Daniel Mai

What Is Love?

Another voicemail question1:

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, here’s a voicemail question for you: What is love?

Very appropriate for today, isn’t it?

I don’t know what love is, but I’ll try.

Love is a feeling. For sure, there are different levels of love. For interpersonal relationships, it’s about thinking about others rather than yourself. For what we do, it’s about feeling like there’s nothing else in the world that we would rather do, and doing great work. For what fascinates us, it’s about what we want to know about and what we want to be associated with.

Love is trust, affection, passion, and interesting.

Really, I’m just throwing all of these words around.

You, my dear reader, are lovely.

  1. A voicemail question is a question that desires an answer that reveals something about the answerer. It’s an open-ended question that can be asked whenever and wherever. The idea was taken from the novel These Days by Jack Cheng. As the name suggests, the question is asked by the callee to the caller through voicemail, replacing orthe usual “Please leave a message after the beep.”

Mindful Walking

A voicemail question:

Where do you look when you walk?

It depends on what I’m feeling while I walk.

If I’m feeling rushed and need to be somewhere quickly, then I’ll keep my head up, look straight, and power walk away. I need to pay attention to my surroundings because I don’t want to bump into anything (I’ve walked into poles before, embarrassingly).

If I want to stare at people around the area I’ll look in their direction. Maybe there’s some event happening or they’re doing something interesting that grabs my attention. Curiosity gets the best of me.

If I’m feeling down I’ll walk slowly I’ll find comfort in looking at the ground churning on thoughts in my mind. Sometimes I try looking up into the sky too, looking at the slow movement of the clouds if there are any, but mental feeling is different than having my head down. The sky is untouchable, unlike the ground.

Most of the time, I try to look straight ahead and avoid eye contact with any strangers along the way.

Struggling With Dvorak

I’ve been slowly getting myself to be comfortable typing with the Dvorak keyboard layout over the past several weeks (Calvin has gotten me interested in using it). Every day I spend at least one hour just typing away on keybr.com.

One of the reasons why I’m trying to switch away from the de facto Qwerty layout is because of the apparent efficiency with the layout of the keys. Owerty was designed for mechanical typewriters over a century ago so that common letter combinations were spaced far enough apart to prevent keys from jamming. This layout meant that the words that we type have our fingers moving all over the place on the keyboard. Dvorak was designed to decrease finger movement during typing, leading to more comfort. It was also designed to “scientifically decrease typing errors and speed up typing”. (I’m not a huge believer on the error part.)

Learning From the Masters

Now that the semester’s over, I have more time to myself to do whatever I want. Even outside of school, I want to continue to learn about things that the curriculum hasn’t taught me (yet, if at all). So until the spring semester starts, I’m going to indulge myself in some good ol’ books.

I went to the eighth floor of the King Library and browsed around the computer section to see if any books piqued my interest. Of course, there are a whole bunch of things that I just wished I knew about, but I don’t have the time nor the mental capacity to understand everything. So I just picked out a few books this time around.

And I also remembered that I wanted to learn about writing, because the way I write isn’t great. I don’t have a good grasp over the words I write—they just come out. And most of the time I choose the wrong words.

So, here are the books I plan on reading:

  • ACM Turing Award Lectures The First Twenty Years: 1966 – 1985 (1987)
  • Mastering Regular Expressions (2002) by Jeffrey E. F. Friedl
  • On Writing (2000) by Stephen King
  • How to Win at College (2005) by Cal Newport
  • The Talent Code (2009) by Daniel Coyle

It’s time to hermit myself away and sink into these books. There are plenty of things I don’t know that the authors have spent countless hours transcribing their thoughts into words for the printed page. They are the masters, and I am just someone who wishes to obtain even a sliver of their knowledge. For sure my eyes will just race across most of the words without stopping to even think about what I just read. The time the authors spend on constructing the correct phrases to communicate their ideas is just thrown away by a reader like me.

That’s just how it goes with most things anyway. The creator is conscious of the effort that is put into the product and the whole process of making it. The consumer only knows of the final product as it is.

“Jack of All Trades”

A couple of years ago I remember a friend asking me what college I wanted to go to and, more importantly, what I wanted to do in life—what job I wanted to do. I told her some not-really-an-answer answer regarding the college. I didn’t know much about universities as much as she did (I assume she knew a lot). Something like “I haven’t really thought about it.” And for the occupation question, I told her “I don’t really want to do one thing in my life. I kind of want to do a lot of things.”

“So you want to be a jack of all trades! Jack of all trades, and master of none.”

I think the computing world is a place where I can be a jack of all trades. The gist of what I need to know by the time I graduate from school is: … I don’t really know. Is there a “gist” to a computer science degree? Different universities teach different curriculum, so there’s not really a “definitive” list of things to learn. There’s programming languages to know. There’s theory. There’s math. And a whole bunch of stuff I haven’t even learned yet, such as computer hardware, low-level computer languages (assembly), software engineering practices, et cetera.

Too many things, in fact. Learning all of these things only through formal schooling would mean that I would either be spending an absurd amount of time in school, or cramming them into roughly four years of mere surface-scratching learning.

I believe that studying computer science encompasses many different disciplines. We learn about languages—programming languages are called languages for a reason. We learn about math, logic, algorithms, and “real-life problems”—just like word problems in math class.

I really enjoy computing.

A Year Later

We’re constantly changing every day. Always learning new things, having new interests, and becoming more true versions of present selves. Thinking back about who I was just 14 months ago, my perception of the world around me has changed a lot.

How to Wake Up Early

Today I woke up late, and wasn’t able to give my friend a ride to school. She had to drive herself to school. In light of this, here’s some things I need to remember to wake up on time.

  1. Have an alarm.
  2. Have a second alarm for backup.
  3. Make sure the alarm sound is loud and not soothing. The alarm should be, well, alarming.
  4. Don’t be cozy during sleep.
    1. Don’t wear a blanket. Warmth means comfort. Comfort means more desire to sleep.
    2. Leave the window open. At least, leave the curtains open. Cool air from the outside means less warmth inside. Morning light (if any) makes the room brighter, which discourages sleep (at least, more than darkness does).
  5. Sleep early.
  6. Sleep well.

Or, just get a flying helicopter alarm that flies away and needs to be put back in order for the alarm to stop. Whatever floats your boat. (Thanks Calvin for showing me this.)

Blog Update

I’ve added a “Links” section up on the top navigation links, which links to my Pinboard page (which is very much like Aaron Swartz’s site). Now you can stalk me from Pinboard and kind of see how I spend my time on the web (and procrastinating on other things). Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, who knows. But it’s kind of interesting to see the kind of things I’ve bookmarked on a certain date, and what sort of articles I read online.

Helvetica, Objectified, Urbanized: The Complete Interviews

I’ve definitely enjoyed the Design Trilogy documentaries about type, objects, and cities. I’ve watched each of them several of times over, and I apparently miss something during each viewing that I retain something new every time I watch them again. And now Gary Hustwit is coming out with an amazing book of the full interviews of the designers shown in the documentaries.

I’m excited to read this book of interviews (and watch the best-of footage not included in the documentaries). It’s a celebration of the people who understand design and are able to change the world by sweating the details in everything they do. So I’m willing to back this Kickstarter project, but I wonder if I’ll be even able to comprehend even a tiny fraction of what the masters have to say in these interviews.