Entry #13: Home

 

As I am writing this, it is my last day in Malaysia, and is a very melancholy and introspective time for me as I reflect on my time here. This will be my last entry in this blog, and I have had many eye-opening, transformative, and just plain awesome experiences, most of which are documented to some degree in this blog, so that future interns and interested parties can view them. I have made many great friends in my time over here, and look forward to the day when they come to visit the US and I can return the hospitality that they have bestowed upon me in Penang.

I have learn a great deal about what it means to be a professional engineer, and about how much more that there is that goes engineering that just the design part of it, as well as gaining a new cultural perspective on what it means for companies to do business around the globe, and at least some of the things that they need to be aware of in order to be successful and profitable.

 

To conclude, here is one final list of interesting/random things that have caught my eye. It is funny that, no matter how long I was here, I always found more interesting and quirky little things….:)

  1. It gets hot enough during the day that having the tint on tinted windows in a car bubble and melt is a genuine problem. Similarly, because of the heat, people often move their windshield wipers to be standing up off of the windshield, for fear that the heat could melt the rubber part to the windshield

  2. There is no such thing as an illegal parking place. In fact, the only way you can be sure that someone does not park in a spot is to place a large object in the middle of it, such as a cinder block or some such.

  3. Sea cucumber tastes good

  4. I finally figured out why the curbs being black and white piqued my curiosity to such a degree: for those of you that have seen the movie Beetlejuice, when he turns into a snake, the ratio and frequency of black/white exactly matches how the streets are painted

     

 

Dream Theater’s “Home” is a fitting etude for this final chapter in my summer internship, and one whose lyrical and melodic content scarcely needs explanation, I think.

 

Update: My travels back home….

 

So, today I found out that Air Asia truly operates in a multi-active manner, in that they are always late, and rarely, if ever leave their gate at the scheduled time. (I know this because I asked one of their employees about it). My flight was supposed to leave at 11:20—the plane did not even arrive until 11:50. I had built in some cushion between my flight to KL and my connection, but this was thoroughly erased by Air Asia’s tardiness. I kid you not—I arrived at my gate in KL, and within 2 minutes I was onboard, and 20 minutes after that I was in the air. If the airport had been busy, or there had been traffic in KL, or any number of things, I would have missed my flight. Moral of the story: fly Air Asia if you can, because they are really cheap, just make sure you don’t expect to leave until about an hour (minimum) after you are scheduled to.

One other interesting note: in both KL and Taipei I have had to go through security twice, without any real discernible difference between the level of the two screenings. In addition, they didn’t ask for my ID, boarding pass, or passport, even when I was checking through security in the international terminal. Just much more lax than the US, I guess.

Update: Living back in the US

 

Well now having been back in the US for a couple of days, and having eaten the food(which is pretty bland compared to penang), talked with the people here, I have a much better idea about why many other cultures of the world look down on our culture as being superficial and materialistic. And having been saturated with asian culture the last couple of months, I can definitely notice a difference in the way people dress and the things they talk about in everyday conversation/small talk between there and here. When comparing cultures it’s really meaningless to say “culture x is better than culture y”, but I do think that there are definitely elements to American culture that would be much better replaced with those from asian culture, such as our seemingly never ending need to accumulate “stuff”, and our emphasis on youth as the best phase of life, and kind of discounting the elderly. In asian culture, interpersonal relationships and memories of fun times together are much more highly valued than any “things” that one acquires. Elders are also revered to a much greater degree than here, something which greatly contributes to the social stability of the culture. Our system of organization also has its benefits to be sure, but after coming back from Malaysia, what I once unilaterally accepted as THE way of doing things (e.g. “This is the way it is”) is no longer the best path. We may claim to be the “best” country in the world, but when it comes to cultural vibrancy, we are actually rather stagnant in comparison to other cultures of the world, Asia in particular.

I could say pages and pages more about this, but this is not a philosophical blog, but rather an account of my experiences, so I think that is enough

 

Thanks everyone for reading! 🙂

 

Hi again,

 

This past week I finally have gotten some more interesting engineering work, involving the testing, debugging and verification of some boards, but more on that later. This weekend, I took the best trip yet of my stay here in Malaysia to the Cameron Highlands, and had a fantastic time. A ridiculous amount of pictures were taken, so I was not able to put them all up, but below are a good sample of them.

We checked into our apartment late Friday night, and interestingly, there was no reception or lobby, only a guy in a little box that raised the barricade for you when you drove in or out. In fact, he also doubled as the security for the apartment/tourist complex, asking such tough questions as “Do you have a room here?” If you answered yes, he let you in. Such tight security…..q`

Anyways, Saturday was spent touring, and we saw the sunrise (not actually, because it was cloudy, but still got some good pictures), then went trekking in the Mossy Forest. One thing that bears mentioning is that because of the high altitude, (we are nearly at cloud level!!!!!!!) the air is quite a bit thinner, and so I found myself out of breath after only some mild hiking. Suffice it to say that other members of the group fared not nearly as well…..Another consequence of the high altitude was that the temperature and humidity were much lower than in Penang. In fact, they were much more in line with a Minnesota late summer fall. At night it got down to about 50F or so, and up to about 70 during the day. And no humidity, which was quite refreshing. I enjoyed it immensely, but everyone else thought it was freezing there. In the apartment, they had even provided some flip flops for you to wear while in the apartment to keep your feet from getting cold on the tile floor!

Hiking in the Mossy Forest was phenomenal, because everything was covered in several inches of moss—even the branches/trees. The forest was very old, and would have made a superb replacement for the scenes in Fangorn Forest in the Lord of The Rings—it was that awesome! Look at the pictures, and judge for yourself.

After that we went to the local museum, which was actually pretty cool, in that it was a really low key museum: there were no exhibits per say, but just a collection of lots of stuff that was just stacked neatly inside a building. I didn’t take that many pictures because a lot of the stuff was very reminiscent of the early 50’s era in the US, which is the time from much I suspect much of it came.

Then came the highlight of the day(hard to believe that the Mossy Forest was not the best!): the Boh Tea Plantation. Nestled in a plateau of sorts in between the hills, there were acres and acres of valley carpeted in vibrant green tea that made for some breathtaking views. The pictures below speak much more eloquently than I ever could, so enjoy! We also had a nice tea break overlooking the plantation, and I explained the placebo effect to one of my companions who had exclaimed that “This is the best tea that I have ever had!” I tried their world famous Cameron Gold Blend, and was summarily not impressed. It tasted just like the cheap tea that I have had before in the US; I guess I’m just not a tea drinker.

Then it was off to the strawberry farm, where the main attraction was the incredible cafe/snack bar that had some really awesome strawberry confections. Fresh strawberry juice, strawberry milkshake, chocolate covered strawberries….the list goes on. The only thing that was sub-par about this were the chocolate covered strawberries, because we managed to deduce why the chocolate tasted funny, and had a kind of gritty texture—it was not chocolate at all, but chocolate icing! Weird. A great steamboat dinner (all organic fruits and vegetables!) followed.

The next morning I had an amazing breakfast: chicken fried rice, egg, sausage, and sweet/sour sauce—just awesome! A blend of western and eastern influences to be sure. We spent some time wandering the market that is a permanent fixture of the highlands. A pause must be made here to explain what I have gleaned about the lifestyle of the inhabitants of the Cameron Highlands Area.

The best way I can think of to put it is that they live lives of outward simplicity, but inner richness, meaning that they are content to keep their community centered around its wonderful agriculture and not invest in modern technology, and with the help of the thriving tourism industry here, I think that they will be able to do just that. Because of the wonderful climate here (think those beautiful fall days that make the sh*tty weather in the winter and summer worth it, but perpetually). The weather therefore allows them to have a perpetual year-round farmer’s market, which is second to none in terms of freshness.

Continuing, they had corn at the market that was so sweet and tender that you could eat it raw—no need to cook! Take that US farmers….They also some of what I call the “shameless” aspect of tourism, where you see many sellers with basically the same cheap goods intended to coax money out of foreign tourists. Here, they chose the strawberry as their main leverage, and plastered it over everything that you could ever possibly think of, and then tried to sell it to you. However, here, as opposed to Pehrentian, the people that were shopping at those sellers were far outweighed by those that were shopping at the stalls that had fresh produce/fruit/legitimate knick-knacks—this included the foreign tourists. Some notable eats: Chocolate covered strawberries on a stick(the strawberries here are not artificially grown or sweetened, and so are much smaller and more tart than the ones that you get in the US, but they have a crispness to their flavor that far outweighs those shortcomings), honeycomb(I watched the guy cut a slice of honey comb from the bee hive and hand it to me), chocolate steamboat(like regular steamboat, but with chocolate instead of soup, and fruit instead of meats and things).

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend—my favorite on the island so far. Both the Cameron Highlands and the Perhentian Islands are prominent tourist attractions which draw Malays and foreigners alike in droves toward each of their unique charms. Foremost among these is the rest and relaxation they advertise, but each offers it in quite disjoint flavors. For me, the quiet, introspective atmosphere of the Highlands trumps the frenetic pace of the Perhentian Islands’ activities hands down. Here is a place in which it is highly enjoyable to just drift through the day, and let the peace and contentment of the local culture here work its magic on you.

Joe Satriani’s “It’s So Good” is the theme for this post, and I think that neither the title nor the melodic content of the song needs further elucidation. Listen, and look through the pictures below, and you will see why I chose it. 🙂

 

 

And here are some interesting tidbits:

  1. After having been in Malaysia for this long, where the metric system is the only thing used, I find myself doing much less of getting a measurement, converting it to feet/inches/miles, thinking about it, and then converting it back to metric when talking with the people here. I’m starting to just be able to think directly in it, which is kind of cool.
  2. People over here are no where near as much into the Olympics as the US people are, probably because they don’t have that many athletes in the games. However, the one exception to this is their badminton star, which everyone scheduled special time in their schedule to watch.
  3. The police here that have whistles to direct traffic blow with unnecessary and somewhat irritating gusto.
  4. Adults in malls and on the street almost always glance at me as I walk by, as I said before, but they just as quickly look away. Children have yet to develop that sense, and will stare quite obviously and extensively at me while I am in their line of sight.
  5. The most popular radio station here counts down the top 40 songs on the charts over here EVERY DAY. This leads to a station that plays pretty much the same songs every single day. People seem to like it, don’t really know why—I like listening to the radio to hear new music, not the same old same old.

    6. You can make tea out of chrysanthemum flowers. Which, by the way, tastes just the same as every other tea that I have ever had.

    		
    		
    

     

Hi everyone,

 

As I am writing this post, I realize that I have only 3 short weeks left here in Malaysia, in what has certainly been one of the greatest, if not the greatest experience of my life. In one sense, it’s kind of weird to already be looking back on my experience here, because I still have a modicum of time here, but in another sense it is not. Because of the nature of the work that Plexus gets, they are a customer-driven company, and if there are no customers, then there is no work. That is what I have run into in Malaysia: no work for me to do. There has been a distinct shortage of intern-level work available in the digital/analog groups, and because of that I have spent the last few days at work mostly working on my final presentation to give at Plexus. I’m hopeful that something will come along that I can become attached to in my final weeks here, so that I don’t “coast” to the finish, so to speak. But, if nothing does come up, I do still have access to an Altera Cyclone II FPGA development board, to which I am planning to continue to learn and explore. The training module that I completed required me to output a sum onto a 7 segment display (like the one on a digital alarm clock), but I’m now in the process of figuring out how to drive the correct signals over VGA to get the sum to appear on a computer monitor instead. It’s not the fault of Plexus or of any of the people that I work with, it’s just that their workload currently is pretty light. 😦

Anyways, this past weekend I’ve gone souvenir hunting in and around Penang, coming away with several really cool items. I revisited many of the shops that I saw previously, but held off from buying stuff in because I wasn’t sure if I would find something cooler later. But I got some cool little items to share with friends and family when I get back home. And now that I have realized that I have only 3 weeks left here, thoughts of home have started to creep into my everyday thinking. I KNOW that they wouldn’t be if I was really busy at work doing cool engineering project work, but I’m not, so they do. It’s not that I’m really missing home, but more that the realization that I won’t be here forever has naturally got me to thinking about where I will go once my time is done here has dawned on me. Life does go on….despite any wishes that we might make to the contrary. Just as coming here and being here was one great adventure, so will be going back to the states, and re-adjusting to life there. The Dirt Surfers’ “Endless Trails” fits the theme of this post quite nicely I think, capturing the idea that we never really stop traveling and learning as long as we live.

 

And I will conclude with a few more interesting tidbits that I have noticed/seen/experienced here.

  1. There is no such thing as a take out box—not even for soups or drinks. Everything comes in a bag. Kind of cool actually.
  2. You can transport trees on a motorcycle on the freeway. I know because I saw guy doing it. He had the pot/bag place on the handle bars and held it there with one hand while he drove the bike with the other. The branches dragged on the ground behind him.
  3. Some things here hold their value compared to the US, like books and some electronics. Other things are noticeably less expensive than in the US, and only the economists know why.
  4. Horn honking is done here not only to express anger/exasperation, as is the rule in the US (actually, that is rather uncommon, because everyone here drives so aggressively that they know their toes will get stepped on at some point, so to speak, and so they don’t freak out about it as much) but also to alert other vehicles/pedestrians/motorcyclists/etc that you are coming up behind them, or to jolt them out of their daze, if you think they need that.
  5. People don’t really drink milk here, and no wonder—who wants milk when it is 100 degrees out? Plus it spoils when it gets warm, unlike other drinks, which I think

    contributes to its lack of popularity.

  6. There appears to be a flaw in the reasoning of many of the people here that I have seen working out, which is that immediately upon after finishing a workout, they go out and have a cigarette or two. Seriously. Outside the gym in the Krystal Suites, they even have ash trays for the members! It’s like “Oh I just worked out, so its ok to have this cigarette now”–wtf?! Is all I have to say to that. Although, Americans do something similar: “OH I just worked out, so its ok to have that double quarter-pounder instead of the single” =.=
  7. KFC uses rice instead of mashed potatoes…..interesting to say the least.

Entry #10:A Day at the Beach (Joe Satriani)

 

Hi again, this past week has seen me keep on working on my FPGA training module, to which I have been trying to pin down a very devious bug of some kind…… To which I finally managed to track down and correct the two bugs. One involved miscalculating and using us instead of ns, and one involved the write cycle of a flash memory—one cycle to soon for the address hold time. Two small, easy-to-miss errors, that nevertheless caused me endless hours of debug. But, now it works! And I also FINALLY finished work on the RoHS project that I was attached to, which was a relief—no more secretarial duties for me!

Plans came to fruition this week about a trip to the Perhentian Islands, of which I was a part. We left on Saturday morning at 2:30 am; well to be precise, that was when we were scheduled to leave, and I was awake and ready to go then, but the others….not so much. We headed out around 3 am, and got to the island only to find that the hotel had been booked on the wrong island! Fortunately, the boss of the Tuna Bay Island Resort where we landed gave us some rooms to stay in for the night. Despite how they might look from the pictures, they actually were not too bad, all things considered.

We immediately headed out for an intense afternoon of snorkling, which was really cool for me, having never been to the ocean where

A. The water is clear

B. The water is warm

C. There are things in the water worth looking at

 

Amazingly, when we got to our first snorkeling site, the boat driver told everyone to put on a life jacket and then jump off the side of the boat and start looking around. I thought to myself “How do you snorkel and swim around underwater with a life jacket on?” The answer was that because swimming skills are not really emphasized here like they are in the states, the majority of the Asian tourists that come through cannot swim at all, and therefore need the life jacket. Needless to say, I nodded amiably to the boat driver when he told me I could swim around without a life jacket provided that I took responsibility for myself should I start to drown. As if—the water was less than 15 ft deep and 100 yards from shore 🙂 I saw a lot of neat tropical fish (including Nemo and Dori), may varieties of coral (and by varieties I mean colors; I’m not sure if coral of the same species can be different colors), and a couple of sea turtles.

In addition, my lengthy experience with all things aquatic led me to an acute awareness of the greater buoyancy that salt water affords the human body as opposed to fresh/chlorinated water. This made it difficult to dive to any depth without expelling nearly all of my air, which made for some interesting and exhausting snorkeling.

We came back to the island, swam in the water, dried in the sun(boy you feel nasty with the salt drying all over your body and in your hair!), and then headed to a neighboring island to eat dinner and enjoy the night. The place where we ate was a very touristy beach side restaurant, because not only did they have a large variety of Western items, the Tomyam soup I had was not really that spicy at all, and tasted very lackluster to boot. But, a westerner coming here from home might try the soup, and be like “Wow this is really good—look at me being all adventurous and trying the local cuisine”, never knowing that the true “local” cuisine can only be found in the “local” places; basically anywhere that is not a tourist destination. After a great night of hanging out, we headed back the next morning, and had another grueling six hour drive back, which was somewhat amortized by the fantastic seafood dinner that we had—see pics below. You know you are eating at a good place, when there are four or five other seafood restaurants near this one, all of which are pretty much empty, and this one is full to bursting!

Let me just say that my first impression of this place was that it was indeed a place of great natural beauty, but warped by the tourism industry—and I was not proven wrong during the duration of my stay there. Don’t get me wrong; I had a great time, but I felt that instead of acting as “guides” for those who wished to experience the beauty of the islands, the people who staffed the islands seemed to by actively trying to “sell” them for all that they were worth to tourists. From souvenir shops full of worthless western merchandise, to blah-tasting food, to swimming in the designated areas, everything smacked of stale, repainted natural beauty that was charming on the surface, but deeper down not so much. The best analogy that I can think of is getting a post card of someplace, going there to visit because the picture on it captivated you so, and then getting there and realizing the the photographer had cleverly used the context of the place to only show you it in the absolute most favorable—like cleaning off a corner you bed in your horrendously messy room, putting on a shirt and tie, sitting on the edge of the bed, and then taking a picture with which you can make everyone believe the best of your cleanliness habits,etc.

There was some level of gaudiness to it all, especially seeing all of the westerners that were there, some on casual vacation, and some to “experience Malaysia”. If that’s what you wanted to do, then this is exactly the place not to do it—but I didn’t say that to them, obviously…

The theme for this week’s post is Joe Satriani’s “A Day At The Beach(New Rays From An Ancient Sun)” captures perfectly the feeling and atmosphere of the Perentian Islands—I can almost hear the waves and feel the sea breeze listening to it!

 

Enjoy the pics! I just discovered that my camera can do panorama, which would have been great to know for all the past weekends….:(

 

		
		

This past week at work I have continued to work on my FPGA training module, which is proving much more difficult than I thought. I have so far spent about 10% of my time on it designing/coding, and the remaining 90% debugging it. I have continued to work on the RoHS project as well, which was not that fun, but necessary.

Onward to the good stuff:

On Saturday I had a mostly failed trip to the Cameron Highlands, which is an area known for its tea plantations and surrounded jungle terrain. The ride there was supposed to be 4 hours, but was actually 8 due to traffic and the fact that I was traveling on a bus. The highlands are quite a ways above sea level, and the road there is quite thin and winding, two lanes, and carries far more traffic than it was designed for. So when I got there finally, I naturally had to scramble to see everything that I could in the few evening and morning hours that I had there. To make matters worse I forgot my camera, which is a cardinal sin if you are a tourist, so I don’t even have pictures of what I did see. 😦

Anyways, on Monday (three day weekend!) one of the people from Plexus took me around the island to some of the places I still hadn’t seen yet, and they turned out be be really, despite my penchant for disregarding places of their nature on general principle: A war museum and a butterfly farm.

The war museum was at the site of the first fort built on the island of Penang by the British, and once they left, it sat unused for almost 60 years until it was turned into a privately owned museum. It is also the first completely outdoor museum that I have come across, and you actually got to walk around in all of the different areas of the fort. I learned a lot about the history of Penang and Malaysia, and a lot of the terrible things that happened here in the 20 century before independence. Interestingly, the war museum also offers a nighttime paint ball course that is a part of the museum itself—how many museums that you have been to can boast one of those??All in all a great experience—see the pics below. A couple bear further explanation: The was a statue of a cobra that I just could not resist putting my head into and taking a picture—I have no idea why. Also, the scary looking painting was there to exemplify and accentuate your feeling of all the horrors that had happened there—imagining visiting this place at night and seeing that thing suddenly leering down on you…..

Until seeing this museum, I never really thought of Penang as anymore than a timeless island; it’s hard to imagine a place so different from how you currently see it. For example, it’s hard for me to imagine the Twin Cities being anything other than the Twin Cities; I just have a gap, a void, a soul-sucking abyss of emptiness…ok maybe not that bad, but you get what I mean. But nevertheless, time marches on, as do the people, trying to preserve their past, not only so that they can share it with outsiders that are interested, but so that they themselves never forget it. I think that there is more than a little truth to the saying that if you don’t know your past and where you have come from, then how can you know where you are going? It’s interesting and more than a little sad that in today’s world, in the US for sure and to some degree here, you are no longer surrounded by history, instead you have to go and seek it out. It’s almost like in our modern world, the push to move forward has become so intense that we have become somewhat willfully ignorant of the past. There I go waxing philosophical again. I’ll stop.

I’ll admit that I was more than a little skeptical about the “Butterfly Farm”, but it proved to be quite an enchanting place, and I’ll admit that I was trying to get the butterflies to land on me with just as much gusto as the little kids that were there. I guess that there are some things that transcends all cultures and all differences, and being transfixed and appreciative of the beauty and eloquence of nature’s flora and fauna is one of them.

That night, I got to go see Batu Ferringhi, the famed night market of Penang, and it was really cool. Not only because they had ridiculously cheap western goods, but also because they had lots of cool souvenirs there as well—all of which had to be bargained for. Needless to say, I let the locals do the bargaining, while I stood nearby and pretended to be very interested in the latest constellations in the night sky, while they haggled on my behalf. It was a curious marriage of local custom and western influence in which the market was plainly a tourist attraction, as evidenced by the fact that all of the shopkeepers there spoke decent English, but also an authentic expression of the modern culture here. They had capitalized upon the tourism industry—just as Americans capitalize upon whatever they can get their hands on, so in that respect we were not that different.

I chose Dream Theater’s “Breaking All Illusions” for the theme for this post, as I have become aware through my experiences this past weekend that there are some things that are universally acclaimed across different cultures. Yes there are differences, and many of those cultural differences run very deep, but there are also many things that are shared, and many illusions that different cultures have about one another. I can say for sure that whatever illusions that I held as I stepped off the plane over here have been chipped away day by day during my stay here, with this past weekend serving only as my realization that this is what was happening. In addition to the title, a progressive song of this nature breaks with the typical rock song structure, and really branches out and shows you what a song can be, if you can manage to disregard your predisposed expectation of what you will hear. A truly wonderful ride.

Also, I DARE YOU to try to headbang during this song. I DARE you 🙂

A few other interesting things to note:

  1. The waiters/waitresses here (if they can be called that; they are basically just the people that bring you your food) do not expect tips. Which is refreshing, because I’ve never really understood why in the states that there is this expectation that when you go somewhere to eat that you will leave tip for the server if there is one. Even here, when I have eaten in a sit down restaurant, they do not expect one. Maybe we (the US) are just weird in that respect…
  2. When it rains here, the schedule is:
    1. Nothing
    2. 2 minutes later: DOWNPOUR DOWNPOUR DOWNPOUR

       

    3. 10-20 minutes later: subside to light sprinkle
    4. 2 minutes later: Nothing
    5. Repeat as needed

Seriously, the “rainy day” does not exist over here–more like the “schizophrenic downpour day”

		
		

Entry #8: To Glory   Hi again,   It’s been another amazing weekend here in Penang—every time I think that I cannot possibly have a better weekend the next one rolls around and then BAM! It’s better than the previous one. The theme for this post is by a music production company called “Two Steps From Hell”–strange name I know. They make really epic sounding trailer music, to which “To Glory” is no exception. Do yourself a favor: turn the volume up, and listen to it—you won’t regret it! The main melodic theme of the song is the perfect summation of my feelings about Malaysia right now—loving it, and can’t wait to experience each new day! We started off with some hiking in the Penang Hills, eventually making it to the top (it took us almost 3 hours to get there; we had to stop to let certain out of shape mechanical engineers rest 🙂 ). On the way up we passed bikers going DOWN the hill on bikes, which was truly amazing and crazy, when you considered the fact that the “trail” that we were climbing was in fact a dry riverbed, and as such was fraught with roots, stones, sudden drops, etc. The humidity actually wasn’t terrible, just really bad, and we were teased with some great views on the way up. We gained over 800 meters of vertical height as we climbed. Once at the top, the view was nothing short of breathtaking, awe-inspiring, majestic and beautiful. I could see the entire island, and across the bay until the mainland—30 or 40 miles maybe. Unfortunately, because we were right below cloud level, thing were a little hazy, and so my cheap camera couldn’t really capture any of it. Lesson learned: invest in a good camera. It would have been worth it to spend another $400 or so just to be able to capture the view from the hilltop—it was that good! In the pictures below, you will also see some workout equipment that was at one of the rest stops on the way up—just in case you were having seconds thoughts about the quality of the workout that you were getting, and wanted to step it up a bit. And there are also quite a few good pictures of our Plexus colleague being really exhausted 🙂 I wanted to hike back down, but was told if I did so I would have to find my own way home, so naturally I rode the train down the hill with them. My ears popped several times on the way down—that’s how high we were. Sunday I went to check out some more of Georgetown and a really cool toy museum with some of the local interns here at Plexus. We started at the toy museum, and let me tell you, never in my life have I had a greater affirmation of my nerdiness than walking through there. As you can see in the pictures below, there were action figures/toys from all walks of life: movies, comic books, TV shows. And I knew the name and at least a little bit about probably %90 of the toys in there. Things I had not thought about for YEARS suddenly came to the forefront of my mind. Only a nerd would understand this, but it is actually kind of fun to compare and debate knowledge of different franchises in there—really! And I must say, I held my own against all of the local/tourist people that I met in there. Star Trek Star Wars, Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Spawn, DragonballZ, Pokemon, action movies, scary movies—AWESOME! Later, I found this great this crystal shop in the Prangin mall in Georgetown—I think I may have just found my weakness when it comes to impulse buying. For some reason, see natural crystals, geodes, carved statuettes, etc., is really fascinating to me; I came within a hairsbreadth of spending RM900 on a scorpion perfectly preserved in piece of amber, only to be saved by my common sense at the last minute, much to the disappointment of the salesperson… I’ve been playing soccer and badminton after work the last couple of weeks, and besides having a great time, I’ve gotten to try some really awesome things afterwards. I am reminded of one of the climatic scenes in “Balls of Fury” when the hero defeats the villain because he has no backhand—I definitely feel like that whenever I am playing badminton—but it’s getting better. It’s a lot of fun to play, besides being a pretty good workout, and I’ve managed to win about half of the games I’ve played so far, with a variety of teammates and opponents, so I think that is pretty conclusive proof that I do not completely suck by the standards here. The one thing that I would like to say is that because we play indoors in the gym of a local school after hours, there is therefore by default not only a complete lack of air-conditioning, but of ventilation as well. The result: Humidity level 143% and rises while we play, as does the temperature. Soccer, on the other hand, is outside, and much cooler in comparison because you have BREEZES and the TEMPERATURE cools the longer to play. I had a lot of fun doing that too (still pretty bad, but not terrible), running around. I was actually surprised: my endurance built up from running actually put me ahead of most of the guys there in terms of how much gas I had in the tank! Afterwards, going out to dinner, I got to try chicken feet—yes you read that right—they take the legs and feet of the chicken, and instead of throwing them away as in the states, make a tasty dish out of them (See pics below; you should be able to tell which pic it is….). The proper way to eat them is to bite of the whole knuckle (bones and all!) and then use your tongue to separate out the bones from the meat, spitting them out on the table. The meat has a stickiness in its texture that I find actually quite good. I’ve also got to try duck soup, in which they take a similar approach by not wasting any part of the duck, including the meat, the intestine, gizzard, liver, etc. etc etc.–which was also very good! I’m still on track to eat something new every day, and have yet to eat anything that I haven’t liked, although I will say that a lot of the things that I have eaten here, if I had been presented with a bowl/plate of them in the states for the first time, I probably would not have eaten them, leading me to the conclusion that it is my being totally out of my home culture and immersed in this one that has released my restraint on eating things I recognize vaguely, if at all 🙂 In conclusion, here are some other interesting things to note:

  1. Just like driving, people in the US walk on the right hand side of shopping malls, sidewalks, etc. So, here because everyone drives on the left, you walk on the left by convention too—I just realized this, and can now walk around in the malls without having to constantly dodge people!
  2. Bus drivers in the states, when on duty, ply their assigned route constantly their entire shift, stopping to wait only if they start to run ahead of schedule. Here the public bus drivers ply their route once, then at the bus station have 3-4 cigarettes, then ply their route again. Not really sure why the bus system works this way, but it sure explains why everyone on the island owns cares and puts up with the terrible traffic—the bus system is too inconsistent/unreliable.
  3. There are noticeably less public trashcans, and no public fountains here.
  4. The chicken drumstick is eaten with a spoon and fork—not with the hands
  5. A fork has 4 tines, a trident has three. Therefore, when you eat something with a fork with three tines, you are in fact eating with a trident.(Credit to Sheldon Cooper)

Stay tuned for a breathtaking, suspenseful rendition of my next weekend’s travels…..

Entry #6: The Main Monkey Business

 

Hi everyone,

 

I realize that I have not said that much about what I have been doing at work, mostly because that stuff that happens outside of work is much more worthy of recognition, but I’ll include a little bit here. I’m currently involved with two projects, one of which is fairly interesting, one that is so boring that I would almost rather be stabbed in the leg then work on it, and a training module, which is by far the most interesting. The one project involves doing some board bring up and testing, which is something I’ve never really done before. I wouldn’t say that I’m good at it now, but I think that I have process that I could follow to figure out a basic problem—similar to what I do for computer/IT problems; I rarely know what the exact problem is, but with some well designed poking around I can usually figure it out. (Seriously, IT guys are just people with good computer knowledge and intuition, not magicians!)

I would think that most problems you encounter in an engineering design are those that are hitherto unseen, so the knowledge of the systematic process to arrive at the root of the problem is way more valuable than actually solving the problem, at least for me at this stage.

The second project involves collecting information about the RoHS compliance of a product, which involves sending dozens of emails, waiting for responses, sending dozens more, waiting for responses, then sending dozens more, etc. etc. etc. Not very exciting. It’s a necessary part of the business side of engineering, which I understand, but I just don’t think that that is for me. I feel much more like a secretary than an engineer doing that, and the hours really drag by.

Lastly, the training module that I am working on is a simple FPGA design in which various simple functions such as user button input, SRAM and flash memory transfer, and 7 segment displays and are tied together through the Verilog modules that I write and then program into the FPGA. (Which, in case you are wondering, stands for Field Programmable Gate Array—and I didn’t even have to look that up 🙂 ). I have written a fair amount of Verilog before, which is a hardware description language: where software languages describe what the instructions executed are, Verilog describes the layout and function of the hardware that those instructions run on. Sort of. A more detailed description would take a lot more room, which is better spent elsewhere. Anyways, what has made this training especially rewarding is learning the process of successive refinement that leads you from a list of requirements that specify what th device has to do to more and more detailed diagrams of its implementation.

 

A small aside: digital engineers love drawing boxes. Just about anything that be done in digital design can be represented by boxes comprising its less complex components. Theses sub-parts are then themselves partitioned with more boxes, all the way down to the transistor level—if you really want to do that, which not many do. What is much more fun is going upward, and using the boxes to represent higher and higher levels of abstraction, to the point of drawing a box, labeling it “processor” and using it in a higher level computer assembly. In the same way, the first system-level block diagram that I drew had a box that said “FPGA”, and all of the things it was connected to.

I will chronicle my past weekend in my next post, as this one is getting long already;so, I will end it with a few more interesting tidbits about the culture here.

 

First off, shopkeepers in anything that is smaller than a department store, especially if they are in a mall, and not a true street vendor, stand REALLY close to you ( < 3 feet) away from you when you are looking at their stuff. Not only for the small stuff, like sunglasses, watches, etc. that you could steal, but for big items like backpacks,large rocks,etc they do it too. They don’t say anything, they just stand there. It’s not because they can’t speak English—the ones that I have talked to have pretty good English, I’m really not sure why—maybe because I’m a foreigner, and they want to be there to answer any questions I have? And I also have learned that what is called an overpass in the states translates to “flyover” here—I was understandably confused when I was riding with someone and they said they were going to take the flyover to xyz—naturally, I translated their English as “We are going to fly over to xyz”. When I had to do laundry (don’t worry it was a while ago, I just haven’t posted about it until now) I found out that the laundry folks not only will come to pick up your clothes from the hotel for just RM5, but also will fold them for you. And let me just say, their clothes folding skills are second to none: they took what had filled almost my entire suitcase and fit into an incredibly neat and compact brick literally, LITERALLY half the size of my suitcase—it’s almost beyond belief! I’ll take a picture of it next time. And lastly, spilling tomyam on your open wound hurts A LOT. Think searing rug burn.

 

 

The theme for this post comes from Rush’s “Snakes and Arrows” album. I was just listening to it as I was writing this, and it seemed an appropriate descant for the everyday life of the engineer: It has its quiet moments, its moments of intensity, its intricate interactions among the musicians(engineers) all wrapped in a great deal of complexity, speed changes, and mood shifts—sound familiar?

 

Until next time!