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Symposium on Computational Neuroscience

July 26, 2010 2 comments

This past week I attended the 2nd Beijing International Symposium on Computational Neuroscience at Tsinghua University.  It was a one day conference all about computational neuroscience and it was a really great day.

You’re probably wondering what computational neuroscience is. I wasn’t exactly sure myself, but after a day’s immersion in it I feel able to describe it. Computational neuroscience is looking at things that brains do and trying to figure out a way that they might be doing them using computational models. For example, the last speaker of the day was examining how people learn to do a series of steps that results in varying rewards depending on the steps chosen.  His models said that people, and animals, partially use a full and detailed prediction of each choice, the choices that the first choice makes available, and so on and logically say “well if I want such and such a result I can just follow this series of steps.” He asserts that with more experience animals begin to abandon the perfectly logical, but cognitively taxing, exact method and substitute a method of choosing wherein each possible choice at a given stage just has a sort of feeling attached to it that says “this choice seems to work out pretty well” and for each subsequent step the animal just picks each option that seems like it will work well, without explicitly planning. So he has this model and can simulate how animals would behave if they were following one or the other of these two methods or a hybrid of them and he then puts animals (people) through a test and sees whether he was able to accurately predict their choices using his computer model. And voila, he has done computational neuroscience. He now has a model that, while it is not really how the brain is operating, does a good job of approximately achieving the same result as a real brain in this particular circumstance.

So the conference was a whole-day affair. I got there in the morning for coffee and snacks and soon the festivities began.  A professor from Tsinghua gave an opening remark that, summarized, went a little like this: “Welcome, we’re glad to have you all. BTW, Tsinghua is developing a neuroscience program and if any of you want to come here will pay you well and if you’re a new professor we’ll hook you up with some sweet stuff. Seriously, we’re really awesome.” It was almost obnoxiously smug sounding, but I would be smug too if I could actually offer that.  The day consisted of 4 talks by notable people in the field and 3 periods of time to go look at posters.  It was followed by an open question session and a buffet dinner.

I met a nice German masters student who I talked to a fair amount throughout the day as well as a number of Chinese students.

I found the whole affair very interesting as I didn’t know much about computational neuroscience to start with and had never been to a conference like that.  It was nice to see people talking about receptive fields and other neuroscience things and then having a whole room of people seem to understand what was being said! I also found it humbling how often people just had to say “I don’t know” to curious questions from the audience. Also, during the discussion section at the end questions were raised like “if we can accurately model all the activity of the brain, does that mean we really understand the brain? Does it matter?” and “Is computational neuroscience going to be helpful in the near future?” and I was struck by how… simple the discussion was.  These professional neuroscientists could offer no more credible or more solid arguments than I could and the whole discussion seemed to be pretty much about philosophies. Whether or not it is enough to simply be pragmatic and satisfied with a model that works and how hopeful you were willing to be about the applications of cognitive models to computer programming and robotics.

I really enjoyed the conference. It was great to spend a day hearing about things I hadn’t known about before and it was definitely a break in the routine.  I look forward to more such events in the future!

Summer Days

July 8, 2010 1 comment

Each day I try to keep a fairly reasonable account of what happened so I’ll be able to remember this whole experience pretty well.  I often find myself writing in details and generally making these journal entries into blog-style posts.  So here are the journal/blog entries for the past several days, made more presentable than they would otherwise be.

7-2-2010

  • Woke up at 5 am (couldn’t sleep any more probably due to all the napping the past 2 days).
  • Went for a long run and ate breakfast at 7 am.
  • Dropped off laundry and went to lab.
  • Read stuff online for a while and determined that the internet in lab is really fast.
  • Planned out tests to do with cellulose and whatnot.
  • Picked up laundry and went to our group lunch.
  • After lunch I went to lab and carried out my tests.
  • Met/chatted with a couple of the undergrads in my lab.

I went back to the hotel and met up with Taylor.  We hung out In her room and watched V TV (it’s MTV in China and features both Chinese pop music as well as some American stuff) for a bit, played some apple-scrabble.  I was going to go bike around with Yun to take pictures but it was hot and I was getting tired (I woke up at 5, remember?).  So I hung out with Taylor.  We waited for Yun to come back before we ate dinner.  Anya showed up and eventually ate with us as well.  Nick and Matt came to dinner also.  We went to the blue place (bao zi) (so good).  After this we tried wrangling people together for soccer but more or less failed.  We did kick a soccer ball around a bit but not that much, we may have been yelled at to leave the field again. We left the field thinking that this was the case, in any case.  I then played some basketball with matt and Sarah, which was fun.  By this point my legs were/are really tired.  Now it’s bedtime.  I also managed to read a few pages of blue mars today.

7-3-2010: Woke up at 8:25 or so, ate breakfast, then went out shopping with Taylor, Sarah, Lily, Susan, and Veronica.  We went to a clothing area (visited 2 separate market buildings) near the zoo.  It was fun to give my commentary on clothes, provide my expert opinion as a male, and look at some guys clothes when it could be found.  Then we went to a more general market and got some trinket things.  We then headed back to the hotel and took a rest for an hour and a half.  I finished blue mars, took a short nap, got a blizzard from DQ and then had dinner at 5:30 at a restaurant near the courtyard.  I didn’t like it.  They made you pay for opening your chopsticks, but that was the only option (which isn’t a big deal, but it’s annoying).  They didn’t give us bowls for our soup except for when we asked and we had to ask a couple times to get spoons.  The chicken dish we got was weird.  We think it was chicken hearts?? Not sure…

So after that we went to wangfujing street.  We first went to the bookstore.  They had a big selection of dvds so I got Moon, Anya got Avatar.  Yun asked us to get her Fahrenheit 451 so I grabbed that for her, too.  We then headed to the snack street.  I ended up eating lots of sugary fruit and some grasshoppers.  The grasshoppers tasted like any little meat that was deliciously greasy due to being fried in grease.  I also got a satchel of candy from a candy store there.  I’ve liked what I’ve had pretty well so far.  We then headed back and watched the end of the world cup game.  Now sleep.

7-4-2010: In the morning Lily and some people went on a trip within Beijing with Lily’s lab. I chose to take it easy and hang around. I ended up hanging out with Veronica and blogging until I was recruited to go to Yuanmingyuan park (a ruined place where the emperor used to party (surprisingly enough)) which is supposed to be pretty nice (though it’s ruinous instead of being in good repair). We actually went on a tour of the pretty Tsinghua campus (led by Lily and Ray). It was Hot.  The campus was pretty. We returned home to get ready to go our dinner reservations at Bellagio’s (which is a Chinese restaurant… for some reason with an Italian name)

The meal ended up being 7-9 dollars (USD) today, depending on what sort of snazzy drink you got for yourself.  We should really try to relax about the price of meals, especially when going out to dinners like this.  We’re constantly fretting about the cost since it’s a fancy place, and it sort of poisons the time spent ordering and we might order one fewer dish since it might become “too expensive” but in reality it just slightly lessens the meal because you’re not quite satisfied.  I liked the food quite well, but I wasn’t really in the greatest of moods so it wasn’t my favorite dinner ever.  After dinner we went over to CarreFour and got some groceries. I was looking to get some cereal and milk and cookies. I decided against the cereal but I did get a bag of German oatmeal/rice puff stuff which I intend to eat with some of the yoghurt that I got (Have I mentioned that yoghurt is EVERYWHERE in china?). I also got some peanut butter Oreos (delicious), and some chips ahoy cookies.  I was surprised to find that the chips ahoy weren’t nearly as crumbly and not as jagged as US chips ahoy. They were more flat, smooth, and firm.

At night as people were getting to bed I got started talking to Sarah and Ray about my lab stuff and it became apparent that I was really frustrated by the whole situation.  I feel like the whole lab ignores me and doesn’t make an effort to talk to me.  Nobody in the lab introduced themselves to me, excepting a couple of undergrads, the grad student I was originally working with (Anasha) and the grad student I’m now working with (Yan Tang).  I need supplies and don’t know how to get them and don’t really feel comfortable talking to people to ask.  Sarah and Ray were full of good advice and I was glad I talked with them about it.  [Update: I feel much better about the lab situation now, post-lab meeting.]

7-5-2010: In the morning I worked on my powerpoint to show to the lab what I’m working on this summer (automating/speeding up the worm processing stuff) until 2. At 2 we had the lab meeting. I feel like my powerpoint went over well and that people in my lab were impressed by how thorough it was. Last night I was feeling really discouraged and felt like my lab didn’t care about me at all. They didn’t talk to me and mainly ignored me and I didn’t know how to get the materials I wanted to do things that I wanted to do (wire, basic tools).  I think by talking at the lab meeting they learned that I do sort of exist and have something to say.  I spread some bacteria on some plates and generally did a little worm wrangling and called it a day.  In the evening we ate at a cafeteria where you put what you want in a basket and they then cook it in a delicious sauce for you. It was really good, but really hot. Really hot was probably not the best choice as this was a record high temperature (106 Fahrenheit) for the day.  In the evening we chatted and figured out the transportation situation for going to Hohhot. We resolved that we’d get train tickets tomorrow morning for most people, and a couple people would get plane tickets.

7-6-2010: In the morning I went to get train tickets with Taylor and Frank’s help. You can buy them on campus, which is quite convenient. What was less convenient was that there were no sleeper tickets left for this Friday, when we wanted to leave. There were also no sleeper tickets for Thursday, or Saturday, or next Thursday, or next Friday… We did learn that the tickets for next Saturday go on sale tomorrow morning, so throughout the day we made sure everyone was ok with shifting the trip thusly and planned to get the tickets tomorrow morning.  Since I was planning to buy train tickets and didn’t I was walking around with many thousands of RMB, which was an odd feeling.

In lab today an undergrad in our lab, LinXuan, asked me to eat lunch with him, which was nice.  I was glad to have someone showing some interest in me AND manifesting that interest by communicating with me, rather than chatting about me in Chinese, which is the usual modus operandum.  I learned that he was in the science Olympiad in China and did well enough in it that he didn’t have to take the college entrance tests because he was automatically admitted!

I started my electrotaxis experiments in a rudimentary way as well.  I dug around the lab and found some electrodes which I plugged into an electrophoresis machine, I put some worms in a plate of salt water and stuck in the electrodes and turned that bad boy on (rudimentary, remember?).  To my dismay, a cloud of precipitate rapidly formed around the cathode.  We puzzled at this because the stuff in solution shouldn’t be forming precipitates.  As I was about to check whether the water we were using was contaminated Mr. Wang, a graduate student in our lab came over with an old electrophoresis box and pulled the platinum electrodes off of it and tied them around my electrodes. I now had platinum wires to use as electrodes! This solved the precipitate issue which I assume was the steel reacting with stuff in solution. I spent the next few hours trying to rig up my electrodes to a plate with worms on it, putting buffer on  top of the agar plate, and zapping worms in a buffer suspension. My conclusions from the day were: It seems like the worms sort of move toward the cathode, like they’re supposed to. I have more in the works for the future. In the evening I ate dinner with Sarah, which was nice. Afterward I taught Sarah and Taylor cribbage. We broke for a fruit party and watching Phantom of the Opera online.  Watermelon in China continues to be amazing.  Asian pears, or “papples” (pear-apples) as Taylor, and all of us, have taken to calling them are plentiful and we like them well enough.  Phantom of the Opera is hilarious with commentary from friends about how creepy the whole situation is in a sort of “I have candy, get in the van” sort of creepy.

7-7-2010: This morning I woke up and checked for a line at the train ticket place. It was clear so I went back and ate breakfast and returned to the ticket place with Ray. We had to return at 9 when the tickets we wanted to buy actually went on sale (we’d forgotten what time they did, exactly) .  [PRO TIP: Train tickets go on sale 10 days in advance of the departure. Get them when they first go on sale if you want to be confident in having seats you want (read: soft sleepers). This is for you, next year’s UM PKU REU students]  Tickets purchased we returned to the hotel to put them somewhere safe. I never really made it back out of the hotel…

I wanted to have a clear plan for what I was going to do before I went back in to lab. I didn’t succeed in making this plan until like, 5, and even now it’s not super-clear, but it’s at least translucent.  I spent the day instead reading about awesome things like zombifying parasites , and listening to NPR’s science Friday.  I cannot stress enough how much I love hearing about Cool Stuff that is in the world.  Lunch was tasty cafeteria food with Veronica, Chanan, and Megan who weren’t working because they were recovering from illness ( 😦 ), letting a reaction run, and the machine she’d be using is broken and her graduate student is working on a paper.  I had dinner with Anya and Veronica at the place where you throw stuff in a basket which they then cook (it’s still super delicious).  After dinner we went for a walk to a park nearby and talked and saw some crazy Chinese outdoor exercise equipment. THEN, played some docile basketball with Sarah and Taylor and Nick and Yun. THEN, we returned to Taylor, Sarah, and Yun’s room to watch the rest of Phantom of the Opera, which was pretty swell.

Life in China is crazy, not so much because it is in China, but because we are here together and we have become friends and we can constantly have a good time with each other.

President Coleman and the UM Alumni Reception

July 4, 2010 1 comment

I woke up early to skype with me parents who were visiting Kelly. We had a nice chat and I told her about China and what’s been going on lately. After that the UM kids went to the ceremony where the presidents of UM and PKU signed papers to continue the cooperation between the two schools. A whole delegation from each school came in and stood around a big table while the presidents passed these attractive-looking forms back and forth signing things while being photographed extensively. After the signing President Coleman and a string of other people from UM came over and chatted with us UM students who are spending the summer at PKU. We also talked to some of the students from PKU who will be going to UM in a few days. We ate lunch with some of those kids and then went our separate ways. I opted to take a nap since I was feeling a bit tired. My nap went from 1-4 pm. After this I went out to try a new place for fast internet. I tried going to Starbucks which is good because it’s fairly open and you can sit down and not feel pressured to buy things. Unfortunately the internet was still not as fast as I would have liked (and I have since determined that it’s actually slightly slower than the hotel internet typically is… hmmm). I left Starbucks around 5pm because there was a UM alumni reception at 6:30 that we’d been invited to that sounded fun. I met up with Francesca, Andrew, Lester, Dan, Ellen, and Chanan and headed to the Westin Hotel where the shindig was happening. We got there eventually… after some bumbling and some asking. When we did finally get there we were not disappointed. Wang Wen, our contact at the joint institute was there so she could vouch that we were allowed to be there. The first thing we found was the drinks. They had real orange juice and apple juice (The fact that it was real/pure is note-worthy as most juices here are diluted or from concentrate, or excessively sweetened, and good straight-up juice is just generally difficult to find, and expensive to boot) as well as wine and beer. The Westin is a swanky hotel, and the real orange juice was only the tip of the swank. We arrived a bit late so a talk by President Coleman was already underway when we got there, and we didn’t really want to barge in and start looking for seats so we explored the public areas of the hotel. There was a nice lounge area down below where the UM event was being held that was complete with a bar, an ice cream table (both not covered by the UM event, regretfully), soft music, a guy painting traditional Chinese landscapes, and a lady demonstrating TaiChi in the walkway near the seats. Eventually the talk was over and the hors d’oeuvres room opened, to everyone’s delight. The whole crowed set in on an array of delicious gourmet snacks, an array that would be my entire dinner that night. There were chocolates, pieces of cake, sushi, spring rolls, salmon cakes (it was like sushi in cake form), coffee cakes, tiny steamed buns full of shrimp… There was a lot, and it was delicious. My favorites were the little fruit custards and the candied chestnut chocolates. We met some people sort of randomly. One girl going to UM in the fall for law school, a few people who were also in China for summer programs that were grad students in UM. Unfortunately, we made no big business deals and were not invited to go on any yachts to talk further about said business deals. Maybe next time. We did run into Han Li’s co-workers here in Beijing who first let us know this whole thing was happening. One of them is a med student at UM, the other is in public health at UM with a neuroscience undergraduate degree, the third one is an undergraduate studying History with a chemistry minor and an intention to go to med school. We had a really good time chatting with people and by the end of the night I was fit to burst I was so full of snacks. Once we were back to the hotel we had a fruit party and chatted for a while. It was an excellent day.

Bike acquisition, Project modification, Movie watchin’

June 24, 2010 4 comments

I woke up early and set off with my phrasebook full of useful bike-buying phrases in search of a bike. I walked to Tsinghua’s campus because I’d heard their bike shops were better than those on PKU. I came upon a man near some bikes and I asked him if he was selling bikes “你买自行车?” (ni3 mai4 zi4 xing2 che1).  He said that he didn’t sell bikes, but rented them out.  I said I wanted to buy a bike and asked how much that would be.  I whipped out my book of phrases and showed him my pain-stakingly written out requests which he understood immediately. I tried out one bike that was rickety and incredibly too small for me. I then tried out another, near-new bike that was only quite too small for me. I used more of my phrases to get the seat raised and ask if he’d be willing to buy the bike back when i didn’t need it anymore.  I determined that he would, and pay according to how beat up it was.  In short, I am now the proud owner of an essentially new bike tricked out with a bell, basket, lock, and rack. I paid 320, which is more than others have paid, but since it’s essentially new, and probably will be at the end of the summer, I’ll probably be able to sell it for a couple hundred at that point.  Alternatively I have a nice gift for someone who’ll be staying in China.

At the lab today Tan Yang introduced me to the guy who’s working on the automation process who I later learned is her husband.  He took me up by the lake on campus and we sat down on a bench and talked for a couple of hours about what he’s doing and what he’d want me to do. He has 2 main projects that he wants to move forward with.

Currently Tan Yang is running a large scale lifespan experiment using a scanning system that scans trays of worms and automatically counts how many are alive and dead. This system is very good but it still requires someone to be there day and night to move trays of worms onto and off of the scanner. He is trying to develop a system to automatically move those dishes so the station could be set up and then run for a month without further intervention. Needless to say this would be a huge step up in efficiency and much reduce the required manpower to carry on with this experiment.

Another project he wants to do something with is to develop a worm chip, similar to a DNA microarray or protein chip or other similar technologies (more on those some other day). Essentially it requires worms to be put on a microscope slide, separated by grid lines, and retained within specific regions of the slide (within a grid box). He also said the worms should be oriented the same way (all heads to the left, for example) which maybe makes the image processing go faster but seems incredibly difficult.

The projects seem really fun. I like that there’s a problem and it’s up to you to creatively come up with a solution. One downside is that he “works at night.” On further inquiry I learned that this means that he really goes to lab at about 9 pm and goes home and sleeps  at about 9 am.  I’m meeting with him tonight at 10pm to get autoCAD and LabVIEW, which I’ll be able to use for designing things and programming motors and stuff, respectively. I’m excited and looking forward to really getting started with this.

We got out of lab pretty early so I relaxed for a while and read a novel, which was a nice break.  I also got a pair of pingpong paddles which I put to use later with Taylor, Megan, and Sarah.  I’d been trying to figure out how to go see a movie for a while and finally had success.  Veronica got Susan to write down the names of Robin Hood, Toy story 3, and Shanghai in chinese so we could handle the movie schedule ourselves. We determined when Shanghai was playing and set off to go see it. We realized as we got close that we didn’t really know where the movie theater was (Megabox at Zhongguancun), but we found another theater nearby(Jinyi International Cinema) where we were looking on the lowest floor of a mall and went in and sure enough they were playing Shanghai at a similar time. We were very proud and liked the movie a lot (review possibly pending).

So June 23rd was a good day.

Good lunch, Behai park, 包子 dinner, relaxed lab time

June 21, 2010 2 comments

I went for a run with Veronica in the morning and told her about Chanan’s plan to go to Long Qing Xia I heard about last night. We tried recruiting more people but for assorted reasons they weren’t really up for it. It got down to Chanan, veronica, me, Taylor, sarah, and Anya would go. Sarah and Anya had tickets for a ballet at 7, though, so they were going to leave earlier or we were all going to go back earlier.  I got down to the lobby ahead of them and began asking the front desk about logistics to make sure our plans were good.  The lady at the front desk was incredibly helpful and said that it would take 2.5 hours by car, and longer by bus. It eventually emerged that we could hire a car/driver to take us for 500 RMB round trip per car, which is fairly reasonable considering that allows us to spend the whole day there. We might look into getting a van to take a gaggle of us at once instead of 2 sedans. Maybe it would be more economical…  In any case there are plans in the works to do that next weekend, possibly. It sounds like a really interesting location with good scenery and good activities.

After that fell through we retreated to my room for a while to plot our next move. We decided to go to Beihai park, then to a tea house, then back to the hotel for possible swimming. We took the subway there and realized we were hungry so we wandered down a side street and found a really good restaurant.  It was a small place that wasn’t too expensive, the food was amazing, and the staff was really nice.  We struggled happily through the ordering process, notebooks full of useful characters spread across the table, wild gestures and slaughtered pronunciations blazing.  We had some delicious eggplant and fish and some less delicious tofu. Chanan’s friend Chanan (seriously, they were both named Chanan) who he met at temple this weekend met us there and spent the afternoon with us.

A group picture with our incredibly kind waitress

From the restaurant we went to Beihai park which, surprise surprise, was essentially another place the emperor built to party at.  It has a complex of buildings at the north side and a large lake with a central island and temple in the center. The whole place is attractively landscaped with willow trees and grass and rocks.  We rented 2 paddle boats and puttered around on the lake for an hour. The girls’ boat was apparently a dream to paddle while ours make grinding and clumping noises and really didn’t do a great job of moving us so we had a bit of a struggle.

Me at Beihai park. In the background are a series of pavillions in which people are dancing and singing.

The park was nice and afterward we moved on to the Tea house phase of our plan.  We’d heard good things about the Laoshe tea house, so we took a cab from Beihai to there (only 10 RMB! Taxis in China are inexpensive).  We got there and it was, indeed, very nice with a relaxed room where you could drink tea and be serenaded by Chinese musicians. Unfortunately a single cup of tea (unless the menu was translated poorly) was 5-11 dollars, which we felt to be a bit absurd.  As such we left for the hotel.

Sarah and Anya went to prepare for their ballet show, Chanan’s friend went home, and Veronica, Chanan, and I went and got dinner at “the dumpling place” as it has come to be known.  We can’t read anything so we just make up names for places. It usually has to do with the location, type of food, and color/style of decoration of the restaurant.  This is a bit of a misnomer though as they do not, as far as I could tell, actually have dumplings. They have steamed buns (Bao1zi包子) which are delicious.  It was very inexpensive. 22 kuai for 18 包子 which filled the three of us up nicely. On my way home from dinner I decided to stop by the lab to make sure my worms which I started growing the day before were doing well and just generally make sure my stuff was doing ok.  Everything looked great and I got to talk with some of the people in my lab. I tried asking for something in Chinese which set off a whole conversation trying to explain some stuff to me.  It seems like the lab is a fun place but they get their work done and save socializing for down time, which is probably for the best.

Professors, HouHai, and Karaoke

June 20, 2010 Leave a comment

June 4, 2010 began with some exercise. Ray and I got up and went for a run to help us get oriented to PKU’s campus. Language class happened but it was cut short so we could go meet our professors for lunch.  The Tsinghua students went to Tsinghua while the rest of us walked next door to the other chem building where a gaggle of professors and representative grad students were waiting. I’m working in the same lab as Andrew Bernier so the two of us stuck together as we went in murmuring to each other “Do you recognize these people? Is any of them our professor?” As people found their professors they sat down and talked amongst themselves while munching on some food that had been catered. Dr. Coppola and Zi-Cheng quickly realized that the biology professors were not there for lunch because they had never actually been told what time/place/day the lunch was going to be! They apologized to us profusely and said we’d meet our professors sometime the next week.  So on the one hand we didn’t have to worry about keeping in contact with our lab just yet but on the other hand we still didn’t know what to expect while everyone around us was getting to know what they’d be doing and how their professors were.

Later on we all went out to HouHai (Back lake) which is a small lake in the middle of Beijing which is heavily developed with restaurants and bars.  I and a number of others opted for dinner and a boat ride on the lake which was really nice.  After dinner people were looking for places to go dance or drink or otherwise have fun. The bars at HouHai were deemed too expensive so we went to WoDaoKou (Whoa-Dow-Ko).

A nice dinner on a boat on HouHai

WoDaoKou is an area with lots of night life stuff going on. The sidewalks are teeming with vendors with clothing and other things laid out to sell, there are many bars, there’s some shopping and a couple karaoke places.  Yun, Megan, Veronica, Lily, Taylor, and I decided we didn’t want to hang out at a bar so we went in search of Karaoke, or “KTV,” as it’s frequently referred to here.  The first place we went to didn’t have a great selection of English songs but the second did and we proceeded to have a really good time.  These karaoke places are not karaoke bars where there’s a room of people who go up and sing in front of everyone, rather, you rent a room and cram as many people in that room as you want and you sing amongst yourselves.  The rooms are equipped with couches and a sound system with microphones and a tv and a computerized database of songs.  It was really fun. The background music and your companions are loud enough that you can sing without feeling like you’re being completely put on the spot while at the same time you can hear your friends and there are microphones to make yourself even more heard.  I have since gone karaoke-ing one other time which was also pretty fun.  The whole thing is relatively inexpensive also. It was about 130 for the 6 of us for an hour. So just a few dollars each.  I think that, like the movies, much of their money comes when people buy food and drinks there. They offer drinks which are quite pricey, but I was surprised to find that they allow you to bring in your own drinks if you want… I don’t really understand it, but it’s quite convenient.

A post-Karaoke group picture

Me, singing away

A day in the life

June 20, 2010 1 comment

June 19 Saturday: Woke up before 8, ran, ate breakfast, showered, went to lab and chunked worms and spread bacteria.  Additionally I got to talk to another person in the lab!  I believe she was an English major (her English is fantastic) along with biology, and she is studying longevity in C. elegans (I’m pretty sure).  She was asking about me and my program since she thought we’d be busy all weekends she was surprised to see me on a Saturday.  I explained that we were free to do whatever most weekends and we just PREFERRED to have free time, it wasn’t forced. She asked very good questions about my past lab work and my thoughts on my current possible switch to biomedical engineering that I told her about. She mentioned that counting the worms for her longevity experiments is really tedious and that they’re trying to automate the process using a computer and robotically controlled microscope and such. She asked if I’d be interested in that and I was a bit surprised by how much I thought I did want to do that. Taking tedium out of a process and making it go faster is what I’m all about.  She then asked about my programming experience which I abashedly described as “I’ve written scripts in matlab, and worked with visual python… but I’ll be taking programming this fall!” She seemed optimistic about my ability to work on that task, though and I’m looking forward to talking to her about it further next week. She has a student from UCLA coming soon who might be working on that project as well so I wouldn’t be on my own if I switch over to this.

After lab I met up with Veronica, Anya, Sarah, Taylor, Matt, Nick, and Yun and went shopping just west of southwest exit from Chegongzhuang subway stop on line 2.  We went shopping there in a more normal market. It was a pleasant change from places like the silk market.  I got a baby tripod (15 RMB), a wireless mouse (75 RMB), and swim goggles (40 RMB?).  Afterward we went to a pedestrian street and meandered. It was very mall-like with branching streets that were more… squalid? More unkempt is maybe a kinder way to put it. I got some delicious bread stuff there since I hadn’t really had lunch.  Veronica and I armed ourselves with words like “membership card,” “swimming pool,” “only,” and “month” and set out to find a swimming establishment which turned out to be immediately across the street from our hotel, dictionary in hand (mainly because I had it, but it was helpful). We timidly passed a guard booth and poked our head into a series of doors and buildings after musing about various signs. We found a room full of ping-pong tables (I’m totally getting paddles tomorrow), a track, a tennis building, and finally we found a room that smelled like chlorine so we knew we were on the right track and surely enough the next place was the office for the pool. We asked the man how much a membership was and he grunted and pointed at a sign nearby which we studied for a good 15 minutes trying to decipher all the possibilities. We determined that you could get memberships by length of time or by number of entries and reported back proudly.  We went out to dinner at a cool new restaurant that served Dai cuisine (an ethnic group).  We quickly realized that we were all helpless as puppies without someone who can really read Chinese. We contentedly pointed out characters “ooo this says chicken!” “ooo this says meat” but we all knew deep down that this was not very impressive and not very helpful.  We ordered some potato balls to tide us over until Yun could make it to dinner and actually order us some food.  It turned out to be a really nice meal. We then pondered going out to see a movie but only a few of us wanted to go, which was probably fine, but we tacitly decided that we’d just stay in. Some games were played, some music listened to, and the new Karate Kid found in pirated form online.  We started watching that but I bugged out and came upstairs to sleep, but instead I’m writing things down.

The day in pictures:

This was supposed to be a short summary of the day’s events… I guess I enjoy telling stories.