Archive for June, 2009|Monthly archive page

cout >> “Dear World,”;

see lemons with an open mindRandom Observation/Comment #200: As a tribute to this 200th post, I will do a little happy dance. *Does the happy dance*.  You didn’t see it, but it was actually performed.  With the amount of time and effort I put into this blog, I think I could have written a book by now.  Actually, a lot of the material is relevant to something like a Truth North self-help finding-ones-self type of book.  I guess I thought about this whole book thing because I thought of a random goal to achieve in the next 10 years.  I want to be on the Colbert Report.  The only minor detail to this ambition is my need to write something relevant to current events and politics, publish it, and have it as a best seller.  I guess before I can be a part of the Colbert Report, I need to be famous, and I’m wondering if that’s what I want.  In my own little competition with myself, I probably just want to do something that sounds cool.  “I was on the Colbert Report.” “That’s pretty badass.”

World: why are you filled with such bitter and sweet?  There are days where you’re a living Hell and others that just make me believe there’s no Heaven because it can’t get any better. Of course, I would be naïve to think that the majority of good I see could replace, or compare with, the suffering around the world, but everything has its moments.  I stay optimistic about you because you provide for me this medium of happiness.  I see you as a container of mixed nuts – you’ll always have the cashews, but sometimes the almonds will sneak in with their dry texture and evil ways.

Unfortunately, it is our nature to see evil much more than good.  Our criticisms just point out the mistakes because it makes good news.  We see a molding piece of bread in a batch and tend to throw them all away in fear of contamination.  And the weird thing is that it’s true.  I’m not about to speak religion in any way, but morality and this notion of evil does spread in weird ways.  It’s difficult to argue against the fundamental laws of humanity; the ones we find obvious, not by nurture, but by logic and understanding of our environment.

We want others to feel the same pain we feel when we’ve felt pain – I’ve seen this often with jealousy and violence.  But will the cycle ever end?  Does this mean we are allowed to make excuses for our own actions based on some general abandonment of hope?  I’m brought back to a Michael Jackson song (of course, I must make a reference): Man in the Mirror.  If you haven’t heard it, you should.  “If you want to make a world a better a place; take a look at yourself and make a change.”

World – it’s not your fault that humanity is flawed.  We’ve done some shit that we’re ashamed of, but there are moments of joy that make everything worth it.  It’s how we muster the strength to defend what is important – we have that desire to make those good times come again.  So World, can’t we all just get along?  This could be a plea from one that is aware of eventual destruction in this insignificant creature’s life in the marvels of the universe, but just give us a little bit longer?  I just need more time.  Four months was not enough.

~See Lemons Sincerely Clementine

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A Hungarian Tribute

I'll miss all of you!

I'll miss all of you!

Random Observation/Comment #199:  The past 4 months have passed by unbelievably quickly.  It felt like just yesterday we were all drinking our first beers in public, dancing on tables, and finding valid excuses to party every day of the week.  I’ve had an absolutely wonderful time getting to know everyone, especially the “Hungarian group” (to which I will dedicate this entry to).  I hope we will all stay in touch through tweets, status updates, and random pokes through facebook, email, or any other social network.  If anybody (Hungarians and everyone else I’ve met abroad included) visits New York, you will have a personal tour guide and possibly a place to stay.  Either way, I hope we will always be international friends.  It’s incredibly sad to see this Hamburg University Chapter come to an end, but as with all good memories, it will have a fantastic finish tonight.  Let’s make the last party rock the house (dormitory/apartment/whatever).  May our paths cross again in the future…

In most of my journal entries, I think about the beginning and then flip through my mental photo album of these moments to find the right words.  Each quirky personality comes to mind through the crooked smirks, embarrassed smiles, and uncontrollable laughter memories we shared together.  I can’t quite pin-point how I exactly became a fellow-Hungarian, but our relationship grew from just being with each other in our happiest times.  Whether it was a relaxing walk through Berlin, a well-cooked dorm goulash dinner, or another alcohol-filled night at the bar downstairs, the time we spent together will always remind me of freedom and friendship.

Interestingly enough, I was accepted into the group with open arms.  It might have been the massage-hands or my tendency to take pictures of everything (which they find adorable), but I really felt missed when I couldn’t make it to a party – like I was a genuine part of their group from the start.  It was only a small amount of attention, but it pulled me into this temporary family and I’m happy that I was a part of it.  Each of you has made an impact on me and you deserve your individual tributes.

Greg has somehow become my pupil after these past few months of living in the same flat and partying (pretty much all the time).  I can sense that he has respect for my opinion and enjoys my company, so he invites me to his excursions and discusses random topics when he passes my room for his occasional smoke.  Although Greg is sometimes overstressed about certain aspects of his schoolwork, he knows how to have a good time and let loose at a party.  Drunk Greg tends to use very flashy hand gestures (which we all love to notice and mimic), and will always push for more shots of Jagermeister (good man).  It may seem like I did most of the teaching with the occasional English reviews, but you have taught me more than you realize.  I’m glad we became friends and I hope I can meet you in Hungary or Austria in 2 years.

Frank exudes the qualities of a professional like no other.  He’s well-dressed, current events savvy, and charismatic about all topics of conversation.  Even if he’s never been to a place, he is automatically crowned the guide, leader, and decision-maker.  I haven’t found this exact quality to his stride or the way he holds his conversations, but there’s a certain characteristic that makes his arguments very convincing.  Either way, I think I have learned one of his secrets: Frank loves the camera and wants to be immortalized in the most interesting poses.  It works out well – every photographer needs that fun-pose model.

For the sexy poses, I’ll, of course, yield the lens to the lovely ladies.  This is one of my outrageous hypotheses, but I think the girls competed for my attention to get more massage-time.  They each had their own strategies for getting my attention (or at least I saw it this way in my mind), but I found it interesting because they appealed to such different parts of my brain (I can’t choose a favorite so I think I fell for all of you in different ways =D).  I’ll be more specific: (It is a given that you’re all very pretty, so I’ll leave it out of the descriptions).

Ria appealed to the obvious and straightforward physical contact.  It is custom for European hugs and kisses, but it was more of an enjoyment than a formality.  In many ways, I felt like she was the awkward hand on the thigh stepping around the line of appropriateness.  We shared the sitcom inside-jokes with How I Met Your Mother and Friends references, which is always an interesting topic of conversation.   I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider it, but there was something with the grouping circumstances that made me more comfortable in a friend zone (going into detail about these personal dating rules would be too far off-topic).

Reka is adorable and really attracted that cute-sy, naming-stuffed-animals side of me.  She shyly smiles, and often shows a silent jealousy I’ve often noticed from my Chinese ex-girlfriend.  It used to work so much better, but I guess I grew up from that phase.  Because of this sheep obsession, her personality stuck in my mind and it made me buy her a sheep toy and draw a sheep-portrait for her.  The cute gestures continued, but my normal observation-driven drunken nights never lead me to common topics and inside jokes.  I feel like younger-timid-Clemens would have been captivated, but more-mature-Clemens wavered and explored a different world.

Juli is the youngest, yet fit in seamlessly.  I was unexpectedly impressed by her wit and our playful conversations.  I don’t think it had to do with age or innocence, but rather a very quick connection to normal wordplay.  I rarely say this, but she has a beautiful personality.  It’s not even that we know each other extremely well; I just find this combination of words to be very fitting.  The odd thing is that I don’t think anyone would disagree because I just said what everyone was trying to say, but just couldn’t find the words for. You’re welcome.

Vikky claims my educational and independence-driven part of my heart.  She really reminds me of Monica from Friends.  She’s responsible, organized, and very tidy with every aspect of her life – to summarize: she will be a wonderful mother.  The trips will be planned down to every detail and optimal efficiency would be achieved (efficiency = super sexy).  I think our personalities have much more in common than we gave time to explore, but (as expected) the positive and negative qualities of social intellectuals arise – we have much to say, yet we rather observe.  However, one who pries will find a topic that just makes us talk non-stop.  Her enthusiasm just so happened to be in volleyball, which – to put into my hobby gauge – matches my enthusiasm for ping pong (which borderlines obsession).

Orsi has the most extroverted personality with quite a contagious laugh and smile.  She floats around in her own world and sprinkles her happy mood on the group.  Not only is she quite the dancer, but I think I would consider her the most energetic.  Her playful nature is something anyone would love, and I feel like a livelier person in her presence.  She’s proof that happiness can be spread by example, and I’m glad I met someone with this quality.  Even though I haven’t called you Sushi since the first time I met you, the word will always remind me of you and your enthusiasm.

Although I did not wind up a fluent Hungarian speaker (I’m surprised too), I’ve learned a great deal about the culture and customs.  At the end of the day, we were all study abroad students living a study abroad student life, but there was a definite connection.  Actually, I was probably drawn to the unbelievably hot group of beautiful girls.  It’s true – you make all of my friends jealous and I’m glad we have so many pictures together.

Cheers! Egészségedre! Kampai! Kippis! Salud! Salute! Skal! Na zdrowie! Budem zdorovy! Let’s get our freak on.  All the best and safe travels.

Your Sneaker,

Clemens

~See Lemons Miss Greg, Frank, Ria, Reka, Juli, Vikky, and Orsi (Sushi)

they're so cute...

they're so cute...

A series of parties

old school first group picture

old school first group picture

Random Observation/Comment #198: This dorm life I live is continuously surprising and ever-so lively.  Somewhere, a party lurks every night and sometimes they exist for the strangest reasons.  “It’s Thirsty Thursday – we have to drink.”  “Let’s party because it’s Wednesday and that’s hump day.”  “It’s Monday so I need a small low key party to slowly wean me off the alcohol withdrawal from the night before.”  “I felt like cooking for everyone in the dorm.”  “The bar’s open tonight.” “I’m bored…”  I’ve attended parties every day of the week and somehow it doesn’t get boring with such great company and excess alcohol.  I hope I’m always young and blessed with a healthy liver.

I’ve always believed in the phrase, “Everything in moderation (even moderation).”  I’m actually not exactly sure what it means in a broader sense, but I think it’s relevant.  Partying is a form of stress relief and a way to unwind.  In Japan, they take it to the extreme because people are so completely absorbed into their roles and the masks they wear in front of family and work that they never get to just let loose.  It’s actually a little depressing seeing adults in full suits passed out on the street next to a puddle of theirs (or someone else’s) old dinner and stomach acid (I’ve seen it often in Osaka).  Although this could be relieving, in one way or another, I would suspect that the hangover creates a bigger problem than just going home for a good night’s rest.  But, alas, people must be pleased and sometimes that self-sacrificing Asian characteristic just gets the better of their reality.

Europeans, on the other hand, just drink every night.  This does not mean that they’re alcoholics, it just means they really like the taste of beer with their meals.  If it’s a nice day outside, it’s a perfectly valid excuse to grab a beer from the automat at noon.  They basically drink it to quench their thirst and maintain its role as a social lubricant.  It’s not some idolized, freedom substance abuse to get this drunken feeling – no, it’s just something to do when watching a football match or in between chews.

The difference in the perspective of alcohol is also apparent by age.  I find the Japanese culture towards drinking as the cure to all their problems for that one forgettable night.  It’s like a frat party filled with people that want an excuse to make stupid choices.  The European culture still involves drinking, but the higher tolerance level just leads to louder chants and livelier conversations.

Unfortunately, the American culture doesn’t see this as a symbol of freedom or a daily routine, but instead, it is treated as a chance to rebel.  The 21 drinking age just makes teenagers feel like it is “cool” to get drunk.  This little nugget blooms dangerously, and if the law isn’t changed, I will proactively teach my child about alcohol in my own way.  You don’t just make it some forbidden fruit – don’t you know that just makes people want it more?  Don’t girls love chasing guys they can’t get?  (That comment may have been uncalled for).  The point is: Teenagers are going to get their alcohol somehow, so you might as well legalize it to remove the adrenaline rush of doing something illegal.

What is my proactive solution?  Class never goes out of style.  Nobody likes a drunken frat dude except for other drunken frat dudes.  If beer tastes crappy, then why drink it?  If getting completely plastered makes the next day unbearable, then why do it?  The answer is: because you are studying abroad and you can, so you should.  But, remember: in moderation (even moderation).  PS – Drink Guinness because it’s not just a beer; it’s a meal. ::Thumbs Up::

~See Lemons Partay for the right reasons

The Beginnings to my Lucid Dreaming

Color distortion in my dream world

Color distortion in my dream world

Random Observation/Comment #197: I’m fairly strange and I invest my time into very weird hobbies, so it shouldn’t be too outrageous to hear that I have had a dream diary for 8 years.  I actually started in high school just as a personal side project to see if I could control my dreams.  I had some fairly wild thoughts while in my little world, and I’d always wake up thinking “holy crap that dream was awesome” and then completely forget all the details before I could tell anyone.  All that lingered was the feeling of an awesome dream, while everything else just faded to the background.  It was very frustrating not being able to remember something, so I did what I was taught to do in high school – I took notes.  I bullet-pointed everything and then filled in the details of how the main ideas connected later.  It was actually quite interesting trying to pin-point the memories and images that could have possibly contributed to the dream.  The scattered thoughts just jump from one idea to another and the normal stream of consciousness makes the outrageous connections.

There was a lull in high school where I had become quite sick for a week straight.  It was probably the only days I ever missed of class since I had ever started school (perfect attendance award – w00t).  During this rollercoaster of high fevers and unbearable chills, I hallucinated and had these terrible nightmares.  I’d always get scared staring at the corners of my bedroom because they would seem to suck me into this place filled with creepy clowns and an abundance of fire.  It was during this week of bed-ridden Counter-Strike-less nightmares that I learned to escape.

These nightmares were incredibly vivid and wet-your-bed horrifying (not that I did it).  Fortunately, I found a pattern that made me realize I was actually in this dream world.  To prepare for this, I heightened my everyday observation skills and compared them to what I saw and felt in my dreams.  It took some time, but I had discovered that my dream world operates, in effect, as a dominos of senses where each domino represents a different sense.  As the plot unraveled, I could only focus on one sense at a time and it would alternate between all of these senses maybe at one second intervals.  It’s as if I was blind one second and then deaf another.  These emotions all become enhanced and act as a trigger to make me realize that my brain was no longer filtering and categorizing the senses separately, but rather creating them to mimic my older observations.  In many cases, I felt this odd sense of déjà vu and then everything just clicked.

Everyone has a different trigger, but most people use the method, where they realize they are in a dream environment, as their main indication that they can take control and do whatever they want to manipulate the dream.  The fast switch between senses works for me, but I’ve also noticed distortions in very fine details in people’s faces.  It looks normal in a glance, but when you try and concentrate on certain features, they just disappear.  It seems like the brain just injects the notion of a character you know into your plot, and then (since you know this person) the details are filled-in with separate memories.  This is one of those vague hypotheses I’ve made that sound terribly convincing, but I have no evidence to support it.  It just makes sense to me that my brain would be structured like a computer program.  There must be a dream constructor somewhere that instantiates the characters, but relies on other abstract classes to describe their actions.

Anyway, before realizing these sense enhancements, I tried staring at my body parts a lot.  Whenever I was dreaming, I always felt like my eyes were 5 inches above normal height.  My hands looked oddly smaller and my fingers were always much longer than usual.  As a spectator in the dream, you could just say “wow, that’s weird,” but if you want to take control of these dreams, you can’t be lazy about it.

Whenever I find myself realizing I’m dreaming, I always try to take off my glasses and my shirt.  I think I do this because I barely notice myself wearing glasses, yet I should be able to tell the difference with them off.  Once the glasses come off, I usually have partial control.  Sometimes it involves changing the plot, and other times I am stuck in the plot, but I am able to make decisions.  Lucid dreaming in nightmares, which is where it all started, began as a quick way to wake up.  Interestingly enough, trying to open my eyelids actually opened my eyelids.  I really needed to concentrate on the muscles that I use to blink every day (which is incredibly challenging), but if I try hard enough, I usually wake up.

After this whole sick-week passed, I continued to try and lucid dream.  I read a lot of articles and found that it’s quite rare to have full control of the dream.  There are actually experts in this field – It must be one interesting job to sleep all day.  I read a study that mentioned how afternoon naps have a higher likelihood of leading to lucidity.  I’ve done my own testing, and it seems like the best dreams are the ones that happen after the first alarm goes off.  I sometimes set my alarm for 6AM because after turning it off, I think I’m more aware that I was just awake and lucidity follows much more easily.

On average, I fly once a week.  What I love much more, though, is the Spiderman web swing, which only happens about once a month.  So, if I can realize I’m dreaming and control the dream, why not just teleport and live your life in your sleep?  I actually find it very difficult to transport to completely new places in dreams because thinking too hard usually causes me to wake up.  In most cases, I try to cherish the moment of realizing I’m dreaming and maintain my position as a spectator as long as possible.  It’s a balance between taking risks and looking for more.  It’s nice to be ambitious, but it seems the harder I try, the more likely I am to wake from the dream.  Maybe I should stop trying and just live it.

~See Lemons Dream Freely

Why Study Abroad?

So close, yet so far.

So close, yet so far.

Random Observation/Comment #196: This blog has been around for a little over a year and I am glad I have kept it consistently updated about random things for this long. It’s has been my greatest success in side projects and has led to so many more different ideas that keep myself enjoying what life has to offer.  It took some time, but I stepped back from a brainwashed cookie-cut path that everybody “should” take.  It doesn’t mean that I could have read some book or even my own thoughts about this and skipped the whole phase – rather I feel that living this brainwashed life and then suddenly traveling abroad and seeing it unravel, is part of this enlightenment experience.  Without those torturous all-nighters and unforgiving professors, I would not have developed the work ethic and curiosity/thirst for knowledge.  There are so many topics that I like reflecting on, but the past year has been looking for that career.  It’s a difficult choice and all of my research has been recorded to help me make that decision.  Studying abroad and testing each dimension of preferences really provided the perfect “experimental setting.”

I was asked to write something about studying abroad and I realized that everything in my past year of writing has been in some way connected to finding myself in another country.  I guess I could relate it specifically to my project involving artificial intelligence research and applications, but I think my intentions for this traveling experience is clear: I am finally on a vacation – away from the stress of deadlines for 8 professors, each with a tight lock on my schedule and subsequent social life (or lack thereof).  I can easily list the advantages of utilizing the resources for the robotics applications in Osaka University and Hamburg University, but I think this is quite obvious.  Most people are given a choice of countries they would prefer to study abroad in.  Everyone has that one that they’ve always wanted to go to.  Mine was always Japan because of the technology advancements and Otaku lifestyle.  Because of this intrinsic interest in this country, I made my dream come true and worked with some of the most brilliant students and professors I have ever read about (let alone, meet).  Their accomplishments made me salivate and it turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.  After studying abroad in Japan, I was not finished with exploring the possibilities abroad.  I found the contrast in work ethic and hierarchical political structures between Japanese and American methods to be so significant that I was curious how other countries compared.

From my social psychology class, I learned about a few of the major differences between cultures, and I found Germany to be one of the most interesting.  Their attention to detail and punctuality made me wonder how a research position would compare.  My conclusions will be more concrete after I finish my time here, but it has definitely been different.  There is a level of freedom, respect, and trust between the teams and it’s a wonderful mixture that allows for achieved deliverables and actual results.  Excuses are ignored and what matters is the product.  The separation between work and social life is very clearly defined and I feel an overall reduced pressure in this environment.  In Japan, I was afraid that my work would disappoint them so I spent weeks trying to achieve some perfection.  Here, I seem to have a good time completing the project, while eventually reaching the same amount forward.

So, that’s what I found to be quite obvious about research and actual work (yes, obvious).  What’s not so obvious is the method of fully utilizing the study abroad experience to broaden your views of the world.  For third year college students, a summer abroad studying experience is never about the material you create in this new environment.  There is no way that a single summer course or 10 weeks of research can change the world.  What’s important to realize is that, although the world has not changed, this experience can change the world you see.  Whether it’s the comparison of lifestyle or different types of people, each person has a different aspect of life that becomes clarified by their abroad experience.  I can’t say which one yours will be, but I’m sure that an open-mind and the willingness to openly socialize with everyone will provide enough fuel to find your answer.

I have never met someone who has been to a study abroad program that said, “Oh, that study abroad program was horrible.  I had a terrible time.”  And even if there was an opinion similar to this, at least they know that being away from home and meeting new people is outside of their comfort zone.  It’s about using this time to learn more about yourself and how you present yourself.  It’s also about making new friends and growing connections.  There’s always someone unusually interesting in a group, and their shy nature requires that ice to be broken before they reveal those opinions that could change your life.  By immersing yourself away from home in a new language and new customs, you increase the chances of meeting someone with a different attitude and perspective towards life.  I think this is the value of learning about other cultures through these first-hand experiences.  (Plus, there are no alcohol restrictions).

~See Lemons Study Abroad

Engineering Pre-Crisis Rant

Chasing time

Chasing time

Random Observation/Comment #195: I feel like I’m always trying to stay ahead of my age. When I saw that Tony Stark video from Ironman, it made me wonder why I didn’t do all the awesome shyt that he did.  Realistically speaking, I’m not smart enough to graduate from MIT at the age of 18, and neither is 99.9999999% (I might need more 9’s) of the world, but I’d always like to think I could be that unique flower (that genius unique flower).  I don’t remember very well, but I’m pretty sure it was the elementary schools that fed me all this false hope that I would be some exception.  Whatever happened to just being normal?  I guess striving for normality seems strange, and seeing how stupid normal people are gives me some discouragement.  Anyway, it was in the second of year of college when I realized that this age barrier disappears and becomes replaced with experience and stories.  I’m not in competition with Tony Stark or even the guy sitting next to me.  We’re all just enjoying the little pleasures of life while contributing to our respective communities.  Happiness is actually quite simple.

Competition drives our economy and creates this motivation to win with better innovations and marketing plans.  I’ve always thought it was a good thing to join these contests because it promotes teamwork between students and gives each school a representation towards a common goal.  I found these projects (other than kicking ass and wrecking the competition in every event) was also about teamwork and strengthening the core of how we advance.  I always thought that “best team spirit” award was bullshyt for schools that didn’t win any other awards (and it probably was), but I think it’s actually quite important to fortify the idea that individuals, by themselves, do not change the world.  To make this place better for the generations to come, we must become a team and fall into our respective specialties.

Competition mixes nicely with motivation, but fails when it’s taken without the community and teamwork required for reaching the goal.  I originally thought that I would be against comparing people to each other and looking for the most exciting story and series of adventures, but now I feel a bit different.  Without the normal (or at least my vision of a normal life), then how would I then actively become different?  It sounds like I’m just being purposefully difficult and going against all normal activities – and in a way – I think I am.  Why not?

It seems like I’ve fallen into some Engineering pre-career crisis.  Based on the working engineers I’ve spoken to, I see this stereotypically boring engineering life style with their second lives lost in some social network.  Their 9-to-5 just sounds excruciating and I will do everything I can to prevent this from happening.  I want to mold the enjoyable aspect of engineering with the excitement in random hobbies.  I feel like I’m trying to be my own psychologist for a possible future-Clemens based on every decision I make.  It’s quite challenging figuring out how you’ll react to certain unknown environments, and maybe this over-thinking is making me hesitate that choice that will help me move forward.

Getting to know yourself is an interesting thing.  It reminds me of these theories I’ve heard about finding the right significant other.

I guess I’ve been putting so much thought into finding a career that I’ve related it to finding a spouse.  I should be dating around to see different types of personalities, but I can’t have such a long list that it just becomes disgusting (especially if you are required to show this list with your responsibilities in each relationship to your next relationship before the first date starts).  I wouldn’t want to date me if I’ve jumped from girl to girl trying to find myself and what fulfills my financial and intellectual stimulations.  What I look for in a career is complicated (almost as complicated as how I react to different types of girls).  There are obvious deal breakers and things that would make my pants come right off, but the most important part is looking for the right package.  It must be a balance of all of these things, and the perks of the career must outweigh the negatives.  For example, I could deal with a tramp-stamp (technical term) if it were above a beautiful booty (also a technical term).

If I apply the same logic with girls as I do with a career, there is one thing that I should realize.  Even though I pretend to know myself and how my ideal girl looks and behaves, there will always be something completely outside of your comfort zone that catches you off guard and sweeps you off your feet.  It sounds like some cheesy, cliché line from a chick-flick, but I think it reminds me to keep my eyes and mind open to seize the opportunities (that pass by in a mini-skirt) and just keep following the path if it keeps you happy.

Life does flash before our eyes before we die – it’s called living.  I rather spend it doing something instead of waiting for perfection that will never come.

~See Lemons Date Around

Falling Deeper

Falling Deeper

My Intermediate Overview of Study Abroad

mystery-desu

mystery-desu

Random Observation/Comment #194: It’s interesting how I’ve always saved the overviews of my trips until the trips are finally over when I’m in my pajammy-jams at 3PM while sadly trying to piece my life together for the next phase.  I never actually capture the intermediate stages of feelings when I’m truly happy or sad.  Instead, I’m usually writing it in a stage when I know the whole trip is over and I miss the freedom or I’m scared of moving forward.  I think the reviews I’ve given are true, yet just a little biased.  I could see myself extenuating the good things and overlooking the bad (or at least being less critical about them) because it’s just too sad to combine the two afterwards.  Well, now that I’m in the middle of this adventure, I might as well give the newly arrived Cooper students a truthful overview.

Studying abroad in any country is an injection of two fundamental ideas: Freedom and Responsibility.  The balance of these two ideas will determine the levels in your fun-o-meter, safety-alarm, and craziness-scale.  Okay, so just because the measurement tools are fictional and the scale is relatively arbitrary and distributed for each individual, it doesn’t mean what I advise isn’t useful.  It is important to realize that this is a unique experience with a mix of different cultures, so one should be open-minded to meeting new people and seeing new things.  I would take full advantage of being in Europe and embark on random excursions or exciting adventures with strangers (strangers that you know kinda well).  But, of course, you already knew this before leaving, so let me be more specific about the program and experiences/activities I’ve been involved with.  I’ll separate this into a few major topics: University Responsibilities, Dorm Life, Hamburg Attractions, Nearby Cities, Must-sees in Europe, Useful Resources

University Responsibilities

I am working on a project that involves the application of artificial intelligence algorithms (specifically reinforcement learning) to improving industrial robot movements.  The German professors are extremely nice, although very strict about their meeting start times and deadlines.  If you can produce results, you shouldn’t have a problem.  My personal project does not really involve college credit so the work I put in will determine whether or not I can publish a paper on this material.  The German style of research is very straight forward and everyone works diligently for the directed times.  There will always be the quiet engineering types, but most of them are interested in foreign exchange students, so I’m sure you’ll be able to have lunch groups.  Based on the Cooper study abroad program format, you will have to submit a report of the work you have completed.  Don’t worry about this too much – I just kept a weekly journal of things I did for the project and submitted that (in a more concise form).  I wrote that the specifics to most of the experiments could not be revealed due to a soon-to-be-published paper (which was actually true for my case), but I don’t think it would be that much of a problem.  They really just want to see that you weren’t only there partying.

Dorm Life

The International dorms are incredibly fun.  Leave the university work for the 9 to 5 weekday and do some socializing and self-exploration at night and on weekends.  I haven’t met as many Germans as I’ve wanted to since I’ve been living in this spawning pool for study abroad students.  The interesting thing is that they all want to practice English more than German because they find it more important for their future careers.  I would suggest trying to learn some phrases in German (if not study and take a full course).  The language isn’t easy, but dedicating an hour a day will at least keep you from drinking too often.  Now, I’m not condoning drinking, but I personally know enough different groups to get invited out to a different place every night.  Europeans drink every night.  Although it’s not necessarily until their drunk, they use it as a social lubricant in every sense of the word.  The other great thing about the dorm is the cooking parties at different apartments.  After you host your own cooking party with your roommates and invite a few people, you’ll be invited to their cooking parties within the rest of your stay.  Every country has their specialty meal and there’s always one surprisingly good (or experimental) chef in the dorm room.  My roommates are wonderful and we’ve become a close family with our assigned jobs.  I have somehow become the English homework checker for many of them.  I’m sure you’ll find some interesting shoes to fill.

Hamburg Attractions

I’m a big fan of walking even though we have these free monthly S-/U-bahn tickets provided by the university.  From Berliner Tor, you could walk to the main city area by the Hauptbahnhof and the Rathaus around the Alster Lake in 20 minutes.  When the weather is nice, there’s a huge fountain in the center of the lake and people have the best ice cream in Hamburg at this small Gelato place in Europe Passage.  Many of my university friends take longer lunch breaks for some time away from work.  The port area near Landersbruchen can also offer some great views.  You can take the ferry for free to a few beaches and scenic areas (it’s included in the monthly ticket).  Another great place to visit is this park by Dammtor station.  The park is huge, but was much nicer in May when the flowers were blooming.  It’s still quite nice to have a picnic there over the summer.  Unfortunately, this all requires nice weather, which Hamburg is not that famous for in the summer.  May had some of the sunniest skies, but now June has these high winds and random rain showers (from some climate influences in the surrounding bodies of water).  I think July and August might be better, but we shall see.  No matter the season, Friday and Saturday is famous for St Pauli and Reeperbahn.  The clubs and bars are open until morning and they really are quite incredible.  You haven’t had the full experience until you’ve stayed up for the 6AM FischMarket on Saturday.

Nearby Cities

There is a DB ticket for weekends called a “Happy Weekend ticket” that costs 37EUR for up to 5 people.  You can use this to take any of the local trains starting from 3AM until midnight.  Since the railway system is relatively fast, I would suggest gathering some friends and taking a weekend day-trip to a close city.  The closest popular city is Berlin (which will take around 3 hours by local transportation).  However, there are other cities like Schwerin, Lubeck, Bremen, Rostock, Hannover, Luneburg, and Harburg, which has some pretty interesting sights.  Each of them has their own little day-trip attraction, but I’ve mostly gone as an escape to a different part of Germany.

Traveling in Europe

I would highly suggest buying a 10-day select-country eurailpass.  For 310EUR, you can travel 10 days within a 2 month period to any 3 countries by the express trains in the DB network.  Berlin takes 2 hours, Dresden takes about 6 hours, Munich about 7 hours, Amsterdam about 7 hours, and Prague about 8 hours.  The cost of each a single one-way ticket from Hamburg to Berlin by ICE train costs about 68EUR.  Discounted tickets can be purchased about 4 or 5 days in advance for about 40EUR.  If you’re an amazing planner, I’m sure you could get tickets a month in advice for another 10EUR discount.  However, if you’re spontaneous and always filled with conflicting plans, I would suggest the pass for flexibility.  I just wake up for the schedule and sit down anywhere.  Other methods of transportation include cheap flights or a carpooling website called mitfahrzentrale.de.

Useful Resources

The German railway system is always on time and follows the schedules perfectly.  If you’re planning a trip, you can check http://www.bahn.de for any of the public transportation time tables (including BUS, S-Bahn, and U-bahn).  Germany is famous for the delicious wurst.  One of my favorite places to go is called MoGriller near the Monckbergstrasse station on the U3.  They somehow have the crunchiest casings – so much better than hotdogs.

Germany has been and continues to be an absolutely incredible place to meet new people and absorb the culture and history within Europe.  It goes without saying that this is not only about conducting research and finishing a project – this study abroad program is about opening your mind to observing the subtle details that make our views of the world different.  The trip is a social psychology class in disguise and your own effort and interest will determine how much you learn and grow from this experience.  Without considering any letter grades, percentages, or standard deviation curves, simply try to have a good time and let the experiences alter or support your current perspective of the world.  If this last paragraph doesn’t make sense, it will when you think read it again after the trip.  Best of luck.

~See Lemons Happy with Germany

Backpack networking

Oh, the duckies are just so cute.

Oh, the duckies are just so cute.

Random Observation/Comment #193: I’ve continued to try and find some meaning behind my travels and I’ve realized that, particularly for Europe, the true value of this adventure lies in the history and moral themes throughout the free walking tours in every major city.  I’ve covered the usual suspects, including London, Berlin, Prague, Munich, and Amsterdam, but I hope to explore more areas and write about how each of the stories relate to my personal development.  After all, we study history to analyze our past mistakes so we won’t make similar ones in the future.

Every now and again, I get these urges to restructure my life and make sure that everything is running smoothly.  This has occurred much more frequently in recent times due to this difficult decision of finding an internship or part time job starting in September.  I realize that the first job is the most important and I really want to be able to obtain enough experience in the field to look for that setting.  Other than reading books about “the best jobs in the world,” I’ve tried to use my travels as a way of “finding myself.”  It’s very vague and sounds like completely BS, but there’s actually a mind and method to getting the most out of these traveling experiences.  As a hobby, traveling is wonderful for goals like “to immerse yourself in nature” or “to give yourself the opportunity to become whoever you want to be with strangers.”

I’m not condoning lying to strangers at hostels – on the contrary – I’m suggesting an improvement with your elevator pitch.  By talking about your own life to a stranger and listening to theirs, you’re practically trimming the fat of all your random achievements and telling them who you are (in the least creepy revealing way possible).  There are some unwritten rules to this type of engagement with strangers at hostels, but if you take it as a communications/socializing practice, it really helps make your first impressions bloom.  It’s such a delicate balance between telling people about yourself and sounding arrogant.  There’s this fine line that separates the “wow” and the “he’s got to be full of shit.”

It’s interesting that this trip, more than any of my years in education, has taught me how to be more social.  It’s usually not a problem to talk amongst close friends, but it’s a completely different monster when meeting new people every night.  It becomes a ritual to adjust your personal pitch to different signals and a true art to find that common topic of interest, which sparks the intellectual communication.  By using body language correctly and conveying ideas succinctly, much more is possible than the obvious “picking up of girls.”  This concept of introducing yourself to random drunk hostel stay-ers builds the essentials for a professional world of networking and showing passion towards the things that you love.  It helps you practice which questions to ask to reveal their true opinions about certain subjects.  And most importantly, one must extract the maximum amount of applicable and useful information from the situation when given a limited time.

I firmly believe that everyone must know something about something that I don’t know.  Every conversation should in turn offer some transfer of knowledge that could be used for other conversations or help me make a life changing decision.

It all ties together into the idea of a community.  The reason I love the backpacker/traveling community is the fact that everyone is on their vacation to “find themselves.”  Everyone has that common life pivotal moment.  We’re all just waiting for the experience that gives us the ultimate signal informing us of our next steps forward.   It could be from the next person you talk to or a story from a free tour, so we all stay open-minded.  At least for myself, I wish my sign would just come in the form of a giant arrow.

~See Lemons Practice Network

Lappy Premature Eulogy

Lappy a year ago in Japan.  Nice ventilation technology.

Lappy a year ago in Japan. Nice ventilation technology.

Random Observation/Comment #192: This blog is a mess.  It has just become a collection of thoughts from a crazy Chinese guy trying to find his way through a confusing world that’s filled with – simply put – different forms of pleasure and pain.  What’s been recently on my mind has been side projects and efficiently organizing my life to be a more productive and therefore happier person.  The setting of smaller, more frequent goals makes each day filled with specific experiences that will help me make decisions in the future.  The traveling and career-oriented writing is still the main focus in the back of my mind, but I’m trying to make that connection.  It’s hard to explain, but I know the strands are there somewhere – just waiting to be weaved together.  So, I digress.  I meant this introduction to notably mention the importance of my laptop in all of these activities within my travels (Us Chinese were never good at saying things without including the full background, even if it doesn’t ever seem relevant).

Like all eulogies, I will begin with her life story and how she’s influenced my life.  I’ve had my IBM Lenovo X61 netbook for about a year and I must say it has been one of my greatest investments.  It’s sleek and sexy, weighing 2.5 lbs, and it’s the perfect size for the traveling writer and programmer.  Coupled with a 300GB Western Digital Passport, I don’t really understand why I need my PC anymore.  It seems like my gaming life is almost over and the internet has enough web applications to remove all need for a (computationally) heavy laptop.  Fine, I don’t have a DVD drive, but I actually never used one anyway.  In this day and age, we can simply buy a relatively inexpensive, computationally light netbook and fulfill our wildest dreams.  A 40GB is enough when everything can be stored somewhere online or just attached with an external hard drive.

The key points that helped me make the purchase of this technologically gorgeous work of man were within the processor speed, RAM, and battery life.  Yes, the feel and layout of the IBM keyboards are impressively easy to maintain for its small size and the little red trackball is actually preferred over the conventional mouse.  I think I have the sensitivity perfect and I can begin moving the mouse to the next location while still typing.  She’s my girl and I’ve reformatted her from the original build to maintain the lightest Vista-running lappy ever.  All background processes are completely stripped to the essentials so I could basically use this wonder for word processing, internet usage, and even MATLAB programming.  She’s surpassed any other lover in the past year, including the iPhone (I’m sorry, Daddy didn’t mean it).  Needless to say, I’m proud to have built this bond with her, but she is slowly fading.

Li-Ion batteries are probably in all new laptops and any electronic portable device.  It’s lighter and has a longer lifetime, plus you don’t have to fully discharge it to maintain its battery life like the old models.  The only problem with this is the fact that Li-Ion batteries basically have a set lifespan based solely on shelf time.  It doesn’t even have to be charged or discharged and it will predictably lose capacity.  It’s been a little over a year and the original 2.5 hours of battery time has significantly decreased to 1.5 hours.  The interesting part is that this decline has only happened within the past 2 months.

Like all engineers, scientists, and technological doctors, I needed to find out why.  After a few minutes of research through a few random sources, I found that the storage temperature of the battery is directly related to the loss of capacity.  The reason the past few months has been relatively taxing on the hard drive is her major function as a full-on workstation.  Heavy computations and poor ventilations systems have pushed the battery limit to its edge.  The battery undoubtedly charges much faster because the capacity is highly reduced, but this means the portability on-the-go usage of the battery is replaced with a constant plugged-in laptop by an outlet.

A fellow engineer once told me two years ago (during the web book and netbook frenzy from Eee PC), that the best way to make a light notebook was to simply remove the battery and use the plug.  It was a delirious time filled with caffeine rushes and all-nighters, so the idea is obviously just ridiculous. Why would you need a lighter laptop when it’s plugged in?  To test it out, I simply took out the battery and maintained the plug.  What do you know? It still works just like a normal workstation.  It was a nice feature, but why would I ever use it?

Given this terrible ventilation system (which usually consists of using bottle caps lifting the top two corners of the laptop) I found that my Lappy often had a fever.  MATLAB programs and watching the occasional movie would just overheat the system.  Granted, nothing has melted, nor have any of the ports near the hard drive stopped working, but I think this leads back to the battery life reduction.  Even with the battery power manager, every day I continue in this terrible ventilation environment leads to a reduced battery life.

To save her, or at least reduce the effects of the battery degradation, I simply remove the battery when using the system at home.  Unplugging it will cause an immediate shutdown, but it’s not any different from a power supply in a tower.  Just remember to reinsert the battery before unplugging the laptop while it’s asleep.  Saving often is also a plus.  Worse comes to worse, a new and improved battery for this model would be a wise investment for all the joy she’s given me.

~See Lemons Save Lappy

Much More than a Rittersport Obsession

This is going to interfere with the weightloss project

This is going to interfere with the weightloss project

Random Observation/Comment #191: Contrary to popular belief, I am not obsessed with desserts or sweets in general. I have a sweet tooth (somewhere among the carnivorous ones and passion towards cherry tomatoes), but it had always been geared towards cheesecake, ice cream, and cookies.  This new project for Rittersport chocolate is not because of some endorsement they are paying me or any ploy to invite girls over to my room (although…).  The purpose goes deeper than merely trying every type of chocolate – it’s the overall completeness of an adventure.  It’s just a simple short term goal that brings me a great deal of pleasure for a relatively small price.  I would have spent the money on snacks elsewhere, but forcing myself to buy everything at once and record these findings just seems much more calculated.  I’m all about being spontaneous, but these side projects, no matter how calculated they may be, make life interesting.  I have so many on-going projects involving collections, but each of them don’t have an end date.  I will never try every restaurant in NYC or drink every beer in the world.  I’ll have a great opinion about each of these experiences for a small list of “top 10s” in each category, and yet I want something so much more.

Tackling a new flavor of chocolate for a particular brand brings me a level of accomplishment that a project will be completed.  Yes, this will hinder my goal of a six-pack – just as the beer and wine taste testing has – but this can easily be thwarted with some extra hard work.  This step towards making a reasonable schedule for this project had much more significance than I had initially intended.  It’s not just “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if I try every flavor of chocolate from Rittersport?”  It’s “Hey, why not?”  I’m lucky enough to be half way around the world in a foreign country with new customs and particular quirks – don’t I have the obligation of living this to the fullest and showing it to my friends and family?  It’s part of the reason I started this blogging and twittering thing.  I just want to share, and the virtual communities have made it simple by giving me a car and building a highway.

Life is about hobbies and ways to spend your free time.  The money thing is sort of important to maintain the life styles and support some expensive hobbies, but what fun is a life filled with paying off debt?  What fun is life without the occasional pothole, aggressive drivers, and unbearable traffic jams?  Excess of these metaphorical obstacles could cause stress and frustration, but I think I would be pretty damn bored without a finish-line and some big fat guy in a suit blocking the way.  The truth is – I love the challenge and I love making small doses of controllable chaos.  It makes me feel productive and it makes success that much more rewarding.

Hopefully, a career will help feed the purpose of my hobby while not suffocating it with obligatory deadlines.  For example, my brother loves buying old 1990 BMWs, fixing them with his mechanic friends, driving them for a few months, and selling it for the profit that barelycovers the gas and insurance cost over time.  Obviously, it’s not the monetary gain after selling the car; it’s the priceless fun he had learning about how everything works and driving down a windy rode with the top down, listening to 80’s music.  And my brother’s career of designing roads just somehow nicely completes his story.  He’s dedicated to his work because his projects will be providing the essentials for millions of cars for the next 25 years.  After all, a car is pretty useless without well-designed roads connecting destinations.

Through these travels, I have searched for those stories that help me reflect on my own.  I’ve heard so many that make sense, and I’ve heard so many that seem just as lost (if not, more so) than I am.  It gives me comfort that we’re all looking for that purpose in each of our individual lives.  I guess the first step is to find what makes us happy.  Whether it be, drinking out with friends or playing video games in front of the computer, we shouldn’t conform to what everyone says is fun.  One thing is for sure: We are social creatures and happiness lies somewhere within our importance – being wanted, needed, and missed – within a community.  It is in this place where I find my home.

~See Lemons Continue Searching

I was trying to be creative with pictures...

I was trying to be creative with pictures...