Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Adventures in Pasadena

I thought I might share some of my thoughts I had jotted down as I was sitting in front of the Caltech cafe in the last week of January, basking in the evening sunlight.~

January 22

Yesterday I almost climbed the Hollywood sign - I didn't because it's illegal and I'd be carried off by a trooper helicopter, like in the movie "Friends with Benefits". Though, I could have been on TV if that happened! Oh well. It was a nice view nonetheless, with the Pacific ocean and LA to the west and Pasadena and the mountains to the east. On my way to the top, I met some French photographers and a French reggae singer, though I forgot the name of his band that I wanted to look up ("Il est très bien connu!" said his two friends). 

Griffiths Observatory as seen from the
Hollywood sign.
Right now I am sitting in front of the equivalent of Caltech COOP and people watching. It's fun. A tour of just three people and guide just passed by me. I walked into their coffee shop to buy coffee and noticed a sign that they only take cash, and with Caltech ID's. They also sell "MIT" t-shirts there, I thought it was sweet until I realized that it says "Wasn't good enough to go to Caltech" on the back. Anna '14 and I think that we should get back at them by replacing all the t-shirts on the stand with "MIT - Because I was too good to go to Caltech"! 

Side note: Anna is an awesome host, and has a really comfy couch, in a snazzy apartment that reminds me of a beachfront hotel. Thanks for the great food and conversations, and showing me around this beautiful town! Also, your orange juice was really good. :) 

Speaking of hacking culture, here's me in front of the Caltech cannon, which apparently fires twice a year on surprise dates. I heard that MIT once hacked it by transporting it across the country and putting it next to the Green Building. Heh.

Notice the cute palm trees in the back! Right on campus!
I also saw the guy who played the Professor in the PhD movie sitting outside that coffeeshop. I was considering asking for his autograph - would that be too weird..? The guy who played one of the main characters "The Unnamed PhD student" is actually in the same year as Anna, and she sat next to him in lecture! 

My mission (according to my mom) here is to "get a nice Caltech guy"... well... I am not sure I am going to succeed at that, although I'm not really trying. I found the Feynman lecture hall, though, so that's like meeting the person I love, anyway.

Yesterday I rode an uber for the first time! (Yeah, multitudes of Didi rides in China don't count). It was UberPOOL too. I know, so brave. Since apparently people don't usually choose UberPool. On the two rides, I met a fashion designer from Japan (this girl named Hitomi, which means "eye" in Japanese) and then a guy from China who owns a food truck and sells it to students in Pasadena City College. The driver on the way back from the Hollywood hike was super talkative, and told me a story of how he had escaped from Iran at the age of fifteen and moved about twenty times from one European/Middle Eastern country to another. He then couldn't stop talking about this "the best" Persian restaurant near Pasadena that everyone *must* check out at some point in life. He called his mom right from the car (this guy is like, fifty) to find out the name of it.

Me and half of Caltech's astrophysics first-year grad students at Echo Mountain! :) 
The day before that I went hiking to the same mountain we hiked on Tuesday with Anna and two astronomy students, but I wanted to go slightly further, to "Inspiration Point". Plus, the weather was much nicer so I knew the view would be present. It was good. I even saw the sunset, though I was worried about getting back since the neighborhood between the mountain and Caltech was super sketchy, and so was the bus I took to get there. So, I was kinda worried, until I met this super nice couple on the way down, who had the most hyper/happy dog called Stella. They turned out to be producers/actors who are working on three movies at the moment and rode across the US in their car to get here! (For instance, one of the movies is "Occupy Texas"). We had a really great conversation ("Don't tell me what you're doing now," said one of my new acquaintances, "what kind of research would you rather be doing?") and they offered to drive me to my familiar and non-sketchy intersection near the grad dorms, which meant I could sit next to Stella in their car. Stella kissed me very passionately. It was the first time I was kissed so lovingly by a dog. 

Sunset from Sam Merill trail to the Echo Mountain 

Something about traveling by yourself is so oddly refreshing. It is a lot easier to connect to others on your path. The interactions are organic and spontaneous, and so memorable.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Moar New England Hikes!

Hey guys! Or, 您好! I am actually writing this post from Hangzhou, China. Hangzhou is a moderate-sized city in the Zhejiang Province, one of the "top 10 happiest cities in China" according to some vague statistic. I can see why: it is a lot more laid back than its more urban siblings, Shanghai and Beijing, and seems even rather chill in comparison to New York. It is quite nice here, though extremely humid, but it's nothing an A/C can't fix. The driving...is not so chill, though. There are literally no rules on the road, and it seems like seat belts are actually obsolete.

Anyway, a blog entry about my current experience as a mentor for high students in Hangzhou is yet to come. This entry is one I should have written a few weeks ago - my itinerary of yet another pleasant hike in the Whites, the Mt. Jackson-Mt.Webster traverse. It was a smaller distance covered than the last hike I went on (Tripyramid Traverse + more) but it was still full of very risky slopes and rock-climbing type rock formations which required significant climbing.

The plan is in yellow! 
Climbing some waterfall type things along the way.

Some nice forest-y ravines!

Living on the edge, yet in contemplation - it's my style :) 

Now I look super chill here, but getting down was extremely, extremely dangerous.
Basically canyoning without a harness. Dunno if I would do again. 

And finally, behold ... THE VIEW FROM THE TOP! 

Okay, okay, I am totally kidding, That is 100% photoshopped. As you may have guessed from the cliff photo, both mountaintops we climbed were immersed in the clouds, so our view was white, white, and more white. But, the waterfall and cliff climbing certainly made up in excitement for the lack of views, and we rewarded ourselves with dinner at a Mexican restaurant on some highway in NH. 

Because of this side trip, we only returned to Cambridge at 2AM, at which point I did not feel like being dropped off at Kendall to retrieve my bike. What can happen in just one night to a locked bike near MIT Medical? Nothing, right? How wrong I was when I showed up behind MIT Medical the next day, and found both my bike and chain missing. That's what I get for not using U-Locks and being lazy. :D I guess getting a bike stolen is one of those life experience you just have to go through at some point, at least as a motivation to combat your own laziness if nothing else. Moral of the story: Hikes are awesome, bikes are too, but do not sacrifice one for the other if you can help it, and make sure you have some awesome German friends who will give you one of their spare bikes when you need it! :) 

Speaking of my German suitemates, I moved out of Tang this Saturday, feeling a little bit bittersweet. After all, I am leaving this view, which I know I'll miss greatly... 

Even more so, I'll miss the late night conversations with three of my awesome suitemates (two visiting students from Germany and Austria) and one architecture masters student, the 8-hour work day that always allowed for outdoor activities afterwards, free ice cream, late-night bike rides to dances and rinks, the ability to do anything I want whenever I feel like it on the weekends, the tapping of summer rain, random concerts on the streets, making friend with grumpy cats, braving the Charles River winds and currents, stargazing and impromptu tea parties... In short, Boston summer, you rocked!!

Also. Guys. Blog. Come on! I wanna hear about how all your summers are going and what new things and experiences you are having. Allez allez allez!!  

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Math, Michigan, yeeee.

Bonjour mes amis!

It’s been great hearing about others’ summers so far on this bloj!  The posts [in addition to Daniela’s reminders to post :)] have inspired me to chronicle some of my own adventures/experiences this summer.  (Especially since I’ve not committed to keeping my journal updated, it makes sense to record some of this stuff somewhere.)

Greetings from rural southeastern Michigan! (Taken from my parents' backyard.)

Anyhow, I’ve been living in Ann Arbor, MI (henceforth abbreviated A2) doing a math REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) at the University of Michigan (henceforth UofM).  An REU can be thought of as a somewhat more structured UROP during the summer; a number of colleges receive funding from NSF to give a stipend to undergraduates who are mentored by professors for about 10 weeks.  I’ve been working with a group of about 9 undergrads under Professor Danny Neftin, who is a postdoc from Israel and is very nice, and Professor Mike Zieve, who is both a very good mathematician and…well…quite a character!  (In fact, I think it’s more or less the norm to have some great characters when working with math people, and that’s definitely been exemplified in the REU group.)  It’s great fun!
REU Group Meeting in the Undergrad Math Common Room

We’ve been working on the Hurwitz problem, which is, at it’s core, both an algebraic geometry problem and a topology problem.  We’ve classified a number of “putative ramification types,” giving reasons for why they’re not realized as the actual ramification type for some branched cover.  (For further explanation, you can read the report I’m working on or the paper we're going to publish.)  It’s been an interesting problem, and it’s a different sort of thing from what is normally done in REUs because the problem and its methods aren’t really contrived for undergraduates to be able to solve:  we’re simply working on what Prof. Zieve has been working on.  It’s given me a taste for what math research is like, which has both inspired a greater interest in it as well as given me some things to try to improve upon such as breadth of math knowledge, problem solving ability, and comfort “exploring” a mathematical situation.  Thus, although my personal results are fairly trivial, I’m happy that I’ve gained so much from the experience.
The math department has a piano and a ping pong table,
both of which are in frequent use.

In addition to research, the Zieve REU group has had a few forays into the world outside of East Hall (which houses the UofM Math Department).  First, we went on a picnic to a park a few miles away from downtown A2, which was awesome.

Picnic at Gallup Park

At the group meeting a few days before the picnic was planned in more detail, Professor Zieve simply said, “I was told we should go do something as a group.  I have a grill, charcoal, and an inflatable kayak, so...we should do something.”  We kayaked on the inflatable kayak and got a frisbee lesson from Professor Zieve (who is in the the pink shirt in the photo) and his Ph.D. student, Trevor (on the left side of the photo, holding a paddle).  We also played some soccer, which was awesome; I played all through high school and have been missing it lately.

More recently, Professor Zieve treated us to dinner at a Chinese buffet, which sounds like it might be kind of disastrous, especially considering almost half of our group members are from China.  However, it turned out to be the best Chinese buffet I’d ever been to, and the Chinese students didn’t care–it was free food in mass quantities after all, and we're college students.

A guy in my REU group, Carsten,
wearing one of the free ninja outfits.
Earlier this week, we went to a Korean BBQ restaurant, which I had been to a couple times before (when I was in high school).  It was pleasant, but the best part was that afterwards, we went to Ninja Training at a nearby martial arts place.  We got a free lesson with free “ninja uniforms,” and Professor Zieve was absolutely giddy about the whole ordeal.  We’re planning to wear our uniforms during the final presentation for the rest of the UofM math REU students after we’ve completed our last free lesson, at which point we'll get our white belts.

Overall, I’ve had a lot of fun with the other people in my REU group–from teaching some of them to cook to listening to long upperclassman rants about grad school applications to becoming ninjas.

As for my living situation, my apartment building has sketchy elevators, but I really like my suite,
and it’s kind of fun being on the 18th floor of one of the tallest buildings in A2.  Also, because I have an extra room (no one else subleased the second bedroom), I sometimes have guests like Kelly, James, and Kelly’s mom!  They were road tripping from Pennsylvania to Colorado/California, so they stopped by, spent the night, and took me to breakfast in the morning.  It was so cool!

I really hope they replace these soon.

Kelly, James, and Kelly's mom on the UofM Diag!

Since my hometown is a 45 minute drive away from A2, I’ve also been able to see some of my best friends from high school to watch movies, have bonfires, go for very long walks through farmland on dirt roads, etc.  My parents come up to take me out to dinner from time to time, which has given me a feel for what life would have been like had I gone with my original plan and only applied to UofM for college.
Five-ish miles from my (parents') house, taken when I was walking around with
my friend Caleb.

My friend Caleb in my apartment.  I think maybe he's shooting up dat insulin
(he has type 1 diabetes)

Plus, I’ve gotten to explore the beautiful UofM campus.  To me, it’s the perfect combination of basically-city and not-exactly-city (I hesitate to say urban, rural, or even suburban for various reasons).  Ann Arbor is what I still consider a decent sized city although many people would call it small (and they have a point…I live in one of the tallest buildings in the city, and it only has 19 regular-height [as opposed to super tall ones like in the Green Building] floors [well, actually 18 since they skip the 13th floor]), but the UofM Central Campus (where the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is) lies smack in downtown A2, so I can simply walk out of the math department or the undergraduate library (the UGLY) doors to grab lunch or dinner at decent restaurants.  Central Campus, especially the heart of it--the Diag, seen in the photo of Kelly, et al.--is home to the fattest, laziest squirrels I’ve ever heard of.  UofM North Campus (where the College of Engineering and the School of Music are), however, is a 15 minute bus ride away and feels like a totally different college.  The buildings are beautiful, and North Campus also has lots of nice patches of woods around.  There are literally short hiking trails that connect some parts of the campus and branch out into the woods; I see deer around there constantly and a wild turkey occasionally.  The spread-out nature of UofM’s campus is perfect for “exploration running,” which is my favorite kind.  I basically just run in one direction until nothing looks familiar and I’m slightly lost before I try to find my way back.  (Sorry I don’t have photos from my runs; perhaps I should invest in an arm band to carry my phone with me for that purpose.)
View over the Law Quad.  Notice the big faraway M that marks the Michigan
football stadium.  Taken from a window of the Grad Library.

Because of all these experiences, I’ve been very grateful to be in a different city and at a different university for the summer.  Visiting Brown with Daniela and Jelise in the early spring hinted at the idea that seeing other colleges can expand one’s perspective on college life, but this has been really marvelous.  I now have some math goals set for this year, some changes I want to make to my life at MIT, and plenty of new perspectives on careers in math.  I hope everyone is having great summers!  Can’t wait to see you guys again soon!
A little Ann Arbor-Cambridge connection: Trader Joe’s!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Boston Summer

Bonjour tout le monde!

I have enjoyed reading all of your blogs so far and hope everyone is having a great summer :)

This summer I am living in tEp, a co-ed frat in Back Bay, along with Elisa, Carrie and Sofi. It so far has been lots of fun. tEp has nowhere near the organizational structure or cleanliness standard of LMF (for example the food system [haus fud] consists of people going into the basement kitchen and making whatever food they want with ingredients around the house), but it has a lot of character and a great/bizarre/self-deprecating sense of humor. Pretty much nothing is off-limits and people are very welcoming and open here.
The Room Elisa and I are staying in (behold the hexagons)
Also there are cats!!!

Slinky: The slightly derpy cat who bumps his head into things and meows loudly
Cleo: Very grouchy, but has befriended me and Elisa. 
My work is split between two UROPS. One is in Environmental Engineering fieldwork, where I row clunky metal boats, lift heavy cement anchors, spool and zip-tie rope structures etc. This leads to some splinters and frustration, but ultimately gives me a nice chance to be outside and enjoy nature. My other UROP is a continuation of my work in from last year, which consists of me writing code and staring pensively at simulations of pretty fluids.

Outside of my work I mainly have been cultivating my "artistic sensibilities", which were severely starved by the end of spring semester.

Some things I have been up to:

-Radio Show: I have a show with WMBR this summer called "See the Music, Hear the Dance" where I play classical music, mostly from ballets. It is a meditative process for me. Once a week I walk across the Harvard Bridge late at night, when the influx of traffic has slowed to a sparse drip and the city is calm and quiet, scamper down into the basement of Walker, sift through the CDs and records in the musty smelling music library with piles upon piles of music which has been collected since the 1970s, then put on the large studio headphones and go on the air. If you want to listen, my show is at midnight on Thursdays.
-Poetry Slams: These happen every Wednesday night in the stuffy basement of the Cantab in Central Square.
-Squatting at the BPL: I have found a new favorite place to work. Since most of my work can be done remotely, I have spent a lot of time coding, reading, and writing in the BPL courtyard (in Copley). It is a strange pocket of reverent and ornate ancient architecture in a sea of urbanity.
Slightly crooked picture of the BPL, taken while attempting to be discreet and non-touristy
-Watching lots of Movies: So.many.movies. I have seen at least 20 in the past few months. Someday I will create a nice categorized list of all of them along with my critiques. Some of my favorites so far are 2001 a Space Odyssey (Kubrick's aesthetic and ability to generate tension is astounding), the Holy Mountain (an expansive, trippy, visual journey), and Breathless (a French New-Wave film with interesting commentary on existentialism, love, and popular culture ).

-Wandering around Boston: Since tEp is so close to the Esplanade and the Boston Common, I have done quite a bit of late night philosophizing and walking around.... also swimming in fountains and playing on a nearby adult sized playground.

View of the post-rainstorm sky from the Boston Common
Slightly blurry Esplanade sunset

-Visiting the MFA: I have been going there quite a lot, to the point where I have befriended some of my favorite paintings and feel obligated to visit them regularly to say hi. I also spend a lot of time staring at the portraits and trying to construct realities and stories around them and looking at the romantic landscape paintings of Maine and feeling all nostalgic and fuzzy.

Some of my favorites...

Two Nudes (Lovers) by Oskar Kokoschka 
Rouen Cathedral Façade and Tour d'Albane (Morning Effect) by Claude Monet

Hot Still-Scape for Six Colors - 7th Avenue Style by Stuart Davis
   The Lookout - "All's Well" by Winslow Homer

Well that's about it for my summer thus far. 

Love and sketchy window AC units