Goals for 2015

I always have some vague notion of goals for the year, but because I never write them down, I forget about them in a few months, and never hold myself accountable. I’ve split my goals here for all aspects of my life, except work. That’s because I don’t know enough yet about how to measure my work achievements. I hope to revisit this list by mid-2015 and add/evaluate.

– Pick up another sport besides running, perhaps tennis?
– Have less meat-centric meals
– Learn how to properly cook Chinese food from mom

– Regular skype dates with long-distance friends
– Arrange some regular social gathering (ie. board game night, knitting night, watching-a-certain-TV-show night, etc)

Creative outlets / Hobbies:
– Read more, write more
– Attend concerts (classical and rock)
– Regularly practice the piano, now that I finally have one!

That’s all I can think of now. I know I say this (to myself) at the start of every new year, but gosh I do hope to blog more! Maybe I’ll do that through the food blog…


Soundtrack of 2014

2014 has been an amazing year for me, full of milestones. I accepted a job offer, got engaged, finished and defended my thesis, moved cross country, and started my first real job. As always, music is strongly tied to my memories, so I will provide a few tracks that are serve as my personal soundtrack for this past year.

(I don’t know how to link to only the music without the video. The content of the music, and subsequently the music videos, often have nothing to do with my associated memory of it. So try to ignore the video, especially Tove Lo’s provocative looking stop frame.)

I played this track from Childish Gambino in the rental cars to each one of my interviews, to pump myself up. The end of 2013 and beginning of 2014 were a blur of job interviews, and while it was exhausting, I loved every moment. I got to travel for free, learn about different industries, meet and talk to all sorts of smart people. All while, for the first time in my life, I felt like I could perhaps contribute something to the world. Even now, hearing 3005, makes me feel like I’m on top of the world, like I’m ready to nail another job talk.

Similar to Childish Gambino, I used Cold War Kids to pump myself up while working in the clean room. Miracle Mile in particular reminds me of gowning up in those bunny suits, and running around different bays to use several instruments simultaneously to most efficiently use my time in the clean room (which charges a hefty fee to my advisor by the hour)

Because I know I tie songs with memories very strongly, I wanted to have an album I would immediately connect with writing my thesis. I wanted to remember being holed up in my office late into the night (sometimes through the night) writing, printing out a completed chapter to read through and edit, realizing what I wrote was awful and incomprehensible, and completely marking up my chapter with red ink through gritted teeth. Writing my thesis was simultaneously one of the most frustrating and rewarding processes. I wanted to recreate that feeling by simply listening to a song. Hence, I put an album on repeat during the few weeks I was writing intently. And yet, somehow, I have absolutely no idea which album that was, so I guess that didn’t work. I do remember listening to “Not a Bad Thing” and “Pusher love girl” by Justin Timberlake one particular night, when a persistent fly was zipping around my head, and I thought I was going to go crazy.

I first heard this song while feeling completely overwhelmed by life — it felt like everything was plowing ahead at a frightening speed, and leaving me behind, lost and confused. Mike and I had just bought our first car, and were struggling to find affordable insurance. I had just emailed my completed thesis to my committee, movers were coming to my apartment in a few days, and my defense was in less than 2 weeks. I was sitting in the living room of my friend Ben Maron’s house in new york, bathing in the morning light streaming through the windows. I played this song on my phone, and the crooning alto verse immediately calmed me down. I recognized how lucky I was to have so many exciting events happening, and to be surrounded by supporting friends. This track helped me, for the first time in a long time, process my emotions and recognize how sad I was to be moving away soon.

We bought the new Alt-J CD at a hip record store in Austin, TX. We had been listening to the singles from the album for a while already, and I had very high expectations for the album. This isn’t the right post for me to review the album, so I’ll save that for another time (hah!) But “Left Hand Free” in particular reminds me of driving cross country in our new car, the excitement we felt starting a new life on the west coast.

I listened to this song every morning while driving through the Santa Monica mountains in my first few weeks at my new job. The 15 minute drive is stunning, each turn offering a new view of the rocky canyon, green mountains, or the ocean. I was (am! this is so recent it’s hard to speak about it in the past tense) nervous about finding where I fit in the company, wanting to make a good first impression, without coming across as too eager.

Again, this post isn’t meant to be a review of music in 2014 (the first three tracks in fact are from 2013). I will say that this year was a weak one for music. However, because I use this blog as a way of keeping track of music and entertainment, I want to give a “shout out” to my favorite albums of the year: This is All Yours (Alt-J), I Never Learn (Lykki Li), Seeds (TV on the Radio), 1000 Forms of Fear (Sia), Talking is Hard (Walk the Moon).

What about you? Any favorite albums or tracks this year? Am I the only one who has such strong associations between music and memories?

My Top 5 Albums of 2012

Mid-December is my favorite time of the year.

Yes, I love the mulled wine, the scent of pine, and the excitement in the air as everyone prepares for the holidays and the New Year. But primarily, I love that everyone is publishing their “favorite music of the year” lists. I can spend hours listening and exploring music I’d missed throughout the year and reminiscing about my favorites.

Here I’ve listed my my favorite albums of the year. A strong album for me is cohesive as a unit, and is memorable as a collection of pieces instead of the individual songs. This list will be very similar to other people’s lists, because I’m not a true hipster. I’m not trying to show you bands you’ve missed this year. I only hope to write down (mostly for myself) my personal connection to these albums. And in case you don’t know the band, I also included my favorite track of the album.

Grizzly Bear – Shields
Grizzly Bear’s 2010 masterpiece, Veckatimest, is not only my favorite album of that year, but also one of my favorite album of my life. When my grandchildren one day ask me to introduce to them the music I liked when I was young, I will definitely pull out this album and make them listen to it until their ears bleed. You know, for education. This is to say that I set an impossibly high expectation for their next album. While Shields will never take the same place in my heart that Veckatimest has, it definitely met my expectations. For one, this album SOUNDS evolved and different, and I really appreciate that in a band. I like hearing bands grow and morph instead of rehashing the same sound (ie. Best Coast or the XX, which is why I didn’t include those new albums on my list). The lush and complex harmonies are still there, but no longer at the forefront. The catchy pop melodies are still there  layered with unexpected instrumentation and arrangements.

EDIT: I realized after I wrote the rest of this entry, that I associate all other albums with an emotion or image. But all I get out of listening to Grizzly Bear is a purified enjoyment of music. That probably makes no sense to you, since it barely makes sense to me. Perhaps that’s what they call “Cerebral Music.” That’s not to say I don’t get emotional listening to Grizzly Bear. After all, I was that dufus crying at their concert because I was JUST. SO. HAPPY.

Beach House – Bloom

The album cover perfectly depicts what the album emotes to me. It feels like such atmospheric, dreamy music that when I close my eyes, I imagine standing in the center of a four-sided mirror-room with some LED lights (yeah, I know, oddly specific). No matter which direction I look, there would be an endless array of lights. Anyways, the whole album just feels so cohesive. Mike mentioned that he loved listening to the album when walking home while the sun is setting — I can definitely see that sentiment.

Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheeler is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do

Side note:  I just named one of my samples in lab after her today! From now on, in my presentations I’ll say “When I shined a 532nm green laser on Fiona, she lit up and I could see both NV neutral and NV minus defect centers in her.” I’m pretty excited about this. My other sample’s named “Dr. Dre” because he’s badass. At least I he’d better be. If he disappoints me, I’ll TAKE OUT THOSE KNEECAPS

Uh, sorry, I got distracted. Where was I? Oh right, Fiona’s latest album. I’ve been a pretty big fan of Fiona Apple, but I don’t always love every track in her album. The same is true of this album, with the exception of “Every Single Night.” That’s one of the few tracks I’ve obsessed over this year, playing it on repeat for weeks. The minimalistic quality of the album just leaves such a haunting impression on me, I can’t even remember the songs, only how they make me feel. Fiona’s voice is even more controlled and she manipulates her voice to really twist your guts and chafe your heart. When I listen intently, focusing on the song and the lyrics, I actually feel emotionally drained by the end.

Passion Pit – Gossamer
Unlike the three albums I just listed, I hadn’t listened to any Passion Pit before this album. I just love it. It’s completely crazy and takes you on an emotional rollercoaster. The songs are manically happy, but the lyrics are so angry and depressive, that by the end I don’t even know what to do with myself. What I always gravitate back towards are those damn hooks. Every song in catchy and satisfies my pop craving. If I ignore the lyrics, I can jump up and down while spinning in my living room, letting the music pump me up.
Grouplove – Never Trust a Happy Song
The album actually came out in September 2011, but I didn’t discover it until earlier this year. I also wanted to include another album from an artist I wasn’t already a huge fan of (otherwise I’d probably include The Shin’s Ports of Marrow). Grouplove pumps me up similarly to Passion Pit, but I don’t really understand the lyrics (you’re such a lovely cup / why doncha fill me up …. wtffff???), which means I can just focus on being happy. While Passion Pit is to be enjoyed barefoot in your living room doing the combination of spinning and jumping that I described above, Grouplove is best enjoyed in a car with friends screaming incoherent lyrics. It’s noisy, it’s grungy, and it’s just pure FUN.
Up next: my favorite songs of 2012. I’ve been compiling them and I’m super psyched about sharing it. The list is going to be longer and more eclectic. JBiebs will be making an appearance. I swear I’m not actually pretentious about my music tastes. I love me some Top 40 pop!

List of happiness

Being happy is hard work. I’d consider myself a pretty damn happy person most of the time and I don’t think I could be asking much more of life at this point. But even when I’m at the peak of life’s oscillations, there are some bad days. (It’s too bad the oscillations aren’t periodic, because then we’d be able to take the Fourier Transform of it and find the resonance frequency and be able to predict our future)

Hence, I’d like to remind myself of what generally always makes me happy that I don’t do enough.

  1. Waking up earlier and getting a head-start on the day without the morning rush
  2. Playing the piano
  3. Exercising
  4. Cleaning up and and then looking around and enjoying the new cleanliness with a cup of hot tea
  5. Reading
  6. Knitting (okay, I’ve been doing this one a lot. It keeps me sane)
  7. Looking at pretty things in real life (Browsing design blogs on the computer doesn’t count. Touching unaffordable clothing at the mall does)
  8. Sleep (I actually do a lot of this also…)

I hope everyone has a little list like this to help you out when you’re feeling a little under the weather. Hopefully we can maintain a relatively constant supply of happiness around to keep us afloat through the waves that life crashes on us.

Two observations on this lovely Thursday morning (why is this morning lovely? I finally managed wake up before 8am, instead of snoozing for over an hour and a half. I tend to snooze for such a long time, the alarm decides to ignore me and simply shut off. And because today I finally woke up early enough to get to the office before 9, I had the pleasure of walking through Central Square and Harvard Yard breathing in a crisper warm air than the suffocating blanket of heat that starts later in the day.)

1. Are there any phrases that you hear people say all the time, but upon seeing it written on paper you realize you’ve misunderstood the phrase all your life? For example, just now I saw “quote unquote” on the New York Times Magazine. I’ve been saying “quote on quote” all my (English-speaking) life. Now the phrase makes so much more sense! Can you think of any other examples of this happening to you?

2. Who invited foamy soap? I hate that person because I have no idea why soap ever needs to come out of the dispenser pre-foamed. Foaming up the soap in my hand makes me feel productive — why would someone take that joy away from me?

I was going to make this long post about my three-week trip to China; about the World Expo, visiting Yellow Mountains, and all of the crap I had to deal with at airports. But I am too lazy to write words, so enjoy these random assortment of pictures instead.

First we went to the Expo in Shanghai. There were many people, the lines were long and all the pavillions are huge.

I'm on a horse! I'm on a horse! I'm on a motherfucking horse!

Abercrombif and Titch, a word that reminds me of Bitch or Tit but def. not Fitch

We climbed Yellow Mountains. It was beautiful but my pictures didn't come out so great. I'm trying to coverup its crappiness with an artistic black-and-white look

Is this image of the Yellow Mountains better?

This is a rock on Yellow Mountain. It's named after what it looks like, but the name is not what you think it should be.

We visited Hong Cun in AnHui province, a very beautiful ancient town

But at the end of the day, the best part of going home was family 🙂

I’ll be posting momentarily about my adventures in Shanghai and the World Expo. But after being in China for several days, I’d like to share a few things I’ve noticed that’s different from the US:

  1. Drivers here are absolutely terrifying. They change lanes constantly, even though it feels like they’re driving in the middle of the road for most of the time. They don’t seem to heed much attention to traffic lights and sometimes will freely drive on the opposite side of the road. If you’re not driving on the highway and in the city, pedestrians jaywalk as if it’s their job and you have to pay twice as much attention to motorcycles and bicycles. Is the stereotype that Asians are horrible drivers really embedded in our genes?
  2. On the topic of cars/drivers: Chinese people seriously dislike seat belts. They have a special metal piece that mocks their seat belt to put in the buckle, because the car will beep otherwise. Do they not realize that the car manufacturers put that annoying “seat belt unbuckled alarm” feature there for their safety?
  3. All the women here are obsessed about weight and height. Everywhere I go, the first comment is always about my weight (apparently I’ve lost some weight, which is their way of telling me I was super fat before) and my height (apparently I’ve gotten taller, but I’m pretty sure the older generation is just shrinking). My cousins talk about my weight all the time, pocking my waist and grabbing my chubbytummy fat.  The irony? Everyone here is so damn thin, I don’t think they can even get fat.
  4. Everyone is weirded out by the fact that I don’t like to wear socks with my sandals. They keep asking me if I’m too cold.
  5. Of the kitchens I’ve seen so far, it appears customary to put the fridge and freezer in a separate pantry room. This seems completely unintuitive to me. I open my fridge like 12 billion times when I’m cooking…
  6. At dinner parties, which are all held in private rooms in restaurants, toasting is essential. Like vectors, direction matters: if couple A toast couple B, couple B must later in the party toast couple A. I am completely overwhelmed by all the toasting and all the nice words that people say to me. I have no idea how to respond with the exception of smiling and drinking lots of wine. I’m pretty sure they all think I’m rude, because I never say anything nice back.
  7. I’ve always known this, but oh my god the food is so fucking good. Street food or fancy restaurant food. I haven’t experienced hunger since my plane landed.
  8. Clothes, bags, and shoes, especially nice ones, are really not that much cheaper in China anymore.
  9. Being with family is one of the best feelings in the world. I love them fully and dearly, even though I could never express it in Chinese. It makes me realize just how lonely it gets in the US.
  10. This country is full of optimism, drive, and motivation. Everyone is working to make China the next world leader, and the energy among the people is infectious. Yes, there are tons of obstacles still: government corruption, air pollution, and media censorship. But the Chinese people are stronger and working harder than ever, and that in itself is something worth of my pride.