Monthly Archives: March 2010

A Quarter in Beijing

I just got settled into the international student dorm (read: hotel) at Peking University (PKU), where I’ll be spending the rest of my junior year. Since the Great Firewall of China won’t let me get on Facebook, I’ll post pictures and updates on this blog throughout the quarter.

After spending over 30 hours on planes and in airports, I’m pretty glad to finally be able to leave my baggage unattended and get some rest. On the plus side, today I discovered an airline that stands head-and-shoulders above any other I’ve flown, bar none: Korean Air.

What makes Korean Airlines the best airline in the world?

1. Comfortable seats – So. Much. Legroom. It made me wish I were taller, just so I could take better advantage of the ample airspace between me and the screaming baby ahead of me.

2. Thoughtful service – The (seemingly) all-female flight crew swarmed us, offering complimentary water bottles, headphones, hot towels, steamed bread, pineapple juice, and just about anything else you could ever want or need on a 13-hour trans-Pacific flight. They adjusted the blinds in sync to get everyone accustomed to the time zone at our destination, Seoul-Incheon International Airport. They even put disposable toothbrushes and toothpaste in the lavatories. Did I mention the flight crew?

3. Free in-flight entertainment – “Hollywood Hits,” games, music, and kids options––all free. I witnessed The Invention of Lying and Twilight: New Moon… OK, bad example. I also read Camus’s The Stranger, which was more exciting than both movies combined.

After years of flying domestic carriers and running around domestic airports, I realized today that Korea has us beat, at least when it comes to traveling in style. Seoul International Airport was all class, with lounges and comfortable waiting areas, open even to the commoners without 7 million frequent flyer miles to their name. Even the walkways for getting on and off planes were all-glass and infinitely more inviting than their gloomy American counterparts.

I met up with 6 other Stanford students at Gate 21 in Seoul, and a quick 2-hour flight later, we were taxiing into the terminal in Beijing. Peking University sent a bus with 4 students to pick us up and act as impromptu tour guides. We passed the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube, artifacts of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, on our way to the PKU campus, and finally arrived at the dorm around 10PM.

Orientation starts tomorrow at 10AM. I can’t wait.

-Joel

Our common room - The room consists of 2 singles, a bathroom, and this shared space.

My room at PKU

Inscription on the free backpack waiting in our rooms. (Translation: Stanford Program at Peking University)

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Are You A Procrastinator?

Stanford philosophy professor (and 1980s Soto RF) John Perry has discovered “an amazing strategy… that converts procrastinators into effective human beings, respected and admired for all that they can accomplish and the good use they make of time.”

He calls his theory “Structured Procrastination.

How does it work?

Picture the To Do list you keep on your Windows 7/Mac OS X desktop, on your iCal/iGoogle, on an explosion of Post-Its all over your workspace, wherever. Now imagine doing everything EXCEPT the 2 or 3 most important tasks on that list. How much have you actually accomplished?

Not much, you might say, considering that you didn’t do what you most needed to get done. But if your To Do list was organized correctly––i.e.,  in line with the tenets of Structured Procrastination––you’ve probably never had a more productive day.

The key to Perry’s theory lies in the structure of the To Do list. Most people organize their list in order of importance, with the most important tasks (“Sign up for classes”) on top, moderately important tasks (“Brush my teeth”) in the middle, and trivial tasks (“Brush my dog’s teeth”) on the bottom. Note that a To Do item doesn’t have to be on top of the list to be well worth doing; working on these “less important” tasks becomes a way to put off working on the first few items on the list. And by putting tasks that only SEEM important and urgent (e.g., “Write a blog entry”, “Check my PO Box”) on top of the list, you can make progress on the tasks that really matter.

I don’t know if this game plan works for everyone, but I know I’ve been using a similar strategy for a long time. I’ll work on my research to avoid writing a paper, or make a flyer for ASES to skirt a trip to the post office, or plan out my classes for next quarter to escape packing. Try it out. Sometimes self-deception can be a very powerful tool.

-Joel

P.S. A word of warning from Perry…

Procrastinators often follow exactly the wrong tack. They try to minimize their commitments, assuming that if they have only a few things to do, they will quit procrastinating and get them done. But this goes contrary to the basic nature of the procrastinator and destroys his most important source of motivation. The few tasks on his list will be by definition the most important, and the only way to avoid doing them will be to do nothing. This is a way to become a couch potato, not an effective human being.

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Study Break

In honor of finals week at Stanford, check out the work of some of the world’s best test-takers. (Courtesy of Mom)



And if you really want to procrastinate, read on…

Dr. Schambaugh, of the University of Oklahoma School of Chemical Engineering, is known for asking questions such as, “Why do airplanes fly?” on his final exams. His one and only final exam question in May 1997 for his Momentum, Heat, and Mass Transfer II class was: “Is hell exothermic or endothermic? Support your answer with proof.”

Most of the students wrote proofs of their beliefs using Boyle’s Law or some variant. One student, however, wrote the following:

“First, we postulate that if souls exist, then they must have some mass. If they do, then a mole of souls can also have a mass. So, at what rate are souls moving into hell and at what rate are souls leaving? I think we can safely assume that once a soul gets to hell, it will not leave.

Therefore, no souls are leaving. As for souls entering hell, let’s look at the different religions that exist in the world today. Some of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, then you will go to hell. Since there are more than one of these religions and people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all people and souls go to hell. With birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in hell to increase exponentially.

Now, we look at the rate of change in volume in hell. Boyle’s Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in hell to stay the same, the ratio of the mass of souls and volume needs to stay constant. Two options exist:

  1. If hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter hell, then the temperature and pressure in hell will increase until all hell breaks loose.
  2. If hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in hell, then the temperature and pressure will drop until hell freezes over.

So which is it? If we accept the quote given to me by Theresa Manyan during freshman year, “It will be a cold night in hell before I sleep with you” and take into account the fact that I still have NOT succeeded in having sexual relations with her, then Option 2 cannot be true… Thus, hell is exothermic.”

The student, Tim Graham, got the only A.

And you thought you were good at making up BS. 🙂

-Joel

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A Stanford Winter

Kyle, me, and Lauren on top of a mountain

Lantana Snow Trip: Hitting up the slopes at Squaw Valley

Maybe it was the 2 weeks of mono-induced torpor and swollen lymph nodes that I barely survived early in the quarter. Maybe it was the countless hours I spent preparing for my big research presentation. Or maybe it was the endless February rain that had Stanford’s entire bike-riding population––i.e., the entire Stanford population––praying for spring to come early.

I don’t know why, but I can’t help but wonder: Where did winter go?

I woke up early––read: 8AM––this morning to go for a run and realized that spring’s already here, at least in California. It’s kind of like when you lay down on the couch for a quick afternoon nap and open your eyes to find the sun sinking below the horizon and another day gone. Except this time, it’s an entire quarter, gone. Almost. We’ve still got one more week of classes, a not-so-dead Dead Week, and finally finals, but at the rate we’ve been going, we might as well be done.

But I’m not at all stressed out. It helps that I’m taking a relatively light courseload this quarter: EE41 (Physics of EE), EE108B (Digital Systems II), EE216 (Principles and Models of Semiconductor Devices), and EE191 (Special Studies in EE). At a time in the quarter when most students feel the weight of an ambitious Week 1 course selection, I’m staying even-keeled, with the constant workload of research tempering the inevitable ups and downs of an academic term at Stanford.

And with winter’s demise comes the advent of China: I’ll be leaving for Beijing on March 25 and studying abroad at Peking University for all of spring quarter. At the end of the program, I’ll be going to the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai with my mom and brother, then possibly visiting Seoul or Taiwan or both. The visa application process turned out to be quite a pain, but the light at the end of the Chinese government’s proverbial tunnel is getting brighter.

Much more about China to come… It’s super exciting and I can’t wait, but winter quarter’s definitely not over till it’s over.

-Joel

Shanghai Skyline: It looks like something out of Star Wars... (Click on the picture and look closely)

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