Summer 2011 summary

This summer was one of the best times of my life. I don’t have to wait a long time to say this- it really has been. Working at NASA, the exposure to the famous and powerful (and not LA famous, tech giant famous), has brushed off something on me.

Lessons learned:

1. Talking with Drew today- outline your speech, be well defined in what you want. “What are the things that you want to accomplish with today’s meeting?”
2. If you want to look into the future of synbio, look at what happens when you are able to translate between matter and information with little cost in between. Think about this.

3. Famous people are still people. No more, no less, though some are definitely smarter than others. Drew was the first time that I really felt flummoxed talking to, that instead of being the one hearing others talk a lot, I was the one talking, and more than ten seconds in you realize the depth and scale of your ignorance. Smart people don’t talk much about their views- they sit and listen and probe with questions.

4. The joy of talking to people. The pleasure of cultivating deep relationships. Dina, and Gio, taking me to the airport tonight, feeding me oodles of food. Realizing how precious and powerful relationships are.

5. David Rose’s 4 points, similar to grandpa’s. Be Proactive. Be Pragmatic. Be Benevolent. Have Integrity. And that will hold the course of your life in a positive direction, steer your sail through any water.

6. The young truly adopt to new technology in a way that older people cannot. Sitting across from me is a family, also traveling to Milwaukee. The little boy, still powerful of imagination, grabs his blue headrest and says Look! Its a Plasma Rifle from Halo! And everyone looks but do not comprehend. I think about David Brooks’ Social Animal, and of the powerful world of imagination that we used to comprehend as children, but have now left behind to enter a world of deeper mystery. Instead of creating our universe, we are trying to understand it, and while the monuments of human ingenuity like this airport testify to that understanding, we still have a long way to go. We still have to find out why we are here.



College: Semester 1 Summary

With a half-packed room and Jae just out the door, thought it would be a good time to do a little conclusion to wrap this semester up. What are some big events that happened this year?

1. Ended my relationship with Shaina. Lessons: Love hurts, but it’s worth it. Was choosing books to take back, and a card fell out dated August 17th, 2010. Two ink-blue figures holding hands at a fork in the road, Shaina with balloons. Tendersweet memories came to mind- it’s not been that long ago. Yet, I’ve come to peace, the depressive raging and pain stopped a ways back. In these moment of lucidity, a message to future selves: that love hurts, but the hurting eventually stops. So rest assured.

2. Final grades are out, and somehow I’ve managed to get A’s in math and chem and S* in Engn. Of course, these are relatively easy courses- next year is going to be harder stuff. Study habits: I did not spend the required 2 hours for every lecture. In fact, I missed quite a few of my 9 and 10 o clock classes. Not optimal for next semester, considering that all of my orgo and engn4 classes are 9 am. I will have to form a habit of rising early and sleeping early, which means that I will need to be more efficient with my work and not use the late night as a buffer. More confidence in myself, comes from more preparation.
Five classes were a little challenging this semester, if only in the breadth of things I needed to cover. Next semester I should be able to focus more on specific subjects.

3. People. As everyone went home, I realize that I don’t actually know that many people. But walking down the street, I was struck not my loneliness, but instead by a curiosity to examine each face that walked by. They all seem like interesting people, just that I don’t know them. Next semester, I hope to join more AASA activities and basically socialize with people. But I’ve adapted to the lifestyle, even my own company. I realize now that constant company is not all that it’s cracked up to be, I get bored with the people as well. Sometimes, its better to spend that time looking and talking with myself. Or even with the environment.

“I’m gonna go knock on the sky and listen to the sound …”


Ideas worth sharing: Singular Temporal Iteration, Dancemusic, Work Life Balance

Watching TED videos in preparation for TEDxNASA Wednesday, I can quickly feel myself turning into a knowledge junkie. It’s actually really exciting though, and quite seductive. Fifteen minutes per idea, four ideas an hour, if you can muster the attention to sit still, you can watch the universe unfold before you.

Three Ideas and One Digression

Three ideas really stuck with me today, but before I start, I want to think a little about captivating ideas in general. Sometimes I feel that TED is just the start of a new wave of idea-virus propagation. Look at what gives us drive as human beings, how people describe their ideas as Something that grabs hold of them, unrelinquishingly,  until they have either accomplished or disproved it. Ideas as the medium of information exchange- forget DNA- but what makes an idea so powerful? What describes the nature of its hold?

An idea is sometimes powerful because it opens a new dimension/perspective on how to see things. In this case, the idea is a combination of two different things, two different concepts overlayed on top of one another to synthesize another concept. Other times, we embrace an idea because it is “cool,” because our culture tells us that is socially positive to devote time to innovation.

But for most of us, we make new things because things currently in the world are broken. There is pain, in the world- and the objective of the idea, and energies of the idea, is to heal the pain. Necessity, is the mother of innovation. Not coolness, not metaphorical binoculars.

But two out of the three ideas today are related to music/arts, and only one is related to pain. An idea is also interesting when it introduces possibilites, when it opens up new capabilities in the world, and fire the human imagination. That’s also an important, though oft overlooked motivator- the human imagination is a frivilous being, who is delighted by any chance to frolic in new fields. Hearing about a cool new idea is akin to annexing a new scope of territory, and my imagination darts forward in eager anticipation to run through its contours. Maps of ideas- and how they form.. 

Alright, now back to the three ideas.

Single Source Temporal Iteration

Maya Beiser, cellist, records seven copies of her self playing different parts of an eight person etude, and performs onstage. You’ve probably seen this idea before, either by one-man-bands who record their music, or in the form of video games (the Japanese Cursor 10 game, Kongregate’s In the Company of Myself). All of them come back to the same idea, of using technology’s high fidelity recording to increase the scope of one’s ability to iterate different things to spin a complex narrattive from, as Maya says, a single source.

You can do anything, just not at the same time. A recurring theme, as we will see.

But to finish first on Maya, SSTI is the coolest at the moment of release, when one opens the floodgates of temporally seperated loops to deliver a multisensory stream of experience belieing the repetitve iterations done in preparation.



The next performance also uses SSTI, but the focus is on another technology rather than a mode of delivery. Beatjazz, invented by Onyx Ashanti, is a style of electronic music composed improptu using hand held controllers, a mouthpiece, and a phone. But the thing that captured my attention was the linking between music and movement. Though Onyx was using buttons on his controllers to initiate sound generation, the position at which he held his arms also affected the tone, pitch, instrument. The natural expansion is a full body motion suit, with sensors to record appropriate signals, and then translate kinematics to signals to acoustics. And so one way we can more fully utilize our sensory organs is to be able to assign everyone a musical signature, as a compilation of all of the idiosyncratic quirks of one’s movement. A new type of performers, who integrate body movement with music, instead of traditional choreography in which we plan to music.


Work Life Balance. In search of work life balance, I will postpone this writing to tomorrow, and get some sleep early (went to bed far too late last night) 🙂



Today: Gave an icebreakers speech at Toastmasters today, won best speech award 😀




To Live A Thousand Years

Talking with Sharron from SU about longevity today, she told a story about her grandmama, who lived to 98 years old, and then one day said, to her, in passing:  My soul feels thin. I’m tired. I love you all very much, but its time for me to go. And then proceeded to give away all of her belongings, put her affairs in order. When her house had been swept empty, she laid down to sleep, and passed away in the morning.

Sitting there at the table, I thought about the power of the human mind over the body, and whether, when the time came, you could decide that you were going to die, and then do it. For all of the medical havoc in the ER, when someone does miraculously pull through a tough time, the doctors say: “She wanted to live. Her will to live was very strong.”

I’m still young. Only nineteen, turning twenty in a few months. Looking into the sunshine, the fair weather, I thought about what it took to live a long time. I decided that I wanted to live a long time. I want to live to be a thousand years old. I want to be a thousand years old, before I die.

Have you ever thought that before? It’s a very different mentality. Suddenly, you have so much time. All the time in the world. In a hundred years, you will still have nine hundred to go. Think of the concessions that you have to make, whether or not you will still be human by the end of it (probably not), whether or not your soul is thick enough to live that long (maybe), all the knowledge that you will have to acquire about the human body and mind (neuroscience. physiology. cybernetics).

I want to live a thousand years. Will start a blog to keep track of my research.

Required reading for entrepreneurs and other people who want to transform ideas into reality: http://www.believemethebook.com/

Tonight- dinner @ Rainbow mansion. Swankiest co-op in town. Eli talks about snazzy automated laser cutter.



Sand and Salt of the Sea

Went to Santa Cruz beaches today, to play volleyball and step on hot sand. Saw fat seals.



The difference between writing a blog of words, and writing something dedicated to periodic photo sharing:

the former is much more powerful poetically, when you traffic in words, what you really traffic in are metaphors, and mental worlds joined together by vibing nouns and verbs. When you write with pictures, you are limited to what actually physically happened, and storytelling is suddenly locked onto a course parallel to reality.

The evolution of this blog has been gradually shifting from pictures from the lab, to pictures of summer time adventures. Good and bad, I’d say.

The awesome people at the beach with me today, they’ve been together over the summers @ NASA for a decent time. They will probably stay close together after all of this goes through, and join as life long friends. I didn’t know them before this summer, though we certainly had a great time together. Is it still possible, to form enduring permanent relationships, despite not being in one place for a long period of time?

What is there to hold people together?

Let me use some metaphors, to try to describe two ways…



Common shared experiences hold people together. The more time you spend with someone, the more opportunities you have to share emotional stories with them, and the close the emotional bond becomes. It is a process of granulated accumulation, and perhaps inefficient. There are miles of sand stretching every which direction on the beach, and though you walk through them all, only small parts stay with you. Most of the time is just noise, just physical presence, though physical activity is also a great bonding agent.

But the truth of the matter is that not a whole lot is required to make people stick together in the modern world. Especially since it is so easy to actually connect with people, physical distance has been removed as a barrier to joining people togehter.


Bonding quickly with a lot of people is definitely a thrill that I’ve found my taste for. It doesn’t take a lot to know somebody, and the higher the volume you are able to go through, the better connected you are, the more you’re abilities and scope are amplified. Getting to know someone quickly, what the brafman siblings call “click”- works by accelerating the process. That means that during your first impression, your interaction is on an extraordinary level- instead of a mundane activity, perhaps both of you share in a risky swimming race, or confront the apocalypse of the world from giant metal robots. The activity is all immersive, there is no space for other distractions. After the activity is over, both of you retire elsewhere, and during the passage of time, salt from your swim precipitates out to coat your body. These are the good memories, the emotional peaks that your memory has attached significance to, the memories that will stay with you for a lifetime, despite their original brevity.

In a way, what really matters at the end of the day/month/years is what you still have stuck to your body. I’m going to go rinse off the smell of the ocean in a few minutes, but right now, I have flecks of sand and salt still covering my body, from the events today. Both the sand and the salt will lead to strong emotional ties, but rest on different magnitudes of time spent. Sand is mundane, there is a lot of it in the world. Salt used to be worth its weight in gold.


Paint Speckled Hair

Friday @ work, it seems like Julius and Eli are putting in more hours than there are in a day. Hardcore.
Lunched at google with Merry, later tonight went to Biocurious for a painting sesh, hands still stained white and fleckled
from the paint primers. Red n White- Commonred would have been proud.

Biocurious is pretty well stocked out. Talked with Tito, who it turns out is actually a super cool guy. Will see if we can work him
into our AlumniGEM project.


@ Work, funky gels abound. Difficulties from both Powercell and Regobricks, trying brick our things. The intricacies of PCR, and gel electrophoresis. I think its akin to rough handling- whack things with a hammer, and hope that the molecular components jiggle back into formation. Talking with Tito, he said that his approach (and mine, I feel like) would rather be to not be hung up on the details, but outsource it to someone who knows how to do it. Get a grad student, pay him some money, and have him do all the.

But maybe that’s the wrong mentality. Maybe the mentality of improving mol. bio. techniques is useful too. it’s a hard skill that you take away from the project, because “so what if you synthesized the entire thing? you didn’t build it, all you had was money.” Learn the basics first, and then you can skip it for the sake of expediency. But expediency is a shadow of a guise when you try to use its name to pass laziness…


The biocurious community is super nice though, really feels like a community, everyone pitching in to streak the walls white


. Teamwork. It’s important.