Violin play-in

The Suzuki Association of Georgia (SAGa) has a play-in event today so we took a trip to Atlanta to have some fun.

Watching a large group of kids enjoy the music they play is very pleasant view. Because they are still learning, still making mistakes, the music sounds a lot more "real" and charming. We are very proud of Alyssa.

Growing fast

The kids' height as of today (with shoes on):

Alyssa: 122 CM
Vivian: 105 CM
David: 83 CM


Tickle master

Alyssa told me that her best friend at school, Arabella, really wants to come for a play date in our home. The reason? "I told her that my dad is really good at tickling and she said that she really wants to try".

There really is something wrong with my first-born. I never remember bragging about such things regarding my father at school when I was a kid.


The science of arranging chairs

I read on Improbable Research about an old paper by Donald Stone and Alice Stone (JSTOR link).

The title of this 1974 paper is "The administration of chairs" and it went into great details about the science of arranging chairs . The original paper itself was very interesting and I thought the term "Improbable Research" is a good description for it.


Total lunar eclipse

For the first time in our life, we watched a total lunar eclipse. It's very cool indeed and the change in colors is pretty amazing. We saw the moon changed from silver-white to a red-orange color and back again, very beautiful.

Too bad that this is past the kids' bedtime so they don't get to see it.


How hard is hard enough

Not sure if it is my type A personality or the work ethic I got from my parents, I often worry about not working hard enough. Reading this article, On the Process of Becoming a Great Scientist, somehow gave me some reassurance that maybe I shouldn't worry too much about this (doesn't really help anyway). In the article, I find the part about enjoying the process of writing particularly helpful, especially given my circumstance of having to produce my dissertation soon. I think marathon is a good metaphor, there is no point of enduring the hardship if you are not going to enjoy it.


My precious

I suddenly realized why I can identify with Frodo when I sent out my dissertation. In some ways writing a dissertation is just like carrying The Ring. It consumes you from within, you can't wait to get rid of it all the time, yet you ended up with this strange and mixed feeling when you are finally done.

I also came across an interesting video on youtube (where else?). It'll be great if there's a short cut like this for every difficult task.


It's done, it's gone

I finished my dissertation and sent it off to my committee today. When I hit the send button, the thing that came to my mind was a scene from the end of The Lord of The Rings, when Frodo escaped from Cracks of Doom after the One Ring was destroyed. Frodo muttered "It's gone. It's done." with a blank expression. I guess I share the same feeling of relieve, only that I have to get it done before I can have it gone.

You lucky Hobbit really got off easy.


The dream pen dilemma

Not that I am itching for getting another pen (okay, maybe just a little bit). I very happy with the pens that I have now, not to mention that some pens in my collection are yet to be rotated. For example, a Lamy 2000 and a Namiki Vanishing Point that Ann and I got as wedding gifts several years ago are still new in the box. But reading the “dream pen” discussion at FPN got me started to think about this interesting hypothetical question.

I guess my definition of a dream pen is something that’s a little bit out-of-reach (either difficult to find or too pricy, thus qualifying the “dream” part) but is not entirely impossible to get (otherwise there’s no point to think about it).

For a vintage pen that satisfies these two criteria, it would be a Wahl-Eversharp Doric with an adjustable nib for me. I already own one of these, but certainly would be more than happy to get a couple more in different colors.

For a modern pen the choice is much tougher for me. Two pens that I am contemplating now are in the opposite end of the spectrum. The first one, Omas Arco Milord, is just the right design/material/color for me and is an extremely showy pen. I guess this is something that can be called 騷包. The other one, a custom-made Nakaya, would be a very understated pen with its simple design. However, because I can have one made to my specifications, every single detail of it would be screaming mine (in other words, 悶騷). So this really is a tough question and I can’t make up my mind about which would be “the one”. Fortunately, all of these are out of reach for now, and I have a lot of time to entertain this dilemma.

Pens for Valentine's

I guess that Ann and I are both kind of geeky. For this year's Valentine's Day, we gave each other a fountain pen. I have been wanting a demonstrator for many years now and recently found that a very good deal on a Pelikan M205. Ann saw my itching and gave me the go-ahead, saying that this can count as her gift to me for the Valentine's. In return to her kind support for my weired hobby of collecting fountain pens, I ordered a Lamy Safari Vista for her (yes I know I am a cheap baster, thank you very much). Anyway both pens turned out to be really nice and we are very happy about this.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to give the two girls a fountain pen of their own for the birthday this year. After some searching on the Fountain Pen Network I secretly ordered two Pelikano Jr. for them. Being as impatient as I am, it was very difficult to hold on to these secret presents any longer and I gave the pens to the girls today as well. Alyssa got a green one with a left-handed nib, filled with Noodler's Hunter Green; Vivian got a blue one with the standard nib, filled with Private Reserve's Lake Placid Blue.

So after dinner today we all had a lot of fun with our new pens. David was the only one who didn't get a new pen today. Now does Crayola make fountain pens for 1-year old?

Assistant to the Tooth Fairy

This is my new job title.

Alyssa's first baby tooth fell out at dinner today. To say that she is excited about this would be a huge understatement. As promised, Ann agreed to play the Tooth Fairy tonight and give Alyssa a necklace in exchange of her tooth. Just when I was thinking that I was off the hook this time, Alyssa asked me to be the "Assistant to the Tooth Fairy". Curiously, I asked her what do I need to do, and the answer was "To remind the Tooth Fairy to send her the necklace".



Found this interesting and useful website for sharing presentations (http://www.slideshare.net/). Several BioPerl presentations made by Jason Stajich can be found here.

Our wacky southpaw

For some unknown reason Alyssa turned out to be a left-hander, which is something that's never heard of from both sides of our family. We want to be as helpful as we can in supporting her to develop her own way of fitting into this right-handiness dominated world, but we simply know too little about how left-handers see the world.

So I was very excited when I found an article that describes several different writing styles used by left-handers. I printed out this to show Alyssa how left-handers turn paper slightly toward one way or another to make writing easier for them. After we went through all the different styles, Alyssa simply turned her paper up-side-down and started writing from right to left with flipped alphabets. Ann and I were both too stunned to say anything.

Verbs and nouns

I read an interesting article today about the difference between Asian and Western-way of teaching children language. Several studies have found that Asian moms use more verbs while English-speaking moms use more nouns. This subtle difference leads to some interesting differences later in their children's life.

I discussed this with Ann and we both came to the same conclusion. We use a mix of Mandarin and English at home when talking to our kids, and indeed mostly we use Mandarin for verbs and English for nouns. Hopefully our kids can get the best of both worlds this way.

However, I do have one gripe about these studies. How come they only look at moms? Don't dads talk to their kids too?


Hitting another gold mine

I guess it all started from my trip back to Taiwan in January to attend dad's funeral. Taking a break my busy work schedule, I suddenly had tons of time (and the appropriate mind set) to reflect on many things. Then on the trans-Pacific flight back home, I watched a very interesting movie, Closed Note, which revitalized my love for fountain pens.

While wondering on the web, I stumbled upon the Fountain Pen Network. Initially I was only reading the posts that are related to pens and ink, then I discovered that the true good stuffs are what people are doing with their pens. It's like when you have a good hammer you'd be looking for nails. The stories about how people keep journals, exchange postcards, arrange travel journals, etc, are really fascinating.

In addition to the Ninja 250 club, I guess this is another place where I'd love to hang out.


Dissertation Hokey-Pokey

Still struggling with writing the conclusion chapter of my dissertation. The problem is that I just can't be happy with the things that I wrote, so I am trapped in an endless cycle of creation and destruction of sentences. It's almost like doing a Hokey-Pokey dance, very interesting thought exercise but not really going anywhere.



A post on the Pear Tree Pens blog about fountain pen acquisition disorder (FPAD) reminded me that I had a similar experience in the year after I graduated from college. At that time I have a "semi-real" job as a full-time research assistant. The pay wasn't great, but for the first time in my life I have enough play money to buy (almost) everything that I want. I happen to be bitten by the antique fountain pen bug at that time and ended up buying a whole box (along with a display box of course) of antique pens on penbid.com. That is a very sweet memory of mine and I still enjoy playing with my collection every now and then.

Incidentally, Omas Arco Milord happened to be my dream pen (at least for now). Celluloid is my favorite material for fountain pens. So far the most beautiful pen I have ever seen is a Wahl-Eversharp Doric in my collection. It has several shades of gray that form a feather like pattern. I have never seen the Omas Arco in person but it sure looks great in the photos that I can find on the web. The wood-like pattern of its celluloid also fits in nicely with my love for solid wood and my passion for woodworking. Alas, the price is too steep for me now so it will remain as a "dream pen" at least for some more time. Maybe this is a good thing, if it is as beautiful as I have expected then getting it would create a dilemma for me. I wouldn't feel comfortable to carry it with me everywhere I go, but leaving it at home would be a pity too.

Fixing our mailbox

Our ill-fated mailbox has been hit several times and is in a pretty bad shape, sometimes the whole thing can fall off the post when we open it. Undoubtedly this is pretty unpleasant for us (and the mailman, who may be the culprit here). This afternoon I finally took the time to fix it up. Hopefully this will last for a while.

Fun time with Barbie

Growing up without a sister, my two daughters really opened my eyes to a whole new world that I didn't know before. That said, I NEVER thought that this sort of things can happen to me.

This afternoon, while the two girls are busy with their games, David got the whole Barbie set from Vivian's room and insisted that I play with him. So there I was, sitting in my daughter's room and playing Barbie with my son. It's a REALLY strange experience for me.

Well, maybe I can blackmail David about this when he goes to high school.


Real programers


I use my pen to write pseudocodes in my notebook. But then again, I am not a real programmer.

David's first haircut




Chinese New Year? Really?

Maybe I am too stressed out with writing my dissertation, I really don't feel anything about the fact that it is Chinese New Year today. Sorry to everyone who has send me a "Happy New Year" email/card, I really can't deal with that right now.


Colorful writing

Awhile ago I got a bottle of Noodler's Forest Green ink for my daily writing. While I am pretty happy with the color, it has some feathering and bleed-through problems when used with my Pelikan M800 on my notebook and I finally decided to get another green ink.

After being shocked by the shipping charge, I convinced myself that buying a single bottle would be silly and I ended up buying 4 different inks this time. I guess that another good thing about being a grownup, as buying more than one bottle of ink at a time is no longer an unimaginable luxury.

Today the inks arrived and I excitingly took out all my inks to run a test. At this point I have accumulated 11 different kinds of inks, including:

Alfred Dunhill: Blue
Mont Blanc: Royal Blue
Noodler's: Forest Green
Pelikan: Brilliant Green, Turquoise, Royal Blue, Brown, Black
Private Reserve: Lake Placid Blue
Rotring: Red
Waterman: Red

It's a beautiful view to see all these colors on a page. I am a little bit disappointed to find that Pelikan's Brilliant Green is a bit too bright for my taste. Fortunately the Turquoise and Brown turned out pretty well and I may switch to brown for now. The Lake Placid Blue from Private Reserve is another disappointment. It has the same problem with my experience with Noodler's; beautiful color but noticeable feathering and bleed-through used with Pelikan pens. Maybe I can load them in some other pens and give them another try, but then again I am really attached to my M800/M250 now.

Lost ring scare

I found my wedding ring was missing when I went to Life Sciences to attend a journal club this afternoon. Naturally this totally freaked me out as I've never lost something this important. A bunch of folks helped me to search the room after the meeting but we just couldn't find it. I was very sad and mad at myself on my way back to office. Fortunately, the minute I stepped into my office I saw the ring lying on the floor just next to my desk.

What happened this afternoon is a bit too much for me. I decided to take the ring off and ask Ann to keep it for me at least for a while.

NOTE TO MOM: While it might be a good idea to pick a size or two bigger than necessary when it comes to buy jackets for your son in high school, there really is NO need to do this when he is getting married and is looking for a ring. *Sigh*

Eating frenzy

Alyssa's appetite has been pretty amazing over the past few week. She would eat about 2 to 3 times as much as she would eat normally and still feel hungry after only about an hour. I took a measurement of her height after dinner and we are surprised to find out that she is about 120cm tall now. That's pretty tall for a 5-year old Asian girl I guess.


A-don and gon-gon

David finally learned the correct way to say grandpa in Taiwanese this evening. The correct pronunciation is "a-gon", but he has been saying "gon-gon" since he learned the word. Interestingly, both Alyssa and Vivian said "a-don" when they were young.

"Grandma" is a lot easier for them, maybe due to the similarity with "mother" ("a-mom" versus "mom-mom"). All three kids learned how to say this without any problem.

6 more weeks to go

According to our resident groundhog in town, we still have 6 more weeks of winter. I certainly hope that spring will come sooner than that.


A Pelikan nest

Many years ago Ann designed and commissioned a custom-made leather pen pouch for me. I use it to carry two or three pens with me everyday since I have it. Although my Pelikan M800 is always there, other pens went in and out of rotation. Today for the first time all three pens in it are Pelikans, including a blue M800, a black M250, and a snake R200. It's very interesting to see the three birds on the cap peeking out when I open the pen pouch. What makes this even more interesting is that the three pens are from different eras and the styles of the logo are all different.


The joy of handwriting

Actually I really hated handwriting when I grow up. My handwriting is pretty bad and that has always been a big issue with my self-image. The main problem was that I always write really fast. Part of this is because I am so busy-minded and my hand can hardly keep up with my brain. Another problem, which probably is the root of this, is my miserable childhood experience.

I had one of those "famous" teachers when I was in elementary school. As young as in 3rd grade, we have our "morning test" at 7AM. The school ends at 4PM (or 5PM?), but we have to stay for another hour after that for "enhanced studies". After we get home, there's another 4-5 hours worth of homework waiting EVERY SINGLE DAY. Needless to say, writing speed is essential for survival under such pressure and bad handwriting becomes inevitable.

Later in my life I found that I have this complex love/hate feelings toward the need for handwriting. I found myself more creative and being able to better organize my thoughts when I am working with my beloved fountain pens on paper (no distraction from computer and internet). However, after I am done and going back to read my own writing I always feel some embarrassments and resentments.

Recently I have rediscovered the fun of handwriting after I picked up a copy of "Write Now" from Barbara Getty and Inga Dubay (ISBN: 0-87678-089-3). I still have a VERY long way to go to learn italics but I am pretty sure that I will enjoy this journey.