Hello, World

Wow. It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything here. This is how I’ve started most of my “recent” entries in my personal journal too (yes, a paper-based journal that requires actual writing). Typing’s undeniably more efficient, but there’s a purity around my physical paper journals (I call them “volumes”) that keeps me from converting my personal journal entries to digital. It’s perhaps the only aspect of my life that I’m not trying to convert into digital form. Anyways, that’s not the purpose of this post.

A lot has happened since my last sorry excuse for a blog post. Here’s a summary in bullet-list form, in no particular order:

  • Completion of the LDT program! Acquisition of some background and framework of thinking about education, how people learn, and how to apply it to teaching and design
  • Acquisition of new technical chops: iOS programming, Kinect+Unity3D development (not fun though), and new web stuff, mostly frontend (but I did finally start to learn some rails! And yes, I like django better).
  • Met some awesome people, namely my LDT cohort. What a fun, interesting, and diverse bunch.
  • Worked at start ups! Definitely more exciting than a large corporation, and it forced me to be more productive. There’s always something to do, and I’m generally amazed at the work that some people can pull off (not always though).
  • Secured a full-time position at an awesome start up! Goalbook. I start September 17th.
  • Became the Religious Education coordinator at East Bay Church! This has been a bit difficult for me to adjust to; I’m too used to having things coordinated for me. But thankfully the teachers are super cooperative, dedicated, and patient with my lack of experience and surplus of procrastination (which, I really need to do something about…)
  • Became an uncle! I mean, I’ve been an uncle since I was a kid as a result of having many older cousins, but my sister’s got a baby daughter! So far all I’ve managed to do was make the baby cry by accidentally clanking a spoon while she was on the verge of falling asleep. Go me.
  • Got a new longboard. Stanford is pretty longboard friendly and I would longboard to class everyday. Thought it was worth it to upgrade to a better board since I was actually regularly doing it. Even though I’ve moved from Stanford now, I’ve already put my longboard to good use by making quick trips to Costco to eat lunch (and dinner, and lunch the day after). How many people can say they’ve been to Costco five times in five days? AND spent less than $20?

Thank God, I’ve accomplished a lot in the past year. The LDT program was a really good experience, Stanford provided tons of opportunities and a great environment to just build stuff, and I can say I have this thing called a Master’s degree.

However, one key aspect of my life that has suffered is my spiritual cultivation and servitude in church. I was never very good at balancing multiple major commitments simultaneously (which is why I would never do something crazy like doing both work and studies part time). As an undergrad I didn’t have to balance school and church work much because there wasn’t a local TJC around – all I needed to do was maintain my own faith. That changed for me 3 years ago when I started working full time and moved to the bay area. Because East Bay was so small, I started serving pretty quickly, in smaller capacities at first. The responsibilities ramped up quite a bit after completing RETS and becoming an RE teacher for J1 class. I was working full time but one of the pros of working at a large company like Oracle is that at least for me, I almost never had to touch work after coming home. I could focus most of my evenings on my church duties. But once grad school started, that balance became drastically one-sided. I became “busy” around the clock and slacked in prayer and Bible reading, but my duties in church continued to increase. Servitude without cultivation becomes a heavy burden. I’m sure my RE teaching suffered not just from less preparation, but from hypocrisy and less-authentic living. I became burned out from school work, which left little energy and mental focus for much else.

With that in mind, I hope now that the LDT program is finished, I can refocus on my spiritual life. Today after service I held an RE parent/teacher meeting. I was very moved by the concern the parents had for their childrens’ spiritual growth. There were a lot of worries and concerns from me about the students, but the meeting helped me realize that I can’t have lofty expectations (especially when my own spiritual life is a mess), and that the students receive SO much pressure outside of church, mainly from school. I also had a better sense of just how busy some of the families really are and it made me feel kind of sheepish for telling everyone that I’m so busy and tired when the main reason why I feel tired is because I don’t manage my time well. But the meeting made me realize how important it is for me to improve myself spiritually, not just for myself, but for the students’ growth too.

This post is all over the place. I should stop here. Writing takes a long time!

Oh, today was review on the Pauline letters for J2 class. And because I’m such a geek, I made this for class: Quiz+Group Jeopardy Thingy. Built using the foundation framework, less.js, and angular.js.

Beginnings of LDT

This week was my orientation at Stanford’s School of Education. On Monday and Tuesday there was a workshop for my program (LDT) that introduced us to the “design thinking” process. Essentially it is a wildly collaborative and creative approach to problem-solving. I thought our facilitator gave a really nice graphical sketch of what design thinking is like compared to the “conventional approach.”

In a conventional approach, generally speaking, you identify a question or problem. From the question/problem, you try to find an immediate answer or solution that will work. Graphically, it might look something as simple as this:

The conventional approach to problem solving.

There’s nothing wrong with this approach, and it works fine. Design thinking is in a sense a less direct approach to problem solving, with the hope that the solution is highly innovative and well-informed. Graphically it might look something like this:

The design thinking approach.

Instead of going from the problem directly to an answer, design thinking explores a variety of possibilities. Possibilities don’t have to be feasible or practical – they are like “what-if” or “I wonder if this would work” kind of solutions. This allows for copious amounts of creativity to come into the process, even if most of the ideas are lucrative. But the idea behind exploring potentially lucrative solutions is that an extraordinary solution can be found by “backing off” a little bit. With this approach, the solution is most likely pushing the boundary of what’s possible and is a product that most wouldn’t have expected, yet works really well. Neat concept, huh?

Broadly, there are 4 phases:

  1. Research
  2. Design
  3. Prototype
  4. Scale and Spread

The first two days of orientation was an exercise in the design thinking process, sprinkled with icebreakers and short improv games. We broke up into groups of maybe about 15-20 people, and each group practiced applying design thinking to solve the following question: How can we increase low-performing middle school students’ engagement in learning?

For the research phase, each group interviewed 2 people in the education/teaching industry, asking questions we thought would be helpful in designing a solution. We took notes on post-it notes and later posted all of our findings on a wall and clustered them into categories.

From there, we started the design phase by throwing out ideas on what the solution might look like or might involve. Because of the collaborative nature, there were a ton of ideas ranging from curriculum development, use of media/technology, classroom space, techniques, policy changes, community outreach/involvement, etc. These were also written on post-it notes and clustered into categories. At this point we tried to refine our findings by focusing on one or two clusters for prototyping. One of the funnier ideas was “Get Justin Bieber to teach math.” There were a number of interesting ideas, but I can’t recall them right now.

Prototyping was an interesting phase because it was still very much like a design/conceptual stage, at least for the purposes of our exercise. We were given pipe-cleaners and styrofoam and other random crafts materials to help us form our ideas in some abstract way, but a lot of us ended up just playing with them while talking/fleshing out details of a potential solution. My mini-group decided to tackle the issue of curriculum material not being relevant to students’ interests or not having a connection to what the student perceives as the real world.

Scale and spread then looks at how our solution can “get legs” to become real. We investigate what needs to happen to make the solution realized, e.g. from who do we need buy-in, where could funding come from, how the solution will be deployed, what the business model might look like, etc.

Finally, at the end each group of 15-20 had to pick one idea and prepare a presentation for it. Our group ended up picking the idea that my mini-group thought of (woot!) and our presentation revolved around a skit of our solution in action. Our solution turned out to be a really ambitious digital content platform that connects topics at school (“What did you learn today?” prompt) with an individual students’ interests, which could also serve as data collection for teachers and schools to further inform their lessons and policies. Our skit demonstrated a disengaged student in class where the teacher was talking about Mayan culture, but the student doesn’t really care about anything except basketball, jazz, video games, and erm…women. When the student opens the mobile app and enters “Mayan culture”, the app would fetch rich content that relates Mayan culture to his particular interests. For example, it might tell him about Mayan sports and how the losers of said sport competitions were subsequently sacrificed. The app also feeds into a type of social network that suggests local experts that students can communicate with on said topic. All of this data (student’s interests, what topics the students looked up, and what content they viewed) can be fed into a “teacher dashboard view” which would compile and distill all of it to gauge the interests and activity of say, one’s class. This information would be valuable in making lessons more relevant to students’, and for inviting guest speakers to come to the school, based on what a large number of students might be commonly interested in.

Anyways, I am really excited about this program and working with the people in my “cohort.” There are 27 people in our program and they are all so intelligent, fun, passionate, and purpose-driven. I’ve never felt this eager about school before, so hopefully that means I made the right choice.

Thank God for this wonderful opportunity, and I hope I can take advantage of it to its fullest so that ultimately, the things I learn can also be applied to church work, especially RE.

Setting Up the Macbook Air for Development

Reference for self:

  • installing PostgreSQL (thanks to this forum thread for resolving the issue I was getting)
  • install XCode (comes with SVN and Git integration)
  • installing django
    • first I tried to do this with svn, but the command failed…so I decided to install SVN from macports. It finally just finished
    • in the time it took macports to install svn (and a bunch of dependencies which I thought were already installed…like sqlite3), I cloned the django git respository instead
    • configure the django.pth file in site-packages
  • installing MAMP for apache, php, and mysql
TODO:
  • install postgresql and mysql python drivers
  • clone my code from git
  • run the code! (*cross fingers)
  • resume development after almost 1 month of no activity….

Deciding on a Graduate School

Hello, hello. So most of you probably already know that I am planning to return to school for a master’s degree this fall. I really need to be more thankful to God for the opportunities he has given me because I got into both of my top choices and now need to make the difficult decision of which one to actually go to (Stanford or Berkeley).

Neither master’s programs are in engineering, but rather in the intersection of design and technology. As you can imagine that’s quite a large intersection, and as such, the two programs I am considering cannot be directly compared because they have different areas of focus.

Stanford’s program is called Learning, Design, and Technology (LDT). It’s a pretty unique and specialized program offered from Stanford’s School of Education focused on designing and implementing emerging technologies and interfaces to solve learning problems and improve education.

Berkeley’s program is called Masters in Information Management and Systems (MIMS), which is offered through Berkeley’s School of Information (also called an ischool). It’s a degree in information studies pertaining to the role that information plays in our lives and how we can design, process, and interact with information in a useful and effective way (I just made up that explanation – as a matter of fact I don’t really know the best way to define what information studies is when people ask). This program is a bit broader in scope and I would be primarily focused on how technology can be used to enhance our experience with information.

Both programs are pretty appealing to me. I visited both schools during their Admit Welcome Days and came out of both feeling positive about each one. In order to distill the important factors in this decision process, I wanted to compile some sort of summary which laid out my various thoughts and sentiments on each school. But instead of doing statistical analysis and comparison like geo did (which is much more impressive, rigorous, intellectual, and probably more useful), I spent more time than I probably should have creating this visual comparison chart using LucidChart (the company that I won the CR-48 from).

Green indicates a "pro" and red indicates a "con." The rest is more or less neutral.

The PDF of the entire chart, if you are curious, can be found here. Stanford vs. Berkeley Visual Comparison.

This chart is a little bit biased in details towards Stanford because it was the more recent of the two schools I visited (and I did like it a lot). That’s probably why Stanford has more green and red. I guess from reading the notes I have you could say I am leaning a little bit more towards Stanford, but I have not made a definite decision.

While my sister was driving me to Stanford (since she works nearby), I asked her what I should do if I came out feeling really positive about it too. She said something that I think is really perceptive and makes a lot of sense:

“It will be as clear as how clearly you know what you want.”

So has this chart made it any clearer to me about which one I should choose? Not really…it hasn’t really revealed anything particularly new or groundbreaking, but I guess it will serve as a useful quick reference for myself.

In any case, I need to pray more. I do believe that often times “God’s will” is less about the absolute place you end up going to and more about what kind of person you are, but when it comes to planning, God has to be in the picture. How can my studies be for the glory of God? Will I be able to still serve while I am studying (I worry a lot about my time management skills)? How can the things I learn be applied to future servitude? (RE obviously comes to mind when considering Stanford’s program, haha). Just some things I feel I need to consider in my prayers.

I’m also curious about what thoughts any of you may have concerning either these schools, the programs, or the general field of design/technology/information in general. What observations or insights do you have about the role technology is playing in our lives now and in the future? Or what advice might you have for a prospective graduate student? What other important considerations should I be aware of?

Forking: Abort

Just to demonstrate how indecisive I can be, today I created a “geek” wordpress installation and had it set up at geek.leehsueh.com. It would house all posts related to technology and the information industry. I picked out a nice theme that I liked and created an About page.

Then 30 minutes later, I deleted it.

I realized I didn’t want to maintain 2 blogs, and I didn’t want my loyal readers to have to keep track of two URLs.

Instead, I have slightly reorganized my categories. In the unlikely event that someone will want to only subscribe to my tech-related posts, they can just subscribe to the overall Information and Technology category. And for posts that I deem as more personal I’ll just password protect. How will I disseminate the password? I guess e-mail will do.

Forking

I am contemplating forking this blog into two. On the one hand, I would like to blog more about geeky stuff like web development, information studies with a UX focus (prospective graduate studies!), and technology in general. These are posts that I would want more people to read for mutual learning/discussion and simply for developing my own understanding of such topics. On the other hand, I want to continue writing more personal, reflective, and spiritual entries which I would feel less comfortable opening up to all of the internet.

At first I thought that having two blogs would somehow indicate that I’m living two lives or something, which typically is viewed as negative (when was the last time you had a positive reaction to someone who “lived a double or two-faced life?”) Another thought was that if I separate out all of my spiritual posts from the public-facing blog just because it doesn’t quite fit with the geek stuff, is that in any small degree a form of not acknowledging Christ before men? But then again, these two directions aren’t conflicting at all (at least, I don’t think they are); they would just represent two distinct, but not conflicting, aspects of who I am.

So what’s stopping me now from doing this? Pathetically, petty things like what name should I give to each blog? What URL should I use? And one less-pathetic concern: How should I secure the blog that’s intended for a more private audience? Should I just make one and only send the URL to certain people? Should I just make every post password-protected?

Any thoughts/suggestions are welcome!

In any case, these questions need to be deferred until next month or later, because as it turns out, things are quite busy in February with responsibilities and appointments. For example, I am getting a crown on my birthday. A dental crown.

Spiritual Food

Pr. Ko is in the bay area and has been leading services at Pacifica church for the past week or so. I had the opportunity to attend Wednesday night service yesterday after work, and all I can say is, “Thank God!” I don’t really know exactly why or how, but the topic and each verse that was brought up really had an impact on me and caused me to reflect.

Ever experienced a time when you don’t know exactly what you’re craving for dinner, and then what you eat just happens to really hit the spot? Or when you try to spend the time to cook your own food and the results are just kind of bland and plain, and then when you go out to eat the food just tastes amazing? That’s kind of how last night’s sermon was for me. I came to the church hungry (physically too, since I had been working up through 7:30pm), and I left in awe of how satisfied, rested, and nourished I felt.

In the past several weeks I had a recurring thought that I really needed an SSC or a seminar to just focus on God’s word, and to rejuvenate my spiritual pursuit. Thank God, I really felt renewed from the service, as if a few days worth of SSC inspiration were bundled in the sermon (or going along with this food analogy, it was like http://dinnerinabottle.com/, minus the grossness of the idea).

Even just upon arriving and seeing some members that I know but do not regularly see brought back that gladness of greeting other brethren who fear the Lord, the kind that brings an involuntary grin on my face.

There are certain children at Pacifica church who are famous for singing very loudly. After the hymn, Pr. Ko said that it reminded him of the passage where children were crying out loud praises in the temple (Mt 21:15-16). To some adults the noise may be shrill, harsh, disharmonious, and downright annoying, just as the Pharisees were indignant of the children’s cries. But Jesus said that praise was perfected out of the mouths of babies and infants. Their praise is perfect. Indeed, I also marveled at how engaged the kids were during the service. They sat in the front and listened intently and answered questions that the pastor asked them. Pretty sure I didn’t pay such attention during sermons when I was their age. Thank God for these children who are examples to children and adults alike.

I haven’t even said what the topic of the sermon was, but I intend to write about it in a later post. Still need to take some time to revisit and think it through for myself. But it was truly powerful and inspiring right from the beginning. And it wasn’t even really the speaker’s eloquence or words; he simply spoke the words of God. But the words of God, words that I have come across before but had forgotten, suddenly became scintillating. Right from the introduction with the motivating verse I was brought into a humble state, admiring our Jesus who came into this world. Our Lord. Our Savior.

Hehe, and I shall keep you in suspense of the content of the sermon until next time. Meanwhile, treat yourself and go out for dinner more, spiritually-speaking.