It’s late May, which means another semester and also school year is in the history books. This was my third school year and sixth academic semester (not counting summer sessions) as a grad student. I think I fulfilled the course credit requirements for my degree, which means I don’t have to take any more courses in the coming fall, and I’m pretty happy about that. I’ve been a PhD student for almost three years and it’s getting to the point where I have to really start working on my dissertation so I don’t take too long to graduate, and not having to take courses during the academic semesters will give me more time to work on research. I’m not ruling out taking one course in a semester, but I have the choice of taking only courses that I like. My course load over the previous semester wasn’t heavy, but the courses I took left some things to be desired. Anyways, I’m glad the semester is over. Hopefully I’ll make good progress on research in the summer. I’ll also try to travel around a bit. I don’t plan on going far, but there are some nice natural scenery and parks not too far from my university and I plan on enjoying the great outdoors a bit more.
I went to the 2013 New York International Auto Show with some friends. I like cars and read car magazines from time to time, so I couldn’t pass up the chance to go to a big auto show.
It’s the middle of March already and winter is finally showing some signs of ending. Because of the winter and because of school work, I haven’t done much traveling since my last post. However, over the last few weeks I did go skiing a couple of times, and took some beginner’s lessons with some friends. Here in the Northeast there isn’t much else to do in winter other than skiing or snowboarding. I got my first taste of skiing a year ago, and I wanted to get better at it instead of falling all over the place. There were plenty of skiing hills not far away from my location, and some of them were very reasonable in terms of pricing. I also joined the school ski club which offered much lower rates on equipment rentals. We had three lessons, and they definitely helped. I was able to ski down from the top of a mountain (a small one) through a blue trail and not fall in the process. Of course, I was skiing quite slowly, but it was a significant improvement compared to before the lessons.
At this point, I think I’m fine on green trails, but I might still take a tumble on the steeper sections of blue trails. Skiing is all about making the turns and using that to control speed, and I still need to improve in my turns in order to handle the more difficult trails with more consistency. Falling does hurt, and I got pretty sore, but overall I think skiing is a very fun activity. It’s very late in the ski season and I don’t know if I’ll go again this season, but I’ll be sure to head back to the hills next winter.
My four weeks at home have gone very quickly, and last week I took the flight back to the smallish city/town in the US where I’ll start another semester of graduate studies. Just like last winter vacation and the year before that, I spent most of my time at home, relaxing and doing a little bit of research work. I had wanted to go skiing, but I am not really good enough to go on anything other than a bunny hill and I can’t find people to go with me. Plus, skiing near Vancouver is expensive, so I’ll probably do it back in the states where it is less costly. Unlike the previous years, my grandparents were around this winter, and this meant that we ate out more than usual. I had quite a few big meals in Chinese restaurants while I was back home. The food was of course delicious, and I probably ate too much. The food was probably the highlight of this winter break and here is a photo collage of some of the dishes I’ve tasted.
Needless to say, I probably gained around 5 lbs over the break, but I’m confident I can work it off at school. I’m unlikely to eat so much so often back in the states, and I’ll exercise a lot more when compared to my time at home. That’s pretty much everything worth mentioning, and it’s time for me to get back to the mood for school.
My family has finally gotten into the whole tablet craze that has heated up over the last few years. One of my relatives was kind enough to give an old, first-generation iPad to us and we’ve played with it for a two weeks. My family likes the thing so far, and Apple’s iOS is pretty intuitive and user-friendly that even my parents have figured it out without too much help. So far, my mother and I mostly use the iPad to play games, particularly Bubble Mania which we take turns playing everyday. I also installed the usual big name tablet games such as Fruit Ninja, Angry Birds and Temple Run, but the free versions of Angry Birds have too few levels while Temple Run and Fruit Ninja rely too much on twitch reaction and they get old really quickly. Bubble Mania, on the contrary, can be played slowly and deliberately, and the game changes and gets more difficult as we move through the levels. The fact that the game makes you stop and “recharge” energy after losing a certain number of times is actually a plus in my books since it stops me from playing the game for too long.
Other than games, the only real use for the iPad is for surfing the internet. It does the task fairly well, but everyone in my family has a computer and we all prefer the larger computer screens and keyboard/mouse combo, so the iPad doesn’t get used for internet browsing very much. I suppose the iPad would be good for internet surfing while traveling since it is smaller and lighter than even the lightest laptops.
In related news, I’ve had a smartphone for more than half a year now. I’ve had an iPhone 4S since May, and I’m not sure why I haven’t written a post about it. The 4S is the first smart phone I’ve ever had. iPhones are popular partly because a lot of people think Apple products are cool, but after using my iPhone for a while I can say that iPhones are genuinely pretty good products. As mentioned before, Apple’s software is pretty easy to use and smooth, and the whole product is nicely packaged and presented. Unlike the iPad, I don’t really play games on my iPhone, and I don’t browse the internet with it because the screen is too small. Other than using the iPhone as a phone (for calling and texting), my next most common uses are to check email, take pictures, and use it for navigation. I don’t have a stand-alone camera, and I have even less motivation to get one since the 4S’ 8MP camera is quite decent for simple point-and-shoot. If I ever want to get into photography, I’d buy a compact-system or DSLR camera with interchangeable lenses. The 4S, with Siri is also quite good for finding directions and places while walking around during travels. Google Maps has always worked pretty well for this purpose. I’ve tried Apple Maps, and it sucked, at least when it came to finding walking directions. While in Boston, I tried finding walking directions to a subway stop that was within half a mile of our location and Apple Maps could not find a walking route to get us there. Needless to say, when Google Maps was released for iOS 6 I immediately downloaded it.
That’s it for my random two cents on technology products that I’ve been late to adopt. My parents will keep the old iPad, and I don’t think I’m going to buy a tablet for myself anytime soon. As the iPhone, we’ll see what happens when my current cellphone contract ends. It’s possible I might get a new phone and give the older phone to my parents, but that’s still a year and a half down the road.
One of my tasks when I returned home was to help my parents shop for a new car. My family had a 2000 Toyota Echo that served us well for over a decade, but the little problems are starting to add up and it was about time to get a new car. My parents needed a daily commuter, so the requirements were that the car is good on gas, is reliable, can fit into our small garage, but is bigger than the little Echo. In the end, my parents purchased a grey 2013 Toyota Matrix base model.
The current Matrix model has been around for a couple of years. It doesn’t have the greatest ratings anymore since competitors have newer models in the segment, but my family trusts Toyota’s reliability, and the Matrix is pretty tall and roomy for a compact hatchback. It’s not that much larger than the Echo, but it’s a little longer and wider which makes a difference especially in the back. The Matrix fits into our narrow garage, albeit the parking is a little more difficult than before. And the 1.8 L engine, which may consume a little more fuel than the Echo, is still pretty good on gas. With the new Matrix, we finally have a car that has power windows and locks and keyless entry. The Matrix is the third car my family has had, after the Echo and a rust-riddled 1990 Ford Tempo that was our first car. Hopefully the new car will remain problem free for even longer than the little Echo.
It’s the last day of 2012, and I suppose this is as good of a day as any to look at my previous academic semester. The fall 2012 semester was my fifth as a graduate student. Since I’ve been doing grad studies for a while now, I only needed to take two courses. The two courses I took in the fall were a little different than the technical courses that I usually take, and here is what I thought of them.
TJ Online has its first new look in 2 years. I finally finished tweaking the new theme today. The theme is a modified version of the Twenty-Twelve default WordPress theme. I went with a simpler look with cursive fonts and some… I suppose, ornate patterns to match. White is the dominant color this time around, and I took the opportunity to play with CSS3′s background color alpha-transparency properties. One element that returns is the random background images, but I opted for a simpler square frame this time to make adding future background images easier. I haven’t worked with web stuff for a while and took a little while to figure things out, but afterwards customizing the theme was simple enough. It’s good to work on my sites once in a while so I don’t completely forget my web design and Photoshop skills. Overall, I’m satisfied with the new look, and hope you guys like it as well.
Supposedly every year I write a reflections post looking back at what I did on the previous year. My last such post was in August of 2011, which means I’m four months past the due date . I only remembered because I decided to change the look of this blog, so this post will cover the last year and four months. So in the last 16 months, quite a bit has happened. I received another degree, and traveled around more than I ever had. Keep reading to find out more.
I’ve traveled back home for winter break once again, and I’m glad to be home for a couple of weeks. The academic semester ended a little earlier than previous years, which meant I could go home earlier and save a few bucks on my plane tickets. As usual, I don’t have any plans. Grad students don’t get long vacations, and I do have to work on my research. On the other hand, I do have more free time on my hands since I don’t have to worry about shopping and cooking or classes. Maybe I’ll try to go learn skiing. One thing I’ll do is eat a lot, since it’s the holidays, and the Chinese food in Vancouver is much better than what I can get at my place of study. Hopefully I don’t gain too much weight over the holidays . I will also try to give my humble blog a new look. I’m probably looking for the minimalist look, but I want some transparency and rotating backgrounds that the previous theme had. I’ll play around with the new Twenty-twelve theme to see if I can modify it to my likings.
Anyways, I wish you all a happy and safe holidays.