Wednesday, April 29, 2009


i've heard it many times this year - boston skips the spring and goes directly from winter to summer. i can sure believe that. i think it was only a few weeks ago that it still snowed, and last week there was a bit of the 50's, then today it was 90.

our seasons jump from extreme to extreme in the blink of an eye. earlier this month, we would jump at any temperature above 40, to throw a bbq, to go outside and toss disc while the sun was setting and before the cold started creeping in again. soon, it will be the cool nights that are savored, like tonight - a crack of the window will let in the breeze, perfectly cool for only a few days before the heat of summer bears down on boston.

living here is almost tragically poetic. you never really get what you want, and when you do, it's so brief. yet over the years you realize that it is the rarity of the good times that make them that much more precious.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

senses revelations

yesterday i made a connection between knowledge acquired from work and a long known and previously little understood childhood phenomena. when someone is nearsighted as a kid, they often try to put off getting glasses by making a telescopic lens with the fingers - you put your fingers together to make a tiny hole, and looking through that allows you to focus on objects farther than before.

well, i've been wearing these backup glasses that are a bit uncomfortable, so yesterday on the bus i took them off and was staring out into the great blurry beyond, when i thought how nice it would be if my eyes could focus mechanically like the lenses we have in our lab. then i took my hands and made that hole and looked through it to improve the focus. then i realized that eyes are exactly like lenses. in my case, because the focus mechanism was broken, the only way was to decrease the aperture, and when you have a small aperture, the depth of focus increases. so essentially by looking through my fingers, i have a smaller aperture, which allows my lens, set permanently to a focus of about 1 foot, to now have a range of focus from 1 foot to several meters.

understanding the human body only after understanding a mechanical system designed after a natural system is fun.

the other thing is, this morning and for many mornings in the past, i always get awakened on the bus by the last person getting off, because i have earphones on and couldn't hear when the bus stops and people start to shuffle as they're getting off. i guess that means my sense of the location of the bus is based purely on hearing and not on other things, like an internal clock or the motion of the bus (maybe some unique combination of turns and stopping that happens only at the end.) that also means even when i'm sleeping, the sense of hearing must be half awake, kind of like dolphins who sleep with one eye open all the time.

Friday, April 24, 2009

garden closeout

today before leaving work i decided to drop by the lexington gardens to see if there were any cheap pots/soil that i could buy. after driving around lexington for about 15 minutes and being lost, i finally found it, but it was completely abandoned and deserted. there was a sign on the door that said "closed" and some notices, probably foreclosures or whatever.

then i'm searching on craigslist for a posting i saw earlier in the day for free soil. i find the posting, and right under it was another posting that said:

Greenhouse/Garden Center Structures, equipment, items (93 Hancock St Lexington MA)
Reply to: [Errors when replying to ads?]
Date: 2009-04-24, 10:06AM EDT

Public Sale of Greenhouse/Garden Center Structures, equipment, & Items

Looks like the garden went out of business and was put on sale ON CRAIGSLIST yesterday. :( and here i drove all that way expecting to buy some stuff. maybe i can get some cheap things, including:

Greenhouse $1000 each (they're pretty huge)
* The Historic John Millican Barn. Approx. This is a large two-story, hip roofed barn with a center gable and a huge off-center brick chimney. It is clad with siding, roofed with asphalt shingles, and has a 2½ story gambrel-roofed rear addition. Approximate Year Built: 1940. Note: additions and changes to the barn exterior have obscured the original structure . Best Offer.
what do they expect, me to cart it away?
* Bathroom sinks. Best offer.
* Toilets. Best offer.
* Fencing (wood) along store front. Best offer.

What has this economy done to our society? how many innocents must suffer?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

student life

when i joined Lake Washington Technical College for online courses, it felt almost wrong to enroll in a "college" and take the easy courses to be able to compete in taekwondo. I almost felt guilty for using them to achieve my athletic goals.

after last night, i don't think i need to hide my student status at all. LWTC is truly a full time collegiate workload. even though the subject matter doesn't come anywhere near a place like MIT, it's still taking a fuckload of my time.

yesterday i found myself in the athena cluster, late at night, working on my pset for my business finance class. actually, the exact words i used were "in the computer cluster doing my homework". it's been a long time since my hax0r days at MIT.

of course, i finished the work pretty quickly, and after scanning the textbook, it was obvious that business finance is a practical/applied course rather than all your theoretical and math based MIT courses. a quick snap of my excel whip and i had a fancy spreadsheet to submit. and california being 3 hours behind our time here, i submitted my work to my team at 7 pm, five hours ahead of the midnight deadline.

it's ironic that in order to do taekwondo, i am spending a much larger portion of my time doing schoolwork which has occasionally dipped into taekwondo time. if i can schedule my time a little better, i might be able to maintain both. but for the upcoming weekend there's two projects and a take home exam, in addition to two sets of web tutorials for tonight. i don't see it being a problem, just a painful time sink that will eat away at my video game time.

it is a bit weird, coming back to school (sort of) after working, because your sense of time has almost reached the adult level of bedtime at/before midnight, so when i'm in the student center at 10 it feels late. but it also makes me appreciate how much free time i had since graduation - and also how much free time a student could have if they did work 9-5, because when i was at MIT i think i did work at the same time i'm doing now, late at night, after tkd practice. what the heck did i do during the day?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

no such thing as a free house

my real estate ventures have fallen through again. i knew it that day when i was joking around that we're talking about this property too much, that it would disappear again. but the first time, there were some title issues that the sellers ended up having to take the house off the market. at least that ended our nonfunctional relationship with the seller's agent.

recently, around the end of february, the house came back on the market quietly, and jordan managed to home in on the listing. we got fredson in on the transaction as our real estate agent. he was a miracle worker, knowing the ins and outs of the business much better than we did, and having the time to actually contact all the parties involved and make negotiations.

but then we get another email from john of the lenders, that their lawyers had received something from the seller's lawyers about a court appeal:


Please be advised that this probably won't close on 5/19/09. This asset
falls under the category of a recent Land Court decision regarding
Assignment of Mortgages. The AOM is dated May 27, 2008 and the 1st
publication was 2/21/08. As of right now the assignment is ineffective.

On Friday, April 17, 2009 the decision of Judge Long was argued and they
Judge decided that they needed more time to make up their minds. They
gave it another 30 days. We do not know if the decision will be
overturned and even if it is it will be a least another 30 days until it



so effectively, the bank that was trying to sell this house didn't actually have the rights to it. so looks like we'll be getting a big fat deposit back, but no house to work on.

next time i'm going to buy an actual house that isn't in some sketchy neighborhood with some sketchy foreclosure deal.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

mrs tripp

my piano teacher, mrs. linda tripp, died yesterday.

she was like a grandmother to me. she molded how i grew up, since i knew her when i was a quiet, unsmiling 8 year old, to the day i graduated from high school (and then some, on the occasional visit). she pushed me to become better than i knew how to be. she kept me modest and appreciative of talent, of which i had some but not alot, and gave me the gift of music that so few people can have. we also shared other things - her son was also a phi sig at mit, back in '67, so it's like we are brothers in a strange way.

i don't even remember the last thing i ever said to her. i took two girlfriends to meet her, both now ex's. i played the violin at a piano performance even though my strong suit is definite not violin. i played my personal favorite song (beethoven's moonlight sonata) in my junior year and her personal favorite song for me (claire de lune) my my senior recital, making many old ladies tear up in the process. at the time i didn't quite feel as emotional as they did - to me it was just a part of growing up, i knew that my last concert was supposed to be grand and emotional and i played the part. then and now i knew that it wasn't like rachmaninoff's last performance. that was a story she always told me, though i can't remember if it was rachmaninoff or some other grand russian pianist - "even among those great big russian men there wasn't one who didn't have a tear in his eye", she would say in her spunky 90 year old southern accent.

she'd always remind me how i'd walked in the first day, "knee high to a duck" and with a great big scowl on my face. there was the first day she said something, i don't remember what, that supposedly made me smile for the first time, and it had been like a year since i'd started. there were the songs i'd played technically well, but which were "about as interesting as a piece of dried toast." and she'd always remind me of that quote, i think it was one of her favorites.

many of my parents' friends started taking their kids to her after i joined. i was a beacon of asian achievement amongst our little circle of immigrant families, and i was mrs. tripp's first asian student. she's a very open minded person and she'd love to learn about chinese culture, she'd sometimes refer to the young asian students as "the little Chinese". She'd pronounce my father's colleague, Dr. Liang, as Lee-ong with the most southern accent possible, and you could easily imagine her as a southern belle growing up in a very American family in the 20's. she'd always tell the story of how when he first took his son to the piano lesson, and saw the photo book my mom had given her of pictures of me, Dr. Liang immediately took the book and sat down on the floor and started flipping through it. She got a kick out of that story.

i hadn't visited or called the last two years or so i'd been home. each visit would have lasted hours - sometimes it tested my ability to keep conversing, to stay awake, to keep showing interest. but when i left it was always a mix of relief and happiness that i could have spent that time with her, at least making her happy, and at least keeping me grounded in the world i grew up in. she'd say "bobby, if you ever dare change, i'm going to come after you with a bat." there were some times when i knew i had changed, but didn't want to say it, and wanted to become the same person i was when i left for college.

i guess she's gone now. i had always wondered if she'd continue teaching piano forever. i think i got the best years of her teaching - she was still able to play along on the keyboard when i started, and she gave me the wisest advice when i grew up.

i wish i could have spent some more time with her, maybe with my camera. but i guess i'll have my memories, and what's left of my music.

there's a website, "days with my father", that i read today (thanks to christine) that's just as emotional. it makes you think about death, and being with people as much as you can. sometimes i find myself going through life interacting as little as possible - in the gym, i'm in my own world with earphones. in the office, i eat at your desk and read reddit. at taekwondo, sometimes i stretch in a corner, sometimes i focus on my kicks instead of other people, and after practice i don't get to say hi to everyone. maybe not any time soon with anyone here, but one day, we all realize that each moment to talk to someone had flown by and maybe, if you're lucky, you are left with a pictorial that only makes you wish you could be with them again.

boston springtime

it's almost springtime. you can feel it in the air. the cold still creeps in at night but now when you look on the weather forecast there's a good chance there will be a bright sun and temperatures above the 50s. yes, this means boston is getting over the winter.

last weekend i had the first barbeque of the year. it was really satisfying to fire up some coals and hear the burgers sizzle on the grill. i brought back the usual suspects - pineapple skewers, which keep the guests busy helping you make them - and baked butternut squash, which tastes like work but is the easiest thing to make. and of course, sangria, which i used to try as hard as i could to keep the mit kids from turning the barbeque into a psetting party.

another sure sign is that the soil is starting to show life again. i've bought about 10 different types of herb and plant seeds - thyme, rosemary, sage, cilantro, mint, basil, etc etc. and they're barely growing, but growing nonetheless, probably because my kitchen's too cold. then i went out and bought a bag of gladiolus and a bag of lilium - i love bulbs - and my kitchen has now been converted to a green house full of pots with small bulbs poking through. i ran out of space inside so i dug up a small plot outside - good thing i'm on the first floor - and planted two rows of gladiolus. when they die, that will be replaced by garden vegetables.

there was also awesome news from mit. they are building a community garden on the west garage roof and running a lottery for small patches of land. these are still parking spaces, but they will also be selling "Earth Boxes" which help store and regulate soil for planting. i've entered and i hope to get a small patch, even though it will be all the way on the west garage.

it brings back memories of childhood - when we lived at E.S. King Village, and were able to rent a patch of land in a nearby field where people grew all kinds of huge vegetables, and there were mulberry trees in the rows between plots. we grew cucumbers and squash and tomatoes. that's the time when i started obsessing about gardening, and would spend hours at the NC State library reading gardening books, discovering what combinations of plants (tomato and basil, corn and beans) grow well together, daydreaming about composting and growing legumes to replenish the soil.

when spring time comes (the mit season is set from memorial day, may 25, to labor day, september 7), i'll hopefully have a city garden again.

Monday, April 6, 2009

mickey breakdances

another reason to love mickey mouse. he stays in character too.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

cambridge parking

april fools made me the biggest fool of the year. this whole week i was thinking "when april comes around we're going to have to watch out for street cleaning and towing." then when march 31 came and went i lost track of the date and the day of the week. when i biked home from work on wednesday, happy that i had avoided any office pranks, i realized that it was April, and it was wednesday, and i either parked on the wednesday or thursday side.

my car wasn't there. i did park on the wednesday side.

later last night i made a familiar trip to pat's towing. i hate tow lots. they should be a service, not a punitive predatory operation. they're like debt collectors - they take something precious from you to get something precious. i'm so used to picking up my car from a tow lot that i'm almost cheery when i enter the office, which surprises them every time. i ask whether they got a lot of cars on april fool's day, and they briskly reply "37 cars today." that's more than $3000...three grand a day for taking other peoples' property.

this morning, i was parked on the thursday side of the street, which was empty because everyone moved their cars to the wednesday side. i got up at 7:40 to drive around to look for a spot, but of course no one leaves for work that early, and the other half of the neighborhood was also driving around looking for spots. after 15 minutes circling in my neighborhood, i just parked my car at the edge of my street, almost into the crosswalk. i figured that the police were more interested in towing cars parked on the street cleaning side rather than someone parked slightly too far out. the funny thing is, there were about three tow trucks from pat's towing doing their thing, circling and looking for victims. i actually saw a car that i recognized (because it was beat up and had decals) being towed. that guy is going to be pissed.

the only redeeming thing from yesterday was that i bought a pair of pants from express with a $10 sale and another $10 coupon. and the gay salesman commented to me, "oh my god i'm so jealous. you have one of THOSE. i do not have one of those." (he meant i had a butt.)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


i can feel it. the end of the season is coming up fast, and the outcome will be determined very soon. this year the fight for the first ever ECTC cup will be epic. there will be no small victories - it will be a blowout on whichever side wins. and neither team can afford to lose.

i feel that the wild days of "the sport taekwondo club at MIT" are gone. today, our forms are a bit less thunderous, our competition workouts are a bit less hellish, our cheers are dimmer and our sweat and tears are a little more dry. but it's just because i am an old fogey whose nostalgia stems from memories that have faded and become legend. there will never be a documentary to remember the days we clawed our way to the INCTL cup, then again the next year. then a third and fourth time where there was less clawing and more bulldozing. but it's good that the documentary will exist only in our memories, because the truth is that we probably kick and kiyup just as loudly today. we tremble in the same way before stepping into the ring. we force down the salad and turn the treadmill up just as high to make weight. when we win, we feel pride also, but not the pride of a ragtag, wild bunch of up-and-coming taekwondo contenders, but of an experienced team calm with the experience of years of defeat and victory.

i am planning a documentary again, and this time i hope to capture the lives of mit competitors while they strive for the top. whether it gets made and put into our archived histories, that will depend on my ability to handle a camera and a storybook. whether it is a monument to our achievements and an inspiration to the posterity, that will be up to the members of mit sport taekwondo.