Sometimes parents are unaware of the turmoil they cause their children.
I’ve outlined my ambition to improve the world before to my mother. I wanted to – and still want to – improve the quality of life for every individual. In typical fashion for my mother she dismissed the idea as pointless, stating I should instead focus on helping my family first. There are a myriad of issues I could address within my family in many capacities, such as being a doctor.
Well, it’s been several years since the last series of conversations that involved ambitions but over this past Thanksgiving it happened again. I shared my goals beyond getting my PhD and it got dismissed again. One of the reasons was amusingly enough that my mother didn’t want me to do something difficult so that I wouldn’t go bald. The other reason is that she wanted me to focus on helping India as a whole instead of worrying about her and the family as my focus has honed in on lately.
Before I rip into this, let’s be clear that parents are also human. They develop and change over time. They learn and experience new things. They understand and gain perspective on old things. My mom in particular has been through a lot including a lot of illness. Perhaps more importantly she’s discovering a life of her own after my brother headed off to college and I officially moved away for my job.
I understand all of that but lest I mislead you with my charm and stunning good looks, I must disclaim that I too am human and I need to vent.
Get your ducks in a row because every major decree you’ve proclaimed for my life has lead to me breaking my figurative back twisting my life to fit your mold the best I can while still retaining my sanity. I worked beyond my means to try and get a biomedical engineering/mechanical engineering dual major when all I wanted to do is mechanical. It’s not that I’m not capable of it but that I am – as I shamefully admitted earlier – human. I have a finite amount of energy, willpower, and attention span (there is evidence indicating all three of these are finite). Don’t forget that I also have a finite amount of time.
Let’s not forget that you’ve basically encourage me to eschew deep and abiding friendships in favor of academics and yet I can see you with your friends (and I have seen Appa with his too). I know you didn’t just study all the time no matter how much you want to portray it that way, and I know how lonely you get when your social interactions start to decline due to a variety of reasons.
And then, after ALL OF THAT, you have some magical revelation that drastically changes everything you’ve ever taught me.
Amma, you’re the reason I arrange my shoes in my apartment so meticulously. You’re the reason I’ve seen every episode of Friends and enjoy chick flicks so much. You’re the reason I love to vacuum. You’re the source of inspiration of how I fold my clothes after washing them.
You’re the reason I wake up and part my hair on my left, whether lightly or sharply, every day.
If I’ve picked all of that up, how can you not expect your other lessons to carry through as well? Can you not understand how strenuous it is when you’ve molded me into the being I am then suddenly turn 180 degrees on everything you’ve ever taught me? Without consistency from you I have no firm foundation to craft a sense of well-being and value and end up adopting wild ambitions that spiral into unfathomable obsessions that lead to pain and misery.
More than any of that it seems more and more like you’ve given up on yourself with these new teachings you have for me. I mean, come on, since when did the plight of India ever mean more than your family? Than your father, my thatha? Say what you will now but I will burn this existence down to the ground if it means better for my family. That’s you, Amma. But as I was saying, with these new teachings and all the other things you’ve been saying are disheartening, as if you’ve concluded there’s no point for you to be alive. Lucky for you I somehow have some foundation within myself, as twisted and odd as it may be, to hold myself upright but all you’re doing is just confusing my little brother.
Certainly Appa isn’t helping with anything but who can really do anything when there’s nothing consistent to love, to adore, to praise, to uplift?
Get a grip, Amma.
This is not something I’ll say anywhere else – again because of how you raised me – but I love you. I love you so much, and it hurts me to see you this way. I don’t care what happens within myself because I’m screaming through life at a breakneck speed like a cheetah desperately hunting down its prey. I’m tougher than you’ll ever give me credit for (but that’s okay). Nothing is going to slow me down. The cross I wear over my heart is for you.
(For any non-Tamil readers out there, which might be a lot, I apologize for the following):
Amma, do you remember this?
That should sum up what I think.
I know I’m not following in the exact path you want. I know I’ve absorbed cultures from around the world that you may not prefer I did. But forget the tradition, forget what you consider your duty. This is just between you and me – and I want you to be happy.
And on my part, know this: Probably more than you know, I am a deeply flawed individual, but that is the consequence of the other immense positive qualities I have. An easy example is my social awkwardness as a trade-off for the vast amount of learning I have. I understand this world down to the quantum level better than most people and more importantly I know how to use it.
My point is this: Whether or not you agree I should make you proud, I am the result of what you have taught me and I am a great man as a result.
Well, that came out differently than I expected at first. I suppose that’s a good thing because what started out angry was not really angry, just frustrated. Amma, if you happen to read this, just remember a simple entry in a blog cannot convey everything you are to me. To any other parent out there, it seems my advice from all of this is to let go of expectations, traditions, norms, and really anything that is not purely you and your child. Does that make sense?
That’s enough venting for the day. Hopefully you got something useful out of it. Or something interesting, at least.
Lately on the radio I’ve heard Carly Rae Jepsen and Owl City collaborate on the song, “Good Time.” There’s one part in the song that gets my brain going all fuzzy so being the lazy spendthrift I am I simply looked it up on YouTube. And thus began a crisis of existence.
Here, take a look at the video:
The premise of the video seems to be a group of friends gathering in an ambiguous location surrounded by trees, ostensibly a camping site in the middle of a national forest. The video and song ooze qualities of a bohemian lifestyle and glorify it. Certainly nothing harmful, at least intrinsically, but for a guy who tends to study and research in his free time there’s a little bit of bitterness for where nothing glorifies my lifestyle.
Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do. In fact, I enjoy it and take pride in it which is why it stings to never see a engineer’s life glorified. We are the people who bring to you everything you have yet everything indicates that to have a “good time” we must abandon what our instinct drives us to do and what our heart tells us we enjoy.
Heck even within engineers I get the sense that a large gap exists where there are those who have answered a calling and those who simply got a degree in engineering. I get the feeling more and more that finding a fellow engineer as passionate as I am is extremely rare (and for that matter I’m really lucky to work in a company with so many amazing, enthusiastic engineers).
It’s a sore spot for me that the lifestyle I’ve chosen for myself is never seen as “fun” or “cool” except among others who share that thought. I’ll never see 50 Cent rapping about the engineer life, for example.
Then again, maybe I just feel this way because I don’t find as many people around me with the mindset. Where I live is not exactly a hotbed for technology.
What does it mean that I’m wondering this at all? I certainly love what I do, but there is the realization that I’m at a sort of stagnant point. Of course, that’s on me though. I have to break through this barrier.
Mark my words: I will succeed. I will excel. I will innovate. I will change the world!
It occurred to me as I attempted to organize my bookmarks that over time I’ve accumulated several hundred bookmarks. I’m sure it pales in comparison to others out there but I think there’re interesting insights to be had in the midst of all these links.
I find that the links that stay on my bookmarks list are bookmarks that resonate most with my being. Take for example the following image I saved in my set of bookmarks (it’s a bit long, but I think it’s real good):
For me there exists a somber sense to this image, this comic, this snippet. This and other links with a similar feel make it while other things I’d saved on a whim get culled.
Other topics of note in my set of bookmarks includes engineering and programming links.
The introspective insights were unexpected here. My bookmarks reveal a man drawn to sadness, enthralled by the possibilities of engineering, and excited by everything he encounters.
What do yours reveal?
While browsing Reddit I saw an article titled, “Running on empty: big airlines in big trouble”. As a fan of aviation and being in the air this is disheartening. Reading through the article there are two trends that are dominating the industry currently and an uncertain future ahead.
One trend is smaller aircraft. Even the A380 hasn’t stopped that trend, apparently, instead mostly being used in cargo applications. This could mean that if I have children, it’s very likely they may never get a chance to experience being awestruck by the sensual curves and the incredible size of the 747-400 as I did when I was a child.
Another trend is packing more and more passengers into a plane. The example cited being Air New Zealand, which went to a smaller plane and decreased seat size and aisle size to fit the same number of seats in. And then there’s the interesting phenomenon of what is supposedly called the “chub class”, a set of wider-than-normal (though the normal is already pretty narrow) available for a premium.
The author goes into more things but these two trends themselves are very disturbing for me. The only way to see my family conveniently (meaning without having to spend say, weeks at sea just to get there or some odd combination of sea and land) is to fly, and these types of trends make it more and more difficult each year.
The drastic increase in price of flying has already stymied my ability to spend time with my family and this is really just insult to injury. The UN has said the Internet is a basic right but it’s okay that every year it gets more and more difficult to see my family, to not be a part of my cousins’ lives, to not be able to help my grandparents in their dying days, to not be able to hold on to my heritage?
It’s even difficult to see my parents in Florida! I could drive 12 hours or fly for a few. If I just have a weekend off the clear choice is flying for a few to maximize time spent with my parents. The troubles the airline industry is having wreaks havoc with my ability to experience my family fully.
Furthermore after college all my best friends moved all over the country. Again, if I want to see my roommate for 2 years and one of my best friends I could take a 30 hour drive to California or fly there. The flight is preferable yet is so cumbersome and expensive that it’s infuriating.
Sadly I don’t have an immediate answer. Perhaps a government subsidized airline, along the lines of public transportation already in existence, would alleviate a lot of issues. It could at least provide inexpensive, adequate hops from Virginia to Florida though international flights are still unresolved.
I do have something I’m working on though. Increasing oil prices have a dramatic impact on the airline industry from fuel to the plastics used in the electronics, seats, components, and more. My goal is to make that irrelevant and my path is to discover better energy harnessing or new forms of energy and/or propulsion. Wish me luck!
Lately I’ve felt at odds with my ambitions at a daily level due to lacking energy and efficiency. I suspect the primary culprit is a lack of sleep. I’m doing my best to get back on track. You’ll hear more from me once I do!
But now I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.— Umberto Eco
I first crossed Halo’s path when I convinced my parents to purchase the original Xbox with Halo to play with my high school friends. Many a LAN party was had and I have fond memories. Due to the significance of the original Halo in my life I picked up Halo: Anniversary Edition (Plus I would be able to play through the story with one of my fraternity brothers, in theory). I finally started playing through it and my, the power-armored stroll down memory lane is wonderful.
For those that don’t know, Halo: Anniversary Edition allows a transition between updated graphics and original graphics at the press of a button. Besides the direct nostalgia, comparing old and new is an eye-(and ear-!)tickling experience.
The first thing I noticed is color. The ring world is vibrant and colorful where once it was drab and dark. The technology improved since Halo came out for the Xbox and allows for all this extra detail.
Another big graphical advancement is the draw distance. I’m not quite sure what the effect is. Somehow the world seems less lonely initially because I can see more. I suppose it doesn’t help that I’m playing on Easy to try and observe all these differences so all the marines’ chatter breaks up what could be a very solitary romp around the big ring. I’ll have to come back on Heroic or Legendary and see how it feels.
I believe the music has been re-mastered as well. Not being much of an audio person I’m not exactly sure what that entails, but it is my impression that the music exists with the rest of the game much more noticeably. I’m hearing more subtle tunes coming from the background that I did not previously. Whether it’s new or not I can’t be certain but that it affects me as much as it does is a testament to the well crafted sound track. The ebb and flow of combat, the prelude to engagement, and the prologue of relief is all captured and amplified so well!
For anyone who enjoyed Halo: Combat Evolved, the Anniversary Edition is a worthwhile purchase.
I am a proponent of video games as art. As a gamer fortunate enough to experience a golden age of gaming (marked by the birth of the NES, though I did miss out on the even humbler roots of gaming) it disheartens me seeing many artistic qualities of video games stripped to more directly appeal to consumers for reasons of profit. I understand the reasoning behind it – both the greed involved and the need for a publisher or developer to pay the bills, which means the employees can feed their families. That doesn’t stop my lamentation, however, and it is up to me and individuals like me to fight to retain the imagination that made games wonderful.
It occurred to me that a developer could infuse a game with all the artistic creativity in the world and the player may never see beyond the mechanics of the game into the art. (I realize that this particular case is a glitch and thus unintentional, but regardless this is what sparked the thought. I do address the fact that this is a glitch further down so read that at least before you comment)
Consider books, another medium requiring imagination. Without the reader suspending disbelief and diving into the world a book is nothing more than a large set of words arranged in grammatically proper groups. The author is responsible for ensuring tone, vocabulary, setting, plot, characters, and much more are appropriate for the effect he/she seeks but it’s all for naught if there is no kindling to set alight with creativity.
Here’s another example but about movies (I don’t know the source for it, so if anyone wants to enlighten me I’d be much appreciated. Personally I encountered it first on Reddit):
This is satirical and thus exaggerated some, but it holds enough truth to be valuable. I submit Exhibit A (a comparison done by metacritic) as evidence.
Now back to video games. “MrBtongue” on YouTube makes a compelling argument about Diablo 3 under this light, with this being his most poignant statement:
In my opinion, the game they set out to make is a regression from the rest of the series.
Watch the video for his arguments. Pay attention in particular to his description of Diablo I. This guy gets it.
How many people would notice the points he makes though? I fear that the average gamer would not pause to let their imagination wrap around the world of a game, instead focusing on the surface game mechanics and its direct response in the brain. (Note MrBtongue’s second and third points)
I said earlier, “This guy gets it.” Let me clarify. This guy is a minority who can enjoy subtleties in games. With skyrocketing popularity games must cater to more and more people to earn the profits needed to be considered a success. As a result they are tailored toward the average human to drawn in more people than a player who has an imagination to call upon.
It is on the developer to sow their games with the seeds or art, and it is the role of the player to water those seeds. The developer is the spark plug in the internal combustion engine of a players artistic perception, and the imagination of the gamer is the fuel that undergoes ignition.
For example, a developer cannot deliver a broken game and call it art. This glitch in Skyrim is one of many, but never was the game as a whole broken. Big Rigs, for example, is NOT art. For what it’s worth the referenced Skyrim experience was accidental so let’s look at something more intentional. *spoiler alert* In Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, there is a poignant moment where the character you control dies.
Gamers loved it (for good reason). So what did the makers of Call of Duty do? They spammed scenes like this until it lost all meaning. A developer cannot repeat the same thing over and over and expect to evoke the same reaction. Rather they are tasked with the admittedly arduous task of taking the fundamental heartstrings of a player and knitting it together into a new experience.
On the other hand, when a developer delivers a gem of a game full of fun, personality, and awesome the player needs to be receptive of it. A great example of this category is Psychonauts, which was saved from obscurity by turning into a cult hit but not without taking damage. Really it should have been a blockbuster hit, but the mettle of the average person is not the kind to appreciate an intelligent game.
I tend to hold everybody to a high standard. If we are to proudly display the banner of “civilization” and embody the pinnacle of evolution (or creation, as you may believe) on the planet, we need to act the part. Perhaps this is a flaw, however, and my punishment is to be disappointed time and time again in my fellow man and woman.
Increasing the number of students interested in science, technology, engineering, and math – otherwise known as the STEM disciplines – is considered to be vital to national competitiveness in the global economy and to the development of a strong 21st century workforce. But the pipeline leading toward STEM careers begins leaking in high school, when students choose not to take advanced courses in science and math.
I took some time to scan my old posts to find loose ends I haven’t addressed. In the process I encountered a post I created while researching over summer and staying in an apartment near campus. I was struck paralyzed by grocery shopping and amused at the prospect of cleaning my bathroom. I had no problem with it but living in a dorm with a cleaning staff didn’t present many opportunities to perfect the art while taking classes.
Later I more directly compared my experience living in dorms to living in my apartment. This was from June of 2011. It’s been a year since and there is much to add to the topic. I also promised a more holistic perspective "soon" and it turns out "soon" is just about one year later. Who’d have thunk it!
The dominant impression of difference is time. Let’s think worst-case-scenario for college: 4 lab classes with 3 55-minute lectures per week and a 3-hour lab once a week. That’s approximately 24 hours of time. My professors used to say for every hour of class time an ideal student will spend 2 hours of out-of-class time. For an "easier" major that may be overestimating while for a "harder" major it can easily be underestimating but it is reasonable enough for the sake of discussion. Now the total time related directly to school is 48 hours per week (12 class, 24 out of class, and 12 lab). Just for completeness let’s add another 12 hours for any research endeavors and other miscellaneous academic pursuits.
That’s 60 hours total. Keep in mind that this is an overestimation based on Duke’s system. Very few people if anybody takes 4 lab classes in one semester, for example.
The most fair comparison for strictly academic hours in college would be commitments in the "real world". The first is my job. I’m expected in at 8am and I can leave at 5pm. There’s an hour lunch in there somewhere if I choose to use it. So far that’s 45 hours. I am going to include here time I have to spend grocery shopping, cooking, and otherwise running errands because I would prefer to be doing other things. Personally this comes out to about 5 hours in a given week, but that’s because I avoid or minimize as much as I can. My cooking times, for example, can be as low as 15 minutes for a given evening. And on top of only having to shop for one person I streamline my grocery trip as much as possible.
A total of 50 hours.
Thus it seems more time is available in "the real world." Bear in mind this is my experience. Depending on work circumstances this comparison may be different but for me I definitely have more time in "the real world."
While at first more available time is a blessing it is rapidly filled with commitments. This happens in college too but the main difference is in the nature of the commitments. In college, everything wraps up neatly on a weekly, monthly, or per semester basis. The problem set I have to do? Completed in a week, graded in another, and while that’s happening I have another to work on. The lab report? Next month. The class? Done at the end of the semester. There is a constant sense of completion, of progress, and accomplishment. Not so once outside of the academic world. I have a job that is indefinite in the length of its commitment working on projects that have tasks taking up months for deadlines and goals that are years off. I don’t get an A+ for making a delicious meal nor do I get a pat on the back for showing up to work. I’m not guided but for the most part am expected to be able to guide myself, asking questions as necessary and completing assignments and tasks as soon as humanly possible. This is jarring for a young adult coming out of a system that breaks things up into guided chunks after something around 18 years.
Learning to find success in the "real world" as a result is tough. I think most people are trained for sprints to succeed and then thrown into a world where it takes endurance and patience. There are fast paced industries but even there a single project’s scope is often larger than anything experienced in college. More importantly, without constant feedback on successes and failures and the obligation to complete relatively tedious tasks the sense of accomplishing fades and rediscovering a sense of progress takes time.
Access to Passions
Furthermore, after college access to luxuries becomes more difficult. When I was in school living on campus going to the gym was easy, spending time with friends simply required walking out my door, and I could find a million exciting things to do within a 5 minute walk from my dorm room. Your mileage on this will vary depending on circumstances like if you didn’t live on campus or if your college had less of a residential mindset than Duke did, but for me transitioning into the "real world" from what was essentially a walled garden was difficult. I have more time now but doing anything I love takes more thought. If I want to go to the gym I have first get a gym membership and then drive to the gym (my apartment complex doesn’t have a gym). If I want to practice my instruments I have to find a way to practice outside or practice at a time in my apartment when it doesn’t bother anyone, which can be impossible when I have other things to do in those times like tutor. I want to volunteer at local schools but I work from 8 to 5 (at least!) so I can rarely help in the actual school portion that I am interested in. Compromises everywhere and hard work just for fun.
The Little Things and the Big Things
I would argue that as a whole, taking what I’ve said so far into account, school felt more care-free. I worked hard, I had fun, and I learned a lot but never did I have to worry about causing millions of dollars of damages in a project because I was off on a design by tens of thousandths of inches.
Oh! And I forgot one big thing! My family treats me much more adult now. It’s been developing gradually but now with a steady income and evidence that I am in many ways a relatively independent human being I’m told more problems and issues the family is having. This can be somewhat jarring after many years of being kept in the dark to some degree but it’s also empowering to know what’s going on and potentially help out.
The “real world” feels heavier due to having easier access to available information. Each successive level of schooling – elementary to middle to high to college – slowly removed layers of difficulty in having access to information. Now, there is a confounding variable here of the Internet but let me tell you something, there’s a world of a difference in following a presidential campaign as a middle schooler, a high schooler, then an idealistic college student, and now a legal adult in the “real world” paying taxes, needing insurance, paying rent and otherwise handling many more things for myself than I had to otherwise.
College or the Real World?
If I could choose freely between the two I think I could choose the experience I have now. It’s certainly not as easily fun as college life was but I thrive under the responsibility and freedom when I’m on top of my game. Every once in a while I get overwhelmed but that’s not enough to give up on adult life.
College is great but I did not have enough talent to feel I was making contributions to the world. I was learning but not creating. As a working engineer (acknowledging that my college education helped get me here) even if I make no great breakthroughs I can reason that every project I complete contributes a little bit to the world.
I worked hard in school and with a little help from serendipity I have a job I enjoy and learn a lot from. The salary is such that I can afford certain luxuries that make life better. I don’t simply mean being able to buy things.
The biggest luxury my work situation affords is being able to freely automate most of my payments. For my vast student loans, car loans, and other bills I can set up auto bill-pay and not have to worry about it. I do monitor it so I don’t miss any errors or oddities that come up but without having to constantly remember to actively pay bills the load on my mind is lessened. The college analogy is having a homework but getting to automate it.
My apartment is larger than my dorm and is harder to maintain. For about 5 months I basically had the same amount of stuff as I did in college just spread out over many more rooms. In time my material possessions began to build up so now I have a legitimate full apartment to maintain. I can get very stressed out with messes so ultimately the higher maintenance means it’s harder to remain stress free.
I haven’t mentioned cooking much yet. In college I had a meal plan that included “food points” I could use at merchants on campus or even off campus for delivery. I never had to cook until I first lived in an apartment by myself. I’m still not an excellent chef by any means but I’ve assessed my needs and desires to cook most efficiently for me.
Hopefully this covers what you’re curious about. If you have any more questions ask in the comments and I’ll get to them! (Hopefully in less than a year…)