The Axe

(From my FB; recording here for posterity)

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On Friday at work, I got The Axe! (No, not like that – I’m still employed; a good axe! – they award it to people on a weekly basis) 🎉

I’ve been working on a project at work for the last 6+ months, and the entire team I work with got kudos from folks at work on Friday, which completely made my day.

The timing was actually rather coincidental too because I also spent an hour in the evening later in the day talking to a current Dean’s Scholar who is studying chemistry and trying to figure out what path to pursue in life after undergrad (context: Dean’s Scholars is the science honors program I was in at UT; it’s also the science honors program that Zach was in, and it is largely responsible for our meeting… and eventual marriage!).

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It’d been a while since I talked to someone about the odd path I’ve taken from undergrad to where I am now (going from being a “synthetic organic chemistry grad student” to a “tech person who works on product solutions for EU regulations” is a very odd but fun story to tell), and in recounting what it was like to be a senior in college, I was reminded of the slog that was writing an NSF fellowship application. I was reminded of just how new, then degrading, then uncertain life was in grad school. I was reminded of how much sheer fortuitousness and luck you come across in life to find doors that you manage to ‘get a leg in’ (which is literally how I ended up at Facebook).

And yesterday at work, receiving The Axe reminded me of how cool it feels to get to be a part of a project that turns out to be challenging, frustrating, rewarding, exhausting, and interesting all in one.

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In some ways working on GDPR has reminded me a lot of past parts of my life. It’s reminded me of being in band in high school – both marching band and concert band seasons involve groups of 80-200 people spending hours every week dedicated to practicing not only their individual parts and responsibilities, but also working together in concert to move and play beautiful music in sync. It’s also reminded me of chemical reactions and the preparation, waiting, and workup to recover some amount of chemical product that maybe is or isn’t what you wanted it to be, nor the amount you were hoping to generate — yet, you rinse/lather/repeat so that you can prepare enough material to get to your end compound.

One of the coolest aspects of GDPR has been the fact that it’s the first time I’ve gotten to collaborate on and discuss hard problems with so many confident and intelligent women. Chemistry is not a field where there are a lot of women. Tech is not a field where there are a lot of women. Working on a project where I’ve been able to learn so much from talented women in other fields has been more than enough reward.

Anyway, if you see me in real life, the moral of this story is: I now know an immense amount of information about GDPR and will be more than happy to talk to you about chemistry, music, or GDPR.

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From a post I made at work

This is something I posted last weekend in a work group to a team I’ve been working with for the last 6+ months.
[Short story you can read if you feel like it]
I went to see the Chicago Symphony Orchestra perform Debussy and Tchaikovsky with my family yesterday as a birthday gift for my parents’ 60th birthdays this year. If you’ve never been to a symphony performance (I’m talking 80+ person orchestra with winds and strings), I highly recommend it. I spent the two hours marveling in the dedication and focus that it takes to be a professional classical musician, flashing back to my high school years of playing oboe (anyone know what that is?), but it dawned on me that we, as an IG GDPR working group, are like a high-performing classical ensemble. In contrast to how most musical acts out there are 1-6 people where the focus and pressure is mostly on a few faces, a symphony is 80+ person, evenly collaborative effort to make perfect music for hours at a time. Not everyone is playing together for all of that time, but everyone plays their part – turning pages during rests, silently cheering on friends when their solos are played perfectly, coming in with piano (soft) or forte (loud) entrances when it is their turn to play, and playing in perfect pitch and tone with their counterparts – be they a timpanist in the back row, or the first chair violinist up front, or the third chair French horn; everyone’s role is important and vital to the richness of sound that the full orchestra outputs. It takes the entire orchestra, playing in sync, adjusting to each other’s slight pickups in tempo or remembering exact tendencies of particular notes cracking from practice, to execute on a performance. Hundreds of hours of preparation, discussion, and adjustment go into a two-hour one-time shot at performing. And then they repeat this performance multiple times, each time making any slight tweaks needed from the previous performance.
We, just like the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, are performing now! The world is seeing this group’s work, and everyone’s parts are blending together to make something incredible. 🎶
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Writing commitments

In 2018 I commit to writing here about:

  • our 12 day Patagonia trip
  • my new year’s resolutions
  • friendships
  • thoughts on work (as I will hit 5 years at FB in March!)

Please hold me to it!

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Airplane pillow gold

The most legit airplane sleeping pillow.

Context: This year I’ve flown a handful of flights (6 if I’m counting correctly) that were redeyes; 5 of them were SFO to NYC (either JFK or EWR) and 1 was SFO to MSY (New Orleans). I really like being efficient with time and have a hard time sitting still for a long period of time, so the concept of a redeye flight has always appealed to me… even though I’m not great at sleeping on planes. (Sleeping in cars, on the other hand, is my expertise; something about the vibrations of a moving vehicle make me downright narcoleptic.) I tried a few different pillow strategies for sleeping on the first few redeye flights I had this year: I already have one of those canonical U-shaped neck pillows, I tried using a rectangular packing cube stuffed with clothes as pillow, I did the thing where you put your backpack on the tray table and leaned forward to try and sleep — but none of these really worked for me.

The U-pillow didn’t work because most airplane seats are meant for tall[er] people (NB: I’m only 5’4” at best), and when I put it behind the nape of my neck it (in concert with the headrest) pushed my head forward and then my head would just awkwardly roll to one side. I can’t really sleep with my neck at a 90-degree angle to my spine, not to mention that I think I’m getting old and can’t afford to wake up with a seriously sore neck. I tried rotating the U-pillow so that the opening was in the back of my neck (like a necklace), but I found this was annoying because the pillow wouldn’t always stay in place. Lastly, if I tried to turn the U-pillow with the opening to one of my sides, it kind of worked if I felt like craning my neck to sleep on the side, but I had to stay in that position all fight, and I still had most of the first issue I mentioned with the U-pillow pushing my head forward. Conclusion: I’m not really sure who gets good sleep with a U-pillow, but those things still manage to get bought by hundreds of people at airports even though they’re kind of bulky and are uncomfortable in my opinion.

My intent behind trying the packing cube pillow approach was that I found when I sat in window seats for redeye flights, I was never good at estimating if the window frame would/wouldn’t align with where the seat’s edge met the side of the plane, so sometimes I’d be leaning against the window (resulting in a large gap of space I’d need to fill in order to be able to lean on the side) vs. leaning against the non-window space between windows on the side of the plane (which meant there was a smaller space to fill in order to lean on the side). *Aside: Hopefully that description made sense to someone out there.* I figured having something bigger to serve as a pillow would enable me more options to fill the space between my head and the side of the plane, but unfortunately being short and the window spaces being awkwardly placed for me meant that I couldn’t get the makeshift packing cube to stay put between my head and the side of the plane. Another fail.

My last desperate attempt to get some sleep on flights where one of the earlier two options failed me was to just get my backpack and put it on the tray table and to lean forward and try to sleep on my arms crossed over my backpack. I think this probably works a lot better when you are actually really short/young in age, but for anyone who’s probably taller than 5’ I think it means you have to really hunch your back/neck to fold over such that your head isn’t pushing up against the seat in front of you (especially because odds are the person in front of you is leaning their seat back the measly 3 inches that seats lean back these days, even though that doesn’t really do much for anyone who’s trying to sleep, making it even harder for your head not to bump against the seat in front of you). All of that adds up to an uncomfortable position that doesn’t last for long, especially because I can never find a sleeping position that doesn’t result in circulation getting cut off to one of my arms, so I end up deciding that I ought to find a new position to sleep in vs. trying to hunch my neck/back while simultaneously depriving my appendages of blood. Whomp whomp.

Okay, so now that you’ve heard everything I’ve tried in the past, here’s a quick story on how I came across the pillow I have now and am telling you is fabulous. On one of my redeyes to NYC earlier this year, I had a window seat and had just gotten to my seat and was getting situated. I was looking at the folks seated around me, and I noticed that someone in the same row (but in the aisle seat on the other half of the row) looked really familiar. *Another aside: If you didn’t know already, Zach and I love to watch Survivor, and a couple years ago we went through a phase where we binge watched a lot of older seasons. In one of the earlier seasons of the show, an Asian guy named Yul Kwon won (beating out one of Zach’s favorite Survivor players of all time, Ozzy Lusth, but that’s another story for another day) — and sometime in our first couple years of working at Facebook we realized that Yul is a fellow Facebook employee. So, we’re both familiar with his face because we watched so many hours of TV featuring him the season he won.* So, the guy I recognized was Yul! I had my “eee this is the closest I’ll ever get to a Survivor, so cool” moment, and by the time I looked his way a second time to make sure it was definitely him, I noticed that he had started putting on an airplane sleeping pillow.

Pros:
– The pillow has a good deal of cushioning on both sides of your face (as you essentially buckle your face into the pillow). The cushioning is soft and non-constricting while still having enough firmness to support your head no matter which side you want to nod off to. When the pillow is buckled around my head, the cushioning that spills toward the front also helps keep my head upright.
– Along the back of your head, there’s just a flat piece of fabric that connects the two side pillows, which means that your head can lean all the way back against the seat and not be pushed forward.
– No matter which seat (window, middle, aisle) I’ve sat in, the pillow keeps your head from spilling over into an adjacent seat’s space. (This is one of my main annoyances/fears of sleeping on planes when I am flying by myself.)
– The pillow makes sleeping a real possibility for me on redeye flights.

Cons:
– The pillow’s cushions are kind of awkward shapes, and they don’t compress well. The pillow takes up a reasonable amount of space, and I have to remember to bring another tote bag to put it in (in my opinion this is a small price to pay for a good sleeping tool on redeye flights though).
– The pillow comes with a drawstring travel bag (+1), but it isn’t really a shape that matches the pillow itself (-1) so I always have to cram it into the bag. Nonetheless, there’s a clip that’ll allow you to attach it to your carry-on if you don’t have space to put the pillow in an actual bag.
– You can’t really wear noise-cancelling headphones while you have the pillow strapped around your head, so I’ve opted for earplugs (which can be annoying if you put them in before the flight takes off, due to pressure changes in elevation). It takes some adjusting if you want to position your head with other gear, but optimizing for sleep is always first for me.

Anywho, I think it’s a great pillow, and paired with a comfortable pair of eyeshades and earplugs, it is a part of my winning equation to getting actual sleep on a redeye flight.

And in case you were wondering, I got it off of Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N6MJ3QI

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The freedom of loneliness

Tonight’s the last night I’m alone, so I thought it best to finally get these thoughts out while still alone.

This year was the first time in over 4 years that I’ve lived by myself. I’m talking about no roommates at home, no parents or siblings, no one else around. The last time I seriously lived by myself was back in 2012 when I was in La Jolla for grad school. We’re 39 days into 2017, and I’ve spent almost half of them (19, to be exact) living by myself at home because Zach’s been traveling for work.

On the one hand, it’s rather lonely to come home to an empty house – especially when it’s winter, and 90% of your time at home is when it’s dark outside. There’s a silence that permeates the halls, and I feel like there’s always a subtle force pushing me along to do something such that the house doesn’t feel stale. I’ve been coming home and instantly going to my bedroom and holing myself up there because at least it feels less empty when you’re in a smaller enclosed space.

On the other hand though, I’d completely forgotten about what the freedom of loneliness felt like. The independence, the flexibility, and the control over one’s time – I forgot just how satisfying the freedom of loneliness can be.

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When I lived in San Diego & La Jolla for two years, I worked 50-60 hour weeks, made very little money, and had few friends outside of the lab. That being said, I also managed to train for my very first marathon, learn some things about chemistry, and figure out how to chip away at a long-term goal in a way that feels productive and satisfying. If you ask me at which point in my life I’ve felt the most focused and honed in on a single task, I’d say it was in the couple of months leading up to me running my first marathon.

I got into this habit of going to work, eating dinner on the earlier side, and then later after the sun set, I’d jog over to the UCSD campus to go running. I’d mapped a one-mile path from one end of campus to the other, and I’d just run it back and forth. I’d pass the same library, the same gym building, the same lamp posts over and over again, racking up the miles. When I finished, I drove home, and that was that. Rinse, lather, and repeat the next day.

The mileage added up, and oddly enough the loneliness of being in a city far away from my significant other, family, and friends started getting pushed out of my brain by the feeling of accomplishment and actual progress.

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At the end of the day, like my mom says, you want to spend life with another half. Your other half. And I love my other half.

But the 41.75 miles I’ve run this year put me on pace to try and finally knock out a resolution of running 365 miles in one year, and maybe check off a sub-two hour half marathon as well. And I have the freedom of loneliness to thank for that progress.

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Pen & paper

Since I graduated college, I’ve flown a lot of flights. They started off CA to TX and back and forth, and as I’ve acquired more disposable income in the bank and found more work excuses to fly than I had while in graduate school, the destinations have included more international cities.

I don’t remember when, but at some point in time I decided that writing in my journal while on a plane was a pretty good use of that time. Too cheap to pay for wifi, brain too tired to read a book, not enough time left to watch an entire movie — why not journal?

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In the last couple of months I’ve ramped up on my journaling frequency. I’m trying something new at work for the first time in 2 years. My little brother is graduating high school in the spring. More and more people around me are having babies. So many things to journal about.

Putting pen to paper and furiously scribbling my thoughts, emotions, and fears on paper at least extracts them from my brain for good. Why let them take up extra space in my mind when I can encapsulate them in words?

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It’s almost time to come up with new year’s resolutions for 2017. I started writing my list in my field notes booklet. I’m excited about them.

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volleybALL

Currently I’m trying to pursue a teenage interest of mine (that has continued to be an interest even long after I stopped being able to state my age as “-teen”).

Earlier this calendar year I noticed that someone was selling volleyball kneepads for $5 in a work “for sale” group, so I figured that if I bought them, it would be good incentive for me to finally do something about wanting to play more volleyball. In the 6th grade I remember that they taught us the basics of volleyball in gym class and back then I was not coordinated, nor was I athletic, so of course I was not any good at it then, and thus in 7th grade when I tried out for the team I wasn’t good enough and just stuck around to be the team manager instead (which was great for really learning the basic scoring principles of volleyball).

Fast forward to being 28 and a tad more athletic with some actual disposable income, and earlier this spring I convinced Zach to sign up for a 5-week volleyball class with me on Monday nights. The tl;dr of this class is: people twice my age are twice as good as me, I have somewhat low self-esteem when playing with people who aren’t much better than me but not encouraging, and it is fun (nonetheless).

The class coincidentally started around the same time that the 2016 Rio Olympics happened, which meant watching a lot of sand and indoor volleyball. Since the school year just started, this means that college volleyball season is now here, so we’ve gone to a couple of those games at Stanford as well.

I’d say we’re basically on our way to becoming volleyball junkies/groupies… the only piece that’s remaining is to get a lot better (and to feel a lot better about my ability, as well).

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