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this is one of those days that i’m really glad i’ve got a blog, and can record somewhere (that i won’t lose) what i was thinking the day barack obama was inaugurated. decades from now, when i, or perhaps even my children revisit this, i’m sure it’ll make for pleasant recollections.

anyways, on to what was on my mind tuesday (besides bacteria and my thesis). of course, there was the excitement of finally having a president who is fabulously eloquent, intelligent, and capable of getting a wide array of people to work together. it’s a wonderfully refreshing change, and the news has been awash with these sentiments all week. (future-me: don’t look here for further discussion on those topics — i won’t bother wasting digital breath on something that’s already been written about to death.)

still, i think i harbor at least one unique perspective that’s worth recording, one that i have yet to see reported in any article or even have heard another person discuss out loud.

yesterday’s inauguration actually made me feel like i fit into this world just a little bit better.

i know that sounds a little melodramatic, but let me explain.

my parents were both born and raised in the philippines. they met in new york city in the early 1980′s; i was born the year after they married. both agreed to make a conscious effort to facilitate my assimilation into american culture by speaking only english at home. consequently, i never learned either of the filipino languages my parents are fluent in: kapangpangan or tagalog.

there were foreseen, and unforeseen, consequences of my parents’ linguistic policies. as expected, i got good at english and speak american english without a discernible accent. i almost certainly under-appreciate that latter benefit. but, what i think my parents didn’t quite foresee would be that not knowing tagalog would help cause a small tear in my sense of identity that i have still yet to mend.

i recall first trying to work out my racial / cultural identity in first grade, as i stood over one of those trough-style urinals in elementary school. a classmate had asked me in the bathroom if i was related to bruce lee. my thought process went something like this:

  • of course not. he’s chinese and i’m filipino.
  • wait, can i really call myself filipino if i was born in new york city and don’t speak tagalog?
  • in any case, why would you even think i’m related to bruce lee. do i sound chinese to you?
  • i guess bruce lee and i do have the same haircut and he is pretty badass.

“yes, i’m related to bruce lee.”

variations on this tune have played out innumerable times since then. the basic harmonies are: i walk, talk, and act like an american kid (+1 american); i don’t look anyone i see on TV (-1 american); i can’t truly consider myself filipino while lacking the fundamental component of filipino culture: language (-1 filipino).

even as i write these sentences, the liberal/hippie streak in me (i get it from mom’s side) wants to say something like: “it doesn’t matter what you look like, you’re whatever you consider yourself to be,” or “americans aren’t just white or black.” the problem is, those arguments wear pretty thin by the 16th time someone in polite conversation asks:

“where are you from?” [me: new york]

“no, where are you really from?” [me, slower: new york city]

“ok … where are your parents from?”

years of asides like that, as well as the thankfully rare, but still maddeningly subtle hints which belie strangers preconceived notions regarding my background (the slowly paced and overly annunciated greetings drive me crazy), add up. toss in the occasional awkward scenario where i’m the only asian person within a 300 person radius (usual offending locations: county fairs and country club tennis courts), and you start to see why i still can’t help but second guess how american i am.

so those preceding paragraphs are in a nutshell, why barack obama could have stood on the inauguration stage for 30 minutes without opening his mouth, and said something profound to me. clearly not white, debatably black, and perhaps even indonesian, obama is one thing for certain: not your average looking american. and yet, he now occupies the role of the foremost american in the world.

i don’t think i’ve ever felt so american.

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my bike ride to work today through the boston arctic was cold enough to make me wonder if my eyeballs could freeze in their sockets.  weather.com tells me it’s 0 degrees fahrenheit with the windchill — make that -5F or -10F then if you’re cruising along on your bike.  i did my best to bundle up against the cold — big black skiing mittens and my midnight north face jacket made me look like a skinny black polar bear.

still, how cold does it have to be for your eyes to turn into little opaque lychees in your head?  delicious as that may be, maybe i should start wearing my ski goggles again to work.

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a good halloween

my highlight for the week (or perhaps the year?): dressing up as TIM the MIT beaver for the lab halloween party.

it’s not everyday you get to dress up as a 7-ft tall beaver.

i should note that it wasn’t all fun and games in there; the fan that was supposed to be installed in the head was missing. so not only did i get to enjoy the mild claustrophobia that accompanies having your head locked in a dark box — i was also sweating like a pig invited to a filipino bbq. i pity the next TIM the beaver: the only way i could wipe the sweat from my brow was by grabbing the beaver head and dragging the inner mask across my face. ewwww.

tim the beaver

time the beaver

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autopano pro

i’ve discovered a new program for my mac this weekend that should make for a lot of fun w/ our summer backpacking pictures: autopano pro.   checkout what it did with 9 hand-held photos from bohol, philippines:

chocolate hills, bohol

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server move complete!

my server has been down for the past couple of weeks as i completed my move back onto MIT’s campus.  now that the server is back online, i should hopefully be able to update this forlorn blog in the near future.  it’s been an eventful summer.

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‘been practicing my trackstand for months now whenever i ride my bike to the lab

initially, i’d treat drivers at intersections to morning real-life youtube blooper clips. as i tried to keep my balance and avoid taking my feet off the pedals when stopped at red lights, i’d wildly thrash around on my saddle like an epileptic being stung by bees, until — at the last moment — i’d yank my shoes out of my toe-clips with the agility of a spastic panda bear.  all in the name of one day, being able to execute a trackstand at an intersection and impress some pedestrian i didn’t even know was looking at me.

well, my friends, i’m proud to report that june 6th, 2008, is that day.

sometime last week, i realized i could finally pull off an indefinite trackstand.  and, on my way home this very evening, i was trackstanding at an intersection when a dude strolled by on the crosswalk and said, “hey!  that’s really cool!”  i knew that what he said carried special significance, because he was wearing sunglasses in the early evening and he therefore had to be cool himself.

my ego is going to trackstand in front of christina all night.

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stata rain

it’s about 4pm on a tuesday and i’m ensconced in a glass atrium 5 stories about the street.  in front of me is a 60 foot high wall of glass, unbroken by frame or girder.  beyond that, a shrine to architecture is the horizon.

due to it now being summer vacation at MIT, and this atrium being behind a maze of locked doors and elevators, it’s just me in here.

i’m doing science on my laptop and there’s an epic thunderstorm going on about 3 inches of plate glass away.  i hope the lightning comes closer, since i can see so much sky out of these windows.  i crane my ahead all the way back to see drops of rain begin their long meandering journey down the plate glass and to my desk.

this is bliss.

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i’ve only recently discovered: a) text messaging on my phone; b) t9 word completion.  i’m going to argue that i was born about 5 years too early for texting to be second-nature to me, the way using google comes so instinctively to my generation.

in any case, a texting feature i discovered on my phone today made me so happy.  i wanted to text the name of a restaurant to christina and i was in t9 mode.  i figured that since the restaurant’s name was an obscure proper noun (Montien), my plans would be dashed and i’d have to go back to the old hunt-and-repeatedly-peck of standard text messaging.  but as i hit the number encoding the last character in the restaurant name, “Montien” suddenly popped into my text message.

and then it hit me: all the names in my phone’s address book had automatically been added to my phone’s t9 dictionary.

i’m not quite sure why that discovery brought me so much geek joy.  perhaps it was the knowledge that enabling this feature would never be advertised; it would never lead to more phone sales.  i’d be surprised if the anonymous programmer (or his/her manager) even won any accolades in their design team for adding this feature.

no, it’s my belief that some anonymous soul at LG took it upon themselves to add that feature simply because it would make a better phone.  someone took pride in their technological creation.

kudos to you anonymous worker, for going out of your way to make my life just a little bit easier.

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i got a little distracted lately and began designing our lab website.

i ended up getting a lot distracted; iweb is incredibly easy to use and making extremely visually appealing websites with very little effort is addictive.

if you’re interested in getting to see what happens when abercrombie & fitch meets a microbiology lab, check it out here.

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i’m so excited — i’ve just walked out of the most enjoyable talk i’ve seen in my three years here at mit.  david macaulay, author of several architectural-themed books that i cherished as a child, just gave a one hour tour of how his imagination works over in the stata center.  there is no way i can even come close to capturing the excitement of his talk given the limitations of blogs and my storytelling capabilities.  instead, i thought i’d just note here some of the things i observed, in the hopes that these cues will help jog my memory for at least a couple years and thereby prolong the enjoyment i experienced tonight, past my recollection’s usual limit of about 3 days.

  • i gained a much deeper appreciation for the decision processes illustrators make.  macaulay kept asking himself: “how can i choose the viewpoint to a scene that will most strongly engage and involve the viewer?”  or, “am i conveying enough movement?”  he also constantly grappled with twisting perspectives: “how far can you bend straight lines so that the viewer sees everything that she needs to see to understand a composition?”
  • over the course of his whirlwind passage through at least 100 drawings and sketches, i grew more and more convinced that david macaulay cannot be human.  no man could possibly: a) possess an imagination that playful and rich; b) turn out such a prodigious amount of work in a single lifetime.  the detail in many of macaulay’s sketches is so meticulous that i’m convinced it would take me hours to simply trace, let alone conceive of one of his drawings.  (what’s perhaps even more astounding than what macaulay has published is what he hasn’t; so many of macaulay’s drawings that “weren’t good enough” or “weren’t quite right” would probably have been considered masterworks for normal illustrators.  it reminded me of the quotation attributed to gauss: “few, but ripe.”)  
  • it was breathtaking to be taken on a guided tour through the imagination of a certified creative genius.  to play witness to ideas’ first conceptions, to see how they’re folded and batted around, to watch them get crumpled up or occasionally refined and even finished.  all the while reflecting on macaulay’s punctuated, but still quite funny and witty narration. 

ok, it’s time for dinner — enough hero worship for now.  final words for future lawrence: “don’t forget this lecture!  this was one of the reasons why you spent 5 years of your life living in the second-lowest tax bracket.”   oh, and a little something to jog future lawrence’s very visual-based memory:   macaulay talk at mit (i’m just blown away by how decent the camera is on my phone.  although future lawrence probably won’t be as much.)

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