The Nerd That I Am

So Goodreads is telling me I’m behind in my 2012 reading target – 16% behind, to be precise – and I don’t like it one bit. Plus, it’s December already!

Since I’m an engineer, I can’t help obsessing about numbers. My target for the year is to read 50 books. I finished 38 already and I’m now working on book #39 and #40. I’ve read more than 38, actually, but I exclude some from the list because they’re too light or short. That leaves me with 10 more books to go this month. Last year, I read the most books in December, so there’s still hope for me.

I think I can do it. No. I know I can.


I just have to alter my strategy a bit. Maybe I’ll target books that range between 150-300 pages, and leave those 500+ pages biographies for next year. But then again, biographies have a way of sucking me into their world, accelerating my reading speed. The biggest problem, though, is that I don’t have enough medium-sized books to make 50 yet. Right now, this is my list for the rest of the year:

Currently reading:

39. On Writing Well by William Zinsser

40. The Prophets by Abraham J. Heschel (which I may have to ditch and pick up next year since it’s like…700 pages long!)

To read:

41. Every Good Endeavor by Timothy Keller

42. The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller

43. The Prince of the Marshes by Rory Stewart

I’m very excited about #41-43, so there should be no problem finishing them (#41 and #42 are arriving today via Amazon shipment. Woohoo!). But now it gets trickier, and the rest is still tentative.

44. A Governor’s Story by Jennifer Granholm

45. William Wilberforce’s book (long, old English)

46. John Newton’s biography (long)

47. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

And I still don’t have good candidates for #48-50. Need help. Any recommendations?

2011: A Bookish Review

2011: A Bookish Review

Among my few metanarratives for 2011, one of them is attributed to books. In the beginning of last year I set a target for the number of books I wanted to read (80% of the books I own but haven’t read). That number came out to be 53. I ended up reading only 34 books in 2011, a number I can live with. Most of these books were read on the shuttle, train rides, and airport travels, and a small portion of stealing time here and there during meals and whatnot.

These printed friends of mine have been the most loyal companions in 2011, most gentle teachers, and most exciting travel buddies. In the absence of human companions, I’ve found many a friend in the authors of these books. In the last four months of the year, when grad school bulldozed over my life and basic necessities such as food and sleep were barely met, I clung on even more tightly to my books as an effort to keep at least one thing pleasant in my life. Somehow, I ended the year with an even more voracious appetite for reading than usual, reading 5 or 6 books in the week preceding GYC 2011.

I suppose it’s silly to express gratitude to inanimate objects, but in this case, a tribute to books is in order. What would my life be without them? They were my escapades from rough realities, they took me to places that I would probably never visit, and introduced me to people I would never meet. They expanded my horizon beyond the perimeters of my own world, and I owe a great deal to anything or anyone who has that function in my life.

In 2011, I traveled by foot across Afghanistan with Rory Stewart. I sat at the feet of Solomon and marveled at his wisdom through Ecclesiastes and its commentaries. I savored the brilliance of Ellen White’s Education beneath the shadows of Honduran hills and mountains. Amy Carmichael introduced me to the dear children she took care of in South India a century ago. With Condoleezza Rice, I went into negotiation rooms around the world and saw a glimpse of how history was made. I rode the thrill of Obama’s presidential campaign in the last election cycle with David Plouffe, and learned more about my home country from reading about the life of Stanley Ann Dunham, Obama’s mother.

Some authors can, as it were, cast a spell on me with their writing styles. I laughed with the best author in present-day Adventism (Clifford Goldstein) in his Mules that Angels Ride. Pramoedya Ananta Toer, effectively transported me to early 20th century rural Indonesia and told me stories of the children of the revolution.  C. S. Lewis’ English beautified a common, yet profound topic in the human experience, the Four Loves. And finally, I was spellbound by Heschel’s ingenuity. “To become aware of the ineffable is to part company with words. The essence, the tangent to the curve of human experience, lies beyond the limits of language.” (Man is Not Alone, p. 16) Upon reading these words, my jaw dropped and I had to pause and regain composure from disbelief that someone actually penned such a beautiful sentence. Heschel was a genius.

When I was little I used to watch a Japanese anime called Doraemon, which was the name of a robotic cat from the future that had a magical pocket from which it could pull out cool, impossible gadgets. One of its staple gadgets was called the “Anywhere Door” that could open up and transport anyone to anywhere the person wished to go. To me, books are my “Anywhere Door.”

All the world’s a classroom.

Honduras: The Prelude

All the world’s a classroom.

When I wrote out my goals for 2011 about seven months ago (new year’s resolutions – remember those?), one of the things I listed was discomfort. I have become aware that my life has consisted mostly of things that I am already familiar with. I feel a need to expand my world, and expose myself to more discomfort.

At this moment, I am less than 24 hours away to fulfilling one of my goals this year: going on a mission trip. The destination is El Suyatal, Honduras and what I’m feeling right now is pure, unadulterated excitement. I have never gone on a mission trip before, so this is kind of a big deal, and like a dry sponge I’m going to soak up everything about this trip. Ten days without electricity sound remarkably liberating.

I have been saving for this trip since January and this is no doubt going to be the highlight of my year. As I’m preparing my mind and heart on this Sabbath day and trying to reflect on why I wanted to go, I can’t think of a logical or profound answer to that question. I just wanted to go. Am I doing this with a pure motive? Not sure. I love adventures, and I freely admit that I’m looking at this with misty eyes. I know I want a radical experience in my spiritual life. I want to experience something different than campus ministry.

Of course a mission trip is designed for the people there, but my mind is incredibly limited in imagining the things that can happen in 10 days. Cynicism? There’s perhaps a little bit of that. Low expectations? Maybe some. I think, though, that it’s mostly narrow-mindedness. I’m sitting here in front of a computer screen trying to imagine what can happen in a foreign place, without any reference whatsoever. All I know is that the one who will benefit the most from this trip is me. And at this point, all I can talk about is the limited view from my window. See what I mean by “a small world”?

I do have expectations. I expect God to expand my vision, of life, the world, and His kingdom, to something much larger than the life (physical and spiritual) that I have known. I am looking for something without knowing what it is, and I’m ready for whatever God has for me there.

Ah Lord GOD! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee. Jeremiah 32:17

And the LORD said unto Moses, Is the LORD’S hand waxed short? thou shalt see now whether my word shall come to pass unto thee or not. Numbers 11:23

In our life here, earthly, sin-restricted though it is, the greatest joy and the highest education are in service. And in the future state, untrammeled by the limitations of sinful humanity, it is in service that our greatest joy and our highest education will be found—witnessing, and ever as we witness learning anew “the riches of the glory of this mystery;” “which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:27. Education, p. 309 [emphasis mine]

For the next 10 days El Suyatal will be my classroom. My teacher, the Infinite One, and the field of study…I’m about to find out. =)

On Monday, Jacqui took me to eat some Honduran food. Those baleadas were good!

All packed up and ready to go. Looking forward to coming back with much less than these.

Progress Report 2011 (1/12)

February came all too soon, but I’m pleased to say that my New Year excitement is still alive and well. This is the first progress report on my New Year’s resolutions, written as another motivation for me to actually achieve those goals, since, you know, who wants to give a bad report?

Category 1

Project deClutter – Completed. From the items that I’ve consigned, I will at most earn $116 (I only get 40% of the total sales), depending on whether people will buy the items or not. I will know the actual financial yield in March, and since all of that will go to God’s work with ANEW, pray that all of them will be sold!

Category 3

This category is probably the hardest to measure, because, well, it’s future planning. It’s never ending. But of course there’s progress, in the form of a realization. I realized that I really like it when science and technology have direct impacts to the betterment of society. It sounds cliché, I know, but there are a lot of scientific endeavors whose societal impact is still very far in the future. They are important, but I like to be at the other end of the spectrum where you can see the significance of the work a little clearer.

What’s cool is that there’s a particular paper that my colleague and I have been working on that just got published, and when we received the comments from the reviewers, one of them said that it is “a nice example of how the PSE [Process Synthesis and Engineering] community can contribute to the society by providing it with significantly more sustainable solutions.” I like that.

Along the same line, I’m taking a History of Science class, just to fulfill my curiosity on how science has developed over time. What is the philosophy of science and how has it changed in history? Lots of food for thought there.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about pure motive and scientific pursuits, so more blog entries on this coming soon. As a little preview, it relates to one of my long-existing life question, which is what does it mean to be a God-led, God-driven, consecrated scientist (or in my case, engineer)? (To read some of my initial thoughts, see my previous blog entry and this Think Tank article.)

Category 4

There are three concrete, on-going projects, in this category; two related to campus ministry, and one personal project. I can’t disclose them right now, but when the right time comes, I will. =) It’s exciting.

Category 5

I’d say this blog is a progress in this category. It’s a small milestone toward the bigger aim, and I see it as a lab to test out different things. It’s when you accomplish the small things that you gain momentum and the surge of excitement that will propel you to accomplish the bigger things – I’m a firm believer of that. So far I think it’s been going pretty well, especially since I’ve diversified the things that I post on this blog, mainly because I can’t quite spit out profound thoughts as quickly.

New: Category 6

I’ve added a new goal for the year! One day I was standing in front of my bookshelf and thought, I have so many good books in here, I should read them.

I am hopelessly and desperately in love with books. But as I’m sure many of you will resonate, oftentimes after you get that thrill from purchasing, unwrapping, and smelling a brand new book, you get distracted and occupied with other things that you end up reading only the first few pages or not reading them at all.

So, in an effort to transfer some of the precious knowledge on my bookshelf to my brain, I’m setting a goal of reducing the number of unread books on my bookshelf by 80%. It’s an ambitious goal, but hey, that’s what goals are for.

To get the actual number, I’m going to take an inventory of all of the unread books, which I haven’t done. Hopefully that will be in my next progress report, but first let me explain which books belong to this ‘unread’ class. Obviously, this excludes reference type of books – I’m not about to read encyclopedias and such. This also excludes academic books – so if I have to read a book for class or research, that book does not count. Basically, this goal only pertains to a set of books that I purchased out of my own will and for personal edification. (I’ve actually made progress in this category: I’ve read a meager number of 2 books that I’ve owned for a while, but never got around to reading them. Maybe I’ll incorporate book reviews into this blog also.) This number is clearly not going to stay constant over this year since I will buy new books – hence the dynamic nature of the goal and why I frame it as a relative number (80%).

Alors, voilà! And on to February!

Something Different

Two weeks into 2011, I’m still in the spirit of reflection and preparation for the New Year. The year 2010 contained many tremendous blessings, specific lessons learned, with a lot of things to digest. Hence, I’m taking my time to go through them one by one. However, I also have a feeling that 2011 is going to go by very quickly (it feels like it’s pretty much over already), and if I don’t pay careful attention, suddenly it would be December again and 2011 would be “just another year.” But I don’t want “just another year” – it sounds so unappealing. Plateau-ing is one of the greatest dangers in learning, not to mention the utter boringness of such a state.

I’m very grateful for how God has led me thus far, but I’m not satisfied. 2010 was a great year, but none of its greatness will do for 2011. I want new experiences, new heights to attain, new challenges, basically something different than last year. In fact, I have this urge of wanting to do things that I’ve never done before in my life. To that effect, I’m setting a few goals and prayers that I really want to accomplish this year, God willing, and this exercise of publicizing the list will seal my commitment to pursue each point.

1. Discomfort

This prayer is led by personal convictions that God had laid upon my heart the past few months of 2010. It was simply a realization that my life is quite comfortable, which I acknowledge is a blessing. Of course there are certain pains and struggles, but they’re almost like the luxurious kinds. Most of the world population doesn’t even have the opportunity to suffer the things I call painful, like staying up to debug a program.

Additionally, I believe comfort level is also a dynamic thing. Meaning, if before certain line of ministry or sacrifice may be out of our comfort zone, God helps us to grow so that our comfort zone expands and those things are no longer or only marginally outside of the zone. When that time comes, it doesn’t matter how great the challenge was before or how great a sacrifice we’ve given already, it’s time to take it to the next level and expand.

Being comfortable can be very dangerous. It was a certain comfortable type of people that God spews out of His mouth in Revelation 3. While the comfort that the passage describes primarily applies to our spiritual condition, I think that there’s a strong correlation between physical discomfort and the intensity of the spiritual hunger and thirst for God. So, I’m praying for discomfort this year. Some of the few projects that belong to this category include:

–          Project deClutter – I’m simplifying life by saying goodbye to stuffs that have been around, which I don’t need, but I haven’t been willing to give or throw them away.

–          Mission Trip – Yes, I have never been on a mission trip, ever. So, I’ve made up my mind about going this year and looking at options.

2. Service

This one goes along with the previous point also, but maybe a little more specific. I want to get involved in working with underprivileged children this year. There are many ways to change the world, but this, I feel, is one clear way of making a real difference in someone’s life. I also want to look a little bit more on what this line of service entails. Maybe there’s a chance of God calling me to do some humanitarian work in the future? Who knows? So, how am I going to do it? I don’t really know yet and I’m looking around (if anyone knows of or has had an experience with certain programs, etc, please let me know).

3. Future Planning

At two-point-five years point into grad school, I think I should start planning about the next step. It’s kind of obvious that this next step is going to be much weightier than any previous “next steps”, so I want to be intentional in thinking about it. I don’t to just end up with a job; I want to do what exactly is meant for me to do. Right now, as my interest lies in the energy issues, I’m going to proceed in a somewhat systematic manner to look at the opportunities in this field all over the country.

4. Personal Investment

One of the biggest themes of 2010 for me is friendship; really valuing the individuals whose paths I have crossed in life and learning to actually communicate my appreciation. This year, I want to increase my personal investment in people. This category includes campus ministry, the ANEW network, and other personal projects.

5. Writing Aggressively

Ok, what I mean is writing more seriously, but I just felt like putting “aggressively” on the title because it conveys a certain umph-ness to the point. Whether the result is good or bad, I enjoy the process of writing. I think I’d like my writing to be more consequential this year and of course, to really find my voice and improve everything. I have a few specific goals in mind, but maybe they will change over time, so we’ll see.

I think that if by the end of the year I can look back and see these five things done, I would be very happy and I can truly say, “2011 has been anything but a regular year.”