Cold Showers

September 26, 2013

Just a little over a month ago I saw this TED talk. The guy spoke for 10 minutes about how one day he was convinced by a friend to start taking cold showers. These showers, in turn, motivated him to start doing all the things in his life that he was afraid of doing before. Start a business. Run a marathon. Get in shape.

If you look the guy up, you’ll see that he runs a self-help website, where he makes videos and sell books and equipment to help people  “push their limits.” And what better way to promote this than by providing your own personal success story?

What I found interesting though, was that unlike other self-help guides, where the first step is inevitably to buy some book or device. His first step didn’t cost anything. Not money, or time, and it wasn’t a commitment of any kind. You just changed the way you shower everyday. However, I think what hooked me was his closing remark:

“If you’re not willing … to be uncomfortable for five minutes alone in the shower, where the only negative outcome is you being cold for five minutes and the only person affected by that decision is you. Then how will you ever have the strength or courage to be uncomfortable in a situation where the outcome is much greater…”

It was a challenge. And I accepted. So that night, at almost midnight, I took the very first cold shower of my life. And let me tell you. It was every bit as miserable as I thought it would be.

After turning the cold knob and feeling  the frigid water with my hand. I spent the next 5 minute just standing there going through every possible rationalization for why I shouldn’t step in:

“This is dumb, what will I prove?”
“It’s just a gimmick to help promote his products.”
“It’s late already, I should start this tomorrow.”
“Don’t people catch hypothermia from staying in cold water?”
“I’m busy with work, I don’t have time to get sick right now.”

And I think if it had been any other time in my life. If I hadn’t been going through whatever this is I’m going through. I would’ve walked away and never thought about it again. Instead, I stepped in and spent the next five minutes cowering at the side of the tub, slowly inching into the water. Eventually, I was able to stop shivering long enough to wash myself and then dry off.

The next day was even worst. Not only was I convinced now that this is dumbest thing I’ve ever attempted to do, but the previous night’s shower was still fresh on my mind. I started shivering before I even walked into the water.

Well. Today marked the 30th day, and my 30th cold shower. Technically the end of challenge. And you know what? The shower was still every bit as miserable. The water didn’t get any warmer. If anything it’s gotten colder with fall setting in. What has changed, however, was my attitude towards it. There was no doubt, no hesitation when I stepped in. Just a general acceptance that it sucks and moved on to washing.

It’s hard to say if doing this the past month has been worth it. It definitely wasn’t the life changing event the speaker made it sound like. I don’t suddenly own a business or a six pack. Nor did I expected to. That kind of change doesn’t come from something like this.

However, it’s unfair to say that it had no effect at all. Staring down that icy nozzle and walking into the water everyday for the past month has given me a perspective I wasn’t expecting. I realized, after about two weeks, that I was starting to become more aware of the distinction between being uncomfortable because I dislike something (taking a cold shower) and because I’m afraid of something (anticipating a cold a shower). Prior to this, I’ve always considered those feelings to be the same. What’s more, I’ve noticed that very, very rarely am I in a situation where it is the former. I live an easy enough life where I am almost never in a position where I truly dislike what is going on. Most of the time I am simply afraid. Afraid of new people, afraid of change, of being judge, of failing, of disappointing the people around me.

I’m not saying this realization makes those things any less frightening. They still scare me just as much. But it gives me a chance to face it. When you see the world as things you like or dislike.  Then there is little opportunity for change. You like what you like. Such things define you. But if you see the world as monsters to face, and demons to conquer, then such things become a challenge. And change comes when you’re ready to tackle it.


Corn Starch

July 29, 2013

Always wondered why the texture for my Chinese cooking had been a bit off. Turns out a lot of Chinese dishes uses corn starch to thicken the sauce or soup. So I tried adding it to a couple simple dishes:

IMAG0010Vegetable and Tofu Stir-Fry

IMAG0014Spinach Egg Drop Soup


Doesn’t look too bad. Who would’ve guessed.

Small Moments

July 21, 2013

Much of my life has always been about the big goals. The awards. The degrees. The next step for the next thing for the next line to feed my growing resume. There’s a lot to say about the expectations that comes with being at the bottom end of an upside down tree. Raised to follow the legacy of a family where the adults outnumber the children 3 to one, if not 6 to one. Maybe someday I will talk about that instead.

The problem with a life that revolves around the big goals is that it produces mostly big memories. Ones that I, to be honest, don’t care all that much about. It isn’t to say that I’m not proud. They’re just not the memories I reminisce.

When was the last time we talked about how we walked across the stage and got that important piece of paper? More likely it was about how that whitewater raft almost tipped. Or when we drank a little too much wine on that bus.

It wouldn’t be a problem, if making memories wasn’t such a numbers game. You spend your time making a couple big ones. Or you spend it making a lot of little ones. And most days I feel like I have invested poorly.

One day. If I am lucky. I will be old and no longer functional. An old man sitting in an old chair thinking about old times. And, again if I am lucky, I will have the privilege of remembering what I’ve done and accomplished.

I wonder. When that time comes. Will I be thinking about the papers I’ve published and the recognition I’ve earned? Or will it just be strings after strings of pointless, useless, small moments that have come to define who I am?


July 10, 2013

Three years.


Two and two-thirds.

But who’s counting?

I remember that last post below. It was from a conversation with Dan and someone (?). I made a funny. There was laughter. I told myself to blog it later. And so I did.

I also might remember why I stopped. I think it was to get away. Or maybe it was because I got away. It’s fuzzy. I remember wanting to run. To abandon. Maybe to give up. Poor idea in hindsight, but it was important at the moment.

After that? There’s… not much. Not as vivid at least. Two years went by with hardly a thought. Or a complaint. Just a couple faint memories of disruptions in the routine:

Three conferences. Four trips home. People visiting. China. Movies. Moving.

Otherwise there was only:

Work. Games. A friend.

For a year (No. Maybe two.), I didn’t do anything new or met anyone new. Just buried in the familiar. In a single studio room, disconnected from the world. In a lab, waiting for the sun to let me sleep.

And given enough time, it all felt normal. None of it felt off, or strange, or different. It was the way I lived. The life I had. A job that lets me get away with it. People around me who were much too forgiving.

The thing about change is that, when it’s slow enough, it often feels like nothing’s changing at all. Before you know it, you’re somewhere you don’t want to be. And it’s hard to remember if you were ever anything else.

But, sometimes, all it takes is a reminder. Something sharp. Sudden. Something wonderfully and painfully familiar. To remember why you did the things you stopped doing.

To remember why you bothered counting at all.

Minuscule Insight – Shoes

November 18, 2010

Sometimes it is good to have small feet so you can always see the other person’s point of view.


November 15, 2010

This recent article got me thinking a little bit about internet security. It’s actually quite sad that I don’t think about it more often, considering I’m an electrical and computer engineer and I  work 8-12 hours a day in front of a computer connected to the net.

I think when people think about internet security, most think of things like viruses, or trojans, or some hacker out there trying to get access to your files. But chances are, these things will almost never happen to you as long as you 1.) don’t open questionable emails/attachments and 2.) don’t visit questionable websites.

Considering that firewall and spyware removal is included as part of Windows and the abundance of anti-viruses out there, it it actually pretty difficult to get malicious software installed on your computer. I think the last time I got an actual virus was in high school.

So no, the type of internet security people should actually be thinking about are the small stuff, the stuff that aren’t really intuitive. Things like that described in the article.

I think most people just don’t realize that when they’re using a public hotspot, they are essentially broadcasting everything they’re doing on the internet to whoever else is in the area. And let’s be honest, if someone can pretend to be you to your email provider, how long would it take them to access every other account you own? This is also why you should encrypt your home wireless, not just so your neighbors can’t use it to torrent movies.

The other thing I’ve noticed that people don’t do is tiering their access information. i.e. Having passwords and email accounts with different level of security. This one should really be common sense. Don’t use the same password for your bank account as you do for the free account you have to make to play that super cool flash game. Likewise, don’t use your main email when signing up for that neat new media site that all your friends are talking about.

The truth of the matter is that the strength of your password is almost never going to come into question. Unless you’re some high profile person, or have access to high profile information, the chance of someone actually trying to brute force your password is virtually non-existent. The time and resources it would take to brute force the password for my bank account probably costs more than what I have in that account.

Okay, let’s end with a mildly related xkcd comic.


November 1, 2010

Over the weekend I found out that one of my friends had cancer and had to have surgery. Last month I found out a friend from high school has been fighting leukemia for the past 2 years. I have two friends who were married and divorced. I have friends who were diagnosed with high cholesterol, eating disorders, you name it. It’s a sad realization to know that I’m hitting the age where those statistics you hear on TV, or at charity fundraisers are becoming a reality.

Back when I was younger, the statistics were simple: “98 out of 100 people you know are healthy as a horse.” I never did understand that saying though. Horses don’t get sick?

Now it’s more like 75 out of 100, in 10 years it’ll be less, and in another 10 years not only will it be less, but the statistics will be more grim. It won’t be about failed marriages or too much red meat. It might not even be about fighting cancer. It’ll be things like “One in 6 people by heart attacks” or  “One in 10 from a stroke.”

I don’t think about death too often. It’s just not a pleasant thing to think about. It’s not that I’m afraid of dying. I mean what is there to be scared of? I don’t believe in a hell. How can there be eternal torment if you are already dead? Pain and agony is kind of meaningless if there’s nothing to back it up. You’ll just get used to it. And if it’s just total oblivion afterwards, then… oh well? Can’t really complain about nothingness.

No.. what scares me about death isn’t that it’s going to happen to me, but rather that it’s going to happen to the people around me. That at a snap of a finger, the people I care the most about and mean the world to me can just be gone.  To me that finality, that end of opportunity, is more frightening than the most gruesome of hells.

I don’t like the idea of people around me becoming statistics. Points and percentages next to some 1-800 number on the TV screen, or on some stupid slideshow during a fancy dinner. When I was younger, I wanted to be a superhero so I can save the world. These days the only people I want to save are the ones I love and care about, and the only statistic I want them to be is the portion of the population that lived a long, long fruitful life without any regrets. Other people can go fill in the rest.

You know… I’ve become quite the selfish bastard over the years.

Something I’ve always thought as a neat ability among musicians is the ability to play music by ear. By this, I don’t mean those people who can replicate exactly everything they hear. That takes a certain level of talent that I’ll probably never achieve. I simply refer to the ability to think of a tune in your head and then produce it on your instrument.

In theory, it’s not a particularly complicated technique. You just need to be able to identify the pitch you want to play, and then it’s just a matter of pressing the right key. Once you get good enough, you’ll eventually skip the middle step and go straight from the pitch to the instrument.

Here’s a pretty cool program I’ve been using to practice this. It throws out random note(or chords) and asks you to identify it. Like everything else, it just comes down to finding the time to practice.

Life Lessons

October 25, 2010

It should be no surprise to hear that I spent a large percent of my childhood(and to a much lesser extent, my current life) playing video games. And while I’ll fully admit that the time wasted in front of the screen could’ve probably been put to better use elsewhere, I didn’t exactly come out with nothing for all the effort I put in. So here’s a list I’ve came up with showing all the wonderful things I’ve learned from playing games:

Travel Skills – This is probably the only thing useful that came out of playing World of Warcraft all those years. Namely, map reading skills and how to travel via public transportation. I shouldn’t be surprised I guess, the DC metro map is like child’s play compared to the monstrosity that are the flightpaths for WoW.

Money Management – Video Game: Save money, buy giant sword. Real Life: Save money, buy furniture?

Vocabulary – Mostly terms related to medieval armory… but it did come in useful during my SATs!

Musical Skills – Rock Band.

Motor Skills – Various hand-eye coordination skills. Not as useful as one would think.

Typing Skills – Back in the day when voice chat wasn’t as prevalent in games, typing was the only way to talk to people online. Faster typing = less death by goblin hordes. It was a pretty good incentive to learn how to type fast. Unfortunately it was also an incentive to get people to start typing like they’re missing a chromosome.

Social Skills – You wouldn’t think so, given the bad rap that video games have for creating anti-social basement-dwellers, but I would argue the correlation goes in the other direction. For me, gaming is very much a social activity. Almost all of my favorite games involve some kind of multi-player. This is especially true for MMOs (although I don’t play anymore), which is all about the teamwork and building social relationships.

I keep meaning to take pictures for these, but I always forget whenever I make them, and by the time I remember it is usually eaten, or just doesn’t look very appetizing. I guess that is the unfortunate curse of perishables. I’ll try and remember for the next one.


I’ve met a lot of Chinese people in my life. It is one of the perks of being Chinese. There are a lot of us and we tend to gravitate towards the same places and do the same kind of things. One of these things is apparently the ability to make a Chinese dishes called “Tomatoes and Eggs.” I don’t know if there’s a formal name for it, but that’s what I’ve called it my whole life (in Chinese of course).

The recipe for the dish is pretty simple:

4 Tomatoes
4 Eggs(scrambled)
Soy Sauce

Mix together and cook for 10-20 minutes.

Really nothing remarkable. But literally every Chinese person I have ever met knows how to make some variation of this dish. What’s really interesting though is that despite its popularity, I have never seen this dish for sale in a restaurant of any sort, nor have I seen anyone make it when we’re invited over for dinner. I think it’s just so common and simple that people are embarrassed to make it for other people.

As a result, I think it ends up being one of those dishes that just gets passed on from generation to generation within the family. This in turn produces some interesting variations in the recipe between families. I’ve known some people who like to add sugar or scallions or MSG. The amount of soy sauce is super variable. Sometimes it’s made super dark, or very light. It could be a dry dish, or cooked until it’s almost a sauce.

Things like this is why I find family recipes really fascinating. It’s almost like it has got its own genetics that mutate and propagate as it gets passed from generation to generation. I think the modern age has kind of killed a bit of that. With widespread books and the internet, a lot of recipes are becoming pretty homogeneous. So sad.