(Some) Assembly Required

One of my happiest memory from my childhood time in Hong Kong was “building” (more like assembling) my own radio-controlled buggy. I “built” two RC cars, starting with one (Tamiya Boomerang) that had less parts to assemble to ease me into the learning process, but also I think my parents wanted to make sure I could do it so not to waste money on the more expensive models from the get go. The second, more advanced, model (Kyosho Optima Mid Special) required almost every parts to be hand assembled. I greased up the front and back differentials (it was a four-wheel drive model) before attaching the belt and the front-end and back-end assemblies that connected them with the motor. I attached the suspension arms, tracking arms, hubs, drive shafts. I filled up the shock absorbers with oil and loaded it with springs. I soldered the wires that connected Novak speed controller to the motor and connected the radio receiver with servo that steered the car. I soldered my own battery pack from seven NiCad cells. Finally I painted the polycarbonate shell with my own choice of color and design. When it was finally ready, I could truly claim that I “build” that. I also made extensive modifications of my own afterward.

Contrast that with the type of RC cars one can purchase now. They are all ready assembled, ready to provide instant gratification for the impatient generation of children. The very few RC car kits that require assembly are the large, expensive, gas-powered buggy, which obviously not suitable for young children (I was around 13-14 years old when I assembled my first one). Likewise with electronic/computer. One purchase a game console or computer and all one need to do is connect the cables and press the power button. And it is not confined to children and toys. Large portion of the adult population stumble over assembling even simple furniture such as those from IKEA. Oh, how the adults blame the lack of instruction or tools as if skills should not be required to assemble anything!

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QotD: Education, Occupation

What was your major or field of study in college? Did you wind up working in that field or using that degree? If not, what field have you wound up in?
Submitted by sneuf.

When I was growing up as a child in Hong Kong, I was fascinated by the education programmes the government put on the TV in the afternoon. I kept watching the same maths and science programmes and amazed by how science seems to have an answer for every questions, or at least seemed that way to me back then.

So when it was time to pick the subject to study in university, there was never a doubt that I wanted to study physics. (Chemistry and biology are for wimps who can’t handle the maths!) I was (and still am) pretty handy with maths but some of the more abstract stuff bores me 🙂 Unfortunately this applies to physics too and when the last year of the course came around, I was more interested in computer programming than quantum physics, thermodynamics, and solid state physics.

But the analytical skills that the physics course had taught me had left me in good steed. It was exactly the right type of skills to have at the right time when I graduated. The computer industry started looking for scientists and engineers for programming jobs instead of just computer science graduates because we were perceived as more rounded.

So here I am, working as a software engineer with one of the leading edge software company in the US. Can’t be that bad, huh? I bet my uncle, who was actually a proper physicist and advised my parents against me studying physics, would have to eat some humble pie too.

Tennis photos

Last Monday I brought along my camera to my weekly tennis match. My friend Dan took some photos of me while I played my match. I was going to return the favour during his match but I played a double match instead 🙂 I guess I'll have to photograph him next time we play!

More on Flickr but this one on the left showing me in mid serve with my foot a few inches off the ground is my favorite of them all.

I think if my coach in Hong Kong all those years ago when I was a kid see these photos, he would be proud!

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18 Years

One of the things that I don't boost about in close company (or any for that matter) is my athletic ability. Thanks to a near British public school education in Hong Kong (wiki), I was taught to play in many sports. And I don't mean just played it once or twice in P.E. classes. I mean I know the rules, the techniques, and know enough on how to play as to not make a fool of myself in front of regular players. Track running (100m and 200m sprints, 110m hurdles, 400m), cross-country running (15 km run), swimming (all the different stroke types with breast stroke being my strongest, while I can never master butterfly), basketball, volleyball, badminton, table tennis, and tennis.

Out of all these sports, my love remains tennis throughout the years. Thanks to my mum's foresight, she signed me up for tennis lessons (ran by the Hong Kong Tennis Association) when I was still young (~1988 and before the Michael Chang phenomenon). After a few years of continuous tennis lessons every Sunday I was good enough to be the school's tennis team captain but emigrating to UK in 1990 put a very short end to that. And Britain, being the birthplace of tennis and Wimbledon, is actually very difficult to get access to tennis training for a non-privileged (read non-public school) Chinese teenager. So I more or less gave up playing tennis as a serious sport. I did not play tennis regularly (i.e. more than once a year type regular) until I've moved to NY and my friend T.J. wanted to play tennis a few years back.

My skill did not really improved with age (as I always secretly hoped) and was pretty much stuck at being a 2.5 player (NTRP Rating). This year though, I was determined to improve and after playing the first time I hit an epiphany! The racket that I have been using since 1991, the Wilson Pro Staff Classic, was a great racket. It was used by Jim Courier, etc. but it was so the wrong racket for me. It was too head heavy and thus requires way more power to generate racket head speed for spins. Heavy head also means it is more difficult to react to shots such as return of serve or volley.

So just over three months ago I tried out three new rackets, one Wilson, one Head, and one Volkl. Of the three, I was pinning my hope of the Volkl since I've played them before when I picked the racket for T.J. To cut the long story short, I discovered that I liked the feel of the Wilson most even though it was added to the list of rackets to try out as an afterthought. And to my complete surprise, it was the Wilson that gave me the best all round feel. I was able to make shots that normally would either mean too long/wide or into the net. Suddenly I was able to swing freely and think about where I want to hit the shot, rather than whether I can even hit the ball back to other side of the court.

Anyway, after a bunch of lessons and playing in a tennis league every Monday for the last three months, I am now easily playing at 3.5 level. And on a good day, I can be a 4.0 player! Only take me 18 years to get here but better late than never I guess!

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