2013

Year ends, for me, are just excuses to write humongous blog posts that goes on and on and on about life, the universe, and everything. It feels quite soothing, you should try it some time, too!

I don’t think more could have happened this year for me. In no particular order or hierarchy or sense –

Graduation, well, I totally saw that coming, so it wasn’t that big of a surprise. For some reason, I didn’t really feel like it’s a big deal. Sure, it’s nice to be out of school, but I’ve felt the same every time a semester ended. Moving on.

Epic trip to Chicago, Boston, New York, Niagara Falls, Taiwan. It was quite nice. I haven’t been to the east coast in quite some time, and it was refreshing, getting to see a few big cities, with very different culture and architectural styles. Also found out that Harvard’s campus is exceedingly unattractive, and should be denied entry into my list of schools considered for grad.

Robocup 2013, Eindhoven. It’s my first time traveling to Europe since I was born (my mom traveled there while pregnant with me, so it’s technically my second time, but first time since I was born). Cool cities, cool people, cool robots, and yummy goat milk. It also marked my firing of myself from Thunderbots, which actually felt like a much bigger deal to me than graduating. 4 years. It was time to move on to something else. Doesn’t make it any less sad, though. Still love you, guys! and girls! and unicorns!

Starting work full time. Also not that big of a deal. The only difference I really noticed was a bigger paycheck, compared to co-op.

Avigilon is a really nice place to work at with a bunch of extremely talented people, very nice HR, good food (?!), good location, and challenging work. It’s also not a field I was already familiar with, and definitely learned quite a few things. That said, it’s not really something that I can get REALLY excited about, and with so many other opportunities out there, it’s very hard to make any long term decision. Sure, it’s a very exciting company financially speaking, and we are getting paid on the high end of the Vancouver engineering pay scale, but it’s still not nearly as high as say, California, and since I don’t have family here, there is not that much of an incentive to stay here, when there are so many cool opportunities elsewhere. Vancouver is a nice place, but is that worth 20-30k less in salary? It’s not like California is hell, either. Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Eventually I decided to look into grad school. That was quite a stressful experience actually. Having to read up on 10-20 schools and their programs, figure out all their deadlines, write all the required essays, study for and do the GRE (I studied for about a week and did pretty well… I guess luck is on my side), request letters of recommendations from 3 profs, keep reminding them (most @#%@#%@#ing frustrating experience ever), fill out 15 pages application forms, all in about 2 months. It’s all done, just waiting for results now. Applied to 3 schools for Master in CPSC. All 3 schools are very strong in AI, which I am planning on specializing in. Fortunately for UBC, I did not apply to UBC. It was a pretty hard decision since UBC does have a lot of research in AI and I was already in contact with profs that were very eager to keep me at UBC, but I wanted to go elsewhere. Been here for 10 years. Time to move on and check out other places. Will see where my future lies in couple months when the results come back. Not gonna disclose where the schools are yet, but it goes as far as UK :).

Flying. Got my license last year, so no more training. I want to get an instrument rating eventually, but will probably do it in the States due to logistics reasons.

Still flew a bunch, though. I have since visited about 10 airports in BC, and plan to visit quite a few more before I leave, if I do leave.

I tried to fly at least every 2-3 weeks to maintain proficiency, and took passengers on most of those flights, and it’s awesome! I don’t charge money for short flights since I would have made them anyways. Well, it proved to be quite popular (who doesn’t want to try flying an airplane for free?) and I have already flown about 10 people so far with more promises un-fulfilled, yet.

I can seriously do this all day if I had the money. Taking people up, give them 20 seconds of instruction, and watch them try to fly the airplane. Most fun in the world, and in a good way! Many of my passengers were so good on their first try, it’s amazing. I’ve had a few first timers that were able to hold altitude within 50 ft for >10 minutes on first try. I sure wasn’t that good when I started training.

Hmm. Maybe I should become a flight instructor one day…

If I do move to the states one day, I’ll probably volunteer with Civil Air Patrol (civilian non-combat branch of USAF) to fly search-and-rescue and disaster relief missions. Free flying while helping people and doing good, how much better does it get? Unfortunately I believe in Canada SAR is all handled by the Canadian Forces and not open to civilians.

Musicals. Les Miserables the movie at the beginning of the year was EPIC. I am STILL kicking myself for not watching the musical version when it was in California AND I happened to be there, too. Argggh!

Haven’t watched any musical in person since Wicked last year. Was planning to go watch Evita in Seattle around this time… but that didn’t work out for a variety of reasons.

Watched Miss Saigon on YouTube, and have had the music playing on my phone like every other day since then. Really really good music! Especially Lea Salonga’s singing (she also sang Eponine and Fantine in Les Mis, Mulan in Mulan, Jasmine in Aladdin, and like 50 other famous works). Plus, she is just an awesome person in general, if you check out her interviews, etc.

Also looked into Love Never Dies, which is the sequel to Phantom of the Opera. Honestly, I was a little disappointed. It’s a very weak sequel compared to the original. There’s some nice music, and Sierra Boggess’ singing is awesome as always, but the musical as a whole just feels… lacking on so many dimensions (Sierra also sang Christine in a production of the original POTO, but not in the original production, which was sang by Sarah Brightman).

Recently started listening to Chess. It’s quite good. The story is OK, but the music is¬†phenomenal! Probably also helps that Idina Menzel sang the female lead in the production I watched, and she is awesome.

You and I is absolutely heart-melting, but some of the livelier and more humorous stuff earlier on is awesome, too – Nobody’s Side, Mountain Duet, Chess (DAT FLUTE SOLO!).

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjryn5M85z8

I just cannot seem to not be learning something new at all times. It’s official. I have started studying the viola.

I have always wanted to play a string instrument since my orchestra days many years ago. Just another dream coming true, and taking an unhealthy amount of my time!

Love? Dunno. I’ve used the “too busy” excuse for way too long. Time to find someone maybe? But hey, it’s actually pretty hard now that I looked into it! Who would have guessed!

Not sure how that happened, but the 3 things I am into – engineering, aviation, and martial arts, all happen to be extremely male-dominated.

Where the @#$#@ do you find nice girls that aren’t taken, not married and have kids, also likes you, and doesn’t just keep ignoring you?

Maybe it’s the smell. Hmm.

Be happy and eat a squirrel!

On Self-Induced Stress

So many things to do, so little time.

I have been feeling that way probably since I started kindergarten.

Some famous person whose name I have long forgotten once said something to the effect of “to be successful, one must do everything with a sense of urgency,” and it has pretty much been my motto for the past 20 or so years.

Well, I’m not sure if I’m being successful – there are people much more successful than I am who also seem to be enjoying their life a lot more, and also, you know, have a life? What I AM sure though, is that I am a lot more stressed out than most other people, ALL THE TIME. And it’s not fun.

It’s very rare that I sit down and watch TV for more than 10 minutes, or have 2 hours long afternoon tea, or not rush through a meal.

In my mind, there is always something more important to do, something more worthy of my time, or something that would be more productive use of my time. I always feel guilty after indulging in any kind of “non-productive” activity. Always.

And the funny thing is, I don’t really HAVE to do those things. When I was in school, I thought it was school. Sure, engineering school is pretty stressful, and there are things we have to do, so I never thought about it too much. Life will be good once I graduate.

And then we graduated… and I found that I’m not any less stressed out now than I was before. I simply found more things to keep myself busy. Flying, learning a new instrument, trying to build a few electronics projects, making things, learning new technical things, martial arts, etc.

Perhaps a little ironically, most of those things I am deeply passionate about, and thoroughly enjoy doing… it’s just that for some reason, they all slowly pile up to become this huge monster. They all slowly turn into obsessions, and I can’t pull myself away from them.

It probably also doesn’t help that for some reason, it feels like I’ve always been able to learn most things faster than most people, and with less effort, so when I’m not progressing as fast as I think I should be, I feel guilty and try harder. Most people would think that’s a good thing… but trust me it’s not. It’s borderline destroying my life as we speak.

Taking the viola as an example – I started learning the viola about 3 months ago, and have already gone through 1.5 books, which, by most standards, is pretty fast. That doesn’t stop me from obsessing over it though. It always feel like I can progress faster if I just practiced a little more, and watched TV a little less (less than the 0 hours a day I watch TV on average now? I don’t know), or stared out the window a little less. I would often pick up the viola just before bed time, and just play everything pizzicato for as long as I can (plucking strings instead of bowing, to avoid waking up neighbours), because somehow it feels like going to bed early is a waste of valuable time. Though for some reason, that doesn’t seem to apply to wake up time… hmm.

It feels like I am something I can never live up to, or ever satisfy. And it sucks.

Is this some kind of complex or something?

I need to start dropping things, and just accept that I don’t have time for them. It always subconsciously feel like something bad will happen if I do that. If I “fail” at something. Even though rationally, I know it doesn’t make sense.

Sorry this post is a little dark. Not suicidal. Promise :).

Anti-consumerism

Another Christmas. No present was bought, given, or received.

Not trying to make a statement or doing it for some ideology or anything, but I just somehow never caught on with all these gift-giving traditions.

The only time I gift things is when I just happen to stumble upon something that I think someone will really appreciate, and I give zero regard to occasion, and never go out with the intention of buying presents.

It’s not the money, and I definitely enjoy spending a lot of time helping friends do stuff, etc, so it’s not that.

I think it’s due to my super-practical family never having a gift giving tradition. Growing up, I never received birthday presents or Christmas presents or any-other-occasion presents, and for me that’s just natural (didn’t know that’s unusual until much later). I didn’t and still don’t feel like something is missing from my childhood or anything. On the other hand, I have always been given quite a lot of financial freedom from very young age – I could ask for and get pretty much anything I want. Though surprisingly, I didn’t ask for much at all. I was never into those card games (which apparently cost quite a bit?), pokemon/digimon/whatever-other-mons-there-is, toys, or electronics gadgets. Heck, I didn’t even own a cell phone or carried a wallet until grade 12.

Ironically, despite all the spending freedom, I actually spent way less than other kids who had parents that insist they fight for and earn each of their toys. Funny, that eh? Maybe the way to make kids non-materialistic is to let them buy anything they want? Taking things away only makes them want those things even more.

I’m all for consumerism – buying stuff brings happiness, and $ is a small price to pay for happiness.

But seeing how stressed some people get trying to do all the “Christmas shopping” as some kind of obligation, I wonder if that still brings happiness.

My system of not giving or receiving presents seem to work pretty well for me. Every once in a while someone will give me something and I’ll feel guilty, but luckily most people will stop giving you stuff if you don’t give them stuff also, so it works out and I receive very few gifts nowadays. And it doesn’t seem to be harming my friendships.

Maybe give it a try if you are getting stressed out and not enjoying Christmas shopping?

I wonder how long I can keep this running for, or if I will eventually¬†succumb to societal norms, but I’m cherishing it for now.

Maybe until I FINALLY get a girlfriend? Still decidedly single (by choice of course… just not my choice!). I may be willing to do this little dance of buying gifts if it can make someone genuinely happy.

PS. Actually, coming to think of it, I just don’t seem to buy much stuff at all.

Couple months ago I came back from a 3 weeks trip to Europe (*), and had $0 on the customs declaration sheet coming back. I didn’t realize it until I had to fill out the form. I wasn’t intentionally avoiding buying things. Just didn’t end up buying any. I almost never buy souvenirs because I don’t believe objects do much to bring back memories. At least not nearly as much as memories themselves, pictures, videos, and blog posts, all of which are free.

Doesn’t mean I don’t spend money of course… the thing I buy the most is probably 100 octane leaded AvGas, which I always promptly burn into our lovely atmosphere. I probably spend more money on that than most people on everything else combined. Helping out with the Saudi economy!

* Ok, to be fair, a lot of it was just hacking robots all day, but there were quite a few days of traveling and sight-seeing, too.

Viola

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJCsIIJZgrk

Still sound like constipation, but hey!

I have always wanted to try a string instrument ever since the days I played in an orchestra, and just finally decided that now is the time.

3 months ago, I decided to pick up the viola, and started taking lessons at a music studio at UBC.

I knew I don’t want to play the violin because I don’t like the high register, but it took me quite a while to decide between the cello and the viola. I love the nice deep voice of the cello, but eventually decided on the viola because a cello would not physically fit in my apartment, or car trunk… which would be slightly problematic. A viola sounds almost like a cello, and is almost as small as a violin, which is awesome!

It does have a bit of a learning curve (especially for aurally challenged people like myself), but it’s not as hard as I thought it would be overall. After 3 months of lessons (and 20-40 minutes practice couple times a week), I can already play reasonably sophisticated pieces without position shifts, and just started learning vibrato. According to my teacher that is insanely fast, probably because of my experience on a few other instruments. Apparently she doesn’t usually teach vibrato until a year or 2, but I’m progressing so fast that she decided to use me as an experiment and see what happens. Pretty exciting!

Already knowing other instruments presents another kind of challenge though – motivation.

Most people are motivated by novelty when they start learning an instrument, and as that wears off, they transition to using accomplishments as the primary source of motivation, getting excited being able to play harder and harder pieces.

Well, it’s pretty hard to get excited about Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, when you are used to playing big and majestic concertos and sonatas. And when you are used to music lessons almost all about stylistic stuff and interpretation, it’s weird to have to go back to taking lessons that are mostly about technical stuff, and how to not sound like constipation, and sound like constipation anyways.

It has definitely been an interesting experience – not having to worry about music notations, rhythm, expression, etc, and can focus 100% on playing the instrument. Ok, alto clef is a little annoying. I thought I would never have to learn to read music again, then the viola comes along with the alto clef. That was fixed over a few bus rides worth of flash cards, though. It’s an instrument that requires so much attention that it feels like it must suck for someone learning it as a first instrument – because they would have to learn music at the same time. I feel like piano or wind instruments work better as first instruments.

The biggest difference is probably pitch control. On the piano, or guitar, or wind instruments, if you press the right key, or use the right fingering, you’ll be more or less in tune. That is not the case with fretless string instruments. All finger positions need to be memorized (muscle memory) and continuously adjusted, and even small changes in finger position will result in significant change in pitch. It’s an analog instrument that offers no illusion that pitches are somehow discrete, unlike most other instruments. It really forces players to have good ears, and I can already feel that my ears are a lot better now than just couple weeks ago.

My biggest challenge right now is to do fast string crossings cleanly without making weird noises, which is just one of the million little things to worry about to get a good sound thanks to having a bow, but the bow also affords endless possibilities for expression in tens of different bow strokes, which is what really draws me to string instruments. Love it!

Teacher is Katherine Headrick. She is the most awesomest music teacher I’ve ever had (and I’ve had quite a few). She is very good at teaching, can always tell what’s wrong right away, cares about her students A LOT, and is humorous at the same time, and generally a very pleasant person to work with. Highly recommended! Definitely not the cheapest, but well worth it.

I never imagined I would be able to pick it up so fast, and it’s mostly thanks to her. I’m at a point in my life where time is more important than saving $10 or whatever a week, so that alone is worth it.

Just making another dream come true!