Monthly Archive: November 2006

Brushfire Fairytales

Haven’t bought any music CDs in a while so I went to the bookstore today to buy one that I’ve wanted for a while: Brushfire Fairytales by Jack Johnson.

Perfect for a couple hours of easy listening on a rainy afternoon. Love his casual style, laid-back lyrics, and soothing music.

Brushfire fairytales
Itsy bitsy diamond wells
Big fat hurricanes
Yellow bellied given names
Well shortcuts can slow you down
And in the end we’re bound

Slow down everyone
You’re moving too fast
Frames can’t catch you when
You’re moving like that

I still like his “In Between Dreams” better. I could listen to “Better Together,” “Banana Pancakes,” and “If I Could” in that album for a whole afternoon.

How to choose a major (or two)

[Note: I wrote this piece two years ago during the application season. The prompt for this scholarship essay, as I remember it, was something like, “some college students have trouble deciding on a major – write an essay to give them some advice on how to choose a major.” My previous post mentioned how I would be an econ/math major again if given a second chance, and that reminded me of this useless essay that I wrote two years ago.]

Conventional wisdom tells you that you can use any one or a combination of the following to help you decide on a college major: explore the subjects, talk to advisors, follow your true passion, or simply sit and wait. But if after you have read about the subjects and consulted with advisors, you still haven’t found your true passion and don’t want to sit and wait, the question of “how to choose” is then reduced to the practical and pressing question – “what to choose.”

Once upon a time, students didn’t have to declare a major in college. Gone are the good old days when everyone was automatically a philosophy and mathematics double-major at Plato’s Academy. Today, although choosing from the plethora of academic majors that emerged some two thousand years after Plato’s time may appear to be a daunting task, the solution remains simple: If you can’t make up your mind just yet, you can still double-major in philosophy and mathematics.

The greatest benefit of this strategy lies in the fact that you have effectively postponed your big decision to a later time, not as a passive move, but in a proactive way. Career inspirations are, in some way, like wisdom teeth: Unless you belong to the small percentage of population that are born without them, you know they lay dormant inside you and may erupt at random stages of your life: in high school, in college or even long after you graduate from college – you just don’t know when and have little control over them. If yours do not emerge by the time you need to declare a major, you can’t do much better than picking philosophy and mathematics. Philosophy teaches one how to think critically and is widely considered “the ultimate transferable skill”, whereas mathematics forms the basis for most natural sciences, and increasingly, plays a crucial role in many social sciences as well. Learn these two subjects well, and you are set for the big challenges ahead. Chances are, when your true career inspiration is awakened, the analytical thinking and quantitative skills you have acquired through the study of philosophy and mathematics are immediately applicable to your new career-specific training.

Setting career planning and strategic thinking aside, there is a strong probability that you will actually enjoy studying philosophy and mathematics. You may argue that you hated them in high school and have never been a great performer in either, but that is likely due to the fact that high school curricula rarely offer an in-depth treatment on either subject. Take mathematics for example: once the beauty and simplicity behind upper-level calculus and differential equations are revealed, other math courses then naturally become a cruise in the breeze, sometimes even irresistibly attractive. After all, if Plato and Socrates were to be believed, you never need to “learn” mathematics and philosophy – you merely “recollect” what your soul knew all along but you forgot at birth. In that sense, mathematics and philosophy are not at all boring or difficult, as anyone can rediscover the lost interest and reclaim their forgotten knowledge if properly taught. My personal experience as a math challenged turned math major seems to be consistent with this theory.

Bottom line: if you are having a hard time choosing majors, declare a double major in philosophy and mathematics, like everyone did back in the glorious days of Plato. At the very least, people will look at you somewhat differently at your next Greek party.

The Poison Pill

Last week the professor in my EO class went over the so-called “Poison Pill,” a defense mechanism for target companies facing hostile takeovers. That was some rather brilliant stuff.

By the way, Enterprise Organization (or, Corporations, as it is called at other law schools) is fun stuff. Much more interesting than I originally thought. I like the logical part of the analysis that utilizes basic economic principles. If I could start all over again as an undergraduate, I would still have majored in Economics and Mathematics. I have found both to be immensely helpful in law school. But then the literature and history majors might find their prior training useful as well — perhaps this is the beauty of law school, where people of different backgrounds converge and study a subject that encompasses all aspects of human life and knowledge.

Fun stuff.

Evil Thoughts

It is never too early to start dreaming about the life after law school, so a friend of mine and I talked about post-graduation plans today.

I admit my daydreaming had its more materialistic days. With the decent salary I will first buy an obscenely expensive camera, like a Leica M7 or a Hasselblad H2. I am not that into cars, so a gas-electric hybrid Accord with GPS navigation should be plenty (although Ping would almost certainly insist on a Camry — in that case we will get two cars). Then I am going to drive that car everywhere with Ping and Anna and use the camera to take pictures as we go — well, this is the more idealistic part already. But the point remains: I am easily satisfied, and I want to keep things that way for a long time to come.

Ok, maybe a BMW 3 series, but nothing more than that.

I read an article on NY Times today about the rich and richer. The article’s point was that today’s doctors and lawyers are upper middle class at best, while to qualify as being really wealthy one would have to make 7 figures at least. At first I was pretty dismissive of this idea, because not everyone is in the game of chasing after money, but when I read the following paragraph, I felt I agreed wholeheartedly:

Trying Not to Live Ostentatiously

. . .

Still, Mr. Moon tries to live unostentatiously. “The trick is not to want more as your income and wealth grow,” he said. “You fly coach and then you fly first class and then it is fractional ownership of a jet and then owning a jet. I still struggle with first class. My partners make fun of me.”

His reluctance to show his wealth has a basis in his religion. “My wife and I are committed Presbyterians,” he said. “I would like to think that my faith informs my career decisions even more than financial considerations. That is not always easy because money is not unimportant.”

. . .

Behavior is gradually changing in the Glassman household, too. Not that the doctor and his wife, Denise, 41, seem to crave change. Nothing in his off-the-rack suits, or the cafes and nondescript restaurants that he prefers for interviews, or the family’s comparatively modest four-bedroom home in suburban Short Hills, N.J., or their two cars (an Acura S.U.V. and a Honda Accord) suggests that wealth has altered the way the family lives.

But it is opening up “choices,” as Mrs. Glassman put it. They enjoy annual ski vacations in Utah now. The Glassmans are shopping for a larger house — not as large as the family could afford, Mrs. Glassman said, but large enough to accommodate a wood-paneled study where her husband could put all his books and his diplomas and “feel that it is his own.” Right now, a glassed-in porch, without book shelves, serves as a workplace for both of them.

I am not envious of their wealth. But I am envious of their way of living with wealth.

Photo Gear for the Upcoming Trip

It’s been a while since Ping and I last went on a trip like this — or, more precisely, about six months since our trip to Puerto Rico. Unlike the Puerto Rico trip, which was unannounced to me until Ping and I got to the ticket counter at the airport, this one is planned by both of us. This gives me ample time to stock up on photo supplies and plan on what gear to bring with me.

Velvia 100

The first thing I did was to buy a bunch of Fuji Velvia 100 slide film. The colors from digital cameras just aren’t good enough — or, put it another way, after many futile attempts, I’ve decided that my photoshop skills aren’t good enough to transform the dull images from digital cameras into the vibrant and popping color of Velvia slide film. If I boost the saturation of the digitally captured photos, the colors do become more vibrant, but also seem too fake to my eyes.

Maxxum 7
For the film side of things, I will carry the Maxxum 7 camera plus two zooms (24-105, 100-300) and three primes (28, 50, 135). For digital snapshots I’ve decided not to carry the Maxxum 5d. It’s unnecessarily big. Besides, from my past experience of traveling with both systems, swapping lenses between the film and the digital bodies to take a picture of the same scene in both formats can be a pain. My plan is to take Olympus SP-350, for its 8MP resolution, full manual control plus raw capability, and a size of a compact, plus Fujifilm F30, for its DSLR-like low-light performance, unmatched video recording feature, and some manual control options. Both use xD memory cards.


Can a compact digital camera really be up to the task of taking semi-serious landscape shots? I’d say yes. I take pictures for my own enjoyment and view them on my monitor most of the time. I rarely print photos, and when I do, I never print larger than 8×10. 8MP is just about enough for that size. The Olympus SP-350 has a fairly sharp lens — according to my test, it is sharper than the 18-70mm kit lens that I would use with the 5d for wide-angle landscape shots. Fuji F30 is reputed to have an even sharper lens.


These compact cameras are small and lightweight. I could easily tuck both of them in my camera bag or even a coat pocket, instead of having to dangle a three-pound DSLR plus lens from my neck. They are cheap: each costs only about $200, and that includes everything – lens, card, battery and charger. At that price I can probably afford to get new ones every year or two when newer models come out with the latest technological advances. The images they produce are also just right for my purposes: depth of field is larger on these cameras with their little sensors and short lenses than on DSLRs, and that’s just perfect for landscape work. At ISO 50 the SP-350 produces noise-free images just like those from the DSLR, and for landscape work you don’t need higher ISOs anyway.

The only downside of this configuration is that the wide angle on both of these digital cameras are about 36mm and often times aren’t wide enough for landscape shots. I guess I will just have to take wide shots on film or get a converter lens for the SP-350.

Really looking forward to those perfect shots of Halfdome covered in snow and California Highway 1 winding along the Pacific cliff coast.

Trip Itinerary

December 24: Chicago to San Jose. Drive to San Francisco
25th: San Francisco
26th: Day in San Francisco, drive to Yosemite in the evening
27th: Yosemite
28th: Yosemite, drive to King’s Canyon/Sequoia National Park in the evening
29th: King’s Canyon/Sequoia National Park. Drive to San Simeon in the evening
30th: San Simeon to Big Sur and Monterey via Highway 1, drive to San Jose in the evening.
31st: San Jose to Chicago.

Christmas Trip


San Jose
San Francisco
Yosemite National Park
King’s Canyon National Park
Sequoia National Park
Death Valley National Park

Only have slightly more than a week to spend on vacation, so probably won’t be able to spend more than one day at a place, but that’s plenty of photo opportunities already, and a fun trip for Anna too. The big red bridge, tall sequoias and the giant half-dome rock should do the trick to keep her and the rest of the family entertained.

I am thinking about saving the customary homage to Disneyland till when she’s old enough to truly appreciate Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck — kind of like a ceremonial thing to do when she enters kindergarten. But for now, the mouse and the duck are just another pair of furry animals to her. And she prefers to play with her fishies — all 11 of them, live, in the fish tank I bought her recently — much more than the stuffed animals anyway.

Another view on Affirmative Action

My friend, let’s call her “PHE,” (as she calls herself in her blog, Piggy Hobo Express) wrote an excellent blog entry on the issue of affirmative action and “proposal 2” in Michigan.

She is also a Chinese 2L at Michigan, and our views on this are amazingly similar: affirmative action is a “necessary evil” of some sort. Sometimes it does take two wrongs to make things right, so I am willing to tolerate it and would have voted against proposal 2 if I could.

At the risk of being redundant, I have to say it again: My only hope is that people can admit that AA is a device to reduce racial tension resulting from past discrimination, and hurts certain other minorities in the process, not something to “promote diversity” where supposedly everyone benefits. To use diversity as its justification is like denying that a cancer patient undergoes a lot of pain when the good cells are killed along with the bad cells during chemotherapy, and saying instead: look, at least you lost enough hair so you don’t have to tip your hairdresser now.