Emily Lam

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

I've Been Thinking About Boredom

When I was a kid, I used to sprawl on the sofa, with my head hanging off the edge of it and my feet propped up against the backrest, and lament to my mother, "I'm bored. There's nothing to do." Of course, there was always something to do -- I could've cleaned my room -- but there was nothing I wanted to do. And when you're a kid, you can get away with not doing anything. You had time to be bored. And from that boredom, you started something new or you didn't. It was okay either way.
"The biggest problem with Twitter is that I'd be in a taxi and I'd be on Twitter and it would keep me interested. I realised I wasn't getting bored enough and [that I needed to get bored] to start plotting things and coming up with ideas." -- Neil Gaiman, The Sydney Morning Herald
This quotation appeared on my blog recently. And I get Gaiman. Nowadays, I don't have time to be bored and with my thoughts. So often, I find myself with one desire and it's to sleep. Poor time management is probably part of the reason I don't have time to sleep, let alone be bored. But another is because I'm just doing things. I'm a graduate student, which means the bulk of my time is committed to my research and coursework. There's also the daily chores, social obligations, and sometimes hobbies. And time that used to be idle, such as, bus rides, breaks, when I just wake up, right before bed, lulls in conversations, etc., are consumed by smartphone checkups, social media. 

There's isn't much time to be bored when there's a never-ending queue of things to do. Done with work? Okay, now I can relax or check out that art exhibit or write that blog post. And so, I don't plan things too far in advance. I've been taking life as it comes at me, focusing on each day, each week, each month as it arrives, and trying not get overwhelmed. But yet, my schedule fills right up. I had thought that this would help. That by living in the moment and not worrying about the future, I'd settle into some sort of relaxed and restful groove. It kind of worked, I'm not too stressed these days. But do you know what I miss? I miss hanging out with thoughts.

By living in the moment, I was moving from one thing to the next. I stopped thinking about the future and reflecting on the past. Well I didn't really want to think about the future for more than one reasons. For one, I knew I had to make a decision soon about whether I wanted to stay in school for my PhD or not and I didn't really want to think about it nor did I have the time to really ponder it. I also didn't want to think about the future because I realize the importance of living now. As for reflecting, I don't know, lack of time, not prioritizing it? I watched a Jenna Marbles video recently where she reflected on things she's learned in her 29 years on earth. She made one comment that resonated with me. She said that without reflecting, you don't get better at life.

Here's another quotation from Gaiman:
"I feel that I'm getting too dependent on phones, on Twitter [..] It's a symbiotic relationship. That instant ability to find things out, to share. I want to see what happens when I take some time off." -- Neil Gaiman, The Guardian
Everything is accessible from your smartphone. There's no process or hurdle in obtaining information. Even thoughts have become sort of just things you look up. What do I think about Climate Change? Let me look up what other people are saying. This whole post has a bunch of thoughts from other people. There are even events where you can go and listen to other people's thoughts, like TED. Recently, I went to TEDxBeaconStreet and I sat there soaking in other people's awesome thoughts instead of having my own. It was a great event, I thoroughly enjoyed it. But I do admit that it felt kind of lazy being spoon-fed thoughts, which leads to this next quotation.
"Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking." -- Albert Einstein
Einstein mentions just reading but I think it applies to all mediums where thoughts are conveyed. Based on these quotations by Gaiman and Einstein, not only do we not have adequate time to think because we are no longer bored enough to do so, we are also lazy about the way we think. (Obviously, Einstein is not condemning reading. In fact, his threshold of "too much" is probably much higher than the typical amount of reading an average person does.)

So what now? I don't know. Maybe I can dial down my social media usage and allow and prioritize some idleness in life. I've found walking to and from lab a good time to be with my thoughts -- you can't really safely use your smartphones while walking yet.

And because I like to leave some sort of media for discussion, here's a video of a Juan Enriquez's TEDx talk from TEDxBeaconStreet. I really liked his talk because he talks about how really smart people are sometimes wrong, and it's not always the fault of the individual. It's important to create a space, where we don't shame people for having 'wrong' ideas because they/we just don't know they're/we're wrong yet.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Inopportune Blogger

The last two weeks of the fall semester begins now. It is always an absolute crazy grind because the Thanksgiving break really throws off your groove. This year is no different -- although, I was little bit better than years past at getting work done. I have about a million + one things to do. And yet on the brink of all this, I decide to blog. That's who I am I guess, an inopportune blogger. Part of the reason I do it is probably just to procrastinate on more important work.

Currently, I have Everglow by Coldplay stuck in my head. It's off their new album A Head Full of Dreams. I've never really been a fan of Coldplay but I like this song. It's simple and quiet and just there. I've yet to listen to Adele's full album but the four performances I've saw on YouTube have been good. And I really like 3/4 of them. Mainstream music is on a good note right now. Even Bieber is sounding good . . . (Yes, you read that correctly.)


It's been busy and eventful and good since I last blogged. I got to hear some cool people talk: Amanda Palmer, Junot Diaz, to name a couple. I did sort of make a decision on something I've been contemplating a lot this year, mostly offline, but I'll get into that on a later post maybe. 

I was able to make my annual trip to the Arboretum though!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Happy fifth!

I almost forgot to wish my blog a happy fifth. That's all I have today. Happy fifth blog. Thanks for listening. Thanks for encouraging me to write semi-regularly. Thanks for holding onto my thoughts and memories. Maybe we'll have five more years! It's been real. =]

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Quotations Through the Years

It's been three years and some months since I've last blogged a series of quotations (the ones on my Facebook and favorites from Angelina Jolie). And in many ways, inspiring words have kept me going. Back when favorite quotations was easily accessible on Facebook, I would read each friend's favorite quotations when I we became friends with them on Facebook. I always liked learning what motivates people. So here are some new favorites (pulled mostly from my Twitter because I can't remember things off the top of my head).

"All the changes in the world, for good or for evil, were first brought about by words." -- Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

“There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you.” -- J. K. Rowling

"You can't be 'good for your age' anymore. You have to be GOOD." -- Emma Coats

"Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work." -- Chuck Close

"If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself." -- Albert Einstein

"Imagination, not intelligence, made us human." -- Terry Pratchett

"Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Make some light." -- Kate DiCamillo

"I was not inspired by old science fiction as much as I was inspired by how the future used to be seen in contrast to how it’s seen today." -- Brad Bird

"The biggest problem with Twitter is that I'd be in a taxi and I'd be on Twitter and it would keep me interested. I realised I wasn't getting bored enough and [that I needed to get bored] to start plotting things and coming up with ideas." -- Neil Gaiman

"Stay Hungry. Stay foolish." -- Steve Jobs

Sunday, September 20, 2015

/shrug, pictures and stuff

Because I haven't blogged in a while, and to get things rolling, I thought I share a couple trivial photos.
I moved across the river to Cambridge, MA. So I get to check out the Boston skyline on my way to and from BU.
Kinetic sculptures are cool! I guess South Station is pretty cool too. These are by Theo Jansen.
Downtown Portland. There's a heck of a lot of locks on this fence.
Nothing is more ominous than looking up a rocky, fog-masked, mountain cliff (Acadia, ME).
I apparently now deal with stress by shopping at Whole Foods and eating an apple on the walk there . . .
Post Script: The "G+1" icon is beyond hideous.

Friday, July 24, 2015

As If It Were Already Here

It's been awhile since I've blogged. About two months. And I still don't really feel like blogging. I think since graduating undergrad and now, I've become less concerned about my future than I used to be. There's less of a desire to chase and more of a desire to exist.

My current favorite thing about Boston right now is this giant net sculpture by Jane Echelman appropriately called "As If It Were Already Here" -- I love the name. It lights up at night and shimmers in the wind all day. I think I like it so much because of its scale and presence and passiveness. I enjoy sitting underneath it. I'm comforted by it.

What is Life?

Recently, I read an article about a kickstarter wearable for teenage girls. What I really love about this idea is the lack of a screen. It's a social and fun way to use technology to engage youths. Screens aren't always needed. It's important to remember when to not overindulge.

There's also this talk I truly would love people to see by Neil Stevenson. He talks about the general opinion toward science through the years including very recent trends and how storytelling has impacted it and what he sees for the future. Neil is passionate about this topic and I think the way he presented it was fantastic. His views also line up pretty closely with my own, just more eloquent.

Here's a cool shoe-making process video:

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Subtlety Me

Every once in a while I get these crazy ideas that I want platinum blonde hair or navy blue highlights. I get these ideas because I look at my black hair and think: boring and normal. While I've dyed my hair in the past, it's never anything too drastic or edgy, mainly blonde highlights. And that's because as much as I really want to be different, I also don't want to stand out. That's what I crave for myself: normalcy upon a glance but uniqueness upon a look.

I'm a modernist in that I like to see the items I own/encounter take up functional and purposeful shapes that exemplify the materials from which they are made of. The school of Bauhaus comes to mind: simple, functional, and elegant. But I also want these items to feel organic. I like to have a sort of harmony between us and the outside world. Think Frank Lloyd Wright. And yet, I'm also a post-modernist; I like the extra details and frills that are sometimes completely useless. The iPhone 4 is a prime example. The back glass serves no function and is super prone to cracks, but the double-sided glass is my favorite iPhone design. Finally, everything needs a bit of character, imperfections if I may.

So yes, my black hair is normal. But there's so much more behind it. My haircut is simple and functional: it doesn't fall all over my face when I'm hunch over a laptop. It's also heavily layered and organic; my hair is naturally black. And it's definitely got character. Somedays, it does what it wants and I just have to deal with it. Black hair can be boring, but everything, including boring, has a story.

So like the black hair, I make my statements against conformity in small indistinguishable ways. I wear a watch on my right hand even though I'm right-handed. With everyday sneakers, I tend toward grey, grey-black, muted yellow, navy, than straight black. I love adding details with colors. Take this blog for example, it has a very simple design that makes use of different but simple colors against a white background and of course the watercolor backdrop. My lapdesk is basically just a piece of bamboo attached to a cushion with a handle, but it's bamboo . . .

So I guess my point is that being different for the sake of being different shouldn't be my goal because my different just so happens to look, well, not different.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Inch By Inch

I ran that 5k I mentioned in the last post in 32:53 -- there's a story leading up to the race. Ask me if you're curious. All and all, it was a great marathon weekend for me. I got to cheer on two friends running this year's rainy Boston Marathon. 

Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow.
All it takes is a rake and a hoe and a piece of fertile ground.
Inch by inch, row by row, Someone bless the seeds I sow.
Someone warm them from below, 'til the rain comes tumbling down.

Pulling weeds and picking stones, man is made of dreams and bones.
Feel the need to grow my own 'cause the time is close at hand.
Grain for grain, sun and rain, find my way in nature's chain,
to my body and my brain to the music of the land.

Plant your rows straight and long, temper them with prayer and song.
Mother Earth will make you strong if you give her love and care.
Old crow watching hungrily, from his perch in yonder tree.
In my garden I'm as free as that feathered thief up there.

Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow.
All it takes is a rake and a hoe and a piece of fertile ground.
Inch by inch, row by row, Someone bless the seeds I sow.
Someone warm them from below, 'til the rain comes tumbling down.

My elementary school assistant principal use to sing us this song with her guitar. I went on a walk today thinking about life. I thought of the universe and how we're just a tiny, tiny speck in it. I thought of a simple life. I thought of hard work. I thought about moving forward, inch by inch.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Five years, exercising, et al.

The passing of time. Five years ago, I was deciding on which college to attend. It feels so long ago, but yet I'm surprised still that five years have lapsed. But it also feels right. High School is in the distant and even undergraduate is starting to get a little bit hazy. I still feel young though.

I'm running the B.A.A. 5k this year. This will be my first race in a little bit over five years. The last race I ran was in 2009, probably November-ish my senior year in high school: a cross country race. Throughout March I've been running on-off, averaging about 2-3 times a week. It does feels nice to be able to run again. I run without music, so it's just me, myself, and my thoughts. Yesterday was the first time I timed a good to honest outdoor run. And well, it was 37 minutes for about 3.3 miles. A little slower than I would have hoped. But not too bad. I have about two weeks until the race. I'd be thrilled for an under 30 minute 5k.

Since the weather warmed, which is an overstatement since it's still fairly cold, I've been prioritizing getting outdoor: running outdoor, going on walks, and riding my bike.

Post Script: Holy mackerel! It just hit me that 5 years ago, I was underaged, 17.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Incomplete thoughts on failure

Let's talk failure. I will say that I've never really failed before and that it bothers me. The advice the greats always seem to give is to don't be afraid of failure: you have to fail to succeed. For that reason, I feel as though I haven't risked anything and am not on a path to greatness, but on a path to mediocrity. By all means though, I don't wish for failure. I am not reckless.

What do you mean you haven't failed? What's failure? Metaphorically, failure, I think, is when a step backwards happens; to lose something, progress, that was once there. If you are currently on block 5 in a board game, failure is to be reverted to block 1, block 0, block -5. The opposite of success, of moving forward. Inverse matter (yuck, inverse matter, that sounds gross and complex, bad analogy.). When I didn't get into Brown University or get those internships, I didn't fail. Sure, I was disappointed and didn't get what I wanted. But I didn't fail: it was a brief moment of stagnation. My life didn't move backwards. Flunking an exam? I didn't have that knowledge to begin with. And things that didn't work out, I never put in the effort or progress for it to count.

The work I am doing right now for graduate school is difficult. I feel like I'm constantly playing catch up like I'm "half-drowning" or "floundering." But maybe this is the moment in my life where I keep pushing despite the hardship and accept whatever result I end up with. And that maybe all this effort and movement in one direction will pay off or maybe it will be for naught. But hey, I gave it shot.

Oh and Happy π day! =]

Sunday, March 01, 2015

What the Hell Part III

Part III? What? If you care, use the haphazard blogger search function. Recently, it's all been about music that keeps me focus in lab, which translates to cohesive albums or playlists with no need to skip songs. In no particular order:

Swan Lake, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Tchaikovsky is probably my favorite composer in the "classical" genre. I've been listening to the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra's version of Swan Lake just because it's on Spotify.

Joe Hisaishi's Budokan concert is great. It's a medley of pieces he's composed for Studio Ghibli films. Fantastic.

Fall Out Boy. They have a new album: American Beauty/American Psycho. But I just play their entire discography on Spotify. They're the kind of music that just pumps you up. 

Like rap music! I usually listen to Eminem before taking an exam. But while working, happy rap like Scott & Brendo's stuff is cool.

Recently, I saw Song of the Sea, great film. So I've been listening to the soundtrack from that by Bruno Coulais, Kíla et al. It's got a Gaelic overtone. Great stuff! Go see the film. Go listen to the music. Go enjoy Song of the Sea!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

I updated the RAM on my Macbook Pro =|

It's a bittersweet day: I have just prolonged the life of my Macbook Pro by updating from 4GB of RAM to 8GB of RAM. The irrational side of me wants new gear! But the rational side is like $85.00 for more years out of your current system is way more reasonable than spending $2000 on new gear ($2000 because I pay a premium for Apple stuff and because I'm going to max off the specs, duh. I'm eyeing a 16GB of RAM system!). But I want new gear . . .

It was actually on sale for $79.00.
It was a pretty simple process: unscrew a couple of screws, lift the lid, pop out the old RAM, and snap in the new RAM. I'm currently running some memory tests to make sure the RAM is good. But so far, everything seems a-okay.

It's that patch of green with 8 rectangles (ICs).
My current specs for my Macbook Pro stand at:

Processor: 2.66 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
Ram: 8GB DDR3 1067 MHz
Harddrive: 320GB (5400-rpm)
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 320M 256 MB

Yes, everything is on the older side. I could use a new processor and a solid state hard drive would probably make things a lot more snappier and I could probably run more graphics intensive applications with a new graphics card. But it's nothing I can't live with. Despite wanting new gear, I'm pretty attached to this Macbook. It got me through undergrad! So the RAM upgrade was needed. It's also the easiest thing to upgrade; my system was really starting to crawl: I was regularly seeing the beachball of death . . .  And here I am bittersweet.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Ideal Getaway

I went on a 2.5 day ski trip (I didn't ski; I snowboarded, but ski just rolls off the tongue more eloquently) this past weekend at Stowe, Vermont. It was just the second time I went out to the mountains to snowboard. I've never gone to the mountains in the winter before this year -- my family doesn't partake in sports like skiing/snowboarding/tubing/etc. and they also don't particularly like being out in the cold. But I'm different and adventurous. As long as I have the right gear, being out in the cold is a pleasant time. I've gone snowboarding twice now, and I'm hooked! I'm still a beginner -- green circle status -- but I've got the basic gist of it down: I can feather down a steep hill, ride straight, turn left and right, carve accidentally, and sometimes ride goofy.

During my repetitive ride-fall, ride-fall routine, it dawned upon me how nice it would be to live out there, outside the hub of a city, away from the worldly distractions and constant chatter. I couldn't help imagine how wonderful it would be to live in a small house in the mountains, peacefully watch the snow, sip a hot beverage, and go snowboarding on whim. And then to go hiking and star gazing in the warmer seasons. And of course to take in the fresh growth and foliage of the in-between seasons. It seemed like the perfect place to live, especially since my current life is so draining.

But then I remembered my needs. I need to make a living and contribute to the world in some form. Out there in the semi-isolated world would not be where I would be able to do those things. For other people, yes. But not for me. I am not a writer, an inn keeper, a farmer or an artisan. I am an engineer; I work in teams to design, innovate, and create technology for the betterment of society. No quiet mountain side community would welcome the intrusion of the super contrasting industrial nature of an engineering company or research facility. So far now, I will just have to reserve that wonderful, peaceful, ideal for vacations, escapes, which is quite a luxury in itself, because I get a taste of both worlds.

Edit, March 22nd, 2015: Saw this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sadOfmkTtpw

Thursday, January 01, 2015

2015 Offers A Fresh Start

Hello 2015, you wonderful, baggage-free, empty new year. Hello, Hello, Hello.