Monthly Archives: March 2010

I can hear the june bugs approaching

(Thanks to Kasi for this one.)

I recent­ly dis­cov­ered that gui­tar chords are the same as ukulele chords, which opens up the reper­toire of avail­able songs con­sid­er­ably. It’s a shame that most online sheet music is in the form of gui­tar tabs, which don’t trans­late to the ukulele. Still, I have enough songs to prac­tice that I can switch to anoth­er when I get bored with one. I find it inter­est­ing that since the ukulele requires two hands doing dif­fer­ent things, I run into a bot­tle­neck in hand dex­ter­i­ty; I can pluck or strum well enough with my right hand, but I can’t get the chords with my left hand fast enough, or vice ver­sa depend­ing on the song. I have to prac­tice each hand indi­vid­u­al­ly, which is so unlike any oth­er instru­ment I’ve played before.

I have a tele­scope now. My instruc­tor was able to get a great pack­age deal for stu­dents in his astropho­tog­ra­phy course for a 114mm reflec­tor, along with a track­ing motor1 and illu­mi­nat­ed retic­ule2. I put it togeth­er today, and it was real­ly excit­ing to be assem­bling all these pre­ci­sion parts to make my first tele­scope, a moment I dreamed about since I was a kid. Astronomy is much more com­pli­cat­ed than I expect­ed. Much of it is sim­i­lar to pho­tog­ra­phy in terms of the equip­ment used (although the terms and con­trols are dif­fer­ent), but now you also have to know your sub­ject, your ori­en­ta­tion, and your weath­er con­di­tions, not to men­tion being at the right place.

I’m feel­ing bet­ter about things. Maybe it’s the promise of warmer weath­er. I’m wait­ing for the day I can dri­ve my car with the win­dows down and san­dals on. Those are the days of house par­ties, camp­ing, drinks on patios, and first kiss­es. Soon, it will be the time of stargaz­ing, bar­be­cues, and who knows.

A few peo­ple have sug­gest­ed my depres­sion may have been due to a chem­i­cal imbal­ance, which I nev­er ruled out. Even though it was one e‑mail on that Thursday morn­ing that trig­gered all those bad thoughts, I nor­mal­ly would have been able to han­dle it bet­ter. There was­n’t an imme­di­ate impact. Just a grad­ual sag­ging that got worse and worse through­out the day until I was com­plete­ly deject­ed at night. After that, I got a blis­ter on my neck from stand­ing in the show­er for too long with water that was too hot. Now that I think about it, I com­plete­ly under­stand why I felt that way, but it seems kind of sil­ly.

Joe Lencioni also rec­om­mend­ed to me a free pro­gram called Flux — appro­pri­ate­ly head­lined as “Software to make your life bet­ter” — that grad­u­al­ly changes the colour tem­per­a­ture and bright­ness of your mon­i­tors to mim­ic the set­ting sun. It’s also local­ized, so it knows when the sun sets for your area and changes auto­mat­i­cal­ly. I’m pret­ty sure it’s made it eas­i­er for me to fall asleep at night.

I’m in such a strange phase right now. I don’t know where I am. When I look back on this time in my life, I won­der whether I’ll look back with nos­tal­gia, pity, or regret.

  1. To move the tele­scope at the same rota­tion of the earth to pre­vent blur in astropho­tog­ra­phy. []
  2. To keep track of a guide star in cal­i­brat­ing the track­ing motor. []

Aaron and Ryan: Portrait Test

Thumbnail: Aaron and Ryan portrait

Thumbnail: Aaron and Ryan portrait

Aaron came over with Ryan for break­fast one morn­ing, and it gave me a chance to use them as mod­els to try some of the tech­niques I learned from Sid when I was in New Hampshire. I still had to do some work in Photoshop to keep the mid­point where I want­ed, but it was still quite min­i­mal com­pared to my work with colour late­ly. This type of por­trai­ture is very dif­fer­ent from what I nor­mal­ly do, where instead of using an out-of-focus back­ground to make the sub­ject stand out, I’m using the con­trast of light.

I turned on Chicken Run to keep Ryan occu­pied while we ate, and Aaron kept get­ting dis­tract­ed by it as much as he did. For a moment, I could­n’t tell if it was the son who took after the father, or vice ver­sa.


Thumbnail: My grandparents

When I was young and it was sum­mer, my mater­nal grand­par­ents would come from Hong Kong to babysit me. It was a strange time in my life, what I con­sid­er my fetal years when I don’t remem­ber learn­ing any­thing, or hav­ing any aware­ness of my own con­scious­ness.

My grand­fa­ther was a strong, intel­li­gent, lov­ing, gen­tle man, and my biggest hero. He showed me his war wounds, and taught me about states of mat­ter. I even learned the term “civ­il war” from him when he used it (in English!) one time when some old black-and-white footage of Chinese bat­tles came on the TV, but his English was­n’t great so I thought he was say­ing, “zero war”.

He was my favourite per­son in the world because he gave me the atten­tion and stim­u­la­tion I nev­er got from my par­ents.

In one of those sum­mers, I stole his cig­a­rettes, two at a time so he would­n’t notice, and hid them in the com­part­ment of a red and white chil­drens draft­ing table. It was my way of get­ting him to stop smok­ing.

One time, I heard my grand­par­ents shout­ing in the kitchen. They were fight­ing. My grand­moth­er accused him of pee­ing on the toi­let seat. It was the first time I heard them raise their voic­es at all, let alone at each oth­er. I thought it was strange because at that age I was prob­a­bly pee­ing all over the toi­let seat, and no one ever yelled at me for it, so I did­n’t under­stand why it was such a big deal.

My aunt and uncle were over because they want­ed to spend time with them, and they came to see what the com­mo­tion was about. But they just stood there, lis­ten­ing, not want­i­ng to take sides.

Eventually, my grand­fa­ther slow­ly bent at the knees, his entire body sag­ging, buried the heels of his hands in his eyes to rub out the tears, and said to my aunt and uncle with lan­guish­ing paus­es, “Sometimes, she makes me want to kill myself”.

And I knew he meant it.

I was too young to even be shocked, but for my grand­fa­ther to say some­thing like that was com­plete­ly out of char­ac­ter. He was invin­ci­ble to me. I nev­er under­stood it.

Until now.

Eventually, he went to live with my aunt and uncle for a while. They slow­ly became warmer when they saw each oth­er a few weeks lat­er. I don’t know if they ever talked about it.

I'm upgraded daily all my wires without traces

Found these songs today:

I’ve been feel­ing bet­ter. I don’t know why. I can’t fig­ure it out. I did­n’t do active­ly do any­thing to fix myself.

Maybe it was Audra singing a verse on my answer­ing machine, and promis­ing to leave me a whole song some day. Or the fact that I was out of the house when the sun was out for the first time in as long as I can remem­ber. Or even writ­ing it all down and final­ly get­ting it off my chest, because explain­ing it forces me to ratio­nal­ize things and view them objec­tive­ly, instead of with a bias of depres­sion.

It kind of scares me. I have a feel­ing this depres­sion comes as eas­i­ly as it goes.

Lately, the only thing I feel like doing is writ­ing and prac­tic­ing my ukulele, but I’m just glad I want to do some­thing.

29 4/12: The Mask

Man can­not cast off this mask; it is a pro­jec­tion of his own flesh and spir­it. He can no longer remove from his own face this mask which has already grown like skin and flesh so he is always star­tled as if dis­be­liev­ing this is him­self, but it is in fact him­self. He can­not remove this mask, and this is agony. But hav­ing man­i­fest­ed itself as his mask, it can­not be oblit­er­at­ed, because the mask is a repli­ca of him­self. It has no will of its own, or one could say it has a will but no means of expres­sion and so prefers not to have a will. Therefore it has left man with an eter­nal face with which he can exam­ine him­self in amaze­ment.

—Gao Xingjian, Soul Mountain

Self portrait at 29 4/12


I turn 30 in eight months, and I still don’t know if I’m the per­son who smiles, or the per­son who hides behind the smile.

The Turning 30 Series