Monday, November 19, 2012

Videos from Rose City Blues.

Right before I left for New York, Jenny and I attended a semi-national blues event in Portland called Rose City Blues. We competed in everything, and did fantastically well despite going up against stiff competition.

The results: In the Jack & Jill, where we are paired randomly with another dancer, Jenny got 3rd place and I got 1st place. In the Strictly, where you choose your partner (and we danced together), we got 1st place! Then, in the Solo competition where you dance by yourself, Jenny took 1st place. Talk about affirmation! What a great way to kick off my new career, hey?

To recap:
3rd Place Jack & Jill (Jenny)
1st Place Jack & Jill (Andrew)
1st Place Strictly (Andrew & Jenny)
1st Place Solo (Jenny)


#1: All-Skate -

Jack & Jill

Sunday, November 18, 2012

This week in NYC.

Finally getting oriented after my move to NYC on Monday... what a week!

First: thank you to Jennifer Sowden and Whitton Frank for being amazing dance partners at Rose City Blues. I swept the competition and got 1st Place in the Jack & Jill AND the Strictly comps. Whoo! First time that has ever happened, and my first time winning a Jack & Jill. It was a pleasure to dance alongside peers such as Ted, Ruby, Benji, Nicole, Kayce, Jae, Jonathan, and so many more. Let's keep upping the game: make it difficult for the judges and INSPIRING for the audience.

Second: I'm now teaching with Jenny at Brooklyn Swings! Here goes teaching full-time... So far so good! We're doing two weekly swing classes, starting weekly blues classes next month, and we have a blues workshop coming up next week.

Third: I'm completely moved into my new space. Thank you to Jenny for all her help with the transition. You're amazing.

Fourth: I've already been overwhelmed by Times Square. Glad I got that out of the way. Now my inner Portland-hippie can go hide and recover. I like to think of it as inoculating myself to the NYC culture.

Fifth: as part of the ongoing be-extra-nice-to-Jenny-for-her-birthday effort, I got her blow-up fish operational for the Brooklyn Swings dance on Saturday. Here's a cute photo.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A new life.

It's official: I am taking a leave of absence for a year, and moving to NYC to pursue teaching social dance full time.

It was not an easy decision to make, given the many reasons that I should stay in school at Stanford. But thanks to the encouragement and support of trusted friends (as well as some unexpected acquaintances), I have found the courage to pursue something I love.

It's scary to completely shift your professional focus. I have lived two separate lives for the past eight years: one in engineering and one in dance. They don't commonly intersect, especially when it comes to advancing my career in each. For the first time, I am making dance my top priority and treating it as a full-time job. I have never lived as a freelance artist, never made my livelihood dependent upon the spending whims of others, or based my ability to feed myself on my ability to market my talents on a continuous basis.

But that's what change is for: to push us in new directions. And boy am I being stretched -- in all kinds of directions. 

I am redefining my relationship to money. I am used to living on not much (graduate salary was ~$15K), but I will be making a fair bit less than that in dance, especially in the beginning. Up until now, I have lived frugally and found that my spending habits naturally balanced with my income level. Now I will have to start making sacrifices, particularly in my living space and eating habits. I am moving into a much smaller space, which means divesting myself of most worldly possessions. I will bring with me to NYC what I can fit into two checked bags and a carry-on. It's interesting how much attachment I have to things that I never use, like books or dishware or my Xbox. But at the end of the day, those things don't matter much. 

I am now living in a vastly unstructured work environmnt. Whereas in school, I have classes to attend, homework to complete, exams to study for, and research to conduct, in the dance world I am entirely my own boss. I answer only to myself. That means I must find a way to motivate myself to practice dance or work on promotional tasks instead of watching another episode of The Daily Show. It's been a surprisingly big challenge to learn how to be productive without external motivators like a grade. I think exploring productivity in this space will prompt tremendous growth on my end, but only through a lot of frustration and difficult times. 

I am fully redefining myself as a dancer, not an engineer. I have spent most of my life working on disciplining my mind. Now I must make a stronger practice of disciplining my body, moreso than ever before. I'm excited about it, but it has been rather difficult to find a normal stride. I suppose that's natural in the growing pains of dramatically shifting one's direction in life. Being a dance instructor also calls upon a less practiced set of skills, such as marketing, networking, and business management, just to name a few. Again, all things that I'm excited to work on, but man it's going to be a learning process.

In conjunction with this radical definition of self, I am embarking on a new relationship. The effervescent Jennifer Sowden appeared in my life over the summer. Our origins story is almost something out of a movie script.

Jenny is the reason I'm moving to NYC; she's been living there for the past six years. She has a weekly swing series going, and now we are planning to expand operations and do a couple nights of swing and one night of blues classes each week. It will be nice to have something regular to build. On weekends, I hope to keep traveling to teach workshops.

It won't all be entirely focused in New York. I am already planning to take the entire months of March and June for European tours. (Most exciting of all, the transatlantic flights for both are already covered! That's the most difficult part.)

Mixed emotions surround the decision to move to NYC. It will be good for our relationship (because we will actually get to be together), and we will get to explore the crazy world of being in a romantic relationship + dance partnership + teaching partnership + business partnership. I'm also excited to live in the bustling metropolis that is NYC with someone who knows many hidden gems of the city. I am not so excited about the higher cost of living. I am way less excited (read: quite sad) about leaving my friend base on the west coast. Yes, they will travel with me in spirit and always be there for me, but I know that I will see them less. I will also see my family even less than I do now -- yet another sad consequence of moving east. Still, it will be a valuable experience to move so far away from home, to a land vastly different from my past experience. When the time is right, people can benefit a great deal from changing their base of operations and forging a new life elsewhere.

A new profession, a new way of life, a new location, a new relationship.

As a dear friend said to me earlier today: "It sounds not boring."

My thoughts exactly.

(Sign up for my mailing list! Click here.)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Interactive teaching in graduate school.

The PDX instructor training has me thinking a lot about teaching methods in graduate school. In dance, we talk about losing people within 5 minutes of talking without doing. In school, most of it is sitting and having information thrown at you. Especially in grad school where there is A LOT of information, the shortcomings of this method are more apparent. Sometimes I go over lecture notes and am surprised to see topics that I forgot we covered. How can we change the way we teach to be more effective? It's not so easy when you're talking about, say, design development methodologies. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The CIFE Seed proposal.

This day marks the completion of my proposal for CIFE seed funding. CIFE (Center for Integrated Facility Engineering) is a department with Stanford University. They offer one year's worth of funding to researchers to get new ideas off the ground. It's pretty much my last shot at getting serious funding for my Engineer degree. I've been investing hours and hours into the paper and presentation since the end of March.

And it's finally passed. And I am very proud of my work. The proposal looks great, my presentation was spotless, and everyone seemed impressed. Several people commented on the polished quality of my presentation and visual aides. (I have my public speaking class to thank for the success of my work.) I am certain I did everything possible, so now it's just a matter of waiting to hear the results. Even if I don't get the money, I can rest assured knowing I tried my best. That's what counts.

It would be nice to have the money, though.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Shooting blanks.

ARGH! I'm 0/4 on fellowship applications. This is getting a little discouraging. I no longer look forward to opening any emails that say "Fellowship Application Results" on it.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Confirmation that Ithaka is great.

There are so many to choose from, but here's the most recent to stray across my inbox...

Victoria blues workshops: a reflection.

I taught with Jocelyn up in Victoria, BC, over last weekend. It was a heady mix of teaching euphoria, rocking DJed tunes, inspiring students, and fun dancing. Mix with severe sleep deprivation, shake well, and serve. Voila -- my favorite workshop teaching experience to date.

Jocelyn is a delightful instructor. She balances my serious, focused energy with playfulness. We generally agree 100% on dance theory and technique, even though she has never trained with Brenda and Barry. (Just like Ruby -- I really like to work with people who have a different background, yet have surprisingly reached the same conclusions in terms of the most efficient and graceful way to move.) Her style provided a valuable counterpoint to my own.

The students were all deeply grateful for the workshop. Blues had piqued the interest of the scene, but most had not yet been exposed to the national dance scene. They were chomping at the bit for an authority to come in and show how its done. Eagerness translated into discipline, as students stayed focused and pushed themselves through every class. Attention would stray at the end of the day -- particularly for Sunday -- as exhaustion set in, but that's to be expected. They all did an excellent job processing the troves of technical and conceptual material we threw at them. I was particularly pleased to see community leaders like Jay and Chris in the class, working equally hard. I have great respect for small-scene leaders that remain humble and keep a passion for learning.

Myself being a fan of having my brain exploded all over the place (which Barry and Brenda are all too good at), I had to reign in my excitement and not present too much material. It's a careful balance. Experiences like these are valuable opportunities to refine my curriculum and teaching style. Students became involved in their own learning, sometimes making requests for material, different ways to exercise a concept, and when to move on. I was pleased with my own readiness to answer any question from a technical and conceptual level. My dance training has clearly worked out, and moments like these validate the countless hours and the tens of thousands of dollars invested in my dancing. I always want to possess a deep theoretical and physical understanding of presented material.

Being the constant center of attention was both savored and overwhelming. Such is the dilemma of an introvert that feeds off positive reinforcement and attention from others. Been a long while since I was seen as the out-of-towner everyone needed/wanted to dance with. Since the scene is smaller, it was easier to handle all the focus. I could create the space to be alone or take care of myself without saying "no" to an inordinate number of dance requests. People were generally spot-on in recognizing when I was taking a break from people, and only approaching me when I actually opened my energy outward. Plus, there were an incredible number of students eager to help by buying tea or food. (Cheesecake for lunch on Saturday: excellent!)

I think European Blues Invasion marked the beginning of a commitment to crafting a full experience for workshop attendees -- which includes going out and dancing until way, way too late. This workshop was bringing this commitment to a slightly different context, with a smaller leadership team.

I offered to DJ 12-1:30am on Saturday. I extended it to 3am, because people were eating up whatever I threw at them. I pushed forward because I wanted them to have an unforgettable house party experience in terms of the music. I wanted them to witness what can be created with enough time, talent, and practice by an international DJ. I wanted them to feel the ache of legs the next morning for not stopping to rest all night.

People to thank… Chris, the mastermind behind the whole operation. Humble, yet capable, he was constantly checking in on us and making sure all was provided to make us feel comfortable. I love an organizer that understands the value of going the extra mile for their independent contractors. It inspires a spirit of reciprocation, whereby I was eager to give extra to the scene -- through DJing for longer, offering a video review of the weekend, and always being present at all dances to dance with everyone. Jocelyn and I got to dance fairly little, actually, since we were so focused on everyone else. Jocelyn, for being such a damn good dancer, co-instructor, and friend. It was nice to lean upon our bond when the going got crazy. I hope to work with you again soon. Julia, for being our dedicated personal assistant, cheuffer, caffeinator, and deliriously funny conversationalist. She's an amazing woman and so supportive. Not dealing with logistics of getting food or getting around made SUCH A DIFFERENCE for us. We could direct all our energy toward crafting a memorable experience for the Victoria scene. (And for the box of truffles!) Jay, for all the miscellaneous event support that he did without Chris even asking him to do. And for being a leader in the scene and supporting this event whole-heartedly. For welcoming me to Victoria on Thursday, and hosting dances and a space to teach privates. Tina and David, for housing us over the weekend, despite being devastated by sickness. Also, for relentlessly promoting the weekend. And for great conversations about dance, travel, the intersection of Balboa and Blues, kind words of gratitude, and community leadership. Matt, for the photos of the weekend. Maddy, for the pizza and cheesecake on Tuesday. Eileen, for making me say up WAY too late on Tuesday talking about NGO work in West Africa, dancing, and life. All my private lesson students for wanting to cram even more information over the weekend, for their kind words, for the inspiring opportunity to work with you individually. You astound me with your passion for learning. All my workshop students, for being focused and diligent and yet full of joy and laughter. You make me happy to be a teacher.

Thank you all so much for a fantastic event. A huge smile comes to my face whenever I think back on it. I look forward to coming back soon.

Friday, March 30, 2012

An update on life.

I received my first "flight bump" yesterday. The red-eye flight to DC was overbooked, and I was lucky enough to be one of the first volunteers. $400 in flight credit, plus meal covered and a hotel voucher. Sweeeeeeeeeet.

Presently on my way to DC for the Clinton Global Initiative University. It is, essentially, a student conference focused on dealing with global issues of climate change, poverty/human rights, healthcare, and education. One day of panel discussions, one (half-)day of public service, and lots of networking. I am here, pledging my commitment to keep assisting the Chife Foundation with their design work.

The Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW) class is shaping up to be a good one. We have a class of talented, excited students, supported by three passionate sub-team leaders. A substantial amount of planning should help push the pace of each project. We are trying out Basecamp, an online project management tool. It's pricey ($20/mo), but worth a shot for one quarter. Who knows -- perhaps it will make a substantial improvement.

Cripes, what a crazy schedule… (Last week,) finish finals on Wednesday, go out DJing at BTB until 1:45am. Pack, sleep 45 minutes, then catch a 7am flight to Victoria. Teach five hours each day, plus two hours of private lessons, plus going out dancing for another 1-4 hours. Typically getting 4-5 hours of sleep. Visit with relatives -- the one truly relaxing part of spring break -- and teach another 2 private lessons each day. Stay up WAY TOO LATE on Tuesday, connecting with a woman (Eileen) with whom we had an instant bond. Probably had to do with both of us living and doing work in Africa. Lots of laughing about (and commisserating over) life in that continent. Fly home on Wednesday after rescheduling my flight because the seaplane was grounded on account of high winds. Pack and catch up on work Thursday, then head to the airport for an 11pm flight. Get bumped, go to bed at ~1am, wake up at 4am, catch a 6am flight to DC.

Phew. It's exhausting to even think about it.

And somewhere in this crazy time, I'm supposed to work on a grant proposal due in (less than) two weeks. Oy.

Still no word from NSF or NDSEG. I get twitterpated whenever I think about it. Best to keep it off the mind. One or two more weeks…

Was accepted into the Engineer's degree program. It's essentially a second Master's degree, with a research component. Levitt is supportive and energized about my research proposal. Getting the NSF would help with funding, though it seems likely that I could scrounge enough funding to make it through the program without paying tuition. (I would just have to work a lot harder for it.) I am definitely excited over the prospect of doing interesting work in IPD, connecting with international researchers for data, and embedding myself into the planning process of real construction projects. I am grateful to have found a line of research that is not isolated from the industry. No idea how people working in a lab, pipetting all day, can motivate themselves. (Props to them for the resolve, though.)

Grades turned out fabulously… A+ in Organization Design, A in Decision Analysis II, pass in my seminar class (ESW) and independent research. My GPA is back to a 4.00. (Stanford works on a 4.3 GPA scale, i.e. A+ = 4.3, A = 4.0, A- = 3.7.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What a relief!

Dead/finals week just got less stressful. The project due today, for which we would've pulled an overnighter to finish, was (by the grace of the academic gods) granted a week-long extension. Now we have the time to complete it without driving ourselves into the ground. Imagine that!

Lauren is visiting this weekend. She is on spring break by that point. Hopefully I can stay focused enough to a) reasonably complete my projects/exams, and b) still enjoy our time together. The tables have finally turned. For the first time, I'll be the limiting factor in how much we get to goof off. (She's had a very, very, very busy year.)

Friday, March 2, 2012

Big day today.

Big day today... Meeting with Howard Ashcraft, one of the originators of Integrated Project Delivery, the focus of my research. He's an extremely important person. I'm meeting him with my professor to discuss possible collaboration to improve understanding of IPD.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My impressions of Stanford.

In response to a friend's inquiry re: Stanford and the MBA program...

I haven't seen much of the MBA school, just of the students. Most of my impressions are formed through interactions with them. However, I have looked at the courses offered in the program and they seem fascinating. Too bad they don't allow attendance by non-MBA students...

MBA students are a mixed bag. A lot of them are interesting and engaging people. A lot of them also have no real skillsets -- it's a common joke among the engineers. (I'm sure they have plenty jokes about our kin, too.) They all have stunning resumes: leadership, management positions, entrepreneurship ventures, etc... They are also good at being charismatic, which to me can seem disingenuous.

Stanford itself is an amazing environment. I love it here. It makes my head explode and crushes my self-confidence at times, but the challenge is welcome. Every quarter I have at least one class that is a crucible -- from which I emerge, stunned that I'm still alive. You would be hard-pressed to find a more stimulating academic and professional environment. Their emphasis on interdisciplinary work, entrepreneurship, and sustainability has fully integrated into the culture. If anything, it's only frustrating to meet so many fascinating people and not have enough time to get to know them better. There are simply too many things to do on campus, so you have to choose how you want to cultivate your experience. I've certainly enjoyed it enough that I'm now pushing to stay in school and do research.

Students work really fucking hard here. That's a good thing and a bad thing. Most maintain some semblance of a balance, though I find that I need more space for relaxation and social time. Still, it's truly inspiring to be in the company of such intelligent, driven, capable individuals. So many people go beyond academics and actively pursue real-world ventures, get involved with organizations, etc. So it's not just people who get good grades -- it's people who get good grades and thrive in the professional world.

For living, it depends on where you land. I'm currently in an off-campus co-op, and happy as a clam. There's plenty decent grad housing on campus, but I found it to be isolating -- by my standards. Weather is amazing. Palo Alto (the adjacent town) is hella upper-class and often yuppy, but you can find gems of genuine goodness anywhere (e.g. my co-op). Dancing is fun, though there's no blues on campus -- except for the classes I teach. There's a fusion venue in the south bay. Lots of dancing in the city, but a 45-60min drive each way quickly discourages one from making regular excursions. I have sometimes considered moving to the city and commuting to school via train. Many people do it and find it enjoyable.

As far as what is unique... well, I think I've pretty much covered that. The students, the stimulating environment, the interdisciplinary focus, the countless opportunities, the professors, etc.

Hope that paints a better picture of life at Stanford. Feel free to ask me to elaborate if you want. At the end of the day, I'd strongly encourage you to apply. I love the school. I'm not crazy about MBA students generally, but maybe that's why I'm an engineer. ;)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

It's one thing to read it...

... and another to write about it.

Borrowing conveniently from an email to a friend:

My research has picked up, which I'm really excited about. I get to spend hours reading about topics that I care about and fascinate me. There are definite advantages to independent study... Still a bit daunting, though. Right now I'm working toward a literature review to submit to my professor by the end of the quarter (in five weeks). Even though I've read a great deal on the topic, I haven't written nearly as much. And as it turns out, understanding something in your head is quite different from knowing how to explain it in writing. I think it will be a lot of work to figure out how to express myself and synthesize the many concepts I've picked up.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

More sexy rumpus!

Happy Valentine's Day.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Crafting effective teams.

[Re-appropriated from the ESW class blog. Written by me.]

It's hard to believe that all this -- the solar kiosk project, the Chife Foundation, and now this class -- began with a simple officer application to ESW a year ago. That led to applying for the solar grant through SunEdison. I fell into a leadership role to design a solar device -- something I knew nothing about. I was more than a person among my student peers, trying to do something interesting with solar technology: people looked to me for vision, direction, and motivation. While daunting at first, I have come to genuinely enjoy this role. It is deeply satisfying to help create this amazing opportunity, which will also benefit people in need.

The challenge, of course, is knowing how to craft an effective team. Rarely are we taught the theory behind it. Most managers in the professional world are promoted to the position by default of seniority and expertise. This is odd. Management is not necessarily intuitive and is rarely cultivated in undergraduate schooling. I think we, as a society, underestimate the difficulty of the position. As an engineer, I still feel obligated to produce tangible work outputs. This translates into me spending time doing the work that my team should be doing. It's a common mistake, and easier to diagnose than to treat. For me, the challenge is to fundamentally recognize the value of management work and to focus more on team building than doing everything myself.

That said, I am absolutely ecstatic about the prospects of this class. Our class leaders have great technical experience in the field and will be valuable resources for guidance and knowledge. There are stellar students here, passionate about sustainability and eager to make real contributions to the world. It will be a real fun group to work with.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

In the right place.

From Ashcraft, the originator of the Integrated Project Delivery framework: "IPD is a collaborative, trust-based delivery method."

How can I not be excited about this field? It's a good sign that I don't mind working on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, simply because I want to learn more.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Research makes me laugh.

I'm starting this book, An Introduction to Models in the Social Sciences, by Lave and March, as part of my research. I get a mere one page into the book when I unearth this gem:

"This book is about the social sciences ... It is a brief introduction to the pleasures of thinking about human behavior. To speak of pleasures is probably dangerous and certainly pretentious. Few people rely solely on any social science for their pleasures, and attaining a suitable level of ecstasy involves work. We regret the latter problem. It is a nuisance, but God has chosen to give the easy problems to the physicists. We do not regret the former problem. We have no intention of suggesting that poetry and sex be abandoned. Rather, we invite you, in the moments left between Byron and bed, to join us in speculating about ordinary human existence." -p.2


Monday, January 30, 2012

Google makes me laugh.

Try this out in your Gchat window next time:

( V.v.V )

Ah, Google. How you make me smile.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Production gains.

From the NYTimes on productivity gains... It's from September, but still a memorable infographic.

The Spirit of Democracy != Nigeria.

Larry Diamond on Nigeria: "Nigeria is one of the saddest places on earth."

What an amazing professor. He knows his stuff thoroughly, has traveled all over the world, and genuinely hopes for better governance everywhere. He is equally articulate in writing and in person. I look forward to reading the rest of this book. I found it inspiring to speak with him in person and discuss Nigeria and its future prospects. His appearance was timely, needless (though unfortunately) to say.

His presentation:

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Taxing revelations.

This riles me up...

If you're not enraged, you're not paying attention.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Snowy travel.

Went to Reno over the weekend. Going through the mountain pass was crazy! Chains required going out there. Not so when returning, but the roads were still covered in snow and ice. Speeds of 25-30 mph the whole time. Turned a 4.5 hour journey into something much longer.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


Bill Moyers is back, baby.

Watch it!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

My sad Mac story.

I spilled ~1 oz of OJ on the right side of my keyboard. Turned it off immediately, mopped it, turned it upside-down. Took it the the Apple store. He tore it down, cleaned off the internals (fan, memory, etc.), and offered the promising news that the liquid didn't hit the fan. (That would be the equivalent of shit hitting the fan.)

Let it sit overnight.

The next morning, the keyboard turned into a sticky mess. Keys don't repeat themselves, but they require more effort to depress the plunger. I took it back to the Apple store, asking if they could replace the keyboard. They said they could, for ~$1200. The construction of the laptop does not lend itself to such repairs.

He said I could pop off the keys myself and swab underneath. He cautioned me, however, saying there's a plastic cross the affixes the key to the keyboard. If you leverage it from the wrong angle, you snap the piece and can't replace the key. I asked if there was a map of where these crosses are located (because it varies), and he said there wasn't.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Is it Friday yet?

So tired. Highlights:

-Productive afternoon. Taking advantage of OmniFocus functionality.
-Talked with Lauren. I miss her. I want to talk with her more. It makes me sad.
-8am classes kick my butt.
-My schedule is pretty good. I like the open afternoons to be productive.
-Still trying to decide on classes. Too many to take... Why do I keep ending up with 15 units but only getting credit for 10? Why must I push myself like this? I could stay here a while, after all...
-Excited about potential aerial classes! Testing into the intermediate series tomorrow. Also: Ashtanga yoga. Oh boy!! Will need to decide on which one to do.
-I'm getting better about going to bed when I hit the end of my productivity. Staring at my inbox, occasionally hitting refresh, and feeling despairing is a good indicator.

On my mind today...

My, what a productive afternoon! Quite proud of myself...

Came across an NYTimes article definitely worth the read:

It worries me, the direction of our country... I don't understand how Congress can continue to operate (or, as the case may be, not operate) with such low approval ratings. I would think that enough to instigate change.