Chinese New Year in 2009

This is the year of the Ox, but it sure doesn't feel like it. It is far more bearish.

And, in the tradition of the good luck and bad luck duality that I enjoy, I lift the following straight from Wikipedia:

Good luck
-Opening windows and/or doors is considered to bring in the good luck of the new year.
-Switching on the lights for the night is considered good luck to 'scare away' ghosts and spirits of misfortune that may compromise the luck and fortune of the new year.
-Sweets are eaten to ensure the consumer a "sweet" year.
-It is important to have the house completely clean from top to bottom before New Year's Day for good luck in the coming year. (however, as explained below, cleaning the house on or after New Year's Day is frowned upon)
-Some believe that what happens on the first day of the new year reflects the rest of the year to come. Chinese people will often gamble at the beginning of the year, hoping to get luck and prosperity.
-Wearing a new pair of slippers that is bought before the new year, because it means to step on the people who gossip about you.
-The night before the new year, bathe yourself in pomelo leaves and some say that you will be healthy for the rest of the new year.
-Changing different things in the house such as blankets, clothes, mattress covers etc. is also a well respected tradition in terms of cleaning the house in preparation for the new year.

Bad luck
-Buying a pair of shoes is considered bad luck amongst some Chinese. The character for "shoe" (鞋) is a homophone for the character 諧/谐, which means "rough" in Cantonese; in Mandarin it is also a homophone for the character for "evil" (邪).
Getting a hair-cut in the first lunar month puts a curse on maternal uncles. Therefore, people get a hair-cut before the New Year's Eve.
-Washing your hair is also considered to be washing away one's own luck (although modern hygienic concerns take precedence over this tradition)
-Sweeping the floor is usually forbidden on the first day, as it will sweep away the good fortune and luck for the new year.
-Saying words like "finished" and "gone" is inauspicious on the New Year, so sometimes people would avoid these words by saying "I have completed eating my meal" rather than say "I have finished my meal."
-Talking about death is inappropriate for the first few days of Chinese New Year, as it is considered inauspicious.
-Buying (or reading) books is bad luck because the character for "book" (書/书) is a homonym to the character for "lose" (輸/输).
-Avoid clothes in black and white, as black is a symbol of bad luck, and white is a traditional Chinese funeral colour.
-Foul language is inappropriate during the Chinese New Year.
-Offering anything in fours, as the number four (四), pronounced sì, can sound like "death" (死), pronounced sĭ, in Chinese. Pronunciations given here are for Mandarin, but the two words are also near-homophones in Cantonese. See tetraphobia.
-One should never buy a clock for someone or for oneself because a clock in Chinese tradition means one's life is limited or "the end," which is also forbidden.
-Avoid medicine and medicine related activities (at least on the first day) as it will give a bad fortune on one's health and lessen the luck one can obtain from New Years.

Planning the Move to Wordpress for USuMBS.com

I am in the process of moving stuff over to Wordpress.org's blogging engine. Blogger just isn't cutting it anymore.

Here are some fun facts I discovered yesterday:

My physics class is taught by an ECE guy.
My ECE circuits class is taught by a physics guy.
My CS Java class is taught by a math guy.
My MAE lab class is taught by a MAE woman.
My Stats class is taught by a new guy who is just as boring as the previous older guy.

Mid-First-Week Update

This has been the easiest first week of class I ever had in college. No sections, no labs; a lot of free time. And what do I do with that free time? I work, and I eat.

Trying to get an early start on the homework though. It's not too bad yet...

Final Thoughts, Randomized

Classes started today. It's a pretty straight-forward day of introductions, but being back in class still feels a little weird.

I had returned to Cornell last Tuesday, and since then, I have taken advantage of a lot of the amenities of living on West Campus. It's not too shabby. And the food is convenient. Maybe a little too convenient. I've even taken some time to play music again for an hour and a half yesterday morning.

Also, Obama becomes president tomorrow. Tune in at noon for the 10 minutes or so of swearing. Of swearing into office, I mean.

Take care.

Go Engineerography!

Damn, It's Cold

I wish this were a joke... This was last night's temperature. It is currently -1 as I write this in the morning. On the bright side, at least it can only get warmer from here on throughout the day.

On another note, I got myself a toy computer, a netbook, the Lenovo S10. Turns out, a few other guys in the office have netbooks too. One also has the Lenovo S10 and another has the Samsung NC10.

The S10 is a 10" computer running Windows XP. I intend to use it with a maximized version of Google Chrome browser and nothing more.

Pretty cool.

New Life Goal

Do one thing at a time. In this world of doing too much all at once, I'd like to focus on one thing at a time to completion.

Extreme multi-tasking is no longer a virtue. It is to the detriment of the mind.

Back to Cornell for the Spring

Is it wrong to say that I welcome change, but I hate the transition?

There are things I will miss from this past semester living at home and working on Long Island. But then again, there are things I should look forward to. I guess.

I made a list:

1. More productive days doing stuff.
2. Seeing college friends and colleagues.
3. My own room.
4. A warmer place to sleep at.
5. Unlimited Cornell Dining.
6. Campus-wide Wi-Fi.
7. Faster Internet.
8. A "permanent" residence.
9. Waiting for delivery of a netbook, among other things.
11. Independence.
12. No longer required to wake up at 4 am.

Yay.

National Grid Term 1 Reflection

Today is my last day working at National Grid for the "Fall Term". I expect to return here for the summer right after school is out, by the end of May. The following is a job summary that I submitted back to Cornell as part of my co-op assignment. Wow, I have been here 20 weeks.

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In 2007, National Grid acquired Keyspan Energy and its Power Engineering Department (PED) on Long Island, NY. National Grid was originally a transmission and gas distribution company, based in the United Kingdom, and it began acquiring similar companies in the New England region of the United States in 2000. Only recently has the company expanded into the electricity generation business after the 2007 acquisition of Keyspan Energy. During my co-op assignment, I was a part of the Power Engineering Department of legacy Keyspan Energy. The department’s focus is on power generation including eleven steam units in five power stations that produce electric energy by burning using fuel oil or natural gas. Specifically, I worked in the Plant Project Engineering & Mechanical Design group with the majority of the available projects having to do with power plant repair, improvements, and other modifications.

During this fall term, I worked on a wide variety of projects and assignments from drafting engineering drawings and designing parts to performing engineering calculations and corresponding with vendors. One of my first projects was database work for a new program National Grid was starting up for the assessment of safety and pressure relief valves for the power stations. We were evaluating the costs, procedure, and framework for routine inspections of these valves in all the power stations. The inventory lists were then submitted to the plant manager of each site for review and updates.
In the meantime, I worked on creating a cart-mounted fuel oil strainer drain system for the Port Jefferson Power Station. The goal was to create a portable version of a typically in-line drain system that allows fuel oil strainers to be cleaned without stopping the flow of oil. This comprehensive project allowed me to create a design, draw and dimension it in AutoCAD, and generate a purchase list of parts. I was able to see this design to completion after General Shops manufactured the design according to my engineering drawings.

Other major projects I worked on during my first term include calculating heat capacity and procuring a bill of materials for three unit heaters for the Port Jefferson Power Station, assisting in the filing of a NYC house boiler permit for the Far Rockaway Power Station, and studying documents and providing input for National Grid’s contribution to a NYC program for climate change risk assessment on infrastructure. I also worked on miscellaneous AutoCAD drawings for other engineers varying from pipe supports to piping modifications.

I was surprised to discover that between the assignments I was given and the more substantial projects I participated in, the things I learned at Cornell proved very useful in intuiting and understanding operating processes and components. Classes like Thermodynamics, Heat Transfer, and Fluid Mechanics had immediate applications to type of work in which I was involved. The informal training I received also helped a lot. I was provided pertinent reading material that served as a primer for how power plants generate electricity and I received assistance when I asked my co-workers many questions.

Perhaps the greatest thing I learned from working at a this job is that projects and other things in the real world do not move with as much speed as I was used to at Cornell. Even though our Power Engineering Department was relatively small and keeping in mind the several power stations we worked in conjunction with, there was still a clear presence of corporate bureaucracy that ultimately slowed down the process of getting jobs completed. The biggest challenge I faced was not having unanswered technical problems, but rather waiting for more tasks or waiting on others to update pending projects.

Working at National Grid in Hicksville, Long Island has given me opportunities and experiences that I don’t think I would have otherwise had. I was fortunate enough to live at home in Brooklyn, which essentially eliminated the extra cost of food and housing, and I commuted for about two hours from Brooklyn to Hicksville by taking the NYC Subway and Long Island Railroad. Because National Grid’s power stations are scattered throughout the island, I learned about new places when we made site visits, and that made the trips all the more interesting. I was able to obtain a newfound appreciation for Long Island and its history. Before working with the company, I had never truly explored Long Island east of Queens; now, it is no longer a foreign place to me.

Being away from school and living at home had both benefits and drawbacks. I did not have to deal with the stress of classes, assignments and projects, and exams that I have come to expect after going to Cornell for several years. Outside of work, I was virtually free, with time to reengage in several hobbies that I had been forced to set aside or abandon at Cornell and time to pursue other personal ventures. I was able to catch up with friends from New York City whom I typically rarely get a chance to see and I was able to meet up with other Cornell co-op students in New York City. Still, the major disadvantage of being away from the Cornell campus is missing out on the social and academic events on campus, especially when classes were in full swing. It was one thing I had to learn to get used to.

Working at National Grid had enabled me—for better or for worse—to get a real sense of the kind of jobs mechanical engineers may get involved in. While I got a chance to put what I have learned to action, I quickly realized the enormous scope that mechanical engineering actually covered and that what I was taught in the classroom is, for the most part, a merely idealized situation, designed for a specifically contrived application. While I was excited to see that the classes I took and the things I learned in school had a positive impact on my ability to perform at work, I was more excited to discover that there is always more to learn on the job. This co-op assignment with National Grid was a positive experience overall.

Google Gmail Stickers Conversation

KEVIN: I GOT MY GOOGLE STICKERS!!!

RICKY: PICTURES

ADRIAN: SRSLY, LIKE NAO

RICKY: AGREED!

ADRIAN: Come on Kevin! How is it taking so long, STOP POST-PROCESSING SO LONG.

RICKY: i bet hes going to post it on his "blog" and make us go there so he can get some money from his silly ads :D

ADRIAN: LOL. So you got those stickers just to make money all along! What a businessman. Gah.

KEVIN: Ahahahahahaha. So stupid. This thread is going to be the blog post instead. Hahahaha. Awesome.

RICKY: What did I tell you? Useless :|

ADRIAN: Our additions to this thread will generate an incredible amount of additional ad clicks. I demand a share of the profits. You should too Ricky! WE WILL NOT BE GIPPED LIKE THIS.

(Kevin e-mails a photo of the Google stickers from the iPhone.)

RICKY: OMG, way to be mister blurry cam!

KEVIN: You know you like that.

ADRIAN: Hey now, we all love it, but I can barely read what google wrote to you!!!

Engineerography Blog Launches!

Hans, Adrian, and I created a new blog focused on the studying and writing of everyday engineering. It's called Engineerography Blog, and we launch today!

It's not supposed to be anything professional, but I came up with the idea of it mid-November last year. I've asked Hans and Adrian to take part in writing and production, and we've been working hard on it since last month.

Please check it out, and maybe even bookmarking it. We start with real posts tomorrow, Tuesday, January 06, 2008.

The "What You Leave Out" Photography Tip

Compact digital cameras have gone the way of the computer and now it is a safe bet to say that nearly all people with access to a computer have a digital camera. I want share a little tip that I have discovered for myself in my shallow study of photography. The main idea is that every photo has a purpose and it is up to the photographer to express the intended and unintended subject of the photo. I found the following tip to be the simplest way to do it.

It is more important to think about what to leave out than what to actually capture.

I have found that in every good photograph, whether technically or artistically, there is some truth to this. What is not shown draws more attention to what is shown, and what out of focus draws more attention to what is in focus. I will use some examples of mine to illustrate what I mean, but I do not claim to be a good photographer by any means.

1. Composition - Photo Link


When choosing what to leave out, the first step is to consider composition, i.e. what is in the frame and how things are oriented and positioned. In this first image there's a lot of negative space at the top of the photo. This empty space forces the viewer's eye to the lower half of the image, where it is darker. There is little else in the photo than can distract the viewer—no clouds, no boats, and in fact, no color.

2. Bokeh - Photo Link


Bokeh (bo-kay) is a Japanese term that refers to the "blurriness" of the background (optimally achieved at lower aperture with a shallow depth of field). With the bokeh blurring the background, the focus of the image is thrown on the actual subject. What is left out of this image is this blurred background. Photographers pay for SLRs and expensive lenses for this kind of effect. Bokeh makes the subject pop a whole lot more than if everything is in focus (unfortunately endemic to all point-and-shoot cameras by virtue of being compact).

3. Macro/micro - Photo Link


This is the photography of things very close or very small. Because of this, the background is typically blurred as a result of getting very close to the subject and the background is relatively further away. Most cameras have a macro mode (usually with the image of a flower). Of course, it is not as good as a dedicated macro lens. Consider a macro lens as being the microscope used to see the invisibly small. Because of the enhanced bokeh effect with macro photography, I would argue that it isn't too difficult to get a good macro shot no matter what the subject is. Still, it is an art and world unto itself.

4. Background - Photo Link


A simple background simply gives whatever is in front of it more emphasis. It is essentially left out of the picture, as it were.

5. Lighting - Photo Link


With lighting and shadows, it is all about what is included and left out. The word "photography" essentially means "light-recording". It is about how light is captured and how shadows, i.e. the lack of light, gives a subject texture and depth. In this photo, the subject is clear and it is the way the light affects the rest of the image that is interesting.

I am a firm believer that it is more important to think about what to leave out than what to actually capture, merely as a means to emphasize the subject of the photo. It doesn't actually matter how that is achieved. I just keep this guideline in the back of my head when I do go shooting. Let me know how it works for you.