Sunday, May 27, 2007

Nashville, Tennesse

Flew over to Nashville for the IIE research conference over the weekend of 19-22 was a good break from the desert land!
Presented my paper that I worked on in GT. My session was the very first session on the Sunday morning at 8 am! Think I must have bored the attendees to death, as a good half of them left halfway during my talk.
Anyway, Nashville is a nice and relaxed place to hang out.. Music city..home of country music and Elvis the king! You can literally hear music playing 24/7 on the street junctions. Anything beats the desertland.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Random ramblings

1) Recently, I placed an order with to be shipped to my apartment. However, bcos I am seldom at home in the day, the delivery man did not get me and left without leaving a notice. One day i bumped into him and told him to send my shipment to the leasing office. Which he never did. In the end, my package was returned to Amazon, and I had to bear the shipment costs. Feeling darn frustrated, i wrote to Amazon customer service. I must say has pretty good customer after-sales service. They promptly resonded and apologized, and made arrangments to either refund me in full or have another shipping made. Of coz, this is no fault of theirs, it is the carrier's fault.

Conclusion: i) logistics are the vital link in the supply chain for full customer-satisfaction. No matter how good the supplier is, it takes a lousy logistics-provider to screw things up. ii) DHL delivery sucks, and this impedes order-fulfillment.

2) Screwed up my back recently doing ground techniques during judo practice. Sigh. Really feel the weight disadvantage, me under 150 pounds, trying to bridge 250-300 pound americans. Think i haven't got hold of the proper technique right yet, tt's why using too much back muscle to compensate. Nvm, its a good practice. Aikido practice follows the judo, and its getting tough too. Seemingly simple movements, but just so difficult to do it correctly. Bottomline: intent. Must train the mind to have the correct mental intent and visualization in order to control the body and execute the movt correctly. Basic sequence of all aikido techniques: 1) break initial balance 2) 'fit' the opponent's recovery 3) finishing.

3) My apt window got smashed into bits earlier this month in the middle of the night, when I was not in. Think some idiot tried to screw around with the window frames to break into the apt, but ended up the whole glass pane fell inwards and was smashed. Got a nasty surprise when i got home to see glass shreds all over the carpet... totally not funny trying to clean the mess up. Sucks.

3) Random self-pic in the lab for the sake of posting.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Ponderings of a lab-rat

Today, while returning to the lab with German PhD student Detlef after we got our lunch, we bumped into one of the assistant prof in the Dept. Both of us were surprised to see him here on a Sunday. Looking at his gloomy face, we agreed tt he wasn't happy to come back on a Sunday. Which is rightly so, since he has a small kid at home, and Sunday is supposed to be family day. I pondered aloud to Detlef wondering what would my life be like on this career path. Do i see myself coming back working to school on research proposals, preparing teaching materials etc on Sundays in the future? At tt, Detlef remarked tt a German professor told him tt in his Dept, ALL the profs were workaholics and are divorced. I mean like wow, that is definitely scary! Dun want to end up like tt for sure. Even now, I find tt sometimes when I'm stuck trying to solve a research problem, I tend to neglect all other aspects of my daily life completely. And this has been so for the past 2-3 weeks.. totally screwed up my sleeping hours (sleeping pills no longer hold any effects for me), becoming increasingly anti-social, haven't taken the trash out for almost two weeks now ... now I'm feeling totally burnt out. Sigh ...

"How long, can any man fight the darkness,
before he finds it in himself?"
--Spiderman 3 Teaser Trailer

Thursday, April 12, 2007

My training journey continues...(post for aikidokas mainly)

After a pretty unsatisfying couple of months of training at the ASU dojo, I decided to search for another dojo to train at. The Jiyushinkai Aiki-budo dojo is located just about 30 min from ASU, so I went to check it out. My first impression of it was 'wow', this is the kind of dojo I wanna train at. Old school, traditional, and good serious aikido training. The Jiyushinkan is a small dojo, with less than ten students on a regular day of practice, one or two beginners, the rest are mostly yudanshas. Chuck Clark Sensei (6th dan judo, 8th dan aikido) runs the dojo, but he doesn't teach much anymore. Fortunately, he has competant assistants to take the classes.

The dojo has rather strict procedures for pple who wants to join. One can't just go in and 'try out'. A person wishing to join as a student has to observe four classes first, regardless of who he is. So that's what i did, sitting in patiently for 4 sessions over two weeks.

The system of aikido that the dojo adopts is the Tomiki aikido curriculum, although they are not affiliated to Shodokan. Clark Sensei himself learned under Kenji Tomiki and also his early deshis, so he has plenty of experience. He was already a dan-grade judoka before he begain aikido, and initially started out in the aikikai style of aikido. However, he shared with me that his experience with Aikikai folks wasn't a good one, where there was a lot of rank-pulling and bullying. According to him, the Aikikai folks he trained with were mostly just interested in using pain compliance to make techniques work, and to him that was not true aiki-budo. Tomiki on the other hand, a PhD in both economics and physical education, was very scientific in his approach. Tomiki was a modern educator, and envisioned Aikido training with a systematic curriculum. Tomiki shared much similarity in his vision of aikido to that of what Jigoro Kano had of judo.

Following this approach, the Jiyushinkan has a model of budo training using modern education methods. They have a strict curriculum of solo and partner katas, that students have to learn at each phase. For example, the tandoku-undo was a set of 12 different solo drills, and the musubi-renshu a set of 8 different drills from katate-dori, Junanahon-undo the 17 techniques from shomen-ate. These katas were designed by Tomiki and his students, so they go back a long time. Randori was reserved for i think, at least 4th kyu and above. But the type of randori practiced is not the 'demo' type of randori that we do; rather, techniques set up can be countered and reversed and so on until someone is able to make something happen. Of course, further on there are aiki-buki waza of jo and ken etc. Again, as I observe, the style of movement etc is so different from what we are familiar with. The intent is very strong, the movements are short, precise and sharp. Pulling, yanking, cranking of your uke's limbs are frowned upon in the dojo. The emphasis is really on kuzushi, which acording to Clark sensei, is not just about breaking balance, its about destroying posture.

In terms of credibility, I would certainly say that this dojo is worth the expenses and time. Most of the senior students here are also judokas so they know whether this is the real deal. They also have a judo training before the aikido class, so I'll probably join in next week. Ironically, the folks here are much friendlier, no airs and very encouraging and patient to newbies (like me). After almost three weeks on the mat, I was pleasantly surprised today that Clark Sensei told me I could wear my black obi here; I guess he could sense that I was sincere in trying to learn.

I guess I'd train at this dojo as well as in campus dojo (despite having a not-so-pleasant rub with some of the folks). It is indeed interesting to experience such different flavors of the same art.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Holy Week Reflections 3

On Good Friday, the Newman Catholic Center organized a Stations of the Cross round the ASU campus. Stations of the Cross is a meditative procession that commemorates Christ's journey following his arrest, to Mt Calvary where he was crucified. The gospels had that he was crucified and died at 3 PM, thus the processions usually start at 1 and end about 3. There are 13 (or 14) stations, each of which symbolizes some particular event, for example when he fell under the weight of the cross, when he consoled the women, his mother and disciples on the way, and when he was being nailed. For those who had watched Passion of the Christ, we are much akin to the big crowd following behind him.

The students took turns to carry the cross as we went around campus. Hymns were sang on the way and at each station prayers and responses were read.

Almost two hundred over people joined in the procession, causing quite a sight in campus. Even the news anchor was there.

The bridge across University Drive.

The final station was back at the church.

Following that, a group of us headed up the A-mountain (A-hill actually) for a Rosary prayer session lead by the brother (a brother is a 'priest-in-training').

We stopped here to recite the Sorrowful Mysteries.

A view of the vicinty below.

Heading back now...everybody's hot and bushed.

A meaningful day of prayers. It is also a powerful experience, when we see all the pple, regardless of whether you're white, black, asian, hispanic, student or staff, rich or poor, taking time off from our daily schedules and come together for today's events. Although we come from all over the world and all walks of life, inside we are fundamentally the same.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Holy Week Reflections 2

The eve of Good Friday is Holy Thursday, or the Lord's supper. Contrary to what many think, Holy Thursday is a day of obligation for roman catholics, and not Good Friday itself. The significance of this mass is of course the commemoration of the last supper with the apostles, institution of the Holy Eucharist, the episode in the garden of Gethsemene culimating in the arrest of Christ by the Jewish authorities. The other significant point is the washing of the feet. In the Gospel of John, the author related the story of Christ, who during the last supper, washed the feet of his disciples with a towel and basin. He then instructed his disciples that this is what they are to do for the community. To serve. That, in a nutshell, is the central message Christ had for all before he was to be put to death.

During the Holy Thursday mass the washing of the feet is re-enacted. The priests, with towels and basins, washes the feet of twelve lay ministers, and the twelve, in turn, washes the feet of the community, and so on. In the secular world, this is seemingly absurd, not to mention disgusting. But it is not the feet that is the issue. The message is the extent Christians are expected to go in answering their call to serve. If we claim to serve but only within our convenience and comfort zone, its not enough.

Many believers profess deep loyalty to Christ, but how far do we go when it comes to service? I am in no position to judge, but I see many here who drive cars and dress well here, but when it comes to tithing on Sunday the contribution is null. I too am guilty, always expending the $2 note, whilst spending a disproportionate amount on my personal luxuries.This is something to reflect on for myself.

Thus, correct Christian faith is not about philosophizing about God and life like a wise enlightened person, nor making ourselves feel justified by beating our chests to show how much we believe. Faith without good works is a make-believe faith.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Holy Week Reflections 1

Surprisingly, Good Friday is not a public holiday here in the U.S. I only found tt out after I asked my host Prof, and he said religious festivities are not declared as state holidays in the U.S. I wonder what that means about Christmas day to the state then.

Since this week is Holy week for those of Christian faith, I shall blog about the events in the Church here. I realise writing abt religious stuff may offend some pple, but since its my blog, I shall write anyway. I'm not a fine example of a Christian, I have no intentions to 'preach' religion using words, and I am never a bible-totting person.

For roman catholics, Easter season begins 40 days before Maundy Thursday with the Lenten season. It is a period of abstinence, reflection and reconcilliation for practicing catholics, in preparation of Good Friday.

Palm Sunday, the weekend before Easter Sunday, commemorates the arrival of Jesus Christ to Jerusalem. When Christ reached Jerusalem the pple welcomed him as the new 'King' who had come to deliver them from poverty and oppression. Christ however, chose to enter the city riding a small donkey, striking a contradiction to the majestic image that the pple expected. Today we know tt the 'kingdom' to come tt the pple expected was not what Christ was talking about. Or do we know better now? In the world today many try to 'sell' the Christian faith in (incorrect?) senses appealing to the masses. Promises of wealth, health and good fortunes if one embraces the faith. Invoking emotional highs and making pple believe that is faith and love. That is 'make-believe' faith literally, and as a result many who are attracted initially falters away when the reality of life hits them hard, and others come away with a disdain of Christianity.

I think as a start faith has to be approached in the context of a relationship. A faithful married couple hangs on to each other, whether they are feeling emotionally high or low, good mood or not. True faith doesn't come and go just because one wakes up on the wrong side of bed. Thus although in the Christian context faith is a divine gift, it requires man's conscious effort to 'hang on' despite of the external hardships. This is called co-operating with the grace of God. When faced with personal trials, when prayers seem to be unanswered, when friends make a mockery of one, the true Christian is called to 'hang tough' to his faith and beliefs, and to ask for strength not of his own but that of the Lord's.

As Christians, we are not called to escape suffering. While we are here on earth, there is no such escape. Christ himself could not escape the pain of cruxifiction despite knowing ahead what is to happen. Instead, we are called to embrace it, rely on Him for strengh, have absolute belief that He always has the upper hand, and that good can eventually come out from suffering. 'Hang tough' is the bottom line.

Thus true Christian faith is never a mindless hippy-happy affair.