Emily Lam

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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Boston Strong

So many things transpired in Boston these past two weeks, climaxing with the Boston Marathon Bombings. It's all a little hard to swallow. But I would still like to take a moment to describe what happened, with pictures to help illustrate the emotional roller coaster Bostonians experienced.

So let's take it back to the day before my last post.

April 13th was a day of volunteering for many Boston University students, including myself. The 13th would be BU's annual global day of service (GDS), where current students and alumni rack north of 20,000 hours of service in one day. It's safe to say, many people were excreting positive vibes from a nice day of community service -- I know I was after a day of yard work at Spontaneous Celebrations.

April 14th was the day before the Boston Marathon. This was was a day of nervousness and carbo-loading for many runners. Everyone was gearing up for the marathon the next day. Students worked on assignments, knowing full well that they wouldn't have time to study tomorrow. Unfortunately, they wouldn't know until tomorrow afternoon that they wouldn't be able to study for different reasons than they anticipated: terror, disbelief, and sorrow. One of the things I did on April 14th was make a sign for my friend Anastasia, who was running her first Boston Marathon. I'm sure across Massachusetts, many family and friends were making signs of support.

April 15th was the day of the Boston Marathon. The above picture show the elite male runners. This was around mile 20, and let me tell you, they were still sprinting: my camera's shutter was not fast enough to capture entirety of the lead runner in time. I only got his leg. It's very exciting to see the elite runners from all around the world racing here in Boston.

And of course, non elite runners are just as fun to watch, including the charity runners, some of which sport costumes I wouldn't be able to last a hot day in, let alone run 26.2 miles. It's truly an inspiration to watch the runners go by; you marvel at their toughness and applaud and cheer them on -- they've worked so hard, you must cheer them on and prevent them from craving to their own self doubt. There's a quotation going around by Scott Dickey:
“They attacked the wrong industry. If you think about what it takes to qualify for the Boston Marathon, you’re talking about people that are pretty tough and pretty gritty already. They are used to being able to overcome, withstand and resist trauma.”
I think this rings loud and true. When you watch the runners pass by, you get a sense that they are the people who have the discipline to overcome and withstand any hardship.

All along the 26.2 mile route there are crowds of people cheering the runners on. It's quite a jubilant atmosphere. Everyone was having a good time, the runners and the spectators. None could predict what would happen next.

Within half an hour of the bombing, the marathon route was evacuated. Some 4,000 runners did not finish. And the city went into high alert. Shock engulfed Boston. But that did immobilize the spirit of Boston. The response in the aftermath of the bombings was incredible. The first responders were on top of the situation. Bostonians offered up their homes to stranded marathoners. Social media immediately took on the task of organizing the situation: connecting loved ones, spreading important information quickly, and informing those outside of Boston of the situation. And those who could not help physically cooperated and stayed out of the way. There was not a sense of chaos. It was very beautiful how the city of Boston reacted. I am impressed and proud to be a part of Boston.

But despite all the strength, everyone was sober and full of grief. This is a location that probably would not have finished celebrating until the early AM of tuesday. But atlas it was dead.

April 16th was a day of mourning. As the death and injury count started to come in, everyone had some relation to a victim of the bombings. The three deaths were all young people with promise. The events of the day before were starting to digest. And the realization that the city had been compromised seeped in. What plagued the next couple of days I think was more chaotic than the actual bombing. There was an uncomfortable uncertainty in everybody. Although everybody remained strong and vigilant as they tried to return to normalcy. But it took it's toll, people were weary.  The bombers had yet to be captured. And everybody was extra cautious and still on edge. Every hint of suspicious activity was called in. For me, it was the sirens that wore me out. The sirens continued nonstop, and it really eats at you. 

Just when things were starting to settle, a string of horrible events occured continuously starting Thursday evening. An MIT officier was shot by the suspects of the bombers and a massive car chase and manhunt followed. The death of the MIT officer was the tipping point for me; I was really tired and worn. I decided to sleep in hopes that when I woke all would be better -- I was set to volunteer at BU's open house. How wrong was I though. When I woke, I learned that one of the suspects was dead. And the city of Boston and surrounding towns were in lockdown and a manhunt was ensuing. And the sirens didn't stop. It did feel like a movie at times. The city was eerily quiet. I applaud the city of Boston for cooperating with the law enforcers and taking the lockdown seriously. Eventually, they got the guy.

There was an incredible display of strength throughout this entire ordeal. Law enforcers and reporters worked straight with little to no sleep. Everyone from the top politicians to us students took the events seriously. And the outpouring of support from everyone was incredible. Boston has deep roots of strength from the colonial days and I am so glad they are still present.

Even now, when Boston has returned to normalcy, people haven't forgotten the victims. People gather at Copley Square to pay their respects. To contribute to the strength and to support one another.

And all these, the spirit, the strength, the support, the pride, and the resolve, are what makes Boston such a special and unique city.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Obligatory Semester Update

I've made a big deal in the past about making a post on update of current semester. I don't really feel like talking about my classes this semester. But I'll do it anyways, since it's kind of an unwritten rule now. So here it is:

I'm taking five courses this semester: two of them are low level graduate electrical engineering courses: Intro to Photonics and Power Electronics for Energy Systems, one is physical recreation course: Kung  Fu, one is a visual arts course: Visual Arts Drawing, and the last is a regular electrical engineering course: Intro to Digital Signal Processing (DSP).

While I don't have a clear cut favorite course this semester, I do really like power electronics, drawing, and kung fu. Power electronics, I wish I had more time to put into it. It's getting neglected more than I desire. Power electronics is lab intensive though, which has made me realize that I like to just sit in lecture and absorb information. I think absorbing is much easier to do when tired than replicating. I think tired describes this semester well. I'm not really at full potential, just tired all the time. The reason I don't have time for power electronics is mainly because DSP takes up so much time. And the best part: I'm also doing pretty bad in DSP. Yay. Photonics is just a normal class. Kung fu and drawing are nice in that you don't have to bring the course home with you; there's no homework. You can just enjoy the class and not have to worry about it beyond the class. It's nice.

Shrug, that's all I have for this semester. But don't get me wrong, I don't dislike any of these courses. In fact, I find them all interesting and I enjoy them all, even the time-comsuming DSP. I just don't have much to say.

Here are my past updates:
Freshmen Fall
Freshmen Spring
Sophomore Fall
Sophomore Spring
Junior Fall

Tuesday, April 09, 2013


Blackbird by the Beatles
Blackbird singing in the dead of night,
Take these broken wings and learn to fly,
All your life,
You were only waiting for this moment to arise. 
Blackbird singing in the dead of night,
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see,
All your life,
You were only waiting for this moment to be free. 
Blackbird fly,
Blackbird fly,
Into the light of the dark black night. 
Blackbird fly,
Blackbird fly,
Into the light of the dark black night. 
Blackbird singing in the dead of night,
Take these broken wings and learn to fly,
All your life,
You were only waiting for this moment to arise. 
You were only waiting for this moment to arise,
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.
This song, in various versions, has been stuck in my head all week. Here's a Gaelic cover by Julie Fowlis that I really like. I wish the audience would just shut it though because it sounds so nice live.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

The Door Metaphor

When I think of opening doors, I think of opening doors to opportunities. Opportunities that lie beyond the open doors. So throughout my life, I've opened doors: I've done things so that I could do other things. Some doors were easy to open. And some were hard to open: requiring hard work, skill, and luck, similar to how one solves a riddle to open a door to a new dungeon in a video game. Closing doors was something I hated doing. Of course, I could always re-open a door but that would take time. I would even try my best to enter doors that would allow me easy access to the doors I've already opened. That way I would not be limiting my choice of available open doors.

But I feel like I've hit a standstill. Of course I haven't opened all the doors out there. But I feel like I can't just keep opening doors and going into doors that keep all my other open doors easily accessible. I am getting restless. I want to enter a door that might not allow me easy access to my previous doors. And maybe even a door that will close behind once I've entered or somehow trigger other doors to close. But I know for a fact that I must enter one of those such doors eventually; where my dreams lie are beyond those doors. And if I continue to just keep opening doors and not entering them, I won't ever reach my goal. So I feel like it's time I walk across the threshold.

What lies beyond those doors do look promising though. It's become a matter of which door to choose. Choosing a random door might be what I end up doing but I'd like to choose wisely. And maybe, it doesn't matter which door I enter. If I keep persevering and trying, maybe I'll end up at the same place regardless of which door I choose. Maybe I'm being dramatic and this choice doesn't even matter!

Yes, I think that's what I will choose to believe. Whatever door I take, as long as I honestly like it and keep true to myself -- as in don't choose a door that looks dreadful beyond -- it'll probably take me to the same place. I should just enjoy the experience of whatever it is that door I choose to enter has to offer. And I shouldn't be afraid that other doors might close and that I will be limiting my opportunities. I can always reopen them. And maybe those doors will reappear opened somewhere down the path.

What I got after writing this post is that I need to stop over thinking everything . . .

Monday, April 01, 2013

Being Naïve

When I was younger, my friends use to say things like this to me: "emily, you're so naïve." I would reply defensively, "no, I'm not." They would then say, "we mean it in a good way." And I wouldn't believe them. I would try to spew out some obscure example proving I was not naïve, to which they would nod and say, "sure, emily."

That was how I think most of my friends viewed me growing up. I was the naïve one. And even now, I still do think they think that, even my newer friends. So maybe I am naïve . . .

Being naïve, however, was never a compliment for me. Even now, when I have come to think of being called nerdy as much more of a compliment than being called cool, I don't find naïve something I like to be described as. I don't take offensive to it though. It's just, let's see, the definition for naïve from the Oxford English Dictionary is this:
Originally: natural and unaffected; artless; innocent. Later also: showing a lack of experience, judgement, or wisdom; credulous, gullible
So I guess all those things was/is me. But as you can see from the definition, being naïve is not something people, at least me, strive to be. I didn't want to be naïve. I wanted to be learned, cultured, and wise.

There were advantages of being naïve though. I looked back and realized that my naïvety allowed me to do so many things, things that people who were learned would not do, things present day me probably would not do. Because I was naïve, I wasn't afraid of many things. Not knowing the hard truths of our world meant that I could aspire to be a great pianist, I could write a novel, and I could invent a flying skateboard and/or candy that was both great tasting and healthy. I always thought I would succeed if I tried. I had naïve thoughts. I wasn't fearful; I would jump from the top of a 20ft high slide post when I was 3 ft tall for funs, seemingly unaware of the dangers of broken bones. I was hopeful: I would believe I could draw my own comics without realizing how terrible they were and how much it looked like bad, really bad, imitations of stereotypical mangas. And I wasn't afraid to try new things: I joined the gymnastic team in high school as someone who had never done gymnastic before and was not embarrassed. In a way, being naïve freed me to do the things I wanted.

I didn't realize how incapable I was until college, when I had become more learned of our society. And that's when I started to limit myself. I started to believe that I could do only one thing, that is become an engineer -- I was good at math and science and had a decent imagination, so becoming an engineer would be where I would succeed. I embraced any part of myself that was engineering worthy and casted the other parts aside, put them in the limelight. I was actually at one point concerned that I wasn't focused enough on engineering. I did however cling to my dream of one day becoming an Imagineer. And because of that I didn't completely eradicate myself of my other interest because I knew an Imagineer was someone who was learned in multiple subjects. But that is not the right reasons to chase and participate in things. You should participate in them because you have a joy in them and not because you need them for a job. And recently, I have rediscovered my joys for things non-engineering. I am enroll in an Drawing class and I really like. I'm also taking kung fu classes which I really like as well.

The way I described the pros of naïvety reminds me of what J. K. Rowling once said in her Harvard commencement speech that:
So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.
I think it's a shame that our society limits us so much. That to be learned and wise in our society means that you know how to choose the safest and most successful career, and how to manuer your path in life to obtain that career, that you had the self-dicipline to deprive yourself from going out and staying in to study. That doing what you want is something naive people and those who have failed do. That it takes some form of suffering to be freed from our societies bounds. That in itself is sad.