirs (I'm starting to think of mine).
  • Packed
  • Packed
  • Packed
  • Realized that if it weren't for my books and computer stuff, everything I own in the world would easily fit within my (smallish) car trunk. With them, everything I own in the world fits within the trunk, back seat, passenger seat, and another car trunk.

Summer plans? I'm living in the dorms at Olin and working in the ECE department of Design Continuum, a product design firm in Newton. I'm also doing part-time research building some equipment and software for Ozgur's design lab at Olin, and doing some freelance coding for a web startup in Somerville. I'm also volunteer co-webmaster (with Steve) for the Vehicle Design Summit at MIT and working on the redesign of Thinkcycle with Ben and Chandra (long-distance, since he's in Texas and she's in Europe). It will be a gloriously busy summer. I need a gloriously busy summer to refresh and rest myself up from the last two years. I have a weird way of taking vacations.

And now, time to think.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Reflections on finals week

A list of lessons I'm still trying to drill into my head.
  1. Saying no is okay. See "How To Say No" by Richard Brenner for a lovely primer. If I do not say no, other people will say no for me; if I want to be able to say no for myself, I need to say it more often.
  2. (courtesy Amanda) Sometimes it's more important to get it done than to do it perfectly. Your ego does not need to make every piece of work a gorgeous work of genius; sometimes you just need to get some things done quickly so you can spend your time on what actually counts.
  3. Your time is both finite and valuable. Use accordingly.
  4. Sometimes to be unselfish in the long term, you've got to be selfish in the short term. Look out for yourself so nobody else has to.
  5. You don't react well to caffeine. Seriously. Haven't you learned this already?
In other news, on Tuesday I proceeded to become a non-teenager as quietly as everyone else would allow me to; my birthday fell on the first day of finals, and I didn't want to be distracting, but my friends brought in a cake anyhow.

I never expected to live to be this old; through much of my childhood I thought for some reason I'd die in my teens. (Of course, now that I'm past them, I'm effectively immortal.) I've always thought of 20 as the threshold into adulthood, and I suppose it has been. At this time last year, I still thought of myself as a child. Now I think of myself as an adult. Not a particularly good one yet, but an adult.

I'd also like to say that I absolutely love working with my Robotics team. Between Matt, Andrew, and myself, we probably have enough on our collective plate to level a small army with exhaustion. I think it's because of this common understanding of pwnedness that we work so well together. Which reminds me - I'm supposed to be making that Expo poster right now.

DJ roped a couple of us into playing Muse's "Time is Running Out" for ExpressO this coming week. He's on bass, I'm on keyboard doubling up on the guitar part with Matt, Eric's drumming, and Amanda is on vocals. Jamming is addictive. I get sucked into music when I play it even alone, but when your music meshes with everyone else's, and everyone's going off partly on the fly, then... wow. I want to do this more! I wonder if I'll have time next year to do jam, either informally, with the Muse group, or even taking keyboard lessons (something I've wanted to do since I had to stop piano in 8th grade).

The bad part is that keyboarding, both the computer kind and the piano kind, is becoming hell on my wrists. I've got a family history of carpal tunnel, and I started feeling slight signs of it when I was 18; now that I'm 20, I'm thinking that it's going to start pushing into the threshold of pain within the next 2-3 years unless I do something. I've been wearing wrist braces and shelled out for an ergonomic keyboard, but it keeps on coming. I'm not sure what I'm going to do about this; any suggestions are very much welcome.

End braindump.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Old-school Chinese marriage restrictions

I don't get this. Can someone please explain to me what the trouble is with
  • boys marrying girls who are taller than them, and
  • girls marrying boys who are less educated than them?

Not that these are hard-and-fast requirements for me (or that, y'know, I'm planning to get married in the first place), but I've heard enough talk about them around the family circle that I'm curious as to whether they're old-school Chinese or just old-school... whatever. It's not so much a "thou shalt not" as it is "You know, boys generally don't like girls who have higher degrees..." comment. Anyone ever heard similar? What do you think?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Mom & me

[paraphrased from our last five emails]

Mom: Come visit us at home this summer!
Me: I might be able to come for a week before work starts.
Mom: You can even have your dental appointment when you visit. I'll schedule one.
Me: You really know how to make me look forward to coming home.
Mom: Love you too.