Library Books

Last week, on my flight to Austin, a girl sat down next to me and pulled out a library book. The sight of the clear plastic wrap around the hard cover and the telltale stickers on the spine brought back an unexpected rush of nostalgia. Back when we were children, trips to the library were a treat. Each visit ended with us clutching bulky canvas bags awkwardly stuffed with volumes, their corners protruding outwards. And the two weeks that followed were a race to get through as many as possible before they were due.

The book she held in her hand was Markus Zusak’s ‘The Book Thief’, a recent bestseller that’s now being made into a movie. I had purchased the same book for my Kindle three weeks before, but hadn’t found the time to start it. I felt a pang of guilt for my neglect. If that had been a library book, I would have returned it unread; that brief window would have been closed. But now, with the ability to purchase any book I might or might not read, I felt a sense of shame for taking that book for granted when once the ability to borrow for just a two-week period had been a precious gift.

After twenty minutes, the girl stopped reading, and resorted to playing iPhone games for the rest of the three hour flight. Needless to say, I was disappointed.

Moving Towards #YOLO

One of the most overused and annoying hashtags that has arisen with the proliferation of Twitter-esque communication is #yolo. Short for “you only live once”, it expresses an individual’s sense of unrepentence for something reckless and/or stupid that he/she did. As Urban Dictionary puts it, #yolo is “carpe diem for stupid people”.

I have to admit that we’re pretty straight-laced for a pair of 20-somethings, and consequently we’ve avoided the typical young adult #yolo moments (graffiti, outlandish pranks, inappropriate selfies). But over the last few years Roy and I have been slowly taking steps towards #yolo – me, especially. Maybe it’s a side effect of finally having disposable income, but I look back and the activities we’ve tried are things I’d never seen myself doing before: motorcycling, scuba diving. Running for – and winning – an elected office at business school, giving highly opinionated talks, launching a business.

You see, I was raised to be cautious, not curious. My father’s version of “curiosity killed the cat” involved an elementary school classmate of his and a trip to a local factory. The hapless child reached out to touch a shining machine, and came away with one less finger because the gadget had been spinning so quickly, the child hadn’t realized that he was touching a razor-sharp blade. Related lessons followed: “Never be the first to do anything.” “You should look with three eyes – two to watch the world, and one to watch yourself.” Needless to say fear ruled my life. Not that a certain amount of caution isn’t valuable, but I can recall many instances where my overly-developed reserve made me miss many opportunities.

Meeting Roy was a bit of a shock because he never feared anything. The more time we spent together, the more it was obvious we had very, very different opinions on things like Primal Scream and sliding down glaciers on Mt. Rainier – activities that he did which appalled me. On the other hand, I infuriated him by refusing to try my hand at a carnival game for fear of losing. Nevertheless over time I slowly realized that there was something a little wrong with my extreme risk-aversion. Taken into context, activities I feared – like skiing and snorkeling – were things that little children did without thought. How scary could they be? Turns out, they weren’t.

Some of the most candid conversations we’ve had with each other as a couple are about our comfort zones, and the importance of continually challenging them in order to grow as individuals. This is important professionally, which is why we made the decision for me to attend business school. But in general, seeking out new challenges serves to remind us of how much we don’t know – and rewards us with an unmatched feeling of satisfaction when we overcome mental hurdles and master new skills. Admittedly, not every endeavor has been a success. Motorcycling was not great for a number of reasons, and neither was skiing. Scuba diving did turn out well, although I despised it until we got out to the open water off the Catalina coast and I saw my first wild sea lion.

Last week we flew to Denver to learn how to snowboard. As much as I looked forward to a romantic weekend getaway with my husband, I was dreading the actual snowboarding portion. But Roy was as eager as always, and at his insistence I’d reluctantly booked three three-hour private lessons over the three-day weekend (that’s nine hours of snowboarding, which was about eight hours more than I wanted to do). The first moment I strapped my left foot into the snowboard and set it down on the hard-packed snow, I felt both the physical and emotional imbalance, and that age-old apprehension reasserted itself.

It took three days to shed that feeling. I lost count of how many times I fell over the course of those lessons but if I were to estimate, I’d put it at about 50. But here’s the thing: I could actually feel myself getting better with every run. It helped that our instructor was relentlessly positive, of course, and that we were on a beginners-only slope (at one point, I looked around while on the chair lift, and every single one of the 20 people on that slope was sitting on their butt, having just fallen). But the first time I snowboarded down that slope successfully without falling, I felt a dizzying sense of lightness. It was a #yolo moment – better than acing a dreaded exam, or even sitting down for a long-awaited meal – this was a sense of mastery, that for the rest of my life I would have this new skill, that I could do this new thing.

We’ll be back to snowboard again soon, hopefully. Roy already thinks it’s more fun than skiing, and I feel an urgency to master my toe-turns before our progress inevitably atrophies with time spent away from the slope. Maybe one day I’ll get good enough to challenge the blues, or even the black diamonds.

But we won’t stop at snowboarding – it’s onward and upwards, maybe literally. Roy wants to go paragliding next. Me? I’m scared, of course. But maybe I’ll do it anyway.

Consumer Electronics Show 2014

So this week, while my hardworking coworkers at the startup were busy wrapping our scanning truck and testing it to make sure it didn’t blow up, I spent three days wandering around in Vegas looking at watches – I mean, wearables. The annual Consumer Electronics Show took place this week. Here’s what I got out of it – in short, I was not that impressed.

1. Watch out HDTVs! Here come super-HDTVs! The term ’4k’ was plastered in so many places that I felt dumb not knowing what it meant, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. It means you have around 4k or 4000 pixels going across the TV horizontally. That means more and more hi-res! Sharp, however, had to one-up everyone with an 8k TV. It was mounted dramatically and showed images of sunflowers. I started counting pixels but got bored after about 40. A few Asian businessmen kept going, and they were there for a while.

Problem: no one has any 4k (much less 8k) content. I’m sure that’ll change soon, though, the way Blu-Ray insiduously made my DVDs obsolete. I’m sure I won’t like it.

2. Is your TV’s a little too flat for your tastes? No? Me neither. But now they can bend. For those who can’t seem to make up their minds, Samsung had a TV that can go from being flat to curved, and back. I’m certainly no TV expert (I mean I didn’t know what 4k was until I Googled it on my phone in Central Hall) but what kind of consumer problem is a bendable TV really going to solve? Is it just a gimmick in a year without true innovation?

The true technical innovation might have been in 3D TVs – no glasses needed. But apparently no one even liked 3D television to begin with. This is news to me, as there are both a 3D TV and a 3D projector in my house, and I like them just fine. They’re perfect for when I want to watch giant robots killing aliens in all their glowy splendor.

3. Wearables. Everywhere. I swear, I saw so many of these things and all of them looked the exact same and did almost the exact same things. Everyone can count your steps, everyone has an app. This one has a heart rate monitor. This one buzzes and wakes you up. I only have two wrists, people – and somehow, none of the dozens of fitness watches quite made the cut.

What was interesting was the NetAtmo June, a wearable that’s designed to look like jewelry and also measures your sun exposure. It was refreshing, if only because it didn’t measure my steps taken and my sleep quality. But I can’t see myself using it all that much – I don’t need a wristband to tell me when I’m getting sunburned. Plus, the French sales reps on the floor were kind of snooty.

4. This one actually did ‘wow’ me – the Sony Ultra Short Throw Projector. Hubby and I are big projector fans, having used them since our early college days in lieu of TVs (because who wants to move that around every year?). This projector made a 147-inch image with a projector just 27 inches away from the wall. Amazing! What’s also amazing is the price. $40,000! Sadly, I’ll have to pass – I’d rather spend $40,000 on something useful, like ramen noodles. (Think of how many I could get. TASTE THE VALUE)

5. I’ll admit it – I used to be a 3D printer hater. But now I’m on the bandwagon, and so is the public, because 3D printing was in full force at CES. Get this: a 3D printer that prints chocolate. If my 3D printer had been a chocolate one, then I could have actually eaten all my failures that occurred when I accidentally jostled the printer after 2.5 hours of printing. Then again – why would I wait 2.5 hours for chocolate prints, when I can get some good old Hershey’s whenever I want?

We own an old Solidoodle that produces charmingly rugged, low-resolution prints. Our workshop is full of them – the Pikachu with a missing tail, a frog with mismatched eyes. They’re pretty useless but it’s also sad to throw them away. Regardless, it’s also fun to talk about. My marketing professor was impressed that I’d preceded even the early adopter curve, and the mover who packed the thing for our big trip from Los Angeles to Austin was dumbfounded. He expressed his reverence by wrapping it in dozens of layers of paper and writing “FRAGILE!!!” about ten times on the box. We appreciated his efforts; the printer arrived safely.

I was sad that Solidoodle’s showing at CES was rather weak compared to MakerBot, and all the other companies out there, but that’s the way of evolving technology. There’s even a 3D printing pen that lets you turn your stick figures into stringy plastic figurines, through I highly doubt I have the artistic skill to render anything recognizable. More importantly there are a lot of companies that are utilizing 3D printers to turn themselves into prototypers. If you need samples, or models – this is probably the best way to go now that the technology is becoming more mainstream.

I think it was a fun enough experience that I would attend again in the future, but I wasn’t really overwhelmed by the innovation – or lack thereof. As a side note, don’t stay at Circus Circus. Just don’t do it. The halls smell like…well, 50 years of Vegas, as my friend put it.

A new year and a new focus

Happy 2014, everyone!

In our toy room, there’s a LEGO Star Wars Fury-Class Interceptor that has lain, half-built, for about four months – just like this blog!  (I bet you can see where this is going.)

When I started this blog, I had meant for it to have a fairly narrow subject: on toys, science, girls education, and the intersections between them.  My passions for these topics have not waned, but I’ve been working on a lot of other projects which have been taking up quite a bit of time. So I’ve decided to expand this blog to be a soapbox on which topics that I’ve been incubating opinions – fitness, career, writing, and whatever else I feel like that week.

Here’s what’s been going on in my life:

1. A classmate and I launched a fitness startup, called BodySpecWe’re using high-end medical technology (dual-energy absorptiometry, or DXA/DEXA) to provide detailed body composition analysis for athletes and general fitness enthusiasts. Check us out!  We’re supported by some great classmates and faculty at Anderson, and the whole startup experience has been full of twists and turns.

2.  We finally settled into our new house in Austin, and are navigating the murky waters of first-time home ownership, including making various changes to the home (such as adding a home theater room), disposing of the Texas-sized crawlies that are constantly invading, and learning how to do basic repairs.  Unfortunately with a third of business school still to go, I’m left to commute weekly between Los Angeles and Austin for another six months.  This time, though, I have Southwest A-list, which should help me skip that awful line outside Terminal 1 at LAX.

3.  We started working out.  My goal is to have abs, and so far I see two packs emerging, up from zero.  Yes!  This is partially due to the influence of my BodySpec partners, who are crazy fit ex-college athletes and CrossFitters.  I still don’t think CrossFit is for me, but we have gotten into weightlifting, doing Stronglifts 5×5. Roy’s workplace is nice enough to offer conditioning, martial arts and Pilates classes – there’s even a Pilates class for the wives, which I go to as often as possible.  It’s marvelous.  As a result, we now consume a ton of protein, in the form of Syntha-6 shakes, tuna, egg white scrambles, and steak.

Here are the issues I’m dealing with in 2014:

1.  How to forge a meaningful career without a regular job.  Graduation is coming up in six months!  I’m committed to BodySpec, but am going to be figuring out how I can meaningfully contribute to my family and to society in general without a 9-5 business casual gig.  This is tied to greater issues of women and the whole family/career struggle, but more on that later.

2.  Getting a puppy.  Making headway on #1 is a prerequisite for this very much-desired #2. When that happens, this blog and all my social media handles will be inundated with puppy videos.  Sorry in advance.

3.  Read and write.  Repeat.  I’m working on some writing projects that took a hiatus due to BodySpec, but one of my resolutions, as it were, is to commit myself to at least 30 minutes of quality writing time a day.  Additionally, I’ve been reading way too many cases and not enough quality fiction!

4.  Stay fit and healthy.  Having my husband as my partner in this effort makes all the difference.  I’m proud of how far we’ve come so far!

I still love toys though. In fact, I’ve got some new favorites to share soon.  And books.  And ideas.

Here’s to a great 2014!

Calico Critters and my motorcycle exposé

This past week, I’ve gone to HomeGoods on three out of four days so far. It’s sort of embarrassing, but in my defense, there are three different HomeGoods locations in the greater Austin area – thank you, HomeGoods gods! – and I’m also trying to furnish a 4,700 square foot house that was completely empty.

We’re working with a talented designer and we’ve got a budget for most things, but when you find something at HomeGoods, it always makes you feel like you’ve won at life. Like holy god that was a $140 lamp but I got it for $60!!!! (Ahh, the power of anchoring.) Just yesterday, I carted away a metal-and-wood shelf – destined for the TV room for to hold our many video games – and was standing in line when a lady stopped me to ask if I’d seen any more of those shelves. I apologized and said no, and she sighed. “I’d been looking for something just like that,” she explained dejectedly. I expressed my sympathy and wished her luck – and then turned away, inwardly whooping with gleeful schadenfreude.

Today’s visit was equally satisfying. Not only did I find some elusive magenta sheets to match the bodacious magenta leather chair that will go in my first guest bedroom (visit me, friends!), but I also found Calico Critters on sale in the kids’ section. Oooh Calico Critters. How I love you and your little animal faces, and your cute beady eyes, and your utter collectability. There were five different sets on sale at HomeGoods, and when I first saw them there, I was suddenly seized by this overwhelming Gotta-Catch-Em-All! impulse and I almost threw all of them into my overflowing HomeGoods shopping cart right then and there. That would have been $75 of highly discounted Calico Critters – still a steal (“Compare to $150.00!” proclaimed the anchoring HomeGoods sticker) but enough to make me pause and collect myself.

(On a side note, do you think my generation is more collection-prone than previous ones for having grown up with Pokemon? Just a thought.)

It was then that I finally took a look at what each box contained. There was a nursery set – meh – and a mommy and baby rabbit shopping together. That was cute, I admitted, but it also made me uneasy because it reflected negative stereotypes about the woman’s role in the family – negative stereotypes that I was relentlessly reinforcing with every HomeGoods visit this week. Feeling hypocritical, I tucked the bunnies away. There was a starter family of kitties – thanks, but I’m more of a hedgehog person myself – and a pair of twin meerkat infants with creepy bald spotted heads.

And then I saw it. Calico Critters Motorcycle and Sidecar playset. And I knew this was The One. It was perfect – it reminded me of myself and hubby, both motorcycle enthusiasts. Whenever we’d seen a motorcycle with a sidecar on the street, we always talked about cruising the country that way – him in the bike, me in the sidecar, nothing but the road and the vast outdoors all around us. What a lovely dream, personified in this little raccoon couple and their fantastic little bike! Why, it even said “TRUE LUV” on the license plate. Sold, just like that.

(Best of all, it was only $20.00. “Compare at $40.00!!!” HomeGoods Sticker encouraged. I verified with CamelCamelCamel, and found this was indeed the lowest price, even on Amazon, the king of discount online retailing. I was content. I had won, again.)

Ahh, Calico Critters Motorcycle and Sidecar playset.  You make me want to be the adventurous free spirit I used to think I was.


Driving back home, I was seized with excitement. The moment I got back, I grabbed the box and raced up to our toy room. While withdrawing the little figurines, I tried untwisting the wires that bound them to their cardboard enclosures, but quickly grew impatient and dashed downstairs for my kitchen shears, which were more than up to the task of freeing the little raccoons and their cruiser.

Meet Maggie and Marvin Mulberry, and their little red hog. The Mulberrys came with several sheets of punch outs and stickers – a guide to touring their patch of countryside (with a judicious reminder to take their litter with them), a map of Cloverleaf Corners, a motorcycle handbook, and various badges that indicated that these critters were responsibly licensed-and-approved Safe Motorcycle Drivers ™. Putting together the little books involved a series of folds and tabs clearly designed for smaller fingers; I had uncharacteristic trouble with the task. Finally I assembled the books successfully and tucked them into the sidecar; finally I stuck the safety stickers onto the bumper, and carefully slipped the safety goggles onto Maggie Mulberry’s forehead, where it clashed cheerfully with her boho chic outfit. It didn’t matter that her little raccoon paw technically couldn’t reach the clutch; she and her leather-clad mate were ready to rumble. All the while, I was grinning like a stupid idiot.

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You see, in real life, I am a motorcycle failure. Once, briefly, I dreamt of being a hot biker chick clad in black leather, zooming down the Pacific Coast Highway alongside my handsome biker husband. In pursuit of this dream we dutifully signed up for the MSF Basic RiderCourse and showed up bright and early at 6am, whereupon a series of mishaps involving my trainer bike immediately put me behind the rest of the class, earned me the scorn of my rather judgmental teacher (it’s ok, I took it personally and savaged her on the written review later), and ruined my motorcycling confidence forever. It certainly didn’t help that I was a complete vehicular dunce going into the class, and didn’t even understand what gears were, much less why I had to shift them. Somehow, at the end of the 12-hour course, I still managed to pass, and with a higher score on the riding test than Roy (though this was met with disbelief again from that same teacher. B***h.)

By the way, I’m not knocking the MSF Basic RiderCourse. Anyone who wants to ride a motorcycle should take it, and some states, like Texas, require it. It teaches fundamental, life-saving skills. I just had one obnoxious instructor, that’s all.

We purchased our first bikes shortly afterward the course ended, finding them secondhand (thirdhand, actually) on Craiglist as most people suggest for a beginner bike. Roy chose this sleek, beautiful Kawasaki Ninja 250 that really resembled and sounded like a ninja – dark and quiet and a little ominous. I rode it around our apartment complex once and promptly dropped it, though very gently.  Immediately I decided that I needed a shorter bike to be able to flatfoot (put both feet flat on the ground while stopped). So I opted for the humble Honda Rebel 250, a traditional cruiser, perfect for shorties like me.

ninja rebel

At this point, Roy was taking his bike at 5:30am to work every day, giving him bountiful opportunity to practice riding it in safe-ish, car-less conditions on the street. I tried to do the same, knowing that my hard-earned skills were slipping away with each passing day. The first time I attempted a solo ride, I literally fell off the bike in the middle of a right turn, right at a busy intersection. Luckily the light was red, so I didn’t get run over, although I did get a nasty scar from the whole business. A later attempt to accompany Roy up the scenic Angeles Crest Highway resulted in two downings within thirty minutes and even more scratches and injuries to myself, my gear and the poor bike.

Needless to say, after that, my confidence was severely shaken. We took the Rebel to the shop, which did a great job fixing it up. And while I was still able to ride around occasionally on the streets alongside Roy in the early mornings for small errands (donuts), I had internalized my limitations and modified my dream of riding up PCH: now, I would happily ride behind Roy on his bike, occasionally knocking helmets but enjoying the view stress free.  (This is a dream that has been realized easily.)

If our horrified parents are reading this, they will be relieved to know that currently we are bikeless, as we sold both motorcycles well before we moved to Austin. Instead, in 2012, we got our beloved BMW 335i, and cruised around Europe with it. As we sat in our heated seats in that fantastic car, driving through an alpine snowstorm on the way to see a glacier, and eating Swiss chocolate atop French baguettes, we realized that people who tour cross country on motorcycles are crazy. Why would you do that when you could do this instead – drive around in a warm, comfy car and be protected from the elements? On a motorcycle, your butt gets numb from the rumbling, and your head hurts from hours confined in a helmet. Your gear is heavy and hot, and god forbid you get an itch somewhere. But in a nice, powerful car, you are as comfortable as you want to be, and you can go to all the same places. You’re just lugging around 3500 pounds of metal and gas instead of just 350.

So our motorcycle days look like they might be over. (At least for now – Roy keeps threatening to get a Ninja 650.) But that’s okay because we’ll always have our memories, and thanks to HomeGoods, we have the Calico Critters Motorcycle and Sidecar playset too. Like me and Roy, both Maggie and Marvin Mulberry are licensed to drive. And believe me – Maggie’s ready to ride.

And as for me? Maybe next time, I’ll try a scooter.

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