The long and hard lesson of allowance management

After almost a year of having fun with their own money, the two girls seemed to be getting the hang of it. This has been a long (and hard at times) lessons for everyone. But looking back we are really happy about putting in the effort to help them learn one of the most important things in life. I think that in a way Ann and I are both re-learning the lessons ourselves. Watching the girls to go from having no clue about what was going on, discovering the power of money, having to deal with the anxiety of spending (or not spending), to finally sort of be being able to enjoy managing money with some planning is indeed quite inspiring.


Alyssa's group recital

Alyssa and her friends had their end of semester group recital today. All the kids did a great job and it was a very enjoyable show. Also their teacher Mr. Rafael Ferronato said something quite interesting during the recital:

Being a non-native speaker myself, I can understand how sometimes it is difficult to express oneself for all the language and cultural issues. If I am not mistaken, I guess he was trying to explain the importance of maintaining the mindset of a beginner if you became an expert. Or 初心, as Mr. Suzuki might have put it in Japanese.


The consequence of sleeping late

There may be surprises waiting...


A visit to Artlite in Atlanta

I found myself with an hour to kill in Atlanta today and decided to visit the Artlite Office Supply to enjoy my first pen store experience in the US. As it turned out, that was a great choice and I had a very good visit there.

The store has a very nice selection of pens and the people I met are great too. I only tried a Sailor 1911 with a music nib. I like the pen a lot, but can't pull the trigger at that point. Good thing that I still have this level of self-control.

I thought about this after I got home today and my conclusion is that I should really thank my wife. Just before I went to the store, Ann told me to get whatever I want/like because I probably won't have another chance to go there before we move to AZ (she even googled the address for me and encouraged me to go too). Having this kind of support, I feel I already have everything in the world (which in a way is true) and that helps a lot to control my urge of getting more toys.

Other than the Sailor, another pen that really caught my eyes is a Libelle Autumn Leaves. It is a beautiful pen, and more importantly, looking at it reminded me one of Vivian's favorite songs, "When the leaves are red and yellow in the fall". This is the first song she learned in school last fall. She enjoys singing it a lot and look really cute when she sings with all her heart. The image of Vivian singing is deeply etched in my brain and thinking about that makes me feel like my heart is melting away. I almost bought the pen for Vivian but figured I probably should wait until she is older. A Pelikano Jr. should be sufficient for a 4-year old for now.

In the end I had a great time, and better yet, went home with three bottles of new ink (PR Sherwood Green, PR Orange Crush, and Waterman Florida Blue) and a couple of Rhodia pads.


Monsters come out in spring

With the start of another riding season, I no longer have the whole motorcycle parking lot to myself when I come in to work. In fact, it's getting so crowded sometimes I have to park outside of the designated area. Interestingly over the past few days I always parked next to a Triumph Rocket III. With that huge exposed engine on the side, that monstrous thing looks more like a tricked-out truck than a motorcycle. My tiny ninja feel like a toy scooter in comparison.


Changing the world, one letter at a time

I came across an interesting website (http://www.elphos.org/) that encourages people to send hand-written letters with positive messages to others. I thought that this really is a wonderful idea and wrote a short thank you note to someone who helped me several years ago. This simple act does make me feel better about this world and I hope that the person who I wrote to will find this to be a pleasant surprise.

I envision that this is something I can do every now and then. After all, making the world a better place is a good excuse to have fun with my pens.


I was (almost) wanted

Fortunately this turned out to be a funny story and I can joke about it here.

Last Friday mom got a notice from the local police department. They said that I was listed as a suspect in a burglary case. Needless to say mom was totally freaked out because they also said that if I don't report to the local PD in a week they are going to put me on the wanted list. Initially I thought that this is probably just a problem in they finger-printing process. After all, I am about 8k miles from Taiwan.

Mom tried to call the PD to straighten things out but couldn't find the officer who was handling the case. After a weekend's worth of agony (on mom's part), mom finally got in touch with the officer and found something I thought was pretty interesting.

As it turned out, the finger print they got was indeed mine!

The burglary took place in the human resource department in dad's school. I was there to sign some documents after dad's funeral, which was about 4 weeks before the burglary. With my travel record, my name was immediately cleared. I am pretty amazed that they can collect and id a finger print on an envelope after such a long period of time. Isn't forensic science fascinating?

Mom also made an interesting comment about we are very lucky that they got me and not my brother, otherwise he'll have much more trouble in store for him.

David goes for a ride

Seeing his mom crawling on the floor to clean the house, David seized the opportunity and jumped on Ann's back to go for a ride around the house. He even made up a silly song that goes like "comfortable, comfortable, very comfortable". We have to say that this silly little boy is even naughtier than his sisters.


Handyman in training

Following Alyssa's footsteps, David becomes very interested in helping me with fixing various things in the house. Maybe it has something to do with being a boy, he is not satisfied with just watching me (as Alyssa does), he is always eager to get his hands on my tools and "help" in some way. In sharp contrast to Alyssa and David, Vivian does not show much interest to these sort of things. She is content with simply being with us, often just sit there, singing some cute little songs to entertain herself (and me), and looks super sweet all the time.

It is funny that each of out kids turned out to be so different, yet so similar at the same time.


FPN is a bad influence

I started a new journal today, and guess what I wrote in the first entry? A list of pens that I have been contemplating!

I thought my fountain pen acquisition disorder was cured about 8 years ago and have refrained from adding another pen to my collection since then. However in the short 2 months since I joined FPN, I have gotten 4 new pens and a nib customization by Richard Binder (not to mention the near tripling of bottled inks).

Now what do I do with my upcoming birthday? Hmm, that seems like a good question worth pondering. :)


Life is fragile

I read the obituary for Scott Williamson on EvoDir today and feel really sad about this news.

I met Dr. Williamson back in 2006 when he gave a talk in our department at UGA. I remember him as a brilliant (but shy) theoretician who works on some very interesting questions. I am quite surprised to find that he is so young. Life is fragile and I feel really sorry for him and his family.

Being kind is heroic

I went to a friend's dissertation defense today and heard something really inspiring. In the introduction, his advisor said something about getting a PhD is a difficult quest, there will be times that one would feel helpless (totally agree), and if one can still treat people well coming out of this hardship, that is a heroic achievement in itself.

I feel these simple words are really words of wisdom. The reason that I found this interesting is because I just had a moment of self-reflection on this subject a while ago. While I have never refused to help a colleague upon request, my willingness of going out of my way to help others certainly depends on my perception of self-wellness. When things are going well, I'd go as far as insisting to help people who have no idea how much I can do for them. However, toward the end of my 4th year in graduate school I was very depressed about the way things are. There were even thoughts about giving up. Often I feel anger toward myself and many other things and had this feeling of total isolation. At that time I don't really feel anything that happens around me was really relevant. As a consequence, I guess I wasn't very helpful to other people at that time.

Fortunately things worked out well for me in the end. And when I finally got out of that terrible depression, I looked back and wonder how could I do better. Maybe if I can be kind to other people, I would be able to be kind to myself too.


A cute little yellow bird

A yellow Pelikan M200 (Citroenpers 25th anniversary limited edition) joined my flock of Pelikans today. I am still working on a justification of adopting this one, maybe something along the line of "saving endangered species, one Pelikan at a time". After all, with a global population size of merely 1,200 individuals for this subspecies, any sensible conservation biologist would agree that an immediate action is warranted. :)

David's tap dance moves

I showed the kids a tap dance scene from the Broadway musical "My one and only" this evening. David got really excited and tried to imitate the tap dance moves. It was quite hilarious and none of us can stop laughing.


An interesting quote

"A fishnet is made up of a lot more holes than strings, but you can't therefore argue that the net doesn't exist. Just ask the fish."

From Jeffrey Kluger on why it is a bad (and stupid) idea to refute evolutionary biology because there are many unanswered questions. Take that you ID supporters.

FPN is a wonderful community

A fellow FPN member read about my frustration of not being able to get a pen that I want and sent me a very nice and helpful message. I feel so happy about this pleasant surprise from a total stranger.

I guess this must be true; fountain pen lovers are not "normal" people. :)

Alyssa's violin recital

Alyssa had another violin recital today. This time she picked Long, Long Ago and Minuet 1 from Suzuki book 1 and did a great job on stage. It is really amazing how much she has learned in just a year.

I said I want it

And now I got it! This is a story about getting a Bexley Americana as one of my "milestone" pens.

After my PhD defense in early March, Ann told me to pick something as her graduation gift to me. I thought about what I want for a while and decided that this gift must be something that I can use everyday and also have to be able to last a lifetime. With these two "simple" criteria, I quickly narrowed it down to a fountain pen (what else?).

I love the Pelikan M800 that I have been using for the past 10 years (bought it with my first month of salary after graduated from college) in almost every way. The only complaint I have is that it is a little bit heavy for long writing sessions. So I decided to find a slightly lighter pen with a similar size. Initially I thought about getting a Pelikan M620 Athens (UGA IS in Athens after all, albeit not the more famous one), but the pen was not easy to find and I also want to try something different. I also considered several other Italian and Japanese pens, but none of them gave me the feeling that this is the one.

Finally, I decided that I want a Bexley Americana in Rio Grande Red. The size and weight seems just right and the color looks really good. Also it is made in the US (the country where I got my Phd) and the design was based on Wahl-Eversharp Doric (my favorite vintage pen model). I got a chance to try the pen at the Atlanta Pen show and absolutely love it. Unfortunately the red ones seemed to be sold out everywhere and I had trouble finding one available. After several unsuccessful attempts I finally nailed one down from FPN's classifieds. The pen arrived today and it looks better than I have expected. I immediately filled it up with the Diamine Monaco Red and it writes beautifully.

Anyway, I am a very happy man now and have to get back to play with my new pen. :)


Final submission of my disseration

The third chapter of my dissertation is published in BMC Evolutionary Biology today. This one describes the characteristics of lineage-specific genes in some apicomplexan parasites. With this citation info, I happily updated my dissertation and send it out for the final submission. Needless to say, that pretty much made my day (or my week for that matter). Really look forward to relax a bit over the coming weekend.


Atlanta pen show

I had my first pen show experience today at the Great Southeastern Pen Show. Overall I had a great time but the story is quite long and complicated.

I am a little bit embarrassed to say that I got really excited about going to my first pen show for several days. Not only I had trouble sleeping the night before, but I also woke up twice during that night. I remember this kind of excitement back in my elementary school days, it's just like the night before we are going out for a field trip. Well, I guess that kind of make sense. In a way this IS a field trip for me.

Even with the difficulty of sleeping, I managed to wake up much earlier than usual and made it to Atlanta just before they open the door. I am pleasantly surprised to find that they are giving out a free Pelikano to the first 100 attendees of the day. With the lovely little pen I got back more than twice of what I paid for admission so I was very happy and off to a good start.

My first order of business is to find Richard Binder's booth. My main purpose of going to this show is to buy a Bexley Americana from Richard and have him customize the nib for me. And right there I was totally devastated. I picked up the pen from their display, played with it, and found that it's the perfect size and weight for me. However, they have sold out the color that I want and I don't find other colors attractive to me at all. To make things worse, Barbara told me that Bexley has used up all the materials and has discontinued the production. I was totally stunned and don't know what to do. Logically my next option is to find another pen that I like, but that proven to be extremely difficult and consumed the most of my time there.

A couple of other pens came very close but none of them made the cut in the end. Maybe I am just being too picky, but I guess this is to be expected after seeing a pen that I really want and couldn't get. The other pens I considered are the Signum Orione (absolutely stunning colors but the piston doesn't feel as good as the Pelikans), the Classic Legend (LM1 and the prototypes, very nice pens but a little bit too heavy/big), and a Toccia (don't remember the model, very close to what I want but somehow just wasn't exactly right).

I took a break from my fruitless hunt to attend the three seminars of the day. In the first one Richard Binder talked about tuning the nib and many other things about pens, nibs, and inks. The seminar was very fun and informative and I throughly enjoyed it. The second talk by Roger Cromwell focused more on trading pens. It's an interesting talk but just not my cup of tea. The third seminar was given by Susan Wirth and was pretty interesting too. There was less than 20 people in the room and Susan had each of us wrote two lines of text on the paper and went over our handwriting one by one. The most important suggestion I got is to try to use an italic nib (which I intended to do anyway). Because the limit of time Susan asked us to talk to her afterwards to get more of her opinions on improving our handwriting experience. This turned out to be another disappointment of the day.

I continued my fruitless hunt for a new pen after the seminars. I even got a chance to play with one of my dream pens, the Omas Arco Milord. It was indeed a beautiful pen. However, after seeing so many great pens in person I doubt if I will buy it when I am willing to spend that much money on a pen. There are simply too many great choices at that price range, or I could've gotten several nice ones for the price of it. So this may be a good thing for me. I am also happy about that fact that I'm past the peak of my vintage collection fever and was focusing on finding a new modern pen there, otherwise all those attractive vintage pens there will create many dilemma for me.

Then the idea hit me: if I can't get the pen that I want today, why not make a pen I already have to suit my needs better? I am pretty happy with my Pelikan M800, which is my main pen for the past 10 years since I got it. Now that I have discovered the wonderful world of italic nibs I kind of want to have it customized. The reason that prevented me to do so is that I don't want to part with the pen at all, even for just one day. Now that Richard Binder is here I can have this done on the spot so I quickly signed up a slot on his sign up sheet. While I am waiting for my turn I tried to get a chance to talk with Susan Wirth about my handwriting. However, there is also a long line of people waiting at her booth. When I finally squeezed in and sit down, I saw that Richard is working with the person before me. So I apologized to Susan and walked over to Richard's booth.

My initial plan is to have my M800 regrind into one of Richard's special ItaliFine nib. Unfortunately that wasn't feasible because the nib doesn't have enough tipping materials on it, so I settled for a 0.5mm cursive italic. I am very happy about how the things turned out. As I was testing the pen with writing some differential equations and complementing on how great it writes, Richard joked that "Hey, I didn't say that it can do calculus!".

After that I tried to get back to Susan's booth with no luck and bought some more accessories. The two inks that I bought, the Aurora Blue and the Diamine Monaco Red, both turned out to be great. After the drawing at 4 (not surprisingly I didn't win the $13,500 Visconti Four Seasons Maki-e Pen) I was pretty tired and decided to head home. Just before I get on the ramp to I-285 I realized that I forget to take any picture today, even though I specifically brought the camera with me today.

So all in all, I had a great time despite the disappointment of not bringing a new pen home with me. As soon as I'm done with writing this post I am going to continue my hunt for a Bexley Americana in Rio Grande Red.


8 years and counting

I was quite shocked when the service guy told me that my car is about 8 years old and needs to have the timing belt replaced. The outrageous charge for replacing a super-sized rubber band aside, I was more surprised to realize how long it has been since we moved to the US.

Ann's parents bought us this Honda Accord as a wedding gift. Because it is among the first things that we have when we moved to the US in 2000, mentally I often use this car as a gauge for how long we have been here. The car itself is simply a modern marvel. Not only it was always trouble free, it still drives pretty much like a new car after all these years. No wonder I have the illusion that we just moved here not that long ago.


A nice house anyone?

Our house went on the market today. Seeing that "For Sale" sign in the front yard gives me a really strange feeling when I come home, it almost feels like I am entering someone else's home.

After Ann's hard work over the past few weeks, the house looks really nice and clean. The interior is so empty that we can hear lots of echo again, just like when we first moving in and had next to nothing.