Disappearing Towns

It’s a wonderful feeling.

Drive couple hours down a freeway, find a random tiny little town in the middle of nowhere using GPS, drive 2 km into the town centre, get KFC, get out.

Knowing we will probably never visit or think about it again, ever.

It’s like the whole town of people, buildings, roads, and trees just vaporized behind me. For all I know.

12 Angry Men; Prejudice, Social Conformity


How interesting can movies where 12 men sitting in a room and talking get?

12 Angry Men is definitely one of the more interesting ones (not that I know any other).

12 jurors were called upon to deliberate on an alleged murder of a father by his son, in the slums of New York. The case seemed clear-cut in the beginning, and most of the jurors were ready to immediately vote guilty without much discussion, so they can go back to their businesses.

However, in the US criminal justice system, jurors must vote unanimously to produce a verdict. Even if there is just one jury disagreeing with the rest, they must continue discussing until they all agree, or the jury is declared hung (after a long time with no progress towards an agreement).

In this case, one of the jurors voted “not guilty” in the preliminary ballot, so they were forced, with much frustration, to continue discussing the case to try to convince the lone juror, who, it seems like, was just playing devil’s advocate, because he believed something as serious as the murder case should be given more thought.

As they further deliberated, it became immediately clear that most of them were very biased against the teenager because of his background of having grown up in the slum. Some were very obvious –

You’re not gonna tell me that we’re supposed to believe this kid, knowing what he is. Listen, I’ve lived among them all my life. You can’t believe a word they say. You know that. I mean, they’re born liars.

while some were for subtle, for example, by easily believing the story of a middle class witness instead of the story told by the teenager, even though neither were very plausible. Eventually, at the initially disagreeing juror’s insistence, they looked into each piece of supporting evidence in detail, and discovered that all of them were circumstantial, not reliable, or plain impossible. They eventually, with a lot of difficulties, agreed on a verdict of “not guilty” (which just means there is “reasonable doubt”).

Humans are designed by evolution to prefer to agree with others and conform to societal norms. Obviously, that varies significantly between individuals and also cultures (collectivistic vs individualistic), but in general, humans like harmony.

The evolutionary reason for that is, humans are a social animal that require others to survive, and being agreeable helps with forming social bonds and mutually altruistic relationships. We are also genetically “programmed” to reject those that try to get “free rides” and working by themselves, and as a result, they aren’t usually as successful in human societies, and so there is selection pressure towards agreeability in humans.

It sounds like a good thing, and it is, for the most part. However, being agreeable also leads to prejudices and discrimination. That is why it’s so hard to be non-judgemental and be completely open minded – because evolution worked very hard to make sure we aren’t.

This movie portrayed it perfectly. Very cool movie. Highly recommended.

Notes – Flying from Boundary Bay to Bellingham + Boeing Field

Just flew to the US for the first time. There is a fair amount of paperwork, but it’s well worth it! It’s really not very difficult. Just a lot of research for the first time.

2013-04-17 16.09.54

Bellingham International Arrival

2013-04-17 16.51.54

Departing Bellingham

2013-04-17 17.16.31

About to enter lateral boundary of Seattle Class B… I think.

2013-04-17 17.21.04

Below Seattle Class B

2013-04-17 17.38.05

Boeing Field

2013-04-17 18.36.54

Departing Boeing Field. Space Needle!

2013-04-17 19.20.41

Straight in Rwy 30 into Boundary Bay. Not sure how you would do this without GPS…

Day before:

  • File eAPIS (https://eapis.cbp.dhs.gov/) for both arrival to and departure from the US. Wait for email that says “Based upon the information submitted, the travelers identified within this manifest are cleared for this flight.” It’s weird that they require a notice for departing the US… but they do.

Day of:

  • Call US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) office at the airport of entry (airport of first landing in the US) and inform them of accurate ETA at least 1 hour before arriving. If off by 15 minutes, call again to update ETA. They will just ask for tail number (callsign) and ETA, since they have crew and passenger information from eAPIS already. Because of the 15 minutes requirement, it’s easier to land and clear customs at Bellingham (tweak take-off time) than somewhere further away.
  • Call Canadian customs (http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/prog/canpass/generalavi-eng.html) to give them traveler information and ETA at least 2 hours before arriving (in Canada). Can also be done from the US, but since they allow up to 48 hours advance notice, if only going for less than 48 hours, it’s easier to call before departing.
  • File VFR flight plan for the flight to US airport of entry. Exactly the same as a regular VFR flight plan, except destination airport is an US airport*. Will not get a squawk code. It may be possible to file flight plan for the return trip as well, but I couldn’t figure out how to contact US flight service from Canada (since it’s a 1-800 number).

Flight to Bellingham:

  • Tell ground control “Bellingham departure on flight plan”, and confirm the squawk code given is good for crossing the border (they have to submit it to border patrol).
  • Contrarily to popular belief, it’s not a requirement to be talking to an ATC when crossing the border, as long as squawking a discrete transponder code.
  • Watch out for Abbotsford airspace while crossing. Either ask for a transition or stay below 1500.
  • Contact Bellingham Tower about 10 miles out (about 3 times the radius of their Class D airspace) for approach instructions. We got right base for Rwy 16.
  • After landing, ask ground for taxi to customs ramp. If unfamiliar with the airport, can ask for progressive taxi instructions (go forward, turn left here, turn right here…).
  • Customs officer will come out, and take everyone into the office to look at passport, aircraft registration, pilot license. Then free to roam around in the States.

Flight to Boeing Field:

  • Get flight following from Whidbey approach once out of Bellingham airspace.
  • When Whidbey approach terminates flight following, ask for a hand-off to Seattle approach if not offered. It’s much easier to fly into Seattle downtown when talking to Seattle approach. They can help avoid Seattle Class B, provide separation, and help setting up an approach into Boeing Field. This kind of service is only offered to IFR aircrafts in Canada, but it’s offered to VFR aircrafts too in the States, and it’s very awesome. A lot less stressful than just calling tower 10 miles out, and have to give them all the information and set up and approach in very little time.
  • We came in from the north, next to space needle, got handed off to Boeing tower, and were cleared straight in for 13L (the small runway :(). Easy approach. We were asked to report over the stadium, but couldn’t find the stadium on the chart, so just told her “unfamiliar” and she was OK with that. Nice controller.
  • After landing and switching to ground (must wait for tower to say “contact ground” or ask for a frequency change in the US), ask for taxi to one of the FBOs. We went to Aeroflight. Very highly recommended. Nice place, happy people, and all free. Just park somewhere outside their building and go in. They also didn’t require or try to encourage buying any fuel. I bought some anyways even though I didn’t really need it since that’s a nice thing to do when using an FBO’s facilities for free. Galvin I heard is really nice, too, but they have a pretty steep handling fee if you don’t buy at least a certain amount of very expensive fuel.
  • We filed the flight plan for the return trip there with the US Flight Service (1-800-WX-BRIEF instead of 1-866-WX-BRIEF), and got a border crossing squawk code. Very important! Must squawk that when crossing the border.

Flight back to Boundary Bay:

  • Remember to open the flight plan. In the US, flight plans don’t get automatically opened like in Canada, and crossing border without an activated flight plan is illegal and may result in interception. We couldn’t reach Seattle FSS on the radio on the ground at Boeing Field, so we opened it in air after leaving Seattle Class B (Seattle Radio @ 122.55 near Boeing Field). Just need to open the flight plan some time before crossing the border. Don’t wait too long either, though. I believe flight plans in the US get discarded if not activated within an hour of the estimated departure time.
  • Get flight following from Whidbey approach but remember to write down the border crossing code. Will have to squawk that again after Whidbey terminates flight following.
  • Make sure squawking the border crossing code given by FSS when crossing the border, and approach Boundary Bay normally. We called over Cherry Point (before crossing border) and were cleared straight in to Rwy 30, which was super cool. Would not have been possible to fly without GPS, though. We didn’t get visual on the field until halfway across the bay (over water).
  • Remember to tell Boundary Bay Tower to close flight plan.
  • Taxi to customs box in front of main terminal building. If no customs agent is there, call Telephone Reporting Center (http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/prog/canpass/generalavi-eng.html) to get a confirmation code (they only need tail number), then free to leave.

Our route. Very nice view of downtown Seattle, the coast, Whidbey island, and all the little islands. GPS definitely recommended for this route, though. There are a lot of places where there aren’t many landmarks. We used Naviator on Android. Highly recommended.

Next time – Portland.

* No need to file beyond that because flights in the US do not require flight plans (no 25 nm requirement like in Canada). Though it’s a very good idea to either get flight following or file a flight plan. I personally think flight following is better, because the tracking controller can initiate search and rescue immediately if you disappear from their radar, instead of having to wait until 1 hour after ETA on a flight plan.

Based upon the information submitted, the travelers identified within
this manifest are cleared for this flight.d

Richmond Youth Orchestra


(random image stolen from Facebook group)

Every Saturday. Cambie Secondary School. Music room. Smiley faces.

For 4 years of my high school life, Saturdays are for music.

Every Saturday. Get up at 8am. Eat some grass for breakfast. Drive all the way across Richmond to Cambie Secondary School. Walk around the building to find the 1 unlocked door. Squeeze into the slightly too small room with a piano. Help moving the gazillion music stands out of storage to form an orchestra arrangement. Get a chair (those little kiddie high school chairs). Sit down. Open the clarinet case. Wet the reed in a little sealed can of water I keep in the case (eww!). Screw it on. Join the effort in making the white noise of everyone warming up at the same time.

9:30 AM. Conductor steps in front of the orchestra, and raises the baton to silences the noise. Cues the oboist for a pure concert A. First violin joins. Rest of the strings join. Flutes. Woodwinds. Brass. All playing in imperfect unison with a slow wobble. Eventually, they come to agree that some instruments are less wrong than others, and everyone converges to one frequency.

Then 3 hours of orgasm. Classical stuff, not so classical stuff, concertos, jazz, Bach, Rossini, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Phantom of the Opera, Wicked. It’s like a temporary detachment from the real world. Everyone so passionate about making music. Focus.


They were kind of awesome.

Gateway Theatre, every year. Dress rehearsal at 4pm, food at 6pm, frantically running around the stage to set up seats and stands, and curtain opens at 8pm.

Dude with gray hair walks to the podium to introduce the orchestra and the program.

Conductor walks on stage, players stand. Conductor shakes hand with the solo violinist (concert master/mistress), walks to the centre of the stage, and motions the orchestra to sit.

Conductor whispers something unintelligible to the orchestra, inaudible and invisible to the audience, behind him.

He raises the baton. Violinists, violists, and cellists raise their bows. Wind players take a breath and hold it. Percussionists raise their mallets (and stuff… I never figured out what those percussion things are called). Everyone sits taller in anticipation. Dead silence.

Baton comes down. All hell breaks loose.

Playing on stage is actually very cool. The stage is well lit, and the audience is pitch black, so we can’t see a thing in the audience. For all we know, the audience could have all stood up and left the moment lights dim, and we wouldn’t know any better. It’s like playing into a void, except much more stressful, because we knew, back in our minds, that there are couple hundred people watching and listening.

Intermission. Curtains close.

Everyone retreats into the backstage dressing room (very cool place by the way, full of mirrors, old-fashioned light bulbs, way too many coat hangers, and couches!), discussing the missed notes, awesome screw-ups, and exchange some pleasantries. Moments later, conductor opens the door and sticks his head in, and offers some encouragements, compliments, and general niceties.

“GO! GO! GO!” Everyone quietly (or attempted to quietly) runs on stage and assumes their posts. Curtain raises, and the same thing happens again.

All this is no more. I just found out a little while ago that the orchestra ceased to exist about 2 years ago. :(. RIP Richmond Youth Orchestra.

PS. I know my writing style is hard to read. Sorry about that :(. I write mostly for myself, about thoughts that just pop up as I write. And unfortunately, conjunctions are not usually part of my thoughts. I don’t know if this is the same for everyone, but my “thought voice” is always very concise and in very short phrases, which I find kinda cool. Though if you were to tap into my mind and hear my “thought voice”, it probably wouldn’t make a lot of sense to you. Me and my brain, no one but each other understands us.

On Engineering

Engineering, also known as applied science, is the application of scientific principles to make people’s lives better.

Engineering is the ability to look at a lot of things in the world – TVs, computers, cell phones, fridges, microwaves, trains, cars, airplanes, and know exactly how they work.

Engineering is the ability to dream up something from pure science fiction, and actually turn it into reality – within reason of course. Engineering is not magic, though “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

It’s also something I am deeply passionate about.

I am so incredibly lucky that I can major in and probably devote my life to something that I really enjoy. I know many people in engineering that are only here for the money, or because their parents forced them into it, and I feel very sorry for them – I know how hard it is to study something that one has little or no interest in, and I know I would never be able to do it.

Engineering has always been known as one of the hardest faculties, and after going through 5 years of it and almost graduating, I can tell you that it’s NOT true. It’s actually pretty easy, and endlessly fascinating, if only you are genuinely interested in it. If you aren’t, it will suck big time, for LIFE, and you should definitely go into something you are interested in instead.

It’s true that engineering is among the highest paying occupations, but I can honestly say that money is not the primary motivation for me. Engineering is something that I would spend endless hours of my free time on, and it’s just a nice bonus that people pay big bucks for me to do what I would do for free anyways… shhh!

It’s THAT much fun. I don’t have big and noble goals for my choice of profession. My goal is not to bring tap water to African kids or eradicate AIDS, but simply to have fun. If I can happen to help people with what I do that’s awesome, but my primary motivation is to have fun.

I can’t say every course I have taken or every assignment I have done is enjoyable, but on the whole, I am extremely happy that I chose to go into engineering. It’s probably the second best decision I have made in my life – after not doing drugs.

The thing I love the most about engineering is the freedom it affords. It’s a very powerful feeling, to be able to use understanding of technology to manipulate lifeless objects into things that are distinctively more intelligent, or using the same understanding of technology to see what others have done to enable us to live in our modern world, and learn from their failures, and their successes.

I am happy.

Advice for younglings –

It’s a centuries old cliché that we should chase our dreams, and it’s a cliché because it is way too often repeated, and it’s repeated because it’s true. Everyone knows they will be the happiest and live the most fulfilling life if they follow their dreams, but most people choose to not do it regardless.

For me that dream is engineering. For you it may be something else entirely. It doesn’t matter. Go for it!

If you think you can do something you don’t like for 20 years to make enough money to be happy for the rest of your life… you are kidding yourself. Do you really think, after 20 years of dragging yourself out of bed every morning to a job you hated where you count every minute down to 5pm, you will still have the ability to lead an interesting life? Seriously, the money is not worth ruining your life for.

Do what you love!