Showing posts with label Personal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Personal. Show all posts

Sunday, February 12, 2017

A Change of Direction Due to a Graphics Card

Four nights ago in Zhongshan I was trying to learn a little bit about a practice which ties together astrology and plastic surgery. But before I could decide whether to mention it in a post, my laptop's screen suddenly displayed a peculiar pattern. And that pattern remained fixed. Not good at all. I mean the fixed pattern wasn't good, though I haven't been convinced astrology-based plastic surgery is a great thing.

Based on previous experiences, I strongly suspected there was a hardware issue with my graphics card. Also based on previous experiences, I knew that if this was true I would need to replace the entire motherboard since the graphics card is integrated with it (wonderful). And also based on previous experiences, I expected that unlike the previous two times the graphics card died in this laptop, the replacement would no longer be covered by a plan which had been extended due to known issues with the graphics card. It was possible the cost of replacing the motherboard would be high enough that buying a new laptop would be more sensible.

Dealing with all of this in Zhongshan was definitely not on the table. And my next destination was not ideal either. Fortunately, a very good location to resolve my problem wasn't too far away, though in another direction. A functioning laptop is a bit of a priority for me so . . . plans changed. And after a 3.5 hour bus ride (including passing through an immigration control point), I found myself in Hong Kong where I have been the past several days.

All went mostly as expected. Yup, it was the graphics card. I now have a new motherboard — incredibly my fourth and probably the last for this laptop. Partly due to a significant discount, it didn't cost as much as I had expected.

Anyway, the period of time my laptop was non-usable explains the recent silence here. More posts soon . . . 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Brief Reflection on My Recent Travels

When I arrived in Malaysia five months ago, an immigration officer asked me how long I planned to stay in the country. I replied, "One week, two weeks. Actually, I'm not sure." The officer shook his head and without any more questioning stamped my passport with a visit pass good for 90 days--typical for someone from the US and number of other countries. More than six weeks later I left Malaysia on a last-minute flight to Cambodia.

I went to Southeast Asia with a desire to not only learn more about a diverse region but also gain a fresh perspective on what I already "knew". As my conversation with the immigration officer suggests, my itinerary was not set in stone. Sometimes I found myself in unexpected destinations, such as Melaka in Malaysia. Sometimes I found myself staying longer than planned, such as in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. Sometimes I found myself heading away from a country I had hoped to visit, such as Indonesia.

After several months in Southeast Asia I could have productively continued my explorations, but Taiwan beckoned. And then I returned to a country I had not set foot in for several years--the US. As in Southeast Asia, there were unexpected destinations, periods of lingering, and changed plans. After the US, I headed to Seoul. Like so many of the other places, I walked many miles, spent time with fascinating people, and did not skimp on the culinary offerings.

Although my return to China means a resurgence of topics related to it and other old favorites, I plan to continue sharing what I experienced, learned, and pondered during my recent time outside of China. I have some specific goals in mind, but if you asked me to say exactly what I will be posting next week I'd reply, "Actually, I'm not sure."

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Next to the River in Melaka

I have been a bit distracted the past couple of days, but I recently found a peaceful place where I can focus on writing a few posts.

small table and chaires overlooking a river
My temporary "office" next to the Melaka River in Melaka, Malaysia

So, more soon...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Thankfulness and Hope, An Election Epilogue

I am not aware of having earned the location of my birth. And I believe that humanity matters more than nationality. Nevertheless, recents days are symbolic of several reasons why I am proud to be a citizen of the United States of America.

The debate over America's next president was not always constructive. And even between friends discussions could sometimes prove frustrating. But I find it all to be a small cost for the immense benefits of free expression and democracy.

At his re-election victory celebration, President Barack Obama captured some of my feelings (full transcription here):
Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy.

That won’t change after tonight, and it shouldn’t. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. We can never forget that as we speak people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.
"People in distant nations" who desire a similar liberty yet see no obvious path to obtain it might hear a message for themselves in Obama's later words for Americans:
...I ask you to sustain that hope. I’m not talking about blind optimism, the kind of hope that just ignores the enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. I’m not talking about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight.

I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.
Today I am especially thankful for what requires no hope--Americans possessing the rights to engage in debate and to choose their own leaders.

I hope Americans work better together in achieving their common goals. I hope America meets the many challenges it faces. I hope Obama plays a positive role in improving America and the world. I hope I contribute.

And I hope people all around the world who seek liberty continue to hope.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Lives Remembered

photos of deceased people at the Kun Ian Temple in Macau

Over a month ago I stood here in Macau's Kun Iam Temple transfixed by all the faces from the past. I wondered about their lives--so many different stories I would never know.

Later that same day, I came across a similar scene at the Cemetery of Saint Michael the Archangel.

final resting places, some with photos, at the Cemetery of Saint Michael the Archangel in Macau

And again I thought about all of the lives and wondered what could be learned to help answer the question "What is life?"

I then slowly walked around looking at a variety of gravestones--some with a mix of Eastern and Western styles. One gravestone especially caught my eye.

graves at the Cemetery of Saint Michael the Archangel in Macau

DIED IN MACAU 2-8-1968



A man who was not ethnically Chinese, but China had been the place of his birth and death. I wondered what stories he could have told. What brought his family to Shanghai? Why and when did he leave? What brought him to Macau? What did he experience in China during a time when it underwent immense changes and challenges?

My inability to find any answers leads me to ponder the phrase "Gone but not forgotten". What does it mean to be remembered? Why would it matter? How long will the gravestone last?

These experiences and questions come to my mind now due to the recent death of someone I knew. A man who began his life in the U.S. but found his end in Shanghai, a place where he discovered much that he enjoyed. Just days ago we were discussing the great variety of people that can be found in China.

I know more about him than the man who died in Macau. Yet as is highlighted by what others are now sharing online in a new form of an old ritual, I am sure there remains so much more I could learn. I am also sure that two men who had different journeys have something in common. They both impacted me and others. And I know the resulting changes are a form of remembrance, no matter what happens to their stories.

flowers on the ground outside the Kun Ian Temple in Macau
Outside the Kun Iam Temple

Monday, April 30, 2012

My Coming Out and the Taiwan LGBT Pride Parade

people holding up a large waving rainbow banner

One day while exploring Taipei, Taiwan last October I approached a street intersection and noticed a curious amount of people, traffic, and a lot of color. I quickly discovered I had stumbled upon the 2011 Taiwan Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Parade--the largest such parade in Asia. For the next couple of hours I followed the parade and watched some of the rally that followed.

Seeing people freely and openly march for a social cause in a land rich with Chinese culture felt surreal. Nothing like this was possible in mainland China where I had been living for over five years. The parade also brought to mind several friends who had repressed their sexuality but felt comfortable during their college years to "come out".

And thinking about that day now, I am reminded of a particular challenge I faced as a youth regarding my own sexuality. It in no way compares in magnitude to the challenges faced by many LGBT youth around the world. But it highlights a sometimes overlooked benefit to decreasing LGBT discrimination.

My challenge was coming out as straight.

During my high school days I occasionally heard stories about people announcing to their sometimes surprised family and friends that they were homosexual. Sometimes they had previously insisted even to themselves that they were heterosexual. Sometimes they had even gone so far to have married someone of the opposite sex. Being the type to deeply ponder a variety of topics, I wondered if I could become gay or already be gay and not yet realize it. I saw no indications I was gay, but how could I be sure I was not deluding myself as others had? I even wondered if my asking the question was itself a sign that I was truly gay. A skeptical and probing mind that would later serve me well in my research work proved to confound itself on this issue about which I knew very little.

It was not solely a logical exercise. Although I never saw homosexuality as something bad or requiring changing, I viewed it something best not to be--it seemed to come with many disadvantages. For example, why would I want to be something that a number of other people derided? Or why would I want to be automatically disallowed from a normal rite of passage and expression of love for many: marriage? So it deeply mattered to me. And it caused me no small amount of stress over an extended period of time. I was worried someday I would discover I was gay.

One day after years of pondering the issue off and on, I had a revelation. It was something I could have asked myself earlier, but I had not previously understood sexuality well enough to realize it might be so simple. I asked myself if I had ever felt a sexual reaction to a female. Undoubtedly I had. In fact, often I felt my hormones had a mind of their own and was maddened by the degree to which they could distract me.

And it clicked... I had no control over it. It was just there doing its own thing like the beating of my heart.

So, I asked myself if looking at or thinking about a male had ever made me feel aroused. The answer was again simple: no. I had never experienced anything even close. Ever skeptical, I wondered if I could be repressing some feelings. But I quickly dismissed that idea. Completely burying such feelings or denying their existence seemed inconceivable-they were just too strong.

Was my reasoning flawless? It did not matter. With those simple questions the issue was resolved for me. And so to myself, I confidently came out as straight. Admittedly, I did not go public. I knew it was not necessary and would only raise unwanted questions by others. I also knew that it would completely bewilder my longterm girlfriend.

Looking back, I have no problem that I questioned my sexuality. With a mind that even managed to question its own existence (happily resolved) it was probably inevitable. But I do question why it had to be so stressful and an issue of such concern. I wish I had lived in a world where I had received more guidance about how to explore such issues. Part of me also wishes that I could have been strong enough to feel more at ease with my personal exploration. But this was not at all easy. Even today, for many youth who realize they are LGBT there are no immediate and complete solutions to the challenges they face in their environment, and they can only take comfort in hearing "it gets better". But most importantly, I wish I had lived in a world where I had known that being an equal member of society could be assumed regardless of what I discovered. In this world I would have had no need to worry. This is precisely the goal of many around the world who work to decrease LGBT discrimination. Their goal should be the goal of straight people as well as lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transexuals.

So as I witnessed tens of thousands of people marching:

paraders at the Taiwan LGBT Pride Parade

paraders carrying signs

Tens of thousands of people attending a rally:

large crowd sitting on the ground with a colorful stage in the distance

more of the crowd at the rally

Individuals publicly expressing themselves however they chose:

young women hold signs that say free hug and LGBT

young man holding a sign and dressed up in a maid's outfit

two young men with rainbow flags

two young women holding hands with Chinese writing on their backs
The young woman on the right has “我是夏娃” written on her back.
It translates to "I am Eve".
The other has "我爱夏娃" which translates to "I love Eve".

same two young women who are dressed with minimal covering and vines

paraders and watchers

man dressed up in colorful women's clothing and wearing a large wig

two young women with rainbow stripes painted on their left cheeks

Companies and religious organizations displaying their support:

Person in an Android Robot suit and others wearing shits with two Android Robots holding hands and a rainbow flag

group standing behind the sign Promise Giver Christian Action Network

And police ensuring that it could all occur safely and peacefully:

police cars and motorbikes providing traffic control and security

I felt so much hope and excitement for the people of Taiwan -- LGBT & S.

To capture more of what I saw that day, I have created a short five minute video of the parade. It shows just a small portion, but I have tried to make it reasonably representative. I believe it can serve as an especially important look at an LGBT Pride parade for those who have never had the opportunity to see one. As noted in the Taipei Times:
Part of the parade marched through neighborhoods around National Taiwan Normal University, where many conservative families live, hoping that the residents would acquire a better understanding of LGBT communities through more contact, organizers said.
I am not so naive to expect this post or single video to change anyone overnight. But I believe they can play a small part in opening people's minds. In that spirit, they can be an opportunity for the parade to march through even more neighborhoods.

See the creatively dressed people. See the companies showing their support. See the dancing. See the rainbow-colored dog. Much else is captured. And many of the paraders had no special clothes, no signs, and otherwise would blend into any crowd. Those portions of the video may seem boring but that ordinariness says so much.

People expressing their desire for themselves and others to love who they choose. People trying to bring positive change, both in minds of everyday people and in the policies of their government. People seeking the day when everyone will be treated as equals regardless of their sexual orientation.

See the people who came out:

 (HD version of the video is available by clicking the gear symbol. Or you can find it here.)

Friday, March 2, 2012

More Than 3 Standard Deviations Above the Mean: Lactivism In Memory of Susan Eitelman Dean

Several days ago I found out that a friend of mine, Susan, had suffered a "major embolic stroke that occluded 2 major arteries in her brain". Much of my graduate work and some additional later research was in the area of cognitive neuropsychology -- I studied what brain damage could tell us about how the undamaged brain works. I knew, as a friend had written, that this was likely "bad, bad, bad".

A wonderful web site tracking her progress was quickly set up and her close friends provided regular updates. I first read that doctors were using medication to reduce the pressure in her brain. Then they decided surgery was neccessary. Then there were reports that the swelling continued and was potentially causing more damage. Her friends expressed that any recovery could take from months to years. I knew in cases like this, though, that "recovery" can truly mean "as recovered as possible".

But there will be no recovery of any length. Earlier today I read Susan had died.

Susan was married and in her early 30's. She had a 2 year old boy. She was very health conscious.

My heart goes out to her child, her husband, her parents, and everyone else who was close to her.

Reading the stories and comments others left on the web site and her Facebook page was both uplifting and sad. I think one of the comments on her Facebook page says so much:
I love you more than 3 standard deviations above the mean!!
Her friend wrote that just days before Susan's stroke. It highlights both the feelings many genuinly had for Susan and the dorkiness Susan proudly displayed.

I could go on and on about how years ago a work colleague and I recruited Susan fresh after she graduated from Carnegie Mellon and how she proved to be such a great work colleague and friend. Or how she was so helpful when I needed to make a long distance move. Or how she semi-randomly thanked me last month for the used knife set I gave her over 10 years ago -- it solved a minor but long unsolved mystery for me since I had forgotten giving it to her.

Instead, I will share one of the issues dear to Susan: breast feeding. She considered herself a lactivist -- someone who promotes breast feeding. This is not limited to simply encouraging women to nurse their children. In American society, some women are made to feel as if they are doing something wrong by simply feeding their child in public -- as if it is something that needs to be hidden away. That something so incredibly natural, healthy, wondrous, and loving as breastfeeding even needs advocates boggles my mind.

Just days before her stroke I shared with Susan a recent news report that caught my attention:
Nirvana Jennette, a mom of four from Camden County, Georgia says she was forced out of church for breastfeeding her baby. Church leaders asked her to breastfeed in the bathroom and implied they could have arrested her for “lewd behavior.” The most egregious statement? She told news station WSAV that her pastor compared her breastfeeding to a stripper performing.
How breast feeding is "lewd" or like a "stripper performing" is beyond me. Sometimes, the same people who can be charmed by watching puppies suckle can without hesitation criticize a woman for nursing her own child in public. Whatever the cause for such feelings, I have yet to hear a good reason for banning public breastfeeding. If you do not like to look at it, tough. I do not like to listen to people in the supposedly free U.S. whine about public breastfeeding. But I will be the first to protect your right do so.

Fortunately, in Georgia the law allows women to nurse anywhere they and their child have permission to be. Now, there is a movement to add an enforcement provision to the law. The article also mentions nurse-in protests in reaction to several other incidents.

In response to the article Susan commented:
Thanks for sharing this Brian! I love how some of my guy friends are becoming lactivists too!! Even from as far as China! I'd love to hear your thoughts on how breastfeeding is viewed over there... :)
I was hoping to more carefully consider the issue of breastfeeding in China when I had the chance and get back to Susan later. Sometimes, later does not work.

In the spirit of Susan's lactivism I want to pass on some relevant links Susan recently shared:

I must admit I had no plans to do a post on breastfeeding, but I share Susan's feelings on this topic. I am happy on this very sad day to help spread Susan's concerns about an issue that was particularly important to her.

Finally, just a few weeks ago Susan shared a post of this photo:

It is a collage of photos telling the story of a couple who married despite the bride being in the midst of a very difficult fight against cancer. She died 5 days after the wedding. Like me, Susan is careful about checking out such stories and included a link to Snopes indicating the story about the photos was indeed true.

And she left a brief comment on her post that seems so apt now:
Life is short, and delicate. Handle carefully.
Sometimes, it is much too short.

Susan and her son Andrew at a Kindermusik class last week (thanks to Holly Lesnick)