Thursday, September 29, 2011

Custom reading list: Have you read...

I love books that come with personal endorsements. Based on what the person knows about you and a quick conversation about what you're in the mood for, you get a story along with a book, and after you are done, there is someone at the end of the book eager to discuss it with you.

A personalized reading list? Best thing ever.
So imagine my happiness when I found out that Houston Public Library provides custom reading lists with its "Have You Read..." program. You fill out a questionnaire listing your favorite (and not-so-favorite) books, preferred genres, tones (sentimental and emotional versus realistic?), what kind of humors you like (wordplay, clever dialogue, bizarre?), content (coming of age, gardens, journey and travel?) plus many more, and Houston librarians will put together a list of books they recommend for you.

Here's what I put down for my reading preference:
Liked: Lolita, Flowers for Algernon, Jeffery Eugenides and Jane Austen (tone)
Didn't like: Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (for the plot and characters), Jodi Picoult
Would like: Poetic language, socially relevant topics, modern setting, character studies, 250-500 pages

I got a recommendation of fifteen books including:
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Visitation by Frank E. Peretti
Kartography by Kamila Shamsie

Based on the short blurbs that came with the list, many have a sci-fi futuristic feel to them, wronged characters, different identities, unexpected situations, and revealed secrets. I am so excited to start this list, like I got an early Christmas present in September!
What better to do on days with rainy clouds like this? Read!
I am currently reading The Beginners by Rebecca Wolff but I can't wait to get started on my recommended reading series as soon as this tense, haunting journey is over. You don't even need to have a current Houston library card to take advantage of this service. So what are you waiting for?

Today at the gym I waited for a Zumba class to finish before my class and saw an older guy shaking it among the all-ladies club- the best. I need to try it out eventually- it looks like a ton of energetic fun!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sophie's World...

I finished "Sophie's World" and this book has me thinking about religion, existence, and our place in the World. Reading this book was definitely an adventure, since the book extended beyond its plot and reached out to my life. Although it is a novel, "Sophie's World" follows Sophie, a 15-year-old living in Sweden as she discovers mysterious letters from a philosopher leading her to explore philosophy through the ages and question her reality. There is a surprise at the end, as I began evaluating my suspension of disbelief, similar to "Lolita" in this way.

wearing invisible socks

I thought I put on enough sunscreen but two hours of Houston sun may be enough to melt away any prepared defense against the rays- I have sock tan lines! I spent most of my weekend outdoors- relaxing at Brochstein, working on my lab report outside, and rowing today morning. 
breakfast at Brochstein before football with little one
I think the hardest thing about philosophical questions is that there is no clear answer. You can believe it this way or that way, and push your beliefs into a direction. But it is also difficult to glue yourself to a body of thought because there are always great counterexamples that make you re-evaluate your position. I was also struck by the intimate weave between religion and philosophy throughout history. "Sophie's World" frames philosophy with a bigger storyline which keeps it exciting (and really makes the ending resonate)- definitely worth a read, just be patient.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Constant Gardener- of evil pharms and love.

After Z and I got back from H-mart, it was still early (10PM on a Friday night is early when you are 22... for once), so we decided to scroll through Netflix. He recognized "The Constant Gardener" as a book by John le Carre, and since this was shorter (we were counting down to our bedtimes) than "Gangs of New York", we chose to watch this gem.

And I am so glad I did! The title is a bit misleading, as is the poster. Both focus on Justin Quayle's love for his wife Tessa, even after her brutal death which seems to have been committed by her lover. Justin, a British diplomat to Kenya, searches Tessa's belongings to discover that Tessa had been on the brink of exposing a pharmaceutical company which was using Kenyans to test a dangerous TB drug.

I was surprised to find that this movie(book) was based on a real-life scandal in 1996 when Pfizer reportedly tested the meningitis antibiotic Trovan on 100 Nigerian children during the meningitis epidemic.

The film is beautifully shot with handheld cameras, intimately angled shots over shoulders and varying height levels. The colors are monochromatic for most scenes except those in Kenya which were full of vibrant accessories and drapey fabrics. There are some heartbreaking parts that portray the political instability and wrenching poverty in Kenya, and the film keeps you intrigued and mystified as you unravel the mystery with Justin Quayle. I was somewhat satisfied with the ending, but the fact something like this occurred in real life was disturbing beyond the 2-hour cinematic adventure.

I think this may be my new favorite movie(watch the trailer here). I realize that textbook classes are not the only way to educate people about worldly issues; different forms of art can serve as effective messages to shout about problems in our world.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

alcohol and mortality: don't let this U-shape fool you.

I went to a talk by Dr. Richard Rogers on Alcohol and Mortality hosted by the Kinder Institute for Urban Research this Wednesday. My friend was in town from D.C. so I invited him to listen to this sociology lecture I thought was so very relevant- Oktoberfest! College campuses!

Dr. Rogers began by showing us Risk vs. Exposure graphs. For example, in case of tobacco, there is a strong positive correlation between risk and exposure. Easy to understand, since there is also a causative relationship between tobacco and increased health risks.
Risk vs. Exposure graphs: positive correlation & U-shaped

However, for alcohol there seems to be a U-shaped (or J-shaped) curve between risk and exposure. The implication being that those who drink less or more have a greater mortality than those who drink moderately. Whaaat. The increased risk of those who didn't drink at all were Dr. Rogers' main focus. Why would there be a greater health risk with no drinking? Is there an overall health benefit from drinking these people are missing out on?

Actually, Dr. Rogers found that those who didn't drink at all included many different types of people. Case in point, "sick quitters" were former drinkers who had eventually quit due to health reasons. There were also those who had underlying medical conditions that kept them from drinking. Dr. Rogers noted that it is difficult to "tease out" the confounding factors that make people non-drinkers in the first place. Also, he stated that there are other social factors that are correlated with level of alcohol consumption such as culture, religion, socioeconomic status, education, marital status, and gender. An interesting continuation of the study would be looking at different types of alcohol (red wine and resveratrol!).

So I didn't get my answer to how much should I drink every week. But I found interesting how sociologists approach questions. The Q&A session afterwards focused on the methodology of his study- wording, reliable self-reporting, categories molded into one- rather than the significance and meaning of this finding.

My conclusion from this session is that I shouldn't impulsively choose how much to drink looking at these graphs. Because according to the initial risk vs. exposure graph, I should start drinking, but really, what information is that graph hiding?

Today was a long Friday! I ventured off campus to D'Amico's for a delightful lunch (Italian sausages and chicken romano) & petted a dead bird in a cardboard box, in addition to tracking down UPS and sending a gazillion emails. Anyhow, this weekend is filled with adventures with little ones. Tomorrow morning, find me on the lawns frolicking with smallest M. I actually have a canvas tote bag packed and ready to go, with diapers, fruit snacks and water bottles.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

learning to row.

I've been learning another fun skill lately: rowing! The closest boathouse to my house is the Greater Houston Rowing Club on Oyster Creek in Sugar Land, so I decided to sign up for their introductory rowing class.

During our first on-land class, we learned the basic terms, safety precautions, and instructions for the ergometer. Today was our first on-land rowing session, and I was placed in an eight (sits 8 sweepers). You actually face the stern, or the back of the boat, which makes the terminology a little tricky. Port is boat's left (your right) and starboard is boat's right. You are also assigned a number starting from the bow (front) of the boat, and once you are seated, you are called out by that number ("4! Square your oar!").

Since more than half of us were beginners, our boat did not look like this:
Picture Source
Our coxswain, who sits at the stern of the boat and is the only one facing forward, yelled out directions, cheered, made corrections- "you guys look like a crazy caterpillar!".
The Oyster Creek, calm waters

I already have blisters and jammed fingers. But I like this rowing business, and I think I might join the boathouse once I feel more confident in the water. Rowing is a great exercise because it uses the entire body. You use your legs-back-arms sequentially to row- it requires much coordination! Also, I was surprised at how sleek and light the boats were. We had nine people on our boat keeping us afloat on the water, but it was unbelievably light when we carried it back into the boathouse.

In other news, it finally rained here in Houston! It poured on my way to get gas- this is how I remember Houston summers.
free carwash!
A lot of driving this weekend- I picked up kimchi and am still finishing up the grilled chicken bulgogi from H-mart (finally).

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

onward to space: norman augustine on campus.

Let me preface this post by repeating a conversation I had over dinner. I told my overachiever friend A that I was going to a talk by Norman Augustine that evening, to which A nonchalantly replied: "Oh yeah, I just had coffee with him. He said really interesting things about innovation." Um, you don't just "have coffee" with Norman Augustine, but A really had- he had been invited as an undergraduate engineering major representative, spending an afternoon chatting with Norman Augustine. He needs to put that on his resume (if there is any space, Apie-poo).
I packed extra snacks for this looong day at school
After some much-needed catching up, I walked into the lecture I had been anticipating all week. Norman Augustine, the name itself inspires awe and respect from those even remotely interested in space exploration. Augustine is (among many, we need to start somewhere) former CEO of Lockheed Martin, head of the Advisory Committee on the Future of United States Space Program, former chairman of the American Red Cross, and more recently, chairman of the Review of United States Human Space Flight Committee. He holds many roles- professor, engineer, businessman, and CEO.

A towering figure, engaging the audience with his interesting stories
Augustine talked about the history of U.S. space exploration, peppering his talk with funny stories. He spoke about the time when he entertained kindergarten kiddos by having them ask questions on the phone to Buzz Aldrin (he has Buzz Aldrin's phone number!- but should I be surprised?) only to find out later that the kids thought they had been talking to Buzz Lightyear. He noted how fast space travel has been evolving, noting that his mother had been ten when the Wright brothers flew their first airplane and in her lifetime she met astronauts that had traveled to the Moon.

He spoke about balancing humans and robots on spaceships, because although robots can be reliable in dangerous situations, they cannot make spontaneous judgments in novel situations as well as humans can. Much of the focus now seems to be on Mars (Moon may be shoved aside as "been there, done that"). Some of the major problems about humans on Mars may be the potentially dangerous galactic cosmic rays and delayed communication with Earth (may take up to 20 minutes, compared to three seconds on the moon. Ugh, speed of light).

Space exploration may be "something just worth doing, not put a price on".
One thing I found interesting was his attempt at justifying the huge amount of public money we put into space exploration. Dr. Augustine made a bold statement which was questioned later during the Q&A session, that he would choose to explore space with money that could have been used to cure cancer, if it was such a choice. Dr. Augustine admitted that in making this decision he was "reluctant but convinced is correct". He noted that however, this is not the correct way to phrase a question, that we need to consider instead the efficiency of that extra dollar put into either programs.

The role of the space program, beyond its immediate benefits of improved technology and unraveling the mysteries of the universe, may be that it serves as an inspiration for young scientists and engineers. I was somewhat surprised to find that someone rational would choose such an abstract reason to support space exploration- I expected graphs and expected returns to investments charts- but maybe there is a huge benefit of the space program that is hard to quantify.

He ended his talk reminding us of the importance of establishing a "sustainable" plan that can last through multiple presidents, changing Congress, and shifting economies.

A great evening spent in the company of great thinkers. Our auditorium was the fullest I'd ever seen, and there were many people from the Johnson Space Center. I was reminded that I live in Houston, Houston!, as in "Houston, we have a problem."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

make someone check their mailbox.

Tomorrow morning, wake up and find someone you haven't chatted with in a while. Gather memories, send letters and packages, support the Postal Service. They have a great flat-rate program where you can pack whatever you want in pre-set sized boxes & send them for one flat rate, guaranteed delivery in 2-3 days. (I am sending my 15 pound package to New York for $10.95).

Is anyone else startled by the fact that U.S. Postal Service might be defaulting? It is great to find something unexpected at the bottom of your stairs, those handwritten letters and carefully packed boxes. I decided to support the USPS in my own way by baking delici-o things for my favorite sibling, another care package.
cashew-raspberry chocolate barks
prepping on the coffee table (bc I got no kitchen)
pumpkin bread = perfection.
And I leave you with this adorable scene:
sleepy kitty says "write me".
Can you imagine a world without mailmen & mailboxes?

dinosaurs died for your sins.

Witty, funny, and a little bittersweet.

Find more on
(Is it blasphemous to say this title? My AP U.S. History teacher had a bumper sticker that said "Custer died for your sins" which made his mom tremendously angry.)

Monday, September 12, 2011

body(caterpillar) snatching viruses.

On my commute to work, I heard something amazing on the radio. Scientists have discovered the gene on a virus that makes gypsy caterpillars act crazy. Gypsy caterpillars feed on leaves at night up on trees when they can't be seen by their predators, climbing down during the day. When they are infected with this virus, however, they stay up in the tree- a seemingly careless behavior- and when they die, spray the virus all over the leaves, infecting other caterpillars who feed on those leaves.

So it seems like the virus manipulates the caterpillar to put itself in the most ideal position for the virus to propagate itself, although the behavior is dangerous to the caterpillar. Remind you of anything?
Hello, you. Picture source
It was unknown how the virus did this mechanistically until this group of researchers from Penn State University found the responsible gene egt, which keeps the caterpillar "feeling hungry" so that it stays up on the tree, until this bag of virus explodes as the exoskeleton melts away. You think I am kidding. I wish:
That is a dead gooey caterpillar. Picture source
This paper cites "The Extended Phenotype" by Richard Dawkins(!!!), as the egt gene provides further support for the presence of the (obviously eponymous) extended phenotypes

So this one gene changes the behavior of caterpillars leading them to become effective vehicles for their own propagation. What one gene would make us humans go crazy? I immediately thought- the inability to count- but I need something that would either 1) make us engage in reckless behavior OR 2) make us so irritated that we would engage in reckless behavior. One behavioral change. Thought for the day.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

houston, we have a problemooo-

It's official! I am enrolled in a class- it says so on my transcript. I was excited to find that my neighborhood library had re-opened after being closed down the entire summer for renovations. I drove up to the library on sunny Saturday morning to find a cash cow outside:
It's a ca$h cow... for real$.

What is going on with these cows? Back when I used to bike to school, I would see these cows grazing on lawns outside of houses, all painted differently. I finally looked up "Houston cows" and found out that these are part of a public art project named "Cow Parade: Houston 2001". Artists were selected to design these pre-sculpted cows which were then auctioned off to be put in locations around Houston. Many ended up in government and business buildings, some ended up on peoples' front lawns.

You can look here to find out where your favorite cow has been "grazing".

The project began with Chicago in 1999, and has expanded to over 50 cities all over the world. At their online gift store, you can shop for a cow jewelry box, a miniature cow, or even a life-size one if you want to start a cow-farm in your own city(make sure you have a couple of thousand dollars to spare).
table by the sunny window... studying rocks! (get it?)
heading out, lugging giant bags
Back in Tampa, Umma and I would go to the library on summer afternoons or weekend mornings. We'd check out DVD's, read random DIY guides, or otherwise finish errands sitting at the tables. I love libraries because they are associated with these good memories. A lifetime of learning, I think yes.

remembering 9/11/01.

My memory of 9/11 is waking up to the sound of television in the living room. I was living in Bundang at the time, and I walked out to find my parents watching the news which was playing the horrible video clip over and over again. I woke up the next morning and remember thinking maybe I'd dreamed about the whole incident. I had no idea that this incident and subsequent wars would change my life too.
streets near West U elementary

One of the most striking thing I heard about 9/11 was this: when the earthquake hit DC couple of weeks ago, many people wondered if this was another terrorist attack. It is this sense of personal safety that was invaded with 9/11 ten years ago. I woke up today to three missed calls, and my first response was to turn on the news to see if anything had happened.
Take a drive down University- it's hard not to feel patriotic.

This week, the street I drive home to are lined with flags to remember 9/11. You know how everyone thinks it is cheesy at pageants when the contests answer "world peace" as their one wish? I sincerely hope that people can put their ignorance and stubborn beliefs aside and live in peace. Why do we make bombs and weapons anyway?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

daydream& visualize: my diploma.

I finally got my rolled-up diploma framed! Our diplomas are hugemontacious(18 by 23), and now that it is hung up, overshadows everything else in the room.
Diploma finally hanging on the wall
I spent a good ten minutes making the borders perfectly even on all four sides and then putting the frame straight up on the wall. This diploma represents the four years of studying, learning, and growing up at Rice, and I am so proud of myself for earning my degree.

+++ Worst case of fuuuu today: I went to the gym and found that I only had one sock in my gym bag! Not wanting to waste the perfect parking spot I'd snatched, I hopped on the treadmill. Three miles later, I found the other sock while digging for my water bottle.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Brazos Bend Park- day trip.

I went on a last minute day trip to the Brazos Bend State Park this weekend. Three of us drove an hour out of Houston to Needville where it was hard to believe we were only thirty miles outside of the fourth largest U.S. city. Windows down, and a stop at the neighborhood gas station/one-stop-for-every-needs.

Swamp but no alligator sightings!

We hiked along the lakes and swamps, most of which were dried out. We looked for alligators (approaching the lake too close at times) but later were told that due to the recent intense heat, alligators burrow themselves in the mud and stay in during daytime.
George Observatory with the moon and sunset skies
We also checked out George Observatory where we saw a nebula, the moon (it seemed so close and pristine!) and constellations. The volunteers had strong laser lights and pointed out the stars through the atmosphere particles. Looking at the stars and planets above us always makes me feel so insignificant. Who knows what could be happening in that star over there? Does it blow anyone else's mind that a star we're looking at may no longer exist?

It is Monday night: I had the best group Skype date with my darling girlfriends, followed by a phone call with BB who made me feel infinitely better. Currently feeding Little Brother lyrical lines from The New Pornographers' Myriad Harbour, trying to convince him it is the greatest piece of musical genius ever.
Someone somewhere asked me
Is there anything in particular I can help you with?
(All I ever needed help with was you)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

caitlin mcgauley: beautiful watercolors.

My latest obsession is Caitlin McGauley and her beautiful watercolor paintings. I had been eyeing the watercolor pieces on Kate Spade stationery & finally decided to look into the artist behind them. They are effortless, delicate, and simply so chic.

I drool. Scroll through her illustrations listening to Yo La Tengo's Mr. Tough on this Sunday morning- perfect.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

balancing it all: the professional woman.

I think this struggle occupies my mind more than it should. In latest family news, my youngest E-mo- aunt in Korean- received her Ph.D. from SNU Monday this week. I'll be cheering her on in her career & family life.

I stumbled upon this opinion piece from Forbes, which made me think. Here is a paragraph that had me deep in frowns once I was done processing this avalanche of correlations.
For our purposes, a "career girl" has a university-level (or higher) education, works more than 35 hours a week outside the home and makes more than $30,000 a year.  
If a host of studies are to be believed, marrying these women is asking for trouble. If they quit their jobs and stay home with the kids, they will be unhappy ( Journal of Marriage and Family, 2003). They will be unhappy if they make more money than you doSocial Forces, 2006). You will be unhappy if they make more money than you doJournal of Marriage and Family, 2001). You will be more likely to fall ill ( American Journal of Sociology). Even your house will be dirtier ( Institute for Social Research). ~Michael Noer for
So, I should give up my career so that my husband does not fall ill and that my house stays clean (who measures these things anyway?). If I happen to keep my career, I should make sure to make less than my husband, okay.

I went through Forbes 2010 list of World's Most Powerful Women and tallied up their marital status & children, which was at least hopeful.

To be honest, I am usually surprised by my friends who grew up with nannies or grandparents, but I am not being fair to my fellow gender. I think the gender equality & career issue is something we are recently coming into, and hope that in my lifetime (in my own life) we are able to figure it out.

It is Labor Day weekend, and I've been searching "paragenesis of [mineral]" for the last hour. I finally watched Vanilla Sky last night and loved it, but I kept thinking about Minority Report (Tom Cruise repeats his facial expressions). Also, did you know Penelope Cruz basically repeats her same role as in the Spanish version just five years prior, Open Your Eyes?

Day trip to an outdoor park and maybe an observatory this afternoon. I'm sending good vibes to Austin!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Forget about it, move on!

I had the most inspiring conversation with a guy who drove me from the car repair shop. I sometimes dread inevitable conversations with strangers because they feel forced and every silence turns into a frantic search for another topic, but we actually had a good conversation. His advice: “you’re young, you’re intelligent. Deal with it, just forget it happened, and move on. Don’t let this cripple you for the rest of your life!”. He was referring to my last rental car traumatic experience, but the way he said it, I imagined he would have said the same to me about other life happenings.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

green leprechauns in the mantle.

Hi, it's September.

1. I went to a baseball game(Cubs vs. Astros) where we watched three Taco Bell sauces race around the field:
Mild won. How do you get jobs like this?
2. I am obsessed with this picture from Bonnie and Clyde. I'd like to look this excited and equally fantastic when I am running away from cops.
3. With classes we begin the quotable professor series: "Inside of the earth is green, like green leprechauns, not those red devil-ey thingies".
(and another by a student: "Could you... tell me about the forbidden zone?"- I swear this was relevant. The way he said it after everyone had been eyeing this area on the graph up on the screen made it funny.)

4. Bruce is now the official spokes-moose for skin cancer after a summer on Kasey's dashboard.
5. The quote on my mind (after watching One Day & etc):
"If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story." Orson Welles