Archive for the ‘daily life’ Category
10 December, 2012 – 11:59 pm | Filed under commentary, daily life, personal | 1 Comment »
Recently I started volunteering with El Sistema Somerville, based on the famed program pioneered by Dr. José Antonio Abreu in Venezuela in the 1970s, but geared in this case towards children from working-class (and immigrant, in many cases) backgrounds residing in East Somerville, to give them a positive outlet through music and an opportunity for self-empowerment and esteem-building. As a violinist, I’ve been tapped to give private lessons to several of the kids, which has been truly fantastic–it brings back a lot of memories of my JET Programme days, when I also taught kids around this age and had such a blast doing so. What’s interesting this time, though, is that the kids instantly noticed that I’m “different,” because I’m brown-skinned like they are.
It ended up being an interesting way of breaking the ice with the one rather energetic kid who I worked with this past Thursday:
Me: (saying something about my brother)
Kid: “What’s your brother’s name?”
Kid: “What’s your name?”
Kid: (strange look)
Me: “It’s Indian. Our family is from India.”
Kid: “Ah, okay! I knew you were Indian because you’re brown-skinned.”
Me: (momentarily shocked, then laughing) “Well, lots of people have brown skin, you know!”
Kid: “I mean, I mean, I knew that because you have brown skin, you come from another country.”
Kid: “Are you a teenager? You look like you are because you have pimples and stuff.”
Me: (half-joking, half-seriously claps my hand over part of my face where I do have a bit of an acne outbreak) “No, I’m not a teenager.”
Kid: “What are you doing?”
Me: “I don’t want you to see my pimples.”
Kid: (suddenly very interested) “What? Where don’t you want me to see?”
Me: “I’m not telling you!”
Kid: “But if you’re not a teenager, how come you have pimples like that?” (gestures higher up at my face)
Me: (realizing) “What–you mean these?”
Kid: “Yeah! What are those brown spots?”
Me: “These are freckles.” (pointing at the brown spots on my cheekbones)
Kid: “Ohhh. But I thought freckles were pink?”
Me: “Nope, sometimes they’re brown.”
Kid: “Oh. But wait, that’s still your cheek?”
Me: “Yeah, this whole area–” (gestures) “–is your cheek.”
Kid: (explaining his behavior, as whenever he makes a mistake, he breathes heavily and gesticulates in frustration) “I just get angry sometimes. I’m an angry person, but I know I shouldn’t get angry.”
Circling back around…
Me: “How old are you?”
Kid: “Nine. How old are you?”
Me: (giving in) “Thirty-one.”
Kid: “Oh.” (pauses, thinks) “My dad is thirty-two. My mom is thirty-one.”
Me: “Oh, okay.” (as an aside) “Wow, I’m old enough to be your mom…”
Kid: “Do you have kids?”
Kid: “A husband?”
Kid: (surprised) “Don’t you want one?”
Me: (cringing, as this means I’m now being hounded about this from all age groups) “Sure, yeah. I just don’t have one yet.”
Kid: “Well, you have your family, like your parents and stuff, right?”
Me: “That’s right.”
Kid: “And you’re happy to have your parents, right?”
Me: “Yeah, definitely.”
Kid: “Well, I think your parents are really happy to have you. And they probably want you to be happy like them. Try it! You should try it sometime!”
Me: (unable to stop grinning) “Okay. Maybe I will.”
* * * * *
On Saturday I finally moved officially into an apartment of my own–my first time living alone since 2007. My previous roommate situation just went downhill rather rapidly (I could say a lot more, dripping in bitterness and resentment, but I’ll just stop right there) and I broke my lease and got out to save my own sanity and seek my own happiness again. I moved in with a coworker/friend, but due to an unexpected visit from her parents, she needed her spare room back much sooner than we both anticipated, so I moved on, and was fortunate enough to pounce on this apartment.
Anyway, I had dinner plans with some relatives northwest of here, and was so exhausted that I ended up crashing at their place for the night. The next day, on my drive back towards the city, I spotted signs for Walden Pond and decided to go check it out.
The weather was cool and there were more people out than I expected, but it was still possible at times to feel like I was all alone in the woods as I circled the pond. The sight of Henry David Thoreau’s cabin’s remains really evoked a sense of wistfulness within me. Is it possible to live such a life of isolation like that these days? Do I have it in me to do something like that? Or am I too dependent on material concerns in life to consider letting go of them for several years, and living almost solely with what I could make and build?
What was particularly surprising to me was that there’s a major route that cuts right by the pond (between it and the parking lot, in fact), and several planes and helicopters went overhead and disturbed the silence as well. I was also surprised to see several commuter rail trains go by on the far side of the lake, but then read that that railroad track had been there even during Thoreau’s own visit. He wasn’t completely cut off from all traces of civilization.
I managed to distract myself from that self-deprecating “man, I’m not capable of this” train of thought, and focused on the beautiful hike through the woods, with lovely views of the pond. It was easy to imagine what it must have been like during Thoreau’s day; despite the civilization, it was still heavily wooded. It’s an interesting contrast to the intense, semi-claustrophobic bustle of Boston and its immediate suburbs, and a very therapeutic one. I’d started going for acupuncture the preceding week (thanks to a LivingSocial deal) and found the forced 30 minutes of quiet relaxation incredibly valuable, and was able to tap into that same sense of peace as I hiked roughly 1.5 miles partway around the pond and back again.
* * * * *
The common thread between both of these is that they relate so heavily to this struggle to figure out what I want my future to be. Do I want children? Will I even get married first? Will I regret not having children? How can I live more virtuously and be true to myself and to the planet? What are the big priorities for me going forward?
Sometimes it’s simpler than you make it. There’s a lot that you can control, but there’s also a lot that you can’t. All you can do is take steps to be true to yourself, to be good and true to the people in your life and to the world that hosts you for a spell. (Well, I’m still working on letting go and accepting those simple truths as being enough. But I hope to get there someday.) Everyone has their own path there. Mine is becoming clearer, in the sense that I’m happy to be flexible, to embark on adventures in this period of my life and to not be in a hurry to settle down into the expected and the conventional. With luck, everything else will work itself out.
I’m just glad to be in a situation where these tidbits of conventional wisdom make themselves known through such creative venues as the wisdom of a bright-eyed elementary school child and the history and heritage of the wooded area where a man as good as achieved enlightenment. And I am so grateful.
2 March, 2012 – 6:13 pm | Filed under art+illustration, daily life, design, geek culture | 1 Comment »
It seems that it takes extreme measures for me to post anything in here anymore. I had a busy week of work and freelance projects, so I installed LeechBlock on Firefox to keep myself from opening Facebook and Twitter repeatedly/compulsively…and man, what a difference it made. (I’m a little embarrassed to admit it.) However, the one downside is that I haven’t been able to share all the cool stuff that’s come across my radar by other means this week…which is why I’m back here again.
Life’s been good in general. I’ve been keeping busy with work and Meetup events and whatnot, meeting people around town, and generally maintaining a good work-life balance. I’ve gotten involved with the pit orchestra of a local community/student opera group, who’s putting on an obscure Rimsky-Korsakov opera at the end of the month; rehearsals kick off this weekend. And I just started weekly Japanese classes with a handful of JET alumni–the first one this past weekend was already so refreshing after several years without dedicated study time. It’s good to know I can still string sentences together with reasonably accurate vocab and intonation, at least.
Also, I miss writing. Hopefully I can do a little more of that here in the weeks (or months…) to come.
Anyway, fun and neat things to share:
“Give it five minutes” – words imparted from Richard Saul Wurman (one of the early pioneers of information design and information architecture, and the founder of the TED conferences) to Jason Fried of 37signals, about giving yourself time to process and “perspectivize” something before reacting instinctively to it. (Semi-tongue-in-cheek, but this is why I really feel that sites like Facebook and Twitter need an “are you sure you want to post this?” option that gives you 10-15 seconds to recall something you just posted in haste that you would probably come to regret later.)
Manga artist Yusuke Murata, known for Eyeshield 21 (a manga about American football playing students in Japan–the anime version of it was on TV when I lived there), crafted a really creative and delightful set of comics that use folds and shadows in paper to provide dimensions. He did this in part to demonstrate that while there are things that can be done digitally in sequential art that aren’t possible with printed matter, the reverse is also very true. I freaking love this.
I was wandering through Porter Square Books one afternoon and happened across these Whitelines notebooks–interesting shapes, clean and nice cover designs, and–most importantly–fantastic paper design. The light grey background with white lines is nondisruptive, subtle, and incredibly useful and versatile. This slim one was marked down to under $5; since I was looking for a proper sketchbook for work, I gave it a whirl and bought it, and it’s become invaluable to my work practice since. (My coworkers are also intrigued by it.) They’re available in a variety of styles: wire, hard wire, perfect-bound, top- versus side-flipping, black cover, white cover, hardcover, lined, squared, perspective lines…fantastic. And the paper is produced using carbon-neutral practices! You can find them in an art store near you (in North America) or from Amazon.
And last but not least, this image by illustrator James Hance has been making the rounds. Such a sweet crossover…I can’t look at this and not smile. He’s got a lot of great work throughout his site that will definitely make you smile (and some of that work is on t-shirts! Which I would gladly buy, if not for them being printed on shirts by American Apparel, which I will never again support for their horribly sexist advertising).
Wait, that was supposed to be the last thing but that’s not a happy ending. So…here! Baby sloths in onesies!
Have a good weekend, everyone.
23 November, 2011 – 6:38 pm | Filed under daily life, personal, web | No Comments »
Man, what a summer. Lots to recap, but that’s not what I’m here to do today. :)
I’ve been having a bit of an internal struggle about the best blogging platform to use to quickly share stuff with people, particularly now that Google Reader’s been integrated with Google+. My attention span’s shot, as is evidenced by the lack of frequent posts here (we’ll see if I can fix that, though). But also having acquired my first smartphone this summer, I like the idea of posting photos on the go. I’ve been using Twitter for that (oh yeah, note to self, fix the feed to the right) but wonder if there’s a more central location that’s frequently trafficked. And I’m trying to curtail my Facebook usage/dependency. Maybe I can somehow combine it all here…we’ll see.
Anyway, cool links from the last few days:
How to switch your parents’ web browser without them knowing (via LifeHacker)
Need I say more? Seriously.
Finding your flow: spend less and do more (via Get Rich Slowly)
This really spoke to me, especially in light of the “shortened attention span” thing above. In this age of being overwhelmed with so much information, it’s easy to take stuff at face value and then move on to the next shiny gem. Learning how to go deep (and I’ll confess that the music examples definitely wooed me) and improve your understanding and appreciation is something everyone could benefit from. I guess this spoke to me on multiple levels: I like the idea of understanding more about things you already love, but also about having the awareness to ask questions and to seek out knowledge about things you don’t even realize you don’t know much about.
List of 45 Oscar-nominated animated short films (via Cartoon Brew)
I try to link to this annually–there are almost always some fantastic pieces of animation here. People focus on what’s more readily accessible and these are often overshadowed–the art of short-form storytelling is so, so underrated. This is only the first short-list, by the way–they’ll pare this down further for the final round of nominees that’s then mentioned on Oscar night.
And now for a more personal turn–things I’m thankful for this year. (Which may or may not also serve as a recap of this summer.) I do have some reservations about the history behind Thanksgiving, due to learning more about how inexcusably horribly the Native American/First Nations tribes and groups have been treated over the last 500+ years, and how schools teach flat-out revisionist history around the day and all that…but the sentiment of humility and gratitude behind the holiday is a nice one. So let’s go with that for now. :)
I’m thankful for the well-being of my family and friends, and for my health and general fortune in life. I’m thankful to have a roof over my head, money in the bank, food in the fridge, and to have the opportunity/luxury of splurging if I wish.
I’m thankful that my life is going well, and that even when it doesn’t, I can almost always learn something from those experiences to help me grow and expand my sense of perspective.
I’m thankful to be an intelligent woman in a society with no inhibitions on when and how I use my mind and express myself.
I’m thankful to have finally landed what has ended up being a pretty cool job just outside of Boston (where I have resided since late September), after a grueling 5+ month search in an unforgiving economic climate. (I’m also thankful for my pretty sweet apartment, and my very cool roommate.)
I’m thankful to have had an unexpected but really nice “romantic interlude” at the very end of my stay in Pittsburgh (and for a couple of months beyond), and though it ultimately had to end because of the long distance between Pittsburgh and Boston, I’m thankful to now have a new good friend in my life.
I’m thankful that I was able to
1. complete a master’s degree
2. and emerge relatively unscathed
3. and more enlightened about myself and the world on so many levels.
I’m thankful to be in a city where I have a few good friends, and to be fairly close to another big city where I have many more good friends (and cousins). (New York! Amtrak! Tofurky will be had this weekend!)
Though I have major reservations about many aspects of US foreign policy and general attitudes among some in power towards those different from themselves, I’m thankful to be in a stable and safe country, and to never have known war or poverty or deep hardship firsthand. And I’m thankful for our troops–I don’t support any of our wartime activities but I do support the people who have been asked to carry out tasks that most of us couldn’t dream of facing, in the name of protecting us.
I’m thankful for my friends, period. I just don’t have the words to convey it, but you know I love you all.
I’m thankful for my family–though we have our share of scuffles, we’re always there for each other. And I’m thankful to have finally grown closer to a number of my cousins in recent years (and to be a chithi/”younger aunt” to the two newest additions of my family).
There’s a lot of other stuff I could list, but I feel like it all ultimately falls into one of the above in one way or another. I try to avoid being thankful for petty things, but at the same time, sometimes the silly things in life can be the most helpful…so I may as well mention that I am also thankful for Cookie Monster, jigidi.com (jigsaw puzzles galore), and mindless comedy, which helped me get through some rough days in grad school. :) And samosas, and rasam. Man, there is almost nothing more comforting to me than good Indian food.
Peace be with yinz and y’all. :)
4 August, 2011 – 2:43 pm | Filed under commentary, daily life, geology, personal | No Comments »
At the beginning of the week, I was preparing to drive to Washington, DC for a final-round job interview. I didn’t have any breakfast food with me (I’d just shifted to a friend’s place on Sunday night, after vacating the Ladies’ Den (the house I shared with three of my grad school classmates)), so I went to the Bruegger’s Bagels in Squirrel Hill to grab a quick bagel and coffee and use their wifi to jot down logistical notes for the trip.
While I was there, I became aware of a conversation between two older women a couple of tables over. It permeated my consciousness when one of them started repeating the phrase, “It makes me sick,” each time slightly louder and more vehement. I figured it would be some kind of rant on the current mess that is US politics, and I tuned in idly to see where it might go, half-expecting a rant against liberals or Democrats or something.
However, the next thing I perceived was, “I am so glad I grew up when I did, when we really experienced the glory that was America. Can a real American stand up anymore?” followed quickly by, “I know. I get on the bus and put my sunglasses on and just look straight ahead. I can’t look around anymore. It makes me sick.”
It was then that I realized with a jolt that they weren’t talking about politics at all. My stomach quickly sank, and I couldn’t help but continue to listen.
The conversation rapidly degenerated into more slurs against immigrants and foreigners, about how they were diluting this country’s greatness and they couldn’t believe what a mess it’s become, and how unpardonable it was that there are people all over the place who don’t speak English, and how real Americans have had to work hard to get everything but “these people” are just handed everything on a silver platter.
As the conversation turned towards the influx of non-American doctors and medical students, I happened to glance over right as the “makes me sick” woman hissed, “You’re telling me that you don’t speak my language and you’re going to treat me? You aren’t touching me. You aren’t touching me.”
At this point, my mind was racing to figure out if I could do or say anything to respond. Finally, all I could manage was to turn and fix them with a very pointed and affronted stare. They noticed, glancing just briefly at me, and dropped their voices as they started to clear up their wrappers and trash, but still keeping on with the anti-foreigner trash talking.
Once they left, I glanced around the seating area, wondering if anybody had reacted to this conversation, but nobody else seemed to have been paying attention. I shook my head and whispered an incredulous, “Holy shit,” to myself, and turned back to my laptop to try to finish what I was doing.
(I should mention, by the way, that we were roughly a mile from Carnegie Mellon University and 1.5 miles from the University of Pittsburgh, both world-class universities with large international student/faculty populations, as well as the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which is both a medical school and a series of regional healthcare facilities. We also were in Squirrel Hill, the Jewish neighborhood of Pittsburgh, where you often see many suit/long-skirt-clad Hasidic Jews walking down the street, many of whom probably have immigrant ancestors. Not to mention, the main drag of Squirrel Hill boasts an incredible display of ethnic, cultural, socioeconomic, religious, and political diversity. It’s one of the most real neighborhoods I’ve ever lived in, which was part of why I love it.)
I went on with my day and finally left town for DC, but I couldn’t shake the deep feeling of discomfort that that encounter had created. You hear about these things on TV and in the media, and of course you see passing examples like stupid bumper stickers (such as “don’t blame me, I voted for the American” next to a big X through the Obama logo), but it had been such a long time since I’d seen people actually voicing these views in person. I kept replaying it in mind, and only then did a few snappy comebacks finally come to mind…
- “You grew up in the 60s and 70s, right? In the middle of the Civil Rights era?”
- “Excuse me, but have you ever tried having a real conversation with any of the international people you meet? If you did, you’d find that we have way more similarities than differences, if you just gave us a chance.”
- “You know that this is a nation of immigrants, right? Your ancestors probably came over from Europe, too…”
- “Just because you overhear people speaking another language, that doesn’t mean they don’t speak English. For them to have made it this far means that they’re definitely intelligent people.”
- “Have you ever stopped to think about this from their perspective? They’re the ones who are thousands of miles away from home, in a totally new place, far away from most of their friends and relatives.”
- “You really need to find another neighborhood to hang out in if diversity bothers you so much!”
(Well…I thought they sounded good in my head, but they totally would have fallen flat if I’d actually said them. But I still wish I’d tried.)
I also attempted, to a very small degree, to rationalize why they’d be thinking all this. This sort of strong negativity is inevitably due to ignorance, a lack of exposure to different people or ways of life, and a fear of the unknown. They grew up in a very different era and a very different America. As an Indian-American chick from a non-Judeo-Christian tradition, I’m obviously biased towards a world that embraces diversity and open-mindedness, and in my travels and experiences, I’ve come to witness our united humanity and realize that people are people, no matter where you go. But I know that those experiences, and even that mindset, are kind of the exception to the rule, and also a little idealistic. Still, though, that totally doesn’t excuse such blatant anti-foreigner prejudice and actually saying such hateful things.
I tried to distract myself, zoning out and paying attention to my surroundings on the drive into central Pennsylvania and northern Maryland.
In June, I’d gone to Santorini (a volcanic caldera/island system off the southern coast of Greece) for a week-long hiking trip with VolcanoDiscovery (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, if you’re looking for a solid mix of geology, history, and culture). It made me very aware of the stratigraphy of the rock faces all around us then, and also ever since I got back. One day we hiked ~10km/6.5 miles and saw layers of ash, pumice, and tephra laid down by eruptions over thousands of years. On another day, we saw lava flows as recent as 50 years ago that are still jagged and not too worn down by erosion, and solid boulders with uniform cracks along their surfaces that came from going from a really hot state to a really cool state very quickly. On yet another day, we witnessed two million years’ worth of geological history on a 300-meter (1000-foot) descent from the towns on top of the caldera cliff down to the sea below, and it was all written incredibly and indelibly into the different layers and types of the rocks. We learned how to read some of the signs the earth has left behind to tell us what it’s been up to over the decades and millennia.
As I drove on, I became aware of areas of exposed rock along the sides of the freeway, inevitably from people blasting through the mountains to build the freeway system decades ago. I started perceiving different layers of rock, different colors and textures and characteristics…and then the tension in my chest and stomach started to dissipate, and I actually smiled a little.
Most days, being a geology and astronomy geek is pretty much an eccentricity that just surprises and puzzles most people. But on this particular day, I realized that it lent me a very different sense of perspective.
All this conflict and hatred and ignorance that we as people witness and create and suffer through…this is nothing but a grain of sand in the Sahara Desert that is deep time, the geological history of the earth. This miasma of negativity, insularity, and fear consumes us and we can’t get away from it…but modern human history is only several thousands of years old, and it rests on top of these reassuringly constant, nearly timeless rocks below us. We were born, and we’ll die, and the natural processes that churn ceaselessly on to create and reshape the rocks below us and the stars above us will endure for immeasurable millions and billions of years, as they already had before our ancestors’ ancestors even existed, and as they still will once the human race no longer exists.
Whether it’s a religion you believe in, or whether the earth itself is your religion, we’re all part of something bigger. The playing field will be leveled for all of us one way or another.
Many people believe in a god or pantheon of gods, and that lends comfort to their hearts and minds. Thanks to this trip to Santorini, I see the rocks along the interstate, and I draw deep reassurance from the fact that life will go on and that this will all still be here, despite the unpleasantness, negativity, and violence that we perpetuate and perceive in our own lives and our constructed world.
At the same time, my designery/problem-solving/empathetic side really, really would love to just sit down and talk sense into people, to break through these walls and blinders of ignorance people build around themselves, and to change their perspectives. But maybe I’ll spend some time hiking or staring at the stratigraphy along the freeway to ground myself (ha, oops, pun not intended) before I give that a try.
29 January, 2011 – 1:45 pm | Filed under daily life | No Comments »
I figured that having survived Snowpocalypse/SnowMG/Snowmagedden 2010, I can deal with pretty much whatever weather Pittsburgh throws at me.
However, this year I have my car here.
So far I’ve gotten around needing an ice scraper–leaving my car on to warm up for 10-15 minutes, combined with using my plastic dustpan to scrape off ice and snow, usually is enough. (I just feel fortunate enough that I have a private parking spot off the street, so I can just leave my car on outside.)
But here’s a new curveball: currently it is physically not possible for me to remove my car from my parking space, because there is a sheet of ice 1-2 inches thick behind the rear passenger-side wheel. Any time I try to reverse the car, the ice actually forces my car forward again. I tried hacking away at the ice with my shovel, but it’s made of metal and I’m very nervous that I’ll hit my tire by accident–the ice is right up there.
(I can see any northerners reading this nodding knowingly and rolling their eyes, going, “Oh, poor southerner…”)
I was going to go buy groceries for tonight’s Pittsburgh JET Alumni Association shinnenkai, not to mention my housemates have been begging me to take us out on a Trader Joe’s and Target run (direly needed: we are officially out of toilet paper). So yeah, I kind of need to get my car out.
I’m off to my neighborhood Giant Eagle to pick up some salt and cat litter. Hopefully one of those will do the trick.
7 November, 2010 – 3:57 pm | Filed under commentary, daily life, school | No Comments »
Must keep posting, must not let this blog slip again…
Life’s been really busy lately (as if the subject line didn’t get that across already). I don’t think school has ever been this intense for me, and I don’t think I have ever felt so consistently behind like this before.
Part of it is that I took last weekend off to go to the Rally To Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington DC. It was incredible, and I was so glad to have been a part of it. I carpooled down from Pittsburgh with my housemate Kim and our classmate Chelsey, but ended up spending the weekend with my friends from Atlanta (Ethan, Jennifer, Matt, Kevin, and Alan). We got there almost 2 hours prior to the official start time for the Rally, and the Mall was already quite full, but we managed to carve out a space for the six of us. General thoughts:
- everyone was super-friendly, positive, approachable, and chill
- LOVED the signs!
- a guy actually interviewed me about my sign, but he didn’t quite get what it meant (it said “yay, zealots. </sarcasm>”) – I think he actually thought I was calling everyone there a zealot, and I’m not sure if I explained it properly (it was the sarcasm/HTML bit that he just didn’t get) or convinced him that that was not at all what I was trying to do, but oh well.
- in general it felt like they were preaching to the choir, but it just felt so affirming to know that so many other Americans do feel the same way my friends and I do: embrace equality for everyone, stop needlessly persecuting all Muslims, try to bridge this horribly polarized divide that has caused such a rift among Americans…
- there was no one takeaway from it, but that’s okay: it definitely impacted how I viewed the following Election Day, in the sense that instead of just voting Democrat across the board because I felt that they’re the party that best represented my views, I stopped and considered every candidate individually (and did end up voting for one third-party candidate). I also think that just the act of collecting in one place (estimates range from 200,000 to 300,000, and I really wouldn’t doubt it!) was in and of itself a huge and meaningful gesture, that a huge chunk of Americans are tired of the bickering and just want to rise beyond it for the greater good for everybody.
However, the one big downside: it set me back several days in my schoolwork and research. I worked pretty feverishly for the first half of the week and really burned myself out by Thursday, and had to take a day off. It was pretty intense; I just could not shut my mind off Wednesday, and had to put on something comforting and familiar to try to relax. (That something was The Empire Strikes Back, and it did do the trick.)
I’m still working pretty hard on several semester-long projects: thesis work has actually taken a back seat to the work for my classes. For my Social Impact class I’m trying to do field research but still have no idea if I’m truly making any headway. At this point, I’ll just be happy if I make a B and get through it. Information+Interaction+Perception will be taking off soon–we’ve been collecting our data and organizing it in a few different ways to try to help guide us towards a final product, which will be coming together in the next few weeks. (I’m creating an information design piece on factory farming.)
Thesis is slowly coming along…I’ll be doing a few dry-run interviews with some of my Pittsburgh JET friends, then reaching out and contacting some of my survey participants for both interview and journal recruitment. We’ll see how it goes!
The 2nd week of December will be a madhouse. We have our final presentations for I+I+P at the start of the week, and our thesis poster session AND Social Impact show the same day at the end of the week. It’s crazy that it’s just a month off.
Orchestra’s also moving along–we have a concert in two weeks. I switched out my strings a couple of days ago, only to find that one had frayed to the point that it was actually only hanging on by a thread. I took photos to document it–it’s incredible that it hadn’t snapped a month ago.
On top of that, I’ve been working hard on something super-secret that will go down when I’m back home for winter break…that’s all I’ll say about that, but if all goes according to plan, it will be great. :)
There are already things about this site’s layout that I want to change. Bah, if only I had time!
I don’t want this to become a “this is what I’ve been doing lately”/”let me document my day” blog. But I’m just doing this to force myself to keep on writing. May the next entries be more content-rich!
9 March, 2010 – 2:24 pm | Filed under commentary, daily life, japan, school, web | No Comments »
Spring break is here! It’s not super-relaxing, but it’s nice to not have stressful deliverables hanging over my head, for once. I still haven’t gotten to actually see any of the “touristy” stuff around Pittsburgh, but getting out and enjoying the warm(er) weather and wandering a bit around Oakland and Shadyside has been really nice. I’ve walked around 7 miles in the last 2 days–not a ton, but it’s more than I’ve done in a long time (though I probably balanced it out with that chai from Caribou and that amazing ice cream from Oh Yeah!…). If not for a meeting I have with my new thesis advisor this afternoon, I would definitely make it out to the Mattress Factory or the Carnegie Museum of Natural History or something.
What actually prompted me to post something in here, though, was the Gchat status message of my friend Shuby:
Yelp took my review away! Weirdos.
I’d heard a fair amount about the controversy surrounding Yelp already, both the original East Bay Express story and the more recent allegations of extortion. I used to be a really big fan of theirs–the idea of an online review feature with vetting and such a generally positive vibe really appealed to me–but after this recent news, I scaled back heavily and just sort of “hovered,” but didn’t use them so actively anymore.
But talking to Shuby revealed that a negative review of hers had been pulled; it was still visible on her profile, but no longer visible publicly. That was the final straw for me, and I e-mailed Yelp to have them delete my account, with an explanation of why. It’s one thing when there are these faraway allegations with some random website you aren’t extremely invested in that occur with people you have no relation to, and it’s easy (or easier) to brush them off. When it happens to a friend, though, that’s something else.
Anyway, in other news, let’s see…
Like I mentioned, I do have a thesis advisor for next year–yay! He’s the professor who taught our Design Studio last semester, and we’ve struck up this great rapport and had some good conversations about our similar international experiences (he grew up in the Philippines and is very well-traveled, and like me, he doesn’t identify with being completely American or completely from the country of his birth). I also have a secondary advisor–my fantastic Global Communication professor (who’s from Romania), and I’m considering assembling a “committee”-of-sorts, involving relevant HCI and Psychology faculty. Most importantly, though, I do have a tentative thesis topic in mind: developing a resource to assist JET Programme participants upon the completion of their time in Japan, and particularly addressing reverse culture shock, as well as other more administrative things (like pension refunds and the like).
I like the topic, but I feel guilty for going back to “the Japan thing” yet again. I’m sure I’ve driven my housemates and all my classmates–not to mention all my friends back home–crazy with how often I still bring it up, over two years after the fact, but I guess it’s a real case of “you can take the ALT out of Japan, but…” with me. I was fortunate enough to have a great experience that has impacted and changed me…however, the return process was rough, and very difficult at times. Reverse culture shock did really impact me for a solid year after coming back, in small and big ways–and I’m far from the only one. I’m also not the only one who felt unprepared for what Life After Japan would be like.
Anyway, I’m meeting my advisor this afternoon to just touch base and see where to go from here. I may also broach the subject of focusing on something similar but not Japan-related–I was thinking of doing something to help international Indian students when they arrive in the US, but my Global Comm professor advised me against it because she said I, as an Indian, would be “too close” to the subject matter and may not be able to be purely objective. (She only found out 5 minutes later, though, that I’ve only been back to India twice, my first time being when I was 18.)
I’ve also been doing some web work, but not the “for fun” kind…though I find the challenge of constructing a site in standards-compliant XHTML and CSS to always be fun, so it’s rarely “not fun.” I’m redesigning the blog/website of my studio group, and as part of my assistantship, I’m helping to architect and build a site with information about some of the technical resources the School of Design has, and I’m also helping to develop a guide with information for incoming grad students that can be a reference for current students. That should be pretty cool–hopefully it’ll come to fruition by the end of this term, but if not, I volunteered to help out over the summer (wherever I’ll be…). Maybe eventually I’ll find the time to finish implementing the redesign of my website, too (and moving it over to the new web space I purchased last week for much cheaper than my current host)…
Anyway, time to get my day going–meetings, wandering around, and packing! I’m off to Atlanta tomorrow for just a couple of days, to run errands, see family and friends, and pick up my car. Hope you all enjoy the rest of your week!
13 January, 2010 – 12:54 am | Filed under daily life, design, music, personal, school | 3 Comments »
Back again, back again…
Winter break was restful and nice. Three weeks in the metro Atlanta suburbs was perhaps a bit long, but it was great seeing my friends and family again. I didn’t get nearly as much done as I wanted to or should have–I did start on redesigning my professional portfolio, as well as ecomancer.net in general, so hopefully I can launch both of those before the end of the semester (the portfolio will have to be up by February, in anticipation of Confluence and the Creative Arts Opportunity Conference).
Speaking of which, now that I’ve attended all the classes I registered for initially, I’ve finally made my decisions about what to sign up for. Initial thoughts:
CPID seminar: should be very interesting and useful. It’s with the professor I spent a few hours with when I did my campus visit, the former head of the English department–my program is cross-listed between the Schools of Design and English–and beyond simply learning how to write about design, we’re learning how to design our written communication, to gear it for specific contexts and specific users. I definitely enjoy writing, and this should be really good for me.
Intermediate Japanese: will kick my ass. Good god. The class meets 4 times a week, they already assigned homework due Tuesday, there are quizzes and essays and research projects, we have to purchase a 300-page bundle of worksheets on sale at the bookstore…if I had the time to devote to it, it would be really, really good for me, especially since the professor seems really strict (far more so than anybody at Georgia Tech ever was) and demands a lot from the students. It’s geared more towards Japanese majors/minors, people who do have the ability to focus like that (which grad students cannot). Plus, it’s hard to be in a class with people who’ve learned Japanese for a while (at least 3 semesters, if not longer) and still say “annie-may” and “man-guh” (anime and manga, or Japanese animation and comics/graphic novels). I really had to fight not to wince out loud–my friends know I really campaigned hard (but nicely!) to get them all to say it properly, and this is a huge pet peeve of mine.
Design Studio: wow. This is our Major Effort of the year, which we all knew even in August, but the first day definitely reaffirmed that. This class has historically been sponsored by Microsoft to form semester-long teams that take part in their Design Challenge–we’re one of a small handful of universities they’ve selected for this–and the winning team (decided by a MS rep who comes to see the final presentations) presents their work at Microsoft’s Design Expo in the summer. This year, though, we have both Microsoft and Motorola sponsoring us, and the Mattress Factory, a local contemporary art museum, is keen on getting some students to work on something for them. The professor who taught the class in years past is actually working for Microsoft and is our corporate liaison; this year our instructors three CMU design alums who are all successful designers.
The theme for the Microsoft Design Challenge this year is Context: Service Meets Social. I’m trying to keep that in the back of my mind at all times.
Research Methods: should be interesting. I had some very brief experience with some of them during my last job, and it should be cool to learn more. This class is tied in with our studio–we’ll be learning methods and then applying them immediately to what we’re doing in studio. The professor is one of the two I TA’d for last semester, so I feel like I know him fairly well and we do get along, which is cool.
Communicating in the Global Marketplace: I’m impressed with the class and the professor. Even from how she got to know the various students in the course and handled pronouncing their names (which can be quite touchy at times, but which she did with admirable grace), I could tell that she really knows her stuff, and the fact that several students cited enjoying working with her in previous classes as a reason for enrolling definitely helped. Our final project actually involves finding a group or company of some kind and doing some cross-cultural communication consulting work for them (which I’ve been very interested in doing from a design standpoint)–should be amazing, but I’m just concerned about the timing, because studio is going to be mad in March and April.
Rhetoric and Information Design: I’m glad I’m auditing this, for two reasons: it’ll lessen my crazy workload, while still letting me attend this class and reap what I think are going to be some great benefits. (Don’t get me wrong; I’ll still do all the readings and do the projects, but I do have the option of possibly doing the projects later if I get busy, and I will be taking advantage of that flexibility.)
I had the realization last semester that in order to be a good designer, one must be a strong and effective communicator–not just in selling your work (a lesson I totally learned during my last job, and tried to pass on to some of my students in the class I TA’d last term, who were baffled that we were so strict with them and didn’t see what relevance writing and communication has to design), but in making your work say something and make an effective statement or argument. As information designers, this is especially crucial to us, since we aren’t just making “pretty things”–we’re organizing and presenting information (which, as we established briefly today, is by definition more subjective than raw data, as we’re taking it and filtering it somewhat in order to understand it as we compose/construct our work).
Anyway, long story short: I’ve dropped Japanese, and am keeping the other five. (CPID Seminar, Studio, and Research Methods are all required anyway.) I was gutted about losing Japanese, but there’s a conversation session at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh on the 2nd and 3rd Tuesday of each month, and I got permission from Miso, the very kind and understanding Ph.D who’s teaching R&ID, to duck out 10-15 minutes early to get there on time. I went tonight, and it was actually a lot of fun, quite informative, with a friendly and eager group of adult students–essentially a reversed eikaiwa. Plus, I have the textbooks and can definitely study on my own, whenever I have the time.
There’s also my TA-ship: this semester I’ll be assisting with facilities and tech support. My first major project is setting up for the three-hour thesis paper presentation the second-years are giving on the 22nd of January. The guy who had this post last year assures me that it’s no sweat, which is a relief. (Well, that is, unless something goes wrong, haha.) Anyway, our first meeting to discuss this and my other duties is later this week.
And my campus orchestra ensembles start up this weekend. I already know I won’t have the time to stick it out with the All University Orchestra for the whole semester, but I’m the only 1st violinist who’s played (most of) Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade before, so maybe I can help out for a short while. String Theory, though, I will be sticking with, and we have our next concert in about six weeks, with another one combined with the AUO in April.
Oh, and there’s the letterpress project I worked on last semester but never finished. (It’s okay–I was just graded on what I’d done, and the instructor had no problem with my needing extra time to complete it.) I really hope I can find the time to wrap that up in the next few weeks.
Something else nice: I have very convenient breaks in my schedule that allow me to go home midday and/or hit the campus gym. I’ll definitely need the stress relief (and the exercise–it’s quite cold and snowy here, which prevents me from walking to campus (or even sprinting up the block to catch the bus, as the sidewalks may not be salted) most days, and I could stand to lose a few pounds).
For now, though, I really should sleep, as the downside of my schedule is that our Seminar course meets at 8:30 AM on Monday and Wednesday. Ugh.
Please wish me luck this semester–even tomorrow, as that’s when we’ll receive our group assignments in studio, and when we’ll learn who among our classmates we’ll be working very closely with for the next four months. I feel a lot better about this than I did about last term, now that I know how the system works here. But we’ll see how it goes. I hope I’m up for the challenge.
20 December, 2009 – 10:16 pm | Filed under daily life, personal | 2 Comments »
I really didn’t do a great job of documenting this semester. I wasn’t even really sure how to gear this blog, which didn’t help and which resulted in all those long and rambling entries. Next semester will be better, though.
It’s finally winter break. I was fortunate, in that I wasn’t ever truly stressed out–just busy, especially during this last month, and especially during the last week of classes and the week after. (And here I thought I’d have that whole week off. Ha!)
I’ll catch up on posting work–right now I’m working on redesigning my portfolio, which will include my better pieces from this term. Tomorrow I’m driving (or hoping to drive, provided the weather cooperates) to Cincinnati to visit my cousin and her newborn son for a couple of days. Happy holidays, everyone!
18 November, 2009 – 12:27 am | Filed under daily life, school | No Comments »
This is what my schedule for spring semester is looking like:
CPID Seminar II
Research Methods for Human-Centered Design
Communicating in the Global Marketplace
Rhetoric and Information Design (auditing)
Plus my assistantship: I’ll most likely be a TA again, since I think these are yearly posts, though it’ll be for a different class and different professors.
I’m fully prepared to drop Japanese if the going gets tough, and I suspect it will before long. Japanese at CMU is a lot more intensive than in my undergrad–like Georgia Tech’s classes, it meets 4 times a week, but unlike Georgia Tech, there are quizzes and essays due pretty much every week, and the students are already supposed to know 500 kanji (which is about on par with what I knew when I actually lived in Japan). Yikes!
If the JET Alumni Association Pittsburgh sub-chapter takes off next year, hopefully there’ll be meetings I can attend; one of our first proposed events is a ????? dinner, and I’ve learned there are intermediate conversation sessions at the Carnegie Library in Oakland a couple of times each month, so hopefully I can keep it up somehow. I haven’t practiced since moving to Pittsburgh, and my conversational skills have been impacted heavily these last few months.
I made the decision to audit the R&ID course just this afternoon, because I want to make the most of my rather limited time here. We’re already more or less 1/4 of the way through our grad school career, after all. Design Studio is supposed to be pretty intensive, but I did want to incorporate some visual design into my coursework somehow.
It’s hitting me that we really are in for two solid years of work. Both Thanksgiving and winter break are working holidays: with Thanksgiving, I have a paper, two projects, and a presentation due shortly after we reconvene, and with winter break, I have to hit the Japanese books hard-core and work on my resume and portfolio in anticipation of Confluence, a career fair hosted by the School of Design in February to put us in touch with employers for internships and full-time work.
And now, back to the grind…maybe with a break for meteor watching. Yay, Leonids!