Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Yosemite Trip, Half Dome

This ended up being a great hike. I was stressing out about finding a new apartment, changing jobs, and dealing with my summer course, EE450. So this was a weekend of relaxation for me, especially since AC drove up there. I didn't even want to look at a map to see where Yosemite is - thought was, "just take me away to a far away place, and give me time to think!" I forgot my toiletries on the bathroom counter, but luckily ES called me and I was able to pick some up from a drugstore before entering the park. I didn't have my glasses, and I was on a trial of some new contact lenses, so I was worried about that. Typically I bring along my glasses when hiking as a backup in case my contacts fall out. Things worked out ok eyesight-wise, but it was a little less safety margin than I usually like.

Started the hike after 9a. It was > 1hr drive to the trailhead, and people took a while to wake up. I would have preferred to leave about 2 hours earlier rather than be rushed by daylight, but again, things worked out fine. Next time, we may be picking a campsite that's much closer to the trailhead, or at least along a bus line so folks can start as soon as the busses start rolling.

First 2-3 miles of the trail was along the mist trail, which gives scenic vistas of/near Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls. The trail is well engineered, with many stairs, handrails, and bridges over intense streams. The water levels seemed high, so it was a perfect time to see the ephemeral falls at near-full force. In fact, the mist from Vernal falls was so spectacular that we all got refreshingly drenched hiking along this portion of the trail. At the top of Vernal, someone in the group mentioned that she thought perhaps our late start would put us too late in the day to reach the top of Half Dome and have enough daylight left. I had a headlamp, but was still concerned, and decided to break off from the group and complete the rest of the hike up solo. I was in great condition from hiking north of Pomona, so I could really get some speed. Others on the trip had not conditioned, and were more interested in taking it easy and taking pictures.

The trail was quite wide, leaving enough room for people to walk both directions without having to stand aside. There were many people doing this hike the same day, and while I did not feel much solitude, I was far from cramped.

A highlight of the trip is the last 400 feet of elevation. Steep stairs lead to a cable system during this last push for the top. The cables act as handrails which people can cling to, and hoist themselves upward, or guide themselves down. Going up the cables is very slow when there are many people. The reason is, if one person is so scared or tired that they cannot go on, everyone below has to wait for them to get out of the way. The cables are truly scary because if you lose your grip and fall, I don't see much chance of survival. It's very smooth granite, and the fall would be >1000 ft.
John Muir said that Half Dome was unclimbable when he saw it because of how smooth the rocks were, however was proven wrong in the early 19th century when the first cable system was somehow installed. I reached the top, took pictures, and called home. A solitary cloud had found its way to the peak however, and was looming at around 800 feet from where I was. I started feeling rain drops, so I knew I had to get out of there. First, the rain would make things very slippery, and second, with rain may come lightning. I made haste down, meeting most of the other group members on the way down. They were bogged down on the cables, and trying to decide whether they should continue up or not. They did end up making it to the top, but experienced strange static electricity. Their hair was standing up on end, and they felt static between their waists and elbows as they were going up the cable. Very frightening, considering if lightning hit they would probably survive the electricity, but it may cause you to lose your grip and fall.

I hurried down well out of lightening danger, and met up with the rest of the group as they were making their way out. I was 1 hr ahead of the next group member, and 2+ hours ahead of the last group members. I wanted to be sure that everyone made it out, so I rested and pumped water for our groupmates from the Merced river as they passed by.

Sunset was around 7:45. We decided to return via the mist trail due to the shorter distance. I was last out along with a groupmate who had hurt her knee about 20 minutes after dark.

Finally, the drive back to LA was eventful, due to a huge wildfire in the Grapevine. I could hardly believe they'd still allow traffic despite 15 foot flames right on the shoulder of the freeway. Helicopters were dropping fire retardant as we drove by.

Completed EE450
Yes, this was supposed to be an easy class, and I did end up getting an A. But it did require quite a bit more of my time than I had anticipated. There was a programming project in C that was really killer - 40 hours of total work. A lot of that was just learning C as I was not too familiar with the syntax. Eventually I got a hang of things and achieved 100% functionality. Watching lectures was sort of funny since the professor had a few idiosyncrasies. ES would not let me play the audio over my speakers due to these. I used headphones instead. Some funny things were when he wanted to check to see if the class followed his descriptions, he yelled, "CLEAR?!" If no response came, "YES OR NO!?" I learned some very interesting topics in the course, however I think a lot of the material was simplified so that the "facts" that would always hold in the course are not necessarily always facts in all circumstances. This is good for the casual observer trying to get an introduction, however as a professional, I would have appreciated more focus on the small details and contingencies.

I ran into LP, an Anaheim guy I knew at the final. Funny to run into him there - too bad we did not make the connection sooner so that we could work together.

New Job
Started my new Job in El S. Aug 4 (Friday). Now it has been roughly 4 weeks, and I'm getting used to the job. At first, it was shocking to be the 5th wheel. In my old job, I was used to being the technical go-to person. At the new place, I am completely unqualified. I like to tell people that I'm letting on that I'm unqualified slowly, so it's not so shocking to them. In all seriousness, I really appreciate the chance to get into this totally new line of work (RF Comms), so I can keep learning all sorts of new things. Before I continue with the new job, comments sent to MS related to
leaving the old job:

So here I sit, in my lab. Lights are dim since just the emergency
ones are on (didn’t' turn the rest on). I moved from across the hall
to this lab in June 2004 with my group. We've gotten a new supervisor
since then, and a lot of things have gone on here. Spent a great
portion of my waking time here in the last 2 years. Hell, I built
this thing from the ground up with the team - stringing Ethernet
wires, sorting junk into boxes, setting up computers, learning all
sorts of new engineering stuff. Shot the shit with my colleagues, who
respect me. Been on the conference phone yelling at idiot suppliers.
Having "eureka!" moments when stuff works, finally, after much time
spent. I've bled in here! Hell, I have my "alcatel" scar to prove it
(Alcatel is a brand name of a network switch/hub - they have a sharp
bracket on them I cut my wrist on). But I only have 5 more days here,
then I'm out. Probably will never return. I'm going to a different
city, with new people I'll have to convince that I'm worthy of their
respect, doing a job I'm not even sure I'm qualified for.

I am gaining speed at my new job, and learning new people. The reasons I took the new job were many. None really outweigh the others, but the timing seemed appropriate, if not slightly early. But better early and push the envelope than late and miss the bus.

The reasons for the switch include: getting to LA county to be in range for MBA school, getting a promotion/raise to level 2, I had reached probably the 95% mark of what I could learn in my previous job, I had a good "in" with a colleague, and finally, and possibly foremost, I would have the chance to work on satellites. I've yet to see it personally, but I have a feeling that nothing beats seeing a device you've dedicated years to design and test be strapped to a rocket, and blasted into orbit. And having it work once it gets there. That is exciting, and excitement is important for a job.

As you can tell in the excerpt above, I've had second thoughts on the move. It's a huge stress pushing the envelope as I am/have done. But I believe that's what separates me from other engineers. I can make big steps and survive to tell about it. I loved my last job, and the people I worked with was great. The product was illusive, but I was in charge of receiving a fairly large test rack from as supplier. That was tangible enough to be very motivating.

My first two weeks I was commuting about 1.5 to 2 hours each way to/from work. After we moved to the new apartment, my commute is now exactly 1 hour each way. I now take the train for the majority of the commute. I board in Norwalk, and detrain at Aviation Blvd, taking almost the entire distance of the MTA Green Line. This is >35 minutes riding, typically. My car stays in Norwalk while I’m at work, and the drive to/from Norwalk is painless. Stand by for more details on the new job.

Parents Visit
Parents were in town for 7 days. When they booked their trip, they knew that they were arriving the day I was taking my final for my Summer course, but we did not know that it would coincide with my start date for my new job. Indeed, there was a bit of overlap, but I took a Friday and Monday of vacation, and we had a fun time. We went to Santa Ynez valley for wine tasting, Simi Valley to see the Reagan Library, and stayed in Buellton, CA. What a great trip. We drove back along the coast, and saw some really neat sights (Ventura and Oxnard are not in this grouping – kinda trashy places).

Wine tasting was beautiful, and tasty. Luckily, my mom was ok with driving, so my dad and I tasted at 3 places. The people we met up there were very nice, both the locals and the tourists. We were there during the high season, so things were very busy despite the towns there being “small towns.” We had steaks at the Hitching Post, of the movie, “Sideways” fame. Earliest reservation time was 9:15p, which we took. To get a time around 6-7p would require 1 week prior reservation! It was a very popular place, and the food did justify their otherwise possibly inflated popularity.

On Sunday, we shopped for a new suit for me. We found a great grey Lauren one, which we had tailored. Also, we got some new comfortable dress shoes to go along with it.

Then on Monday, with nothing better to do, my Mom suggested that we start moving things out of my old apartment to the new apartment. I couldn’t believe they wanted to do this on their vacation; truthfully, I’m sure they did not want to move. But to understand my parents, one has to realize that at least my mom really values some hard work. She doesn’t like sitting around, and this was a great chance for us to bond. Sitting in a movie theater, for example, wouldn’t have afforded the same quality time. We moved quite a few boxes using the rental car plus our two cars. We took two trips, and that sucked up most of the day. With my free time quite short due to the new job and longer commute, this was unbelievably helpful.

Then the night before my parents left town, we had dinner at B&T’s. It was very tasty dinner, which ended with some home-made cheesecake, which was great, and a dip in the hot tub.

New Apartment
Not much to say about the new place. It’s $200 more, but we get 2 assigned parking spots. It has A/C, which is a California first, for me. Also, it is well located near shopping malls, Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, restaurants, and a theater. We expect to live there for roughly 11 months before moving again to an even more convenient location. This illustrates the instability in my life, which has been going on since 1999. I look forward to the time when I have my own house or property, and not moving for a few years. In the mean time, I’m maneuvering, and staying quick on my feet. I think this is at the detriment to my health, but this is in the name of staying sharp and motivated.

Moving into the new place was murder, and I missed much of my friend JF’s bachelor party. It was an unavoidable scheduling conflict, and I was still able to make a bit of this party after returning the moving van. All of our stuff would not have fit in the 14’ truck we rented, so moving with my folks a week before was crucial to getting done early that day. We started moving by renting the truck at 8a, and returned the truck at 7p. ES was pooped by 11a, but she got a second wind after lunch, and we got’er done! We even got the refridge in and out, with 2nd floor apts. at both ends of the move.

My old commute was about 15 minutes, so having a 1 hr commute is added time away from my extra-work activities like school. I’m working on maximizing this time, though. More on this later. Since this is temporary (11 months), I’m not too concerned.

JF and VY Wedding
I made the tail end of the bachelor party. Also, JF asked me to be a groomsman, and I accepted. The dress was “Hawaiian shirts” so it was simple enough! His wedding was on a boat, which went on a 3.5 hr harbor cruise for the reception. What a great setup, it was a fun time. It was especially great seeing all my old co-workers 1 month after changing job locations.

Argentina Trip, New Year’s
Making many plans for this trip. We started planning in July, and it has congealed quite a bit since then. More on this in a later post.

Watch Lectures on cell phone
This topic was the catalyst for this post! I want to track my progress on this in some detail. Due to my train ride, I have 80 minutes per day free to read or listen to music. I am taking 2 classes this semester to push hard for a May ’07 graduation. That means a 80 min lecture M-Th, and a 50 min discussion on Fri. I saw that the times matched, and tried to figure out a way to watch my lecture on the train.

More later on this!

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